Friday, August 29, 2008

Track of the Week: Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran

One of the most covered and greatest rock 'n' roll songs was first recorded by Eddie Cochran. While his label tried to turn him into a teen idol crooner, Cochran had great success with "Summertime Blues" despite having it relegated to a B-side. Teenagers are able to relate to certain songs and turn them into big hits. Chuck Berry made a career off this phenomena. But "Summertime Blues" remains the epitome of the genre.

Eddie Cochran

The most legendary cover of "Summertime Blues" links psychedelic garage/freakbeat and hard rock/heavy metal. Blue Cheer...well...just look at the video. The hair! Oh, the hair! And is that Animal on drums?

Blue Cheer

The Who at Woodstock

Brian Setzer in La Bamba

The Tracks
Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran
Summertime Blues by Joan Jett
Summertime Blues by Blue Cheer
Summertime Blues (Live at Monterey) by The Who
Summertime Blues (Live at Leeds, I think) by The Who
Summertime Blues (Studio Outtake)by Brian Setzer

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review: John Cougar Mellencamp "Scarecrow" [1985]

John Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" has always been near to my heart. The title track was actually recorded the day I was born! And despite my having never been on a farm, this record symbolizes what America stands for, which makes it easy to relate to. And considering how much of a drag rock became during the 80's, Mellencamp introduced a record which incorporated both the populism of Woody Guthrie and the spirit of the 60's garage rock sound to address the plight of farmers in the 80's.

Half of "Scarecrow" is the best album of the decade. Those songs make one wish the whole record could remain that strong. However, the other half could best be described as average to slightly above average, with a couple even easily forgettable. And that is sad because the great half is amazing.

Starting off with a bang, "Rain on the Scarecrow" paints a bleak picture which the rest of the record plays off. The pounding, foreboding drums set the scene while Mellencamp's lyrics present both pride in America and a disappointment in what it had become. Not only does he feel disappointed in what he sees happening to people economically, but also the destruction of a way of life and a history. The song remains the darkest on the album (although the music video is extremely colorful and the guys talking at the beginning are dressed incredibly funny).

"Small Town" walks the line between hokey and touching successfully because of Mellencamp's sincerity and the strength of his songwriting. It is a stark contrast to "Rain on the Scarecrow" although essentially being about the same place. I am probably the only one who cares, but the little bit of harmonica towards the end makes the song for me. It reminds me of those early Beatles records I listened to so many times.

The next few song are not as strong, starting with "Minutes to Memories." Basically it adds nothing new and just seems to be a rehashing of the same songs. It sounds nice though. "Lonely Ol' Night" is a very good pop song and one of the better songs on the record. "The Face of the Nation," "Justice and Independence '85" and "Between a Laugh and a Tear" make up the weak portion of the record (especially "Justice and Independence '85" which is just a stupid song).

But then we get to the great "Rumbleseat" and Mellencamp creates an emo song that is not annoying! What a novelty. It helps that it is upbeat, ending on a hopeful note, despite being mostly about being lonely and depressed. If I had to pick a theme song, this would be it.

The next two songs give some context on where Mellencamp sees America outside from the farming issue. "You've Got to Stand Up for Somethin'" makes sense for him to write because considering his active role in politics and takes into account world events and cultural developments. And "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." ties everyone from all walks of life in the United States together under rock 'n' roll. Again, another cool harmonica solo, but the best part is his mentioning of some of the rock 'n' roll greats: Frankie Lyman, Bobby Fuller, Mitch Ryder, Jackie Wilson, the Shangra-Las, the Young Rascals, Martha Reeves and James Brown.

A bonus track finishes off the c.d. "The Kind of Fella I Am" is pretty dark as it delves into the jealousy and anger of Mellencamp or the character (if they are separate) with a touch of misogyny. It is reminiscent of the Beatles "Run for Your Life" with less psycho threats of violence.

Most people want to compare John Mellencamp to Bruce Springsteen and it makes sense. They have similar influences and political positions. However, half of "Scarecrow" stands up to, and even outdoes, much of Springsteen's work. Of course, the Boss has more complete records, but "Scarecrow" is an enjoyable record that everyone should own.

Happy fun times for all with samples!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Track of the Week: Can't Seem to Make You Mine by The Seeds

In this segment I will pick a track to highlight that I believe to be beyond cool. Hopefully I will be able to match it up with a decent cover. That way you can compare the songs and see the different approaches to the same song. Usually the original will be better. Sometimes a cover will outdo it. Either way, I hope you enjoy some of the music I think you should listen to.

This week you get "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" by The Seeds. I recently heard the song in an Axe Bodyspray commercial. Sad, because I despise the stupid Axe ads, but cool because maybe somebody will hear a cool song and decide to look into it.

On Vinyl

Remember when everything seemed like the end of the world, even though 16 or 17 is not even close to being the end? The Seeds capture that feeling better than anyone else has done. I would describe the song as an attempt at soul music by an angst-y teenager who loved soul, but is not that great of a singer. Both the singer and the guitar sound like they are on the verge of crying. Meanwhile the keys sound like a musical rain shower. The sounds combine to make a cocktail of sadness. Of course, unlike the great soul singers, Seeds singer Sky Saxson has a voice that is not nearly as strong and, therefore, not as sure. There is desperation, but not the multi-layered set of emotions that an Otis Redding or Smokey Robinson is able to express. That is what makes the song great. It is the ultimate in teenage forlorn love songs. And the ultimate in garage rock.

On American Bandstand

Garbage Cover

That sounds like I called the band Garbage's version garbage! It is pretty good actually.

The Tracks
Can't Seem to Make You Mine by The Seeds
Can't Seem to Make You Mine by Ramones
Can't Seem to Make You Mine by Garbage

Coming up in the next three weeks: Summertime, Summertime Blues and Stand By Me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Legendary Isaac Hayes

It seems that we keep losing the greats. Isaac Hayes, the mind and voice behind some of the best soul music of all time, died at his home on Sunday at age 65. He had been planning to record a new record.

Hayes exemplified the calm, cool sexiness that departed from most soul music. While his music retained the expressiveness and passion of soul, it did so in a unique, mellow way. Though he was most known for the wildly popular Shaft Soundtrack, he began his career as a songwriter and session musician for Stax Records.

Here, one of the many hit songs he co-wrote for the label, Hold On I'm Coming by Sam & Dave:

From there he began creating his own records and changed the sound of soul music. A perfect example of his sound is captured on my favorite Hayes' song, Walk on By:

Many of his songs stretched the conventions of the typical soul song (conventions shared by pop songs) with longer songs. Despite not taking the approach of James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, Hayes dramatic songs relied more on orchestration than overpowering vocal performances. He calmly dropped his baritone voice over lush sonic landscapes, allowing for intimate records with sweeping dynamics.

But he did not take himself too seriously. His film career included the blaxploitation parody film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.

He later voiced Chef on South Park. The character even influenced a whole bunch of musicians from different genres!

Example Tracks
Hold On I'm Coming by Sam & Dave
Walk On By by Isaac Hayes

Monday, August 4, 2008

Review: Eufonico Fringe "Teatro de La Crueldad"

Earlier this year I saw local band Eufonico Fringe and they were great. After their set they said they had records for sale. When I asked if I could buy one I was instructed to pick from three different colored pyramids. Inside the pyramid was the c.d. and all the track information was hand written in permanent marker on the inside. It was probably the best packaging I have ever seen for a c.d! (I picked the blue one) After listening to the record, "Teatro de la Crueldad," a few times, I have to say, it is pretty good.

Although nearly an hour long, there are but six tracks. The very long songs (the shortest being nearly five minutes and half with the longest weighing in at over eleven minutes) have almost no vocals, save for some insane laughing. While I enjoy their live show and especially the drumming, on the c.d. the drumming sounds horrible. Not the drummer, per se, but the way it is recorded and mixed. It sounds like insane (alleged) killer and legendary record producer Phil Specter's Wall of Sound circa "End of the Century" by the Ramones (they did not like it either), but done in an amateurish way. It is a problem that persists throughout the c.d. and takes away from what is otherwise a very nice sound. Again, it has nothing to do with the performance.

Now that I got all of that mean stuff that makes me feel like an ass out of the way, onto the good stuff (which is most of the record). "Dedos Ambulantes" is a meandering mix of screams, distortion and sound which invokes the audio presentation of the Joker's demented mind on the Dark Knight Soundtrack (minus the large number of musicians and orchestra). Meanwhile, "Guilhotina" is more guitar driven and sounds like more of a psychedelic, progressive rock version of the Liars. "Lamuria" and parts of "Pasar Tiempo" make use of a more experimental edge closer to that of early Pink Floyd without lyrics.

Overall, the record is a decent effort which suffers from periods of bad production. The band itself is creative and interesting both live and on a c.d. If it was not for the production I would be head over heels about "Teatro de la Crueldad," but I think with a more professional recording Eufonico Fringe has the capability to sound as scary and strange as Suicide or as cool as the Liars.

Other Cool Stuff to Check Out:

Dark Knight Original Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (2008): The coolness that is the Dark Knight is presented in dard themes (fair enough) and straight, unmitigated weirdness.

Example Track: Why So Serious?

A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd (1968): Early Pink Floyd that is a showcase for Syd Barrett's crazy mind.

Example Track: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

Suicide by Suicide (1977): As for the scariest thing I've ever listened to? This whole album is it.

Example Track: Ghost Rider

Drum's Not Dead by Liars (2006): Experimental post-punk coolness with a whole mess of noise.

Example Track: Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Awesomeness That Is Norman "Hurricane" Smith

Producers do not usually get much credit for the records they work on and engineers get even less (to absolutely none). One person, however, played an instrumental role during his time filling each of those occupations. His name...Norman Smith, engineer for the first Beatles records and producer of some of the greatest records of all time; even earning himself a few hits in his own write (in that he wrote and sang them).

Working with the Beatles, engineering their records until 1965’s Rubber Soul, Smith helped get the sound that set the Beatles apart from their contemporaries. Due to his exemplary work, Smith was promoted to producer. In 1967, he produced Pink Floyd’s "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and, later, "A Saucerful of Secrets" and half of "Ummagumma."

The Pretty Things created the first rock opera "S.F. Sorrow." And yes, Smith produced that too. Despite being much older (he fought in World War II), he was able to produce some of the most unique and incredible sonic masterpieces of all time, moving beyond what anybody else was doing and staying on the cutting edge.

He even had hits of his own. His voice is strange and the music is cool only in the nerdiest of ways, but the songs are earnest and fun. And he had horrible videos to boot.

And here he is on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Norman Smith’s influence can not be understated. Without him who knows how a comedy record producer and classical music lover who had never produced a pop record (George Martin) paired with a many-times-over-rejected band (The Beatles) would have fared? Smith even stuck up for Ringo when there was talk of getting another (better) drummer.

He led an amazing life and it’s time we recognize him! Hence me writing (babbling) this. There’s a bunch of stuff he worked on towards the top of the post. Check some of it out. Smith had a hand in some really different sounding records.

On March 3, 2008 Mr. Smith passed away.