Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Everyone is always looking for the next Beatles. From The Monkees to The Arctic Monkees, we salivate over any upstart new band that threatens to upset the world as we know it.

They never do. We ain’t gonna see anything like The Beatles and Beatlemania again. There will never be another moment in the Earth Prime timeline as there was in 1963, when unlimited talent met universal need and when there were so few media channels that one message could smack every human in existence.

However, there has been one band that’s come close: U2.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles and U2 are equivalent. They are nothing like each other. The Beatles, for example, displayed more humor on any afternoon in 1964 than U2 have in their entire career. The Beatles, for another example, never tried to be rock’s answer to Wagner.

What I am suggesting is that the two bands have similar trajectories. Here’s my evidence. Ready Steady Go!

The Beatles 1963-64
The Beatles’ catalog in their early years is like the cellar of my parents’ house: Good luck finding two things that match. Different Beatles albums with different lineups of songs appeared in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Sea of Tranquility, etc.

Here in the U.S., we had Introducing…The Beatles, then Meet the Beatles! even though we’d already been introduced, then The Beatles Are on the Grass, The Beatles Are in My Hall, The Beatles Are in My Head, etc.

Get rid of all these random collections of songs, hold off on the two soundtracks, and you’re left with Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and Beatles for Sale. This is where The Beatles reimagined pop and changed the world.

U2 1980-83
U2 released Boy, October, and War. This is where they reimagined arena rock and tried to change the world, one cause at a time.

The Beatles 1964-65
A Hard Day’s Night: The perfect soundtrack.

U2 1983
Under a Blood Red Sky: The perfect live album.

The Beatles 1965-66
Rubber Soul and Revolver were a great leap forward.

U2 1984
The Unforgettable Fire was a great leap forward.

The Beatles 1967
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Their masterpiece.

U2 1987
The Joshua Tree: Their masterpiece.

The Beatles 1967
Magical Mystery Tour was a serious expedition into psychedelia.

U2 1993
I have to mix up U2’s chronology by one album to make this work. Zooropa was a serious expedition into electronica. You think if The Beatles had lasted into the 1990s, they wouldn’t have explored electronica? Tell that to Paul McCartney, one of the two men behind Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest (1993).

The Beatles 1968
The White Album was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

U2 1988
Rattle & Hum was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

The Beatles 1969
U2 has nothing like Yellow Submarine. Since there were only four new songs on this disc and of those I only like “It’s All Too Much,” I don’t see this as relevant.

The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after Sgt. Pepper.

U2 1991
Achtung Baby demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after The Joshua Tree.

The Beatles 1969-70
After Abbey Road and Let It Be, the Beatles ceased to exist.

U2 1995-97
After Original Soundtracks and Pop, which were not as good as This Is Spinal Tap or Meet the Rutles, U2 almost ceased to exist.

That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is too.

Bonus: U2 go into extra innings

U2 is a fading empire that refuses to die without a fight. As a service to my loyal readers (all three of them), and because I did the same for Duran Duran, here’s my guide to the 10 essential U2 songs since Zooropa. You can conveniently forget everything else they’ve done since 1993.

“All Because of You”
U2’s version of playing “Get Back” on the roof of Apple Studios. Bono kisses a girl!

“Beautiful Day”
This song belongs in a temple to a new religion. Features the first-ever Bono double. He’s good-bad, but he’s not evil (see “Elevation” below).

“Do You Feel Loved”
Curtis Mayfield funky. This is one ballpark I didn’t think they could play in.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
The first cut from the Batman Forever soundtrack. If you love comics, you’ll swoon over this video. The music could knock your croquet ball over the house and down the street.

“Elevation”
Good U2 battle Evil U2 while The Edge tries to survive in a Tomb Raider movie!

“Magnificent”
One of their bombastic anthems. Awesome.

“Mofo”
The rhythm sections rips your garage door off its hinges and paints “Mama never loved me” on your car.

“Original of the Species”
The horns are straight out of Magical Mystery Tour. Unfortunately, the video is dull and, well, pretentious.

“Unknown Caller”
The only U2 song I know where they chant the lyrics. Kind of pretentious, but that’s their natural habitat. It’s grown on me.

“You’re the Best Thing About Me”
It’s not a great song – it sounds as if it were recorded by four guys who’ve listened to a lot of U2 – but I include it because it’s the happiest U2 video of all time. And almost none of them are happy.

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Judy, whose ambition in her 50s was to jump out of a cake on The Edge’s birthday.

 

Life in the 90s

Posted: November 17, 2017 in music
Tags: , ,

We just visited my parents in the little town in Massachusetts where I grew up and learned not to trust the Red Sox. You have to make some adjustments in Massachusetts. A regular coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts is coffee, milk, and two sugahs. A milkshake doesn’t have ice cream, but a frappe does. If you go down Cape, you’re heading north on Cape Cod, but if you go up Cape, you’re heading south. Traffic circles are called “rotaries,” a sub is a “grinduh,” and my name is forever Stevie.

My Mom lives in a nursing home. My Dad is still hanging on in the house they’ve lived in since 1957. These are the real adjustments.

While we were there, the town put on their annual breakfast to honor veterans. Every place in Massachusetts that can hold itself together long enough to form a government and print pahking stickuhs for the beach is required to have a Veterans Service Officer. Our VSO did a fantastic job with this breakfast. Five hundred veterans and their friends and families filled the hall where I attended my high school prom back in 1493. We had speeches, commemorative pins, a fire department honor guard, and food that beats Army chow any day.

Dad is 90 and increasingly immobile, but he was game to go. After all, he served in World War II. He came home with medals for good conduct and sharpshooting and one he never showed us that he claimed he got for goldbricking.

It took Deborah and me awhile to organize and transport him. By the time we arrived, there was only one table with available seats. Fortunately, our tablemates were Miss Bristol County and Miss Bristol County Teen and their mothers. The four of them were delighted to have a World War II veteran drop in. This gave the two beauty queens a chance to represent. They brought Dad his breakfast from the buffet line and made a fuss over him.

BC2

Our featured speaker was Rep. Joe Kennedy III. He’s the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a politician work a room with greater enthusiasm. After his speech he went to every table, looked everyone in the eye, listened respectfully, spoke sincerely. I was impressed. He meant it.

As the event ended, people began to leave the hall, and we were concerned that Joe 3.0 wouldn’t make it to our far corner. Deborah sought him out and asked him if he would come to our table and say hello to her father-in-law, who served in the Army Air Force and kept Texas safe for democracy.

Kennedy said he would, and though he still had a gauntlet to run, he soon appeared at Dad’s side. (Deborah said she had never had anyone reassuringly touch her arm so many times as he followed her while simultaneously greeting people.) Kennedy realized that Dad couldn’t stand, so he took a knee beside him. Dad took his hand and cried as he talked about meeting John F. Kennedy in 1960 when he was running for president.

K5

After Dad calmed down, they had a good talk, and then Dad made a prediction: “Joe, you’re 37 now. In 15 years, you’re going to run for president, and you’re going to make it.”

K4

Kennedy replied, “Don’t hold your breath!”

K6

At that moment, my father closed a circle. The circle began on a blustery winter day in early 1960 when Dad, younger than Joe Kennedy is now, was walking into his favorite hardware store and met a hatless JFK striding down the sidewalk, the whole world and Schwartz Lumber in front of them.

There’s no lesson here, just a family that’s lucky enough to make a new story after so many years together. Mom has Alzheimer’s, but she still can still follow a five-sentence narrative, and when we saw her next she laughed when she heard that Dad had cried. “Of course!” she said. She would’ve expected nothing else.

Dad is in the hospital as I write this. He’s 90, so who knows. Mom is dreaming in her nursing home, waiting for Dad’s next visit. Until they meet again, here are two photos of the honeymooners taken 50 years apart.

The Honeymooners 1964

1964

Happy cat roommates

2014

In case youve read this far: Miss Bristol County Teen is a freshman at the high school. When Dad told her that I had gone there, she asked, Did you know my grandfather? He was a math teacher. I thought, come on, kid, how old do you think I am?! But then she told me his name and I thought, shoot, I did know him.

 

The four major musical genres I find at yard sales and estate sales are Celtic, Christmas, classical, and country. The fifth is probably whale sounds. Though I often find unexpected gold in these situations, to most of the CDs I dig up I would apply the term “not good.” However, I have found that whale sounds will chase people out of my office.

There’s never much jazz. Is the typical music consumer planning to be buried with her jazz records, or is it just that she didn’t buy much jazz in the first place?

I can’t answer this question, and I suspect I wouldn’t like the answer if I knew it. However, by combining all the jazz CDs I’ve found at these sales in various summers, I’m able to write this post. This gives me the chance to please Loyal Reader Seika, Jazz Commissar for Zone 22. It also means that once again I can TALK LIKE A JAZZ CRITIC! That is so boss.

On the downbeat!

Various artists from the Verve catalog, Talkin’ Verve Cool: 1957-66 (1997)
What is cool jazz? Is there a litmus test to tell cool from crud? Can someone from Massachusetts be cool? (No.)

Cool jazz, in my view, isn’t just hep cats snapping their fingers to incomprehensible music while turning the pages of incomprehensible books or trying to make themselves comprehensible to their heroin dealers. Cool jazz is cool because it doesn’t care if anyone else is in the room.

Talkin’ Verve Cool presents 10 excursions into the cool form, however you define it. The whole platter is cool (Quincy Jones & His Orchestra opens the set with the theme from The Pink Panther), but “Improvisation for Unaccompanied Saxophones” by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims is sublime. I had to listen to it twice just to grok how Al and Zoot hand off the parts to each other. It’s a flabbergasting 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Ramsey Lewis, Sun Goddess (1974)
Jazz piano legend Lewis backed by Earth, Wind & Fire. They don’t play at Lewis’ Valhalla-like level, but they compensate with their enthusiasm. The show-stopper is “Sun Goddess” (performed live by EWF the following year on their album Gratitude).

Ivan “Boogaloo Joe” Jones, Sweetback (1975)
I bought this CD just for the man’s nickname, which makes “Steve” sound like I’m a murgatroid from Dullsville. Ivan Jones was a guitar player in the style of 1960s George Benson without Benson’s cross-over appeal in the ’70s (“On Broadway”). Boogaloo waxed an excellent tune in “Sweetback,” but his reading of Stevie Wonder’s “You’ve Got It Bad, Girl” is the real pearl in this oyster.

Nicholas Payton, Payton’s Place (1998)
Payton is a hard-bop trumpeter and band leader with no time for squares. The odd thing about Payton’s Place is that it could’ve been recorded in 1958. There’s nothing here that says End of the Century. Notable for the technical virtuosity on every groove and for the track “Three Trumpeters,” which features Payton, Roy Hargrove, and the cat no one can escape, Wynton Marsalis.

Charlie Hunter Quartet, Songs From the Analog Playground (2001)
Hunter, who plays an eight-string guitar (that’s one louder than 10) can lay down a groove in any genre of music, just like Béla Fleck on banjo, Yo-Yo Ma on upright bass, and me on air guitar.

Songs From the Analog Playground is a funky platter of jazz fusion. Eight of the 13 tracks have guest vocalists, including rapper Mos Def (who sings) and a young Norah Jones on a cover of Roxy Music’s “Avalon.” The drummer’s chops on “Percussion Shuffle” are everything plus.

I thought the song “Mitch Better Have My Bunny” was a joke about Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” until I realized that Rihanna’s tune didn’t appear until 2012 and this was 2001. How did Charlie Hunter do this? This shows you how little I know about jazz.

Upper Left Trio, Three (2007)
There’s a fine line between improvisation and finger-painting. The piano-drums-bass Upper Left Trio trips over that line on almost every track. These cats are first-rate players (and, according to my colleague Lorna, at least two of them are “really cute”), but some of this stuff makes me want to petition the United Nations to intervene.

However, when this Pacific Northwest band is good, they’re clobberin’ time good, as on their reading of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”

It was a sunny day today, but summer’s heat is long gone, except in the Columbia Gorge where forest fires have been raging for weeks. I don’t know how all the critters out there will prepare for winter. As for us, I’m always reminded at this season of this quote from the writer and illustrator Ben Böst:

Soon the snows will begin to fall and we’ll be in for the duration. But with a roof over our heads, a fresh pot of coffee, old bourbon, and good books we’ll do just fine.

If you substitute “our favorite coffee shop” for “a fresh pot of coffee” and “non-stop shedding by the dog” for “old bourbon,” you about have us here at Run-DMSteve World HQ. Stay warm, cats, and keep swinging like sixteen.

 

You’re an artist. It’s noon and you’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes. You’ve gargled your first gallon of coffee. It’s time to get your game on. How do you welcome your Muse? Yoga? Affirmations? Mixed martial arts?

Michelangelo opened himself to inspiration with his paint-by-numbers kit. John Steinbeck typed up everything that had happened to him on his way to his office. Bruce Springsteen drives down a dusty beach road and counts the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. When Stormin’ Gorman Thomas played for the Seattle Mariners, he rapped himself in the back of his head with his bat. I’m not making this up about Steinbeck and Stormin’ Gorman.

For years, before I wrote a new post for this blog, I began by standing for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” But from now on, I’ll take a knee.

Summer 2017 in review: Part 1

Estate sales: books, music, stickers, colored pencils, tools I don’t need, kitchen gadgets from another century, the insides of old weird houses. Scavenging in the debris field of other people’s lives – what’s not to like?

For a quarter or maybe 50 cents, I can pick up a CD I know nothing about or don’t remember. Sometimes this works. Here are some albums I tried this summer that didn’t. I’ll never see that dollar again.

It’s raining men

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were four of the manliest men you’d ever want to man up with. This Anglo-Saxon army is responsible for three classics of the Classic Rock rockin’ Caucasians classic era: the studio albums Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969) and Déjà Vu (1970) and their live set, 4 Way Street (1971). But after 1971, nothing happened. And still more nothing. What’s a record company to do?

I’ll tell you what Atlantic Records did. They took a chunk of the first record and a chunk of the second record and added “Ohio” and gave us So Far in 1974. Is So Far a greatest-hits album or an intelligence test? If it was the second, CSNY’s fans flunked, because So Far went right to the top of Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums chart.

In 1974, before disco suctioned out their bone marrow, CSNY was so big that you could carve “CSNY” into a slice of Wonder Bread and CSNY fans would fight to use it for their next Holy Communion.

Just buy the first three albums, OK?

A useful way of understanding this band is measuring them in Units of Monkees. David Crosby was Michael Nesmith, Stephen Stills was Michael Nesmith, Graham Nash was stuck being Davey Jones because he’s English even though he’s really Michael Nesmith, and Neil Young was Michael Nesmith. If I had been in CSNY, I would’ve been Peter Tork.

Nerdz 2 men

R.E.M. always acted as if they had no sense of humor, probably because they didn’t. The closest they came to a good laugh (on us) was Dead Letter Office (1987), a collection of songs the band forgot, songs the band was too drunk to remember, songs the band didn’t like, and songs the band took apart and rebuilt later but without much enthusiasm. And I’m quoting from their own liner notes!

What a bunch of fun-loving hooligans. Imagine their surprise when their fans fell for it. Dead Letter Office peaked at 52 on the Hot 200. Mazal tov, R.E.M. fans! I’d sell you a bridge, but the CSNY fans already bought it.

While I admit there are a couple of good songs on this disc (particularly “Windout,” which rocks), it’s mostly made up of songs I wish I was too drunk to remember. This includes their cover of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” Let me tell you something, my fine motherfuckers: The words are “I’m a man of means,” not “I’m a man of men”!

Crash Davis after confiscating Nuke LaLoosh’s guitar in Bull Durham: “It ain’t ‘woolly,’ it’s ‘weary,’ and nobody’s got stress, they’re wearing a dress. Dammit, I hate it when people get the words wrong!”

Hot mess

The readers of Rolling Stone voted The Killers’ 2004 debut, Hot Fuss, as the 33rd best debut album in history. The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill was first. After listening to Hot Fuss, I’m illin’. The Killers are actually just a hair band that escaped from the 1980s – a marriage of synth-pop Spandau Ballet and pretty-boy power-rockers Night Ranger. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

Four of the 11 tracks on Hot Fuss were hits. Why? Sun spots? “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” the leadoff batter, opens with an R&B guitar hook that gave me hope for the rest of the album. They abandon it after the first minute. The guitar break based on the hook is taken instead by the keyboards and has nothing to do with the beginning of the song. Their music wanders, and they are lost.

But I did like “Midnight Show,” which springs from Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and from Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” which I guess proves that I’ve escaped from the ’80s, too.

The Killers enjoy playing with words, which sometimes gets you this:

Well somebody told me
You had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year

But it also gets you “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” and their immortal “Hey shut up, hey shut up, yeah.”

I agree. Shut up.

Hit the road, Raymond

Ray Charles’ The Ultimate Hits Collection Discs 1 and 2 includes every novelty number the man ever recorded plus every song in which he shouted “Wait a minute!” His cover of “Yesterday” sounds like he’s trying to finish before his train arrives, plus he shouts “Wait a minute!” Charles was a genius, but buy one of his non-greatest-hits albums instead.

Next time, you get the Snuggles the Fabric Softener Bear edition of Run-DMSteve: Albums I liked!

 

The solar eclipse invaded the mainland United States through Oregon, where cracks and fissures appeared in the earth and the simple folks panicked, setting fire to civilization….Excuse me, this is approximately what happened in Isaac Asimov’s short story “Nightfall,” in which a planet with six suns experiences darkness for the first time in a thousand years.

Ralph Waldo Emerson gets an assist for dreaming up this idea. The 21-year-old Asimov lacked the skills to write it but his editor, John W. Campbell, made him write it anyway. I’m sure this was a worthwhile learning experience for Asimov, but his story sucks. How did this 1941 doorstop get voted the greatest science fiction story of all time in 1964? Civilization is a puzzling thing. No wonder the Klan and the Nazis are always trying to burn it.

The solar eclipse was a welcome break from our current national pastimes of refighting the Civil War and World War II. I can’t even discuss this with my 90-year-old father. Dad and his two brothers (and my late father-in-law) spent the best years of their lives pulverizing Hitler. Now Hitler’s fan club is back and we’ve got them. I wish we could return to an earlier time when all of our arguments were about chess.

Dateline Normandy, 6 June 1944: Anti-fascists storm ashore to confront white supremacists! Both sides to blame for violence on Omaha Beach? Alt-left U.S. Army “very, very violent”!

But we’re not here today to talk about Nazis or the Confederates who didn’t surrender at Appomattox but didn’t tell anybody. We’re here to answer a letter from Accused of Lurking, my brother…my captain…my king.

Dear Run-DMSteve,

We all have artists we return to, over and over, in our listening lives. For me, these would include Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, The Who, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Melissa Etheridge. (Obviously, I am a man of a certain age.)

But there are also albums we return to, usually by lesser artists, that somehow have a particular resonance. These albums can intensify, alleviate, or complement our mood of the moment. It’s like that trash movie you watch again and again over the years because it hits your sweet spot.

For some reason, for me, these five albums return to my playlist on a pretty regular basis:

Patti Scialfa, Rumble Doll
Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience
Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
Del Amitri, Change Everything

Given your extensive listening experience, my question to you is simply this: Have you ever listened to any of these albums? (My expectation of your answer is “No.”)

With warmest personal regards,

–Accused of Lurking

Dear Accused of Lurking,

You are indeed a man of a certain age, who enjoyed an intense teenage rebellion in the 1970s. However, judging by the five albums on your list, you had a rebirth in 1992. I believe this was about the time you met your trophy wife, [redacted].

To answer the question you asked: Yes. I’ve listened to four of the five, though I listened to them so long ago that my imperfect memory can’t reproduce much. I shall immediately catch up.

To answer the question you didn’t ask: What are the albums I go to when I want to intensify, alleviate, or complement my mood of the moment? Or when I want to create one? You’ve made me realize that in those cases, I don’t usually turn to albums, I turn to songs. And I do this most at work.

For example, I’m a guy who likes to feel sorry for myself. There’s no better way to do that than to start another day at the office with a dark, endless, ponderous meditation on existence worthy of German opera wunderkind Honus Wagner. What better song for that task than The Doors’ “The End”? It’s 11 minutes and 43 seconds of 1960s nihilism.

Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski: Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

“The End” is perfect in every way. If I’m tired of “The End,” one of my fallbacks is Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns.” The lyrics don’t make the grade as coherent English:

Like a crown of thorns
It’s all who you know, yeah
So don’t burn your bridges, woman
’cause someday – yeah.

Heroin will do that to you. But the lyrics are not what I’m here for.

What if I want to start the day with a short, sharp shock? For something that resembles these slabs of gloom but moves like somebody means it, there’s Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”

Run-DMSteve Fun Fact: I once held a stressful job whose chief characteristics were creativity and interruptions. I used the 6 minute 47 second “Little Wing” as a test. Could I get through the entire thing without an interruption? The answer was usually no. I learned to write fast.

If I need a quick punch because I have a meeting in 10 minutes, the William Tell Overture makes me stand on my back legs and roar. If it’s the middle of the afternoon and I have a deadline looming in three hours, the words I’m typing don’t make sense, and all I want to do is enter REM sleep without having to listen to R.E.M., I have many choices. Here are three:

  • 1000 Homo DJs, “Supernaut.” This Black Sabbath cover makes Black Sabbath sound like English country dancing in a Jane Austen movie.
  • Rob Zombie, “More Human Than Human.” Not only will this song electrocute the sleepiest copy writer, the video is one of the funniest ever made.
  • Screaming Trees, Sweet Oblivion (the entire album).

I could continue – I could way continue – but after all, you didn’t even ask. You always inspire me, Lurk. Rock on!

–Run-DMSteve

“Ask Run-DMSteve” returns, after a refreshing intermission of five years, thanks to fascinating questions from two of my three readers. This week we hear from Dr. D, another working stiff with a Ph.D. Next week we’ll “get down” with my mentor, Accused of Lurking.

Dear Run-DMSteve,

The other day I was listening to Alt Nation (as in alt-rock, not the other alt) which I often do when [redacted] is not in the car. The DJs on it don’t talk much (good!). But the guy who was on said the following: “Next up is a new release by Car Seat Headrest. Gosh, I hate that name. That is the worst name for a band. The best band name? It has got to be U2.”

OK, so what are the best and worst band names in your CD land?

–Sincerely, Dr. D

Dear Dr. D,

I agree with your DJ.

The one official rule in naming your band is that your name has to be a name that people remember. Bonus points if your name scares adults. When the teenaged Paul Hewson, David Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. chose U2, they fulfilled the one official rule. Their name wasn’t scary, but it implied that the fans could do what the musicians do or that the fans and the musicians were part of a movement (à la The Who and the Mods), and they did all that with TWO CHARACTERS. No band will ever beat this name.

(The Who fulfills the one official rule because you have to think about it. The Guess Who is a game you play with your tiny clients at pre-school.)

Car Seat Headrest might as well be Car Seat Stuffing. It’s just three words on the side of a box. The Portland band Nu Shooz used two words everyone says, but they changed the spelling and ended up in a nu place.

Bands with memorable names that also scare adults usually evolve from the punk neighborhoods: The Fuck-Ups, The Dead Boys, The Dead Kennedys, The Butthole Surfers. Add a feminist perspective and you hit a lot harder: Hole, The Slits, The Coathangers. (Politer versions: The Breeders, Bikini Kill.)

Hole is my nominee for the second-best band name.

Third place is AC/DC.

Fourth is Herman’s Hermits because it’s alliterative and because a gang of actual hermits would never put a band together. They’re too busy being hermits.

Fifth is probably And And And.

A special shoutout to Big Head Todd and The Monsters, because our dogs Emma and Sailor were known as Big Butt Emma and The Monster.

As for names as bad as Car Seat Stuffing, there is no shortage. How about The Dentists? An OK band, sort of a more fanciful version of the Hoodoo Gurus. Bands that go with the formula “The” + “plural noun” often run intro trouble. No disrespect to dentists – some of the finest people on earth – but their profession doesn’t lend itself to rock ’n’ roll glory.

There was a Seattle band called Seafood Mama that signed with a major label that changed the band’s name to Quarterflash. What was wrong with Seafood Mama? Quarterfuckingwhat? Another Seattle band, The Dynamic Logs, immediately changed their name to Quarterlog.

This is all a matter of taste, of course. I like the name Bananarama, so why not the name Kajagoogoo? However, by any objective standard, U2 is u-nanimous. It’s the best. As for the worst name ever, here it is:

Portugal. The Man.

Thanks for writing. For those about to rock while listening to their alt-rock station in the car, we salute you.

–RDMS

(Editor’s note: Dr. D was the first physicist to drive a motorcycle lengthwise through a superconducting supercollider.)

 

This week I fired my wife. And my dog. I voted three times to do things I didn’t want to do and that my neighbors begged me not to do in the first place. I took away people’s rights. Why are people always whining about their rights? I’m white, I’m male, I’m straight, and I’m good. What else did I do? Oh right. I harvested enough secondhand CDs to build a wall around Mexico. Mexico will pay for it!

As we move deeper into the Digitazoic Era, people are abandoning physical forms of music like Republicans abandoning Trump in 2018. Over the next few weeks I’ll present some of my findings from a recent selection of Portland yard sales. I’ll also testify about my meeting with those nice Russians I met at my chess club.

When an entire neighborhood puts on a sale, I am there
Even if you love the music of the 1980s – even if you know so much about synth pop that people turn the hose on you when you show up at their parties – you may be forgiven for not knowing the British band Level 42.

I only know them because of one song, and I didn’t hear that one until the ’90s. I liked it a lot, so when I found two of their CDs, World Machine (1985) and Level Best (1989), at a yard sale in the middle of a heat wave, where I had several competitive shoppers and a rapidly wilting wife to consider, I grabbed ’em (the CDs).

The gentlemen in Level 42 started out in life playing smooth jazz. They dropped the jazz, kept their synthesizers, and added ordinary singing, melodies less memorable than Spandau Ballet’s, and a glaze of funk, as in Stevie-Wonder-WomaninRed, Chaka-Khan-is-sleeping-in-this-morning funk.

Level 42’s commercial breaththrough was World Machine, which included their only U.S. Top 10 hit, “Something About You.” It’s a pop diamond, the only time all of Level 42’s strengths came together: their excellent playing skills (I particularly admire the drummer), their ability to follow a musical theme without wandering into a cul de sac, their generally upbeat approach to life even when love goes awry, and the way their songs all seem to tell a story. “Something About You” is far and away their best hook, too.

World Machine has some sweet moments, and you can find a few more on their greatest hits, Level Best. I really want to love Level 42. Sadly, though they aspired to be Tears For Fears, they were instead an underpowered Steely Dan.

Hard-core CD buyers are like the defensive line in a hockey game
At the same sale, and despite having been illegally cross-checked and fouled twice, I spotted P.M. Dawn’s Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991). The only thing I knew about P.M. Dawn is that they contributed the most fun track to the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Stone Free (1993). Given how cheap these things were on that scorching early-summer day, that one data point was sufficient to close the deal.

As I eased my way into traffic Monday morning I fired up the first track, which was a minute of electronic doodling with a few thoughts directed at God. I decided that if the next song was more of the same, I’d hit Eject.

But the next song was one I remembered, and it was awesome: “Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine,” one of the greatest titles in the history of everything. It’s a meditation on discovering that we humans could blow up the world at any moment. Or maybe it’s about a break-up with a girl named Sandy. Springsteen had problems with her, too. “Reality and life are not the same,” P.M. Dawn informs us, and if there are seven words that explain the presidency of Donald Trump, those are them.

I was expecting a rap album and I got one, but not the one I expected. This is a rap, rock, dance, and R&B album WITH SYNTHESIZERS, as you can hear on the album’s No. 1 hit, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” a song that samples “True” by…Spandau Ballet! And you were wondering how I was going to tie all this together.

Princess Internet tells me that P.M. Dawn was two brothers from New Jersey. The Utopian Experience contains plenty of teenage philosophizing (our heroes were about 20 in 1991), and song titles such as “To Serenade a Rainbow” belong in the My Little Pony musical, but guess what you won’t find here: gangsters, pimps, whores, guns, body counts, or any song that proceeds from the theory that women are subhuman breeding stock.

There’s scratching, but only on one track. They name-check themselves three times, ask Prince what he’s up to, and quote The Beatles twice. The rhyme scheme follows the standard rap aabb, but they can work cleverly within this restriction: “The breeze, the wind…/It fluctuates my adrenaline.”

Prince could do just about anything, but he couldn’t rap. He would’ve been proud to have recorded The Utopian Experience. He would’ve kicked the guitars up a notch, too.

Next yard sale: Classic rock!