Saturday, March 31, 2012

childhood listening

When I was a child growing up, there were a lot of records in the house. Most of them were classical, and I never really listened to them. I suppose that's in part due to the fact that my grandparents were always pushing me to listen to classical music, which made it somewhat unnatractive. I often, however, listened to the few other  records (or at least parts of them) that my parents had.

Following are some memories of them:

Meet the Beatles (The Beatles)
For some reason I generally listened only to the first side. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "All My Loving" were the first and last songs on the side, and they were my favorites, so I couldn't take a short cut and listen to only one or two songs. Yes, technically I suppose I could have picked up the needle and moved it. But I didn't. So the songs on the side 1 are much more embedded in my mind than those on side two. It was years before I found out that my father didn't like the Beatles. One other random thought: For some reason, when I listened to "It Won't Be Long," I pictured the Beatles as frogs onstage, jumping each time someone said "Yeah" in the chorus. Mind you, in my mental image they were also jumping one at a time. Someone sang the line "It won't be long." Then there are a bunch of "yeah!"s. Each "yeah" is sung by one of them who is jumping forward and either from stage left to stage right or vice versa. It was quite a disturbing mental picture.

Moving (Peter Paul and Mary)
As with the Beatles album above, I generally listened to the first side and not the second. In fact, it was often only "Puff The Magic Dragon." Sometimes, though, I would listen through to "This Land is Your Land," and sometimes I would listen to the whole side. On rare occasions, I would listen to the second side. There was a time I thought they were all Jewish. That impression was based on two things: 1) Peter and Paul both had goatees (which I, for some reason, associated with rabbis); and 2) on side two, they did a song called "Man Come Into Egypt" which used the story of Moses and the biblical exodus as an allegory for the then-modern civil rights movement. For the record Peter is Jewish. Years later I interviewed them when they performed at Queens College. I spent a few minutes with each one, discussing political issues of the day. Peter actually gave me his publicist's number so I could call and we could talk at length. He explained that he was impressed that I was talking about real issues rather than glitzy Hollywood stuff. I called and left a message. But I never followed up and never did write the article. I was too disgusted with their knee-jerk leftism. But I still like a lot of their music -- this album in particular.

Oliver! (Broadway soundtrack)
For a long time I only listened to "Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Be Back Soon." Gradually I started listening to the whole album. This is by far my favorite Broadway soundtrack. And to make it even better, I played Fagin in my sixth-grade class production of the play. Admittedly not much of a singer, I was reduced to rapping "Pick a Pocket or Two." Our production was abrdiged, so I didin't have to do Fagin's other numbers, "Be Back Soon" and "Reviewing the Situation." My favorite tracks (as of now) are "Consider Yourself" and "Oom-Pah-Pah." But there are some clever lyrics throughout.

My Son the Folksinger (Allan Sherman)
As a kid, I didn't always get the humor. Even after it was explained to me. But with time and an increased knowledge of pop culture and the references that were built into the songs, I gradually developed a better and better appreciation for Sherman's work. THere are several parodies here, for which I hadn't heard the originals until decades later. Notably, I didn't hear "The Streets of Loredo" (which is parodied as "The Streets of Miami") until I was in my upper thirties and bought a box set compilation of Dick Curless CDs. I'll also note that, in a bit of anal-retentiveness, I used to list this album in my database as "Allan Sherman's Mother Presents My Son the Folk Singer."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

subtle change

On the subway today, there was a guy playing guitar and singing. He was doing Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl." His guitar work was kind of sketchy, but his vocals were impressive. His voice sounded just like Morrison's -- except for the fact that he changed the words slightly. Instead of "brown-eyed girl," he sand "brown-eyed bitch."

Monday, March 26, 2012

an epiphany

I was listening to a Bay City Rollers compilation this evening. Also, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart are in my head since I mentioned them in connection with Davy Jones' death a few weeks back.

With the combination of the two in my head, I realized something: Even though DJBH was billed as a Monkees reunion (though only a partial one), the fact is they sounded much more like The Bay City Rollers than the Monkees. I suppose that's a function of the times. But still.

For comparison purposes, here's the Rollers:
And here's DJBH:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

guitar vs. piano

A while ago I posted something about songwriting lessons I have learned. I made a point about soft rhymes -- the fact that rhymes in lyrics don't have to always exactly rhyme. In doing so I used the Billy Joel song, "You May Be Right" as an illustrative example, and included the video. I mentioned the post to a coworker who is a big Billy Joel fan.

I was surprised by his reaction to it. He noted that "You May Be Right" is not one of his favorite Billy Joel songs (this surprised me because it is one of mine). And he particularly didn't care for the video, in which Joel is standing, and singing into the microphone instead of sitting at a piano. I din't remember his exact words, but it was something to the point that the video showed Joel doing a Mick Jagger impression, and he prefers Billy Joel, the piano man. That, by the way, meshes nicely with my colleague's interest in Elton John as well. He likes piano-based rock and roll. I note for the record that I don't know if his preference explains his liking of Billy Joel and Elton John, or if it is a result of his exposure to Joel and John and forming his taste around them.

As my taste goes, piano is fine and all, but I really prefer the guitar as the driving instrument in rock. That goes for early rock -- I've always preferred Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins over Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. And in the realm of the more modern, my favorite performers and bands have sounds that are built around guitars.. All guitar based. And even with Billy Joel, who is a pianist, I prefer the tracks where the piano is downplayed -- "You May Be Right" (as noted above), and "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me."

Just for the hell of it, here are a couple of videos.
"Heat Treatment" by Graham Parker and the Rumour
"Semaphore Signals" by Wreckless Eric
''נתתי לה חיי'' by כוורת

Saturday, March 24, 2012

the mother of anthem gaffes (part 2)

This is a followup to yesterday's post about how the wrong anthem was played at a shooting competition in Kuwait when Kazakhstan won the gold.

The story has spread now, and I've seen it in a bunch of places, with lots of commentary. What I find interesting is the number of people who express shock that this could happen. One person wondered why they played the whole anthem instead of stopping it immediately.

For my part, I can easily see how this happened. First of all, the explanation that I read said that officials (or techies, whatever) went to the internet to get the anthem. That kind of makes sense. In this day and age, I can see the people running the show searching the intertubes for all the anthems. If there are 38 countries competing, they download 38 files, and are prepared for whoever wins. It's a lot cheaper to do that than to record all the anthems or to have a live band present to play anthems as needed.

Now, remember. This was Kuwait. An Arabic-speaking country. Kazakhstan's national anthem is in Kazakh. The parody that got played is in English. It seems reasonable that a general internet search would turn up the fake anthem more readilly than the real one -- a result of pop culture having such a large footprint on the intertubes. It's hard to verify that after the fact, since this incident has clearly affected what shows up if you do a Google search for "Kazakhstan national anthem" or such. Also, it seems reasonable that whoever was downloading and saving all the anthems isn't fluent in English or Kazakh, and so didn't recognize that this wasn't the real thing. The fake anthem certainly sounds like a real national anthem (if you can't understand the words).

So someone searched for the Kazakh national anthem, found this, and -- having no reason to expect such a fake -- assumed it was real.

I assume the reason it wasn't stopped is that the Kazakhs had enough grace not to interrupt the ceremony, so nobody in a position to stop it in midplay realized there was a mistake until afterwards.

I'll note that, according to an article in The Sun, this isn;t the first problem that has come up concerning Kazakhstan's anthem:
The music gaffe was the second to hit Kazakhstan's sports stars this month. Ricky Martin's 1999 No 1 hit Livin' La Vida Loca was played instead of the country's official anthem called "My Kazakhstan" at a skiing event on their own soil weeks earlier.
I find it a lot harder to understand how that happened.

Friday, March 23, 2012

the mother of anthem gaffes

A couple of times I posted entries about the Star Spangled Banner, the singing thereof, and the mistakes that get made. But this beats them all. Kazakhstan's shooting team won the gold at a competition in Kuwait. But -- due to what can most-charitably be described as a mixup -- at the medal ceremony, instead of the actual national anthem of Kazakhstan, organizers played the parody anthem from the Borat movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Apparently the technical crew went to the internet for the anthem and pulled the wrong one. Here's a video showing part of the ceremony:

I do have to say that gold medalist, Maria Dmitrienko, showed remarkable poise and grace in not reacting to the fact that it wasn't her country's anthem playing.

I am amused by the line, which begins at 0:18 in the above video, "Kazakhstan prostitutes cleanest in the region."

The article I linked to (above) also mentioned that the Serbian anthem was wrong. It has a sidebar listing other anthem gaffes. My favorite (among the listed) is described as follows:
Instead of singing "we love your mountains" in his attempt on the Croatian anthem, an English opera singer sings "my penis is a mountain" 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

japanese blue angel

I was looking for some amusement today and found the following on Youtube:
It's a Japanese neo-rockabilly band performing a song called "Heart." I find this interesting for a number of reasons.

First, "Heart" is an old Rockpile song. It was one of the two songs on the one official Rockpile album (Seconds of Pleasure, for those keeping score) to be sung by Billy Bremner. Then, after Rockpile broke up, Nick Lowe put a much slower (and, honestly, inferior) version on his next solo album, Nick The Knife. As I've stated before, I am fond of well-done covers, especially when a song is reinvented.

Second is the band name, Blue Angel. That was the name of Cyndi Lauper's band 30 or so years ago (before she hit it big as a solo). I always find it interesting when I come across two bands with the same name -- especially if I worry that both will end up in my CD collection. That just causes my anal-retentive self lots of annoyance. Since Lauper's old band is in my collection, and I am seriously tempted to try to find this album, there's a real possibility here.

Finally, I am endlessly fascinated by the large volume of Japanese bands doing American-style rock music.

Here, for what it's woth, is another video of Blue Angel doing a classic. I just love the whole seductive comb bit from roughly 0:15 to 0:29.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

apb on the ooh ooh music happy tape

I used to have a cassette called The Ooh Ooh Music Happy Tape. I don't remember where I got it. It was a compilation of some sort, that I probably got with a magazine. I remember nothing about what was on it, except the first song. It was called "Just Glad," and following are the lyrics in their entirety:
There are chicks (YEAH!) waiting to be had.
Yeah, chicks with miniskirts and bleached hair.
Ooh, they think they bad.
And there are cakes waiting to be baked.
Yeah, chocolate cakes. My favorite
To give me a bellyache.
And if I weren't so doggone happy
I'd be just glad.
I should note that the "yeah" in the first line is kind of shouted. Sort of like Cookie Monster. And, as Yorrick Brown would say, it's not "Cookie the Monster." I have no memory of what band or singer is credited with that gem. I just know that I liked it and miss having it.

I was planning to copy the tape into the computer and burn it onto a CD (as I've done with a few of my records). But before I got around to it, my son (who was a toddler at the time) found my box of cassettes and decided that it would be fun to pull out all the tape. Aaaaargh!

I know it's a longshot, but if anyone who is reading this (OK, if anyone is reading this and) has any lead on a copy of the Ooh Ooh Music Happy Tape, or just the one song, I'd be ever so grateful.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

have i trained myself too well?

I like to play with words. So I often change the lyrics to songs as I sing along. I generally don't do a full parody, but just a changed line or word here and there. One example is the line "I wanna wake up in a city that doesn't sleep" from "New York, New York."

But now whenever I hear the opening of "(They Long To Be) Close To You" it goes through my brain as "Why do birds fall out of the trees / Every time I skin my knees." And when I think of "Afternoon Delight" my brain wants to hear "Strawberries in flight."

Monday, March 19, 2012

the monkees as a gateway band

One of the more interesting articles that I saw in the wake of Davy Jones' death was by David Hinckley, a writer for the Daily News. Hinckley argued that one of the Monkees' important roles in pop music was as an entry point for young people:
But Jones and the Monkees were more important on a different level. As quintessential teen idols, they were the main entry point into popular music for millions of teenagers
Joke, if you will, that this is like calling marijuana the gateway drug to heroin. But it’s the way music works.
Just as we go from lullabies to Barney to the Wiggles to “Sesame Street,” at some point almost all of us find pop music, the pop music of the moment, the pop music that will become our own.
We don’t start with Kanye West or Taylor Swift. We start with something that’s catchy, simple and friendly while it embeds the hook that starts the ride.
For millions of listeners, the teen idol is the first point where the music feels like the listener’s own.
You can read the whole thing here.

Interesting thesis. For me it's true in many ways. Certainly the Monkees were my first entry into pop music, although it'snot as if I transitioned to them from some other, more-juvenile, interest. Like many others, I got interested in them through their TV show. I used to keep a portable tape recorder next to the set so I could record the musical sequences. Then I'd walk around the neighborhood holding that recorder, playing these bad quality recordings. I specifically remember having "Sometime in the Morning" and "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)." And my sister and I bickered over whether "Monkeemania" or "Partridgemania" made more sense as a phrase,or sounded better.

Gnerally, though, I didn't get into other, more-adult, groups directly through the Monkees. But So when, on shabbatons with other teens during my early high school years, there was a group singing Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel (while one or two played guitar), I was there enjoying it. I remember declaring myself a fan of "sixties music." And I'm sure that part of what was going on was that my brain had started preparing the wiring for this (in part) because of the time I had spent time listening to The Monkees.

There was, however, one group that I got into in a big way as a direct result of the Monkees influence on me. That group was...The Monkees. Now, here I am drawing a distinction between the early bubble gum Monkees of the TV screen, and the later Monkees. In actuality, there were arguably several phases in which the group (or nongroup, as the case may be) had an identity different than it was in the other phases. I won't go into the detail now. But I am thinking of songs such as "Oklahoma Backroom Dancer," "Never Tell a Woman Yes" and "Circle Sky." While I certainly enjoy the early hits that had the major airplay and dominate the compilation albums, in some ways these later songs were much more interesting.

Here to illustrate is the video of "Circle Sky" from the Monkees' movie, Head. I'll note that this liver versio used in the movie was vastly superior to the studio version put in the soundtrack album.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the cloudy lining

Although I was thrilled to get the free CDs from Freecycle, there is one downside -- going through them all. There's a decent amount of stuff that I like and want to keep. But there's a lot more that I don't. And then there are the CDs that are somewhere in between.

The inbetweens are these discs where I kind of like the music -- or maybe think I should -- but just don't find it interesting. So there may be a riff here or a passage there that I like and that makes me think, ooh, I should hold on to this. But then I realize that I won't really miss it at all if I don't keep it.

A case in point is what I have playing now, an Ella Fitzgerald compilation, as part of a "Priceless Jazz Collection" series. I think I'll keep this one. But there are lots of others. Some are big names that just aren't my thing -- Frank Sinatra, U2, Janet Jackson. Not all, of course.

But the bigger burden is the endless pile of stuff that just doesn't interest me. Of course, I could just not bother to listen to everything, and give away lots of them on sight. But poor ol' anal-retentive me won't do that, since there could be something decent disguised as dreck. And in fact, I have a come across just that a couple of times.

One example of that is The Shoes of the Troubador, a quirky, catchy collection of (mostly) original songs from a Long Island singer named Michael Soloway. I'd like to include a picture of the cover art, but I can't find it on the intertubes, and technical issues are preventing me from providing a scan. At any rate, it has a picture of Soloway, dressed as a court jester (except for his very modern leather shoes), and sporting an Amish-style mustacheless beard. He's playing a lute while sitting at the base of a building that (I suppose) is supposed to look all medievally. I really dreaded putting that on, and was trying to figure how long a listen I had to give it to be fair. But it's actually quite enjoyable. He's no Dave Edmunds, mind you. But he's good.

Anyway, the major point is that I see these boxes of CDs, and I know I should go through them. And there are times when I really just want to listen to stuff I already have on iTunes. Or I just want some Dr. Feelgood.

Yeah, I know I sound like an ungrateful brat. Sorry.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Sorry about the sparse blogging this week. I've had a nasty chest cold that just won't go away. Hopefully I'll get back in full force when I am in full force.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

cd annoyance: bad placement of divisions between tracks

I was listening to a CD I got through Freecycle. It's The Bobby Darin Story.

It's generally a good CD. Pretty much what you'd expect -- a compilation of Bobby Darin songs. As near as I can tell (though I'm not bothering to look it up), it was a CD reissue of an old compilation.

But my one big complaint concerns the first track: "Splish Splash." (As an aside, I'll note that for some reason whenever I think of that song I can't help picturing Anson Williams as Potsie Webber singing it at Arnold's.) It's preceded by a spoken introduction in which Darin talks of how he got his career started. Now I assume that the intro is there because it was on the record that was being reissued. What annoys me about it is that they didn't separate the introduction from the song -- it's one track with both.

In terms of ripping this into my iTunes library, there's the complication that I have three options:

  1. Take "Splish Splash" from another CD (assuming I have it on another disc -- I think I do, but I'm not sure offhand, and I'm too lazy to check my database);
  2. Take "Splish Splash" complete with the introduction. That's not the worst thing in the world, I'll admit. But it offends my sense of aesthetics; or
  3. Use software to edit the track and remove the introduction. But my anal-retentive side won't let me do that unless I also create a new CD with the intro-less version and enter that CD in my database.
By the by, this isn't the first time I've had issues with where the track breaks are placed on a CD.
  • On the first reissue of Nick Lowe's Pure Pop for Now People the break between "Nutted by Reality" and "36 Inches High" was placed a little to early, so if you listen to music out of the album order (either by shuffling a disc, putting it on a mix disc, or (as I do), by putting an entire iTunes library on shuffle play), "Nutted by Reality" ends abruptly while "36 Inches High" begins with a half-second of echoing guitar.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's album, Off The Deep End, has a hidden track called "Bite Me." It's a few seconds of cacophony after ten seconds of silence at the end of "You Don't Love Me Anymore," which is the last listed track. The idea is that someone who has the album on may forget to turn off the stereo after the final track. So, ten minutes after the album seemingly ended there is a sudden burst of noise. Of course, this was accomplished by making the final track last about 14 minutes.
  • On some reissues of the Monkees album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. the spoken word "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" is part of the same track as "Pleasant Valley Sunday," while in other rereleases there's a track break between them.
  • Lots of concert albums seem to have incorporated questionable decisions as to where to split tracks. If, for example, between songs X and Y, the singer talks to the audience, and says something along the lines of "Now, we'd like to do a number that has special meaning for me. It's called Y," then it's best to try to get that patter in as the beginning of the track for Y rather than at the end of the track for X. When you're listening on shuffle, it just works better.
Part of my issue with this stuff, I'll admit, has to do with my anal-retentive side and how I keep my CD database. I should probably post about that at some point. The short of it is that my database is relational, and any given track can appear on more than one album. Take, for example, "Tempted" by Squeeze. That track was originally on their East Side Story album. It also appeared on their compilation, Singles, 45's and Under. It's also appeared on other Squeeze compilations, and a bunch of various artists compilations as well. My database identifies these as all the same track. Aside from helping me to know what I have, it also makes it easier to avoid putting more than one copy of a given track into iTunes. Also, of course, it lets me fiddle with music and databases. Assuming, hypothetically, that some other album has an alternate mix of "Tempted," or a live version thereof, those are listed as different tracks. Note that it's not all science. If a remastered version comes out, I don't treat that as a different track if they didn't change the mix. Mea database, mea praecepta.

Now, the issue for me, is that if the mix is the same but there's some issue with track breaks -- the end of the song cut off on one issue (see first bullet), an additional thing that's not part of the song but part of the track on one album (see second bullet), or some other thing like it, that screws me up. It also bugs me with issues of deciding whether a track is what I call "mixworthy" (i.e., worthy of being ripped from my CD collection into my iTunes library.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

one more word on groupthink in record reviews...

In yesterday's post, I talked about the first record review I wrote. I explained that I was unfair to the band, in lare part because of a subtle form of peer-pressure.

A more blatant example of that occurred later in that semester, when the paper got a review copy of The Smiths debut album. For some reason, the editor decided that we should all gang up on the record. So the whole music staff (or a large part of it anyway) struggled to outdo each other in negativity. We each wrote a review, and they all appeared under a defaced press photo of the band.

The fact is that some of my criticisms were actually accurate. Morrissey's vocals were a bland monotone. But (as did the others) I went over the top, looking for anything to nitpick, and refusing to acknowledge anything good. That was probably my low point as a music journalist.

Now, the fact is I never did get into the Smiths, and I have no real interest in their music. But still...

Friday, March 9, 2012

and speaking of record reviews...

The first record review I wrote was for Bon Jovi's first album.

It was not a well-written review. Worse, it was unfair in its negativity. I won't say I was being dishonest, but I was allowing myself to be unduly influenced by the opinions of others. I was a freshman in college, eager to ingratiate myself with the older students who ran the paper. I was given the album to review, and with it came plenty of snide references to how awful it was. The music editor who I was dealing with was not into any of the new stuff that was popular then. Hair-metal? Synth-based new wave? All bad. He was extremely closed-minded about musical styles (though, of course, he didn't see it that way). I let his taste influence me too much, and didn't give the record a fair shake.

I did acknolede that there were two decent songs -- "Runaway" (which managed to hit the Top 40) and "She Don't Know Me." Actually, looking them up on Wikipedia, I am surprised to see that those two singles peaked at 39 and 48 (respectively) on the Billboard chart.  I thought they did better -- probably because the video for "Runaway" got a lot of play on MTV.

At any rate, while I did acknowledge that those two songs were good, I also said that the rest of the album is a bunch of undistinguishable sound-alike tracks. I wrote that the guitar lead from "Love Lies" sounds like "a video game having its program violently mistreated." And, of course, I also asked if they used the same recorded guitar lead on every track or bothered to rerecord it for each.

Now, I can't at this time go over my review point by point. For one thing, I don't still have the album -- it was on vinyl, I got rid of most of my vinyl records in the last ten years or so, and that is one of the records I never bothered to replace with a CD copy. But suffice to say the album, even at its weakest, was much better than I gave it credit for.

But I don't think my negative review really hurt Bon Jovi's career much.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

swearing off reviews

I have now reviewed two CDs on this blog. The first was Country Love by Harold Allen. The second was the soundtrack to the movie, Longhorns. I wasn't entirely happy with the way either review. came out. In both cases, I don't think I did a good job of communicating just how good these albums are. I realize that part of the problem is that at this point I am just not comfortable writing reviews as such. So, for the time being, I'm not going to be writing reviews.

This is not to say that I won't devote any posts to new releases. If I feel like writing about a new CD or a new book about music (or an old CD, for that matter), I'll do so. And when I do, I may recommend or discommend a product -- either explicitly or implicitly. But I don't want to write in the review format.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

the real lesson of susan boyle

I realize I'm a bit late to the concert, but I'm weighing in on the whole Susan Boyle episode. I'll just assume that anyone reading this is familiar with it, and that I don't have to rehash the whole story.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that this was a feelgood story. Everyone was against her. She showed them! After the way they ridiculed her, she proved she could sing! And everyone learned a valuable lesson about books and covers.

But that's not how I see it. The judges blathered about how surprised they were that she could sing, and how everyone in the audience was against her before she opened her mouth. Seems to me the message behind it all is that it would have been fine to ridicule her, to make fun of her plain looks, if she weren't a great singer. But her ability to sing well makes her worthy of not being ridiculed.

Don't get me wrong. I wish Ms. Boyle every success. But the way that success occurred exposed something unpleasant about human nature.

Monday, March 5, 2012

i never quite made the time for it

I never took music lessons as a kid. I have mixed feelings about that now.

I remember neighborhood kids who took piano lessons. There were times when our play was interrupted by their practice. They complained about it, talked about how awful it was to have to take piano lessons and practice. At the time I felt free. And it makes sense that my parents never forced me to take lessons. My father, as far as I know, never learned an instrument. And my mother took piano as a kid but hated it. One year, for her birthday, she asked her parents to let her stop. They did. And I don't think she has ever regretted it.

Now, I look back and part of me -- the part that wishes I could play guitar better -- wishes I had had those lessons forced on me. The catch, of course, is that I don't know how I would feel about music if it had been forced on me. I found an interest in music when I was free to do so, and I might not have any interest at all if I hadn't been given that freedom.

I did eventually take music lessons when I was in college. I took up guitar, but didn't stick with lessons long enough to be very good at it. Part of that was my own impatience -- my teacher had an emphasis on folk music, but I was really wanted to learn to play rock and roll. I realize now that I would have gotten there through his approach, and probably would have picked up a lot of music theory on the way. Another factor, of course, was time. As a college student I overscheduled myself. Between classes, and my extracurricular activities, I didn't really have time for my guitar lessons and practice. Correction. I didn't make time for my guitar lessons and practice. Which means I chose other things over the guitar.

After grad school I found that the time pressures of my actuarial exams seemed to crowd out the possibility of guitar lessons. Then, after I was married (and by this time finished with actuarial exams), I tried guitar lessons. But the pressures (time and financial) of a growing family, and a demanding career nixed that. Again, the fact is that I could have made lessons a higher priority if I really wanted to. I guess I didn't really want to. Not enough anyway.

This is not to say that I've completely abandoned guitar playing. In grad school, I had a roommate who played. And I would play along with him, following his finger movements, and I did improve a bit. I have a friend who is an excellent guitarist -- I mentioned him in another post, as he and his brothers recorded one of my songs on their album. When he lived in Pittsburgh, we used to see each other once or twice a year, typically on camping trips. The guitars would come out, and I would try to keep up until my fingers were too sore to go on. Now that he's moved to Montana, I don't see nearly as much of him.

So at this point, I can strum, and play a bit of hammerclaw (or is it clawhammer? I can never remember). And I can strum. But I never developed the skill necessary to vary my strumming, so when I play a three-chord song, it sounds pretty much like every other three-chord song. But I still pick up the guitar and practice, or play some songs for my own amusement. Or my kids' amusement.

Maybe when the kids are grown and I'm retired...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

gotta get album: shonen knife's osaka ramones

I see Shonen Knife put out what is, for me, a "gotta get" album last year. It's called Osaka Ramones.

Shonen Knife, for the uninformed, is an all-female pop-punk trio from Japan. Their music has that hard grungy guitar sound of contemporary punk, but they manage to give it a certain childish charm and happy poppy energy. One thing that helps is that a lot of their songs are innocent ditties about food. There's "Sushi Bar" "I Wanna Eat Chocobars" and "Banana Chips."

But what I like best is when they do cover versions. My favorite is "Daydream Believer," which (heresy though it is for a Monkees fan like me to say) I like better than the Monkees version. Another one is "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," which they did for a various artists Burt Bacharach tribute album.

Osaka Ramones is Shonen Knife's album-length tribute to the Ramones. I actually found it as a result of Davy Jones' death. After I wrote a post about it (here), a friend emailed me a video of Davy performing "Daydream Believer" onstage with U2. I responded with Shonen Knife's version. But in looking for that on Youtube (in order to send my friend the link), I noticed a bunch of covers of Ramones songs. Watching them, I got confused, seeing "Osaka Ramones" listed with some of them. I wondered if that wasn't the name of a Japanese tribute band, and if these weren't their renditions. However, Amazon confirmed that Osaka Ramones is an album by Shonen Knife.

Gotta get it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"i was a teenage communist" now on youtube

Back in the 1980s, I was watching SCTV. There was a sketch called "I was a Teenage Communist." I was watching with only half an eye, since it wasn't particularly funny. Then, as part of the sketch, one of the characters was introduced to the stage as a musical performer. And I heard the opening riff and recognized that it was Dave Edmunds. The song was "From Small Things Big Things One Day Come," the first track off of what was then Edmunds' newest album, D.E. 7th.

Edmunds had recently become one of my favorite musicians, and I was just learning his canon. But D.E. 7th was the first thing I had bought of his, and "From Small Things..." (which I would later learn was written for him by Bruce Springsteen) was the first track of his I heard. I still remember first dropping the needle on that record and being instantly entranced.

So when I realized that it was Dave performing on SCTV I watched the rest, engrossed, trying to memorize every detail. But I was annoyed at myself for having no paid attention to the beginning of the sketch. Edmunds had played a role, with lines, and I wished that I had known, while I was watching, that it was him. For years, I hoped to see that sketch again. And I never did. Every so often I would search Youtube for it, but it wouldn't be there. Or at least I would be unable to find it.

For some reason, I can't seem to embed the video in this post. But go here to see it.

Seeing it all this time later, I notice a couple things: Edmunds, as Russ Riley, tries to affect an American accent (he is Welsh). But he doesn't quite succeed. This is especially true in the line, "You're gonna like 'em. You'll like 'em a lot." Also, I wonder if the name Eddie Davis, for the protagonist was done as a play in the Dave Edmunds' name.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

davy jones, rip

Before I say anything, let me turn it over to Micky Dolenz:

I find myself at a loss as to how to discuss Davy Jones' death. What to say about it.

It's no secret that I'm a big Monkees fan. And Davy Jones was, in many ways, the iconic Monkee -- the first one who comes to most people's mind, and the face that seems to represent the group. And because of that, there are a bunch of articles and Youtube videos that identify him as the Monkees' frontman or as their lead singer.

To be sure, Jones did sing lead on some songs -- most notably on "Daydream Believer." But to the extent that there was one person who could be called the lead singer, it would be Micky Dolenz, who sang lead on "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer." Frontman? I think it's hard to say there was a definitive frontman, though I guess if I had to name one it would be Davy.

That's not because of his singing or his musical ability, but because he was cute. And he had the British accent. He, more than the others, made the girls go ape. And so he, more than the others, became the defining face of the Monkees. But of the four, I think he ranks third (behind Dolenz and Mike Nesmith) in terms of importance to the Monkees sound and style. But maybe without him the TV show wouldn't have taken off, and the music (directed by Don Kirshner, who was the real creative mind behind the music early on) wouldn't have sold, and the Monkees wouldn't have ever become a real band. So maybe he was the crucial element, just for that.

Davy had charisma, and a good sense of timing as a singer. But he was not a rocker. He was a song and dance man with a background in (and, I can only assume, a love for) musical theatre. To me he never seemed right singing rock and roll.

This isn't coming out as a eulogy. And maybe that's proper. I'm just trying to get across my conflicting thoughts and feelings. But I never knew Davy Jones. I never had a relationship with him. So I can't talk about what a nice guy he was. I want to, because his death does sadden me (more on that in a bit), but to do so would be dishonest. That's why I included the video above. Micky Dolenz knew him and has the standing to talk about him. I suppose I can go into the customary discussion of what a great talent he was. But others are doing that. So instead I'll post some videos below, with some comments.

So I'm back to the fact that I am saddened by his death. I watch the videos of him and think "this guy is dead." And since he was a childhood idol, this is a reminder that I am no longer a child. I'm no longer a young adult. Yesterday, after hearing the news I said to my boss "I'm officially old." Maybe that's too strong, but Davy Jones' death makes me feel that way.

So now, a few videos to reminisce:
Davy was the Artful Dodger in the cast of Oliver! on Broadway. Here, the cast appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Coincidentally, this was the same episode that introduced the Beatles to America.

Davy does a screen test for the Monkees.

The video for "Daydream Believer" from the TV show.

The video for "Valleri" from the TV show.
Davy doing what he did best -- a song and dance routine for "Daddy's Song" from the Monkees' movie, Head

After the TV show was cancelled and the group broke up, Davy's star was sinking. He appeared as a guest on The Brady Bunch
An attempt at reuniting the Monkees for their tenth anniversary resulted in Dolenz, Jones, Biyce and Hart. This is the video for "I remember the Feeling"
Consumate performer that he was, Davy never let high winds stop a show.
 Davy evades the question of whether The Monkees should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.