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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Alice Cooper Edition

Vincent Furnier, the son of a minister and the original theatrical rocker turns 64 today. In the late ’60s, he fronted Alice Cooper, eventually taking on his band’s name. Alice Cooper signed originally to Frank Zappa’s Bizarre label and made two albums of psychedelic tinged hard rock. Graduating to Warner Brothers, the band’s songwriting got a bit tighter and suddenly they were reeling off one classic rock song after the other. And the stage show became a legend, paving the way for Kiss and a host of other artists. Meanwhile, Mr. Cooper showed an appealing wit, leavening any heavyness with a wink and a nod. Ever since his heyday, Alice has had his ups and downs, but he is still capable of making good records and is still a great live performer. So let’s pay tribute to Alice Cooper by grabbing the ol’ iPod or MP3 player, pressing shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Jawbox — Airwaves Dream (My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents): Fantastic cover of a Buzzcocks tune, from the tail end of the first part of the Buzzcocks’ career. The angular guitar lines of this number meld well with the Jawbox sound, while the band’s rhythm section really propels things. It’s especially cool to hear J. Robbins do the vocal — a bit more muscular than Pete Shelley.
  2. Madness — Africa (The Liberty Of Norton Folgate): While this most recent Madness album focuses primarily on London, this languid track, which is laid back reggae mixed with a dusting of Afro-beat is a great ode to the need to get away from it all. Despite the desire to go to an exotic location, the lyrics really do a good job of painting how dreary life can be and why we need dreams and fantasies to keep up going sometimes.
  3. The Hues Corporation — Rock The Boat (Have A Nice Decade): A true one hit wonder, but what a great one shot! This is a great piece of poppy R & B, with four outstanding sections — the pre-chorus, the chorus, the verse and the ultra-sublime bridge. It would have been a crime had it not been a hit.
  4. Melony — I Hang On (Quicksilver): A criminally underrated Swedish power pop trio who actually managed to get their debut album released on Geffen, and this, their second album, only released in Japan. Oh well. Melony specialized in the sunny melodies that fellow Swedes such as The Wannadies and Eggstone also penned, but they had an extra rock punch and a skewed lyrical sensibility that made them stand out. The second album was not as amazing as the first, but it still is full of peppy, fun ditties like this one.
  5. Parts & Labor — Chaning Of The Guard (Stay Afraid): The longer rock music lurches on, the harder it is to carve out a distinctive sound. Parts & Labor manages to do that, in part due to their lineup, which emphasizes an overmodulated keyboards, backed by a powerful rhythm section. Their melodies are deceptively strong, with songs that sound like a mid point between Bob Mould and The Dismemberment Plan (at least that’s how it sounds to me). On this song, there’s not much bottom — it’s mainly high end keyboard and drums that rely on lots of cymbal splashing. An odd arrangement that works well.
  6. The Jim Jones Revue — Burning Your House Down (Burning Your House Down): Jones used to be in the Stooges inspired Thee Hypnotics. Now he is fronting a great garage rock band that connects the dots between Jerry Lee Lewis, The Sonics and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Jones roars his vocals and the band is spot on, managing to swing but with a certain heavyness. This is from the band’s second album, a 2010 release, and the chances that they are anything less than a stellar live act are about .00001%.
  7. Terry Reid — Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (Super Lungs: The Complete Studio Recordings): Terry Reid is a cult figure, a British singer who fits in the great inspired tradition of folks like Steve Marriott. He also is an ace guitarist. But he never managed to break a big hit. This is a cover of Cher’s classic single (yes, Cher), written by Sonny Bono. Reid keeps the drama and turns this into a rock rave up, and his vocal is awesome.
  8. APB — Shoot You Down (Something to Believe In): Hmm…another shooting tune. APB (or, actually, apb) were a Scottish post-punk band that mixed the white anti-funk of Gang Of Four with actual funk bass lines to create funky anti-funk. They wrote songs that were well suited for angry fist waving or maximum booty shaking. This track does have a solid groove.
  9. Louis Armstrong — Memories Of You (The Essential Louis Armstrong): A beautiful melody and the great voice and trumpet of Satchmo — how can you go wrong?
  10. The Chameleons — Tears (Strange Times): In some circles, The Chameleons are at the top of the heap of the post-punk heap, ahead of even such luminaries as Echo and the Bunnymen and The Sound. I’m not sure of that, but I think it’s a legitimate belief. The band was masterful with texture, with a prominent bottom and an array of inviting guitar sounds. On this mid-tempo song, the guitar sounds are shimmering notes ornamenting the liquid rhythms. Over all of this, Mark Burgess rules all with his passionate and dramatic voice.

Share February 4, 2011 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: alice cooper, ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Robert Wyatt Edition

It was 44 years ago that Robert Wyatt helped found Soft Machine, the seminal British prog-rock band that morphed from psychedelia to a unique brand of jazz fusion. After he left the Machine, he formed the equally arty Matching Mole. As that band wound down, Wyatt fell out of fourth floor window at a party, and was paralyzed from the waist down. This ended his career on drums. However, this did not stop Wyatt, Instead, he carried on as one of the most distinguished art-pop vocalists, working with everyone from Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason to Elvis Costello. Wyatt’s voice has a haunting quality, well displayed on last year’s Wyatt, Atzmon, Stephen album, For The Ghosts Within, which we played often at CHIRP. In honor of Mr. Wyatt, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten songs that come up.

  1. Off Broadway — Money’s No Good (On): This is from Off Broadway’s debut album, which is an essential slice of Midwest power pop. This Chicago band mixed Cliff Johnson’s Lennon-esque voice with stylized guitars, strong melodies and hooks galore. Not only that, the lyrics were sometimes pretty interesting. This is one of the lesser cuts, but it is good display of the band’s craft, with a really good middle eight and fine lead guitar work.
  2. The Godfathers — If I Only Had Time (Birth, School, Work, Death): The Godfathers fit in a conceptual gap between punk, pub rock and power pop, playing energetic rock and roll songs with a heavy dose of attitude. This song pre-dated the band’s first major label album, and it’s has the band’s usual tough guy stance, with aggressive guitars and fine harmony vocals helping drive the chorus. These guys are in town on February 10, and I might have to get a ticket.
  3. The Beat Farmers — Never Goin’ Back (Tales of the New West): There was a country rock revival in the mid-‘80s, with bands adding punky energy to country ideas. The Beat Farmers were more rock than other bands of this ilk, but they had just enough twang. They do a great job on this Lovin’ Spoonful, giving a nice folk-pop song a nice kick.
  4. The Blasters — Boomtown (Non Fiction): A steam train of a song, with The Blasters playing a fast rock ‘n’ roll shuffle with Phil Alvin howling in the wind. The Blasters shared a working class sensibility with their contemporaries The Minutemen and this song is actually relevant today, talking about a industrial city where things are falling apart.
  5. Martin Gordon — Every Little Thing (The Joy of More Hogwash): Gordon got his start in Sparks, playing bass on their breakthrough Kimono My House, but was sacked for wanting to write songs. So he went on to lead the glammy Jet and the punky Radio Stars, and then carved out a path as a session musician, playing with Blur, The Rolling Stones and on world music records. When he finally got back to making his own music in the past decade, he went back to what he did with Radio Stars and Jet — power pop with witty lyrics. Gordon has a classic songwriting sound, in the vein of bands like The Move, Cheap Trick and, yes, Sparks.
  6. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Bootleg (Bayou Country): A lesser known CCR cut, but this is quintessential swamp rock. John Fogerty’s distinctive vocals are counterpointed by his unique blues guitar licks. This song is in the vein of classics like “Born On The Bayou” (which proceeds it on the album) and “Green River”. That’s good company.
  7. Randy Newman — I Miss You (Bad Love): 1999’s Bad Love deserves to be ranked with Newman’s early classic albums. While he’s best know for his sarcastic social commentary, when he plays it straight he can really cut to the bone. This is about a divorced man who wants his now remarried wife back. It’s just Randy, his piano and some strings. He builds up the emotion in each verse, setting up a payoff in the tender choruses. This is also one of his best vocal performances. A great song.
  8. Lyle Lovett — I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You (Lyle Lovett And His Large Band): It’s easy to take Lovett for granted, but he’s a brilliant songwriter with a wonderful voice. He made his mark early on by subverting country cliches in a manner that showed affection for the genre. The title here gives it away, as he compares his wife to his former love, the wife having the same look but treating him so much better.
  9. Bob Welch — Precious Love (The Best of Bob Welch): The former Fleetwood Mac guitarist’s final Top 40 hit. This is a mid-tempo rock song with disco drums and strings laid over on the top. The sappy melody, fuzzy guitars and disco production touches make this fairly cheesy, but in a good way.
  10. The Prisoners — Whenever I’m Gone (Children of Nuggets): A British garage rock revivalist from the ’80s. These guys definitely have the sound down and this song sounds more like 1966 than 1986.

Share January 28, 2011 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, mp3

Erik Roldan writesA Conversation With White Mystery

White Mystery is a band so rooted in Chicago, you’ve probably run into them at the store, at the show or at the bar. Their sound is heavy and their debut, self-titled album is every bit as enticing as their live show.

Somehow, they are just as loud over email, with their answers sent in ALL CAPS. The brother sister duo have an upcoming show at Beauty Bar; It’s the 2nd annual Fan Appreciation Party. With opening band Squish on the bill, White Mystery treats its fans to free beer and free pizza.

Wednesday, January 26th 2011, Beauty Bar Chicago (1444 West Chicago Avenue), 10:00pm, No Cover.

Erik Roldan: I remember a call for natural red heads for a music video shoot. How did that turn out? What are the top three things about being a natural red head?


ER: Your music is raw – the production on the record is very minimal—tell me about the decisions to go with that stripped-down sound and how the result differed from your expectations.


ER: Working with your sibling—how does that affect your music? How does it compare to previous bands where you didn’t have those family ties? Have you ever been in a situation where you thought “this could only happen with my brother/sister?”


ER: What’s your take on being from Chicago? How do you think being from here affects how your band is perceived in the media or in the music industry?


ER: What’s next for White Mystery? Tours? Projects? Collaborations?


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Categorized: Interviews

Topics: interview

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Chan Marshall Edition

Happy Birthday, Cat Power! Yes, Chan Marshall turns 38 today. It’s been a long, winding journey for Ms. Marshall, starting out working with members of Sonic Youth and Two Dollar Guitar on oddly written songs, gaining more notoriety, dropping out, coming back, developing a reputation for erratic live performance and eventually breaking through to a larger audience, playing blues based rock that spotlighted her wonderful voice. Moreover, it seems like she is finding herself on stage and overcoming personal problems. Thus, the best may still be to come. In Chan/Cat’s honor, get out your iPod,, hit shuffle and please share the first ten songs that come up.

  1. The Everly Brothers — I Wonder If I Care As Much (24 Original Classics): A lesser known Everly song which starts off with a strong lead guitar snippet before heading into pretty harmony territory. The melody of this song and the arrangement seem like a big influence on the British beat groups, especially The Searchers and The Hollies. I should check to see if they covered this. The electric guitar part really provides a nice contrast to the self-flagellating pathos of the lyrics.
  2. Frisbie — Shakin’ The Tree (New Debut): The second iteration of this great Chicago band was a bit more rock, even though the original line up rocked quite a bit. This is a great example of the band’s smart approach to pop, with precise parts played by each member. Indeed, this song may sound simple on the surface, but it was actual one of the more difficult tunes for the band to pull off live. While not the type of anthemic roof raiser that Frisbie built its reputation on, this is a great display of how you can have a bit of an art-pop edge without losing accessibility.
  3. Steve Dawson — Goodbye (I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums): Dawson, the lead singer of Dolly Varden, has made two top notch solo albums. On each album, he makes some forays into R & B inflected pop. This is right in the wheelhouse of his wonderful white soul voice, which is reminiscent of singers such as Darryl Hall and Van Morrison. This song is somewhere between Memphis and Philly, with a sublime middle eight.
  4. Chris Stamey — Kierkegaard (Travels In The South): Speaking of soul, Chris Stamey let some R & B influences seep into his Carolina power pop on this album. That is certainly true on this number, where he also busts out some impressive lead guitar licks, augmented by a Hammond organ. These R & B touches merely frame the primary melody, which is more in the wistful vein of Stamey’s earlier solo work. And yes, the song definitely touches on philosophy.
  5. The Clash — Groovy Times (Super Black Market Clash): This song first came out in the U.S. on a bonus 7-inch single that came with the band’s self-titled debut. This song is more in the vein of Give ‘Em Enough Rope or London Calling, with Joe Strummer declaiming over a spry rhythm and acoustic guitars. This song is much more in the vein of Clash heroes like Mott The Hoople and even includes a Spanish guitar solo. Not a great Clash song, but an interesting one nevertheless.
  6. The New Pornographers — Moves (Together): There is a bit of Electric Light Orchestra influence in the ominous chords that begin this song, which A.C. Newman contrasts with one of his chirpiest melodies. This is one song where Newman has the lead vocal, but Neko Case’s accompaniment nearly dominates. Moreover, Newman finds a way to throw in three or four different catchy parts and blends them expertly.
  7. Richard & Linda Thompson — A Heart Needs A Home (The Best of Richard & Linda Thompson): The gossamer voice of Linda Thompson over a song that’s three parts bluesy rock and one part folk, with Richard supplying tasteful lead guitar ornamentation. This would be a great song for Mavis Staples to cover, as there is a great soul song wanting to burst out of this tune.
  8. Eurythmics — Love Is A Stranger (Sweet Dreams): The band’s second hit single is icy synth-pop perfection. Annie Lennox is simultaneously angelic and sinister, showing amazing vocal control, starting out low key, and slowly picking up her intensity as the tune goes on. The electronic percussion track is also brilliant, mixing a few different parts into pulse that gives the song momentum. A true classic.
  9. The Gun Club — The Master Plan (The Las Vegas Story): While not acknowledged as a classic, the final proper Gun Club record cements them as a band that blew up the blues to cinematic proportions, with big guitar parts and stomping percussion and the out of control vocals of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. This is a dramatic instrumental.
  10. Sagittarius — The Keeper of the Games (Present Tense): This legendary soft-pop aggregation was the creation of producers Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, who composed pretty harmony infused pop with a baroque feel. The result was a more psychedelic variation on what bands like The Beach Boys and The Association were doing. This is an instantly memorable song that is sadly, only a couple minutes long.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: cat power, ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday LL Cool J Edition

While Krush Groove is a so-so hip-hop movie, there are two essential scenes in the movie: 1) watching The Fat Boys sing “All You Can Eat” in a Sbarro’s pizza place, and, 2) the galvanizing performance by a young LL Cool J of “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”. L.L. was a nice middle class boy with a great flow who played his part in giving hip hop more mass appeal. He was a malleable rapper who would rap over anything, whether it was Rick Rubin’s hard beats or a soppy ballad like “I Need Love”. While he wasn’t the first to rap over live instruments, when he did so on MTV Unplugged, he helped show how hip hip was really music. Sure, LL has cashed in his charisma to mediocre acting gigs and line of Sears’ clothing, but you can’t take away his significant legacy. In James T. Smith’s honor, everyone should grab his or her iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up:

  1. Solomon Burke — Don’t Give Up On Me (Don’t Give Up On Me): After Burke’s passing, I picked up a compliation of his classic singles and got an even fuller understanding of why some consider him the best soul singer of all-time. His mix of smoothness and grit and how he, nearly as much as Ray Charles, brought the sounds of the African-American church into pop music, and his incredible phrasing made him a true original. Yet as great as those songs are, this Grammy winning comeback album, in my opinion, stands as Solomon’s best work, as the songs were all terrific and he kept becoming a better singer, knowing when and how to deploy his many gifts. This is a passionate song sung passionately.
  2. Dusty Springfield — Just One Smile (Dusty In Memphis): Speaking of soul, Dusty Springfield did a great job of mixing it in with more standard Bacharach style pop. Her voice is pure but has a slight roughness in it that gives her readings of songs a lot of feeling. This song, with its strings, is very cosomopolitan, and Dusty makes it more than just a pop song, investing her all into it.
  3. Jacques Dutronc — Les Metamorphoses (Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi): This ’60s French pop star got a lot of mileage out of loping, jangly songs sung with a bit of Dylan-ish phrasing. This song makes a good use of reverb on the guitar and even some reverb on Dutronc’s vocals in the refrain (a la Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”).
  4. The dB’s — Espionage (Stands For Decibels): If you want to hear the influence of Big Star’s Radio City album on a power pop tune, this dB’s classic is a great example. Chris Stamey takes inspiration from the odd time signatures and shifts and comes up with a song whose melody drawls as much as Stamey’s North Carolina accent. Using a telegraph keyboard line and Will Rigby’s on the verge of falling apart drumming with some spy movie guitar, the band monkeys around with these simple pieces, while not neglecting a rousing chorus. Incredible song.
  5. Nada Surf — Inside Of Love (Let’s Go): Nada Surf kind of fits into the wealth of bands who took a lot of notes while spinning Radiohead’s The Bends. But instead of taking the Coldplay route and simplifying the approach and upping the bombast, Nada Surf dive into the emotional center of the sound, finding a midpoint between Radiohead of that era and bands like Death Cab For Cutie. This is a typically heartfelt and memorable tune.
  6. John Lennon — Borrowed Time (Lennon Legend): One of the last tracks Lennon recorded. This has a slight reggae feel to it. It’s pretty consistent with the other songs he made in the end of his life, as the composition is pretty simple but, of course, the song is certainly catchy. Not a classic by any means.
  7. Mission Of Burma — The Mute Speaks Out (The Obliterati): This is my favorite of the three MoB reunion albums, as the songs are grounded in the foundation of their classic sound, but they aren’t hemmed into it. This instrumental has some lovely guitar work from Roger Miller, while Clint Conley’s bass manages to both support the guitar work melodically while also adding a harder edge to the repeating guitar figures. Peter Prescott does a great job of pushing this song, which keeps building and building, while not overshadowing the dominant elements of the track. I think there are very few bands who I enjoy hear playing more than Burma, and this song is a great example of why, as all of the members play their roles perfectly.
  8. XTC — Knights In Shining Karma (Apple Venus, Volume 1): This album contains so many swelling and dramatic songs, this restrained Andy Partridge number is lost in the shuffle (but not this shuffle!). It’s not a classic, but it is a pretty and haunting song, whose sparse instrumentation gives it a sad beauty that pulls at the heartstrings. And it’s a nice respite from the more orchestral songs on the album.
  9. Elliot Smith — Bled White (XO): I could add Elliot Smith to the comparisons I made above with Nada Surf. Elliot Smith mixed folk with splendid melodies that ranked up there with folks like Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson. XO is my fave Smith album, because the quality of the production is just right, making every song as full as it needs to be.
  10. Superchunk — Tiny Bombs (Come Pick Me Up): Remember when Superchunk was referred to by some folks as emo? I think it’s slower numbers like this that led to such a designation, which no one uses any more. As welcome as Superchunk’s most recet album was, with them rocking out on every track, one of the things that made Superchunk beloved was how they weren’t content just to bash out the three-chord winners, adding so much depth and dimension to their sound. This song is so basic, with the bass and drums carrying, with simple lead guitar ornamentation while Mac emotes like only he can, in that awkward warble.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, mp3

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