This Friday, let’s pay tribute to an underrated figure in rock ‘n’ roll history, Tommy (Erdelyi) Ramone. This native Hungarian was originally going to manage the Ramones, but when they needed a drummer, he stepped behind the skins and pounded out that super fast beat. Moreover, he is an unknown legend in sports arenas everywhere, as he was the primary writer of “Blitzkrieg Bop”. On top of that, he actually played some of the guitar solos on the band’s records, because Johnny Ramone just liked to play rhythm guitar. He also played on the Too Tough To Die LP, and has produced some swell albums, including The Replacements’ Tim and Redd Kross’ Neurotica. Please salute Tommy by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up!
The Psychedelic Furs — Dumb Waiters (Talk Talk Talk): The first two Furs albums are a fascinating tandem. The first album is dark, bleak and angry with the Furs’ accessible take on post-punk sounds. But Talk Talk Talk manages to be brighter, overall, showing a wider array of influences. This track might be the closest to what transpired on the first album. This is a prickly rant, with Duncan Kilburn’s off-kilter saxophone keying the proceedings as the band lurches and drones very effectively.
Split Enz — History Never Repeats (Corroboree): A sparkly jangly Neil Finn number. After the success of “I Got You” on the band’s True Colours album, it’s obvious that Neil’s confidence rocketed sky high and suddenly he was dashing off one hooky number after the other. This one relies on a somewhat sing-songy melody with a very creative arrangement with lots of cool keyboard embellishments by Eddie Rayner. This song had a terrific video, with Neil singing to his brother Tim, who was on a small TV screen, with Tim dressed in the garish costumes of the old mid-‘70s Split Enz.
Pixies — Oh My Golly! (Surfer Rosa): Because the Pixies are certified rock deities, I think I have some of their stuff on my iPod out of obligation rather than because I like every track. Don’t get me wrong, Surfer Rosa, Doolitte and Trompe Le Monde are big faves of mine. But they had more than their fair shore of throwaways. This speedy rush of a track is a nice burst of energy, but there’s not a whole lot to it. But it breezes by in less than two minutes, and nobody gets hurt, so I suppose it’s okay.
Number One Cup — Ease Back Down (Wrecked By Lions): Number One Cup played a nifty arty alt-rock that fit somewhere between the aforementioned Pixies and Pavement. There were hooks in the songs, but none were obvious. Indeed, a lot of their best material avoided obvious directions while remaining memorable. Wrecked By Lions was the best of their three albums, with copious amounts of guitars framing serviceable melodies and those not-so-obvious hooks. This would sound great on CHIRP Radio and I need to play this soon.
Jason & The Scorchers — Last Time Around (Lost & Found): For a few years, Jason & The Scorchers were one of the best bands on the planet. They loved hard rock and they loved country music and they jammed it together and made it work. Some called it “cowpunk,” but whatever it was labeled, it was quintessentially American music played by one of the hottest band’s around, with the surprisingly rangy drawl of Jason Ringenberg and all-world guitarist Warner Hodges. This is the opening track on the album and it smokes. And it’s not even the rockingest track on the album.
The Sugarplastic – Arizona (Radio Jejune): This L.A. band always garnered XTC comparisons, since singer Ben Eshbach’s voice has a bit of a resemblance to Andy Partridge’s voice and the band played a herky-jerky brand of rock. There is a little XTC in the band’s sound. but Eshbach has noted The Monochrome Set as a big influence, which is pretty obvious. If you take more XTC-ish melodies and lay them on circular chord patterns reminiscent of The Monochrome Set, Orange Juice, Josef K and others from that era, that gives you a clue as to where this criminally overlooked band is coming from.
Didjits — The Man (Little Miss Carriage!): This is from a five-song EP which featured Rey Washam of Scratch Acid on drums. This is a mid-tempo song, thus much slower than most Didjits tunes, which features some typically stinging Rick Sims guitar work. This isn’t a great song, but when a band is really great, and Didjits was really great, even lesser efforts fly, because the overall sound is worth hearing.
The Fall — The Steak Place (The Frenz Experiment): The Frenz Experiment is a good but not great album from the first Brix Smith era. Mark E. Smith’s first wife propelled the band into more accessible directions, as not every song was a grinding dirge or off-kilter rockabilly track. Her love of jangly guitars melded at times with Mark’s love of Can like drone, as illustrated by this moody composition which features a finger snapping rhythm section.
Ramones — Now I Wanna Be a Good Boy (Leave Home): Finally! I get a shuffle track for a birthday artist! This is probably my favorite of the early Ramones albums, as they tempered their power with a bit more of their pop influence. Their music is so basic and immediate, it’s hard to fathom how difficult it was for them commercially, as it wasn’t really until “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” that they got substantial airplay nationwide. And now you see grade school kids wearing Ramones shirts. Better late than never.
Brett Smiley — VaVaVa Voom (Velvet Tinmine): I have three or four collections of obscure British glam rock singles. Basically, every band on these collections picks someone to ape — T. Rex, Slade or Sparks — and then gives it their best. Mr. Smiley certainly does his best to emulate Marc Bolan’s fey vocal stylings and the music is pepped up ’50s rock and roll. Not as good as the inspiration, but it’s bloody fun.