Freaky Friday: Billy and the Boingers

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I saw this on Dangerous Minds today, about Keith Moon guesting on a recording by Doonesbury‘s Rock star character Jimmy Thudpucker, and it got me thinking about my favorite comic strip.  (Although, to be fair, it was already on my mind thanks to today’s Lio.)

Back in the 80s, Bloom County was the funniest, sweetest, most subversive comic strip out there (here’s a sampling).  And no, none of those things are mutually exclusive.  Berke Breathed skewered everybody, including himself.  (He was forced to take several months off when he broke his back skydiving, and he wrote a broken back story into the strip for jerk lawyer Steve Dallas.)  So it made perfect sense when he decided to make fun of the music business by creating a band comprised of several regular characters.

Billy and the Boingers was led by bizarre Garfield spoof Bill the Cat.  They were ostensibly a Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band, but the jokes drew on just about every popular style and artist from the late 80s.  They even recorded a couple of songs.  Opus played tuba.

Well, actually the songs were recorded by a band called Mucky Pup.  This tune, along with “I’m a Boinger”, was available as a flexi disc in the compilation book  Billy and the Boingers Bootleg.  (For the younger readers, a flexi disc was a paper-thin sheet of vinyl that was used as a promotional extra.  They were given away in all sorts of odd places, but usually inserted into books and magazines.)  It was great fun, and really, by hiring an actual band of actual musicians to play the songs, it wasn’t the worst music ever.  It wasn’t going to make the Top Forty, but it was listenable.

I hope you enjoy this little trip down my memory lane.  And look up more Bloom County for yourself.  It’s a bit dated these days, but it’s still one of the best comic strips ever.

 

 

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: Over Under Sideways Down

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Installment number one of this feature is a good one.  In the book, the recordings are listed alphabetically, and it seemed counterproductive to just go through the book in order.  (Also, I’m not so sure that’s how Tom Moon intended for it to be used.)  So I riffled through the pages a couple of times, stopped, and slapped my hand down.  It landed on this 1996 album by the Yardbirds.

Moon notes that Over Under Sideways Down (released in the U.K. as Roger the Engineer) was the first Yardbirds album conceived as an album instead of just a bunch of singles collected for release.  It’s bluesy and rocking, with just a bit of psychedelia.  Fairly typical for the era, actually, but executed with more skill and verve than many of the other, forgotten British bands of the mid 60s.

The Yardbirds’ biggest claim to fame, besides the awesome single “For Your Love”, was being the launching pad for three of the greatest Rock guitarists ever.  Eric Clapton was their first lead, but he quit in a Blues purist huff when the band moving away from, well, pure Blues with songs like “For Your Love.”  (I think he did okay for himself.)  Jeff Beck was Clapton’s replacement, and was joined soon after by his friend Jimmy Page, then a well-known session man.  The band was in the middle of a U.S. tour when they fired Beck, in spite of his massive talent, for being a bit of a flake.  (Like Clapton, Beck did pretty well for himself after leaving the band.)  Page took over as lead guitarist, but the band was doomed.

The Yardbirds broke up for the same reasons a lot of bands do: different ideas about their musical direction (differences that can be heard clearly on Over Under Sideways Down). Lead singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty were leaning toward something less heavy, while Jimmy Page had some hardcore hard Rock visions.  Manager Peter Grant and Page had a looming tour in Scandinavia and no band, since bassist Chris Dreja had also left.  They held auditions, and ended up hiring a young unknown singer named Robert Plant who recommended his friend John Bonham on drums.  John Paul Jones, another well-known session man, rounded out the lineup.  They toured under the moniker of The New Yardbirds in 1968, but I think we all know how the rest of the story turned out.

Even with all that historical baggage, Over Under Sideways Down holds its own as good music.  If you’ve never listened to the Yardbirds before, this is as good as place as any to start.

 

“Mannish Boy”

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I’ve decided this is my new favorite version of this song.

This is not to knock the original version by the incomparable Muddy Waters.  His will always be the definitive version of “Mannish Boy.”  But it’s formidable.  It’s heavy, both literally and figuratively.  The drums and bass pound into your skull like a sledgehammer.  Waters voice calls out like a preacher from his pulpit, and there are very few listeners who are not converted by the end.  But all his boasting and bragging is kind of off-putting; if I met a man like him, I wouldn’t give him a second glance.

But Jimi Hendrix’s version is, well, fun.  He tones down the heavy rhythm, and speeds it up just a little, and naturally makes the guitar the foremost instrument.  He makes it swing.  This guy sounds like he’s playful and sexy.  I’d at least let this guy buy me a drink, trade a few jokes with him.  This version is from the posthumous release Blues, which helps paint a fuller picture of both Hendrix’s musical roots and his spectacular ability to innovate and create new sounds.  I hate that his star burned out too soon, but we’re still getting light from it many years later.

“January Rain”

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Sometimes music doesn’t need words to say something.

This is just one of those pretty melodies.  The notes fall like rain, sparkling in the air.  I like peaceful instrumentals that aren’t bland or sappy.  Music isn’t inoffensive background noise; it’s something to be experienced and enjoyed.

This song just came up on the computer today, and I wanted to share it.  I’d actually forgotten it was just the guitar; I kept waiting for David Gray’s nasally voice to come in.  (I like his voice just fine, but it does kind of sound like he’s singing through his nose.)  But as the music drifted and floated around my ears, I realized that’s all there was: a pretty guitar and some background instruments.  Simple and clean, with just a shade of wonderment.  Kind of like standing outside as the rain begins to fall.

 

Gone from the Movies: Harold Ramis

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I write about music, but sometimes my fandom is bigger than that.  It hit the news this morning that actor/writer/director Harold Ramis has died at 69.  As part of a comedic team with the great Bill Murray, Ramis helped create some of the warmest, funniest movies that I’ve ever seen.  he knew how to be silly and humorous without being stupid, gross, or insensitive.  Because many of the jokes were kind of juvenile, people didn’t realize just how smart a lot of that humor was.  His work was satiric and subtle, and he will be sorely missed.

Review: You Should Be So Lucky

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Heartbreakers pianist/keyboardist/mad scientist Benmont Tench has released his first solo album, and it is awesome.  I feel it’s necessary to note that my opinion has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I have a raging crush on Benmont.  I actually expected the music to be kind of underwhelming, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far.  I’ll admit I haven’t listened to every second of every track yet, but the songs I have listened to are just as terrific as anything he’s done for Tom Petty and the multitude of other artists he’s worked with.

Besides being one of the founding members of the tightest band in Rock & Roll, Tench is a wonderful songwriter in his own right.  His specialty seems to be heartbreaking love songs; “Why Don’t You Quit Leavin’ Me Alone?” is an example of that.  (I would’ve used that as the sample song–it’s my favorite so far–but no one’s posted his version yet (although there is a fine Roseanne Cash version here). This disc shows more range than that, however.  It’s jazzy and loose, filled with his trademark piano style.

Tench’s voice is quiet, but not thin and reedy; it almost seems as if he’s whispering, which makes these songs seem more personal and intimate.  He actually reminds me of both Randy Newman and the late great Warren Zevon.  It’s sardonic and self-deprecating, with just a touch of gentle sadness underneath.  Overall, the album feels comfortable and warm.  I highly recommend it You Should Be So Lucky to anyone.

“96 Tears”

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I was having trouble deciding on a song for today.  I just don’t really feel like I have anything to say, and my mood is . . . neutral.

Which makes the only hit by ? & the Mysterians the perfect song.  I guess.

It’s not really the song that’s so appropriate–although it is a terrific song.  It’s the name of the band.  Google, Wikipedia, etc. all spell out the name as “Question Mark.”  Now, I don’t know if that’s some kind of technical thing with search engines and the like, of if there’s some sort of ingrained prejudice against using a punctuation mark as a name.

Shakespeare asked “What’s in a name?”,  which is a pretty loaded question when you think about it.  Your name is a large part of your identity.  Corporations and manufacturers sue people who infringe on their trademarks by using their brand name for off-brand products, although it hasn’t stopped “kleenex” and “xerox” from becoming generic words for facial tissue and copies in the vernacular.  (I’m not sure if that’s a testimony to the products’ success and marketing, or the obliviousness of people.)  Women frequently change their surnames to their husbands’ names when they get legally married.  Children of married or not-married couples sometimes bear the hyphenated names of both their parents.  In the old days, you could get your name “dragged through the mud,” and it would be a great disgrace.  What people call you is a great deal of who you are.

Generally, we don’t choose our own names.  They’re given to us by well-meaning parents.  Or not so well-meaning agents and managers, if you’re a celebrity of some sort.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any control.  Back in the 90s, I think, a young man created a bit of a ruckus when he legally changed his name to Trout Fishing in America, the same name as a book by Richard Brautigan.  Also in the 90s, Prince changed his name to a strange symbol that he eventually copyrighted as “Love Symbol #2” but was called by a lot of people “Unpronounceable Symbol.”  (Although Wikipedia doesn’t associate the two, I was always under the impression that the name change had something to do with trying to get out of his record contract with Warner Bros.)  Basketball thug Ron Artest got himself some mental health treatment, and to signal the change he’d made personally, he changed his name to Metta World Peace.  The point is that we might be given a name, but it doesn’t have to be the final word on who we are.

But names usually stick.  You might get a shortened version of a longer name, or a nickname you never quite outgrow.  If you become a serial killer, or commit some other heinous crime, you’ll always be known by your full name, as if the whole world just turned into a scolding mother  (“John Wilkes Booth, you put that gun down right this second!”).

So if the frontman of a band wants to be known as ?, then who the heck are we to judge.