Monday, December 15, 2008

The Wannabeatles (Pt. 1)

There comes a time in your fandom for certain bands where the real thing isn't always enough. In my case, as much as I love the Beatles, I nearly equally love tracking down all of the loads of bands that ripped them off and/or took guidance from the fellas themselves (Badfinger, Mary Hopkin, Jackie Lomax). I thought I'd make a mix of some of the best of these for a friend of mine and here's the track listing. This also makes me think that a Wannabeachboys (Cryan Shames, Tony Rivers, Mark Eric) or Wannabyrds (The Choir, R.E.M., New Colony Six) mix could be in the works, too. I also realize that there are a ton of exemptions on this mix. No Rutles? "Cheese and Onions" is a great tune for sure. The Fourmost? Dave Clark Five? The Idle Race/ELO? Let me know who else you'd think belongs. For now ... meet the Wannabeatles Pt. 1 (I'll post Pt. 2 ASAP).

"Here I Go Again" - The Spongetones (from "Beat Music", 1982)
This North Carolina band sounds so much like the early Beatles that I wish THEY could have been commissioned to handle the music on that "Backbeat" movie from the early '90s. Woof, that was brutal. Dulli as Lennon? PIRNER as Macca? Absurd. Anyway, although it might've behooved the Spongetones to take some sartorial cues from the Fabs as well (as great as the Spongetones are, they sort of look like hockey players from the early 80s on their album covers -- see Maruk, Dennis/Gartner, Mike), the music here cannot be denied. No bones are to be made that "A Hard Day's Night" and "Meet The Beatles" are the template here, but the songwriting on "Beat Music" is great and keeps the band from drifting into tribute turf. The band's records are a bit scarce, but there's a compilation CD called Beat & Torn that has all you need if you can track it down.

Everything's Alright - The Aerovons (from "Resurrection", 1969/2003)
A completely overlooked back from the late 60s, The Aerovons were a group of kids from St. Louis that took the Beatles fixation that thousands of other bands their age shared and took it much, much further. On the strength of a demo tape, EMI signed the band and brought them over to Abbey Road to record, where they met George. "Everything's Alright" is a peppy number in the vein of a "Getting Better" or "Penny Lane," and is one of the many excellent songs on the "Resurrection" CD that RPM released in 2003. Despite the band's deal with EMI, nothing was released aside from a pair of singles that both stiffed, so it was years before anyone really had a chance to listen to how great some of this band's output really was.

I Just Want to Touch You - Utopia (from "Deface The Music", 1980)
As much as I love Todd Rundgren, I had never really dipped into the Utopia catalog, the band he put together around '73/'74 following his massive solo success in the early 70s, until recently. His first three solo records (Runt, The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything) are firmly ensconced in my musical DNA. When I realized that one of the Utopia albums, 1980's "Deface The Music" was an homage to the Beatles, I checked it out and "I Just Want To Touch You" is one of the best of the batch. But the entire album is a really deft tribute to the Beatles and goes through a variety of the band's styles -- though the early records and the psych-pop of Sgt. Pepper/Magical Mystery Tour get most of the attention from Rundgren.

Goodbye John Frost - Pete Ham (from "Golders Green," 1999)

Pete Ham is one of rock's great, though unsung, tragic figures, as has well been covered. His band, Badfinger, is oft-cited as one of the prime examples of a band that got hit with all of the industry bullshit and suffered for it. As much as the Beatles put Badfinger on the map, they also anchored them firmly in their shadow, despite Badfinger's relatively massive success (4 singles in Billboard's top 15 over a span of four years, not to mention the enduring success of their album cut, "Without You," which was very successfully covered by the likes of Nilsson and Mariah Carey, amongst others). Following the collapse of the band under the weight of unrealized expectations and bad management, Ham took his own life in 1975. He left behind a number of demos, which were assembled on a pair of CDs, "7 Park Avenue" and "Golders Green," Several of the songs demoed wound up on Badfinger records and some of the songs were discarded. One of the latter, "Goodbye John Frost" is a jaunty, piano-driven tune that clocks in at just under 2 minutes and certainly would've fit in fine on any of the band's early Apple output. Great singing and a great hook. Like many before me, I can only wonder at the great records that Ham had in front of him.

Goodbye - Mary Hopkin (from the "Goodbye" single, 1969)
Another member of the Apple Records gang, Mary Hopkin was a young Welsh singer that McCartney took under his aegis. Producing her debut single, "Those Were The Days" and her debut album, "Postcard," McCartney also wrote and produced her second single, the great "Goodbye."

I Dreamed I Was A Beatle - Murray Kellum (from the "I Dreamed I Was a Beatle" 7", 1964)

There were scads of tunes that cropped up in the wake of Beatlemania that sang the praises of the Fabs. "I Dreamed I Was a Beatle" is one of my favorites Beatlesploitation numbers. Unlike most of the tributes, it's actually a good song and Kellum (otherwise best known for his hit, "Long Tall Texan" -- which was covered by the Beach Boys) turns in a lyric that is about the most Wannabeatle there is. This can also be found on the entertaining compilation, "Beatlemaniacs!!!," which puts together a thorough compilation of Beatlesploitation tunes.

Somebody Made For Me - Emitt Rhodes (from the "Emitt Rhodes" LP, 1970)

Following the dissolution of his band, The Merry Go Round, Emitt Rhodes headed into the garage and churned out a series of classic albums that presaged the DIY/lo-fi boom of the 80s and 90s. Despite its humble recording environs, Rhodes (who played eery instrument on the record himself) makes a regal and well-crafted batch of songs, particularly on his 1970 debut. "Somebody Made For Me" is my favorite from this record and would've fit in on Macca's solo debut from the same year, if Paul was looking to do a more concise pop thing at that point.

I Want You Mine - Sex Clark Five (from the "Strum & Drum" LP, 1987)

They may sound like a Merseybeat band, but they're really an 80s band from Alabama, strangely enough. Their album, "Strum & Drum" is a great collection of pop classics. This one's my favorite and I first heard it on one of the "Teenline" comps that Hyped To Death puts out. Their cover of The Byrds/Gene Clark's "She Don't Care About Time" inspired me to do one of my own.

Together Forever - We All Together (from the "We All Together 2" LP, 1974)

Oh well, another Peruvian psych-pop Beatles rip-off band. We all know the world doesn't need another one of those (after all, who can forget ... um, We All Together?). We All Together took their tomfoolery to pretty extreme levels (with their nearly note-for-note -- and exquisite -- covers of Macca solo tunes like "Tomorrow," "Bluebird," "Some People Never Know" and others), though it also displays their great taste in cover choices. Here, they merely rework "I Will" into another sorta treacly ballad (though, use of the word "treacly" is no dis, as "I Will" was the processional at my wedding) with nearly equally great results. Track down either of the two records that have been reissued ("We All Together" or "We All Together 2") or, possibly easier to find, a compilation called "Singles." Neck and neck with Emitt Rhodes for King of the Wannabeatles, you need to hear We All Together if you haven't already.

This Kind of Feeling - The Last (from the "L.A. Explosion" LP, 1979)
Generally lumped in with the punk boom in L.A. in the late 70s, The Last quite frequently just sounded like a Merseybeat band, especially on songs like "This Kind Of Feeling." The production hovers in this weird world where it doesn't sound grimy enough to be from the 60s, but also lacks the dated touch of most recordings that were contemporary to it. While other bands from this era (The Nerves, The Plimsouls, The Knack) might have had elements of the Beatles in the mix, The Last really had it best, what with great songs like this one, "Bombing Of London," "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" and others from the L.A. Explosion album.

Tip Of My Tongue - Tommy Quickly (from the "Tip Of My Tongue" 7", 1963)
One of the many songs that Lennon & McCartney wrote in their early days but never got around to issuing recordings of, "Tip Of My Tongue" wound up in the hands of Tommy Quickly (part of Brian Epstein's Liverpool NEMS posse). A peppy, sort of dippy, lightweight rocker (the sort of which inspired the existence of the Rutles), it's still a great pop song and one of the hidden gems in the pair's vast songwriting catalog.

One And One Is Two - The Badbeats (from the "One And One Is Two" 7", 1979)
Here's another song that Lennon & McCartney wrote but didn't officially release, this one is interesting in that it's done by The Badbeats, a band out of Long Island from the late 70s whose two singles consist solely of covers (one was "Tip Of My Tongue"/"One And One Is Two," both Lennon/McCartney compositions, and the other was The Zombies' "Tell Her No" and the Knickerbockers' "Lies"). The band did put together an album, Here Are The Badbeats, but it never came out. What keeps this single interesting, aside from the quality of the songs they were covering, was the performance. Authentic, in a sense, but also still with a whiff of the punk energy that was bristling throughout music at the time. Perhaps a little too reverent, yes, but this first Badbeats single is still a great one and full of vigor, while "One and One Is Two" itself is another lost Beatles classic.

(more to come...)

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Sisters Love - "Give Me Your Love"

It's almost unheard of that someone covering Curtis Mayfield would be able to match his original, let alone possibly surpass it. In this case, I'd say that the Sisters Love have at least matched his original version of "Give Me Your Love" (originally found on his "Superfly" LP). The Sisters Love version is grittier, less cinematic. It's certainly more immediate. It doesn't possess Curtis' virtuosic touch, but the simplicity, force and focus of this version really make it work.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Laurie and The Machine

Can't stop listening to Laurie Spiegel's "The Expanding Universe." Here she is at work.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Adriano Celentano

Tom Jones meets Bollywood = Adriano Celentano's "Prisencolinensinainciusol"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Researching Roy Orbison

I worked on a project over the summer at the University of Maryland, where I helped to research, plan and write an exhibit exploring the career of Roy Orbison. The Special Collections at UMCP (SCPA) contains, among many other collections, the Hugo Keesing Collection. Dr. Keesing is a guy from Columbia, MD. who has collected pop culture related stuff for most of his life and Orbison was one of his prime subjects (as well as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and others). There were boxes and boxes of stuff there -- tons of magazines, photos from concerts, t-shirts, CDs, LPs, singles, a newspaper purloined from Orbison's front porch, correspondence ... all kinds of stuff. Since the 20th anniversary of Orbison's death is in December, SCPA decided to pull together an exhibit that examined both Orbison and the Keesing collection and I'm glad I was able to help. The exhibit is on display now through the spring, so check it out if you can. Go to for more info on the project, including a bio and other stuff that I wrote.

To be honest, I wasn't a big fan of Orbison's heading into this project and I suppose that my opinion hasn't changed much since this summer, regarding the music. It's fine and it has some great moments, but it doesn't speak to me the same way that it does to some others. To me, though, he is a fascinating figure in the history of rock n roll. His influence is undeniable (testimonials from the likes of Dylan, The Beatles, U2, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley and on and on certainly attest to that), but who sounds like him? Who looks like him? Who does anything like what he did, no matter how many hosannas are sent his way? It's a very interesting case and one that really fostered my respect for what he accomplished over a very turbulent career.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Top 10: 10/7/08

1. Booker T. & The MG's at the 9:30 Club 9/21/08 -- The first 45 minutes were kind of brutal. Felt like blues night at the Zoo Bar, but then they kicked into "Green Onions" and "Time Is Tight," which were both solid. That would've really been good enough, but then they brought out Eddie Floyd and he was incredible. The dude is 73 and he certainly taught me a lesson about performance. Plus, The MG's are such a solid backing band that it was interesting to see them slip into that mode so effortlessly. "634-5789," "Knock On Wood," "Soul Man" ... it was solid.

2. Felt Letters at the Black Cat 10/6/08 -- The first D.C. show (I think) from Ian Svenonius and Brendan Canty's new trio. It was an interesting combination of their respective sensibilities, even if the Spiv's seemed to dominate. Although the music was good, again, it was the notion of rethinking a performance that was most interesting to me. Between songs, attention would shift to the right wall of the club as Ian controlled a slide show that was narrated by two people not in the band (one of whom, Justin Moyer, shares my practice space). The series of slides corresponded with a Svenonian dialogue between two aliens contemplating a visit to Earth. Meanwhile, the band would resume playing, but every song ended with one of the band members pointedly (with tongue in cheek) telling the other that they fucked up the song and they needed to stop playing. Really, though, it was just a pleasure to see Ian and Brendan performing onstage again. That, and Ian's dialogue leveling the charge that to say one "plays" music is to infantalize musicians, was also kind of awesome.

3. "The 50 Years War" - a PBS documentary from the late 90s on the Arab-Israeli conflict since the creation of Israel. Epic (6 hours), but seemingly thorough, I felt that I learned a lot from it.

4. "Your Gold Dress" - Dukes Of The Stratosphear - a prime cut from XTC's psychedelic alter-ego. I especially love the point where the song shifts into pristine, Beatlesque pop after a minute of grungy Count Five psych/garage

5. The Mice - Canterbury Bells - A while back, my friend (Muddy Brackbill) introduced me to this Ohio power-pop/punk trio. There had been a CD compilation of the band's LP and an EP and it was a great mix of the aforementioned genres and definitely seemed to set the table for the indie-rock likes of Superchunk (who did indeed cover "Bye Bye Kitty cat"). Anyway, I came across a blog that had the songs that were to make up the never-released swan-song album, "Canterbury Bells." More great songs ("Resurrection Day," "Music Here") and a very nice surprise. The place to start, though, is the "Forever Ever Scooter" CD on Scat Records.

6. Recent acquisitions from the LP holy grail list = Tommy Keene's "Strange Alliance" and the Michael Guthrie Band's "Direct Hits."

7. Josh from Red Onion Records' suggestion that Title Tracks cover The Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action" from start to finish. Maybe so, but "St. Louis Blues"? I'm not sure if I could see us playing that. Hmmm, we'll see. We already know "I Can't Hide," so that's a start.

8. "Anguish" - a 1985 horror film that pulls off the notable feat of combining two mediocre movies into one decent one, via the meta "movie in a movie" scheme. Michael Lerner and Zelda Rubenstein in the same movie is too much for me, but there is some unintentional hilarity and the "real life" scenes in the movie theater can be pretty righteous.

9. "I Got Kind Of Lost" - Big Star - this is from the "Thank You Friends" comp that recently came out and explores the history of Ardent Records/Studios. "I Got Kind Of Lost" was a Chris Bell song that wasn't included on either of the first two Big Star records (although Bell only played on the first one, some of his compositions appear uncredited on "Radio City" -- and there are rumors that he did some backing vox). "I Am the Cosmos" a CD that Ryko back in the 90s is a collection of all of the unreleased Chris Bell recordings, so I know the version of this song from that album best. But this is a take of Big Star doing it and it's easily equal to the Bell solo version. False starts, a more raunchy, lugubrious feel and great, great harmonies from Chilton and Bell. Fantastic and worth the purchase price of the 2xCD alone. "How was that?"

10. The new music blog from my friend, Chris Richards -- Summer Bleeding. It's like being in the van again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Top 10: 8/17/08

1. listening quite a bit to all of the Bee Gees records from "1st" through "Trafalgar"
2. Cabin John Park - that place is like a time machine. Nothing's changed in 25 years.
3. Mad Men - Season 1 on DVD, but also Season 2 on the actual TV. I never watch shows every week like this.
4. Night Of The Comet (1984) on DVD. Kind of flimsy, but has some good valley girl/new wave moments and holds up with other fin de humanité flicks like "Miracle Mile" and "On The Beach."
5. Seemingly anything that Burt Lancaster was in. Elmer Gantry, The Swimmer, Criss Cross, Sweet Smell of Success, Birdman of Alcatraz, Executive Action -- all flicks watched semi-recently and all are great
6. I'm also on a Jack Lemmon tip (The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple, Save The Tiger)
7. Not really into the Olympics like I used to be, but it's still great on occasion
8. The Accents - Yesterday, Today and A Bit Of Tomorrow LP - sort of like the Sandpipers or the Association
9. The Wire - Season 5 on DVD
10. Arthur Alexander - You Better Move On LP

Monday, August 4, 2008

Top 10 : 8/4/08

1. Booker T. & The MGs - Soul Limbo LP (thanks, Scott)
2. Cuby & The Blizzards - "Your Body, Not Your Soul"
3. Mad Men - my favorite show since The Wire
4. Don And The Goodtimes - "I Could Be So Good To You"
5. The new Pelecanos book. Haven't read it yet, but I'm psyched.
6. The Hitmen - "Private Eye" - more poor man's angry young man new wave, of which I'm always a fan
7. Neil Young - "The Ways Of Love" and "Hangin' On A Limb," both from Freedom. Would've fit nicely on Comes A Time.
8. Mortimer - "Singing To The Sunshine" - after years of searching, I finally found this album a few months back (at Red Onion in D.C.).
9. The Idle Race - "Days Of The Broken Arrows"
10. getting a sealed copy of The Sex Clark Five's "Strum and Drum" (many thanks, Rick)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

New Blog

Hey all. This is new spot for my blogging, however infrequent. Thanks.