Monday, June 29, 2009

It Was (Just About) Twenty Years Ago Today...XTC: Oranges & Lemons

Cliched and overused as it may sound, I seriously cannot believe that it's been twenty-years since the release of XTC's tenth album Oranges & Lemons. I became a fan of XTC in a pretty random way and almost as an afterthought. I had in fact unwittingly half-knew nearly a half-dozen of XTC's songs but never really knew anything beyond the choruses for "Sgt. Rock Is Going To Help Me" and "Senses Working Overtime".

Overlong back-story begins in exactly...

Sometime in early 1988 I was browsing through a book by Danny Quatrochi entitled The Police Confidential - a photo diary on the de facto Beatles of the New Wave. In the book there are several photos of Police founder Stewart Copeland and book author/Sting's bass tech Danny Quatrochi in which they sport several different Drums & Wires tour T-Shirts. Being all of almost twelve years-old and for one reason or another taken with the interesting T-Shirt design - I investigated just what was XT something or other? What does it say? XTC?

Upon further investigation, it just so happened that my older brother not only owned the Virgin International vinyl version* of Go 2, but the Epic Records vinyl editions of both Drums & Wires & Black Sea as well. These three albums made a tremendous impression on me and in short XTC became my favorite band. Being a fan of a critically-acclaimed fringe band at a young age is pretty frustrating. There's no name-recognition among your peers which can be a bit alienating and you're too young to fully indulge in being a holier-than-thou hipster.

XTC's then-most recent albums were Skylarking (with the controversial then-hit "Dear God") and Psonic Psunspot (the latter under their Dukes Of Stratosphear pseudonym). I went to Tower Records that Summer and bought the Geffen cassettes of everything from White Music to Psonic Psunspot and whatever used vinyl or UK import CDs I could find (aside from English Settlement & Skylarking - XTC CDs weren't available domestically until early 1991 as Geffen were desperately slow on the uptake). It was pretty much all about XTC (for the most part) for sometime.

Fast forward to all but a few months later in January of 1989. I'm watching MTV - when they were still a viable source for new music and not a reality television channel - and lo and behold I catch the world premiere video a few seconds in (just after the band/song/album/label credits) of "The Mayor Of Simpleton" and by the bridge I'm thinking that this is my new favorite band. The song is a concise Beatlesque tour de force with cyclical Beach Boys vocals and jangle Byrds guitars and a bass line that is absolutely sick. Of course, it turns out to be XTC. That day I march to local record store Sounds Alive Music and happily plunk down one dollar for the one-song promo CD single. Followed by the 7", 12" and import 3" CD singles.*

A month later Oranges & Lemons is released and I'm very seriously overjoyed. It's better than I think it would be - and even the lesser tracks ("Poor Skeleton Steps Out"...) are only lesser comparatively. It gets four-star reviews everywhere and gets significant exposure on MTV and lots of airplay on the local "new music" radio station WDRE-FM & local cool college radio station WBAU-FM. It was the first time in my life that I was able to enjoy (or simply witness) an album by my favorite band and actively enjoy the whole release & promote the singles/album process. And in XTC's case it was slightly unconventional. They stopped touring in 1982 but actually did tour for Oranges & Lemons. Only in XTC's case they went to radio stations & MTV and played acoustic mini-sets of a few songs and a few medleys. They even played the second single from the album ("King For A Day") on Late Night With David Letterman in late June. I actually got to meet them that year (very briefly) at an in-store signing at Record World in Garden City, NY - the day before their appearance on Late Night. "King For A Day" got lots of airplay as did the ill-conceived remixes that were (unbeknownst to the band) commissioned by Geffen.

"Chalkhills and Children", "Hold Me My Daddy", "The Loving" (the third and final single from O&L), "The Garden of Earthly Delights", "King For A Day", "Here Comes President Kill Again", "Miniature Sun", "Merely a Man" and "The Mayor Of Simpleton" - all from Oranges & Lemons - remain some of my very favorite XTC songs (you know, out of about a hundred or so). And in addition to a few exclusive others XTC are still my favorite band. The album is slightly dated - not horribly so - but ever so slightly. It's an incredible collection of songs and is still every bit now as good as it was then.

* Forgive such expressions of vinyl record geekdom but there's no turning back at this point.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Songs Are Mine?

The rumor mill has been in sway since the death of Michael Jackson. In particular, regarding the ownership of The Beatles songwriting publishing catalog. Jackson purchased the lucrative catalog in 1985 from Apple Records for $47.5 million dollars.

It was Paul McCartney - who had been buddies with Jackson after the two had appeared on each others songs (Jackson on McCartney's "Say Say Say" and McCartney on Jackson's "The Girl Is Mine") - who told Jackson about the financial benefits of publishing ownership. Not surprisingly, the two had a falling-out over the matter.

Reportedly Jackson's lawyers have claimed that the rights to the Lennon/McCartney catalog may revert back to McCartney. There has also been talk of it being in Jackson's will.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Seeds' Sky "Sunlight" Saxon RIP

Sky Saxon of the Los Angeles band The Seeds passed away yesterday at age 63. The Seeds were late 60's Garage Rockers who really liked Marijuana, that is they professed as much perhaps more than other bands actively did (by having a song called "Rollin Machine" and naming themselves The Seeds for a start). They had hits with "Pushin' Too Hard" (which made an appearance in the film Desperate Teenage Lovedolls), "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" (which was covered by everyone from The Ramones to Alex Chilton) and "Mr. Farmer" (which was in the film Almost Famous). Their first two albums - The Seeds and A Web of Sound (both 1966) are absolute classics. If you've not heard The Seeds by all means check them out. They were a direct influence in Iggy Pop & The Stooges, New York Dolls and several others.

When The Seeds broke up in the late 60's Sky kind of lost touch with reality. He had an erratic, if creatively unsuccessful, solo career. He appeared in the flim Lovedolls Superstar (the sequel to Desperate Teenage Lovedolls). He formed the brief, wonderfully-named band Purple Electricity with Jeff & Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. In 1986 they released the improvised (i.e. unrehearsed) live album Private Party. Sky most recently recorded with Smashing Pumpkins. The cause of death is yet to be determined. He was 63 years old.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tinted Windows (2009)

This is a strange one. Not the material mind you, but the band. Supergroups generally aren't supposed to make very good music - at least historically. Well, that's the theory at least. Tinted Windows is unassumingly comprised of Adam Schlesinger from Fountains Of Wayne, James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins, Taylor Hanson - the middle child from Hanson and Bun E. Carlos (aka Brad Carlson) of Cheap Trick. It seems less unnatural (than the notion of...) once you actually give it a listen.

I first saw these guys on The Late Show with David Letterman and was a little confused. What are these guys all doing together? The answer is making pretty-good Power Pop and players that sometimes have a tendency to play to their own record collection. And maybe dumb it down a notch for mass consumption (not like the very best Power Pop isn't already user friendly...). Having said this - it's overall pretty good. The band plays well together - no matter how unlikely the combination. And can still be enjoyed even without any point of Power Pop references.

The first single "Kind Of A Girl" is a sugary hook-filed knockout with lots of "Whoa, whoas". "Nothing On Me", "Messing With My Head" and "Can't Get A Read On You" are all big winners that fall somewhere between Cheap Trick (surprise, surprise), The Knack and Big Star. So, yes Power Pop. Songs about girls with big hooks, sugary choruses and sweet guitars.

Recommended: Yesly

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Single Rereviews: The Monkees: Porpoise Song

The Monkees
Porpoise Song b/w As We Go Along
Colgems Records 1031
October 5, 1968

Okay, so I'm something of a small-scale vinyl junkie. I've been this way for some time now. It probably dates back to when I was only about three or four years old and getting second-hand Kiss records from various relatives. Kiss were no longer deemed "cool" by most teenage standards (New Wave and Punk Rock was) so I got them. Kiss looked like a bunch of life-sized cartoon characters. They kind of were/are. Well, throughout the 1980's my tastes changed towards new wave and punk rock ("college rock" or "modern rock" as it was known as then). But along the way I became something of a fan of The Monkees television show - which was rerun in syndication - and, subsequently, The Monkees' music. As a teenager I discovered the prefab-four's more psychedelic material (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, Head and Instant Replay). I then basically became a full-fledged fan.

From their Head album - The Monkees' "Porpoise Song" b/w "As We Go Along" single may be one of their very best. The Micky Dolenz-sung, Hammond organ-heavy "Porpoise Song [Theme From Head]" is something of a lost-classic Gerry Goffin/Carole King song. It's also the complete (single) version of the song (4:12 as opposed to the albums' 2:56) with a great swirling-coda. This version also appears on Rhino's 1995 Greatest Hits collection. It also made an appearance in the 2001 film Vanilla Sky. "As We Go Along" (Carole King/Toni Stern) is again sung by Dolenz. It too is something of a lost-classic. It's warm acoustic guitar/flute arrangement make it a quintessential late 60's light-Psych piece of Sunshine Pop. The accompanying virtual would-be music video clips for these songs that are featured in the film HEAD are near-perfect visual representations of these songs (IMHO).

The single charted at an unfortunate #62, and like many Monkees B-sides "As We Go Along" earned it's own chart-placing (at a better-than-nothing #106). I guess commerce and art have always been at war. Along with lots of other near-steals - I recently picked-up this single for a measly one-dollar.

Hence this entire rereview.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wonderlick's Topless In The Arco Arena

On July 7th the California duo Wonderlick will release their sophomore album Topless In The Arco Arena (Missing Piece/Rock Ridge Music).

Their self-titled debut, released some seven years ago, with winning material ("How Small You Are", "I Wanna Love You" and "Donner Lake") was a nice mixture of electro-pop, warm guitars and melodic vocals. Wonderlick is comprised of Tim Quirk and Jay Blumenfield, who were one-half of New York's premier power pop/punk band Too Much Joy. Imagine The Replacements and They Might Be Giants going out and coming away friends and you almost have an idea of what Too Much Joy sounded like. Or maybe The Clash with lots of Who-like Townshend codas, early Cheap Trick smirk and post-punk Beach Boys harmony vocals. Instrumentally, Wonderlick do not sound much like Too Much Joy. They do contain various elements of 90's alt-synth rock mixed with The Pale Saints, Dubstar and the like. "Rough" versions of twenty-some odd tracks had very generously been posted for free downloads on the bands' website for a few years now. Sixteen of which have been selected for the new album.

Some standouts include, but are not limited to: "When She Took Off Her Shirt" (which is a true earworm of a song), "Everybody Loves Jenny (Except Jenny)", "A Different Kind of Love", "The Possibilities", "Devil Horns" (the closest thing to a title track) and, a perfect example that a band's pose or initial sound is sometimes far greater than the their actual legacy or material (i.e. The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols), a smile-inducing, would-be poignant reading of The Clash's "Janie Jones".

Big head-scratching omissions: "Nobody Loves You Enough" and "What You Did To Me". These were easily two of the best songs - and most concise/least indulgent - of the bunch and were not included in the final track sequence. I'm guessing they were dropped in favor of newer (read: not exclusively better) songs. "Make Some Noise", which prominently featured TMJ drummer Tommy Vinton, and a humorously fey reading of Kiss' "Rock & Roll All Nite" also failed to make the cut.

The first "single" from the album is "This Song Is A Commercial".

Here's the track listing:

1 When She Took Off Her Shirt
2 All Boys Want
3 We Run the World
4 The King of Bad Decisions
5 Fear of Chicago
6 Everybody Loves Jenny (Except Jenny)
7 You First
8 The Case Against Tattoos
9 This Song is a Commercial
10 Fuck Yeah!
11 Janie Jones
12 The C.E.O. Considers His Holdings
13 A Different Kind of Love
14 Your Majesty
15 The Possibilities
16 Devil Horns

Recommended: Indeed

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Adventureland Motion Picture Soundtrack (2009)

Adventureland is a new(ish) Teenage Romantic Comedy from Greg Molatta (Superbad). It's an autobiographical account of the wacky hijinks, romantic misadventures and employment experience he had in 1987 at Adventureland Amusement Park in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

The movie stars Twilight phenom Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) and Ryan Reynolds. More importantly, it contains the best soundtrack I've heard in a very long time. It's also very nice to see a soundtrack have legitimately good songs from the era as well (much like The Wedding Singer), and - good or otherwise - not the just the same songs that everyone has heard way too-many times.

It contains a few surprising classics: The Velvet Underground's masterpiece "Pale Blue Eyes", Big Star's ageless "I'm In Love With A Girl" and The New York Dolls' earnestly sleazy "Looking For A Kiss". A few singalongs and a guilty pleasure or two: The Outfield's politely sleazy "Your Love", INXS' "Don’t Change" (a top contender for their best song), and the you-think-you-like-it power of Crowded House's "Don’t Dream It’s Over", the better-than-it-has-any-business-being punch of David Bowie's "Modern Love", rounded out by Falco's deeply profound high-camp masterpiece "Rock Me Amadeus".

Also present and accounted for are several legitimate American college rock (as it was then quaintly referred to) classics in The Replacements' Byrds/Dylan-via-The Sex-Pistols angst of "Unsatisfied" and the post-hardcore power of Hüsker Dü's "Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely" (later covered to lesser effect by Green Day). Not to mention The Cure's first Top-40 hit "Just Like Heaven" (which was everywhere circa 87/88).

Several other songs in the film did not make the soundtrack however: The Replacements' "Bastards Of Young" (which is the first item heard in the film), Nick Lowe's "So It Goes", Rush's "Limelight", The Rolling Stones' "Tops" and the sore thumbs of Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law" and "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake.

Unfortunately the soundtrack was released for promotional-use-only in CD format (with liner notes from director Greg Mottola). There were also copies with various Adventureland T-Shirt giveaways. It is available for download from iTunes.

The awesome tracklisting:

1 Satellite Of Love - Lou Reed
2 Modern Love - David Bowie
3 I’m In Love With A Girl - Big Star
4 Just Like Heaven - The Cure
5 Rock Me Amadeus - Falco
6 Don’t Change - INXS
7 Your Love - The Outfield
8 Don’t Dream It’s Over - Crowded House
9 Looking For A Kiss - New York Dolls
10 Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely - Hüsker Dü
11 Unsatisfied - The Replacements
12 Pale Blue Eyes - The Velvet Underground
13 Farewell Adventureland - Yo La Tengo
14 Adventureland Theme Song - Yo La Tengo

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Big Star to release Keep An Eye On The Sky Box Set

The legacy of Memphis, Tennessee Power Pop legends Big Star never ceases to amaze.

A bit of history..

The band began life as Rock City (and then Icewater) in 1971 lead by guitarist/vocalist Chris Bell (formerly of The Jynx) with bassist/vocalist Andy Hummel and drummer/vocalist Jody Stephens. Guitarist/vocalist (and former lead singer for The Box Tops) Alex Chilton joined a few months into the bands existence. The band changed their name to Big Star - after a local supermarket chain. Much like fellow would-be contemporaries The Raspberries the band took their inspiration from several British Invasion groups like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Who in addition to American artists The Beach Boys and The Byrds.

The band recorded three albums - #1 Record & Radio City for Ardent/Stax Records and Third for PVC - each one met with glowing reviews but plagued by minimal distribution. Chris Bell left the band after #1 Record, followed by Andy Hummel after Radio City, the band then breaks up and Chris Bell passes away in a 1978 automobile accident - strangely, on Alex Chilton's birthday.

Meanwhile, their extremely hard-to-find recorded work grows in stature to legendary proportions thanks in part to The Replacements, R.E.M. and The Bangles spreading the word in the 1980's and Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Cheap Trick, Wilco, Weezer and others doing the same in the 1990's. Which resulted in Rykodisc releasing four Big Star/Chris Bell releases, Norton releasing Nobody Can Dance and two fine reunion albums recorded with half of The Posies - Columbia: Live At Missouri University 4/25/93 and In Space.

So what is on the 98-track, four disc set? You get massive liner-notes and photos, previously unreleased songs, alternate takes, unreleased studio demos, alternate mixes, plus twenty-songs from a three-night stint in January 1973 spent opening for Archie Bell & The Drells ("Tighten Up") - reputedly the best live recording of the band, ever. Including covers of songs by Todd Rundgren, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Kinks and T.Rex. The holy-grail of all things Big Star to be sure.

Rhino Records are set to release the Big Star box set Keep An Eye On The Sky on September 15th.

Disc One

01 Chris Bell: "Psychedelic Stuff"
02 Icewater: "All I See Is You"
03 Alex Chilton: "Every Day as We Grow Closer" (Original Mix)
03 Rock City: "Try Again" (Early Version)
04 Rock City: "The Preacher"
05 Feel
06 The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Mix)
07 In the Street
08 Thirteen (Alternate Mix)
09 Don't Lie to Me
10 The India Song
11 When My Baby's Beside Me (Alternate Mix)
12 My Life Is Right (Alternate Mix)
13 Give Me Another Chance (Alternate Mix)
14 Try Again
15 Chris Bell: "Gone With the Light"
16 Watch the Sunrise
17 ST 100/6 (Alternate Mix)
18 In the Street (Second Recorded Version)
19 Feel (Early Mix)
20 The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Lyrics)
21 The India Song (Alternate Version)
22 Country Morn
23 I Got Kinda Lost (Demo)
24 Motel Blues (Demo)

Disc Two

01 There Was a Light (Demo)
02 Life Is White (Demo)
03 What's Going Ahn (Demo)
04 O My Soul
05 Life Is White
06 Way Out West (Alternate Mix)
07 What's Going Ahn
08 You Get What You Deserve (Alternate Mix)
09 Mod Lang (Alternate Mix)
10 Back of a Car (Alternate Mix)
11 Daisy Glaze
12 She's A Mover
13 September Gurls
14 Morpha Too (Alternate Mix)
15 I'm in Love With a Girl
16 O My Soul (Alternate Version)
17 Back of a Car (Demo)
18 Daisy Glaze (Alternate Take)
19 She's a Mover (Alternate Version)
20 Chris Bell: "I Am the Cosmos"
21 Chris Bell: "You and Your Sister"
22 Alex Chilton: "Blue Moon" (Demo)
23 Alex Chilton: "Femme Fatale" (Demo)
24 Alex Chilton: Thank You Friends" (Demo)
25 Alex Chilton: "You Get What You Deserve" (Demo)

Disc Three

01 Alex Chilton: "Lovely Day (aka Stroke It Noel)" (Demo)
02 Alex Chilton: "Downs" (Demo)
03 Alex Chilton: "Nightime" (Demo)
04 Alex Chilton: "Jesus Christ" (Demo)
05 Alex Chilton: "Holocaust" (Demo)
06 Alex Chilton: "Take Care" (Demo)
07 Alex Chilton: "Big Black Car" (Alternate Demo)
08 Manana *
09 Jesus Christ
10 Femme Fatale
11 O, Dana
12 Kizza Me
14 You Can't Have Me
15 Nightime
16 Dream Lover
17 Blue Moon
18 Take Care
19 Stroke It Noel
20 For You
21 Downs
22 Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On
23 Big Black Car
24 Holocaust
25 Kanga Roo
26 Thank You Friends
27 Till The End of the Day
28 Lovely Day
29 Nature Boy

Disc Four (Live At Lafayette's Music Room, Memphis, TN January 1973)

01 When My Baby's Beside Me
02 My Life Is Right
03 She's a Mover
04 Way Out West
05 The Ballad of El Goodo
06 In the Street
07 Back of a Car
08 Thirteen
09 The India Song
10 Try Again
11 Watch the Sunrise
12 Don't Lie to Me
13 Hot Burrito #2 (The Flying Burrito Brothers)
14 I Got Kinda Lost
15 Baby Strange (T.Rex)
16 Slut (Todd Rundgren)
17 There Was a Light
18 ST 100/6
19 Come On Now (The Kinks)
20 O My Soul

Thursday, June 4, 2009

XTC's psychedelic pseudonym The Dukes Of Stratosphear get Deluxe Reissue Treatment

XTC have just given their psychedelic alter-ego pseudonym faux-60's band The Dukes Of Stratosphear the full-on deluxe reissue treatment.

In December of 1984 the band went into the studio with drummer (and guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory's brother) Ian Gregory and producer John Leckie (XTC, Wings, PIL, Radiohead, Robyn Hitchcock, The Stone Roses) and recorded the EP 25 O'Clock and yet again in the June of 1987 to record the LP Psonic Psunspot. Both releases were very well-received both critically and with the general public and sold far better than the then-recent XTC releases Mummer and The Big Express. The tracks on these recordings were virtual homages to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Small Faces, The Kinks, The Hollies, The Move, The Electric Prunes, Pink Floyd, and The Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Both releases have both been reissued - fully remastered with a collective fifteen bonus tracks, the complete music videos for "The Mole From The Ministry" and "You're A Good Man Albert Brown (Curse You Red Barrel)" with 24 pages of lyrics and liner notes by Dave Gregory, Colin Moulding and Andy Partridge in a hardcover book-style format - on Andy Partridge's own APE label.

Amazingly after such an awful relationship with their former label, Virgin Records have relinquished the rights to a handful of XTC recordings and awarded them to XTC.

Other XTC albums to get the deluxe treatment to be released later this year will include English Settlement, Oranges & Lemons and Skylarking.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band Tracks Announced

The Beatles and Apple Corps have finally unveiled information on The Beatles Rock Band video game, which arrives in stores on 9/9/09 for Wii, PS3 and XBOX 360. There was a reunion of sorts for surviving members Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney at the Electronic Entertainment Expo - that's E3 to those in the know - in Los Angeles this past Monday, where the two spoke about the game. There was also a screening of the trailer for the video game as well.

Ten of the games 45 songs have been revealed:

I Saw Her Standing There
I Want to Hold Your hand
I Feel Fine
Day Tripper
Tax Man
I Am The Walrus
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Octopus's Garden
Here Comes The Sun
Get Back

Abbey Road will also be available in it's entirety for download as well.

A few of the venues where the band played were also announced (The Cavern Club, The Ed Sullivan Theater, Shea Stadium, Nippon Budokan Hall and The Apple Corps Rooftop).

And, should one feel the need, there will also be exclusive replicas of Beatle gear for purchase - such as George Harrison's Gretsch Duo Jet Guitar, John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325, Paul McCartney's Höfner bass and Ringo's Pearl kit (with the iconic custom Ludwig Beatles vanity bass drum head). And a plastic Rock Band Rickenbacker guitar is still significantly less-expensive then the real thing.

My personal wish list of songs to appear are:

Paperback Writer
And Your Bird Can Sing
Ticket To Ride
Magical Mystery Tour
You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)
Hello Goodbye
It's All Too Much
I'm Only Sleeping
Cry Baby Cry
We Can Work It Out
Lady Madonna
A Hard Days Night
Go To Get You Into My Life
Eight Days A Week
The Fool On The Hill
Tomorrow Never Knows (C Major throughout)
You Mother Should Know
Mother Nature's Son
All You Need Is Love
Penny Lane
I'm Down

Several of my favorite Beatles songs aren't thought of as "guitar songs" (i.e."Penny Lane" or "You Mother Should Know") but, great songs are great songs/great chord-changes are great chord-changes. Anything from A Hard Days Night to Revolver and Magical Mystery Tour would suffice. Trippy graphics and the authentic sound of a Vox AC30 combo amp would also be nice.