Tag Archives: The Beatles

Gringo Star vs. Ringo Deathstarr

Last night I went on a Magical Mystery Tour deep within the bowels of Spotify.   I do this thing I call “band hopping” where I’ll listen to something and then let Spotify recommend something.  After I’m done listening to that I let it recommend something to me based on THAT song…pretty soon I’m completely and utterly lost.  I wish I could remember what led me to down the weird rabbit-hole of bands named in honor of ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, I bet the trajectory of songs was pretty interesting, but alas…I was in offline mode and my listens were not recorded.

But I digress.  The important thing is there are two really awesome rock bands with Ringo-inspired names.  The first of these bands that I happened upon was Atlanta-based Gringo Star.  What do you think of when you read that name?  I bet you think Gringo Star is a Beatles-inspired pop-rock band, right? I know that’s what I was thinking.  Turns out Gringo Star is a really cool rock band with some British-invasion influences, but mostly is a bit like the UK’s Supergrass.  The band’s latest album COUNT YER LUCKY STARS is a pretty tight collection of rock songs with a lot of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”**

I’m counting ’em…

The album opener “Shadow” invokes both the aforementioned Supergrass as well as Oasis, Blur, with just a hint of Dr. Dog (great harmonies).  The album is full of great songs, but I really like the spanish-influenced “Esmerelda” and the dreamy album-closer “Mexican Coma.”  That last song in particular sounds like it could have been a hit in 1966 by song little-know, post-Beatles invasion-era rock band.  I can almost see the vinyl copy of “Mexican Coma” by The Mudd Turtles or some such thing. It’s a really nice summer chill-out song, with a super-cool guitar solo.  But the song the changed my lust to love was “Got It,” which sounds like an early Kinks single.  It’s got a real nice, super-catchy hook that just digs into your brain and won’t let go.  Right now “Got It” is near the top of the list of best songs I’ve heard this summer (woah! It’s only June) .

From Gringo Star I ended up listening to a band called Ringo Deathstarr.  As far as jokey names go, Ringo Deathstarr beats Gringo Star hands-down.  Besides having the proper number of “R’s” in “Starr” the band’s name is also a freaking STAR WARS pun.

Super-washed out colours.

Now Ringo Deathstarr is a COMPLETELY different animal.  For one thing, their album COLOUR TRIP is more acid/reverb drenched than Gringo Star’s super-crisp rock.  Hailing from Texas, Ringo Deathstarr sounds a bit like The Flaming Lips by way of The Cure.  The band is a girl-and-guy “shoegaze” band that I have to reluctantly admit to being a sucker for. COLOUR TRIP opens with the spaced out “Imagine Hearts” which is a joyous bit of pop.  The album’s best track is “So High,” which sounds how a whacked-out day at the beach feels.  The gentle “Other Things” closes the album with bittersweet introspection.  It’s the kind of song that’s easy to get lost inside.  Some bands exist in space and other create it, and Ringo Deathstarr definitely create their own space–COLOUR TRIP is best enjoyed alone with headphones.  

Both bands (and albums) are pretty awesome, and despite sharing similarities in their name they’re pretty far apart sonically.  For me, Gringo Star has the better songs and Ringo Deathstarr has the better vibes.  Is that a cop-out? I guess, but it’s really like comparing apples to oranges.  Check ’em both out and tell me what you think.

FOOTNOTES:

**TANGENT: I think that modern music needs more “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”  Go back and listen to music, from all genres, of the last 50 years and you’ll hear a ton of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”  But with only a few notable exceptions, COUNT YER LUCKY STARS being one of them, I can’t recall very many bands/albums today that use “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”

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Paul Is Not Dead…He’s 70

Today is Paul McCartney’s 70 birthday, happy birthday Paul! I still can’t believe we live in a world where there are only 2 remaining Beatles.  Time marches on, doesn’t it?  It seems like only yesterday he was turning 64, just like the song.  Paul may not the “cool” choice, but he’s always been my favorite Beatle.  He was my first concert, I saw him in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium back in 1993–I was in the fourth grade.  Two years ago I took my babysister to see Paul live in concert and it was amazing.  McCartney is amazing.  He’s one of the greatest living songwriters and is an amazing bass player to boot.  His song “Yesterday” is the most covered song of all time, which is pretty amazing if you think about it.

At some point it became cool to rag on McCartney and deify Lennon, which is a shame.  As far as I can tell, the only thing McCartney ever did wrong was write awesome songs and not die tragically.  There’s nothing wrong with living a long, productive life–which is just what he’s doing.  So dust off your copy of REVOLVER or The White Album and think of Paul.

Happy birthday Paul.

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The Worst Cat Steven’s Cover of All-Time?

A few years back, Quentin Tarantino’s film DEATH PROOF came out (if you don’t remember it, the film came out as a double-feature called GRINDHOUSE).  Like all Tarantino flicks, DEATH PROOF had an amazing soundtrack.  I’m not sure how someone can possess so much obscure pop-culture knowledge, but Tarantino always manages to find awesome, little-heard/remembered songs that really enhance his films.  It’s a talent that fewer and fewer filmmakers seem to possess as time goes by.  DEATH PROOF uses the stupendously awesome “Hold Tight”  by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich for a particularly gruesome car crash scene.  I’d never heard of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich until this movie came out, which is pretty amazing considering I grew up on a steady-diet of classic AND oldies rock ‘n roll.

[ASIDE: Well I guess that’s only partially true,  George Harrison makes a cheeky (and fleeting) reference to the band on The Beatles Anthology 3, but I’d always thought this was a joke (come on, that name is pretty ridiculous).]

These men (or some of these men) recorded a monster.

Regardless, after I saw the movie I wanted to hear more from Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, but trying to find any of the band’s music is pretty difficult.  This despite the fact that they had several minor hits back in the mid-to-late 1960s.  I was finally able to track down a Greatest Hits compilation on Spotify, a music streaming service I reviewed a while back.  I was pretty stoked to hear more from Dave Dee & Company, so one day while at the gym  I hit “play” and settled into their trippy Who-meets-Beatles sound…I was really digging their music, when this awful sound filled my ears.  There was a terrible synthesizer coupled with an overall stomach-churning  early 1980’s production spilling out of my ear buds.

Now, it’s not uncommon for older bands to include little-heard (or appreciated) “come back” material on their Greatest Hits compilations, so while I was repulsed by what I heard, I wasn’t surprised.  But what  I thought was strange was that, despite being turgid, the song was strangely   familiar.  So familiar, in fact, that I found myself singing along with it.  How did I know this song?  Then it hit me: Cat Stevens.  Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (or more likely a band comprised of two of those people along with an accompaniment of  replacements) recorded a cover of Cat Stevens classic “Matthew & Sons” in the early 1980s! What?  What on Earth made them pick this song to cover?  And didn’t they know that disco was dead?

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like Cat Stevens.  That said, I wouldn’t call “Matthew & Sons” a great or terrible song–I probably wouldn’t call it anything, it exists somewhere in between for me.  But this version, this 1980’s abomination by DDDBM&T is pretty much the worst Cat Stevens cover I’ve ever heard.  It’s terrible because it takes a decent enough song and wraps it in a shitty 80’s dance-production.  And it does all this for NO GOOD REASON.  I’m not sure what the hell the band was thinking, there was no way they were deluded enough to actually think kids were going to dance to this….song…in the clubs (right?).  I’m hoping that this song owes it’s existence to super-large mortgage debts or killer coke habits the surviving band members had.

I know there are probably a thousand really awful Cat Stevens covers on YouTube done by amateurs–but don’t you think this is the worst professional Cat Stevens cover of all-time?

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George Harrison & “My Sweet Lord”

In many ways, I can’t think of two people more apart than John Lennon and George Harrison.  During their brief time together as members of The Beatles, it was pretty obvious who the genius songwriter was.  Lennon’s work and tragic murder have (ironically) deified him as rock god. George was always known as “the quiet one.”  And though he did start to come out of his shell towards the end of The Beatles life-span, it wasn’t until he went it alone as a solo artist that George Harrison became, in my opinion, John Lennon’s equal.  Growing up, the first solo-Beatle music I listen to was Paul McCartney and then John Lennon’s solo work.  I never considered Ringo or George’s solo output until I heard a super-catchy, awesome song on the radio one summer afternoon.  It sounded like a lost Beatles track, something off of ABBEY ROAD.  I was able to jot down most of the chorus on a scrap of paper and the next time I got online (dial-up) I was able to do a search. I found out the song I’d heard was “What Is Life?” by George Harrison.  The song comes from George’s landmark solo (double) album ALL THINGS MUST PASS.  That’s a fitting title for an album recorded after the end of one of pop music’s greatest bands.

ALL THINGS MUST PASS is an achingly beautiful record, through and through.  Eric Clapton, Billy “The Fifth Beatle” Preston, and Ringo all played a part in it’s recording–but ALL THINGS MUST PASS is George’s record.  Whereas Paul’s solo music is pretty bubblegum and John’s solo stuff was angry and political (see “Woman is the Nigger of the World”), George Harrison’s solo work is very down-to-earth and deeply personal.  Somewhere between Paul’s commercial cash grab and Lennon’s brash antiestablishmentarianism–lies the music of George Harrison.

The crown jewel of ALL THINGS MUST PASS is a song called “My Sweet Lord.”  This song is a stark contrast to the work of Paul McCartney & Wings.  And it’s 1,000 miles away from John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.”  A deeply spiritual (but not religious) man, Harrison’s song is a devotional ode to his creator.  As an apathetic agnostic, I find myself filled to the brim with envy every time I hear it, the sentiment is so pure and simple.  In fact, the song reminds me a lot of the numerous Medieval poems I had to read in my British Literature classes back in my college days.  Listening to “My Sweet Lord” and then “Imagine” is pretty crazy/disconcerting.  How were these two men from the same planet, let alone in the same band?  I don’t think Lennon or Harrison were “lying” in either case, I think that they were just able to put their differences aside and be friends despite their wildly different world views.

That said, if I had to live in the world of one of those songs, I’d pick “My Sweet Lord” everyday (and twice on Sunday, pun intended).  The song was instantly popular, despite the fact that George didn’t initially have it released as a single.  It wasn’t until radio stations played the crap out of it that public demand led to the song being issued as single in 1971.  “My Sweet Lord” was also the first single by an ex-Beatle to reach #1.  A remarkable feat, one that would come at a heavy price–the increased scrutiny lead to lawsuit.  The song “My Sweet Lord” is fairly similar to a song written by Ronnie Mack called “He’s So Fine.”  Yes, George Harrison may have (subconsciously) used a song made popular by the girl-group The Chiffon’s to write one of the greatest love-letters to God.  The court battle (Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music) was lengthy and George lost, but  in the end we all won because “My Sweet Lord” is a beautiful song and the world is a better place that it exists.

Stripped down acoustic guitar, harmonized slide guitars, George’s distinctive voice, and the sublime lyrical marriage of eastern and western religious chants.  It’s a perfect song, through and through.

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MAD MEN’s $250,000 Beatles Sample

So this just ties into the post I did yesterday about Girl Talk’s 100%-sample-album FEED THE ANIMALS: The New York Times is reporting that the cable channel AMC paid $250,000 to air a portion of “Tomorrow Never Knows” on last Sunday’s episode of MAD MEN. It was a great moment, one that perfectly encapsulates how the times are changing and how those times are passing a certain character (no spoilers).  Though $250,000 sounds like a lot of money to most people (myself included) I actually think that it’s a pretty good deal for AMC considering The Beatles are one of the most protective bands when it comes to their catalogue.  You see, the show didn’t just air the song performed by another singer/band–the MAD MEN episode played the ACTUAL song performed by the actual BEATLES.  This is a pretty rare event, as noted by the Times article which states the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” has never been performed on television.

With all those royalties, The Beatles have it made in the shade…

It also turns out that this marks the first instance where The Beatles have allowed one of their songs to be featured on a television series (with the only exception being the ABC animated Beatles cartoon show that ran in the 1960’s, of course).  When I saw the episode on Sunday I was pretty excited that the song was used, being the huge Beatlemaniac that I am, but I didn’t stop and consider just how pricey such a cameo by the band might be.  I feel sorta bad for MAD MEN’s creator/writer Matthew Weiner, after all when doing a show set in the 1960’s it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the Fab Four.  It was only a matter of time before AMC had to pony up the big dough to feature the band.

I wonder how pissed Keith Richards/Mick Jagger are right now?

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Your Next Favorite Band: Guided By Voices

It was the summer of 2001 when I discovered Guided By Voices.  I had just graduated high school and was working as a cashier at a drugstore.  The job was pretty lousy, with even lousier piped-in music to add insult to injury.  Anyway, the one perk was the magazine rack.  Every day I’d take my break in the employee lounge and read a magazine.  At the time REVOLVER magazine was a real rock magazine and not the rag it’s unfortunately become–anyway I was leafing through an issue with REVOLVER that had a feature on a guy named Robert Pollard.  What I discovered  from reading the article was that Pollard was some kind of prolific songwriter and that his indie-band, Guided By Voices, was about to release it’s second “mainstream” album on a major label. It was a pretty standard article and it didn’t do much in the way of make me curious about Pollard or his band, until the very end.  At the end of the article, the author compared Guided By Voices sound as “The Who performing an arena-shaking rendition of The Beatles’ Nowhere Man.”

As a dyed in the wool  Beatlemaniac, I was intrigued to say the least.

That comparison launched a love affair with GBV and Pollard that goes beyond mere fandom.  Robert Pollard is not the greatest songwriter of all time. Guided By Voices is not the greatest band of all time. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply love Guided By Voices, but it’s not just the music that makes them so special.  The band is a symbol for what it means to be an artist–I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, not just a musician but as a general creative force.  That the music is awesome  only cemented Pollard’s position as my personal rock hero.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  In order to talk about all of this you need to know a little bit about Pollard.

Calisthenics are an important part of the Guided By Voices experience.

Robert Pollard was a 4th grade school teacher in Dayton, Ohio.  He was on track for a pretty ordinary, average life but something was missing.  If you’re an artist and aren’t creating it causes all sorts of problems.  Pollard needed an outlet so he started jamming with friends on the weekend.  Pollard also liked to write very (very) short little songs.  Maybe “song” isn’t the right word, these were almost pieces of songs, snippets.  They were catchy as hell.  Using very primitive home recording gear (like a boombox with a cassette deck and microphone) Guided By Voices was formed and Pollard starting making albums.  The band became critical darlings in the mid-1990s and Pollard was able to quit his job as a teacher and became a full-time rock star.  The band went mainstream for two albums and were then promptly dropped when the band didn’t catch fire and sell millions of albums.

Now, that story probably makes Pollard a hero in the eyes of many, but it was what he did after being dropped that makes him MY hero: he kept making music.  Pollard made a LOT of music.  So much music that he started other bands, a solo career, and recorded GBV albums.  I know a lot of people say they’re prolific, but Robert Pollard is the real deal.  The closest mainstream person I think of who seems to be like Pollard is Jack White.  But whereas Jack White puts out an album or so every year, Pollard usually releases 3 to 4 albums a year (sometimes more).  He also designs his album’s artwork and writes poetry.  Being prolific makes him special, but he’s my hero because he never gives up.  If we all turned out backs on him I know he’d keep writing and recording albums because he’s an artist and that’s all he knows.  He could have done what most people do and give up, push aside childish things like making art, but he didn’t.  As someone who wishes he was a writer and not a office drone, Robert Pollard is my  hero.

But the music is good.  It’s really damn good.

Just like the REVOLVER writer pointed out years later, Guided By Voices sound a bit like The Who and other British Invasion-era rock bands from the 1960’s.  Pollard, born and raised in Ohio, even sings with a bit of a British accent.  However, GBV wasn’t an ordinary rock band playing ordinary rock songs. Pollard’s songwriting generally consists of taking his little song snippets and fusing them together.  A lot of it is very poetic and very catchy, some of it is just bizarre.  Pollard’s songwriting leads GBV to the precipice of art-rock and progressive (“prog”) rock.  In fact, I would say Guided By Voices often sound like The Who meets Peter Gabriel-era Genesis on occasion.  The songs are pretty much 89% hook and chorus.  A major criticism of Pollard and GBV is that the songs feel undercooked or too much like a snippet.  An argument could be made that Pollard and GBV never found massive success because he wrote 20,000 two minute songs instead of 14 killer 3-4 minute polished gems.  I can’t argue with this criticism completely, but I can’t dismiss Pollard’s genius either.  He’s written so many amazing songs that might not exist if he didn’t throw everything at the wall and then run away.

The aesthetic, in regards to recording, can also be criticized.  Back in the 1990’s people didn’t have a lot of options when it came to recording, being “lo-fi” was less a conscious artistic choice and more of a necessity.  Many long time GBV fans became hyper-critical when the band joined a major label and recorded in a proper studio.  I can listen to both era’s of GBV and appreciate it but I can definitely recommend that newbies start with the newer albums and work back to those prehistorically recorded classics.  Since being dropped from the major label TVT, Guided By Voices has adopted a nice balance of lo- and hi-fi sound.  As a true lover of the band I’m perfectly fine with this, but it’s still annoyingly cool to bitch about GBV not being homemade.

Robert Pollard knows that hydration is a key ingredient to successful rocking.

I keep talking about Robert Pollard because he really is Guided By Voices.  I read once that Pollard estimates over 100 different people have been in the band at one point or another.  I’m not sure how accurate that figure is but it seems accurate enough.  For a while guitarist Doug Gillard (from Cobra Verde) was an integral part of the band, but that partnership ended in 2004 when Pollard inexplicably shut GBV down.  He claimed that it was also his plan to stop recording when the band made a “perfect” album.  A lot can be said of 2004’s HALF SMILES OF THE DECOMPOSED but a perfect record it was not–and Pollard must have realized this because in 2010 he reformed the band.  Pollard  didn’t retire during the brief period when Guided By Voices was dormant, he recorded a shit ton of solo albums.  I am a pretty big fan and I can honestly say that I have not heard (or heard of) about 45% of Pollard’s output.  There are simply too many songs.  Too many records.  I haven’t even heard all of the Guided By Voices early stuff (most of which I’ve heard is a bit unlistenable).

You pretty much need to buy this. Right. Now. Don’t make Bob cast a spell on you.

In 2003 Matador Records did newbies a huge favor by releasing HUMAN AMUSEMENTS AT HOURLY RATES: THE BEST OF GUIDED BY VOICES.  They also released, at the same time, a pretty hearty boxset HARDCORE UFOS.  I guess the best place to start is the greatest hits compilation.  I don’t usually recommend that to people, but it’s the best way to dip your toes in the world of Robert Pollard.  From there I recommend you check out MAG EARWHIG! and UNIVERSAL TRUTHS AND CYCLES.  The former being the last album before going to a major label and the latter being the first one the band released after being dropped. The band’s major label albums are not terrible, they’re just a not the best place for newbies to start.  You have, in fact, probably already heard one Guided By Voices song and not even realized it: “Hold On Hope.”  The song comes from the Ric Ocasek (the weird dude from The Cars) produced album DO THE COLLAPSE.  The story goes Pollard did not want to do “Hold On Hope” but because he wanted to play ball with the record company (and get on the radio) he did it.  It’s not a terrible song, it’s a nice ballad.  Anyway, it’s been featured in a bunch of indie-minded TV shows and films (like SCRUBS).  It’s the kind of song a lot of bands would kill to have and it’s nowhere near as good as 99% of  GBV’s other songs.

Guided By Voices is a band I’m seriously passionate about.  On one hand the catchy, weird-ass songs delight me on a pure visceral-level but as an artist, I find I love and respect Pollard for chasing his dream and pursuing his own unique vision of  song and song-writing.

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NUGGETS and The Dukes of Stratosphear

Psychedelic. What does that word kick up in your mind? Drugs. Drugs that make you see bright, shiny, other-worldly colors. Back in 1960’s, when LSD was “discovered” popular music was altered (for the better in my opinion) when artists began experimenting in the studio to create songs that recreated and enhanced the “trippy” effect LSD gave it’s users. I have no interest in going on a real-life, honest-to-God psychedelic journey…but I’m always ready to dip my mind in the vibrant colors of psychedelic music. Back in 1972, near the end of the “Psychedelic Era,” a dude named Jac Holzman at Elektra Records assembled one of the greatest collections of American and British Psych-rock/pop. The 2-LP was called NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968. Anyone wishing to earn a million-bajillion brownie points with me can do so by tracking this thing down and buying it for me…

Nuggets. Get your rainbow-shimmering dipping sauce ready...

Anyway, NUGGETS didn’t feature any bands that today are very well known…in fact, one of the reasons Holzman put NUGGETS out was to preserve these rare gems (or “nuggets”) of great 60’s music before they were lost to the ages. Despite being a bit random and obscure, this box-set influenced a shit-load of musicians (and critics).

One-hit-wonders have always fascinated me. I could, in fact, write a whole blog post about that strange musical phenomenon, but instead my focus is The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Flash forward from the 1960s, past 1972 and NUGGETS…all the way to 1980’s. The eighties music scene did not look kindly on the 1960s. The era of excess, for the most part, rejected the idealism of 60s–and psychedelic music. Which is why British rockers XTC probably adopted the guise of “The Dukes of Stratosphear.” Already heavily influenced by classic 60’s English pop, XTC admitted to being fans of The Beatles in a time when The Clash were pissing on the Fab Four (and selling lots of records). Going against the grain, XTC released two EP’s that hearkened back to an earlier, “trippier” time–1985’s 25 O’CLOCK and 1987’s PSONIC PSUNSPOT.

CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL is a 1987 CD-only compilation that combines both shorter records into one larger package. Consisting of sixteen short, strange tracks, CHIPS is a great band both aping and embracing the music they grew up loving. Under the moniker of The Dukes, XTC imitate the styles of The Byrds, The Hollies, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, and yes…Iron Butterfly.

Lots and lots of Iron Butterfly. You know Iron Butterfly from their one (and only) great song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” That song featured a shit-ton of hypnotic organ playing. That’s the sort of thing found of CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL. Except it’s not annoying. The record has a a lot of ALICE AND WONDERLAND-like spoken word bits in between tracks. It’s all really freaky man. Really freaky.

25 O'Clock, time to put up your DUKES.

25 O’CLOCK was released on April Fool’s Day, so this stuff is not meant to be taken seriously–however it’s hard to listen to the the Pink Floyd-eque “Bike Ride to the Moon” and not be impressed. Sure, it sounds like a Pink Floyd rip-off…but have you ever tried writing a Pink Floyd song? It’s not easy. Hell, Pink Floyd can’t even write Pink Floyd song anymore. I guess what I’m saying is, it would be wrong to dismiss this record on the basis that the songs are so derivative.

Consider, for example, The Hollies-influenced “Vanishing Girl.” This song has all the trademarks of The Hollies…the distinctive vocal harmonies, the jangly 60’s guitar flourishes, the intricate story-like lyrics. This song sounds like it was recorded in the 1960s. You could go back in time and play it on the radio, and not only would it sound of the era–it would have been a hit. Sure, it’s unlikely that the song could exist without The Hollies…

This is the case for many of the albums more memorable songs. “Brainiac’s Daughter” is a whimsical ode to the daughter of Superman’s nemesis that’s very similar to Paul McCartney’s 1975 B-Side “Magneto and Titanium Man” (both songs are wacky with lyrics that reflect the songwriters rather shallow understanding of their comic book subject matter–Brainiac has no daughter). Though it’s a bit too cute for it’s own good, the song works for me only because it’s so far “out there” with it’s psuedo-vaudevillian sensibility. Like “When I’m 64” it’s a throw-back to a throw-back.

While “Brainiac’s Daughter” may very simple, repetitious lyrics, a particularly clever set of lyrics on “You’re My Drug” (Byrds-style song) really showcase how versatile the Andy Partridge and company were at adapting differing styles of psychedelic music. Bouncing between American and British psych-rock can’t be easy. Compare the frenetic, bouncy roller coaster that is “You’re My Drug” to the Beach Boys-inspired “Pale and Precious” and it’s hard to believe they were composed by the same band (let alone performed by the same men in the same time frame).

The material from 25 O’CLOCK sounds nothing like XTC or 80’s music. This cannot be said of all the songs from PSONIC PSUNSPOT. “Have You Seen Jackie?” and “Little Lighthouse” sound a bit too polished, a bit too modern…here The Dukes drop their false beards and XTC shine though–not that it’s a bad thing but some of the magic is lost towards the end of the record. I would say about 85% of this record is perfect, and totally captures the spirit of the 60’s track they’re mean to emulate/pay homage to.

Many critics regard CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL to be the best work from the musicians in XTC. The argument made is that by using another name (The Dukes…) the band felt free to experiment more and were generally more relaxed. I disagree with this partially. XTC is a great band, whose last two records were an amazing capstone to a storied career. That said, The Dukes of Stratosphear recordings were an astonishing feat of musicianship. The attention to detail and history that went into these songs are top notch.

I’m not the only one that feels this way. In August of 2005 Rhino Records released a four disc box-set titled CHILDREN OF NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE SECOND PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1976-1995. Among the many artists in the psychedelic/garage rock world included on this new compilation, were The Dukes of Stratosphear. In fact, “Vanishing Girl” is the first song on the first disc.

This inclusion on the “second generation” of NUGGETS is a fitting tribute to such an interesting band/project.

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NUGGETS and The Dukes of Stratosphear

Psychedelic. What does that word kick up in your mind? Drugs. Drugs that make you see bright, shiny, other-worldly colors. Back in 1960’s, when LSD was “discovered” popular music was altered (for the better in my opinion) when artists began experimenting in the studio to create songs that recreated and enhanced the “trippy” effect LSD gave it’s users. I have no interest in going on a real-life, honest-to-God psychedelic journey…but I’m always ready to dip my mind in the vibrant colors of psychedelic music. Back in 1972, near the end of the “Psychedelic Era,” a dude named Jac Holzman at Elektra Records assembled one of the greatest collections of American and British Psych-rock/pop. The 2-LP was called NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968. Anyone wishing to earn a million-bajillion brownie points with me can do so by tracking this thing down and buying it for me…

Nuggets. Get your rainbow-shimmering dipping sauce ready...

Anyway, NUGGETS didn’t feature any bands that today are very well known…in fact, one of the reasons Holzman put NUGGETS out was to preserve these rare gems (or “nuggets”) of great 60’s music before they were lost to the ages. Despite being a bit random and obscure, this box-set influenced a shit-load of musicians (and critics).

One-hit-wonders have always fascinated me. I could, in fact, write a whole blog post about that strange musical phenomenon, but instead my focus is The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Flash forward from the 1960s, past 1972 and NUGGETS…all the way to 1980’s. The eighties music scene did not look kindly on the 1960s. The era of excess, for the most part, rejected the idealism of 60s–and psychedelic music. Which is why British rockers XTC probably adopted the guise of “The Dukes of Stratosphear.” Already heavily influenced by classic 60’s English pop, XTC admitted to being fans of The Beatles in a time when The Clash were pissing on the Fab Four (and selling lots of records). Going against the grain, XTC released two EP’s that hearkened back to an earlier, “trippier” time–1985’s 25 O’CLOCK and 1987’s PSONIC PSUNSPOT.

CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL is a 1987 CD-only compilation that combines both shorter records into one larger package. Consisting of sixteen short, strange tracks, CHIPS is a great band both aping and embracing the music they grew up loving. Under the moniker of The Dukes, XTC imitate the styles of The Byrds, The Hollies, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, and yes…Iron Butterfly.

Lots and lots of Iron Butterfly. You know Iron Butterfly from their one (and only) great song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” That song featured a shit-ton of hypnotic organ playing. That’s the sort of thing found of CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL. Except it’s not annoying. The record has a a lot of ALICE AND WONDERLAND-like spoken word bits in between tracks. It’s all really freaky man. Really freaky.

25 O'Clock, time to put up your DUKES.

25 O’CLOCK was released on April Fool’s Day, so this stuff is not meant to be taken seriously–however it’s hard to listen to the the Pink Floyd-eque “Bike Ride to the Moon” and not be impressed. Sure, it sounds like a Pink Floyd rip-off…but have you ever tried writing a Pink Floyd song? It’s not easy. Hell, Pink Floyd can’t even write Pink Floyd song anymore. I guess what I’m saying is, it would be wrong to dismiss this record on the basis that the songs are so derivative.

Consider, for example, The Hollies-influenced “Vanishing Girl.” This song has all the trademarks of The Hollies…the distinctive vocal harmonies, the jangly 60’s guitar flourishes, the intricate story-like lyrics. This song sounds like it was recorded in the 1960s. You could go back in time and play it on the radio, and not only would it sound of the era–it would have been a hit. Sure, it’s unlikely that the song could exist without The Hollies…

This is the case for many of the albums more memorable songs. “Brainiac’s Daughter” is a whimsical ode to the daughter of Superman’s nemesis that’s very similar to Paul McCartney’s 1975 B-Side “Magneto and Titanium Man” (both songs are wacky with lyrics that reflect the songwriters rather shallow understanding of their comic book subject matter–Brainiac has no daughter). Though it’s a bit too cute for it’s own good, the song works for me only because it’s so far “out there” with it’s psuedo-vaudevillian sensibility. Like “When I’m 64” it’s a throw-back to a throw-back.

While “Brainiac’s Daughter” may very simple, repetitious lyrics, a particularly clever set of lyrics on “You’re My Drug” (Byrds-style song) really showcase how versatile the Andy Partridge and company were at adapting differing styles of psychedelic music. Bouncing between American and British psych-rock can’t be easy. Compare the frenetic, bouncy roller coaster that is “You’re My Drug” to the Beach Boys-inspired “Pale and Precious” and it’s hard to believe they were composed by the same band (let alone performed by the same men in the same time frame).

The material from 25 O’CLOCK sounds nothing like XTC or 80’s music. This cannot be said of all the songs from PSONIC PSUNSPOT. “Have You Seen Jackie?” and “Little Lighthouse” sound a bit too polished, a bit too modern…here The Dukes drop their false beards and XTC shine though–not that it’s a bad thing but some of the magic is lost towards the end of the record. I would say about 85% of this record is perfect, and totally captures the spirit of the 60’s track they’re mean to emulate/pay homage to.

Many critics regard CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL to be the best work from the musicians in XTC. The argument made is that by using another name (The Dukes…) the band felt free to experiment more and were generally more relaxed. I disagree with this partially. XTC is a great band, whose last two records were an amazing capstone to a storied career. That said, The Dukes of Stratosphear recordings were an astonishing feat of musicianship. The attention to detail and history that went into these songs are top notch.

I’m not the only one that feels this way. In August of 2005 Rhino Records released a four disc box-set titled CHILDREN OF NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE SECOND PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1976-1995. Among the many artists in the psychedelic/garage rock world included on this new compilation, were The Dukes of Stratosphear. In fact, “Vanishing Girl” is the first song on the first disc.

This inclusion on the “second generation” of NUGGETS is a fitting tribute to such an interesting band/project.

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2011: The Year of the Battling Gallagher Brothers

Sibling rivalry. 

 In my head, having a brother is like having a built-in best friend, though I know the reality is very different.  Everyone I know with a brother seems to have some sort of issue with him.  Noel and Liam Gallagher, the creative force behind the last great british rock band that mattered, have to my knowledge always been in a state of embattlement.  Locking horns over creative differences is one thing, giving each other brutal back-stage beat downs is something else entirely.

The Gallagher Brothers...in better days.

When the boys could work together, the music they produced was astounding. Oasis never was anything other than two British lads trying to out-Beatle The Beatles. In the 1990’s it worked and Oasis became a household name with hits like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.”  But then drugs and conflict pulled the band down a rabbit hole of mediocrity and diminishing album sales.  Initially I was not a fan of the brutish Brit-rockers.  I found Liam’s nasally, Lennon-obsessed vocals to be grating.  And I didn’t see much value in Noel’s rather by-the-numbers balladry.  I’d always been a huge Beatles fan growing up, and I found Oasis to be more  rip-off than torch-passing tribute.  I’ve softened on this position over the years and my appreciation of Oasis oddly grew as their general fame receded.

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Oasis put out a string of competent, though somewhat spotty albums that were both risky and highly indulgent.  Most people were turned off by albums like STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS and HEATHEN CHEMISTRY, but I found them to be much more interesting than their “safer” Beatle-esque material.  This period of the band’s life was marked by heavier (than usual) in-fighting and heavy cocaine abuse.  Then in 2005 the band released DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH and had a minor comeback.

In 2008 the band released DIG OUT YOUR SOUL and went on tour.  I was lucky enough to see Oasis perform in Chicago on what was to be their final tour.  The concert was great but the album they were supporting was lackluster.  When the band broke up in 2009 I was saddened but not surprised.   The boys had finally called it quits after some sort of altercation occurred back stage and Liam ended up breaking Noel’s guitar. These type of shenanigans, which seemed quaint back in the “Wonderwall” days seemed pathetic.  Especially when you consider that they’re both pretty damn old to still be getting in backstage fights.  If you can’t get along then move on.

Which is what both brothers said they were going to do.  I didn’t anticipate the both of them to release albums this year.  I figured, like I think most people did, that when Oasis broke up that would be the end of the brothers Gallagher.  I thought that perhaps they’d fight over the name Oasis, maybe even mount competing tours. I can close my eyes and almost see each of them proclaiming their version to be the “true” Oasis.

Liam, I was certain, was going to be fucked without Noel.  He was the principal singer but not the band’s main songwriter. All the big hits were Noel’s, who besides writing songs was also the lead guitarist.  In fact, when Oasis played live, Liam seemed very awkward just standing there, waiting to sing.  He’d often clutch a tambourine, to give himself something to hold, but for the most part he looked pretty lost.  When one of Noel’s songs came up (the ones he actually sang), Liam would leave the stage entirely.

So the brother who wrote less, played no instruments, and was generally regarded to be the chief fuck of the band was going to have a hard time as a solo act.  That much I was sure.  Noel, on the other hand, seemed more like George Harrison–a brilliant artist stifled by being in the world’s biggest band. Surely the break-up of Oasis would be a good thing for his career/music.  Without Liam constantly offering him roadblocks and hoging the limelight, he’d be free to become the star he always seemed to be.  That’s what I thought was going to happen.

But life is funny and people are always surprising.  Liam and the remaining members of Oasis formed the band Beady Eye and announced they were recording an album only months after the break-up.  Two years later DIFFERENT GEAR, STILL SPEEDING came out and was pretty damn good.  Not only did Liam beat Noel to the punch by having his album come out first, it wasn’t a complete distaster.  “Bring the Light” a rollicking piano number and “The Roller” were better than anything late-period Oasis were putting out, even on their “comeback” DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH.  Not every track was what I’d call classic, but the album didn’t disappoint. Liam hadn’t embarrassed himself.

Noel and Liam, wondering which them is inappropriately dressed.

So, if Liam’s album was great then Noel’s album was going to be FANTASTIC.  Right?  Well there was silence on the Noel Gallagher front for several months, then it was announced that his album and band was going to be called NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS.  When I finally got my hands on the album I recognized two of the songs.  Unlike Liam (who was not regarded as the writer) Noel had recycled two unreleased Oasis songs for his solo debut.  Those tracks, “(I Wanna Live In a Dream In My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.” These songs aren’t super-obscure either.  Hell, they played “Record Machine” when I saw them in Chicago and “Stop the Clocks” was the TITLE of their greatest hits compilation (though it was ultimately left off because Noel wasn’t done tinkering with it). Noel the master songwriter had taken longer to release an album of old songs?

Something didn’t feel right.  And while NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS is just as good as Beady Eye’s album, there’s still something very wrong with that.  I almost feel like Liam stepped his game up for the Beady Eye record and Noel slacked off and gave us something good but not his best work. The two Oasis-era songs were good and “If I Had A Gun…” and the single “The Death of You and Me” are very catchy…but ultimately I feel like by not completely screwing up his album, Liam stole some of Noel’s thunder.  Both Liam and Noel are busy touring and have announced new albums for next year.  Only time will tell if the Gallagher brothers will ever make amends and reform Oasis.  If they weren’t family, I’d say it was a remote possibility, but with blood you never can tell.

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