The CHIRP Blog
On this day in 1897, Guglielmo Marconi obtained the first ever patent for radio, in London. Granted, it wasn’t broadcast radio — Marconi built on Heinrich Hertz’s discovery of electomagnetic radiation and developed the first wireless transmission of telegraph messages over significant distances. Others had been able to transmit over extremely short distances, but it was Marconi who figured out how to do it over many miles, sparking a communications revolution that reverberates to this day. Of course, someday we here at CHIRP hope that we can take advantage of Marconi’s initial innovation with our own terrestrial radio station. In the meantime, I have no doubt the Guglielmo would have really dug iPods and MP3 players, so grab yours and help celebrate the father of radio’s first patent by hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Pernice Brothers — Our Time Has Passed (The World Won’t End): One of the quintessential Pernice tunes, a mid-tempo pop song with a melody that sounds like it could have come from Jackson Browne or The Eagles in 1974, overlayed with a little ’60s British pop gloss and superb lyrics. The swelling middle eight is pretty much perfect, as the song mixes resignation with celebration of a relationship that was but wasn’t meant to be that long.
- Mano Negra — Amerika Perdida (Amerika Perdida): A jazzy bopping number from the French band led by Mano Chao who were the godfathers of the rock en espanol movement. Mano Negra was conversant in so many styles, from the hardest of rock to ska to traditional folk to this Cuban styled offering, and they could mix and match without any difficulty, binding everything with their incredible energy.
- Supergrass — Lose It (I Should Coco): An early energetic Supergrass song that already showed Gaz Coombes’ skill at marrying punchy rock (this tune sounds like it’s rooted in The Move and ’70s glam rock) with dollops of the most bittersweet melodies. It creates a special tension that makes Supergrass compelling and makes their brand of pop feel a bit weightier, regardless of the lyrical content.
- The Dukes Of Stratosphear — Collideascope (Psonic Psunspot): After the brilliant 25 O’Clock EP, which sold better than XTC’s other releases of the period, a full length album had to be made. And it was almost as good as the EP. This is a terrific Andy Partridge psych-pop song. This is arguably the greatest rock side project ever. It’s a shame that the bubblegum-glam Dukes album Andy planned never got off the ground.
- Iron & Wine — Resurrection Fern (The Shepard’s Dog): Sam Beam’s whispery folk songs are so comforting and manage to sound hip while also not really being that far, at times, from something that Bread or America might have recorded. The differences are both lyrical and how Beam never lets his choruses explode like those AM radio giants did. Beam has created his own musical world. This song would have fit in well on the prior two Iron & Wine LPs, but this album does a nice job of adding some bluesy edges to add variety to his sound.
- XTC — Meccanic Dancing (Oh We Go!)(Go 2): XTC’s second album is a bit disjointed, as the band seemed unsure of where to go. This was exacerbated by keyboardist Barry Andrews wanting a larger role. Ultimately, Andrews left and was replaced by guitarist David Gregory, which helped Andy Partridge to evolve into a songwriting genius. Even with the creative tension, Go 2 is still a respectable effort, as exemplified by this spiffy piece of post-punk pop. This sound inspired so many British bands of the past few years (like The Futureheads for example), with spiky guitars and a cod disco beat.
- Guided By Voices — Tractor Rape Chain (Bee Thousand): Like most people, this album was my first exposure to GBV and hooked me for life. Robert Pollard knows how to craft a tune that mines from the great British rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s. This song has the grandeur of The Who, but with a melody that more fits a band like The Hollies or The Jam. The band hit on psych-pop, classic rock and power pop, often in the same song. While they had their share of so-so songs, not many bands of their era had as many great songs, like this one.
- Tangiers — Spine To Your Necklace (Never Bring You Pleasure): Tangiers were a Canadian act that fit somewhere with Spoon, The Strokes and some of post-punk poppy Brit acts of the past six or seven years. Their songs are catchy as hell and rely on clipped guitar parts and rhythms with just enough melody to keep them from being monochromatic. They had three albums, and this one is the best. This song works a Wire like riff but mixes in some ’60s psych-pop touches, all over a vaguely Bowieesque glam beat.
- Aztec Camera — Jump (Just Say Yesterday): This originally appeared on the Oblivious EP. Frame does the Van Halen smash in near cocktail jazz version, with a mellow vibe, featuring primarily his acoustic guitar and a piano. He’s clearly taking the piss out of the song. I’m conflicted on this. I think “Jump” is a very well-written slab o’ pop and this is fairly condescending. However, since this is a good song, even this snarky version has appeal.
- Adrian Belew — The Rail Song (Twang Bar King): This is the best song from Belew’s wonderful second solo album. It’s an excellent moody slice of psychedelic pop with some Eastern undertones. The song is very forceful, yet there’s an elegance at its core that really strikes an emotional chord.
While his younger brother Neil ended up with larger commercial success in Crowded House (though Tim was with the band on its most successful album), Tim has been a great pop musician since he co-founded Split Enz in the early ’70s, making everything from arty pop to fun new wave to plain old fashioned good singer-songwriter stuff. Although his recent solo records have been hard to find, he still writes terrific songs. Moreover, it’s still a kick to think that one of the most handsome rock singers ever used to wear garish makeup, crazy costumes and the oddest haircuts that anyone has ever worn on stage. This man deserves a birthday tribute, so grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
- Rich Creamy Paint — I Found Love (Rich Creamy Paint): During the mid to late ’90s, there was a fleeting moment where it looked like the indie power pop revival might make the mainstream, and the major labels signed a few acts. One of these acts was Rich Painter, who performed under the unfortunate moniker Rich Creamy Paint. His sole major label platter is big and brassy teenage pop (in the ’70s sense, not the modern sense) with lots of big hooks. This is a mid-tempo ballady number that still manages to find a couple of spots for crunchy guitars.
- Psychedelic Furs — All That Money Wants (All Of This And Nothing): The first three Furs albums are all great, though each takes a somewhat different approach. From that point forward, the Furs were a lot more hit and miss. This track, which was appended to a “hits” compilation, is somewhat in the Talk Talk Talk mold (and could have been recorded for that album for all I know). It has some psych-jangle guitar and Richard Butler’s sore throated world weary voice.
- Nazareth — Ship Of Dreams (Malice In Wonderland): The Scottish hard rock band, best known for its cover of “Love Hurts”, took a mellower direction on this 1980 album. This has a bit of a California ’70s rock vibe, and the band shows some heretofore unknown harmonizing skill. Moreover, some of the songs, such as this one, have a bit of a darker aspect than the typical Laurel Canyon tune, making for music that is inviting yet a bit unsettling. A real underrated gem of an album.
- Dolly Parton — Highway Headin’ South (Mission Chapel Memories): A great upbeat Dolly tune with a bit of a gospel feel. The tune is basically a hooray for the South number, though it makes the good point that living where it’s cold isn’t always fun. Who cares about the lyrics when Dolly is singing so joyously.
- Green Pajamas — Carmilla (In a Glass Darkly): This cult band is a favorite among those who like baroque psychedlic pop. As time went on, Jeff Kelly and his crew went in a bit more of a chamber pop direction, as on this song. This is a sweet and haunting track that reminds me a bit of the folkier side of Led Zeppelin in spots, mixed with The Left Banke.
- Wax — Continuation (What Else Can We Do): Although based in L.A., three of the four members of this band (who achieved brief fame for the controversial Spike Jonze directed video for “California”) were from the western suburbs. In fact, I worked for three years with Wax bass player Dave (Burdie Cutlass) Georgeff. Wax was a snappy pop-punk band that seemed cut from the same cloth as bands like All, mixed melodic hooks with some odd tempo shifts and arrangements. This song works a simple groove relentlessly, building up to a nice refrain.
- Screaming Blue Messiahs — Too Much Love (Bikini Red): This trio, which sprung from the ashes of Motor Boys Motor, mixed some traditional ’50s rock ‘n’ roll with streamlined punky rock, without sounding like either a punk or a rockabilly band. The band’s rhythm section was ultra steady and tight, alllowing frontman Bill Carter plenty of room to dazzle with his guitar playing. The first two SBM albums, this is from the second, are packed with hooky songs that don’t sound much like anybody else.
- The Rutles — I Must Be In Love (The Rutles): This Beatles parody from the late ’70s was the brain child of Eric Idle of Monty Python and Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Band. Innes whipped up 20 Beatle soundalike tunes, many of which sounded as good as the originals that he was spoofing. This track amalgamates the ideas of a few different tracks and is a fun early ’60s rock romp.
- The Raspberries — Rose Colored Glasses (Capitol Collectors Series): Since I’m a big power pop fan, I’ve tried to fully embrace The Raspberries. While I love their hits, many of Eric Carmen’s soppy ballads do nothing for me. Such as this one.
- Nothing Painted Blue — Couldn’t Be Simpler (Placeholders): Hyperliterate indie rock band fronted by Franklin Bruno. Bruno had a limited whiny/drawly voice, but it was well suited for his clever lyrics. The band’s music didn’t fit in any particular bag — it’s pretty much catchy guitar rock, with influences such as Elvis Costello, The Smiths, The Kinks and many others. This song mixes an industrial strength guitar riff with a detour into Burt Bacharach land before heading back into the rock.
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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.