Monthly Archives: January 2012

Rock ‘n Read: Catch A Wave

I’ve been interested in Brian Wilson every since I snagged a copy of PET SOUNDS from my uncle in Tennessee about 10 years ago.  I’d always been of the mind that The Beach Boys were the lame-American answer to The Beatles.  And while 90% of the Beach Boys music is cringe-worthy and almost embarrassingly bad at times…there was a period in the early 1960s when Brian Wilson was the greatest songwriter on Earth.

PET SOUNDS is one of my all-time favorite records, and it’s always on my iPod.  That record speaks to me in so many ways and on so many different levels.  The next Beach Boys album after PET SOUNDS was going to be even better.  It was going to be stupendous and change rock music forever.  And then–?–something happened and he became a complete nutcase.

What happened after PET SOUNDS became the stuff of legend, however, but not the way Brian Wilson, or anyone for that matter, would have wanted. Rather than recording a masterpiece he lost his shit and the entire album was shelved after being hyped by the record label for over a year.  That mythic, lost album was SMILE.  The Beach Boys next album would ultimately be SMILEY-SMILE, a watered-down version of what many claimed was the Holy Grail of ’60s rock.

Drugs, psychosis, greed, selling-out, and not measuring up to one’s potential.  Did I leave anything out? The story of Brian Wilson has always fascinated me.  So I picked up Peter Ames Carlin’s book CATCH A WAVE: THE RISE, FALL, & REDEMPTION OF THE BEACH BOYS’ BRIAN WILSON even though I’d just read a book last year covering The Beach Boys.  I didn’t really learn anything new, other than a few nasty tidbits about Brian’s cruel father Murray (this book alleges that Murray’s abuse cost young Brian his hearing which is not the story I heard in the other book I read last year).

CATCH A WAVE goes in chronological order and paints a pretty good portrait of Brian Wilson’s early life and initial success.  The book gets a little boring when it’s subject loses his mind and stops working.  You would think that writing about a rock ‘n roll lunatic would be an instant grandslam–but reading about a guy getting fat and growing a beard ain’t all that interesting.  For that reason the middle of the book becomes less about Brian and more about The Beach Boys artistic and commercial success-post Brian (or rather, the lack of that success).  I guess the author had no choice but to reduce Brian’s presence in the book near the middle when Brian reduced his presence from reality.  I do wish the author would have talked a bit more about the Brian’s shelving of SMILE, specifically his belief that his song “Fire” was causing fires to break out across LA.  I also would have like for him to go into more detail about the Brian Wilson/Charles Manson connection.

The book, which is fairly recent, covers the re-recording of SMILE Wilson did a few years ago.  The author raised a few good points about whether this new SMILE should have been released at all, and what (if anything) this recording of SMILE might have done to the “legend” of SMILE.  I found that last part of the book to be really interesting and thought-provoking. As a metaphor, the album’s release totally kills SMILE.  That bummed me out.  I’m ashamed to say that it bummed me out more than reading about Brian’s abuse as a child or even the decades he wasted sitting around the house doing nothing.

Overall, I would recommend you read this book if you are interested in reading about Brian Wilson or if you don’t feel like you hate Mike Love enough.  Seriously, that guy comes off as a total asshole.  My favorite part was when he was bad-mouthing PET SOUNDS when Brian was trying to get the band to record it…only to back peddle years later and claim the entire thing was his idea, Mike Love comes off as Rock’s biggest asshole.  And you thought you had bad cousins.

CATCH A WAVE gets 3 out of 5 kicks of Mike Love’s balls. 

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New Rock ‘N Roll Jolly Roger Podcast

This week’s podcast is up on iTunes or you can download/listen here.

There’s plenty of pop, rock, and obligatory metal.  Enjoy kiddies! Argh!

 

 

New(er) Van Halen Song Not A Complete Embarrassment

That new Van Halen album is coming out in about 2 weeks, and another song has been unveiled.  Well kinda, this time we only get a little bit of the song (like a minute and a half).  The track is called “Blood and Fire” and the most surprising thing about it is that it doesn’t completely suck.  Does it have that same vigor and excitement as the old Van Halen? Well…no, but then again these are old dudes (and one fat fuck*) that we’re talking about.

There's no stopping this train...let's just hope it dosen't completely embarrass itself.

Despite not getting to hear the whole thing I must say that overall it does fill me with a special kind of hope: that this new Van Halen album won’t be so shitty we’ll all be too embarrassed by it to admit that we like Van Halen.  At this point, if it just kinda sucks I’ll be happy.

Bottom line (Part I): The first song made me wretch, this one…not so much.  That’s good!

Bottom line (Part II): I’m gonna buy this album the day it comes and out bitch about it, because that’s all I’m good for these days.

Take a listen to (part of) this new Van Halen song and tell me what you think:

*I pick on Wolfgang only because I’m jealous**

**And he’s a lucky fat-fuck to be Eddie Van Halen’s son.

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Will Owsley is Dead.

Man this bums me out.  Will Owsley is dead.  I found out about it yesterday, third-hand. I was listening to a really cool podcast, Michael Butler’s Rock and Roll Geek Show, and it was mentioned casually.  Apparently he killed himself back in 2010.  I wish that I was able to write something like “Will Owsley is dead, you might not know who he was, but no doubt you know his music…”  But I can’t write that because you most certainly didn’t know his music.

And I think that on some level, that might be why he’s no longer with us.

But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know the reason I man I never met killed himself.  I think it would be a waste of time to trot out the old cliche of the tortured artist who kills himself.  We all toil in obscurity, to some degree, so why should that matter?  Besides, it’s ghoulish to romanticize the suicide of a 44-year-old father of two (his children are so young, the oldest being around 14).  I can’t tell you why Will Owlsey killed himself, but I can tell you why I think he was special.

Will Owsley was a guitarist, first and foremost.  He moved to Nashville and became a side-man in some semi-impressive B-level country acts.  His biggest claim to fame was his stint as a member of Amy Grant’s live band during the early 1990’s.  From there he landed a gig playing for Shania Twain.  It was this modest tour work that allowed Owsley to pay for the recording of his own music, and in 1999 he released his first solo album OWSLEY. Despite coming from a largely country background, OWSELY was a “power pop” album.  Influenced by The Beatles and The Cars, Owsely’s first album was met with critical praise…but little commercial success. Despite the fact that the album was nominated for a Grammy for it’s production.

This is a great fucking record.

OWSLEY is a great record. The songs are all super-catchy.  I would compare OWSLEY to a mid-period Weezer album performed entirely by Ben Folds.  As I re-listen to some of the songs, I notice there is a lot of bitterness mixed in the catchy, sugary lyrics . Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’m projecting my knowledge of his death onto a simple pop artifact.  That’s a good word to describe OWSLEY, “artifact.”

I remember the first time I heard it in 2004, I felt like an archeologist who’d just unearthed a long lost treasure.  When the punk-y album opener “Oh No The Radio” blastedg out of my car’s stereo I was in heaven.  Top-to-bottom I was impressed with the record, and when it was finished I hit ‘play’ again.  It was that good.

I was soon excited to learn that Owsley had recorded and released a follow-up album a few months before I’d initially stumbled upon him.  So as soon as I’d  sufficiently absorbed OWSLEY I went and bought THE HARD WAY.  I can still remember the first time I played THE HARD WAY and was floored at how…different Owsley’s voice sounded.  I still can’t put my finger on it, but it was different.  Deeper and less playful. Once I got over the slight difference in the vocals (I blame auto-tuneing), I was once again impressed with the songwriting.  THE HARD WAY was more rock and less-pop, but good nonetheless.  Of course, it was a sophmore album, so there were a few clunkers (like “Dude” which is too serious to feature such prominent use of the word dude).

I was always on the look-out for Owsley, determined to see him live.  But if there was a tour for THE HARD WAY it never came to city near me. The songs were all good, but not what was being played on the radio.  No one I ever met seemed to have heard of him.  Indie online label Not Lame Records were big supporters online, and his records are highly rated on serious music websites, like AllMusic.  Bit he never got much attention elsewhere.    I’ve been a fan of small, independent bands for a long time, so I knew the drill–a really good band/songwriter puts out a killer album, it gets overlooked and he/she/it/they are never heard from again.  The fact that Owsley got to put out a second record meant that he’d had SOME measure of success, but not the kind that makes you famous.

I never forgot about Owsley, but I did move on.  Apparently he put out a digital-only double single in 2005 “Psycho” and “Upside Down” but I’ve never heard them.  Owsley spent the last five years of his life backing super-lame, but more successful Disney-brand artists like The Jonas Brothers and Miley “The Virus” Cyrus. It makes me sick because they weren’t even in his league, not by a mile.  But that’s the “business” part of show business, I guess.

Anyway, I guess I’m done eulogizing someone I never met.  Instead, let me turn you onto some awesome songs. Let me introduce to Owsley:

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Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger Podcast #2

Well I recorded a new podcast.  If you want, go to iTunes and search “Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger” and subscribe. Or you can can listen by clicking here.

There was no theme this week, I just played some really good music including: Wavves, The Strokes, Mastodon, The Cult, The Yahoos, and more!!!

I’m a little rusty podcasting, but I’ll find my podcast-legs soon enough. I’m going to try to do one show a week.  Comment if you have any song suggestions/requests.

Etta James (1938-2012)

Well now this is sad news: blues singer Etta James died today.  The singer, best know for songs such as “At Last” and  “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” was 73 years old.  She leaves behind a legacy of timeless, American classics.  James was a major influence on singers both male and female.  I have no doubt that there would be no Adele or Amy Winehouse without Etta James.  Rolling Stone magazine ranked  her 1961 album AT LAST! as #116 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time. In 2008 Beyonce Knowles portrayed her in the film CADILLAC RECORDS (which I must admit that I never saw, but I heard good things).

RIP

I’ve spent many a Sunday mornings listening to Etta James on my record player.  Her music really holds up, even more so with the current “retro” blues/soul revival that began with Amy Winehouse and continues today.  There’s something magical about a lot of the music from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Singers like Frank Sinatra and Etta James seemed to have had a special bag of magic when they were recording, their work not only continues to thrive but seemed exist in timeless vacuum.

She will be missed, but we’ll always have the music.

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Terrible Country Songs: 5 Songs I Can’t Believe Were Hits

Can you believe I had to hear “Red Solo Cup” 5 times today at work?  I really don’t know what to say, I think it might be the end times, kids.  Except it’s not the end-times, is it?  No, we’ve seen days just as dark as these “Red Solo Cup” days.  I thought about it and there’s been a bunch of SUPER, laughably bad  country songs over the years.  Most of them, it turns out, were really big hits.  Here are my top 5 worst country songs of all time:

1.  “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus.  I really wish this 1992 turd of a song was the worst thing that Billy Ray ever produced, but we all know that ain’t true.  Still, this song is super-bad and is universally reviled now…but back when it came out it was a massive hit.  I remember this song spawning a bunch of news stories about the growing popularity of country line dancing.  Boy, we all know how that turned out.   For me the worst part of this song is (and this will be a common theme among all of these songs) the stupid lyrics.  I had a hell of a time typing “Achy Breaky.”  Those words just look wrong together.

Oh, this guys' cool...

2. “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney.  This song is still popular (I heard it on the radio today) but boy is it awful.  The idea is okay I guess.  I mean it’s…um…sexy to be a farmer, right?.  The reality is: being a farmer is not sexy, Chesney’s grating voice is not sexy, and you’re an idiot.  This is one of those songs that every time I hear it I can’t believe someone had the balls to record and release it.  The amazing part is (of course) it was a huge hit. Real farmers are too damn tough to care about being sexy, but that’s not even what this song is really about, it’s about sexy FARMING EQUIPMENT. Oh, country music, never change.

I'm not into farm equipment, but I'd totally hit that.

3. “Goodbye Earl” by The Dixie Chicks.  Okay, this one is awful and funny as hell.  So these three chicks write a song about a woman who is abused.  Still with me? Nothing unusual about that, especially in a country song. She (shockingly) gets her revenge on him and kills him…by poisoning his black eyed peas(?).  I’m not sure if it’s possibly to be any more “hick” than that.  I remember seeing the music video when the song first came out, it was hilariously bad (Earl was played by Dennis Franz).  There’s a right way to handle delicate subject matter, such as spousal abuse…and this song is definitely not it.  “Hey Earl! Time to die!” Oh, I get it…he gave her a shiner so it’s okay that we’re killing him.  The ironic part is, the same soccer moms who sang along with this song were the SAME people giving 90s rappers a bunch of shit about killing cops and slapping hoes. I get it, it’s okay when you do it.

DO. NOT. EAT. THOSE. PEAS.

4.  “Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy.  So this the only song on this list (thus far) to be turned into a cartoon movie.  The song was inexplicably popular in the early 80s and remains in heavy rotation during the Christmas season.  But why? Why does a song about a grandma getting killed  by a reindeer get a special place in our collective hears? Probably because we’re both terribly mean and terribly stupid. To be fair, this song made me laugh when I was 11.  Now it just makes me shake my head.

Grammy's dead, Happy Christmas.

5.  “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (the Angry American)” by Toby Keith.  You know, I think of all the songs mentioned on this list, I hate this one the worst.  It’s utterly stupid on so many levels.  First off, I can’t stand the song’s jingoistic bullshit.  It really burns my ass that Keith put a song like this out after 9/11.  There didn’t seem to be very much of a musical reaction to 9/11 (other than one sleepy Springsteen album) so this song pretty much had to represent us as a nation.  That wouldn’t be so bad if the song wasn’t an almost parody of America–the violent, brutish oaf who blunders about the globe.   The song’s imagery is hilarious.  Really, Toby? The Statue of Liberty is going to shake her fist with anger? Way to turn a beacon of hope into a hateful monster, you piece of shit.  You do know she’s French, right? “Red Solo Cup” is embarrassing for Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” is embarrassing for America.

This song makes me want to hear "Red Solo Cup" again.

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Van Halen Announces 2012 Tour Dates, I Wank Dismissively

Well it looks like another Van Halen tour is really going to happen.  You can check out the complete list of dates over at the band’s website, but if you live in the continental United States Van Halen is playing in a city near you.  I’m sure the tickets will be super-pricy and I’m sure a majority of the dates will sell out.  I’m also sure that everyone is going to get up and go to the bathroom during “Tattoo” and the other two or three new songs they play.  I guess that’s just the way of the world.

Speaking of “Tattoo”  I have some rather disturbing news to report.  I’m afraid that all this week I’ve had the song running through my head. I haven’t really been humming or singing it per say…I just keep thinking about it.  Sort of like the musical equivalent of tonguing one’s canker sore.  It hurts me and every time I think about it I’m shocked and how much it hurts.  Not that I’m saying the song is like a canker sore (it’s worse, canker sores go away eventually, this piece of shit song is going to last until the end of time).

I really wish I’d been able to see Van Halen back in their heyday, but I’m going to be suckered by another “Dinosaurs of Rock” tour.  The last one that I saw, AC/DC was really fucking good.  In fact, AC/DC was better than they deserve to be considering. But the band I saw before that was The Police reunion, and let me tell you, that was downright disgusting.  I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.  I guess that’s the problem with making the kind of loud, in-your-face, youthful music like Van Halen used to make: it’s pathetic when old dudes try to pull it off.  Besides, I’m not getting any younger myself and arena-rock shows just aren’t my bag anymore. Better leave those to the kids…

There's nothing wrong with being a fat kid...just don't be in Van Halen.

*SHUDDER*

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Over-thinking Toby Keith’s crappy “Red Solo Cup”

This post is lovingly dedicated to my friend Becky.

I’m not one of these people who thinks that all music has to “say something” or be “serious art” all the time.  But I gotta say, I really hate novelty songs.  No matter how clever or funny you think a novelty song is, given enough time you’re gonna hate it.  Which is why even after 25+ years of making music, Weird Al si still on the fringes of  cultural acceptance.  Novelty songs are bubble-gum in the purest sense: it’s sugary and good for about two minutes before it turns nasty and you have to spit it out.

Last week I heard Toby Keith’s song “Red Solo Cup” for the first time at work.  I share an office now with an older woman who likes to listen to the radio while we work. Unlike a lot of people I don’t mind not getting to pick the radio station, sometimes I like hearing new things.  And besides, I’m at work, what am I gonna do?  It’s not like I have a choice…

So we were listening to the local country station and this song came on about fucking plastic cups.  Now I’m not a huge country fan but not all country is stupid hillbilly music. Johnny Cash was a badass and I like Gram Parsons. Anyway, one of the appeals of country music is the material, the idealized agrarian lifestyle, the yearning for simpler times, surviving a harsh world, bucking broncos,  and crying in one’s beer.  Modern country music isn’t about anything cool like that.  It’s basically about the same stuff as mainstream pop music is about.  But you know, with a twang.

This Toby Keith song, “Red Solo Cup” is basically a song about that ubiquitous party cup.  But if you think about it, the Red Solo Cup represents everything bad-ass outlaw Country dudes SHOULD be against.  The Red Solo Cup ain’t even from Texas, it’s from New York City….NEW YORK CITY!!!

Toby, are you saying I'm a loser for not liking your cup song?

Seriously, think about it: the Red Solo Cup is part of the  “disposable lifestyle” that of corporate America’s always shoving down our throats.  The idea that we should use a cup once and throw away is anti-artisan, anti-homemade, and anti-country. But hey, Toby’s just a good-time good ‘ole boy! He’s not here to THINK he’s here to DRINK. Okay, fine.  But how about the fact that this song is basically a spoken-word piece.  It’s not really sung so much as “read” by Toby Keith.  Which, again, is fine except the same red-neck idiots who giggle and guffaw at this bullshit have the nerve to turn around and say ignorant shit like “well rap ain’t music, that’s just talkin’.”

And anyway at the heart of the matter: it’s a stupid one-joke song.  It’s “Grandma Got Run-over by a Reindeer.” Except that song is slightly better because “Grandma Got Run-over by a Reindeer” is a Christmas song, and thus only played during the holidays which helps keep it away from me most of the time. The fact that this plastic cup song is #1 Country song on iTunes AND it’s played every hour-on-the-hour on the local Country radio station is both bleak and telling.  If I was flipping through the dial I might even think I’d stumbled upon a really long commercial.

Which reminds me., you know who’s happy about this song? Well, besides Toby Keith, who’s no doubt loving the fact that he’s enjoying some success again: the Solo Cup Company.  I bet they’re laughing all the way to bank.  In fact, I predict that in a few years we’ll see a Solo Cup ad or commercial that uses this song (you know, when it’s no longer culturally relevant and the licensing fees are more economical).

Bottom line: “Red Solo Cup” is going to be the answer to an obscure trivia question in about six months, just wait and see.

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Bonus METAL MONDAY post: “Prehistoric Dog” by Red Fang

This video is hilarious, and metal as hell.

“Hey! Gandalf! Nice dress…”

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