The Georgia Satellites


It is entirely possible that I’ve posted this album before, but I’m feeling a little too lazy to search through my old posts to see.  It’s the kind of thing I would do, though.  I’ve been evangelizing about this band for years.  To be fair, they only made two really great albums and one really crappy one (with the exception of the song “Sheila”).  Their debut was just pure, perfect Rock & Roll.  Barroom style.  You know, the kind of place where the band plays behind chicken wire to keep the crowd from throwing things at them.  Where the band is happily drinking right along with the rest of the patrons.  You know.  The really, really good kind.


By all rights, the Georgia Satellites really should’ve just been a forgotten cover band playing–behind chicken wire, of course–in some humid bar somewhere on the outskirts of Atlanta.  But they had a fluke hit with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” in 1986, which led to a decent career and some pretty heavy airplay on MTV.  They were too loose to hang together for very long.  Lead singer and songwriter Dan Baird left after their third album, In the Land of Salvation and Sin in 1989; although the rest of the band reunited in the 90s, they were never the same.  Whatever magic there had been was lost.

But we still have these terrific songs.  Skip “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” if you’ve just heard it too many times (or think it’s really stupid).  Give “The Myth of Love,” “Red Light,” or the stunning combo “Nights of Mystery/Every Picture Tells a Story” a shot.  (The last recommendation is based on the fact that on the original album, those two tracks are bled together seamlessly; it’s just goddamn perfect.)  If you really enjoy their first eponymous LP, track down In the Land of Salvation and Sin.  It is arguably their best album and shows some signs of artistic growth in their hard rocking style.  No matter what else you might think of the Satellites, you cannot every accuse them of dishonesty.  They wear the barroom like a badge of honor.

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: Disraeli Gears


Since my brain’s a little short on good ideas lately, I decided to juice it with another installment of my extremely irregular series drawn from Tom Moon’s spectacular book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.  Today’s randomly selected recording: Cream’s 1967 opus Disraeli Gears.

First, some honesty: I dislike Cream.  I find most Psychedelic Rock distasteful, and Cream practically invented the genre.  They also might be responsible for extended jam sessions in concert and Prog Rock.  They were that influential.  The fact that I think virtually everything they may (or may not) have spawned to be awful and pretentious probably goes a long way toward explaining my prejudice against them.

Cream was one of the first supergroups.  The trio consisted of bassist/singer Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker, and guitarist Eric Clapton.  The band existed for only three years, but they became somewhat legendary in that brief time.  Disraeli Gears is considered their best work.  Tom Moon feels that this recording shows Clapton’s talent at its “least affected,” which seems odd to me considering how affected the whole style seems now.  Psychedelia has not aged well.  It comes off as naive at best, confused and stilted at worst.  I’m sure in 1967 this was groundbreaking stuff.  Mostly, it makes my head hurt.

Cream disbanded when the strife that marked their entire run became too much for all concerned.  Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker hated each other; they simply did not get along, and fought ferociously at every opportunity.  Clapton was a mostly innocent bystander caught in the middle of the discord.  I think that discord is important, though, because I think that’s really at the heart of why Cream doesn’t work for me.  There have been many great bands with powerful inner turmoil–Fleetwood Mac, the Kinks, the Eagles, just to name a few–but there was something else that bound them together.  Cream made music, but there was no other link.  They weren’t buddies or relatives, and I’m pretty sure none of them were sleeping together.  They were just three talented musicians who were unhappy with their other gigs and decided to record together.  There was no chemistry, and I think it shows.  The music is technically very good, but lacks any kind of spirit or emotion.  It’s a notable album for the skill that the musicians showed, and for the influence it has, but I don’t think there’s much else to recommend it.

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


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.


“Uncle John’s Band”


Deadicated was released back in 1991, when tribute albums were still kind of new.  It hadn’t quite hit the point where the market was so over-saturated with compilations of various artists playing their favorite songs by some classic rock act, or obscure singer-songwriter.  I usually stay away from tribute albums, usually because there aren’t enough songs by artists I want to hear covering anyone.  But this Grateful Dead tribute was an exception.  (Honestly, the Grateful Dead are an exception to a lot of rules I have.  They’re just that freakin’ cool.)

Check out the lineup.  There really aren’t any clunkers on this.  My other favorites are Lyle Lovett’s “Friend of the Devil” and Los Lobos’ “Bertha.”  I hadn’t heard as much Dead as I have since, so some of these songs were totally new to me.  (But not too many; they really hit the highlights.  Except for “Sugar Magnolia.”)  And it’s not just a tribute.  Proceeds from the sales went to groups that work to preserve rainforest.  That was probably part of my impetus to buy it, although it’s been so long I don’t remember.  I do know it’s one of those CDs I’ll never give up.

I had to buy it twice, even.  I’d bought it new when it first came out, but my copy disappeared.  I didn’t remember loaning it to anyone, so I can only assume it was stolen.  I found it used some years later, and snatched it up again.  It’s really that good.

Liz Phair


Liz Phair burst onto the music scene in 1993 with the still utterly extraordinary Exile in Guyville.  Released on the indie label Matador Records, it’s an 18 track lo-fi classic.  While it isn’t a song-for-song reply, early reviews and interviews made much of the similarity between Phair’s debut and the Rolling Stones’ classic Exile on Main Street (similar title, 18 tracks, and one of their masterpieces).  Personally, I’ve always seen as a response to the earlier album.  The Stones’ album is the quintessential Rock & Roll guy’s album, full of sex and drugs, and it was recorded under such a cloud of debauchery that I think wisps of it still float over France today.

Exile in Guyville is more interior, more emotional, more stereotypically feminine.  It is a woman’s response to the cavalier attitude that guys have been copping with her for years.  This is the answer to all the psychic damage done by the sexist attitudes of rock music and the guys who think it’s cool to treat women like objects because that’s what Mick Jagger does.

Liz Phair was kind of fearless back then.  She hasn’t changed much, although her music is a little more slick and well-produced these days.  The songs on Guyville had a brash, profane intimacy to them.  She was angry/happy/sad/sexy/stupid/bored, and she wasn’t afraid to tell anyone about it.  Phair herself has said that most of these songs aren’t based on her personal experiences, but that doesn’t make them any less authentic.  She might not be singing about herself on “Fuck and Run,” but she’s felt that way.  There’s a brilliant empathy on this album that makes the emotions resonate and reverberate to your bones.

It’s hard to deny feelings this strong.  And we’ve all been there, knowing we made a mistake, knowing we’re not gonna get whatever it is we want.  The Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.”  Liz Phair is here to remind us that sometimes we don’t even get that.  Sometimes, it’s fuck and run.  That might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for her.

It shouldn’t work for anyone.

Go Insane


Despite all appearances, this is not advice.

It is, however, a Criminally Underrated album.  Lindsey Buckingham’s second solo disc is. . . different.  Despite being some of the finest music of his career, it’s also some of his least accessible.  There’s a weirdness to it that I think comes in large part from being a real solo project.  Buckingham wrote, produced, and performed virtually everything.  The isolation shows.  There’s a claustrophobic feeling throughout, like everything is being done in a box.  I didn’t know before that it was a break-up album; another fact I learned in my Wiki-Google search: the last track is a tribute to Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who died while Buckingham was making the album.

Go Insane is a surreal, dreamlike landscape.  The music is filled with odd sound effects and whispered voices, giving it a haunted feeling.  It’s a nightmare rendered sonically.  There’s the usual anger and sadness pouring through, something Buckingham has always excelled at.  It is sort of thin lyrically, but I don’t think words were the point here.  The emotional turmoil is conveyed much more effectively with music and sound effects.  Maybe it’s just because I watched it again last night, but the closest comparison I can come up with is the film Inception, a dream within a dream within a dream.

The dreamlike quality of this album are best exemplified by the two-part track “Play in the Rain.”  Back in the wonderful days of vinyl (or cassettes, which is how I first heard this), you had to stop and turn the disc over.  “Play in the Rain” ended side one and started side two.  (Another Wiki-fact: The original LP was configured so that the end of side one could play continuously, called a “locked groove”; I didn’t know that was possible.  The song features similar lyrics and the chorus repeated like a mantra until you feel a little hypnotized.  “Can we play in the rain?” starts sounding a little demented after a while.  Which might be the point.  Something like a break-up tends to stick in your brain, the words and incidents playing over and over in your mind in an endless loop until you feel trapped.  A locked groove.  (You know, I’m starting to think Lindsey Buckingham is smarter than the average bear.  There’s definitely a method to his madness.)  The track features some blistering guitar from Buckingham, the first time it seems that he really cuts loose on the instrument he plays like no one else.

“D.W. Suite” is the least nightmarish, most expansive song on the album.  While I can’t say it’s a happy song, there’s something optimistic here.  There’s hope imbedded in it.  And relief.  “The closing of a chapter, the opening of a door, brings forth life where there was no life before.”  It’s a prayer to a lost soul, and a fitting tribute to Wilson.  It cycles through grief, acknowledging the pain and letting it go.  It also breaks the isolation of the rest of the album.  This song opens up onto a new landscape, where no one is alone.  “If we go, go insane, we can all go together.  In this wild wanton world, we can all break down forever. . .”

Maybe this is advice after all.

Underwater Sunshine


I’ve always loved the Counting Crows.  For some reason, they’re not really popular anymore.  (Yeah, their last studio album was kind of disappointing, but it had some nice moments.)  I personally know a lot of people who otherwise have fantastic taste in music but think the Crows are a bunch of mediocre wannabes.  It’s a mystery to me.  They do have a very distinctive sound that could be mistaken for a lack of musical growth.  Most of that sound seems centered around the vocal stylings of Adam Duritz, which admittedly don’t change much.  He’s also the main songwriter, so the thematic content of their songs doesn’t change much.  (I love Adam’s music, but he’s at his best when he’s a little unstable and depressed, like most artists.  He’s been getting happier, so his songwriting has naturally suffered a little.)  The thing about Counting Crows is that they have the uncanny ability to make every song they sing sound like the saddest song you’ve ever heard–until the next song.  Sad is not the only emotional setting they have, but it is the most frequent.

Sad is very present on Underwater Sunshine, their newest disc.  It’s an album of covers, but I’m not familiar with most of the originals, so they sound new to me.  There’s also a healthy dose of good times and (gasp!) happiness.  They gathered together a bunch of songs they really loved and had a great time recording them.  Adam’s songwriting may not be at its peak when he’s feeling good, but his voice works just fine.  And I swear David Bryson is channeling Robbie Robertson about half the time (they must play the same kind of guitars or share the same set of hands or something).  I like cover albums.  I get to hear what the musicians I like enjoy listening to; after all, no one covers songs they hate.  Covers can also be a good gauge of how confident and secure an artist/group is in their own talent.  Judging from what I’ve heard so far, I’d say the Crows are feeling pretty darn good these days.  The two songs I’m most familiar with already, “Amie” and “Ooh La La,” are romps here.  And “Return of the Grievous Angel” is just a joy.  It’s certainly not better than Gram Parsons’ original, just different.  The Crows put their stamp on it.  As for the songs whose originals I’ve never heard, well, I have the distinct feeling they’re not gonna match up to the covers in my mind.

I’ve been listening as I’ve been writing, so I don’t have a lot of distance on this on yet.  I really like it, though.  Some of the choices are. . . inspired.  Oh, hell.  I’m going there.  To the “Borderline.”

“Borderline” is one of the only Madonna songs I enjoy, although it drove me nuts when it was originally released.  I really don’t think much of Madonna as an artist (I really respect her as businessperson, though).  So it’s kind of fun to hear Counting Crows own it.  The version here sounds like it was recorded live.  It’s got a twangy country sound to it and, for once, the lyrics sound really sincere.  Adam really sounds drained when he sings “you got the best of me.”  It also sounds like they’re having a hoot playing it.  But they take a purely manufactured Top 40 pop song and make it sound heartfelt.  That’s a pretty cool feat for anyone.

I apologize for the lack of focus from the last few posts.  I’ve just been getting a lot of new music lately, and I’m getting caught up in it.

Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits


I was watching Scooby Doo this afternoon, which is what inspired tonight’s entry.  I know all the Scooby Doo cartoons are, frankly, bad.  The animation is sub-par, at best and the stories are predictable (no thanks to those meddling kids).  But Scooby and I are the same age; I have literally been a devoted fan my entire life.  Back in 1995, Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits was released.  It was an alternative rock tribute to the themes from the kids shows that Gen X kids grew up watching, and it made songs of questionable quality from cartoons of questionable quality seem brand new.  And pretty good.

Okay, no one is ever going to say that the theme from Josie and the Pussycats ought to be enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  But the songs had pretty good hooks to begin with, they automatically come along with positive associations, and the producers got some high-quality musicians to play.  Matthew Sweet, Liz Phair, The Ramones for crying out loud.  That line-up had to produce something worth listening to.

There were a lot of surprises on this disc.  The biggest one was probably the emotional depth and flirtatiousness these musicians brought out of the music.  Sponge’s rendition of “Go Speed Racer Go” creates far more drama than the original Japanimation show ever could have dreamed of.  “Sugar Sugar” by Mary Lou Lord and Semisonic absolutely drips with sex, primarily because of Lord’s fantastic singing.  Most of the songs had to be extended somehow, what with the originals being about a minute long.  But this just gives the musicians a chance to show off their skills with (reasonably short) solos.  I even developed an affection for the themes to shows I barely remember, like “Goolie Get-Together”; Groovie Goolies was never on my must-see TV list, but The Toadies make it sound like a great party (I’ll have to track down a couple of episodes and see if they don’t make my brain hurt too much).

I don’t think this is in print anymore; it was trendy, but not exactly a blockbuster.  Tribute albums were really hot in the 90s, and I know Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits was riding both that wave and the wave of nostalgia people my age were feeling for their childhoods (and had the disposable income to spend renewing their memories).  I’m glad they did.  Whenever I listen to these songs, I feel like a kid again.  And growing up is overrated, anyway.