Monthly Archives: February 2014

“Go” by Valley Lodge

The postings have kinda fallen off here at Defending Axl Rose, and for that I’m sorry.  I’ve been busy working a new job, tinkering with a novel I started writing in January, and writing concert previews for a Colorado fashion/culture webzine, 303 Magazine.

But fear not, despite a fuller-than-usual plate, I have been rocking out to new music.  I was recently turned onto Valley Lodge, a delightfully crunchy power-pop outfit out of New York.  Their latest album, USE YOUR WEAPONS, is in heavy rotation here at the D.A.R. compound.  The first track “Go” is ridiculous and ridiculously good.  Seriously, I defy you to hear this song and not smile…and tap your foot.

valleylodge_band

I plan on writing a full album review this weekend, but in the meantime, why not get the jump on all your friends and get familiar with Valley Lodge? This is serious power-pop for pop-loving people.

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METAL MONDAY: “If You Have Ghosts” by Ghost

I shan’t lie, I’m a huge fan of Swedish heavy metal rockers Ghost (now called Ghost B.C. but whatever).  I love their larger-than-life Satan worshiping antics and their sweeping Blue Oyster Cult-vibe.  Most of their tunes have a dark heart, and while I dig that about them, I can’t help but love their earnest (dare I say, sweet?) cover of Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts.”

ghostep600

Stirring strings? Silky smooth vocals? Killer guitar? Check. Check. And check. This song kicks so much ass.  And Dave Grohl on rhythm guitar is there to add a badass cherry on this hard rock sundae.

“If You Have Ghosts” appears on a recently released EP of the same title, like the band’s prior full length LP’s its is highly recommended.


Also, I’m super stoked because Ghost is embarking on a North American tour that will include a city near me! I can’t wait to see them.

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Please Stop Emailing/Commenting/Messaging Me About COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.

One of my most popular posts is an article I wrote about singer Robin Zander’s mysterious country-ish solo album.  That record, COUNTRYSIDE BLVD, is a solid effort from one of rock’s more interesting frontmen (Zander is the lead singer of Cheap Trick).  I wouldn’t call it great, but it’s pleasant enough, and yet people will not stop contacting me about this record.  So what’s so special about COUNTRYSIDE BLVD? Well, due to murky record label shenanigans, the album has never been properly released.

Dear DREAM POLICE: What is under that hat?

Dear DREAM POLICE: What is under that hat?

Well, that’s not true…the album has been released on a variety of digital music platforms (like Amazon’s music store) only to be yanked down time and again after being available for only a few hours.  Thus, 99.99% of Zander’s fans have only heard the album in pieces or through bootleg copies.   It was recently announced on Zander’s (amazingly cartoonish) website that a live album of this material is going to be released…soon.  How strange is that? A live album coming out when the proper album is not? Clearly this is case is a textbook, quintessential, case of the darkside of the record industry/music biz if there was one.

I am literally speechless.  SOURCE: RobinZanderband.com

I am literally speechless. SOURCE: RobinZanderband.com

I acquired a copy of the album (digitally, natch) through a hardcore Cheap Trick fan/podcaster who shall remain nameless.  I don’t approve to illegal downloading, after all I’m the rube who buys CD’s and pays for Spotify (well, I used to at least, till my finances took a tumble when I relocated).  That said, when something is not made available for the public to buy, I don’t have problem with file sharing.  That said, if you download this album from me and it somehow sees the light of day, please buy it. Robin Zander needs all the money he can get to hide that receding hairline.

Click here for COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.

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“Valentine” by The Replacements

“If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will/And knock you back with something sweet and strong.”

Paul Westerberg perfectly captures the sleazy hopelessness of young, desperate love in “Valentine.”  The song was recorded by The Replacements for their 1987 album PLEASED TO MEET ME, and pretty much the only V-Day song I’m going to be listening to today. The song’s opening lines, in which a star wished upon turns out to just be an airplane tells you everything you need to know about this song.  I wouldn’t call Westerberg unsentimental, I’d just call him a realist.  Love’s a drug and we’re all junkies. 

These guys KNOW what love's really all about.

These guys KNOW what love’s really all about.

Valentine’s Day is just like all the other holidays: a good idea twisted into an excuse for people to spend money they don’t have. Take time to think about all the love you’ve had and currently have, but don’t buy a fucking greeting card.

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Songs Ruined By Pop Culture

One the of great properties of music is its ability to serve as a sort of emotional shorthand.  Songs about love or loss allow us to experience these feelings vicariously while also drawing upon our own pool of half-buried emotion.  Songs can have personal connections to us, but what I’m talking about are the broader, surface-level connections that we all feel to some degree.  Every time you hear Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” you don’t get a knot in your stomach thinking about a dark-haired girl I knew in 8th grade. But when we all hear The Beatles “Something” or Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” we all feel an approximation of the same thing.

This ability to instantly invoke feeling makes music the perfect complement to film and television shows that want to underscore and heighten their down dramatic moments.  When used effectively, the results are memorable and wonderful.  That said, there are some songs that are used a little too frequently in films/shows, turning a wonderful thing into a cheat, a lazy-shorthand for actual emotion.  Worse, there are other uses of songs in various pop culture where, even when not overused, become so iconic that the song ceases to have a life outside this one specific use.  For me, these songs are ruined.   Perhaps ruined is too strong a word, but whenever a song becomes unlistenable without conjuring up residual cultural baggage that’s what it feels like to me.  Ruined.

Don't drop that thing on your head...

Don’t drop that thing on your head…

Here are some notable songs “ruined” by pop culture:

1. “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel.  Most casual music fans are probably under the impression that this is a Bob Dylan song.  “Stuck in the Middle With You” feels like a Dylan song because the song was conceived as a spoof of Dylan.  The song was released in 1972 and by 1973 reached all the way to #6 on the Billboard Music Charts. Songwriters Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan put out two more albums and then disbanded, with Rafferty going onto have moderate solo success including a hit with his 1978 song “Baker Street.”  The song probably would have remained a curiosity/answer to a trivia question had director Quentin Tarantino not resurrected the song for his feature film debut Reservoir Dogs.  The song took on a fresh, demonic connotation when Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, gleefully tortures a policeman while dancing to the track.   Now 99.99% of people are unable to hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” without thinking about ears being lopped off.

2. “Gimmie Shelter” by The Rolling Stones.  The first cut off the Stones 1969 classic LET IT BLEED, “Gimmie Shelter” is an epic tour de force.  The song is notable for prominently featuring vocals from a non-Rolling Stone (singer Merry Clayton) and for tackling the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time. The song’s dark, seductive groove and “rape and murder” references make the song ideal for use in films with violent content.  So not surprisingly, the the song has been used in countless cops ‘n robbers shows and films.  I also think it’s impossible to make a film about the Vietnam War without using this and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” But the person who really ruined this song was director Martin Scorsese who has used it in not one, but three films: Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed. It’s a great song, but it has been done to death.  For a song about the horrors of the Vietnam War, I sure do think of garlic-breathed mobsters when I hear it…

3. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Originally released in 1986, “In You Eyes” was the first song on the second side of Gabriel’s fifth solo album SO.  Essentially a perfect time capsule of 1980’s pop, SO also famously featured the hits “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer.”  At the time of the album’s release, “Sledgehammer” was the bigger hit due in part to a really cool stop-motion animated music video.  But all that changed three years later when Cameron Crowe used the song in his teenage love story Say Anything… The song gained renewed attention and immortality when, near the film’s climax, John Cusack blasts the song from a boombox hoisted high over his head.  I was but a babe when Say Anything… came out, so the nostalgia is a bit lost on me, but even I can’t hear Gabriel’s song without thinking of Cusack.  The song’s been used over the years in similar context, but everybody is really just copying Crowe.

4.  “All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan but covered famously by Jimi Hendrix.  Everybody agrees that Hendrix was a guitar god, and his cover of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is an amazing interpretation (seriously, have you heard Dylan’s version?) but much like “Gimmie Shelter” the song has been co-opted by filmmakers who use the song as a kind of shorthand for “doing drugs in ‘Nam.” The song’s use in Forest Gump is the gold standard of such use (that film is probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to using music as lazy shorthand).   The track’s overuse has reached the point of cliché, I actually laughed when I saw Zack Synder’s Watchmen film where the song’s use bordered on parody.

5.  “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers.  The title track off the George Thorogood’s 1982 album, “Bad to the Bone” was not a hit.  But within a few short years “Bad to the Bone” became the band’s most recognizable hit.  How you ask?  Because the song has been used countless time to telegraph to the audience that a certain character is a badass.  Most famously the song was used in conjunction with Arnold Schwarzenegger in T2: Judgment Day when the muscular robot first dons his iconic black motorcycle jacket.  “Bad to the Bone” was a kinda cool tough-guy song that has now been watered-down into a novelty song, thanks in part to it’s uber-level of machismo.  Today the song is now mostly used in comedies in contrast with a particularly un-tough character (i.e. a loveable loser).

6.  “What I Am” by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians.  The impetus for this list was the recent use of Edie Brickell’s 1988 one-hit wonder “What I Am” on HBO’s Girls. This season on the show, an ill-advised cover of the song that makes its way onto YouTube and haunts a particular character. I hadn’t thought about/heard this song in ages, but the day after I saw the first episode of Girls third season, I started noticing the song was on the radio more than in previous years.   A catchy chorus and twisty, semi-thought provoking lyrics are now rendered meaningless thanks to the series.  This is now a song about defeat and the soul-crushing reality that none of our dreams are going to come true.  Thanks Girls.

 There are countless other examples of song ruined by pop culture, Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” was forever stamped by Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey in Wayne’s World as was “Sweet Home Alabama” in every movie to every take place in the South (or feature Southern characters).  I’m sure just how ruined these songs are depends on your film/TV watching habits.   I’m curious to hear what songs you the reader feel have been used to death or ruined by pop culture.  Speak up in the comments section.

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Lithe-Voiced Parisian Lifts Local Boy’s Spirits

As I sit here, writing this post, I’m trapped indoors.  Outside it’s cold and snowy, the murk of winter looms large.  And yet, I’m in a sunny mood thanks to Ivy.  Over the weekend I was out grocery shopping when I heard a familiar melody cascading from the store’s P.A. system.  I removed my hat (it was covering my ears) and stood still for a moment so I could better hear the faint music.  The lyrics were familiar, but the voice was unknown to me.  Steely Dan’s “Only A Fool Would Say That” was being sung by a French woman with a beautifully delicate voice.

Regular readers of Defending Axl Rose know that I’m something of a Steely Dan nut, so I went home and did a quick search to see who did this ethereal cover. And that’s how I discovered Ivy.  A trio consisting of  Dominique Durand, Andy Chase, and Andy Schlesinger, the band’s been around since 1997.  Schlesinger is best known as the pop-mastermind behind the That Thing You Do! soundtrack and the singer-songwriter of Fountains of Wayne.  Ivy’s impressive pedigree doesn’t stop there, however, it turns out Smashing Pumpkins bassist James Iha has a habit of appearing on at least one track per Ivy album.

Ivy’s music is gentle, heartfelt, and shimmers with a breezy summer quality that has warmed this cold boy’s heart.  I highly, highly recommend their album APARTMENT LIFE and their impressive, very eclectic covers album GUESTROOM (which contains the Steely Dan track).

Ivy_band

 

See? I’m not all doom and gloom.

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Beatles For Sale: My Rant Against The American Reissued Beatle Albums

Last month The Beatles American albums were re-issued in a large, expensive boxset. Back in 2009, when the remastered CD’s were issued, I gladly handed over my hard-earned currency for better packaging and most importantly, higher sound quality. While no doubt an opportunity to get my money again, the remastered Beatles albums gave me something I didn’t already have: better sound.  The sound quality, especially on the first few albums was vastly superior. Rather than shitty fake stereo mixes, fans were given pure mono as God, and George Martin, had intended.

"All you need is ca$h"-The Rutles

“All you need is ca$h”-The Rutles

These American re-issues are another story altogether. As far as I’m concerned, this is a disgusting money-grab with no redemptive quality for fans. The Beatles so-called American catalog exists because of corporate greed, which is the same motivating factor behind that bastardization’s re-issue. For those of you unfamiliar with what happened to the Fab Four’s albums in America, buckle-up because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

In 1963, after failing to break into the US, The Beatles were poised to finally conquer the Yankees. Capitol Records, the American counterpart to the band’s UK label EMI, was sitting on small pile of Beatle records. Rather than do the logical thing (i.e. issue the albums as they had been issued in England), Capitol decided to issue all new albums. Instead of releasing albums with 14 songs, as they’d done in England, The Beatles American albums were comprised of 12 songs.  And instead of simply cutting the number of songs down, the songs were swapped around in a confusing jumble.

Another major issue was The Beatles singles. In England it was considered bad form to sell people one song twice, so any song issued as a single was never included on major albums. Thus, songs like “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” were never included on any British Beatles album.  Since this was not the practice in the US, Capitol Records reconfigured the American Beatle albums to include the band’s popular hit singles.

Further clouding the waters, a small independent label called Vee-Jay had the American rights to the band’s first album from 1963 to 1964. Vee-Jay got the rights to this material after Capitol Records initially passed on the Beatles in America. Thus, the band’s album PLEASE PLEASE ME was being circulated prior to Capitol’s involvement as INTRODUCING…THE BEATLES.

That’s how the American Beatles catalog got so messed up. This is how we got records like THE BEATLES IV which contains songs from BEATLES FOR SALE, HELP!, and music from the “Ticket To Ride” single. All of the Beatles records up to 1967’s SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEART’S CLUB BAND are a confusing mosaic of the band’s British output. The madness (mostly) ended with SGT. PEPPER due to the band’s insistence that their albums appear the same everywhere due to the artistic vision they had for that album’s concept.

usa_beatles-vi

The American albums became something of a footnote when they were abandoned completely in the 1980’s when the band’s albums were first put onto CD. Were American fans puzzled when the British albums were released digitally? I’m sure they were, but that was decades ago. In the meantime, people like myself grew up only knowing the proper British albums. Which brings me back to the American reissued albums: who is this supposed to appeal to? Who is supposed to be forking over their money for these? Older fans who might actually remember these albums have by now long adapted to the British releases. Younger fans have never known anything but the British albums. And at this juncture in history, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of Beatle fans who wish to own the band’s music already do…and anyone buying the band’s records for the first time would surely buy the recognizable, iconic, British albums.

It felt strange rebuying the albums in 2009, but at least I was getting something new with the improved fidelity. But let’s be honest, the 2009 remasters were a double-dip, plain and simple.  So if the 2009 digital remasters, which I’d argue are worth the money, were a double-dip then these American reissued albums are a triple-dip. This is a product aimed squarely at the hardcore Beatle fan, the one that has to own everything with the band’s name on it.  This is a product meant to be purchased and placed on a shelf still in it’s plastic wrap.

Perhaps if I had the money, and the inclination to continue hoarding physical media, I would fall into that camp/trap. But alas, an 800 mile-cross-country move has changed the way I look at money and the owning of material goods. With this American albums reissue, The Beatles have crossed over into the horrible George Lucas/Star Wars money-grab territory.

I’m a Beatles super-fan, I’ve owned multiple copies of each of these records. Hell, I’ve owned LET IT BE in four different formats (cassette tape, vinyl LP, original CD, remastered CD).  But even as a superfan, I can see no reason to own these reissued American releases.  I don’t need different, less-iconic artwork and a swapped around track listing. In short, I don’t need these albums. I never knew them and I don’t feel it necessary to start now.

This reissue ruffles my feathers because it smacks of desperation—the last act of a band with nothing left to sell me. But that’s not true, there is one thing I’d love to buy from The Beatles. One thing that I’ve never experienced that the band continues to deny me. I speak of the lost documentary Let It Be, the legendary film the band made while writing and recording LET IT BE the album. I’ve never seen this footage, largely because it captures the breakup of the band and paints the musicians in a less-than-favorable light.

I understand that I have capitalism to thank for my Beatles albums, and that their corporate masters have every right to keep selling the same material from now until doomsday. But I wish they’d exhaust the vaults completely before they just pump out the same material over and over.

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