I’m passing on some major birthdays (Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Dave Wakeling of The English Beat and, of course, Falco) to honor Peter Holsapple, who, with and without Chris Stamey, did some amazing work with The dB’s in the ’80s and has gone on to The Continental Drifters and further work with Mr. Stamey. I got to interview Peter in college, when The dB’s opened for R.E.M. in Carbondale in 1984. He was a really nice guy with a great sense of humor. Me and my friend Dale ran into him after the gig, he had his hands full, so I opened the door for the band’s van…and a jar of peanut butter rolled out and shattered on the sidewalk below. Holsapple put down his stuff, said in a ceremonious voice, “He broke the jar of peanut butter!” and then said I was entitled to a prize for this deed. He reached in the van and gave me a copy of the new dB’s album, Like This. As an 18-year-old college student, this made me feel really cool, which happened so rarely back in those days. So please honor Mr. Holsapple and grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
The Liquor Giants — I Don’t Know Why (Something Special For The Kids): This is off of the Giants’ all covers album. Unlike most such affairs, the songs are, for the most part, quite obscure. This song was originally done by Sons Of Thunder, who I know nothing about. Ward Dotson and crew bust out the Farfisa for this tinny light garage rock song with almost a girl group feel.
Pavement — Stare (Crooked Rain Crooked Rain): I am such a Johnny Come Lately to the Pavement party. Other than Slanted and Enchanted, there’s no Pavement album I love, as my iPod is introducing me to some of their music. That includes this low key track with a lot of reverb guitar. Not one of Pavement’s shining moments.
Maximo Park — Going Missing (A Certain Trigger): One of the better new wave revivalists of the last decade, the band revolves around Paul Smith’s sharp lyrics and intent personality, which are supported by the tight playing of the supporting band. There are some slight post-punk nods here, but in the service of hooky, melodic ends. Oddly enough, though the band’s sound gets better with each album, the songwriting is a bit weaker each time out. So this debut album is the one to go with, if you’re only having one.
Husker Du — No Promise Have I Made (Candy Apple Grey): Some folks ripped Husker Du a new one back in 1985, when they released their first major label album. Songs like this piano ballad from Grant Hart are why. This is an achingly tender ballad with a raw vocal performance from Hart. While this may have ticked off punk formalists, for those of us who were fans of Hart and Bob Mould as writers, hearing them expand their sound, retaining their emotional core was a great thing. A good song off a darned good album.
The dB’s — Dynamite (Stands For Decibels): Hey! A birthday match!!! A very typical Chris Stamey song from the first dB’s album. Stamey was heavily influenced by Radio City-era Big Star and it’s reflected in this quirky power pop tune. Stamey drawls and draws out the melody, while Will Rigby punctuates and moves along the proceedings on the drums. Peter Holsapple adds some roller rink keyboards on one of many outstanding songs on this LP.
Randy Newman — Mr. President (Have Pity on a Working Man)(Good Old Boys): The fact that Newman got any traction in the rock world is partially a testament to the notion that a well written song is a well written song. Other than the rhythm of this song, this tune could have been written in the ’30s, with its hint of a ragtime influence. The lyrics are more acerbic, of course. This is a second tier Randy Newman song, which is better than most writers first tier material.
Pere Ubu — Heaven (Datapanik In The Year Zero): I got into Pere Ubu after they reunited, and had to work my way backwards to their early stuff. Some of it is dark, some of it is inaccessible, but some songs show that the band’s alleged pop moves in the late ’80s were foreshadowed. This is a pretty jaunty song, but for the industrial humming keyboard that oscillates throughout the song. Pere Ubu is the embodiment of one of the few maxims of music that I live by — you can’t screw with song form unless you know how to write a good song in the first place. This is a straightforward good song — most of the time they are messing with that form.
Buck Owens — A-11 (Buck Owens Collection): This is one of Buck’s classic hits, a honky tonk lament about a guy who doesn’t want to hear a song on the jukebox that will dredge up awful memories. Of course, I’m sure Buck actually wanted people to play “A-11” on jukeboxes in honky tonks throughout the land, and I don’t know if anyone was averse to this song, even if wasn’t selection number A-11 on an actual jukebox.
The Cardigans — Life (Rise & Shine): The first two Cardigans albums are soft-pop classics and it seems like subsequent releases found the band distancing itself from its past, as if it were embarrassed. They should be embarrassed about the sleepy serious recent efforts which waste the talents of Nina Persson, who is made for these sunny retro-‘60s pop numbers. One key to these songs is that The Cardigans were a rock band, so they played these soft numbers with a lot of punch, without overwhelming them.
The Four Tops — Something About You (The Singles): I’ll have to check, I think this is a Holland-Dozier-Holland number … it is! This is classic Motown, with a driving rhythm and typically strong vocals (though Levi Stubbs does not take the lead) from the Tops. This is still the sound of Young America, for my money