Posts Tagged ‘The Dream Syndicate’

Mathematicians, please do not come after me for my misuse of infinity.

This is it! Big finish! Let’s go…500!

Galaxie 500
A band from the end of the 1980s that I like a lot, though to my ears they’re just variations on The Dream Syndicate and The Velvet Underground. But I like those variations. Sometimes derivative can make you happy.

Galaxie 500, which was named for my Dad’s old car, was two men and one woman who met at Harvard and discovered they were all shoe-gazing, self-involved emos. Their dreamlike musicianship, sweet dispositions, and melancholy outlook suit me perfectly. On their 1988 debut, Today, in “Oblivious,” they sang, “I’d rather stay in bed with you/Till it’s time to get a drink.” Robert Cristgau in his review wrote, “What kind of decadent is that?”

I should mention that singing is not their strong suit. Their vocals either fail to stick or get in the way, as in their cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.”

On Today, they covered Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste,” a title that sums them up. At a show I went to in Boston in 1979, Jonathan Richman stole my date right in the middle of the dance floor, so you see, I have a deep connection with this scene.

Area Code 615
This is the Nashville area code, and the nine gentlemen in this group were all Nashville studio musicians. Some of them had played on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and decided to stick together. Their fellowship of the ring led to Area Code 615 and two albums, their 1969 self-titled debut and 1970’s A Trip in the Country.

These songs are instrumentals mixing country, funk, soul, and rock. The first album is mostly covers, including several of The Beatles. “Hey Jude” is pretty funny with a banjo and a harmonica, but I’m not sure they were trying to make me laugh. (When the original “Hey Jude” was released, my Grandma Rose, who was in her 70s and who grew up in Austria speaking Yiddish, was upset because she thought The Beatles were singing “Hey Jew.”)

“Lady Madonna” builds to a country hoedown. The harmonica replaces Otis Redding on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” It’s not great but it has its own quiet strength. Their cover of “Classical Gas” sticks like glue to Mason Williams’ original, but that country cracker-barrel flavor gives it some novelty appeal. I rate this disc a Listen but not a Buy.

The second album is all orginal material with touches of jazz, particularly on “Devil Weed and Me.” Their best-known (the one with the most hits on YouTube) and probably best track is “Stone Fox Chase.” Their best title is “Welephant Walk.” Their best effort was the first album.

My guess is that, like The Byrds’ (Untitled) from the same era, you have to be a musician to really appreciate these discs. Session musicians, like back-up singers, rarely get the credit they deserve, and I hope these boys enjoyed their hour upon the stage because they sure could play.

Though I sometimes use this blog to make negative remarks about country music, I am compelled to admit that Nashville Skyline is a phenomenal record.

1000 Homo DJs
Al Jourgensen of Ministry created this band in the ’90s. There is absolutely no reason to buy a 1000 Homo DJs CD, but you should definitely download their cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut,” which not only rocks the house, it rezones the neighborhood. You can find it on the 1994 Black Sab tribute CD, Nativity in Black. (While you’re over there, check out what Megadeath did to “Paranoid.”) This cover of “Supernaut” does very little that the original didn’t do, but it has somehow been recorded 1000 times harder.

Trent Reznor sang the vocals on the first draft of “Supernaut,” but after his record company whined about it, Jourgensen had to redub them. This makes Reznor the only person to appear more than once on this list: For his own band, Nine Inch Nails, for his advocacy of 12 Rounds, and for this thing.

Musical history note: One of Jourgensen’s bandmates in this venture dubbed himself Wee Willie Reefer.

1910 Fruitgum Company
The late ’60s “bubblegum” phenomenon would make an interesting study, but I am not about to study it. I lived through it and that’s enough. In fact I didn’t even play any of these songs because they are still echoing in my brain.

1910 etc. was the first group explicitly put together to produce this lighter-than-air musical alternative to the harder rock of the time. They released three albums in 1968, and the title song of each hit the Top 40: “Simon Says,” “1, 2, 3 Red Light,” and “Goody Goody Gumdrops.” Just typing these titles raises my blood sugar to unsustainable levels.

I looked it up and the biggest bubblegum hit of all was The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969. In fact, “Sugar, Sugar” was the #1 single for 1969 – not something from Abbey Road, Yellow Submarine, I Got Dem Old Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, The Band, Let It Bleed, Tommy, Santana, Stand!, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, or even My Way.

Sometime in the early ’80s, Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith’s guitarist, came to Seattle with his own band. I don’t know what he thought of the people in that little club who kept calling out the names of Patti Smith songs, but for their encore they played “Sugar, Sugar.” Was he trying to punish us, was he being ironic, or did he just really like that song?

10,000 Maniacs
Oh boy, more folk-rock, and just in time because I was afraid we’d run out. 10,000 Maniacs were supposedly named for an ancient horror movie called Two Thousand Maniacs. Maniacs? Well, I suppose if you locked lead singer Natalie Merchant in a room with 101 Strings she’d ask for an ax or a sword fairly soon. 10,000 Maniacs’ more famous songs include “Hey Jack Kerouac” (In My Tribe, 1987), “What’s the Matter Here?” (ditto), and “These Are Days” (Our Time in Eden, 1992). I like that last one – it has a joyous power to which only the walking dead would fail to respond.

Though there were only 9,999 maniacs after Merchant left to start a solo career in the 1990s, and though this band can be glaringly obvious when they’re trying to make a point, they are still a favorite on the folk-rock circuit. I also believe they were one of the first bands to unplug on MTV. That was probably a great fit for them.

Do as Infinity
This projects ends at last, not with a bang but with Japanese bubblegum. Welcome to the face of J-pop in the new century. They’ve got their cross-hairs on an obscure, undeserved group: teenage girls who love clothes.

Somehow this formula works. Do as Infinity has racked up 14 straight Top 10 singles in the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese combined market with what to me sounds like music you would’ve heard if you were living in the USA in the 1980s. The only thing that kept me from losing consciousness while I listened is that they seem to have memorized every note that Smashing Pumpkins ever played. I kept hearing the occasional gust of guitar that could’ve come from Siamese Dream or Gish.

If you’re one of my typical readers, stay away from Do as Infinity. If you’re a teenage girl who loves clothes – what the heck are you doing here? Stick with Ke$ha.

Tomorrow night: Kudos to my faithful readers and a few thoughts on what I learned this past week.

In our last, very exciting episode, I watched The Doors, listened to The Doors, and was floored. I then set out on a quest to find the Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. I restricted the contestants to albums named for the band (as in The Doors by The Doors). This squeezed out some worthy discs. Here are my favorites.

The Beatles, Please Please Me (1963)
There are two amazing things about this record. One, The Beatles recorded Please Please Me in, like, a day, even though Paul was dead, John was a walrus, and Yoko had already broken them up. Two, rock ’n’ roll went from holding your hand to sleeping in your soul kitchen in about three years. Shake it up baby now.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (1967)
I have two connections with Jimi Hendrix. According to Wikipedia, “Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets.” In 1981, I played in Seattle’s Jewish softball league for Congregation Beth Shalom. Playing Temple De Hirsch was like playing the New York Yankees. They had the money and the manpower – their congregation was five times the size of ours. One of their rabbis searched their roster until he found half a dozen men who had played minor-league ball and then persuaded them to join the temple’s team. You could not hit anything past that infield. And all of those guys had visited that basement.

My other connection comes from the 1997 marriage of my friends Liz and Mitch. While speaking to the bandleader between sets, he confided in me that he had known Hendrix as a kid and had taught him “everything he knew.” I wanted to ask him why the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew was playing weddings 30 years later, but then the bride and groom handed out bubble blowers and I got distracted. Anyway, I shook the hand of the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew.

If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, he’d be cutting discs with Wynton Marsalis, Danny Elfman, and Yo-Yo Ma, but not, I hope, with Coldplay.

Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True (1977)
This jet-propelled collection of songs gives you absolutely no clue to the musical continents Costello would explore over his career. Even so, he’d still be remembered today even if he had just recorded this disc and his follow-up, This Year’s Model.

The Cure, Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
The normally dour Robert Smith must’ve been on antidepressants when he made this zippy little record. The cover of “Foxey Lady,” once it finally gets going, is hilarious.

Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (1979)
When I was 24 I wanted to be an android and I’m sure you did too. Numan isn’t as frightening as he used to be – he’s on The Muppets’ soundtrack. (If you’re curious, The Muppets is Prairie Home Companion with better jokes.)

Echo & The Bunnymen, Crocodiles (1980)
Crocodiles is haunting and dreamlike, which makes it the closest thing on this list to The Doors, emotionally. Echo and all those bunnies don’t rock as hard as The Doors, but they do pretty well with “Read It in Books” and “All That Jazz.” Their lyrics are fun to sing but mean just about nothing. The first few notes of “Rescue” somehow tell the story of my life.

The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)
In the 1960s, the Philadelphia Phillies had a double-play combination of Bobby Wine and Cookie Rojas. No headline writer of that era could resist the headline “Days of Wine and Rojas.”

The Dream Syndicate was a major influence on what is today called “alternative.” Don’t ask me to tell you what “alternative” means. But I can tell you that this is a terrific rock record, especially the title track. Steve Wynne sounds just like Lou Reed, who initially tried to sound just like Bob Dylan. No one wants to meet the guy Dylan has been imitating.

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
One of the best records of the ’80s, with a title that will always describe my first dog, Emma. Trent Reznor, who recorded almost everything on this album by himself and then formed a band, is not a happy man:

Hey God
Why are you doing this to me?
Am I not living up to what I’m supposed to be?
Why am I seething with this animosity?
Hey God
I think you owe me a great big apology.
(“Terrible Lie”)

If you’re feeling euphoric and you want to tone that down a little, Pretty Hate Machine is the album for you.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
Ms. Phair can’t sing, and when she tries she’s consistently flat, maybe because her mouth is shaped funny. But she has an interesting voice, and she writes piercing songs in the manner of Chrissie Hynde, though she’s more vulnerable:

And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
(“Divorce Song”)

Liz Phair emerged from the lo-fi indie world. (“Lo-fi” and “indie” are code for “We are so not Steely Dan.”) Exile in Guyville reflects her origins – it sounds as if it had been put together in her living room. It’s one of the landmarks of the ’90s, even though it doesn’t include her big hit, “Supernova,” which is about me. Many of these songs throw structural tricks at you, such as “Johnny Sunshine” – the first minute of that song is the best minute on the album. Like The Doors, Phair has never hit this personal standard again.

Beck, Mellow Gold (1994)
Jim Morrison may have acted like he was a shaman, but Beck actually is. The ubiquitous “Loser” leads off this monster, but it’s nowhere near the best song – just listen to “Beercan.”

Veruca Salt, American Thighs (1994)
You read it here first: Veruca Salt and Soundgarden are actually the same band. Chris Cornell was the voice of Soundgarden; Louise Post and Nina Gordon were the voices of Veruca Salt. You could swap them and the music would be almost the same. I’d love to hear Louis and Nina sing “Fell on Black Days,” with Chris singing “Seether.” Soundgarden released Superunknown, their fourth album, in the same year, which just proves that these are people who get a lot done in a day.

Postscript: No way am I choosing two obvious debuts, R.E.M.’s Murmur (1983) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (1990). These bands are way overrated, plus look how boring the album titles are. And now Eddie Vedder is giving ukulele concerts! The B-52s warned us about what could happen if parties got out of hand. R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are Exhibits A and B. Puny humans.