Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nels Cline for President

I've been listening to Wilco's forthcoming Sky Blue Sky, and Nels Cline, the band's new guitarist, is a revelation. Elegant and forceful, he helps take Jeff Tweedy's songs into uncharted waters. When was the last time such a prominent band, at its peak, added a new member who made such a noticeable impact on its sound? I'm sure there's a precedent, but I'm not coming up with it (and before you answer that Johnny Marr is presently having such an effect on Modest Mouse, recognize two things: (1) I think his impact on MM is considerably more subtle, and (2) I don't think the Mouse is in Wilco's class, no matter what the SoundScan numbers say).

And I'll go on record: Sky Blue Sky is an unspeakably brilliant album, maybe the best thing they've ever done. It comes out on May 15, and you should own it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Alphabet Project: C (Part Two)

With apologies to late cuts Leonard Cohen, Roseanne Cash, The Cuff Links and Glen Campbell, here's some of my favorite C shanties. Let me know where I went wrong.

1. Sam Cooke – "A Change Is Gonna Come" – A harbinger of social, cultural and musical change... time has not diminished its relevance. Plus if Otis Redding isn’t the greatest soul singer ever, then Sam Cooke is. And Otis worshipped Sam.

2. Ray Charles"Bye Bye Love" – Ray Charles lived at the intersection of all music and this song (from the fantastic Modern Sounds in Country and Western) just improves my mood 100% every time I hear it.

3. Gene Chandler“Duke of Earl” – I’ve dreamed of walking by a street corner and hearing this. Extra credit for providing a name for Steve Earle’s band.

4. James Carr“The Dark End of The Street” – This intense, desperate plea to an illicit lover is the perfect amalgamation of southern fried soul and honky tonk songwriting. It’s been covered about a billion times.

5. Jimmy Cliff“Wonderful World, Beautiful People” – As a bit of a pollyanna myself, this song’s marriage of a rock steady backbeat, top 40 smarts and wide eyed optimism never fails to delight. All hail 70’s top 40 AM radio.

6. Chairmen of the Board"Give Me Just A Little More Time” – If I could ever master the “bddddrrrll” tongue roll the amazing General Johnson lets loose at 2:16 of this song, I’d die happy.

7. The Crystals“Then He Kissed Me” – The story of the world in 2:37.

8. Petula Clark“I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love” – Lush, orchestral sunshine pop at its finest… dig the finger snaps throughout.

9. Crazy Elephant“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin” – Anonymous band with massive bubblegum hit… you know you love this song – “From Atlanta, Georgia / to the Gulf Stream waters”… come on, sing it with me.

10. Chicago “Make Me Smile” – The rare intersection of rock, jazz, melody and brevity, “Make Me Smile” features the soulfully unhinged vocals of Terry Kath. How did it all go so terribly wrong for these guys?

11. The Carpenters“Top of The World” – The 15 year old me would throttle the 49 year old me for including this one… but time has been kind to the Carpenters legacy. Karen’s sweet, crystalline voice carried the day – plus this was one of my Mom’s favorite songs. (Awwwwwww.)
12. Jim Croce“One Less Set of Footsteps” – I dig Croce. Wanna fight?

13. Marshall Crenshaw“There She Goes Again” – I could fill one thousand notebooks about the glory of Marshall Crenshaw and this leadoff track to his without-a-flaw debut, but if you don’t believe, it’d be “like trying to tell a stranger 'bout rock n roll”. It'd be exactly like that.

14. The Cure“In Between Days” – I’m generally not one for the doom and gloom set, but this rhythm happy synth pop prototype bubbles merrily along despite its apologetic, yearning lyrics and classic sad sack opening “Yesterday I got so old / I felt like I could die”.

15. The Chills“Heavenly Pop Hit” – Like I can add anything to that.

16. Gene Clark“American Dreamer” – Gene Clark showed up on B, here he is on C and I expect to see him on D. Discovering Gene Clark is a journey any alt country fan should undertake… start with this spare, brooding take on great expectations.

17. Peter Case“Travellin’ Light” – Proffering an invitation to outcasts everywhere (“So you’re a mixed up kid / Come on and join the crowd”), Case empathizes with those drifting through life, shedding baggage as needed (“There’s a hole in your sole / Where the wind blows through”). Someday I’m going to invite all y’all to a Peter Case house concert chez Teek. It’ll be massive.

18. Kasey Chambers“The Captain” – A sweet ode to her musician brother, thanking him for helping her find her muse. Just a gorgeous melody, sung beautifully and played perfectly… one of the best pop songs of the last ten years.

19. Eddie Cochran“Summertime Blues” – A definitive anthem of teenage restlessness, Eddie Cochran’s fame was fleeting, dead in a car accident by age 21. Gimme some slapback..

20. Johnny Cash“I Walk The Line” – Bad boy professes the greatest love of all - “Because you’re mine / I walk the line”. The voice of God.

21. Cream“Sunshine of Your Love” – Along with “Satisfaction” and “Smoke on the Water”, one of the three greatest opening rock riffs… I had to include it after 10 year old Joey Edler tore the house down with his savage rendition at the Chestnutwold School talent show.

22. Crazy Horse“Downtown” – The Horse were more than just Neil’s greatest backing band, and they were able to pull it together for this alt country classic. No declaration has ever held greater promise for hitting the town than “Snake eyes, french fries / And I got lots of gas / Full moon and a jumpin tune / Now you don’t have to ask”.

23. Creedence Clearwater Revival“Travellin’ Band” – The archetypal band on the road tune, this 2 minute blast chugs like a speeding locomotive, propelled across one night stands by one of rock’s greatest rhythm sections. Add a couple of Fogerty screams and 10 second guitar freakouts, and being in a rock and roll band never sounded so exhilarating.

24. Elvis Costello“Miracle Man” – The greatest rock and roll seems to spring from sexual frustration, and Elvis Costello was no exception. When he tells that night’s prospective paramour “I could tell you that I like your sensitivity / when you know it’s the way that you walk”, I believe he only speaks for guys that have been born. And try not smiling, snarling, singing and pulling twitchy rock star moves as you sing along with this one.

25. Cheap Trick“Surrender” – The perfect mix of hard rock, bubblegum, songwriting brilliance and sartorial elegance… at least for those first three records. And “Surrender” stands at the pinnacle of all pop tunes; it’s as much a standard as “Stormy Weather” or “Georgia on My Mind”. I hope the kids are digging it 100 years from now.
26. The Clash - "Career Oppurtunities" - The only song that matters.

27. Jim Carroll Band“People Who Died” – An adrenaline rush chronicling the grisly deaths of some of Carroll’s lower east side cronies, this brutal mix of poetic brilliance and urban sleaze might be the defining moment of New York post ’78 punk. If you don’t get a rise when Carroll snarls “And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others / This song is for you my brother”… check your pulse.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Alphabet Project: C (Part One)

We're back with a third installment of the Alphabet Project, or at least half of one. Trip's picks should follow shortly.

Last time around, I lamented what a monster letter B was, but C is no slouch, either. In addition to cutting Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” because my computer refused to read the disc, I had to drop Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” when my compilation proved to be a minute too long (not to mention prime stuff from Captain Beefheart, Leonard Cohen, Camper Van Beethoven and Cream, to name a few, that fell victim along the way). Enough of my sad sack story, here’s my tracks.

The Cars, Double Life. A perfect slow-building Ocasek pop tune with a pristine Elliot Easton guitar solo, it’s the essence of the band’s early career.

Peter Case, Steel Strings. The production’s heavy echo pins it right in the middle of the 1980s for all time, but what a sturdy song. This is where Case went from power pop icon to everyman troubadour.

Johnny Cash, Get Rhythm. Click clack click clack click clack click clack. The prototype Cash song.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, There She Goes My Beautiful World. From the Man in Black to the Man of Blackness, the addition of a gospel choir gives the song a religious fervor to frame this epochal verse:

John Willmot penned his poetry riddled with the pox
Nabakov wrote on index cards, at a lectem, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive when he wrote “Chinese Rocks”

Ray Charles, The Right Time. I was all set to go with “Lonely Avenue,” but I thought this one better captured the massive joy Brother Ray could generate. And the warm memory of little Rudy Huxtable belting out “bay-bee!” didn’t hurt, either.

Cheap Trick, He’s a Whore. No band has been as completely abandoned by its talent as this one was about four albums into their career, but for a while there, they really were great. By doubling the power in the power:pop ratio, they fully fused the masculine and feminine in the music, perfectly matching their half schlubby guy, half pretty boy lineup. And they never did it any more forcefully than here. “Have you seen her face? She’s got a face that could stop a clock.”

Chic, Good Times. I don’t care what anyone says, this is rock and roll, powered by one of the most monstrous rhythm sections ever to stride the earth.

Chocolate Genius, Half a Man. I have two Chocolate Genius albums, and neither does much for me (perhaps I should have learned after the first one, no?), but this stomping mid-tempo nod to accepting adulthood’s responsibilities gets me every time.

The Clash, Jail Guitar Doors. I could’ve picked twenty or thirty different tunes, but I went back to the beginning, to raw, full-throttle Strummer/Jones, when their greatest ambition was to make it to the end of the song alive.

Jimmy Cliff, Many Rivers to Cross. Proof of the divine.

Sam Cooke, Twistin’ the Night Away. In 1964, Muhammed Ali said “Sam Cooke is the world’s greatest rock and roll singer.” Greatness knows.

Elvis Costello, Sleep of the Just. I set a new record for vacillation with this pick, going from the obvious (“Watching the Detectives”) to the obscure (“Inch by Inch”) to the in-between (“5ive Gears in Reverse”), but I settled on the elegant closer to King of America, one of my all-time favorite albums. The opening lines “the soldier asked my name and did I come here very often/well I thought that he was asking me to dance/in my holey coat and hat and him in his red bonnet/we’d have made a lovely couple but we never had the chance” made me want to be a writer.

Wayne County & the Back Street Boys, Max’s Kansas City 1976. Not those Backstreet Boys (though I surely would have included “I Want it That Way” if I had it). This band was led by Wayne (later Jayne) County, a marginal talent at ground zero of the New York punk rock revolution, and perhaps our finest transsexual rock star. This Lou Reed rip of a tune chronicles the rise of the scene, doing for the Bowery what “Sweet Soul Music” did for Memphis and Muscle Shoals.

Cracker, Satisfy You. With the transition from Camper Van Beethoven to Cracker, Dave Lowery went from being obviously subversive to surreptitiously subversive, which is the best kind of subversiveness there is. This lesser known gem from the first release marries a great steady rocking hook to a brilliant opening verse: “As far as I know the world don't spin/They carry you around in your bed/And rearrange the stars all night/to satisfy you.”

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sinister Purpose. So many possibilities, so I’ll go a little off the beaten path and pick the song that was my second choice for the name of this blog. There’s an episode of Sports Night in which Dan tells Casey that he misunderstood Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming” to be about the arrival of a foreboding presence and not an inveterate womanizer. That’s how this song makes me feel. Eli’s coming, hide your soul, girl.

Marshall Crenshaw, Starless Summer Sky. He wrote the song early in his career and recorded it late (how did it stay on the shelf for so long?), an impossibly perfect melody enhanced by a all-too-brief guitar solo that should grant him automatic entry into the axe-slingers’ hall of fame.

Crooked Fingers, Call to Love. I still remember the first time I heard this. It was like a club to the head, and I don’t know why. There’s nothing particularly original or remarkable about it, yet it’s completely magical. The mystery of music.

The Cryers, Shake it Up (Ain’t it Time?). Power-pop semi-obscurity from the late 70s by a band I know nothing about. Coffee with cream and sugar, hold the coffee.

The Crystals, He’s a Rebel. The apotheosis of girl group culture. Spector knew enough not to bury it under the wall.

The Cure, Close to Me. When I bought my first CD player twenty years ago, I simultaneously acquired my first two discs, Paul Simon’s Graceland and Staring at the Sea: The Singles, by The Cure, and I played this song over and over. I love how restrained it is and how the horns could have come off of a Stax record. Pop trumps goth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If It Ain't Stiff...

Can My Aim is True really be 30 years old? With the news that the Universal Music Group (a long way from "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck", huh Elvis?) is re-releasing the first eleven Elvis Costello cds plus two new compilations on May 1, I need a few minutes of your time.

First, for the love of god, what human who would want these hasn’t already bought them? Twice. By my count, this is the 37th time Elvis has licensed his catalogue to be reissued. My goal – in 2010 - Teenage Kicks Records presents “The Original Elvis – Only The Good Ones” bonus tracks. The debate on which are the good ones is tabled for a later discussion.

Second, how can 30 years have passed since “Welcome to The Working Week”’s 82 seconds changed my life? Was it a punk record? Didn’t sound like one… though in thought, presentation and attitude, it certainly seemed like one. Before I had immersed myself in The Ramones, The Clash, The Pistols, Television… there was Elvis. My record store of choice back then, Plastic Fantastic, was run by a suitably surly refugee from the record biz, Harold Gold. You know him even if you never met him. Great taste in music and a debilitating gift for making me forever regret my Frampton Comes Alive purchase a few months earlier. His enthusiasm for My Aim is True was such that he offered my brother and me a money back guarantee. And if you knew Harold, he was as apt to offer a refund as Raymond Stoller, Paul Dooley’s hilarious but frugal used car salesman in 1979’s bike racing classic, Breaking Away. Best $8.99 I ever spent… that was import prices too.

My Aim is True was the bridge from 70’s singer-songwriters (Rod Stewart, Springsteen, Randy Newman) and pub rockers to the nascent punk rock scene. Full of brilliant nastiness and caustic humor, it bristled with the greatest songs I had ever heard (a severe overstatement to be sure, but to a suburban 19 year old, it sure felt that way). There’s not a wasted second, a wasted note on this record. Form the cathartic “Welcome to the Working Week”, the domestic nightmare of “Miracle Man”, the semi-hit Ronstadt-ready ballad “Alison”, the auto-eroticism of “Mystery Dance”, the sheer brilliance of “Red Shoes”, the mission statement “Less Than Zero” (“Let’s talk about the future, now we’ve put the past away”) and the twitchy, obsessed finale “Watching the Detectives”, My Aim is True is now and forever the greatest Elvis record.

So happy 30th, and to those who don’t own this misanthropic maelstrom of a musical masterpiece, what are you waiting for... another reissue?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Teenage Kicks? Just a Blog

As far as I can tell, you can't officially be a blog devoted to music these days unless you post the video for Dan le Sac vs. Scroobious Pip's "Thou Shalt Always Kill," and we'd hate not to officially be a blog devoted to music.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Song of the Moment

The Fratellis, “Chelsea Dagger.” I’m not sure what it says about me that such simple things, which have been done so many times before, should do this to me, but this tune makes my world spin off its axis for three heart-stopping minutes. And then six. And then nine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mezzanine Level

Word comes this week that WXPN’s David Dye will spend less time on the air in order to spend more time preparing to be on the air. This might not exactly seem like news, but it gives us an opportunity to offer an appreciation for a singular figure in the world of contemporary radio.

Those of you in Philadelphia may go back much further with Mr. Dye, but his voice first drifted into my life about a dozen years ago when my local public radio station picked up the
World Café, David’s brainchild, a nationally syndicated radio show devoted to popular music that was often anything but popular. As I listened, it became clear that the show’s sole theme week in and week out (and I only got it once a week) was to present great music in a format informed by Dye’s vast knowledge and unimpeachable taste. Here was a show that reflected my own ideal, a place where punk rock could co-exist with west African music and funk and country blues, and where any sort of segregation would seem pointless. I remember an early episode of Frasier, in which someone asked Dr. Crane why the items of furniture in his home didn’t match one another. He replied that he subscribed to the eclectic notion of design, believing that if you collect pieces of uniformly high quality no matter the style, they will simply go together. That’s the World Café in a nutshell. Eclectic music, of high quality, making for seamless listening.

But the music has been only half of it. The Café has given David a forum to probe the artists who make good music, to give insight into the creative process that can’t be found anywhere else (could it be that David Dye is the spiritual forefather of Inside the Actors Studio and Sit Down Comedy?). When David Dye gets someone like Tom Waits to explain how a song like “Tom Traubert’s Blues” came into being, it only enhances the listening experience for those of us who care about such things.

Thanks to the Internet (and a new local NPR affiliate), I can listen to the World Café every day, which feels like a blessing in an age of radio mediocrity. It’s good to be able to make a regular appointment with someone who cares about music like I do, someone to whom I can relate even more than the musicians themselves. Like Trip and me, David Dye’s talent isn’t for making music, it’s for hearing it. And he hears it – and shares it – better than anyone I know.

On the Button

Trip has gone and done it. He's written a piece so eloquent and enthusiastic that the band in question has adopted it for its own website.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Oh to be 39 Forever

As a wise man once said to me "I hope you sleep less so you can listen more."
A free Teenage Kicks Power Pop primer for the first one to identify Michael from this senior year portrait.

Happy Birthday Pardner!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

She Just Melts in The Sunshine

The Red Button - She's About To Cross My Mind

11 songs about girls in less than 33 minutes – I would have liked this record even if I never heard it. But now that I have heard it – over and over… and over again, it’s the pop record all the indie-popsters have been afraid to make for the last decade. Instead of the haze of fuzzy logic and hipster cred, The Red Button write refreshingly direct, buoyant odes to loves lost and found without a hint of irony. They’ve earned their “Beatle-esque” sobriquet without reservation.

Sweet harmonies, jangly guitars, razor sharp songwriting and the most immediate, arresting hooks of any record that will come out in 2007 give the Red Button a leg up on all contenders to the power pop throne. Seth Swrisky and Mike Ruekberg are two industry vets that have blended their pop smarts to transport late 60’s / early 70’s top 40 to five minutes from now. That whiff of nostalgia is not overpowering, it’s intoxicating.

Dig the farfisa garage-rock stomp of “Gonna Make You Mine”, the opening strings of “Ooh Girl” (“I bury my face in the pillowcase / I miss her all day long”), the Tijuana Brass horns on the Elvis Costello doppelganger “Floating By”, the Big Star-ish “Can’t Stop Thinking About Her”, the Lennon worthy “Hopes Up” and the absolutely perfect pop of “She’s About to Cross My Mind”. I didn’t think they made records like this anymore.

More please.

The Red Button website: (you can listen to samples)

This cd is only available in Philadelphia at Main Street Music (4444 Main St. in Manayunk) or call them at 215-487-7732 and they'll ship it to you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Well, I think I'd remember that . . .

Keith now says he didn't mix his father's remains with coke and snort them. No word on whether he did a bong full of Brian Jones.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007