Attention must be paid

Posted: February 10, 2019 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , ,

By this point of my life, I expected to be famous, with a house shaped like a rook, five ex-wives, an agent who bathes her StairMastered curves in champagne, and an attorney named Bernie. I’ve fallen short of these goals, but I remain undaunted. Certain people I am married to remain skeptical.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken a lot of notes on life here in obscurity. Most of us puny humans live here. Ninety percent of all writers, for example. When I read Robert Calder’s Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham, I realized that not only is Maugham (author of The Razor’s Edge, Of Human Bondage, and The Moon and Sixpence) disappearing from our consciousness, so are almost all of the writers he entertained around his dining-room table in the middle of the century. I wrote in this blog,Authors of 20, 40, even 60 books regularly enter these pages – names that have left barely a ripple in the fabric of space-time.”

Most jazz musicians are born in obscurity and stay that way. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis, and the horror that is Kenny G are known outside the jazz ghetto, but the list thins out fast after them.

On that happy note….It’s time to look at worthy bands (and artists) that have silently slid beneath the waves.

Not bands with cult followings, such as The Velvet Underground, Big Star, and Hüsker Dü. Not one-hit wonders that inflicted “Kung Fu Fighting,” “99 Luftballons,” or “Because I Got High” on us before being deported to some shithole country. No, I’m talking about bands that, for one reason or another, deserved better than the limbo in which they will probably forever reside.

Here’s my list – you probably have your own – with their approximate heyday:

The Beau Brummels
Gene Clark
Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

The Flamin’ Groovies
The Beat

The Call
Fiction Factory
Bonnie Hayes & The Wild Combo

Diesel Park West

Some of these acts had hits. Most never rose above a few weeks of spins on college radio. One is no good. But they all have a story, at least to me, which I’ll tell as best I can over the next few days.

Random Pick of the Day
Art Blakey Quartet, A Jazz Message (1963)

Another jazz masterpiece from the year that ended with The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. One of the amazing things about this platter is that drummer Art Blakey, tenor and alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt, pianist McCoy Tyner, and bassist Art Davis were together for just one day, July 16, 1963.

The veterans, Blakey and Stitt, had last played together in 1950. The kids, Tyner and Davis, had barely started playing. On July 17, they went back to their own lives: Blakey to his leadership role in The Jazz Messengers, Stitt to one of the most prolific careers in jazz, Davis to his work with John Coltrane, and Tyner to the Valhalla of piano players.

These four men were like meteors briefly caught in Earth’s gravity well – yet the shortness of the hours doesn’t undermine the music by a single note. Nothing on this disc is a classic, yet everything is cool, everything is relaxed, and everyone plays like they invented their instruments. If you heard this set at a club, especially “Blues Back,” you’d still be raving about the show 10 years later.

Though it’s Blakey’s name on the album, he never soloes. He’s content instead to announce each horn part with an impeccably timed roll. Buddy Rich would’ve hammered his way to the front row on every cut.

Dan Morgenstern, in 1963 the editor of Jazz magazine, wrote in the liner notes: “Art Blakey’s Jazz Message, if put into words, would spell ‘Keep Swinging’ – and a worthwhile message for today it surely is.”

Random Pan of the Day
Weird Al, Mandatory Fun (2014)

This is Weird Al’s sharpest record since he destroyed the ’90s back in the ’90s. “Word Crimes” outperforms his brilliant Lady Gaga parody, “Perform This Way.” The videos of the songs are amazing.

But without the videos, Mandatory Fun doesn’t work. If this were a video review blog I’d give Mandatory Fun an enthusiastic, 100% impressed, four paws up. But this is a music review blog and all those paws are down. Sorry, Al.

  1. Jerry Kaufman says:

    Is “The Beat” the same band that had to call themselves “The English Beat”? They are apparently better remembered in Britain, based on the number of mentions or articles they get in Mojo Magazine.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I meant the U.S. band called The Beat, not the English ska outfit. Rhapsody calls them The Paul Collins Beat, as he was the main songwriter. Maybe there’s some legal dealings involved.

      I don’t know why The English Beat had to switch from The Beat. I can’t believe it was because of these American pipsqueaks, but maybe they weren’t so squeaky. This story sounds familiar, so I’m sure you’re on to something.

      At least they didn’t change their name to UK Beat like The Charlatans UK and UK Squeeze.

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