Tag Archives: Spotify

“Beds Are Burning” On The Radio

There’s this “game” I like to play with my wife while we’re in the car involving the radio.  She hates it so much.  Basically, I grew up listening to so much “Classic Rock” that I can pretty much instantly identify the artist and song title of 99.999% of songs played on radio stations with a classic rock format.  My wife, a casual music lover, hates it when I switch on the radio and ask: “Do you know who this is?” Sometimes I give her little clues, sometimes I don’t.  Occasionally she’ll offer a few guesses before giving up, but most of the time she complains and says things like “I don’t like this game” or “Turn the radio off.”

I can’t help it.  My mind is a catalogue overflowing with classic rock song/artist data.  It’s actually pretty embarrassing considering all the other things I have trouble remembering (like my wedding anniversary).  The only time that this information is useful is when we play bar trivia.  And as I get old, I don’t do that nearly enough to justify all this useless knowledge.

Now that I’ve relocated to Colorado, I’ve had to cancel my paid Spotify subscription and navigate my new city’s radio stations.  After trying a few out, I landed on a pretty good classic rock station that does a good job of playing hits while also spinning deeper album cuts.  And while I’m shocked to learn that Red Hot Chili Peppers are now considered classic rock…I’ve been happy overall with my new radio station (99.5FM The Mountain in case you were wondering). There’s a DJ that does a mid-day segment called the classic rock resurrection where a song not typically played in rotation is spotlighted.  I’ve heard a few of these, and while I might not have always known the exact song title, I always knew the artist.

Such nice lads, can you believe I'd never heard of them?

Such nice lads, can you believe I’d never heard of them?

That is until last week. Last week I was totally 100% stumped by one of these resurrections—I couldn’t place the artist or the song title.  It was vaguely familiar and from the production I could tell it was definitely recorded in the 1980’s.  But I was shockingly stumped. Luckily for me, the Shazam app was able to quickly inform me that I was hearing “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil.  Unlike my wife, I actually get really excited whenever I hear an old song I don’t recognize.  And I get twice as excited when I end up liking a song I’ve never heard before. So this week I’ve been listening to Midnight Oil’s 1987 album DIESEL AND DUST, which I’ve discovered is really, really good.

Moral of the story: I don’t know as much as I think I do and there’s nothing wrong with not knowing what’s always on the radio.

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Rock ‘N Mailbag! #1: PRIMAL RUMBLE by Gretchen Lohse

Welcome to the first installment of a new series titled Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

This first installment of the Rock ‘N Mailbag! will be devoted to Philadelphia singer-songstress Gretchen Lohse’s latest album PRIMAL RUMBLE.  A little research shows that Gretchen was in a band called Yellow Humphrey prior to striking out as a solo artist.  Right away I was determined to review this album based solely on the David Bowie-ish album artwork.  Depicting Lohse as a medicine cabinet/astronaut, I was prepared for freaky stuff.  To my surprise, PRIMAL RUMBLE is a gentle folk and jazz tinged album full of quiet reflection.  The album is understated and tastefully produced with interesting, but not overbearing keyboards and a glockenspiel.  

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Gretchen’s voice is soft, but strong throughout PRIMAL RUMBLE and reminds me a bit of She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel.  But whereas Deschanel is at times annoyingly twee and indie, Lohse retains artistic credibility by avoiding clichés and staying interesting (read: slightly strange). Stand out tracks for me were the lopping, gentle ballad “Rings” and the flute-filled “The Cuckoo.” Both of these songs, like the rest of the album, seem both really sad while at the same time being upbeat.  The whole album feels this way, confusing but in a pleasant ethereal sort of way.

Really I only have one quibble with PRIMAL RUMBLE: for album with such a strong title, this album is way too low-key.  All the songs seem to float along at the same temp: slow.  I’m okay with albums having consistent moods, but I would have liked for a little bit more pep.  Just one or two perkier songs would have livened things up.   “The Cuckoo” and “Spider At The Gate” feature unique and interesting musical flourishes, but even these make it difficult to set these tracks apart from one another.  Remember, I’m a guy who has a Guns N’ Roses-themed blog, so take this complaint with a grain of (rock) salt.  I am interested in what Yellow Humphrey sounds like, only to see how Gretchen’s voice works in a larger band setting.

This sort of dreamy folk-pop isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I enjoyed PRIMAL RUMBLE enough to recommend it for people who like She & Him or Joni Mitchell.  PRIMAL RUMBLE is available on Spotify and you can download the album at Gretchen’s Bandcamp website for $6.00.

 

 

HAVE A HOT TIP? WANT ME TO REVIEW YOUR BAND’S SONG/ALBUM? HIT ME UP AT DEFENDINGAXLROSE@GMAIL.COM

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Dancing Days Are Here Again: Led Zeppelin Now on Spotify

This week one of the biggest bands in rock history was added to Spotify.  Yes, friends Led Zeppelin is available to stream!  I worry that I talk about Spotify a bit too much, but it’s been a godsend for me.  The ability to stream a wide swath of popular music has allowed me to dig deeper than I would if I had to go out and buy CD’s.  I never was a fan of illegally downloading music, though I did dabble with that in the past.

Spotify may not pay artists the way traditional album sales would, but I’d argue that the exposure the service gives band is worth it’s weight in gold.  I may have slowed down my consumption of records, but more importantly I’m a fan of more artists, from more genres than ever before.

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Led Zeppelin being on Spotify makes me happy for two reasons.  Firstly, I just moved and all my CD’s are packed away in boxes.  Meaning I’ve been living a horrible Zep-free life. Now I can hop on my computer, or smartphone, and instantly be in Led Zeppelin nirvana. Secondly, having the band’s entire catalogue available at my fingertips will finally allow me to explore the band’s last two albums.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never heard 1976’s PRESENCE or 1979’s swan song (pun intended) IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR.  Sure, I’ve heard a few cuts of each album on the radio, but I’ve never heard them all the way through.  It’s basically like I’ve got new Led Zeppelin to listen to!

A few years back, my local Best Buy had a mega-sale on Led Zeppelin albums and I snapped up everything up to PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.  Why did I stop there?  Well, even though the CD’s were dirt cheap, Mrs. Defending Axl Rose isn’t the biggest fan of my expansive CD collection…so I stopped where everyone said the band stopped being good. But as I sit here, typing this listening to IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR, I can assuredly tell you that Led Zeppelin were good all the way to the bitter end.  Would I have had this epiphany without a streaming music service in my life?  Probably, though it would have taken me years to work my way back to Zeppelin.   If you’ve never fully explored the Led Zeppelin catalogue or if you’re an old-fan like me who haven’t listened to them in years, take some time and explore the band on Spotify.

My Top 10 Led Zeppelin Tracks (1969-1975)

1.  “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” off LED ZEPPELIN III.  This is my all-time favorite Zeppelin song.  I love the homespun feel of this song, it’s like a campfire song…Led Zeppelin-style.

2. “Living Loving Maid [She’s Just  A Woman]” off LED ZEPPELIN II.  Repeat after me: love the riff.  Killer, killer riff.

3. “The Ocean” off HOUSES OF THE HOLY.  Have Robert Plant’s super-high vocals ever been higher?  Every time I go to a concert and look back on the swell of faces I think of Plant singing to his “ocean.”

4.  “Going To California” off LED ZEPPELIN IV.  The entire fourth LED ZEPPELIN album is amazing (everyone knows that) but if I had to pick one song that I love the most from that record it would be “Going to California.”  While the rest of the album rages, this song is the quite eye of the hurricane.  The song gets bonus points for being about Joni Mitchell.

5. “Kashmir” off PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.  A wonderfully weird, and powerfully heavy track.  It’s a shame that most kids know it as “that Puff Daddy song.”  *Shudder*

6.  “Communication Breakdown” off LED ZEPPELIN.   The first Led Zeppelin album is more blues-oriented than most people discovering the band after that fact might expect. But while Zeppelin might have pioneered hard rock/heavy metal, they really were just bluesmen.  “Communication Breakdown” is a wonderful fusion of blues and hard rock the band would later use to dominate the world.

7.  “Immigrant Song” off LED ZEPPELIN III.  Elves and hobbits are nice, but it’s when Zeppelin sing about Vikings that my heart soars.  Truly this song is the hammer of the gods.  

8. “Hey Hey What Can I Do” B-Side to “Immigrant Song.”  This is probably the least-known song on this list (and not currently available on Spotify) but man, do I love it.

9.  “D’yer Mak’er” off HOUSES OF THE HOLY.  Funky.  This song is funky.  It also features a great vocal performance from Page.  Took me many years to learn that this song pokes fun of the way British people say “Jamaica.”  Which of course explains the reggae-ish vibe the song has.

10.   “Moby Dick” off LED ZEPPELIN II.  Come to Led Zeppelin for the killer Jimmy Page riffs and the stellar Robert Plant vocals…stay for John Bonham’s drumming.  Why on Earth don’t more drummers try to sound like Bonham?  He’s the greatest rock drummer of all time.  Period.  The song starts with some fun guitar licks and then devolves into an extended drum solo.  The genesis of the tune is that it began as something used during the live shows to give the rest of the band a break.  “Moby Dick” on record is over 4 minutes long, but Bonham would sometimes play a ten minute version live.

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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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“Cola” by Lana Del Rey Rules

Last night I stopped by the record store after imbibing in a few pints of adult libations.  While browsing, I spotted Lana Del Rey’s new album PARADISE and picked it up, mostly to make fun of it.  I turned the CD over and the first thing I noticed was the song “Cola.”  I really like that word for some reason and I thought it was a strange word to title a song.  Was this song about soda?  Did the word cola actually in the song?  Theses and many other questions entered my mind.

This woman is a genius.

This woman is a genius.

I immediately announced that I was going to listen to this song when I got home.  Of course, I forgot because I had a bunch of other stuff going on, but just before I went to bed I recalled Lana Del Rey and her soda-song.  I fired up my Spotify app and played “Cola.”

I didn’t know what to expect when I hit play but I certainly wasn’t expecting “My pussy tastes like Pepsi cola, my eyes are wide like cherry pies, I gots [sic] a taste for men who are older.”  I burst out laughing and hit rewind so I could listen again. When the song was over I played it again.   Then I played it again. I texted my friend and told him he had to listen to “Cola,” that it was too funny/strange to dismiss.

Once the initial shock/glee of hearing a young woman breathlessly sing about how her pussy tastes like Pepsi cola wore off, I started to get angry.  Why was this woman famous? Her image and album are everywhere! She’s a hack/phony/fraud.  I thought about all the really great singers out there who would kill to have her level of exposure and how much better their songs probably are.  It made me sick.

Then I sat back and tried to think about why I was so angry.  Is it because “Cola” is a bad song? Well, no.  “Cola” is actually a really good song, despite the strangeness of it. Then I thought, is it because she’s a bad singer?  Again, no.  Lana Del Rey may not be the world’s greatest singer, but she does have a unique, breathy-vocal style that isn’t unpleasant to hear.  And in a world where everyone in the music business is trying to sound exactly the same, Lana Del Rey definitely has a unique sound.  When one hears Lana Del Rey they immediately recognize that’s whom they’re hearing.

I realized that my confused feelings were the result of only one thing: art-pop.  Lana Del Rey catches a lot of flack because she’s been marketed to us all as Adele when that’s not who she is.  This is art-college let’s-all-shave-our-heads kind of stuff.  As soon as I realized this, I started to wonder if her less-than-stellar SNL performance wasn’t some sort of performance-art stunt.

Now, I’m not saying that Lana Del Rey is some kind of genius.  Don’t get me wrong, being weird for the sake of being weird can be lame and tiresome, but in small doses it’s fun.  And that’s what “Cola” is, it’s a four minute dose of weird.  I’m sure somewhere someone can explain her message, man. Al I know is, Lana Del Rey somehow convinced a lot of people to release a song in which she sings about how her pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola: if for no other reason that should earn her our respect.  Fun fact, this song reached #22 on Billboards rock charts.

Awesome. Lana, you go girl.

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“Cola” by Lana Del Rey Sucks

For the past few weeks, every time I go anywhere that sells music I see Lana Del Rey.  She stares at me, seductively, from the cover of her album PARADISE.  The only thing I knew about Lana Del Rey was that she was super-polarizing and that her appearance on SNL a while back was much maligned.  I saw that performance and didn’t think it was as bad as everyone said, but then again I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face.

Like. Pepsi. Cola.

Like. Pepsi. Cola.

Anyway, last night I was stumbling through my local record store and for some reason I decided to pick up PARADISE.  I turned it over and was amused that one of the tracks was titled “Cola.”  I told my friend who was with me at the time that I was going to listen to this song when I got home.

And so, a few hours later, just before I went to bed I entered the world of Lana Del Rey.  I fired up Spotify and gave “Cola” and most of PARADISE a listen.  I picked “Cola” because that word seemed so odd on the back of a CD, especially on the back of one with such an enigmatic person on the front.

I didn’t know what to expect when I hit play but I certainly wasn’t expecting “My pussy tastes like Pepsi cola, my eyes are wide like cherry pies, I gots [sic] a taste for men who are older.”  I guess my first thought was Gee, this song should be titled “Pepsi Cola” and then I realized that there was no way in hell Pepsi would let her get away with that. The song is dark, brooding, and kinda sexy…but they lyrics are atrociously stupid.  The kind of vapid non-sense girls AND boys in creative writing classes the globe over churn endlessly churn out.

On just about every level, I can’t imagine who this song is supposed to appeal to.  Is “Cola” a four-minute joke?  Is Lana Del Rey making fun of us for making fun of her by releasing a song this absurd? I don’t know and I’m not sure I really care. As I get older I find my patience for this sort of thing gets shorter and shorter.  I really wanted to give Lana Del Rey a fair shake, but “Cola” made it virtually impossible for me to do that, it’s just too ridiculous. 

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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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COUNTRY FUNK: 1969-1975

The British have a grand tradition of introducing Americans to American music.  When The Beatles landed in New York, the press asked the Fab Four what they most wanted to see in the States,  to which they famously replied: “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.”   Some intrepid reporter then asked, without irony, “Muddy Waters, where is that?”

America is a big place and I guess we sometimes have trouble keeping track of the really good stuff.  Regardless, I was sitting in a plane reading the latest issue of Mojo magazine, that glorious bastion of British rock, when I happened upon a postage stamp-sized album review for COUNTRY FUNK 1969-1975.   Intrigued, I added the compilation onto my “to-listen” list and went about my vacation.  When I got home I promptly forgot about COUNTRY FUNK, until I picked up another music mag and saw it featured again.  After reading yet another positive review for the damn thing, but unable to find it on Spotify,  I decided to just bite the bullet and order it.

COUNTRY FUNK’s packaging designed by artist Jess Rotter is pretty schweet.

Which reminds me–record labels take note, if you want me to buy your album keep it off Spotify.  I love having every album at my fingertips, but when I get it in my head that I want to hear something and it’s not on Spotify I tend to whine, stomp my foot, and then go on Amazon and buy the damn thing (meaning you get my money).  But I digress.

COUNTRY FUNK 1969-1975 is a reissue put out by Seattle indie/hipster label Light In The Attic Records.  Besides putting new music, Light In The Attic has thing about digging out really awesome, really obscure music.  I’d never heard of them, but after seeing the care and attention to detail they put into their releases (at least this one) I’m itching to buy some more albums from them.

Essentially, COUNTRY FUNK is a hodgepodge of artists that walk the line between country, blues, gospel, and rock. The majority of artists featured on the album hailed from the South but wound up recording in California.  This juxtaposition between the grit of the South and the glitter of Hollywood forms the compilation’s central theme–and the very definition of country funk as a genre. The music is polished but soulful.  The blending of the best parts of black and white music creates a reese cup of awesomeness that’s thoroughly American.

I was only familiar with one of the album’s sixteen artists,* but I won’t lie 1970’s country isn’t my strongest area.  I’m 99.999% certain that these artists are obscure by most standards.  After listening to COUNTRY FUNK several times I desperately want to explore all of the artists catalogues, but I’m discovering that might take a bit of work (read: illegal downloading) because unfortunately this is music that time has forgotten,  which is a shame because every single track is a winner.

Standout tracks include “Georgia Morning Dew” by Johnny Adams, a bittersweet song about growing-up and moving away from one’s small town for the hustle and bustle of the big city.  Big horns and fuzzed-out guitars sandwich Adams’ remembrance of his early days in Georgia as he looks out at the early morning in L.A.  By the end of the song he’s painted such a charming picture of life in Georgia you just want to shout “Move back home!” which is exactly what he ultimately decides to do.

Johnny Adams, his eyes were on LA but Georgia was in his heart.

“He Made A Woman Out Of Me” by songstress Bobbie Gentry is like demonic version of “Son of a Preacher Man.”  The song, which is about the deflowering of a young country gal, is damn sexy.  Jim Ford’s “I’m Gonna Make Her Love Me” is groove from the other side of the war of the sexes.  More soul than country, Ford’s voice wails intensity to pure I’m amazed he isn’t a household name. Both Gentry and Ford are two artists I’m eager to hear more from, hopefully I won’t have to look too hard.

Bobbie Gentry…some lucky SOB got to make a woman out of her.

“Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham” by John Randolph Marr and “LA Memphis Tyler Texas” by Dale Hawkins are both celebrations of rising stardom and relocation.  Marr’s song details the tribulations of a up-and-coming musician trying to get to Hollywood (spoiler: it’s a little difficult).  The song’s protagonist has to do all sorts of things like hitch a ride with a biker and *gasp* take a two day job to get his guitar out of hock! “LA Memphis Tyler Texas” is almost an Vegas-style Elvis number about the three cities where Hawkins recorded the song.  It’s pretty fun and pretty funny.

Jess Rotter’s postal ode to the bearded-one, Jim Ford.

COUNTRY FUNK has a few less-than-fun serious moments, like Bobby Charles “Street People” which tackles the subject of homelessness.  Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone” is a gospel number about the end of the world…which is also kind of a bummer.  Musically and lyrically Wray’s song reminds me of the Rolling Stones maraca-shaking ode to Satan, “Sympathy For The Devil.” It’s an epic, good vs. evil number, complete with a nice, understated guitar solo.

The most surprising song on the compilation, however, is “Light Blue” by Bobby Darin.  It’s a fantastic song about depression and oncoming gloom.  According to the (fantastically written) liner notes, Darin was there the day Robert Kennedy was shot and killed.  He was so moved that he sold all his possessions and bought a trailer in the California backwoods, where he wrote this deeply dark, intense song. It’s an awesome, scary song made all the more awesome when one hears the transformation of Darin.  This is, after all, the man who co-wrote and sang the bath-time classic “Splish Splash.”  It’s cool to be able to actually hear something with depth from the man.  So, Mr. Darin, you’re officially redeemed.

As I’ve said, I’m really impressed with the care and attention Light In The Attic Records has taken with this release: the artist/song selection is magnificent,  the album artwork is really cool, and the CD booklet has a fantastic essay written by Jessica Hundley (whom I believe contributes to Mojo). This is far and away the best album that I’ve heard this year, and more importantly it’s introduced me to so many really cool artists that weren’t on my radar.  Hell, it introduced me to a whole genre.  In that regard, COUNTRY FUNK 1969-1975 breaks my heart and fills me with hope. It breaks my heart, because I’ve been living all these years without these wonderful songs! I’ve wasted so many years without “Hawg Frog” and “Piledriver.”  But it fills me with hope because as I get older, I become more jaded about the existence of “good” music.  Releases like COUNTRY FUNK prove that I haven’t heard everything and that there is still a lot of really cool old records for me to find.

I can’t recommend this record enough.

 

 

 

*And that was Bobby Darin of “Mack The Knife” fame, listed on the album as Bob Darin.

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“Who” by David Byrne & St. Vincent

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I heard that David Byrne and St. Vincent had gotten together and made an album.  I just knew that I had to hear it.  A few months back I got on a Talking Heads-kick, so I was interested to find out if Byrne still had it.  And my it I mean: a propensity for the tasteful, the odd, and the tastefully-odd.

The Talking Heads were cultural anthropologists masquerading as a strange-sounding band.  It’s kind of a miracle to me that they were even popular in the 1980’s.  When I was revisiting their hits like “Burning Down The House,” “Wild Wild Life,” and the sublimely weird “Once In A Lifetime*,” I was struck by how un-pop The Talking Heads were. That they played on the radio along side Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen is utterly amazing to me.

Surely, I thought to myself before listening to “Who,” old-man Byrne has mellowed with age. Well fear not purveyors of all things freaky, David Byrne is still really strange.  I don’t really know much about St. Vincent except that she’s an indie-darling with a weird name who’s supposedly a really good guitar player.  Instead of being the chirpy song-bird I thought she was, I discovered that St. Vincent is more of a mysterious siren (color me curious about her solo-work).

Byrne and St. Vincent’s future so bright…they gotta wear shades.

The first song on LOVE THIS GIANT, “Who” is also the lead single.  It’s a daft and loopy number,  built almost entirely around horns and thumping drums (so much for St. Vincent’s guitar work).  Lyrically, “Who” is a series of semi-profound questions posed by Byrne, which is beautifully answered a single chorus from St. Vincent: “Who is an honest man?” It’s brilliant, catchy, auteur-pop that reminds me of fellow 80’s-freak Peter Gabriel’s solo-work.  LOVE THIS GIANT is a fantastic collaborative effort between the two artists, but “Who” is Bryne’s baby.  This one wormed it’s way into my heart, give it a listen and see if it doesn’t do the same to you.

Turns out Byrne still has it.  

*A song that I desperately need to analyze in a post all-to itself.

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LouFest 2012: Day #1 Wrap-UP

I’ve never before attended a festival concert.  That’s kinda strange considering how much I love live music, right?  Well here in the States, festivals aren’t quite as common as over in say, Europe.  In fact, the festivals we have here are pretty damn tame by comparison.  Back in their heyday, I remember seeing footage of Oasis shows overseas that had larger attendance than the population of my hometown.  I live in a mediuml-large American city, St. Louis, and though we are a college town, we really don’t get very many massive music festivals (I don’t count traveling travesties like Van’s Warped Tour or Oz Fest). However, thanks to a relatively new festival (this is the third year) St. Louis finally has a rock festival worth talking about.

Forest Park is the jewel of St. Louis.  That’s where our zoo and art gallery is located (both are free, both are awesome).  It’s a special place where St. Louis goes to return to nature and relax.  It’s also where I was married a few years back.  A festival concert located with the park is a great idea, and since I live within walking distance of the park (and I love rock) I decided to buy two day passes.  The bands this year are pretty good, I think.  This year’s headliners are Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, Dr. Dog, and Dinosaur Jr. Of the 16 bands performing this weekend, I’ve only see one live before–I saw Dr. Dog at an awesome, free in-store event at Vintage Vinyl many years ago (someday I’ll write a post about that with the footage I shot).

Anyway, I went down to the park right when the box office opened at noon to pick up our wrist bands (the Mrs. was along for this adventure).  Getting their super-early was nice because it gave us an opportunity to scope out the various vendors that had set-up shop.  Probably the best vendor was local record shop Euclid Records little “Festival Store.”  They had a nice fat stack of CD’s and *gasp* vinyl records for sale, representing all the bands on the line-up.  Other vendors of note were Sony, who had a PS3 mega-rig and Spotify (the killer-music service) had a big green bus where they were presumably trying to explain what the heck Spotify is.

Euclid Records Festival Store. Schweet shwag.

There was also a lot of really cool local restaurants and bars who’d come out to set up a little vending stall.  The place was a ghost town because it was so early so we took our leave until later that afternoon when around 4:00.  I felt bad skipping all the early Saturday bands, but I knew that because the majority of bands I wanted to see play tomorrow, I decided we’d better take it easy on Saturday.  After all, I’m getting to be a pretty old dude.

The skies, which earlier in the day had been bright and cheery, had taken on a nasty gray hue.  While we waited for alt-country dudes Son Volt to take the stage, the sky unleashed a ten-minute deluge.  Earlier it had been hot, now we were chilled to the bone with cold rainwater.  Such is life here in the midwest.  Anyway, it continued to drizzle off and on all night, but for the most part the major rain was over just before Son Volt came on.  I’d never really heard much Son Volt, but I found them to be pretty awesome.  As I get older, I find myself liking alt-county more and more.  With just enough (read: not too much) twang, I really enjoyed them.  The beginning of their set featured a lot of simple love songs, which I thought were the best.  My favorite was “Dynamite” of  their album AMERICAN CENTRAL DUST.  Another song I really liked was “Windfall” which struck me as being a bit Neil Young-ish. As they neared the end of their set list, the songs got a bit political/environmental, and I didn’t like them as much as the love songs.  Still, I thought the band put on a great show and helped provide some variety to the days music.

Son Volt, putting a little twang in LouFest.

The next band was Dinosaur Jr.  Now I don’t know much about Dinosaur Jr., but I did enjoy their last album FARM when it came out a few years ago.  I especially liked their song “Ocean In The Way” off that record.  Did Dinosaur Jr. play that song? I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know because the band was so loud it was pretty difficult to tell. The band was surrounded by a fat stack of Marshall amps. To say that Dinosaur Jr. was loud is a terrible, terrible understatement.  They played their entire set at volume that can only be described as “Stupid Loud.”  Watching them, a trio of aging hipsters, was actually kind of magical.  The band seemed to spin a sonic cocoon around themselves.  Washing themselves and the audience in layers of eagle-scream guitar solos and a blizzard of effect pedal wah-wah, Dinosaur Jr. seemed to transcende age.  They played with the daring and the viciousness of  much younger men.  I won’t use the term possessed, but it did seem as though something overcame them, particularly J. Mascis.  Mascic, who looks eerily like Gandalf, whipped his long white hair life a madman, it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the sound system was cranked so loud that the only song I could pick out with any certainty was their epic “Feel The Pain.”  As their most famous song, it was met with a cheer from the mixed-age crowd (there was everything from toddlers to 60+).

Dinosaur Jr. in the middle of making me deaf.

After Dinosaur Jr. finished their sonic assault on my eardrums, it was time for the evening’s headliner…Girl Talk.  Now, I’ve written about my rather mixed feelings towards Girl Talk before, so I won’t re-open that can of worms.   But for those that don’t know, Girl Talk is really just one dude, DJ Greg Gillis, who illegally samples the shit of the pop music songbook (without paying or asking for permission).  What sort of live “performance” could there really be for an act with such a schtick?  Well it was about what I expected: a nerdy white dude with a laptop, confetti cannons, balloons, toilet paper blowers, and a wall of LCD screens.  And yet, Girl Talk’s show was fun and funky, and it was just the palate cleanser one needed after the heaviness of Dinosaur Jr. The samples came fast and furious, and despite myself (and how tired I was) I found myself dancing.  Or at least, the closest approximation a fat music blogger can do.

LouFest “Orange” stage.

Overall, day one of LouFest was awesome.  My legs ache and my ears are ringing.  I can’t wait for tomorrow.

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