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Mike Bennett writesipod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Grant McLennan Edition

Today, let’s pay tribute to the late, great Grant McLennan, one of the two songwriters who fueled the wonderful Australian band, The Go Betweens. Their warm and pensive melodic guitar songs often had subtle undercurrents of The Velvet Underground and post-punkers. Both McLennan and his partner, Robert Forster, played literate and humanistic songs, sometimes sparely and sometimes with grandeur, but almost always extremely compelling. In honor of Grant, please grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up.

  1. Sex Pistols — New York (Never Mind The Bollocks): Yes, the music sounds comparatively tame 33 years after the fact, but in the context of the 1977 rock scene, the Pistols were a gob of fresh air. And the music does still rock and Johnny Rotten sounds more menacing that almost anyone he inspired. This is a lesser number from one hell of a rock and roll album. One other thing — the most important aspect of the Sex Pistols’ legacy is how they fueled the D.I.Y. movement. The number of Brits who saw them and formed a band is staggering, and one of those bands, Buzzcocks, put out Spiral Scratch, the first true indie release, and started a movement that CHIRP is effectively part of.
  2. Blue Oyster Cult — Godzilla (Spectres): This hilarious tribute to everyone’s favorite mutant dinosaur killing machine awakened by nuclear testing showed that the Cult could not only traffic in subtle black humor, but also in up front fun. I’m baffled why this was never released as a single. If you want to explore some truly cool ’70s heavy metal, BOC is the place to start.
  3. Original Sins — Rather Be Sad (The Hardest Way): John Terlinsky, who later went on to do the Brother JT thing, led this great garage rock band during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Terlinsky is a really good songwriter, with a strong sense of melody, and then throws in some fuzzy guitars and the requisite garage rock organ on this tale of a guy who’d rather be sad, because he knows he’s going to get hurt by love in the end.
  4. The Brothers Johnson — The Devil (Look Out For #1): This is about as funky as George and Louis Johnson got, in a cautionary tale of how sinning will get “your ass burnin’” for a really long time. These guys were funk lightweights, but working with mentor Quincy Jones, they often threw melodic twists into their songs that gave them a distinctive stamp. There are a couple of those on this tune to render it above average.
  5. Scritti Politti — Small Talk (Cupid & Psyche 85): Green Gartside’s transformation from ultra-leftist amelodic post-punker to subtly poltiical smooth synth-soul star is one of the more amazing stories of the ’80s, well chronicled in Simon Reynolds’ excellent book Rip It Up & Start Again. This is the album where the transformation was complete. Gartside’s airy tenor vocals managed to thread his wordy lyrics through some of the happiest darn white R & B you’ve ever heard. Dated, yes, but still catchy as hell.
  6. The Sames — There’s No Mystery Here (You Are The Sames): At one level, this is a fairly standard indie rock record, released in 2005, tailor made for college radio airplay. But this North Carolina band both fits in with and stands out from The Shins and The Arcade Fire and other contemporaries. How? By writing excellent songs, each which has a strong chorus or memorable instrumental hooks that really stick. If they were on Sub Pop, I think The Sames would have been big, as this was one of the best albums of 2005.
  7. E’Nuff Z’Nuff — In Crowd (Strength): This is not a cover of the ’60s hit by Dobie Gray. Blue Island’s pride and joy jumped on the hair metal bandwagon and was touted by Rolling Stone magazine as the next big thing. For some reason, perhaps because they were not sexist enough or didn’t have an androgynous frontman, they didn’t take off. And once you stripped away the bad make up and ignored the garish clothes, E’Nuff Z’Nuff were a Beatles/Cheap Trick inspired hard rock band with some metally trappings (especially in the flashy guitar solos). This is the best song on their second album, with strong vocals from Donnie Vie.
  8. Fine Young Cannibals — Love For Sale (Red, Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter): This album, which benefited AIDS research, is chock full of great modernized versions of classic Cole Porter tunes. I believe this is the final recording by the Cannibals, and they play this song in a jazzy acoustic guitar dominated arrangement, with Roland Gift emoting in characteristic fashion.
  9. Eleventh Dream Day — There’s This Thing (Lived To Tell): Wow, when my iPod is in Friday Shuffle mode, it loves Eleventh Dream Day. Not that I have a problem with it. This is a percussive cooker that uses a pretty basic blues chord progression and a variation on the Bo Diddley beat. You can actually dance a bit to this one.
  10. The Beat Farmers — California Kid (Tales Of The New West): The first Beat Farmers album came smack dab in the middle of a country rock revival in the mid-‘80s. Unlike the ’70s country rock, the bands tended to rock a bit more. The Beat Farmers were a bit less countrified than Jason & The Scorchers and The Long Ryders, but could twang away pretty well. This song spotlighted their drummer Country Dick, who had a rumbling baritone voice that was perfect for this tale of a horny outlaw.

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Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Nigel Tufnel Edition

They say that if you have a choice between printing the facts and the legend, print the legend. But with the immortal Nigel Tufnel, the legend and the facts are one in the same. Since he first came into the public eye with the beat group The Thamesmen, Nigel has been turning it up to eleven night in and night out, blazing heavy metal trails that are still too hot for anyone to trod upon and follow. This Spinal Tap axe god, who shares a birthday with actor-director Christopher Guest, is still working on his first solo album, and perhaps we can all encourage him, by getting out your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. The Go-Gos — Yes Or No (Talk Show): The third Go-Gos album is a hidden gem, fueled by stylized production by Martin Rushent. The album crackles with prominent drums, ultra jangly guitars and Belinda Carlisle’s dramatic singing. This mid-tempo track was a collaboration between guitarist Jane Wiedlin and Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks. The song is decidedly more conventional than most Sparks tracks, but has a few clever lines here and there.
  2. The Last — And They Laugh (Confession): The first reunion album from The Last ditched some of the garage-ier elements of their classic early work (like the L.A. Explosion album) in favor of the folkier Paisley Underground aspects. This wasn’t a problem, because these guys added teeth and guts to their post-Beau Brummels jangle. This is one of the best tracks on an album that overflows with passion.
  3. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army — Bombers (single version)(The Plan): Brittle sci-fi punk from Numan in the days before he discovered a synthesizer and began finding his direction. This song is based on a clipped guitar riff and Numan’s equally choppy vocal phrasing. His distinctive voice always oozes discomfort and paranoia. A reasonably catchy song indicative of the promise that his future work fulfilled.
  4. Jim Croce — Stone Walls (50th Anniversary Collection): I’m a big fan of Croce’s work. He found a unique conversational bluesy vocal style to go with his poppy folk story songs. Without looking at the CD, this is clearly an early work of his, as he sounds a lot more like a conventional folk singer on this far from authentic tale of prison life. Better things were ahead.
  5. Nomads — Stranded On A Dateless Night (Showdown! 1981-93): This Swedish garage rock band laid on the guitars thick but never too heavy. This sounds like a ’50s rock and roll number, a la “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care”, beefed up. The Nomads didn’t often venture into Cramps territory, but this comes close.
  6. Eleventh Dream Day — Dream Of a Sleeping Sheep (Lived To Tell): This is an electrified country stomp with the patented Crazy Horse-ish guitar stylings of early Eleventh Dream Day. Rick Rizzo’s lead guitar work is magnificent, while Janet Beveridge Bean slams out a bopping beat.
  7. Darker My Love — Waves (2): This L.A. band melds retro psychedelic rock with shoegazer dreaminess on its most recent album. Some songs reach a midpoint of those two styles, but this leans heavily on the psych side, with some genuine guitar freak outs, with a mellotron breakdown in the middle before one last dash of feedback and spectral harmony vocals.
  8. Nick Heyward — Whistle Down the Wind (North Of A Miracle): I’m still baffled why the first solo album from the former leader of Haircut One Hundred wasn’t a worldwide smash. Heyward knows how to write a big hook and this widescreen ballad sounds like it would have been perfect for the early-‘80s pop charts. It’s the rare song of this type that isn’t overwrought, which is a credit to Heyward’s measured vocal performance and the lovely string and horn arrangements that make this emotionally affecting instead of manipulative cheese.
  9. The House Of Love — Touch Me (1986-88 The Creation Years): Another appearance by Guy Chambers and company. This mid-tempo song is keyed on a gently ebbing drum pattern with accompanying strumming guitars. Chambers’ vocal is doubled up in a very ’60s style harmony vocal, making for a pleasingly retro pop song. Then Terry Bickers rips off a spectacular dramatic guitar solo which gives the song a lot more heft.
  10. Neil Finn — She Will Have Her Way (Try Whistling This): Neil’s first solo album found him experimenting more with keyboards and textures, freed from a band format (not that Crowded House didn’t do some of this) leading him into some new territory. But there was still room for a straightforward guitar pop song, and this showed that Finn hadn’t exhausted his supply of silky smooth melodies. The way he draws out that melody in the chorus and little arrangement tricks show why Neil Finn is a pop master.

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Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Tommy Ramone Edition

This Friday, let’s pay tribute to an underrated figure in rock ‘n’ roll history, Tommy (Erdelyi) Ramone. This native Hungarian was originally going to manage the Ramones, but when they needed a drummer, he stepped behind the skins and pounded out that super fast beat. Moreover, he is an unknown legend in sports arenas everywhere, as he was the primary writer of “Blitzkrieg Bop”. On top of that, he actually played some of the guitar solos on the band’s records, because Johnny Ramone just liked to play rhythm guitar. He also played on the Too Tough To Die LP, and has produced some swell albums, including The Replacements’ Tim and Redd Kross’ Neurotica. Please salute Tommy by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up!

  1. The Psychedelic Furs — Dumb Waiters (Talk Talk Talk): The first two Furs albums are a fascinating tandem. The first album is dark, bleak and angry with the Furs’ accessible take on post-punk sounds. But Talk Talk Talk manages to be brighter, overall, showing a wider array of influences. This track might be the closest to what transpired on the first album. This is a prickly rant, with Duncan Kilburn’s off-kilter saxophone keying the proceedings as the band lurches and drones very effectively.
  2. Split Enz — History Never Repeats (Corroboree): A sparkly jangly Neil Finn number. After the success of “I Got You” on the band’s True Colours album, it’s obvious that Neil’s confidence rocketed sky high and suddenly he was dashing off one hooky number after the other. This one relies on a somewhat sing-songy melody with a very creative arrangement with lots of cool keyboard embellishments by Eddie Rayner. This song had a terrific video, with Neil singing to his brother Tim, who was on a small TV screen, with Tim dressed in the garish costumes of the old mid-‘70s Split Enz.
  3. Pixies — Oh My Golly! (Surfer Rosa): Because the Pixies are certified rock deities, I think I have some of their stuff on my iPod out of obligation rather than because I like every track. Don’t get me wrong, Surfer Rosa, Doolitte and Trompe Le Monde are big faves of mine. But they had more than their fair shore of throwaways. This speedy rush of a track is a nice burst of energy, but there’s not a whole lot to it. But it breezes by in less than two minutes, and nobody gets hurt, so I suppose it’s okay.
  4. Number One Cup — Ease Back Down (Wrecked By Lions): Number One Cup played a nifty arty alt-rock that fit somewhere between the aforementioned Pixies and Pavement. There were hooks in the songs, but none were obvious. Indeed, a lot of their best material avoided obvious directions while remaining memorable. Wrecked By Lions was the best of their three albums, with copious amounts of guitars framing serviceable melodies and those not-so-obvious hooks. This would sound great on CHIRP Radio and I need to play this soon.
  5. Jason & The Scorchers — Last Time Around (Lost & Found): For a few years, Jason & The Scorchers were one of the best bands on the planet. They loved hard rock and they loved country music and they jammed it together and made it work. Some called it “cowpunk,” but whatever it was labeled, it was quintessentially American music played by one of the hottest band’s around, with the surprisingly rangy drawl of Jason Ringenberg and all-world guitarist Warner Hodges. This is the opening track on the album and it smokes. And it’s not even the rockingest track on the album.
  6. The Sugarplastic – Arizona (Radio Jejune): This L.A. band always garnered XTC comparisons, since singer Ben Eshbach’s voice has a bit of a resemblance to Andy Partridge’s voice and the band played a herky-jerky brand of rock. There is a little XTC in the band’s sound. but Eshbach has noted The Monochrome Set as a big influence, which is pretty obvious. If you take more XTC-ish melodies and lay them on circular chord patterns reminiscent of The Monochrome Set, Orange Juice, Josef K and others from that era, that gives you a clue as to where this criminally overlooked band is coming from.
  7. Didjits — The Man (Little Miss Carriage!): This is from a five-song EP which featured Rey Washam of Scratch Acid on drums. This is a mid-tempo song, thus much slower than most Didjits tunes, which features some typically stinging Rick Sims guitar work. This isn’t a great song, but when a band is really great, and Didjits was really great, even lesser efforts fly, because the overall sound is worth hearing.
  8. The Fall — The Steak Place (The Frenz Experiment): The Frenz Experiment is a good but not great album from the first Brix Smith era. Mark E. Smith’s first wife propelled the band into more accessible directions, as not every song was a grinding dirge or off-kilter rockabilly track. Her love of jangly guitars melded at times with Mark’s love of Can like drone, as illustrated by this moody composition which features a finger snapping rhythm section.
  9. Ramones — Now I Wanna Be a Good Boy (Leave Home): Finally! I get a shuffle track for a birthday artist! This is probably my favorite of the early Ramones albums, as they tempered their power with a bit more of their pop influence. Their music is so basic and immediate, it’s hard to fathom how difficult it was for them commercially, as it wasn’t really until “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” that they got substantial airplay nationwide. And now you see grade school kids wearing Ramones shirts. Better late than never.
  10. Brett Smiley — VaVaVa Voom (Velvet Tinmine): I have three or four collections of obscure British glam rock singles. Basically, every band on these collections picks someone to ape — T. Rex, Slade or Sparks — and then gives it their best. Mr. Smiley certainly does his best to emulate Marc Bolan’s fey vocal stylings and the music is pepped up ’50s rock and roll. Not as good as the inspiration, but it’s bloody fun.

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