Archive for the ‘music’ Category

The Beat

The bottom line:
I’m stretching the forgotten-bands rules even further this evening. I originally wanted to nominate only those bands with track records – that is, more than one good album. But not tonight’s guests. Though they produced just one superlative album and one underwhelming reprise (and some forgettable tracks with a different lineup of musicians), they are the only forgotten band I can’t forget because I went to one of their concerts.

Until 1978, when I saw them, my most transformative cultural experiences were seeing Herman’s Hermits (The Who opened), The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Harlan Ellison, and Kurt Vonnegut (Donald Barthelme opened). I thought this LA power pop quartet was playing in the same league as Springsteen et. al. and obviously destined to change the world.

There’s no way to prove that they didn’t, unless you can compare notes with your twins from Earths 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Vital personnel:
Paul Collins, singer, songwriter, guitarist. Collins came from a band called The Nerves. His Nerves bandmate Peter Case formed The Plimsouls, who had a hit, “A Million Miles Away,” on the Valley Girl soundtrack, which has an odd connection with the next band in this series.

Their story:
Their story is about the same as that of every other grouping of cisgender Caucasian males who formed a band so they could drink, catch and release girls, and avoid gainful employment. They just happened to be better at it (better at the music part, I don’t know how they fared with these other factors) than 85% of the other cisgender Caucasian males who tried the same thing.

Their story is completely uninteresting, except for a comment from a Mr. Jerry Kaufman of Seattle, Washington, who notes that The Beat were, for a brief time in 1979, enough of a force to make a band in the U.K. change their name from The Beat to The English Beat when they toured in North America. In 1982, when The Beat from the USA belatedly returned for their follow-up, The Kids Are the Same (turns out they weren’t), they had fallen so far behind The English Beat that to stake out new territory they called themselves Paul Collins Beat. That didn’t help.

I can think of only one other artist who had a three-year gap between her first and second albums – Cyndi Lauper: She’s So Unusual (1983) and True Colors (1986).

My story:
Once upon a time in 1978 (all I recall about the season was, it was dark), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I went to a show at a boxy space that may have been called the Box or the Space or the Square Brick Thing. It was near the Central stop on the Red Line, if anyone from that era or any time-travelers among my subscribers can enlighten me. The opening band was a local favorite, The Real Kids.

The Beat came on late, about the time I collapse in bed these days, and they were raw, vulnerable, biting, aggressive, love-sick, and swaggering. They had a dual mission: Force everyone onto the dance floor and say kaddish for all the rock ’n’ roll that had come before them. They lit each song off the last one like a chainsmoker.

As far as I can remember the set list, you can find it all on the one album to own, The Beat. “Different Kind of Girl” and “Rock N Roll Girl” got some play on the nascent alt-rock stations of the day, but not enough to propel either song anywhere near any list kept by Billboard.

The Real Kids were also good, though they complained a lot about the sound. They startled me because they looked to be my age. Until then, guys in the bands I saw were older than me. They played a song called “Just Like Darts,” which in Boston is pronounced “Just Like Dahts.”

Jonathan Richmond of Jonathan Richmond & The Modern Lovers was on the floor with the rest of us. (One of the Kids had played in his band.) Richmond is a New England legend, author of that immortal ode to Boston and teenage drivers, “Road Runner,” which you may know from the Greg Kihn cover. I always thought Richmond was insane (have you ever listened to “Road Runner”?), but in 1978 he had the charisma of Bill Clinton or George Clooney, or Bill Clinton and George Clooney. That night, he was lost in the music. He was also lost in the embrace of my best friend’s girlfriend. That’s how good this show was.

At the end of the show, I walked out of the Square Brick Thing with my ears ringing and the cold air hitting my flushed skin and feeling as if I’d been to the moon and back. I’d like to report that my girlfriend and I had sex in a car in the parking lot (someone else’s car), but while this plan was considered it was also rejected.

Final word:
The Beat were the U.S. version of their Irish contemporaries The Undertones, but nowhere near as funny and with far less success. It’s a compliment to be mentioned in the same sentence as The Undertones. Not bad for a forgotten band.

Ashford and Simpson discography

The bottom line:
I’m stretching the rules of the forgotten bands game with this choice, because songwriters Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are remembered – but only by writers and music nerds.

Songwriters don’t become famous unless they become famous performers. Just ask Bernie Taupin, the lyricist behind Elton John. Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, and Carole King (but not her former husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin) began as writers but broke as performers.

Their story:
Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson met in a gospel choir and were songwriting partners and performers for 50 years until Ashford’s death in 2011.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Ashford and Simpson wrote all three.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” were two signature tunes for Ray Charles. He can thank Ashford and Simpson.

Ten of the 11 songs on Diana Ross, the first Diana Ross solo record, were written by Ashford and Simpson.

“I’m Every Woman,” Chaka Kahn’s first hit after she left Rufus? Let me see, I knew it a second ago…oh yes, Ashford and Simpson.

“Stairway to Heaven”? No, they didn’t write that one, but if you’ve been following the legal battle over “Stairway” it could be that Led Zeppelin didn’t write it either.

Ashford and Simpson recorded a long line of their own albums. I’ve listened to them all, though after awhile I only gave each record three tracks before moving on. Their work is good-natured, and our heroes sing like angels (Simpson’s range is astronomical, and Ashford knows that a good husband always backs up his wife), but the music is mostly waterlogged disco.

All these albums with the couple’s happy photos on the covers – is there a meaning here? Yes there is, and I didn’t have to work too hard to find it.

The music of Ashford and Simpson, the music they wrote for themselves, stands for partnership, commitment, and, as another writer who made his name as a performer, Lionel Ritchie, once wrote for Diana, everlasting love.

Moment of glory:
Writing for Gaye, Charles, Ross, and Kahn should be glorious enough, but I’ll pick sharing their 1996 release, Been Found, with poet Maya Angelou.

The one album to own:
Diana Ross. (The first one, with “Remember Me” and her cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Her record company named three albums Diana Ross.) Want an Ashford and Simpson just for Ashford and Simpson? I’d advise against it, but you might try their last record, The Real Thing (2009), which was recorded live in a small club.

Tomorrow, forgotten bands continues with a band that intersected with my personal universe.

Last train to Torksville

Posted: February 21, 2019 in music
Tags: , , ,

I’m back from my away mission. It wasn’t the away mission I would prefer to go away for. Some guys go to New York, London, Paris, Munich. I go to Fall River, San Jose, and Merced. Merced. Fall River without the glitter.

If I owe you an email, I’ll reply after I finish this post.

If I owe you a letter, I’ll write one at the next monthly meeting of the typewriter club. Yes there is a typewriter club, and yes I go to their meetings. So long as those folks own typewriters, I don’t have to.

If I owe you a sext – no I don’t, I sent it from the airport!

Our series on forgotten bands continues tomorrow. See, I didn’t forget. But I am going to condense the nonsense, because I have other stuff to do and I’ve been having second thoughts about resurrecting some of these people.

RIP Peter Tork.

But the porpoise is waiting
Good-bye, good-bye
Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye
Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye
Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye

Surprise: “The Porpoise Song,” the psychedelic valentine from Head, a song that was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, is a favorite of headbangers. Middle-aged doom-dwellers Trouble perform one of the better covers. Give it a chance – there’s some awesome shredding at the 2:45 mark. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, Peter.

Shake Some Action

Bottom line:
Five boys from San Francisco who formed a hard-rock outfit in 1965, made three records (Supersnazz, Teenage Head, and Flamingo) that nobody listened to, then switched in 1976 to power pop and made twice as many records that nobody listened to.

Flamin’ is sometimes spelled without the apostrophe.

If you combine MC5, Steppenwolf, and The Stooges as played by The Rolling Stones and force Creedence and Grand Funk Railroad to get married, you’re somewhere near the original incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies.

If you combine Cheap Trick, The Knack, The Romantics and many forgotten groupings of young white guys in skinny black ties (including Seattle favorites The Allies and The Rangehoods), then add some Byrds-style guitar, you’re talking about new-formula Groovies.

No hits. Never came close.

Vital personnel:
Roy Loney, singer, songwriter, guitarist until 1971, when he began his solo career, recording rockabilly records and working in a record store; Cyril Jordan, songwriter and guitarist forever.

Moment of glory:
Cyril Jordan: Releasing Fantastic Plastic, a well-above-average album of mostly new material in 2013, almost 50 years after the Groovies first got together, including a dynamite cover of The Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”

Roy Loney: Everywhere this man plays, the local music critics rave about him.

About that name:
It’s the perfect name for a band that formed in 1965! Not to be confused with The Flaming Lips or The Groovie Ghoulies.

Their story:
Some guys have a string of ponies. The Flamin’ Groovies had a string of undercapitalized record labels. These are the kinds of places that can’t get their records into the hands of djs, that can’t get cash into the hands of djs, that will rush the band outside on a cloudy day and snap a photo in the parking lot to get something to the printer before the deadline for the album cover.

(The latter is my interpretation of what happened to the cover of Shake Some Action. If there really was a professional photographer involved with this crud, he should’ve been rewound and overexposed.)

The one album to own:
Flamingo, from the dawn of the 1970s. Some of this stuff is forgettable, but some of it rocks hard enough to shake the marmots off Mt. Rainier. (For example, “Road House,” which was a headbanger before we had headbangers.)

The essential track that’s not on this disc is “Shake Some Action,” a power pop anthem and the only Flamin’ Groovies song that ever got any airplay, though only on college radio. R.E.M. used college radio as a launching pad, but for most acts, college radio is not a transit station, it’s the junkyard.

I like junk, and I like The Flamin’ Groovies.

(Editor’s note: Our totally unbiased look at forgotten bands will continue in a week after Run-DMSteve returns from his tour of the fabled cities of the East, including Fall River, the Gateway to Taunton.)

The Byrds Gene Clark far right

Bottom line:
Our series on forgotten bands continues with folk- and country-rock pioneer Gene Clark, who wrote the best original songs on The Byrds’ first two albums, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! Exhibit A: “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” (On Fifth Dimension, he co-wrote “Eight Miles High.”) Clark went into country-rock full-time after leaving The Byrds in 1966, with excursions into roots rock, acoustic folk, romantic duets, and dense, prog-adjacent music.

The mystery to me is why this man didn’t ascend into Crosby, Stills & Nash with his Byrds buddy David Crosby or even in place of Crosby. Clark sang beautifully, though not as beautifully as Crosby, who may have been a UFO alien. Clark was a weak guitar player in his early years, and he would have had a problem keeping up with Stephen Stills and that other fella they hired, Neil somebody. But Crosby wasn’t exactly Jimi Hendrix or even Ron Elliott from The Beau Brummels. Clark was by far the more talented composer, plus he could take or leave hippies; Crosby couldn’t get enough of them.

Moment of glory:
Being a Byrd. That should be enough for most people. That’s him on the far right of one of the most famous album covers of the 1960s.

His story:
I’m going to keep this short because Clark, while prolific on his own, never got anywhere commercially, and I suspect that embittered him and led to his death at 47 from drinking. He reminds me of another unlucky natural, his contemporary Gram Parsons, who died under that Joshua tree so that U2 might live.

Speaking as someone who is talented but not talented enough, Clark’s story makes me uneasy. Good thing I keep my drinking (Manischewitz) under control (as in, only at Dad’s house*).

* Run-DMIrving once poured two colors of Manischewitz into one bottle because he was tired of two half-full bottles of the stuff taking up so much room in the fridge three months after he bought them for Passover.

The one album to own:
You already own them: Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! His solo work is interesting one track, not so interesting the next, but if you prefer country, try Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (“So You Say You Lost Your Baby”). If you prefer artsy rock, No Other (the title track). Something more Byrds-like? FireByrd (his joyful cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”). Frankly, you could sample the first three tracks on any Gene Clark album and probably hit something you like.

He was a complicated man. I wonder if anyone understood him.

That’s it for the sad forgotten bands. From here on it’s the upbeat, dynamic, eccentric, under-the-radar, gotta-dance, women-are-doing-it-for-themselves (and, in one case, deservedly forgotten) forgotten bands.