Tag Archives: Rock

Obscure Song Detective: The Case of the Mysterious “Banana”

One of the true joys of being obsessed with music is the endless hunt for one’s next favorite song.  This chase for new bands and songs is what keeps me going.  People think I actively seek out obscure bands and songs because I’m a snob—but really I just ran out of mainstream stuff.  It’s rare that I’ll hear something on the radio and not know what I’m hearing. When it happens, I get really excited and I feel like a desert wanderer who has just spotted an oasis.

I was driving to work when I heard a song on the radio that I’d never heard before.  It sounded like a live Bob Marley & The Wailers track.  This was at 7:09am on the morning of September 27, 2013.  I know this because I did what I always do when I hear something unknown: I took out my phone and used the Shazam app.   Shazam is probably my all-time favorite app, it’s great because it saves nerds like me from falling in love with a song and then never getting to hear it again.

I used the app and Shazam tells me that the song is called “Hooligan” and is taken from an album titled ONE LOVE AT STUDIO ONE.  This album contains some of the earliest Bob Marley material available, which explains why I vaguely recognized Marley’s vocals but not the song.  I liked “Hooligan” so I went on Spotify to see if the track was available.  The ONE LOVE AT STUDIO ONE album was not on Spotify, but “Hooligan” was available on a reggae compilation titled ORIGINAL SKA.  By the time I’d done this, I was sitting in the parking lot of my office building, so I bookmarked the album and went inside.

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Later that day on the way home I fired up Spotify and gave “Hooligan” a listen.  The track didn’t really move me the way it did earlier in the day.  It was probably a different version than what I heard on the radio.  Regardless,  I let the compilation play and discovered it contained a pretty good cover of “Son of a Preacher Man” by a band called The Gaylettes.  The sound quality was terrible, but the vibe on the track blew me away.  I got home and eyed the list of songs on ORIGINAL SKA.  One track stood out among all the others: “Banana.”  A reggae song called “Banana,” how cool was that?  My mind reeled with the possibilities.  Life is full of letdowns, and I’ve learned that very little ever lives up to our expectations.  Still, I had to hear this song because it had such an interesting title.   I figured the song would give me a chuckle and I’d move on with my life.  Instead, I stumbled onto an incredibly awesome song with a murky, mysterious past.

Rather than being the depressing banana-picking song I had expected, “Banana” is a joyous ode to everyone’s favorite elongated, yellow fruit.  It’s lighthearted, fun, and has a tremendous amount of charm. I played the song over and over for a few minutes, grinning from ear to ear like a moron.  “Banana” is an awesome song that I truly love.  I know I love it because I can’t rationally explain my affection for it.

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I played the song for my wife and the members of my family, everyone who heard it liked it.  “Banana” and it’s goofy lyrics even became a kind of shorthand between my and one of my sisters. I began texting them pictures of myself eating a banana with the caption “Everybody like it!” a lyric from the song.  For most people, the story would end there: I found a really cool, obscure reggae song that cheers everybody up…The End.  But being the songhound that I am, I couldn’t just stop there.  I had to know was there more where this came from?  Did the genius that cooked up “Banana” have a really great song about blintzes? I started by looking at ORIGINAL SKA which attributes “Banana” to an artist named E.K. Bunch.  I did the logical thing, I clicked over to see what other songs E.K. Bunch had available on Spotify.  But this proved to be a dead-end; there was only “Banana.”

I was confident that Google would provide more clues, so I searched E.K. Bunch “Banana” song.  I was directed to a couple of videos where the people had recorded the song off their old 45 copies, but there was little else.  Interestingly, I noticed that the song was often attributed to E.K. Bunch/The Pyramids.  This was my first clue to the origin of “Banana.”   But information proved to be scare on The Pyramids, so  I kept listening to “Banana” and put the search for its source on hold.  I didn’t give up per say, life just got in the way: I moved 800 miles away from my home in St. Louis and Thanksgiving happened.  This week, however, I found myself in a strange city with no job but with lots of time on my hands.  So I decided to get to the bottom of the E.K. Bunch mystery.

A visit to the Trojan Records website explained why tracking down “Banana” was so difficult: it turns out the band behind the song went by a bunch of names (pun intended).  They were The Bees, Seven Letters, The Pyramids, E.K. Bunch, Zubaba, and Symarip.  That last name, Symarip, was the key to blowing the lid off the entire “Banana” mystery.  Having gained a majority of their fame as Symarip, this band name is the catch-all for the others.   The band started out as The Bees and was formed in the 1960s by Michael Thomas and Frank Pitter who were of West Indian descent and lived in the United Kingdom.  Eventually, The Bees added members and moved to Germany.

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The band became Zubaba then The Pyramids and then ended up switching labels due to a dispute and wound up unable to use their name.  Someone in the band decided to change their name to Pyramid spelled backwards…minus the letter ‘d.’ Somehow this name, probably with the help of a mystical herb, morphed into Symarip. This became the name they released and re-issued their songs under.  Once I had all this figured out, I went back on Spotify and found a really cool live version of “Banana” on an album titled MOONSTOMPIN’ AT CLUB SKA.

While browsing the band’s Spotify page, I noticed that Symarip had a ton of songs about skinheads. I even realized, upon re-listening to “Banana,” that skinheads are mentioned in the song! How had I missed this earlier? I was shocked and worried.  I was shocked because in the United States, and unfortunately most of the world today, the term skinhead has a very negative connotation.  I was worried because it appeared on the surface that my new favorite song was racists!

Apparently the term skinhead has changed meaning over the years thanks in large part to a few bad apples.  The skinhead movement began in the 1950s in the UK.  At that time, a skinhead was basically a kid that wore work boots and jeans and liked American R&B music.  These kids got together in dance halls and listened to ska and reggae music—which is why Symarip has a ton of songs devoted to skinheads.  Eventually some of the skinheads became violent in the late 1960s and the term became associated with the White Power Movement in Europe.

It’s amazing to me that a chance encounter with a really old Bob Marley song led me down a path ending with the White Power Movement.   This is the amazing part of being a music geek,  the discovery not only of old music…but of the past itself.  Maybe I get a bigger kick out of this sort of thing because I was briefly a history major in college, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I love falling down the rabbit hole into obscure music and learning all these strange tidbits of trivia.

CASE CLOSED: “Banana” is an awesome song, dashed off by an obscure reggae band that changed its name multiple times. The first thing that you should do is go and listen to the song.  Then listen to it again and again, dance if necessary.  Then visit Trojan records website and read the entire history of The Pyramids.

Also, check out this pretty rad live version:

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The Most Embarrassing Record I Own

One of the best parts of starting this blog has been all the new friends I’ve made.  One of the first regular rock-blogs I bookmarked (after my own) was Every Record Tells A Story.  I’ve always been jealous of that name, because I think it’s so true.  Whereas I’m a neurotic, weekend-warrior, my friend over at ERTAS is the real-deal.  His posts are both plentiful and of the highest quality, which is a rare in the blog-o-sphere.

When a blogging award was justly bestowed upon his site, he singled out Defending Axl Rose as one of 5 he enjoys.  For me there could be no higher honor, because I really admire the work that he does over at Every Record Tells A Story.  For spreading the love around to me and my humble blog, I thank him.

The question was asked “What is the most embarrassing record you own?” and I didn’t have to think very hard OR very long to come up with a response.  Would you believe that the most embarrassing record I own is SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND?  No, not the good one…

Dear God, this record is a holy terror: the greatest songs of all-time bathed in the worst of the 70s.

The greatest songs of all-time splattered with the worst shit of the 70s.

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Crossfire Hurricane & Becoming A Better Stones Fan

I love documentaries.  I really love them.  I don’t think I’ve seen a bad documentary, per say.  I subscribe to the theory that at the very least, a documentary will tell or show you something you didn’t know, and thus it wasn’t a complete waste of time.  Some are better than others.  The Martin Scorsese film on Bob Dylan, for example, is a damn good documentary.  Recently, I sat down and watched HBO’s Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane, which while not as good as Scorsese’s No Direction Home, was entertaining.

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And how could anything about the Rolling Stones not be entertaining? As far as legendary bands go, the Stones are tops when it comes to drugs, debauchery, death, and deceit.  All the makings of a compelling documentary, right?  Well Crossfire Hurricane covers all the major points in the band’s storied career, but doesn’t really dig in very deep.  Some of it felt rushed and major chapters in the band’s career are glossed over. It wasn’t until the credits started to roll (and I thought, “That’s it?”) that I saw what the problem was: the band were the producers.

So Crossfire Hurricane is really the whitewashed version of the Stones as told by the Stones. If you’re super-fan, you’re not going to necessarily gain any new insights, but the backstage/behind-the-scenes footage is worth seeing.  We see the Stones at the height of their success doing drugs and running around half (or totally) naked backstage.  It’s all very cheeky and fun.

I really wanted to recommend Crossfire Hurricane as THE Stones documentary to see…but it’s not.  The real story is what happened after the credits had rolled: the next morning, all I could think about were the tunes.  I fired up Spotify and started skipping around in the band’s massive back catalogue. And then a funny thing happened: I discovered my all-time favorite Stones song.

STICKY FINGERS, compliments of Andy Warhol.

STICKY FINGERS, compliments of Andy Warhol.

I was listening to STICKY FINGERS while doing my laundry, when I heard “Bitch.”  I’d of course heard it before, but I didn’t hear it until this week.  The cocky, self-assured Jagger vocals, the brilliant Keef guitar lick…it was your standard-issue Stones song until the horns kicked in.  Holy shit, the horns take “Bitch” from good to fantastic. It was like hearing “Satisfaction” for the first time: I was blown away.

Which got me thinking, if a great never-played-on-the-radio song like “Bitch” could hit me like a bolt of lightning—what other astoundingly great Stones songs am I missing out on? Suddenly being a more causal Stones fan doesn’t seem so cool.  There is only one course of action: I must listen to everything by the Stones to ensure that I’m not missing out on any other gems.

To be fair, “Bitch” was a B-side to “Brown Sugar” so it wasn’t cast off into complete obscurity, but with B-sides like this who knows what awesome deep-cuts I’m missing out on.  These are the problems of a true music-nerd.  There are too many great bands with too many great songs left undiscovered.  Whenever I find a blank spot on my musical map, I try to fill it in.  That a band like the Rolling Stones has so many blank spots on my map is embarrassing, to be sure.  So even though I’m pretty sure I could die a happy rock-enthusiast without hearing the entirety of the Rolling Stones 80’s output—I’m gonna listen to it all.  Just knowing the singles and key albums is good, but the odds ‘n sods/deep-cuts are what keep me going, both as a fan and as a human being.

That endless quest for my next favorite song, that’s the very essence of what DEFENDING AXL ROSE is all about.  In the coming days, weeks, and months, I’ll post more about my travels in the Stones back catalogue.

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Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

The truth, it is often said, is stranger than fiction.  The strange tale of Jimmy “Orion” Ellis is one of the stories that’s so bizarre it can only be real.  Showbiz is a creepy place, filled with unsavory characters that basically earn a living preying on the dreams of vulnerable people.  This story begins with the death of a legend: on August 16, 1977 the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Aaron Presley died in his Tennessee mansion.

Jimmy Ellis was born ten years after Elvis in 1945, in Mississippi. Ironically, Jimmy’s mother was named Gladys—the same name as Elvis’ mother. Jimmy was blessed (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with a voice that sounded nearly identical to the King of Rock.  While Elvis was alive, Ellis struggled to make it as a singer who just happened to sound exactly like the world’s biggest music star.  One of his early single’s was actually called “I’m Not Trying To Be Like Elvis.”

A record produced named Shelby Singleton bought the legendary Sun Records in 1969 from Sam Phillips.  Sun Records is the recording studio/label where Elvis first hit it big.  In strange move, Singleton signed Jimmy Ellis to his Sun Records. The first thing Singleton did was to release two Elvis covers that Ellis had recorded back in 1972, “That’s Alright Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”  Singleton was no fool, though, he knew that people wouldn’t really be interested in hearing some unknown singer from Mississippi re-record two Elvis songs—no matter how much he sounded like the King—so Singleton had the songs released with a question mark on the cover.  Thus neither Elvis nor Ellis was credited for the songs, though it was just an unsavory marketing gimmick, the releases fueled growing speculation that Elvis was, in fact, not dead. This trick was used again on a Jerry Lee Lewis duets album, in which Ellis sang with Jerry Lee on “Save the Last Dance for Me.”  Again, no credits were attributed to either Elvis or Ellis leaving many to think that the King had somehow magically come back from the dead to sing.

The biggest mystery surrounding Orion? Where he got that snazzy mask.

So far this is pretty incredible story, right?  Can you believe I haven’t even told you the weird part yet?  I often wondered why exactly people love to believe that Elvis is still alive.  I’m sure that a lot of it has to do with the disbelief that such an amazing talent could really, truly be gone.  When our heroes die it reminds us all of our own mortality, and some people can’t really handle that I guess.  But what I find so incredible about the myth/legend surrounding Elvis’ death is that all of these tales spread and grew before the Internet.  Mass media as we know it was still in its infancy, how were these tales of Elvis’ life-after-death spread? Unscrupulous businessmen like Shelby Singleton no doubt helped to stoke the fires of conspiracy enthusiasts/despondent Elvis fans, but can you believe it was a housewife from Georgia that kicked the Elvis-is-Alive phenomenon off?

When the king died in 1977, Gail Brewer-Giorgio wrote a book about a Southern rock singer who decided to escape from the limelight by faking his own death.  The name of the book? ORION.  In the book the singer wears a mask on stage to cover his face, which is what Jimmy Ellis started to do when he performed on stage under the name Orion. Putting on the mask was no doubt so that people in the audience were left guessing whether or not Ellis was Elvis, however the strange part is that Jimmy Ellis never said he was Elvis.  He also wasn’t an Elvis impersonator; the songs he sang were for the most part songs that weren’t Elis songs.  Amazingly, Ellis charted 9 times on the country music charts as Orion. In 1981 Cash Box Magazine (a magazine dedicated to the coin-operated music industry) named Orion one of three most promising country music acts.

By 1983, Ellis was weary of the Orion act and wanted to be taken seriously as an artist.  During a live appearance he angrily took off his mask and refused to put it on again.  Despite being a talented singer and having achieved moderate success in the world of country music, Orion’s career never recovered.  The cat was truly out of the bag: Jimmy Ellis was Orion not Elvis Presley.  Ellis left Sun Records and pretty much faded from the music biz.  On December 12, 1998 Jimmy Ellis was murdered in his Alabama pawnshop during a robbery gone bad.

I cannot believe someone has not made the story of Jimmy Ellis into a film because it has all the makings of a really great movie.  Perhaps there have been attempts to bring Ellis’ story to the big screen but they’ve failed due to the outlandish nature of his story.  I know I was skeptical when I first heard all of this.  Orion’s musical career had the negative side effect of helping to keep Elvis Presley off of US postage stamps.  The rule for celebrities/public figures to appear on United States postage is that they must be dead for at least 10 years—the uncertainty created by Orion and conspiracy theorists kept Elvis’ image from appearing on US postage until 1993.

Orion’s 1979 album REBORN is available on Spotify and I’ve been listening to it trying to figure out if it’s the single greatest or worst thing.  It’s one thing to be inspired by or influenced by a singer or band…but Orion is another thing entirely.  Musically, I guess you could call Orion a tribute act but even that feels wrong.  A lot of people have made millions of dollars off of Elvis and his tragic death; most of them are vultures, parasites of the music industry. I can’t really put Jimmy Ellis into that category though.  True he was complicit in a sort-of-conspiracy that in hindsight seems really tacky, but he was also a victim.  Dreams are a powerful carrot, and people will do strange and terrible things to achieve them.  I can’t fault Ellis for trying to make it as a singer, by any means necessary.

I think the ultimate irony would be if someone out there started performing as Orion.  But that would just be crazy, right?

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SUNKEN CONDOS by Donald Fagen

Duos are a funny thing.  A band is like the engine of a car; there are multiple parts working in tandem and all are needed for everything to work.  Solo artist are like trapeze artists, they walk the high-line naked and alone.  If they fall, they fall with all eyes squarely on them. Duos, however, are a bit tricky.  Good duos, the really successful duos, are not made by the merger of two good solo artists but rather the joining of complementary talents. The relationship falls somewhere between husband & wife and mosquito & a pulsing vein.

*Flush*

So what happens when a duo parts ways? Well sometimes it’s good.  And sometimes it’s very messy.  The best example I can think of as far as a messy breakup is Simon and Garfunkel.  When their duo ended it meant great things for Paul Simon…and pretty much the end of Art Garfunkel.  Maybe that’s cruel, but I can name 10 Paul Simon songs, but I can’t name one Art Garfunkel song.

Steely Dan started out as a band and then devolved into the duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.  Of the two, I’ve always liked Fagen better.  Fagen always seemed cooler to me.  When I found out that Donald Fagen had put out a new solo album this month, I was intrigued but not in any rush to hear any of the music.  I’m a pretty big Steely Dan fan, but I’ve yet to really venture into any of Becker & Fagen’s post-GOUCHO output.   I’ve heard nice things about TWO AGINST NATURE but I’ve been hesitant.  Steely Dan has always existed for me as a bit of a relic, a late 1970’s throwback.

But, someone forwarded me mix of Fagen’s solo stuff on Spotify and one track stuck out: “I’m Not The Same Without You.”  The horns.  The velvety groove.  The nasally sneer.  The chic, icy poetry.  Equally biting and mournful, “I’m Not The Same Without You” is everything that the best Steely Dan songs were.  In fact, had I not known it was a Fagen-solo track, I’d have just assumed that the song was from one of the two newer Steely Dan albums.

So I reluctantly dived into SUNKEN CONDOS (pun intended). And I’m here to tell you, that it’s good.  It’s really, really good. If you enjoy the acerbic wit and jazzy sensibilities of Steely Dan, you’re gonna love SUNKEN CONDOS.  Fagen’s album is everything there is to love about Steely Dan, but slowed down just a tad and with a bit more of a jazz-edge.

The album opens with “Slinky Thing,” which is a pretty good description of the album as a whole, actually.  It’s a classic bit of Fagen neuroticism, detailing the unease of dating a much younger woman (the titular “Slinky Thing”).  It reminded me a great deal of “Hey Nineteen.”  And that’s a good thing.

“I’m Not The Same Without You” is definitely the album’s lead-single and as I mentioned before, it’s really good.  As is the last track “Planet D’Rhonda,” about an insane (or insanely fun?) woman that you just can’t leave.  It has all the element of a Steely Dan song, but seems slower and feels a bit stripped-down.  I’m sure Becker could have gone nuts on this, and pretty much all the songs on SUNKEN CONDOS…but he didn’t.  He didn’t because this is the Donald Fagen show, and as such, the songs are a bit mellower.  Some might see that as a bad thing, or a weakness of the SUNKEN CONDOS, but I actually dig the laid-back mood of the album.

My favorite song on the record “The Weather In My Head” which compares the turbulent climate change-infused storms to the self-doubt and depression plaguing the song’s narrator: They may fix the weather in the world, just like Mr. Gore said, but tell me what’s to be done about the weather in my head? I think that’s a great line.  “The Weather In My Head” is a great blues song and it totally knocked my socks off the first time I heard it.  Usually Fagen’s writing is so damn obtuse and distant, that it takes a few listens before things sink in, so I was shocked when I not only understood the song’s meaning on the first listen.  I also found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with the song’s sentiment.

Solid songwriting, impeccable production and musicianship abound on SUNKEN CONDONS.  In fact, the only misstep is on “Out of the Ghetto” which sits in the middle of the album.  It’s (up) tempo feels off  compared to the rest of the album’s slower, unhurried pace. But the biggest problem I have with the song is in the lyrics: the talk of “discos” in 2012, even if Fagen’s being ironic, turned me off.  In fact, the song’s tongue-in-cheek take on race struck me as all wrong.  I think Fagen’s heart is (mostly) in the right place but I could see the song being…shall we say…misinterpreted by lesser minds.  “Out of the Ghetto” is definitely not the track I’d put on for someone new to Steely Dan or Fagen.

Overall I’d recommend SUNKEN CONDOS.  It’s a good album that’s inspired me to seek out more of Fagen’s more recent output, as well as made me interested to hear what Becker does when he’s not kicking it with Fagen.

 

EDIT: It was pointed out to me by a commenter on Facebook (seriously, why aren’t you friends with Defending Axl Rose on Facebook? Go “Like” it right now) that “Out of the Ghetto” was in fact a cover.  And in fact, they were correct the song is an Isaac Hayes covers, which not only explains the strange disco reference, but also adds all sorts of interesting shades of irony to the song.  Fagen is an interesting, complicated, cat.  My knowledge of 1970’s R&B/Soul music is laughably limited, so I would like to thank my friends over at Facebook for pointing this error out to me. 

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Celebrate No Shave November With These 10 Best Rockin’ Beards

Hooray! The temps are getting lower, the leaves are turning colors, and I’m all out of vacation time at work…which means it’s NOVEMBER! As I’m sure you’re all aware, it’s also “No Shave November.”  Now, the MAN would have you believe that having too much hair is a bad thing, but you know better, don’t you? Long hair and beards are the most rock ‘n roll thing there is.  I’m doing my part to let grow, as I do every winter.  Does my boss like my beard? I don’t know because I don’t ask.  A winter-coat is important to survive the harsh Mid-West winters…but it’s even more important if you’re gonna ROCK!

To celebrate No Shave November, I thought I’d count down my Top 10 All-Time Greatest Rock Beards.  Yes, ZZ Top is on this list.

10. Jim Morrison.  I know most of you like to think of Jim as a clean-shaven, sober, upstanding member of society…but not me.

9. Scott Ian.  The Anthrax guitarist is pretty much world-famous for his facial hair.

8. Dave Grohl.  The Foo Fighter’s frontman has the kind of beard you wouldn’t mind taking home to meet your mother.

7. George Harrison.  The quiet Beatle was an understated guitarist and an amazing beard-grower.

6. Jim Ford.  While not a household name, Jim Ford’s song writing inspired Nick Lowe, who covered his song “36 Inches High.” 36 inches was also his beard length (give or take).

5. Willie Nelson.  This man rocks. Plain and simple, as does his beard which is just as famous as Lincoln’s.

4. Paul McCartney.  The cute one got married an rocked an awesome 70’s beard.  It was good times.

3. Jerry Garcia.  I think we’re all grateful  for Jerry’s awesome bushy beard.

2. Frank Zappa.  Controversial, as Zappa is mostly known for his manicured mustache and soul patch, still a beard in my book.

1. Billy Gibbons.  Come on, who else?

For more beard-related fun, why not stop by and visit my friends over at Beards.org. And remember, shaving is for little sissy babies!

 

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“Imagine A Jump”: The Greatest Van Halen/John Lennon Mash-Up

Last week while I was bunkered down in New York City, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to do her worst, my wife’s best-friend Becky bravely sacrificed her iPhone’s battery so that we might have some tunes by candlelight.  I love going through people’s iTunes, I find it a nice way to both get to know AND judge the shit out of someone.  My iTunes is an atrocious mix of the best and worst of rock, pop, jazz, country, and blues music.  There’s things in it that I’m proud of…and a lot that I’d rather you just skip over.

Imagine there’s no Red Rocker.

Becky’s iPhone was filled with a lot of her favorite bands: Green Day and Barenaked Ladies.  Not exactly my cup of tea, but I’d say I like both those bands enough.  Anyway, as I browsed her iTunes, I noted that she had Van Halen’s “Jump” one her phone twice: once from the album 1984 (GREAT album by the way) and again from a Greatest Hits compilation.  I laughed and pointed this out.  She had an explantation, but there was no need: “Jump” is great song so why NOT have it on your phone?

Becky loves it when I take pics of her sleeping, that’s why we’re such good friends.

Becky also had a large quantity of The Beatles on her phone, as well as some John Lennon solo stuff. That got me thinking, had Becky heard Mighty Mike’s “Imagine A Jump”? She hadn’t, and it really bummed me out.  Mighty Mike is this French DJ that does mind-blowingly awesome mash-ups.  Seriously.  Before Mighty Mike, I thought DJ’s and mash-ups were lame, but this guy’s Queen/Michael Jackson mash-ups changed my mind.

I strongly urge you to go on his blog and download/listen to all his songs, there’s not a single bad one in the bunch.

“Imagine A Jump” is one of Mighty Mike’s best.  It’s the acapella/vocals of Van Halen’s “Jump” merged with the hauntingly simple piano of John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.”  The best part? The (slowed down) vocals actually work with “Imagine.”  The upbeat, devil-may-care Van Halen song is transformed into a downbeat, depressing ode to suicide and desperation.  I know that doesn’t sound particularly fun but it’s actually a cheeky bit of fun.

This is amazing. Thank you Mighty Mike:

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Axl Rose On Jimmy Kimmel: My (Delayed) Reaction

I understand that this is now old news at this point, but I’ve been unable to write about Axl Rose’s recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.  Part of the reason was that I was horribly stranded in New York City during the recent super-storm/clusterfuck.  But another part was my brain’s slowed reaction to the appearance.

Axl was appropriate for the entire interview, except for his stupid hat.

On one hand, I found Axl’s first major TV interview to be a colossal disappointment and a great relief.  It was disappointing because Axl looks like someone’s bloated dad.  Look, I’m a fat, nerdy music writer so I can say it:  Axl used to be a rock adonis, and now he’s pudgy old guy.  The hat was also stupid.  I know it’s not cool to be balding or whatever is going on under that hat…but for crying out loud Axl, that hat makes you look insane.  It’s easy for me to say own your baldness when I still have a head full of hair, but I think it’s pretty vain when rock stars refuse to take off their hats/headbands.  You know who my all-time rockstar hair hero is? James Taylor.  James Taylor went bald and took it like a man. He didn’t bother with any coverup or conspiracy, he was like “this is what my head looks like.”  Kids today might not think it ballsy but there was a time when James Taylor was known for his giant mane of hair.  He wasn’t a hair-metal guy by any stretch, but he did have nice hair.

Enjoy all that sexy hair, 1970’s James Taylor, cos it won’t last…

But I digress. This post is not about hair.

So Axl’s gotten old, I can deal with that.  The bigger disappointment was also the thing that gave me tremendous relief: Axl Rose wasn’t insane or weird (hat not withstanding).  He was plainspoken, friendly, and engaged in talking with Jimmy Kimmel.  Kimmel even made a point of saying how surprised he was that Axl was talking to him during the interview.  The pictures of Axl’s Halloween Tree and his story about how he likes to see kids freak out when they see it was cool.  Some might say that the critical and commercial failure of CHINESE DEMOCRACY has humbled Rose, and that’s why the man we see is so down-to-earth and normal.  But I don’t see it that way.  The way I see it, Axl without all the bullshit is just a normal dude like you or me.

I’m sad that he wasn’t bizarre and we didn’t get some crazy sound bytes out of the appearance–but mostly I’m glad to see that Axl isn’t the douchebag the media have portrayed him to be.  On a side side note, I was glad to see The Whigs perform later on in the episode (I’ve seen them live a few times and they’re awesome) but I was REALLY REALLY sad that Guns ‘N Roses didn’t play a song instead.  How awesome would that have been?

Lastly, the reason we got this odd bit of Axl publicity: the Vegas shows.  Had I not just spent all my money and remaining vacation time stranded in NYC, I think I’d actually go out and catch one of the GNR Vegas shows.  In a perfect world, the last show of the band’s month-long stand would be televised or streamed online AND we’d get a Live Album released next year.  But the reality is: after these shows, the US probably won’t see Axl or Guns ‘N Roses for a while.  Maybe I’m wrong, I hope I am.

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Flaming Lips & Tame Impala Collide On “Children of The Moon”

In my review of the latest Tame Impala album, LONERISM, I noted that Tame Impala sounded a bit like Oklahoma freak-rockers The Flaming Lips.  I think that both bands share a common 60’s-LSD-Beatleband strand of DNA, but what would happen if the two bands were to meet?  Would a rainbow-colored funnel of sunshine spew trippy death all over existence? Or would they just make a  really nice song?

The Flaming Lips are good at a lot of things, but spelling is not one of those things.

Turns out they’d just make a really nice song.  The Flaming Lips put out an album of collaborations this year called THE FLAMING LIPS AND HEADY FWENDS (sic) which features Tame Impala.  The song, “Children of The Moon,” might not be as epic of mind-blowing as one would hope…but it is really good.

The song leans more towards the Australian rockers mellow-gold rather than The Lip’s more purple nurple sound.  Still, you can definitely hear how The Flaming Lips magnified Tame Impala’s more understated vibe (to great effect I think).

Check it out:

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LONERISM by Tame Impala

Australian daytrippers Tame Impala burst onto the collective consciousness in 2010 with their fantastic debut album INNERSPEAKER.  That record, which I once described as perfect Sunday morning chill-out music, set the bar pretty high for the band.  I honestly didn’t expect to hear from Tame Impala so quickly, especially after lead singer/songwriter Kevin Parker released an album of similarly psychedelic (but far woolier) tunes under the name Pond in March of this year.  Much to my delight, however, Tame Impala is back with their new album LONERISM.

In case your’re wondering, the sign on the gate reads: “Dogs, even on a leash, are not admitted beyond this point.”

What I find most interesting about the album is that it’s both a leap forward and a step back.  Sonically, the album is lightyears ahead of INNERSPEAKER, which itself was hovering at the very finge of our soloar system.  The band pushes the band’s sound even further into space with it’s  heavier use of synthesizers.  Parker has said in interviews that LONERISM is more prog/indulgent that the last record.  And while that typically is a negative, in this case the songs on LONERISM run wild without running completely away (the longest song clocks in at just over six minutes).  The band’s vast, spaced-out sound is pushed to the limits on such tracks as “Mind Mischief” and “Apocalypse Dreams.”  Both tracks sound like a calmer, mellower, less cartoon version of The Flaming Lips.  LONERISM also recalls Todd Rundgren, whom the band has cited as a major influence.

That said, LONERISM is also a bit of step back in that lyrically the majority of the songs deal with personal issues of loneliness, isolation, and social awkwardness.  The best example of this is the woe-is-me jam “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” in which Parker sings about being alone and only thinking he’s happy. This material would probably seem whiny, self-pitying, and immature except that it’s swathed in a big bouncy beat.  The trippy vibe takes an emo kids lament and transforms it into the inner musings of a stoned philosophy major.  The albums themes of isolation are also represented on the album’s cover, which is a photo taken by Parker at a French public park.  I think the shot of the happy people viewed through the bars works best with “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?”  Tame Impala was smart to both expand their telescope sonically while at the same time write more personal songs. It keeps the band from floating away entirely into the stratosphere where the listener is unable to relate to them.

Sitting amongst the green.

Special mention should be made concerning the band, specifically Kevin Parker’s affinity for John Lennon.  John Lennon’s ghost looms large on LONERISM, specifically on the albums best songs “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” “Sun’s Coming Up,” and “Elephant”.  Parker’s vocals eerily channel the former Beatle throughout the album, but on “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” sound like a lost PLASTIC ONO BAND track.  “Sun’s Coming Up” sounds like a sleepy/boozy Lennon demo for one of his piano ballads. “Elephant” which is my favorite track on the album, sounds like “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” merged with “I Am The Walrus.”  It’s a lumbering rocker that wouldn’t stick out too much on MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR.   The homage/influence of Lennon will probably turn off as many people as it switches on.  I don’t think it’s 100% fair to give Tame Impala too much grief about this because:

1. The dude can’t help who he sounds like

and

2. There are worse things to be like than John Lennon.  Do Tame Impala rip off The Beatles? No.  Do they re-invent the wheel? No, but what they create vast sonic murals of trippy space rock and they do it well–end of story.

Ah. Freak. Out.

Tame Impala have forged a solid second record with all the big, epic sound you’d expect from the band that brought us INNERSPEAKER.  However, more than just delivering more of the same, the band has stretched their legs and dug a little deeper for LONERISM.  The album, while not as top-to-bottom perfect as INNERSPEAKER, still manages to capture the imagination and delight the listener.  To say that LONERISM is a headphones album would be the understatement of the year.  Switch off the lights, pop in your ear buds, and close your eyes.

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