Posts Tagged ‘Soundgarden’

This is Part III of our investigation of Las Vegas and what the Rat Pack can do with rock ’n’ roll. Tonight the Spotlight Team revisits a record I reviewed in 2013.

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Rock Swings released in 2005

Here’s what I said:

I respect Paul Anka for his creativity; he wrote for Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, and how many people can say that? But Anka is also responsible for three crimes against humanity: “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Puppy Love,” and the ultimate in offensiveness at the molecular level, “(You’re) Having My Baby.”

I stand by this statement, but after five years of thinking it over (I had nothing else to do), I must make two emendations:

1) The more I learn about Paul Anka, the more impressed I become. He’s recorded 45 albums, which puts him ahead of The Rolling Stones, Santana, The Muppets, and even Mannheim Steamroller. He’s been a success since I was a baby, and I was a baby when Athens fought Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, and also based on things my parents have said I believe I wasn’t a success being a baby.

2) I wrote that Rock Swings “just slips in as a Buy.” As we say in the porn biz, “This is so wrong.” I’ve learned to appreciate this record. I’ve learned to love this record. This is a fun record! It’s not only the best overall example of all this lounging around in the rock arena; if I had to make a list of the 50 best albums of the ’00s, Rock Swings would be 49th or 50th. (Full disclosure: I only know about 50 albums from the ’00s.)

I don’t know if Anka modeled any part of his career on Sinatra, but I’m convinced that if Sinatra had ever decided to play the same game as Pat Boone and Richard Cheese, the result would’ve been very close to Rock Swings.

And yet Rock Swings, as superb as it is, does not provide the ultimate thrill of this weird, lonely rock-as-lounge genre. Nor does it answer this question: Can you enjoy these covers if you’ve never heard the originals? Because up until this point, I knew almost all the originals.

In Part IV, we unveil the man and the mystery song that punctured the blood-brain barrier and inspired my co-workers to insist I wear headphones.

Soundgarden trivia

Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” was covered by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, Paul Anka, and, of course, Richard Cheese, making it the single most popular tune among Vegas-style crooners. I can see why Pat Boone passed on it – he was doing metal covers, and in 1997, Soundgarden wasn’t metal, it was grunge. That distinction is meaningless today. But the song is about as speedy as a 15-year-old retired corgi. It was perfect for Pat.

 

Call me Scooter

Writing is dark and lonely work, and no one has to do it. No one will even care much if it doesn’t get done at all, so that choosing to do it and to try to do it well is enough of an existential errand, enough of a first step, and for whatever my money and counsel’s worth, enough of a last step, too. (Richard Ford)

No one has to do it. And because no one has to do it, because no one is standing over you with a whip and a chair, it’s very easy not to do it. I’ve written more words in my favorite coffee shop in Portland and on the fifth floor of the Vancouver Community Library than I have at home. That’s because both places have plenty of plugs for my wheezy laptop (the coffee shop also has raspberry coffee cake) and I can’t connect to the Internet in either. Well, I might be able to connect if I knew their wireless passwords, but I’ve never asked, and even if I knew them, my laptop would probably refuse to cooperate. It’s a real pal that way.

Today, after an interview for an editing job, some miscellaneous job-search stuff, and a walk in the fleeting sunshine, I got down to the business of fiction. But because I was working at home, I was immediately distracted by my email. I dealt with a couple of recruiters, answered messages I didn’t have to answer, and shut it down.

Then a question arose in what I was writing, and instead of scribbling it in my notebook to look up later, as I would if I were between bites of raspberry coffee cake, I succumbed to the Great God Google. Of course, I spent more time online than I needed.

I finally got in my hour and a half, but I would’ve been more efficient if I could learn to keep our instant-gratification culture at arm’s length. I probably could’ve hit two hours. If you blow 30 minutes online, you don’t get those 30 minutes back somewhere else.

Elizabeth Benedict said it best: “Write like a maniac. No one else will do it for you.”

Tomorrow’s challenge: How to end Chapter 5!

Random Pick of the Day
Paul Anka, Rock Swings (2005)
I respect Paul Anka for his creativity; he wrote for Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, and how many people can say that? But Anka is also responsible for three crimes against humanity: “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Puppy Love,” and the ultimate in offensiveness at the molecular level, “(You’re) Having My Baby.”
Havin’ my baby
What a lovely way of sayin’ what you’re thinkin’ of me
Havin’ my ba– [sound of Hulk smashing puny human]

But admit it, Run-DMSteve, the man can sing. Rock Swings, an album of covers of mainstream and alternative hits from the 1980s and ’90s, stomps Pat Boone’s I’m In a Metal Mood (1997) into the dirt. Boone doesn’t take his metal originals seriously, plus he wouldn’t know how to deliver a song if he worked for FedEx.

Rock Swings is not Richard Cheese and his deliberately cornball covers (Aperitif for Destruction, 2005). Anka rearranges his choice of songs to find their essence, then delivers them as if they were the American songbook. Not every song works, but frankly I was stunned by his interpretations of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Throw in Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and you’ve got a disc that just slips in as a Buy.

Grunge Lite
Sara DeBell
1993
I was living in Seattle when our fair city unleashed a pair of unstoppable cultural forces: coffee and grunge. Everyone knows what coffee is: overpriced. What is grunge?

Figure 1. Let’s go grunge-spotting!
Here are some general characteristics to help you seek and spot grunge anywhere in the world:

  • Men who can’t sing.
  • Big fuzzy guitars – a moderately pleasing sound that conveniently camouflages a lack of technical skill.
  • Overflowing testosterone. Particularly ironic in that the best album from the grunge era is easily Hole’s Live Through This. Only Courtney Love’s husband came close when his band released Nevermind.
  • Bad male fashion – plaid shirts worn unbuttoned or tied at the waist, or two nondescript shirts worn one on top of the other. A man at my gym left one of his nondescript shirts on a hook in the locker room for two months before he realized it was his shirt and not an irregular pattern on the wall.

Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam played Matt Dillon’s band, Citizen Dick, in the movie Singles (1992). This movie might not have been the high point for grunge, but it was certainly the high point for Pearl Jam.

Targets don’t get much fatter than this
Sara DeBell’s Grunge Lite, which appeared while grunge was still happening, was billed as a “whole buttload of easy-listening favorites,” recorded entirely in her dining room. She took 11 grunge masterworks and muzaked them, including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow,” Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” and Soundgarden’s “Hunger Strike.” (DeBell was particularly taken, or appalled, by Soundgarden, who appear three times in her carnival of carnage.) I only wish she had taken down my faves, Screaming Trees (“Nearly Lost You”). They could’ve used the publicity.

Grunge had it coming, but this is the kind of album you’ll play only when your house is full of people and they are full of your beer. Sure, the muzak versions of  these songs are clever…if you like muzak. Few people will be able to sit through the entire thing without losing intestinal containment. OK, I’ve done it. In the mid-’90s, though, when I played DeBell’s version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at parties at our house, everyone over 40 would gather adoringly around the stereo. I probably couldn’t get that reaction today, now that the real “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a standard in the Classic Rock repertoire and everyone I know is at least 100.

After releasing Grunge Lite, DeBell became the copy editor at The Stranger, one of Seattle’s weekly alternative papers. At that time I was finishing my sojourn as the copy editor at Seattle Weekly. If this was her idea of how to gain respectability, I could’ve told her it wasn’t going to work.

I don’t know where Sara DeBell is today, musically, but the one time I spoke with her, in 1996, she was really into The Everly Brothers!