The CHIRP Blog
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The Beatles loom so large in rock music history, and rightfully so, that sometimes it’s hard to keep them in perspective. This is especially true when their respective solo careers managed to, unsurprisingly, fall short of the peaks of the band’s career. Certainly, these four men weren’t perfect, and criticism of their lesser work is warranted, but it in no way can it diminish their accomplishments. This is particularly true of Paul McCartney, who is unfairly painted as a lightweight in comparison to John Lennon. Yet Macca was actually as experimental as his great counterpart, along with being one of the greatest rock and roll singers ever and arguably the best rock bassist ever. And he still goes out on the road and puts on 2 1/2 hour shows (though his voice is going — see, I can knock him too!), because he loves the music. Let’s salute one of the true legends, by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- XTC — Knights In Shining Karma (Apple Venus, Volume 1): The penultimate XTC album is full of rich compositions, some with orchestration. This low key track is kind of a respite from the more largely scaled tunes that take up the rest of the album. This sounds like a soft latter day Beatles track, using a basic blues rock progression but then adding some interesting jazz undertones. While Skylarking is widely acknowledged as XTC’s masterpiece, I think that Apple Venus is even better, littered with great songs.
- Keith — Ain’t Gonna Lie (Bubblegum Classics, Volume 1): This isn’t as bubblegummy as most songs on this collection. By that, I mean it wasn’t as geared towards the younger set. This is really just a wussy innocuous pop song. It may be time to remove it from the iPod.
- Roseanne Cash — Blue Moon With Heartache (The Very Best of Roseanne Cash): While she has had some commercial success, Roseanne Cash’s talent hasn’t fully been appreciated. She’s such a smooth and subtly emotional singer. Moreover, she’s a heck of a songwriter, who, although she had some country hits, doesn’t really fit in any particular pigeonhole. Her songs are simply classic pop, with a hell of lot more intelligence than most pop. This song does have some steel guitar, but it also has some jazzy session guitar that could have come from a ’70s Laurel Canyon classic.
- The Loud Family — Spot the Setup (Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things): The signature tune from the debut album from the band led by Scott Miller of Game Theory. The music was really a continuation of what Miller was doing with his prior band — really arty power pop, with influences from Big Star to oddball post-punk pop like The Monochrome Set. This song is premised on some simple blues chords, but the middle eight is a total breakdown, as the song grinds into cacophony, before some banging guitar chords allow Miller to exit a bit more gracefully. Catchy and weird.
- Gem — Your Heroes Hate You (Hexed): This short lived Ohio band was led by Doug Gillard (ex-Death of Samantha and Guided By Voices) and played solid indie pop. This T. Rex homage was a highlight of this album. Plain and simple, this song is a Rutle-ized version of the Marc Bolan classic “Solid Gold Easy Action”, with the exact same rhythm and just a slightly different structure, with a blissfully damaged guitar solo from Gillard. Ultra fun.
- The Wedding Present — Mars Sparkles Down On Me (Take Fountain): I don’t know if you can call this a comeback album, because David Gedge was making great albums with Cinerama. I think this album is a bit more guitar oriented, but Gedge melds in some of the ’60s influences that were so prominent in Cinerama. And I have no problem with that. Very few songwriters are as good at detailing what it’s like to have your heart ripped out by a former lover, as exemplified by this softer number which features string accompaniment.
- Michael Carpenter and Kings Road — King’s Rd (Kingsroadworks): One of Michael’s favorite artists is Steve Earle, and the Aussie power pop master manages to graft a Earle-esque country/Irish folk vibe onto one of his pulsing melody fests. This is one of those songs where the inspiration is obvious, but it doesn’t come off as derivative, as it’s only used to augment the artist’s well established style. For example, Earle wouldn’t have a “na na na na” middle eight, which is pure bliss, by the way.
- Hank Williams — I’m a Long Gone Daddy (The Complete Hank Williams): The essence of songwriting. Williams learned his stuff from an old blues guitarist sharecropper, and that informed his country songs. Everything is so economical, with pithy verses, instantly relatable lyrics and indelible choruses. Throw on Williams voice, which was part hillbilly twang and part smooth blues, and you have tons of classic songs like this one.
- Sweet — Lost Angels (Off The Record): The second single off of the band’s fifth album. At this point, the glam rock sun was settling, and Sweet was settling in as a hooky hard rock band. Unfortunately, this wasn’t where British music fans were going, and, for some reason, this didn’t get a foothold in the States. This is a shame, as the album is pretty good, and this song is one of the highlights. It has a tough Brian Connolly vocal, a nice mix of melody and guitar crunch and a propulsive instrumental breakdown that fuels a thrilling middle eight. Had this hit, the band’s career may have been markedly different, and they might have made a handful of great hard rock albums. On the other hand, drink and drugs and record biz b.s. may have still sabotaged them.
- New Radicals — I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed): This one shot album yielded a big hit in “You Get What You Give”, which is indicative of the high quality of the rest of the effort. These are big pop songs with some old school Philly R & B, and once you get past the gloss, they seem very much in the vein of early ’70s Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates. This song is no exception.
While so much attention is focused on lead singer Wayne Coyne (and he is the frontman, after all), when you want to know why the Flaming Lips are such a great band, you have to give a substantial amount of credit to Steven Drozd. Not only is he the lead guitarist for the band, but he plays many other instruments (sometimes switching from guitar to keyboard in mid-song when on stage). He has a great deal of responsibility for the texture and sound of the band. Moreover, he has managed to overcome a destructive heroin habit, poignantly chronicled in the documentary The Fearless Freaks, and the Lips solider on, still making great records (like 2009’s Embryonic). Let’s give Steven a birthday salute, by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- The Fall — Bremen Nacht (The Frenz Experiment): Yet another fun number from the band’s first Brix Smith era. This song has a cool ping-ponging keyboard part that contrasts the steady drumming and sets up the slight melody. The whole structure is inherently catchy and despite the odd structure, it sounds poppy with a fairly peppy performance from Mark E. Smith.
- Joe Pernice — Found a Little Baby (It Feels So Good When I Stop): This is from Joe’s first solo album, which serves as a soundtrack to his debut novel. The protagonist is a musician, so many songs come up in the book. The album is primarily covers, with one song from the fictional band of the protagonist. This gem is a gentle cover of Chicago’s very own Plush. It sounds like a Pernice Brothers tune, really.
- Robbie Fulks — In Bristol Town One Bright Day (Couples in Trouble): This sounds like a British folk number with a bit of Southern blues underneath (of course, there is some sort of intersection between those styles). This comes from Robbie’s masterpiece, an album where he takes on a bunch of styles with an uncharacteristic seriousness and intensity. However, it’s never pretentious. Every song is a world unto itself with Fulks’ splendid vocals and incisive lyrics. Wish he could follow this up.
- The Morells — I Can’t Dance (The Morells Anthology Live): Wow, I have a ton of Morells on my iPod due to this live compilation (four full shows). D. Clinton Thompson steps up to the microphone for a bouncy early ’60s R & B/beach music type of tune.
- Dirty Looks — Accept Me (Dirty Looks): This Staten Island trio put out one of the all-time great debut albums on Stiff Records in 1980. This is mod-inflected power pop. Unlike the swoony nature of most power pop, the songs here are aggressive with razor sharp playing. Someone should get Ted Leo a copy of this album, as I could easily hear him covering a bunch of these tunes. This is one of the relatively lesser numbers on the album, but it still has a great hook.
- The Zombies — I Got My Mojo Workin’ (Zombie Heaven): Although The Zombies are famous for their unique, often baroque, Brit pop sound, they started out as an R & B based beat group. And they were pretty darned good at that. This take on an old blues chestnut features Rod Argent on lead vocals, and he acquits himself very well.
- Blow Pops — 7 Days With You (American Beauties): Milwaukee band led by Mike Jarvis, who now fronts the similar Lackloves. Jarvis specializes in ’60s styled pop that touches on the janglier side of the British Invasion and those it influenced. So a typical Blow Pops tune can conjure up The Beatles and The Byrds, along with lesser lights like The Beau Brummels and The Searchers. I can’t resist saying this — the Blow Pops are truly ear candy.
- Three Dog Night — Black and White (Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Anthology): I guess rock critics will never go back and reassess Three Dog Night. But these guys had a gazillion hits in the ’70s, and most of them still sound great today. This compilation has some early songs and non-singles, but not enough to get an idea if this band could carry albums. But why should this matter? If you can release a couple fistfuls of great singles, doesn’t that make you a great band? I did how this song has a modified reggae rhythm.
- The Adverts — Quickstep (Anthology): The early British punk band led by T.V. Smith flamed out after only two albums, but they made a real impact. The Adverts’ tunes are well constructed and owe a little less of a debt to older styles of rock than some other punk bands of the era. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some early U.S. post-punkers like Effigies and Wipers were fans. A typically explosive track.
- J. Geils Band — Southside Shuffle (The J. Geils Band Anthology): One of the earlier tunes from this Boston band who went on to have surprising success during the new wave era. This is typical mid-tempo blues rock with a strong vocal by Peter Wolf. Their early studio stuff doesn’t fully capture how greasy and rocking they were.
Illinois has been the home of heavy rockers from Trouble to Big Black. But no one was heavier than Robert Earl Hughes, who for many years was listed as the heaviest man ever at…are you ready for this…1041 pounds. The behemoth of Baylis, in Pike County, Illinois, weighed 200 pounds at the age of six. Let’s honor this record setting Illinoisan in the only way we know — by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes.
- The Spinners — The Rubberband Man (The Very Best of The Spinners): Silly and addictive ’70s soul-funk from the Detroit vocal group with the Philly sound. This song is so darned catchy. But whenever I hear it, it conjures up an image of The Captain and Tennille performing it on their old variety show, and the cutaways to The Captain (Darryl Dragon) wearing rainbow five-toed socks, stretching a rubberband between his toes and plucking away at it. I hope that show never makes it to DVD.
- The Church — Almost With You (Under The Milky Way: The Best of The Church): I guess The Church is a one hit wonder (“Under the Milky Way”), but this Australian band is not as ephemeral as the one hit wonder tag usually implies. Indeed, they are still going strong with their blend of Byrds-y jangle and classic psychedelia. It’s an enduring sound that they do so well. This is more of a straight ahead jangler with a great acoustic guitar solo by Marty Willson-Piper.
- The Chills — I Love My Leather Jacket (Kaleidoscope World): One of the quintessential Chills songs, and thus, one of the quintessential Kiwi indie rock songs. Like so much New Zealand music from the ’80s, the influence of The Velvet Underground looms large. Chills leader Martin Phillips brings a unique melodic sensibility to the bouncy drone pop, along with a low key vocal charm. This is a laid back anthem.
- Myracle Brah — Action Reaction (Life on Planet Eartsnop): From the Brah’s classic debut, this is one of the 20 short, sharp shots of power pop perfection on this platter. The song works a Beatles/Badfinger styled riff with psychedelic undertones, keyed by a prominent bass line that the guitar seems to tether to. Andy Bopp doesn’t waste a note on this song, leaving one never more than 30 seconds away from a hook.
- Pulp — Trees (We Love Life): The final Pulp album was appropriately produced by Scott Walker, one of the few artists with a firmer sense of the dramatic than Jarvis Cocker. However, the album only has a couple of songs that take it to the hilt. Instead, most of the album is measured. On this song, which was a single, the layers of acoustic guitars and keyboards create a sense of resignation as Cocker sings of how he should have seen that his heart was going to be broken. A lovely and sad record.
- The Streets — Blinded By The Light (A Grand Don’t Come For Free): I suppose that it’s unfair to wonder if Mike Skinner can ever equal this album. On his second full length, he had perfected his blend of hip-hop with modern British minimalist dance sounds, and his tale of a geezer who has found a woman to love at the same time that he has lost 1,000 pounds is well rendered. This song has a pulse beat that Massive Attack might appreciate, while Skinner gets stuck in a club, waiting for his mates.
- Missy Elliot — The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) (Respect M.E.): This is not as earth shattering and innovative as Missy’s best work with Timbaland, but any song that uses Ann Peeble’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” as the hook and lays down a mellow groove for Elliot to lay down her attitude has to be a good one.
- Jawbox — Send Down (Novelty): Not as angular as later Jawbox, this is more of an explosive guitar number with J. Robbins singing just loud enough to be heard above the din. In some respects, this song manages a combination of melody and muscle in the rhythm guitar playing that is reminiscent of Mission Of Burma and Naked Raygun.
- Loretta Lynn — Little Red Shoes (Van Lear Rose): Lynn frequently tells stories in concert with her band providing some musical accompaniment. Producer Jack White thought it would be cool for Loretta to record one of those stories. Hence, this song. There’s something remarkable about this, as Lynn is so conversational. This was an inspired decision by White and it makes a great album that much greater.
- Rockpile — You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine (Seconds Of Pleasure): The sole album by this long running band that featured both Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe is perhaps a step shy of classic, but the mix of Lowe’s pure pop and Edmunds’ ’50s rock mojo made for a fun LP. This is a pure rock ‘n’ roll song, Chuck Berry style. Some critics found the band too laid back, but their relaxed approach works because drummer Terry Williams really had a good sense of swing.
CHIRP is a proud supporter of the Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays series at Millennium Park, and we’re excited to welcome She & Him with special guests Hollows on Monday, June 7.
Showtime is 6:30PM. Be sure to stop by the community table and say hello to CHIRP staff. Also, listen all this week to CHIRP Radio to win VIP seating for the show!