Posts Tagged ‘The Smiths’

Here’s one of my many life goals: To be all ready to go on New Year’s Eve. Not just dressed to go out – I always aim to have my desk cleared, my body humming along like Ken Griffey Jr. rather than Boog Powell, and my big projects for the year lined up and waiting for me to dive in.

Some years I’m ready, or at least I’m close. Not this year. I gave up yesterday and finally started 2014. Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for reading this blog, even though I’m pretty sure I insulted you last year and I’ll insult you this year. I wish you all health and prosperity and plenty of good music in the next 12 months. Which brings me to my last musical topic of 2013, the band we saw on New Year’s Eve.

But first: When did New Year’s Eve become a public party? When did people start gathering in clubs, taverns, and dance halls to listen to loud music and drink like it’s St. Patrick’s Day?

F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations in his books, but I can’t recall reading anything like that in earlier authors – for example, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, William Dean Howells, Ambrose Bierce, or Stephen Crane. If H.P. Lovecraft liked to party, he kept it out of the papers.

Here’s another question: What makes a good New Year’s Eve band?

While Special D and I have extensively researched this topic, I’m not about to speak for her. Here instead are three of my ideas:

1)      Please practice, and not just the stuff you play the rest of the year. Learn “Auld Lang Syne.” Federal law requires you to play it at midnight so it would be a good idea to memorize a couple of verses, or at least write them down in big block letters.
2)      You must have a sense of humor; not everything is about you. Your audience will begin to evaporate at one minute after midnight. Maybe they want to finish the evening in their bathrobes eating ice cream; maybe they want to copulate at home rather than against one of your speakers. It’s not a comment on your musical talent.
3)      Original material is good, but on New Year’s Eve we mostly want to hear pop songs we already know. Don’t fret if you massacre one or two originals. That’s part of the fun. If you wreck them all you’ll antagonize an army of idiot bloggers.

Not a whiter shade of pale
When we suited up on New Year’s Eve, Special D added her boa to the fancy black number she wore. White Fang was pleased to be let out of the Nordstrom bag where he usually lives. He practically growled with antici…pation. We then headed uptown to a hall called The Secret Society where they had two bands and two djs waiting for us. The band I want to mention is called Brownish Black.

Where most bands might offer one unusual characteristic, say double the horn players or double the guitarists, Brownish Black’s lineup included three horns and two singers. That’s plenty of firepower right there, but they also fielded a bass player who played barefoot. His flashing white feet were particularly striking when he started marching in place. Rounding out the personnel was a drummer who looked like Justin Timberlake and a guitarist who looked like he’d left Pearl Jam due to artistic differences.

I was very impressed that this visually striking outfit met my first two requirements but totally trampled the third. Brownish Black plays R&B, soul, and funk that they wrote themselves. I believe I heard one cover, maybe two, in two hours of music. (They were probably able to get away with this because they only played until 11, when the second band took over.)

We loved their music, which I can only describe in terms of artists from the ’60s and ’70s:

If everyone in Big Brother & The Holding Company were black, and
if the leads were sung by Aretha Franklin and Peter Wolf, and
if you could borrow Rare Earth’s or James Brown’s horns, and
if everything were written by Sly Stone and Otis Redding,
you’d end up with Brownish Black. Plus the female singer loved White Fang.

I did hear one outstanding cover, but that was from the second band, Satin Chaps. For their opening blast they gave us a funky version of Deodato’s 1972 cross-over hit, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).” They couldn’t quite translate Deodato’s jazz-fusion into dance music, but I have to give them a shout-out for trying.

Best conversation of the evening
This happened in the men’s room, of all places. Ladies, we don’t have substantive conversations in there. There was one urinal and there were several of us waiting for one inebriated gentleman to finish. When he turned and saw the line, he said, “Oh, sorry fellas, I was reciting poetry.”

MAN IN LINE: What poem?
POETRY LOVER: The one where the guy’s wandering in the fucking woods.
2ND MAN: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”?
3RD MAN: Robert Frost.
POETRY LOVER: I love this club.

Robert Frost, by the way, was once arrested for dancing nude in a fountain on New Year’s Eve.

Random Pick of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
Twenty-eight songs by one of the most excellent bands of the 1980s.

I was looking for a job and I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

Morrissey says the right thing, always.

Random Pan of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
They could’ve done this on one disc! The filler they’ve included illuminates The Smiths’ biggest problem – how little their sound varies. Plus there’s no excuse for including “Oscillating Wildly,” the most boring instrumental in the history of boredom and instrumentals.

OK, it’s 2014. As The Smiths sang, “Please please please let me get what I want!”

Q: What happened to the end of 1986 Week?
A: It collided with the weekend. Party!

Q: Aren’t you too old to party?
A: You’re never too old to party. You might have to party at 12 frames per second instead of 24, but you’re never too old to party.

Q: Well, how would you rate 1986? What kind of year was it musically?
A: It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.

Q: Since you were writing about 1986, why didn’t you mention The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead? It’s supposed to be their best album.
A: I’ll end with them. Sort of. Like it’s any of your business anyway.

Q: Looking at your tag cloud, I see that the biggest name is Bruce Springsteen. You mention him a lot, but you don’t write about him very much.
A: You have to form a question in the form of a question. Don’t be a sports journalist.

Q: Right. Bruce – WTF?
A: Springsteen has been around so long and recorded so much that it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s a handy measuring stick. Dylan has been around even longer and has recorded even more, but he doesn’t have the same impact on our culture. Bruce has remained relevant, or at least topical. Bob has not. Plus I don’t like Dylan’s voice. But to answer your question, I don’t know what I could add to the existing mountain of Springsteen music journalism that would make a difference or sound original by even one gram. So I’ll go on referring to him and trying not to refer to Dylan. Or Donovan.

Q: How are you getting along in the novel-writing sector?
A: I’ve written 15,000 words.

Q: Is that a big number?
A: If I keep them, yes. If not, no.

Q: Would you say that writing a novel is an iffy proposition?
A: I’d say I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Q: What did you listen to today? Sweatin’ to the Oldies?
A: Today I listened to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011). The radio hit, “Midnight City,” sounds like vintage Depeche Mode. I’m still wading through the rest of this two-disc set. This French band is kinda arty, like Arcade Fire but without the beat. I might have to counter with Oingo Boingo. I might spend this week listening to M83, blink-182, Haircut 100, Matchbox Twenty, Heaven 17, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark Five, The Bobby Fuller Four, 3 Doors Down, and Fun Boy 3.

Q: Fun Boy 3?
A: I bet I’ll be able to dispense with some of these guys in a song or two!

Q: Where’s Deadmau5 on your list?
A: I just learned that the 5 should be pronounced as an s. I feel as ridiculous as the day someone busted me for pronouncing R.E.M. as “rem.” Which reminds me of something I read recently. What a way to begin a review: “I don’t ordinarily like to think about sex and R.E.M. at the same time…” I don’t even care what the rest of the sentence is! (Review of the film Fourplay in Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Q: Let’s get back to The Smiths. Are you hating on them?
A: As if. I like half a dozen of their songs very much, but they’re scattered across their four studio albums, so their 1986 disc, The Queen Is Dead, didn’t move me.

I have tons of respect for Johnny Marr, their guitarist, but not much for Morrissey, even if he’s still being treated like a god. If all bands can be explained by The Monkees, then Johnny Marr is Mike Nesmith and Morrissey is Davy Jones.

Nevermind all this Q&A BS. Here’s a real interview for you. In the April 9 Seattle Weekly, Duff McKagan, the original bass player in Guns N’ Roses, interviews Marr. (Marr has a new album, The Messenger. It has some surprisingly strong tracks for a guy whose heyday was in 1986.) The interview is not only fun, it produced this gem:

McKagan: You were sort of the anti-guitar hero. I’m just so fascinated by your guitar style. I try to picture you guys in 1979 or whatever. I don’t know what he was listening to to get that sound.

Marr: Joy Division were rehearsing in the room above my band. They were scary guys just to look at because they wore old man’s clothes. With haircuts like they just came from the second world war. And that was much scarier than looking at someone who looked like the New York Dolls, or one of the Rolling Stones.

A: Everyone have a good week. Sweat to the oldies all you want, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: I didn’t ask a question!
A: Deal.


Siouxsie & The Banshees

Siouxsie & The Banshees are proof of the power of networking. Susan Dallion was one of a group of early Sex Pistols fans who were inspired to go out and make music too. She changed her name to Siouxsie Sioux, which is impossible to type, and recruited the first Banshees in 1976.

Siouxsie’s drummer, John Ritchie, changed his name to Sid Vicious and joined the Pistols. Her first guitar player, Marco Perroni, kept his name but joined Adam & The Ants. She got a guitarist back from the Pistols, Steve Jones, but it didn’t take and he ended up recording with Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, and Iggy Pop. This is starting to read like a LinkedIn profile. When two other band members quit during a tour in 1979, Siouxsie recruited Robert Smith of The Cure and a drummer named Budgie to fill in. Budgie had already changed his name from Peter Edward Clarke. Still with me? Smith eventually went back to The Cure. Budgie eventually married Siouxsie. None of this ever happens at the monthly lunches of the Oregon Columbia chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.

I’ve written about Siouxsie & The Banshees in my round-up of female acts of the 1980s. I called them (and The Cure) “goth outfits.” That was doing them an injustice. They’re much more than stereotypical black-clad, pale-skinned, bloodless disciples of H.P. Lovecraft who long for death’s ashen caress. They also rock with considerable force…though not on this record.

Tinderbox is not only misnamed (I don’t hear much on it that’s flammable), it’s so smooth that I can’t always tell which song I’m in. The exceptions, however, are more like the Banshees I remember. “Cities in Dust,” an unblinking glimpse of the apocalypse, was the hit. It’s good – it takes The Pretenders’ “My City Was Gone” one step further and almost makes it danceable – but “Cannons” is the real sleeper. I also like “92 Degrees,” which starts slow but builds to a satisfactorily melancholy finish.

Tinderbox is a record for confirmed Banshees. As for the rest of us, keep networking, because a) you never know, and b) you never know.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day 1
Pretty in Pink soundtrack
When I posted this in 2013, I made Pretty in Pink a Pick. I’ve changed my mind. Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses” is the only superlative song, and it’s available everywhere. However, this album is notable for a rare appearance by the strangest name of the 1980s, Belouis Some. Some, who was Neville Keighley when he made his first appearance on earth, had two hits that were popular in ’80s dance clubs: “Some People” and “Imagination.” His contribution here, “Round, Round,” is not in that league. Overall, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack is still better than the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club (1985), but not within a light year of the soundtrack to Singles (1992).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day 2
The Church, Heyday
Midnight Oil without the grit. So otherworldly it can barely be detected through the Hubble Telescope. They had a hit in 1988 with “Under the Milky Way,” which was easily within Perry Como’s comfort range.


I finally watched The Doors, which I meant to see in 1991. (I’ve been busy.) Two hours of Jim Morrison self-destructing is not what I’d call a date movie. I did enjoy the Thanksgiving scene at the home of Morrison and his saintly but scatterbrained girlfriend, which ended with a burnt duck and a knife fight. I’m willing to add these features to next year’s feast if we could do it at someone else’s house.

Doors fun fact: Val Kilmer with long hair and a beard looks just like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.

The best Doors movie is still Apocalypse Now, but I was glad I saw Oliver Stone’s depressing film because it made me reconnect with his subject. For those of us who are lucky enough to have reached middle age, The Doors are like the authors we read in high school or college and haven’t touched since. Returning to their 1967 debut album for the first time in maybe 20 years, I was stunned. The Doors  rocks, mocks, and mesmerizes. “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” would be the big radio hit for most other acts. Here it’s just the opener. It’s followed by the funky weirdness of “Soul Kitchen.” And we still have “Light My Fire” and “Twentieth Century Fox” waiting in the middle of the record.

It’s hard to believe that four guys who had been working together for a year could have accomplished so much in so short a time. You could pick and choose from The Doors’ other records and create a standout listen. But even if it included songs such as “Touch Me” and “Love Me Two Times,” this new album still wouldn’t be as good as The Doors.

It’s not as if each member of The Doors was an instrumental wizard. They’re good (the drummer is adequate), but together they manage to be unique. And then there’s Jim Morrison. As a songwriter, he can be brilliant or lame, and he can do both in two consecutive lines, as in “LA Woman”:

Motels, money, murder, madness

With four simple nouns, Morrison pins LA like a butterfly.

Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness

Sadly, this is something I could’ve written in 6th grade.

But only Jim Morrison could lead us through the slow-motion asteroid belt that is “The End,” with its plaintive repetition of “the end,” which he finally rhymes with “I’ll never look into your eyes…again.” The song climaxes with enough murder and madness for anyone, along with some trenchant observations along the lines of “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Yeah fuck!” (Here in the U.S., this line is usually printed as “Kill! Kill! Kill! Yeah kill!”) I could only play The Doors when my parents weren’t home. This was the ultimate trip when I was 12 and I was delighted to discover that I’m still transported by it.

The Doors is the best debut ever recorded
Being me, I wondered which albums would fill out the Debut Top 10. So I made a list. And being me, there are 11 contestants in the Top 10.

The most important part of any project is making sure you can get it done before you die. To keep things manageable, I set these rules:

* 20th century only. I’m not confident picking rock albums after about 1995.

* No country, alt-country, neocountry, outlaw country, or in-law country. Metal is ridiculous. Reggae isn’t, but it doesn’t appeal. I made one exception for rap.

* Since The Doors is named for The Doors, each album must have the same name as the band. A few disqualified yet very worthy discs will appear in my next post.

* I don’t care if the album has the same name as the band, I won’t consider any band named after a U.S. city or state, or any members of the REO Styxjourneywagon military-industrial complex.

* The band has to be composed of newcomers. Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Crosby, Stills & Nash are out of bounds.

Here then are my picks for Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)

The Clash, The Clash (1977)

The B-52s, The B-52s (1979)

The Undertones, The Undertones (1979)

Pretenders, Pretenders (1980)

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C. (1984)

The Smiths, The Smiths (1984)

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1989)

Moby, Moby (1992)

Some thoughts on each:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
Maureen Howard, the drummer, has no sense of rhythm, and Lou Reed sings like Bob Dylan. If you call that singing. They make The Doors sound like the Vienna Philharmonic. But this garbage scow of a record has left miles of ripples behind it. The Doors had the talent, but the Velvets incited people to make their own music. I don’t know what Nico actually contributed here, and I hate her voice, so I’m pretending that “and Nico” isn’t in the title.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival
This one is a tour of American roots music. In that respect it resembles The Beatles’ debut, Please Please Me, which is about half covers of American R&B artists. Creedence Clearwater Revival has their lengthy cover of “Suzie Q,” which fills the A and B sides of one 45. “Porterville,” one of their originals, showed us where CCR was going.

The Clash, The Clash
The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned all released their first records in 1977, but Johnny Rotten gets on my nerves and The Damned, while riotous, were less technically accomplished than The Velvet Underground. The Clash was a revolution and is one of the most serious competitors to The Doors. “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” and most of the rest of this lineup hit you like a flight of airborne watermelons.

The B-52s, The B-52s
Wall-to-wall party, featuring “Planet Claire,” “Dance This Mess Around,” and the greatest song of all time, “Rock Lobster.” I wish I could go back in time and swap some babies. My Hanukkah wish is to hear Fred Schneider handle the vocals on “The End” and Jim Morrison tackle “Rock Lobster.” If you imagine the albums on this list existing on a spectrum that runs from serious to frivolous, Tracy Chapman and The B-52s would be the farthest apart.

The Undertones, The Undertones
Take The Clash’s ferocity about politics and focus it on teenagers and their pitiful troubles and you have The Undertones. Cons: This record is a monoculture. The only variation between songs is in the speed with which they’re played. Pros: The 14 songs on this disc are barely half an hour long. The uniformity of sound doesn’t have time to wear out its welcome. “Teenage Kicks” still gets the airplay, but wait’ll you hear “Jimmy Jimmy.” Bonus: As good as this record is, their second album, Hypnotised (which includes their masterpieces, “There Goes Norman” and “My Perfect Cousin”), is even better. Of all the bands I’ve reviewed here, only The Undertones and CCR turned in a substantially superior performance the second time around.

Pretenders, Pretenders
Women have always had to fight for their right to rock. Bands like Heart don’t help. But Chrissie Hynde not only rocked, she disemboweled. There is no song in rock like “Tattooed Love Boys” and few women who can write words and music at Hynde’s high level. Pretenders is still a beacon for the ages. I wrote about the Pretenders at Ladies of the Eighties.

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C.
Recently I ate lunch at a hip Portland burger place full of pale white 20somethings uniformly dressed in black and listening to 50 Cent with the volume cranked to 11. Given my stage of life, I deserved a free burger for correctly identifying 50 Cent. The cashier didn’t see it that way. I came along too late to get into rap, but in 1984 even I could tell that Run-D.M.C. was an early clue to a new direction. I don’t want to listen to it, but I have to acknowledge it. Now get off my lawn.

The Smiths, The Smiths
I always thought these guys were pretty funny, though I’m guessing that they weren’t trying to be, like when they sang about people dying. Here on The Smiths they already sound like veterans, and in fact in the four short years they were together they hardly varied their sound at all. I like to think that The Smiths’ collective philosophy of relationships is summed up by two back-to-back song titles on this disc: “What Difference Does It Make?” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything.”

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Makes you want to reach through the speakers and hold her. Chapman was only 25 when Tracy Chapman appeared, but it was already obvious that she was in total control of her talent and able to tell someone’s life story in a couple hundred super-sharp words. What’s more heart-breaking than “Fast Cars” and the vicious life pattern the narrator struggles to escape? As for “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” this song has never gone out of style. Just ask Occupy Wall Street.

Moby, Moby
In the ’90s I discovered trance, house, and other forms of electronica. Once I found that I could sink into stuff like Moby and literally enter a trance-like state while I was writing, I was sold. Moby is an odd one, a vegetarian Christian who makes dance music for 24-hour party people who majored in recreational drugs. Praise the Lord and pass the beets.

Next post: Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Didn’t Name Their Debut After Themselves and Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. Until then, the Twentieth-Century Fox I married asks you to remember that when the music’s over, turn out the lights.