Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bruce Springstone Live at Bedrock

At the end of summer in 1982, a strange and wonderful record snuck onto the radio for a few weeks.

A singer with a fairly good Bruce Springsteen impression ran through what by then were already well-established Springsteen cliches: populist spoken word sections, fantastic sax solos, heartfelt wailing of a beloved girl's name, etc. Except the song was the theme from "Meet the Flintstones" and the spoken-word section was all about laborers getting off work at the quarry and powering stone cars with their feet.

The record (a 45 with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as the B-side, also in Springsteen style) was available in several of my favorite stores and after hearing it on the radio a few times, I forked over two dollars and bought it. The cover showed Fred Flintsone and Dino leaning against each other like Bruce and Clarence from Born to Run. I wondered who was responsible for these songs, but never found out and eventually forgot all about it. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

[Sorry, YouTube yanked the video after this was posted -- follow the above link to see/listen on MySpace, but embedding is disabled...]

Fast-forward nearly 27 years. I hear a live Bruce Springsteen song on XM radio and the structure of it reminds me exactly of Bruce Springstone. Years earlier, I might've wondered about it for a few days, then moved on. But today, music-lovers have an orgy of online facts and music at their fingertips.

So now I know that Bruce Springstone was the brainchild of Baltimore cartoonist/musician/writer Tom Chalkley (who used to perform Springsteen-ified versions of songs as a party trick). Chalkley sang lead and also drew the back cover image (Springsteen sliding into home plate while holding a guitar). Other musicians included drummer/cartoonist John Ebersberger (who drew the front cover), keyboardist and comics scholar Suzy Shaw, guitarist Craig Hankin (who also did the arrangements with Chalkley), and lead guitarist Tommy Keene.

Two years later, Keene's EP Places That Are Gone got rave reviews and led to a big record deal with Geffin. His album Songs From the Film (including the song "Places That Are Gone") was one of the highlights of the brief power-pop revival of the mid-80s. I couldn't find the "official" video online, but here's a pretty good live version from 1986:

According to Ask Mr. Pop History (and with a name like that, he must have massive cred), the Bruce Springstone single sold 35,000 copies before Hannah-Barbara slapped the musicians with a cease-and-desist order because they felt the cover art infringed on their trademarked images. (Since H-B is a cartoon company, I'm pretty sure their in-house lawyers must have been twirling their evil mustaches while they wrote that letter.)

And is it wrong to draw some solace from the knowledge that Fred Flintsone's stone-age lawyer is bound to get a hernia from lifting a briefcase filled with stone legal tablets?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

When the Toe Rings, Don't Answer

Every girl I know has got some... soul.

What is it about girls with toe rings?

Either they're crazy and worship Motley Crue or they're tie-dyed hippies who worship at the bongwater of the Grateful Dead, or (if you're lucky) they're the geeky power pop grrrls with indie-rock retro glasses.

One summer, I lived near a used-record store located above a Chinese restaurant. I would go in there twice a week after work and browse through the "new arrivals" section. One evening, I saw a gorgeous redheaded girl with a toe ring. She bought a used record by the dBs, so I did too.

The record was great -- one of the original Albion ones -- filled with catchy tunes, good beats, and great harmonies. If there's a soundtrack to summer, this would have to be on it:

In an alternate universe, the dBs would have become superstars and the redheaded girl and I would have had a torrid love affair that lasted (on and off) for the better part of a decade. But, as I've said before, we sadly don't live in that universe. So all that summer, I waited for the redheaded girl in that used-record store that smelled of sticky red sauce and fried rice. She never reappeared. Over the years I bought all the dBs records I could find (but sadly didn't buy a near-mint copy of their "cassette in a can," which is now worth big bucks on eBay).

Years later, on impulse, I went back into that store again. The Chinese restaurant was gone, replaced by an Indian restaurant (which only lasted a few months). Over the wafting aroma of curry, I picked up a copy of the dBs album Like This on CD.
She's got soul but I don't know. Every girl I know has got some soul...

As I turned around, the redheaded girl was behind me. She looked at the CD and smiled. "I liked them better before Chris Stamey left," she said.

I nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, me too! Hey, do you wanna-"

And she cut me off. "I've got a boyfriend." I looked down at her feet. She was wearing socks. Any toe rings she may have been wearing were cut off from public view. "But enjoy the CD."

I nodded sadly and paid for the CD. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

The toe ring giveth... and the toe ring taketh away.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Need Some Loud Guitar

To ease into summer.

Maybe a loud, nasty, fuzzboxy guitar sound is the only proper reaction to something like Theramin Killed the Radio Star:

Maybe all the problems in the country could be solved with a great lick on electric guitar. Preferably playing the theme from The Simpsons.

And if one guitar is good, shouldn't two guitars played at once be twice as good?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Artifact From An Album That Never Was

Blown Away With the Sands.

A friend of mine from college once told me late at night that every time he heard David Bowie, he thought of sand dunes.

Every grain of sand was a potential new career Bowie could have had -- each one strong enough to act as the foundation for a giant dune, but each easily blown away by the wind in favor of a new grain of sand (and a slightly different dune).

So, after a series of cartoonish singles in the late 60s (which then were endlessly repackaged on compilation albums -- "The Laughing Gnome," anyone?), Bowie settled in for a decade of flirtations with hippie folk, glam rock, Philly Soul, electronica, dance pop, and punk-lite.

Following, the commercial and artistic triumph of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, Bowie hauled the Spiders back into the studio to record an offbeat collection of British songs (from groups like the Who, the Pretty Things, the Who, the Easybeats, the Yardbirds, and Pink Floyd) Bowie had loved in the 1960s . The resulting album, Pin Ups, is a strange and wondrous anomaly whose appearance served as a signal that Bowie's career would be built on a foundation of anomalies.

A year later, the Spiders from Mars were gone (with Mick Ronson shifting permanently into a Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter orbit) and Bowie's musical adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 morphed (after Orwell's widow refused to sell the rights) into a dystopian concept album called Diamond Dogs.

Bowie toyed with the idea of recording a sequel to Pin Ups featuring American songs from the late 60s and early 70s, but only completed on song -- a Bruce Springsteen number (plucked from Springsteen's self-consciously Dylanesque debut album) called "Growin' Up":

Bowie's version wouldn't surface until the 1990s, when RykoDisc reissued all the early Bowie albums with a great collection of bonus tracks. Ryko put "Growin' Up" with the other covers on Pin Ups, but the song vanished after Virgin/EMI bought the rights to Bowie's catalogue. The song reappeared a few years later as a bonus track on the 30th anniversary edition of Diamond Dogs (don't worry, there won't be a quiz).

I mentioned Bowie and the grains of sand theory to my friend from college the other day. He insists he never said it and speculates that I dreamed the entire conversation "because isn't college like a four-year dream?" Maybe so. Or maybe it's like Springsteen would say "I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and came out with my soul untouched." (But with lots of great records.)

Still, I would've loved to have heard the whole American Pin Ups album (or even have known what else would have been on it). The one thing I do know is that Bowie (along with Mick Ronson and the other Spiders From Mars) recorded a version of the Velvet Underground's "White Lines/White Heat" during the Pin Up sessions. That song has never been released, but Bowie gave the track to Mick Ronson, who kept erased Bowie's vocals and recorded his own, releasing it on his Play, Don't Worry album. One year, I had a temporary job cleaning up dorm rooms after students moved out. In one room, I found a huge pile of sand in the corner, along with an unopened bottle of Tequila and a vinyl copy of Play, Don't Worry. I gave away the Tequila, kept the record, and swept up the sand, which blew away in the breeze like the shifting sand dunes of David Bowie's career.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ten Top Problems with Top Ten Lists

Again, I scour the internets so you won't have to.

While hunting for a digitized version of Bruce Springsteen's "Held Up Without a Gun" (the studio version that only appeared as the B-side of the "Hungry Heart" single and has never been on an album and never appeared on CD, not the live version), I stumbled upon a wealth of musical Top Ten Lists.

And realized there are a lot of problems with many of the Top Ten Lists online. So many problems that I came up with a Top Ten list of Problems with (musical) Top Ten Lists:

10. You gotta actually number the list. (And I'm talking to you, ThrowawayBlog!) Yes, people will quibble with your placement of the Top 10 Science Fiction songs of all time... but isn't that why you posted them? Besides, it fools no one when you include 11 songs in your Top Ten and think no one will notice just because they're not numbered!

9. Don't confuse best and worst. When you're making a list of the Top Ten Best Band Names of All Time, you want "the Mr. T Experience," when you're making a list of the worst band names of all time, not so much.

8. Don't forget that not all of your readers will be named Stacey... especially when you're making a list of Top Ten Best Songs About Your Mom.

7. Yeah, it was weird when Run-DMC and Aerosmith teamed up on the remake of "Walk This Way," but it actually worked. So maybe that wouldn't belong on the list of Top Ten Weird Musical Collaborations. On the other hand, the James Brown/Pavarotti collaboration is so bizarre it might just deserve two places on the list.

6. You gotta start at Number 10 and work your way down to Number 1. Otherwise people see that you selected "Pac Man Fever" as your Top Novelty Song of all time and just stop reading.

5. Number 6 is especially true with a bizarre list like the Weirdest Songs Played at Funerals (and please, reporters, verify that someone really played "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and you weren't just hearing a joke from the weird cousin no one likes).

4. If you have a wide-ranging list, such as the Top Ten Weird Al songs, you might want to state how you chose them. Otherwise it's just random.

3. Speaking of Weird Al, can you really have a list of Top Ten Songs to Munch On and only include one of Weird Al's food songs? Although what can you expect from someone who thinks Pop Tarts suck toasted? :)

2. Don't be afraid to include items on your list that don't really belong but are still cool. But don't be surprised if this upsets people. And don't say things like, "if I put MP3s on the headless Barbie USB drive, it would sort of fit in the list"! (On the other hand, the fish-stick drive would be a great way to store all the songs from Number 3.)

1. No one can possibly believe deep down in their heart that the accordian is geekier than the theremin.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Songs by Battery Type

Certain songs just evoke specific moods.

And certain sizes of batteries.

When I was a kid, I owned a transistor radio, but I remember nothing about it other than it's color (beige) and the round tuning wheel I used to shift between a half-dozen AM stations. It was a radio that seemed ancient even when it was brand new.

So did the song "Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again" by the Fortunes, which I always thought of as a song from the mid-60s until I stumbled upon it on YouTube, Googled it, and realized in came out in 1971. (Maybe the slick 70s strings should have given it away.) The other thing I remembered about this song is that I can't hear it without thinking of a transistor radio powered by a 9-volt battery. Even though I'm not sure I ever owned a transistor radio powered by a 9-volt battery (or if I ever heard this song on a transistor radio).

Similarly, I remember Minnie Riperton's "Loving You" as a tiny whispered song (must be the "la-la-la-la-las" or the tinkly music-box keyboard sounds) even though the vocal has a lot of power behind it. Maybe that explains why I always picture AAA batteries when I hear this song (and associated AA batteries with an ever-so-slightly edgier sound, like an Olivia Newton-John ballad).

On the other hand, I can't listen to "Fire" by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, without thinking of a car battery hooked up to a huge boombox. Maybe that's because -- even though I've never actually seen a huge boombox powered by a car battery (and have definitely never heard this song on any size of boombox) -- I suspect that hooking up anything electrical to a car battery will cause an explosion.

And, in my mind at least, it's not possible to listen to certain bands with battery power. Led Zeppelin, for example, requires so much juice that you need a wall plug (and maybe a spare fuse).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Icelandic Buster Poindexter

You remember Buster Poindexter, right?

After the New York Dolls (whose immeasurable influence is matched by its dismal record sales) imploded, David Johansen made a couple of solo albums and decided, partially as a goof, to record party tunes and novelty songs under the name "Buster Poindexter." And then came "Hot Hot Hot" (which Johansen later would describe as the "bane of my existence"). You couldn't escape from this song in the late 80s (back when MTV still played music) and with a kick-ass horn section and backing vocals from future Mrs. Springsteen Patty Scialfa, why would you want to?

Recently, thanks to the fantastic I Heart Icelandic Music blog, I discovered the Icelandic equivalent of Buster Poindexter: Bogomil Font. Font is better known as Siggi Baldursson, the drummer for Bjork's band the Sugarcubes. In the early 1990s, perhaps partially as a goof, Siggi started performing songs that featured world beats and a horn section. (He then moved to the U.S. while his wife went to grad school.) Bogomil Font and the Millionaires were back in Iceland (in the Westfjords, no less) recently and here's a live version of "Eat Your Car."

I have no idea what the verses mean, but apparently the economy is so bad in Iceland that even millionaires are eating cars...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Weird Stuff from the Internets

I scour the Internets for weirdness, then bring it back safely to you.

They're not booing, they're yelling "Tuba" (link for Gmail subscribers):

"The Final Countdown" on cellos?! Hell, yeah!

USB drive dressed up as mix tape for Halloween. And it still sounds okay after you leave it in your car's glove compartment over the summer!

Monday, May 4, 2009

How Sweet to Be an Idiot

Just a tad more Neil Innes.

After the Rutles album came out, there was a lot of talk about how similar the songs were to Beatles songs (including this article, which proves that scholarly study of humor will almost immediately spiral into self-parody).

Unfortunately, the owners of the Beatles publishing (but not the Beatles themselves) decided that the Rutle songs were too close to Beatle songs and sued. In the process, Innes lost all the publishing and songwriting royalties for all the songs from the first Rutles album (and was so disgusted with the music business that he dropped out of music for several years). Add in legal squabbling with Eric Idle about legal ownership of the idea of the Rutles, and you've got enough to make you want to smash everything in sight. (And blame it on society.)

But the universe does have a way of showing that there is such thing as Karma, even if it takes longer than we want. In the mid-1990s, Oasis, a band whose music is often ignored while people focus on their influences and frequent fistfights, released a song called "Whatever" which -- and I'm not sure how to put this delicately -- sounds exactly like the Neil Innes song "How Sweet to Be an Idiot."

And, perhaps in part to make up for mistreating him financially with the Rutles, the universe awarded Innes royalties and co-writing credit on "Whatever."


Saturday, May 2, 2009

All My Friends Are Pirates (And We Sail the BBC)

If Neil Innes had done nothing in his life besides the Rutles, he'd deserve shrines on half the world's continents.

But, as it happened, he did a lot more -- from almost all the Monty Python music to the music-oriented Innes Book of Records and Rutland Weekend Television on the BBC. (I'll leave it to you to decide if that warrants shrines on the other half of the world's continents.)

Rutland Weekend Television is sadly unavailable on video or DVD thanks to clearance issues, but is a great outlet for Innes songs (and the comedy of Eric Idle, who was then at his peak).

The spoof of Tommy alone is reason enough to issue this on DVD:

And another one from Rutland.

And what's a TV show without famous guest stars?