You say Pee Wee Herman isn’t rock and roll? How can you, after the way he danced to The Champs’ “Tequila” in his movie debut? And who can forget Joeski Love’s hip-hop novelty classic, “Pee Wee’s Dance”? Today is Paul Reubens’ birthday, the man who created Pee Wee. The Pee Wee Herman Saturday morning show is one of the great children’s shows ever, and surely has inspired some of the artists we play on CHIRP. Even if that’s not true, Pee Wee is a lot of fun, which is reason enough to pay tribute to Mr. Reubens. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up!
Ray, Goodman & Brown — Special Lady (Ray, Goodman & Brown): These guys were originally called The Moments, and had a big hit with “Love on a Two Way Street”. But when they wanted to leave their record label, they found that the label owned the name. So they decided to just use their own monikers. They were a classic R & B vocal band, with sterling harmonies. This was their signature hit, a lush ballad that started with a nod to their street corner singing roots. As they harmonize the first chorus, they also “ad lib” advice to each other, to make sure they are in sync. The song is really good, too.
Elton John — This Song Has No Title (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road): Oh how clever Elton John and Bernie Taupin were. It’s the rock equivalent of Rene Magritte’s This Is Not A Pipe painting. But enough about the title. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is arguably Sir Elton’s best album, and the deep cuts, such as this one, are pretty darn good. This is a melodic mid-tempo song that sounds great, though its hook isn’t as strong as a typical Elton single.
Chitlin’ Fooks — Did It Again (Did It Again): The title cut from the second collaboration between Carolyn Van Dyk of Bettie Serveert and Pascal Deweze of Sukilove. There is a country rock gloss on all of these songs, with bits of steel guitar and other twang showing up. But the songs don’t stray too far from the artful pop of Deweze’s regular gig. This starts off twangin’, and then adds some beefy guitars and horns to make this a very nice hodgepodge.
The Sorrows — Bad Times Good Times (Teenage Heartbreak): This is another skinny tie power pop band that snagged a major label deal in 1980, when everyone was trying to find the next Knack. The Sorrows had more of a traditional rock and roll base than some of the other bands of this stripe, so their songs were more ’60s oriented. Some, like this one, are as much garage rock as power pop. This has an authentic sound, except for the drum sound, which is very late ’70s.
Missy Elliott — Teary Eyed (Respect M.E.): A relatively melodic mid-tempo number from Missy, which showcases her vocal skills more than her rapping. As a result, it doesn’t have the usual attitude one would expect from Ms. Elliott. This could be one of a number of R & B divas. Nevertheless, this is a pretty good song, with typically inventive production.
The Sweet — Daydream (Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be): Sweet started out as a bubblegum band. Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn wrote the Archies-esque A-sides (like “Funny Funny” and “Co-Co”), the band got to release rocking B-sides (which they played on, while the A-sides were performed by session dudes — only the vocals were Sweet). When it came time to make an album, it was padded with more session music, including this sugary cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit. This is nothing special, but it shows how versatile singer Brian Connolly was. He could sing with great power, or sound like a more manly Davy Jones, as he does on this track.
Sukilove — Woe (You Kill Me): On Sukilove’s second album, the aforementioned Pascal Deweze broke away from the sunnier, Aztec Camera-like surfaces of his band’s earlier work. Some of the strong melodies remained, but there was more aggressive blues-based guitar, often distorted, as the songs became moodier. Actually, maybe bitter would be a good word. On this song, the guitar and a distant drum are eventually met by distant choral vocals that are hard to pick up. In some respects, this conjures up a similar mood to the more paranoid side of Radiohead (is that the only side of Radiohead?), but with a somewhat more organic sound. Sparklehorse might also be a good comparison point.
Rank and File — Coyote (Sundown): After the punk band The Dils dissolved, Chip and Tony Kinman went in a totally different direction, playing a very Everly Brothers-inspired take on cow punk. Their version of twang rock is so unique, both in the spacious way they played it, and how the sweet harmonies were usually contrasted by the distinctive baritone voice of Tony Kinman. How authentic their songs were is open to question, but they certainly had the right feel. This is such a simple composition, with all of the right elements in place.
The Kinks — Johnny Thunder (Village Green Preservation Society): Whether this is the best Kinks album is debatable, but the five album run from Face To Face through Lola, with Village Green falling smack dab in the middle, is about as good as any artist as ever had. This album is the height of the band’s pastoral period, with songs suffused in nostalgia and traditional values. Ray Davies was spinning out classic song structures one after the other. Just from this song, you can hear how it influenced everyone from Bowie to The Smiths to Blur and more.
Chris Isaak — Talk To Me (Silvertone): The first Chris Isaak album was a revelation. The album cover tried to make him look as much like a young Elvis as possible, and the music was steeped in melodramatic ’50s and ’60s balladeering. It sounded like nothing else at the time. This is a very typical track, which starts at a slow burn, with Isaak finding a moment to show off his vocal range and unleashing the anguish that builds up in each verse. He’s spent the rest of his career refining this style, with generally good results. But he will never top this timeless debut.