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Archive for February, 2014

Freaky Friday: Billy and the Boingers

Posted by purplemary54 on February 28, 2014

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.




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

Posted by purplemary54 on February 27, 2014

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.


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“Mannish Boy”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 26, 2014

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.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

“January Rain”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 25, 2014

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.


Posted in Music, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Gone from the Movies: Harold Ramis

Posted by purplemary54 on February 24, 2014

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.

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Review: You Should Be So Lucky

Posted by purplemary54 on February 23, 2014

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.

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“96 Tears”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 22, 2014

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.


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Freaky Repost: The Residents

Posted by purplemary54 on February 21, 2014

I wasn’t up for any freaky research tonight, and I was feeling a little residential, so here’s another look at this weird little bit.

The Residents are a performance art/music group from Northern California.  They are freaky.  To say the least.  I have no other words for them.

The Residents are officially anonymous, although there are some names attached to the current lineup (see here for more info on their history and rumored members).  They retain their anonymity by wearing huge eyeball masks.

Who was that masked man?

Because of a dearth of music videos, and because The Residents have always used film/video as part of their creative modus operandi, they were an early MTV staple.  I know that’s where I saw them first.  As a teenager, I was flummoxed by them.  I still am.  While clearly interesting and creative, The Residents are also deeply unsettling.  They seem to take delight in making audiences uncomfortable.

Good art often is uncomfortable, though.  The point of art is not to mirror society, but to question it.  From the Renaissance to Pop Art, artists have made it a point to challenge convention, morality, and social norms.  My favorite artists are the ones who say something about the world they live in, for better or worse.  I don’t mean topical or political art, necessarily; that kind of work is important, to be sure, but can also seem too rooted to a particular time and place.  (One of my all-time favorite comic strips, Bloom County, is a perfect example of this.  It is still very funny, but reading it now is like looking at a time capsule of the 1980s.)  I’m always interested in art–paintings, music, television, whatever–that looks at the world and asks “Why?”  Elvis, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan are so endlessly fascinating because they changed the rules of how music was made, because they did something new that essentially upended conventional wisdom about popular music.  Picasso and Andy Warhol both challenged viewers to look at the world from a different perspective, literally.  James Joyce and Virginia Woolf both refused to be confined by traditional narrative styles and helped forge new literary frontiers.  These are just a few examples of how art and artists of all sorts influence the world.  And then there’s The Residents.

The Residents follow in the footsteps of most great creative and talented minds by questioning the world we live in, by asking why we hold the values we hold, and what kind of damage are these values doing to us.  Why is money and material wealth so important?  What is success?  Just what is it that we’re running from?

This video is long, and, frankly, disturbing.  But I think it’s worth watching.  I love how it takes an old children’s song and brings out a deeper, darker meaning.  You can have all the stuff in the world, money and power and security.  You can build empires and fortresses, but it won’t make a difference if what’s in your soul is corrupt and empty.  “Run, run as fast as you can.  You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”

Posted in Experimental, Freaky Friday, Music | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 20, 2014

I dunno.  Maybe I just feel like dancing.

I like this song a lot better without the video.  The video is deeply, deeply strange.  It’s like a bondage disco in some totalitarian Southeast Asian country.  And for some unknown reason, singer Pete Burns’ hair used to freak me out.  Now I just see someone in desperate need of conditioner, but my teenage self found him disturbing.  He had an awesome voice, though.

Nothing else going on today.  The weather’s too warm.  I hate my job.  (I don’t hate tutoring, I just hate the way I have to tutor online.)  Mom stayed home sick today.  (I think her back is bugging her more than usual.)  Things are quiet.

Too quiet.


Posted in Music, Pop | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Repost: “I’m Not Angry”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 19, 2014

One of the things that has made me realize it’s time to go back into therapy is my inappropriate, angry yelling at the computer when I’m doing something innocuous.  I shouldn’t be that upset over a game or a crappy essay, after all.  There’s a little more going on under the surface.  But it makes this a totally appropriate repost.

This is actually a pretty angry song, belieing the title.  Elvis Costello (for whom I want to hug radios) has long been one of the angriest dogs in the yard.  He was one of the very fine artists that emerged from the ashes when punk attempted to burn down the world (they succeeded, but mostly only in destroying themselves).  He kept trying to rekindle the fire, but people liked it when he was angry.  Maybe because it was accompanied with witty lyrics and melodies.

What’s this song about?  A pissed off guy complains about his ex’s, um, proclivities.  Apparently, she moved one quite lustfully while he’s been sitting around seething.  He overhears her having sex.  He implies taking pictures of her.  He says outright “I know what you’re doing, I know where you’ve been.”  Sounds pretty stalkerish to me.  Although, it does open with “You’re upstairs with the boyfriend, while I’m left here to listen,” so maybe she’s being a little passive-aggressive about the whole thing.  These do not sound like healthy, happy people.  Which is what makes them so interesting.  Remember, the romance novel always ends when the hero and heroine finally get to live happily after.

Except that this song implies that ever after isn’t all that happy.  They might be exes, but this couple still seems to be living together.  Maybe a marriage going bad, but nobody wants to admit it.  Costello was married when he wrote this (wife number one); maybe he’s the one being a little passive-aggressive here.

To me, there’s more here than just rage about a relationship going down the tubes.  This was the late 70s after all; it seemed like the whole world was going down the tubes.  Divorce rates were up.  The economy was in the toilet.  Everywhere.  Costello had quit his steady job working with computers to be a musician, and found an outlet for all the rage he felt as a young person caught in a world that seemed like it was going to explode any day.  He knew that nothing was guaranteed anymore: “Spent all my time at the vanity factory, wondering when they’re gonna come and take it all back.”  The whole thing feels as nihilistic as The Sex Pistols sounded.  He keeps repeating “I’m not angry anymore.”  He sounds angry, but maybe he just gave up.  He knows where she’s been, after all, ” but I don’t care, cause there’s no such thing as an original sin.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Posted in Music, Rock | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »