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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mixed Disc #2: Nothing But Flowers

Nothing But Flowers...10/2001
front cover
Days after Chelo received her first disc, Victims of Geography, she received a bouquet of flowers in the mail. Nothing But Flowers was the second mixed disc I made for her. I don't think it was the strongest tracklist of the lot, but when you don't know someone very well, musically speaking, you need to throw some feelers out there. Sometimes that means sacrificing your own taste to see what grabs her. This disc included some bands who wouldn't make many appearances in the collection because Chelo didn't like 'em and I didn't enjoy including ' The Dead (besides, I think a magnolia is a tree, not a flower).

I went with a 60/40 split when I first started making discs for Chelo...about 60% of the disc was brand new to her, while I figured she knew the other 40%. I'm just kidding, I didn't plan it out to that extent, but I did figure she'd know some of the music and that would be good. It would show her we had some bands in common. No matter the audience, Talking Heads are always a safe bet, and "(Nothing But) Flowers" is one of Chelo's favorites. "Iris" was popular at the time and also had a beautiful message that would catch her attention, no doubt...a fox is a wolf who sends flowers ;->

I've given Chelo flowers and plants throughout the years, and they were all very pretty, but not very memorable. I just now found that out when she said, "You've never given me least not in the past few years." Music is memorable and lasts forever. Nothing But Flowers is the nicest bouquet I ever gave her.

Check out the list of songs and click to see the videos when available (I love Nirvana's video for "In Bloom", and "Iris" live in an absolute downpour is magnificent). Then tell me, what would you put on the sequel? "Blue Orchid" from The White Stripes, the one I gave Chelo for Mothers' Day this year? I'd like to know. Put as many "flower" songs in the comments as you can for as the great Delta Burke once said, "If you want to say it with flowers, a single rose says, 'I'm cheap'."

click to enlarge
1. This Bouquet<><>Ani DiFranco
2. Sugar Magnolia<><>Grateful Dead
3. The Daisy<><>Calobo
4. Sunflowers<><>Everclear
5. In Bloom<><>Nirvana
6. Iris<><>Goo Goo Dolls
7. Lilies Of The Valley<><>David Byrne
8. Flowers<><>Camper Van Beethoven
9. The Garden<><>P.J. Harvey
10. Wild Flower<><>The Cult
11. Garden<><>Pearl Jam
12. (Nothing But) Flowers<><>Talking Heads
13. Flower<><>Liz Phair
14. Bed Of Roses<><>Screaming Trees
15. All The Dirt<><>Mike Doughty
16. Flowers In My Heart<><>Sixteen Horsepower
17. Pictures Of Lily<><>The Who
18. New Rose<><>The Damned
19. Blue Flower<><>Mazzy Star
20. Rose Parade<><>Elliott Smith
21. (hidden track) Garden Party<><>Rick Nelson

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Introduction and Mixed Disc #1: Victims Of Geography

Every guy thought that his barrage of mixed tapes would be the piece de resistance of his current courtship. There was no convenience factor when putting together a mixed tape. Recording a mixed tape was a lengthy process (if you did it right...c'mon now!). You thought, "There's no way that she won't appreciate this tremendous effort...She'll be mine for life!" Well the truth is it was a labor of love and no one appreciated the mixed tape as much as its creator.

Of course, now we're talking about burned CDs (or perhaps even just moving songs from her iTunes library into a "new playlist"), but a simple file transfer, in itself, doesn't quite have the same romantic essence as the mixed tape. It's the difference between a handwritten letter and an email...miles apart on the spectrum of passion. I know...I've created my share of mixes in the past 25 years. One of my very first mixed tapes went to future author Tara McCarthy. It even found its way into her 1998 book Been There, Haven't Done That: A Virgin's Memoir, a narrative sprung from Tara's journals about one hapless boyfriend after another on her search for love. Here I sit..."Ian Haviland"...early hapless boyfriend from the high school years. However, she was kind enough to me in the book...thank you Tara.

But I'm here to talk about my final mixed tape recipient, my wife. I've thrown her under the bus a few times in my writing; even the blog title is a reference to one of her favorite sayings. The truth is that Chelo loves good music as much as me. However, for her (and probably most people), music needs to fit the mood...there's certain music for dinner, certain music for dancing, certain music for downtime, and, often, silence is golden. I, on the other hand, can listen to anything at anytime. I can bang my head to Sigur Ros or fall asleep to Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Victims of Geography...10/2001
front cover
When Chelo and I began dating we lived 1,500 miles apart. We would talk often and visit about once a month. Also about once a month, a mixed CD left Oregon and made its way to Flagstaff, Arizona, and I'm sure that it was these slices of audible art that solidified my place inside her heart.  The first CD was titled Victims Of Geography...a phrase which I pulled from a Billy Bragg song called "The Only One"...chosen for our inconvenient living arrangements. Now, I said that burned CDs don't carry the same weight as a good ol' mixed tape, but that is not necessarily the case if you do it right. I thought I'd take a look at those discs again to remind me how wonderful my wife is and to make a killer 80 minute collection of music!

There needs to be a common thread throughout the disc. Ridiculous are those who slap eighteen or so unrelated songs together and call it good. "She likes those songs," you say...well then she probably has them already, onionhead. It's ok to give her a song or two that she already owns as long as they fit within the context of the art. Then, she'll hear those songs a bit differently forever more. The song selections on Chelo's collections are most often related by title. It's a rare occasion that songs with similar messages are the priority.

Click to enlarge
On Victims Of Geography, each song title includes a geographical place name. This disc was created way back in October of 2001, so we could come up with tons of songs that might've made the cut since that time. I'd like that. What songs would you put on the sequel? Read through the track on song titles to see videos when available...finally, add a song or two of your own that fits the theme in the comment section.

1. Welcome To This World<><>Primus
2. Mexico<><>Cake
3. London Rain<><>Heather Nova
4. Santa Monica<><>Everclear
5. Tennessee<><>Arrested Development
6. Shiloh Town<><>Mark Lanegan
7. The Girl From Ipanema<><>Pizzicato Five
8. U-Mass<><>Pixies
9. Livin' On The Edge (Of Houston)<><>The Reverend Horton Heat
10. Singapore<><>Tom Waits
11. Arizona Sky<><>China Crisis
12. A New England<><>Billy Bragg
13. Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago<><>Soul Coughing
14. Brasilia Crossed With Trenton<><>Bob Mould
15. Radio Free Europe<><>R.E.M.
16. Seattle<><>Public Image Limited
17. LA<><>Elliott Smith
18. Madagascar<><>Brenda Kahn
19. Norwegian Wood<><>The Beatles
20. New Amsterdam<><>Elvis Costello
21. She Went To Germany<><>Violent Femmes
22. Port Angeles<><>Flop
23. Donegal Express<><>Shane MacGowan & The Popes

Previewing this post, Chelo smiled. It made her want to revisit the disc. The power of a great collection of music is never least, so says the creator.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Research-based Break in Progress

Should've mentioned this a while ago because I haven't posted a review in some time. Taking about a month off from Marc, Turn That Down! (retroactive to mid-September) for action research. I'll be back shortly with renewed vigor...and the scoop on lots of your favorite albums plus some hidden gems as well. In the meantime, pull something off the shelf and hear it again for the first time...and have a beer for me. Try a Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA from Eugene, Oregon. Mmmm...tasty. See ya soon!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

31. apb: Something To Believe In

Vinyl...if you were old enough to collect music prior to the 1990s you bought it. Many own a box or two of records somewhere...the attic maybe? Perhaps it was in the basement and got soaked thanks to Hurricane Irene just a few weeks ago. Either way, you've loved those records through the years (well, maybe not that Hall and Oates you got when you were eleven). I frequently pull my old records off the shelf and place them on the shiny silver Crosley turntable my wife gave to me one Christmas. I'm a living room dancer (usually right in front of the window), but it's gotta be loud. Inevitably, Chelo gives me the "Marc, turn that down!" (which totally contradicts the meaning of the gift, yes?) And, anyway, it was fun while it lasted. My point is, we loved those records and throughout the years we've probably done the best we could to find good deals to slowly acquire the CD versions of the recordings (thank you Amazon). Thus, we come to APB.

One of my favorites to groove to is APB's Something To Believe In (at least that's what the neighbors say). APB was/is a Scottish band formed in 1979. Something To Believe In (1985) is a wonderful collection of singles that toe the line between the post-punk and dance genres, but remains all alternative. Iain Slater's funky pre-Flea bass carries the music from decade to decade with powerful grace, while the guitars are sharp, siren-like at times (sounds of the day...heard in bands like Haircut 100 as well as modern artists like Bloc Party). The drums are tinny and heavy on the high-hat, setting the tone for the stampede to the dancefloor.

APB was a popular underground band in the NYC area...very underground. After their small record label went out of business, fans in search of Something To Believe In were met with the letters OOP..."Out Of Print". I know this because I was searching the internet for a CD/digital version of the record I'd enjoyed for years. Naturally, my search led me to Amazon whereupon I couldn't help but be astonished at the prices people were paying for the original record...up to $300 (even the 1996 reissue was selling for three digits). My first thought had me wondering just how much I wanted to keep that record, but I shook it off and realized it was a testament to how good the album is. Besides, it wasn't long after that a stateside indie record label re-released Something To Believe In as a 2-CD set with rarities and live tracks...and that's why I can tell you about it today...yay Young American Recordings!

I'm listening to it as I'm typing, and I swear I can't sit still.

The first song, "Shoot You Down" was a staple of The Ferry Club in the 1980s, and remains one of my favorite songs of all time. It's followed by bees-knees after another as, again, this is a collection of singles from the early to mid 80s...not a studio album with clunkers buried between hits. All of these songs saw the inside of a club in their time. "Talk To Me", "Palace Filled With Love", "Rainy Day", "One Day", and "What Kind Of Girl?" are the other standouts, but every song makes you move. Every track is incredibly catchy.

I say you should listen to every album I've written about, but I also know that some of the albums are widely popular and my readers have already formed opinions about them. This is not widely popular, so if you have not heard it, I urge you to listen...and you'll see what all the OOP fuss was about. Here's the original recording of "Shoot You Down" playing over current video of APB followed by a performance of "Palace Filled With Love" from NYC less than a month ago. Now go find Something To Believe In.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

30. Warren Zevon: Learning To Flinch

I saw Warren Zevon at a Portland club sometime in the 1990s. I can't remember exactly when. It was a very memorable moment for me, but I just don't know when it happened (that seems odd). Learning To Flinch (1993) had already been released. I know this because Zevon related this story to us that night. He said, "A reporter asked me if the live show would be similar to the disc Learning To Flinch. I said, 'Yeah my live show might be somewhat similar to my live disc.'" Zevon was a funny man. He used his dark sense of humor throughout his decades of entertaining us. Learning To Flinch takes his listeners beyond the cynical humor and deeper into the singer/songwriter/musician himself.

Armed with a guitar, a harmonica, and a piano, Zevon took to the road in 1992 playing small clubs all over the world. The album features recordings from venues in Germany, England, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, and throughout America. Many of his greatest songs are included (there are 17 tracks in all), and every one is stripped down and acoustic. It's wonderful to hear his husky voice when it's not fighting for center-stage with the sounds of a full band. This tour came as a result of Warren's back being against the wall. His albums had not done well and he'd been dropped by both Asylum Records and Virgin Records in the last few years. Being a singer/songwriter in the early 90s was not very fashionable either (unless you wore flannel). Thankfully, Giant Records picked up the somewhat struggling artist and the reduced circumstances that followed led to this "unplugged" solo masterpiece.

Opening the album with "Splendid Isolation", perhaps as a way of telling us he's alright on his own, we hear the terms "Georgia O'Keeffe", "Michael Jackson", and "Goofy" within the first minute. I don't really have much to follow that...I just think it's funny. Learning To Flinch contains outstanding versions of "Lawyers, Guns, And Money", the psychopathic story of "Excitable Boy", "Mr. Bad Example" (waaay better than the original studio version), "Boom Boom Mancini", "Werewolves Of London", over twenty minutes worth of cult faves "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", and the closing anti-anthem "Play It All Night Long". There are certainly some great songs missing (no "Desperados Under The Eaves", "Ain't That Pretty At All", "Mohammed's Radio", "Johnny Strikes Up The Band", or "Accidentally Like A Martyr"), and three new songs are included that don't seem to measure up to his best...making me miss the exclusions that much more. However, overall, the collection should satisfy any Zevon fan. The intimacy of these versions is what makes this album great. It's not necessarily the selections. The songs chosen to represent this tour are played differently and heard differently.

I've included a video from a BBC TV show of "Lawyers, Guns And Money" from the Learning To Flinch time period. Also included is the final public appearance for Zevon... October 30, 2002 on Letterman. He performs Dave's favorite, "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner". Today marks the eighth anniversary of Warren Zevon's death. His dark humor continued to amaze right up to the end. To Letterman he quipped, "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for twenty years." And when asked if he knew more about life and death, Warren Zevon responded, "Enjoy every sandwich."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

29. Alejandro Escovedo: Bourbonitis Blues

I do not claim to always know of what I speak. Those of you who choose to have conversations with me daily can attest to that. However, when it comes to writing, I usually research like nobody's bidness! I've had lots of fun reviewing the first 28 albums on Marc, Turn That Down! I enjoy sharing the music I like with you and sharing what I know from my own experience. It's important, as a writer, to write about what you know, and up to now, the albums I've reviewed have been some of my best friends. It's been easy to write about them. I do enjoy researching each particular album and sharing what I learn after looking for that extra tidbit of interesting info...a piece that might nudge a reader to try something new.  And now, I am going out on a limb at #29 with Alejandro Escovedo's 1999 album Bourbonitis Blues, because it breaks the mold...shuns the format....ixnay with the atternpay. Of Bourbonitis Blues and Alejandro Escovedo I knew next to nothing last week. It was the unwelcome visit to the east coast by Hurricane Irene that is responsible for today's post...but we'll put a pin in that...I'll explain in a bit.

Alejandro Escovedo was there when punk began...first-wave punk called The Nuns (big enough and punk enough to open The Sex Pistols' last show). The Escovedos are a big Mexican-American family...mostly all musicians (including his niece, drummer Sheila E...see...there's one of those tidbits of info). I mention his family because when the 80s came around he changed his style to more of a roots rock/alternative country sound (in the bands Rank and File and True Believers with his brother Javier). However, it wasn't until the 1990's and the release of his first solo albums that he really found himself, musically speaking.

Bourbonitis Blues was Escovedo's sixth solo album containing nine songs (five of which are cover songs); which leads me to Hurricane Irene and how I came to write about this album. I wanted to be funny and liven the spirits of friends and family on the east coast by posting a song's video on facebook about "Irene" (as if that's all it would've taken..."We're anticipating one of the scariest moments of our lives, but look Honey...Marc posted a video of a song with the word 'Irene' in the title. Everything's going to be just fine now!"). So, while searching my iTunes library to see if I had any "Irene" songs, I came across "Irene Wilde" by Escovedo (I've had this album for a long time, but really never gave it any play). As I listened to see if it was the song that would make everyone smile...make them forget about the impending onslaught bearing down upon them I was. I know that sounds silly, but, at that moment, it was one of the most magnificent songs I had ever heard. I don't know why I never "heard" it before. Anyway, I didn't post it on facebook. I decided to devote some time to it and now, here it is.

"Irene Wilde" is a beautiful song written in 1976 by Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople). It's the story of Hunter's rise to stardom as a result of his being rejected at 16 by his lifelong desire, and Escovedo's acoustic guitar and string arrangement does it some wonderful justice. It's a song with a familiar feel. I don't think I'd ever heard it before, but it sure sounded like the comfort of an old blanket. Other cover songs include a wispy-soft "Pale Blue Eyes" (Velvet Underground), the pretty "Amsterdam" by John Cale, and a super version...lazy and strange...of The Gun Club's "Sex Beat" (a song from my recent list). One standout from his original tracks is the lead song "I Was Drunk", a slow-rolling tale spun from an experience common to many. Other essential songs include "Everybody Loves Me"(the chorus of which I can imagine being sung loudly by a bar full of drunks), and "Sacramento & Polk" which harkens back to days of punk...powerful guitars that start loud and stay there until the soft surprise of a violin finish.

Bourbonitis Blues is all I know of Alejandro Escovedo, but it won't be for long. Most reviews of this album steer the reader toward other Escovedo releases..."better" ones. I can't wait to check on that. Here is a video for "I Was Drunk" with Escovedo (a fine guitarist in his own right) playing alongside the incredible David Pulkingham in 2007 (Pulkingham's expertise kicks in around the 2:35 mark). A live and loose version of "Irene Wilde" follows. The images are somewhat blurry and annoying, and the song seems more haphazard than planned, but its beauty shines through just the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

28. Shriekback: Oil And Gold

I've said before that the musical heyday for my ears was 1985/1986. You've already read about The Cure's The Head On The Door, The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, and The Cult's Love...and there are many more reviews to come, as it was during this time when lesser-known underground bands began gracing mainstream ears. Today, I highlight an obscure and very underrated album from 1985 that finally gets a facelift this the form of a remastered 2CD edition including B-sides and live tracks. It's one of my absolute favorites...Oil And Gold by the band Shriekback.

In 1981, former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews and former Gang Of Four bassist Dave Allen joined guitarist/vocalist Carl Marsh to create Shriekback. After 3 years of marginal dance chart success and label hopping Shriekback made Martyn Barker an official band member (he had signed on as drummer to help with the previous recording) and recruited the ubiquitous ex-Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds...thereby adding muscle to the somewhat tinny dance sounds of the previous albums Care (1983) and Jam Science (1984). The result is an eclectic mix of jungle-thumping dance music (slinking into punk rock when Lu Edmonds is involved). That's the overall feel of the album, however, the band weaves four beautifully sinister pillow-soft ballads into the fabric. The album succeeds despite the fact that Carl Marsh left the band midway through the recording (Barry Andrews took over the vocal duties). It flows smoothly from track one to track ten.

Oil And Gold opens with the 1-2-3 punch of "Malaria", "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (borrowing the title from the short story by Flannery O'Connor), and "Fish Below The Ice" (all sung by Marsh). These are followed by two of the slower songs "This Big Hush" and "Faded Flowers" (Incidentally, director Michael Mann was a Shriekback fan, and used "This Big Hush" is his 1986 thriller Manhunter...the first to feature the serial killer Hannibal Lecter. He also used "Faded Flowers" in Band Of The Hand). Both (sung by Andrews) are tremendous songs nestled in perfectly amongst the higher octane tracks.

Then comes "Nemesis", Shriekback's most well-known song. Based upon the Nemesis hypothesis first proposed in 1984, it states that a hypothetical dwarf star is out there orbiting the sun and that it gets a little too close every 26 million years causing mass extinctions. "Nemesis", the song, sounds like our party theme the night before it all hits the fan. It's big and brash, and it sounds like nothing Shriekback had done before. It's a great song that showcases the intelligence of Shriekback's lyrics as well. Name another band that rhymes "parthenogenesis" successfully in a recurring chorus.

Shriekback are still around producing wonderful music (welcome back Carl Marsh). And again, this, in fact...the 2CD edition of Oil And Gold is released giving this great 1985 album the extra attention it deserves. The original disc is remastered and a second CD contains B-sides and live tracks. Here is the video for "Nemesis". It's safe to say we won't be around for the next cycle of mass extinction (at least according to the Nemesis hypothesis), but if I get word that something major is going down, this song will be on my turntable.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

100 Great 80s Songs from 100 Different Artists

It feels good to be back! I spent the last few weeks in the Netherlands having a great time with new family (new to me) and drinking some fantastic new beers (again, new to me). The beer drinking experience was so good that I want to post about it separately. For now, I wanted to get reacquainted with you by posting more of a discussion topic than an album review.

One evening, in the town of Groet (near the North Sea coast in North Holland), soaked in La Chouffe while enjoying some new family members, I mustered a bit of Dutch courage and began a discussion of 80s music at around midnight...the best songs from all the bands we could remember. The discussion lasted until the beer was gone, but a massive list we concocted. I've arranged 100 of my favorite songs from the 80s...without repeating a quasi alphabetical order.

The music I'm feeling here begins post-punk (about 1978), goes through the goth stages of the early 80s, the alternative new wave of the mid 80s, and ends about 1988 (only one song from this list was released in 1989). A new style began to take over in 1989 leading into the next decade. While it's great music, I don't think anyone would classify Jane's Addiction, Stone Roses, or even Pixies as distinctly 80s.

I'd love to hear your ideas. What would you add to the list? What would you take off? Did I get the best song from your favorite band? Tell me, where did I go wrong? Click on songs for videos...some videos are official, some are live, some were unavailable and simply have stills throughout the audio. See you soon with another album review.

ABC <><> Be Near Me
Adam & The Ants <><> Antmusic
The Alarm <><> Strength
apb <><> Shoot You Down
The B-52's <><> Private Idaho
B-Movie <><> Nowhere Girl
Bauhaus <><> Bela Lugosi's Dead
The Beastie Boys <><> She's On It
Berlin <><> Sex (I'm A...)
Big Audio Dynamite <><> E=MC2
Billy Bragg <><> A New England
Black Uhuru <><> What Is Life
Blue Zoo <><> Somewhere In The World (There's A Cowboy Smiling)
Book Of Love <><> Boy
The Buzzcocks <><> Ever Fallen In Love?
The Call <><> Everywhere I Go
Captain Sensible <><> Wot
China Crisis <><> King In A Catholic Style
The Church <><> Reptile
The Clash <><>Train In Vain
The Cult <><> She Sells Sanctuary
The Cure <><> In Between Days
The Damned <><> Eloise
Dave Edmunds <><> Girls Talk
Dead Or Alive <><> You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)
Depeche Mode <><> Everything Counts
Devo <><> Girl U Want
Duran Duran <><> Rio
Echo & The Bunnymen <><> The Killing Moon
Elvis Costello <><> (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea
The English Beat <><> Mirror In The Bathroom
Erasure <><> Sometimes
Fishbone <><> Bonin' In The Boneyard
Gene Loves Jezebel <><> Desire (Come And Get It)
The Glove <><> Like An Animal
The Gun Club <><> Sex Beat
Haircut 100 <><> Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)
Heaven 17 <><> Let Me Go
The Hoodoo Gurus <><> Like Wow-Wipeout
The Human League <><> Don't You Want Me
Husker Du <><> Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely
Ian Dury & The Blockheads <><> Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
Icicle Works <><> Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)
INXS <><> Don't Change
The Jam <><> Town Called Malice
The Jim Carroll Band <><> People Who Died
Joe Jackson <><> On Your Radio
Joy Division <><> Love Will Tear Us Apart
Kate Bush <><> Hounds Of Love
Killing Joke <><> Eighties
King <><> Love And Pride
The Knack <><> My Sharona
Ledernacken <><> Amok
Love And Rockets <><> Ball Of Confusion
Madness <><> One Step Beyond
Marshall Crenshaw <><> Someday, Someway
Men Without Hats <><> The Safety Dance
Midnight Oil <><> The Power And The Passion
Ministry <><> Work For Love
Modern English <><> I Melt With You
Naked Eyes <><> Always Something There To Remind Me
New Order <><> Temptation
Nick Lowe <><> Cruel To Be Kind
The Normal <><> Warm Leatherette
The Ocean Blue <><> Between Something And Nothing
Oingo Boingo <><> Only A Lad
OMD <><> If You Leave
Our Daughter's Wedding <><> Lawnchairs
The Pet Shop Boys <><> West End Girls
Polyrock <><> Romantic Me
The Psychedelic Furs <><> Love My Way
Public Image Limited <><> Rise
Quando Quango <><> Love Tempo
R.E.M. <><> It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
The Replacements <><> Alex Chilton
Romeo Void <><> Never Say Never
The Screaming Blue Messiahs <><> Smash The Market Place
Secession <><> Touch
Shriekback <><> Nemesis
Sigue Sigue Sputnik <><> Love Missile F1-11
Simple Minds <><> Don't You (Forget About Me)
Siouxsie & The Banshees <><> Cities In Dust
The Smiths <><> How Soon Is Now?
The Specials <><> Gangsters
Split Enz <><> I Got You
Squeeze <><> Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)
Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy <><> Kiss Me (With Your Mouth)
The Stranglers <><> Golden Brown
The Sugarcubes <><> Birthday
The Swinging Laurels <><> Rodeo
Talking Heads <><> This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
Talk Talk <><> It's My Life
Tears For Fears <><> Change
The The <><> Infected
Timezone <><> World Destruction
U2 <><> New Year's Day
Violent Femmes <><> Blister In The Sun
Wall Of Voodoo <><> Mexican Radio
Wide Boy Awake <><> Slang Teacher
XTC <><> Dear God
Yaz <><> Situation

Saturday, July 16, 2011

27. The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow

The inspiration for this post (the last one until mid-August...vacation time!) came from my five year old son watching one of his favorite shows, Yo Gabba Gabba! Floating through the house to my sensitive eardrums from midway through this 2009 episode of space-pop meets life-lesson-via-robots kids show was a performance by The Shins (singing "It's Okay, Try Again"). Catchy little me thinking about the band and its current state of hiatus. Debuting as The Shins in 2001 (it was actually a deviation from frontman James Mercer's band Flake Music), they gained praise and popularity immediately. The band's following continued to grow throughout the decade (including a big boost when Natalie Portman's character Sam touted the band to Zach Braff in the 2004 movie Garden State. She plays "New Slang" from their debut Oh, Inverted World and assures him "You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life...I swear."). They released three wonderfully different albums, and then, James Mercer, in a chest-thumping, alpha-male, let's-not-forget-whose-band-this-is move fired half of the band. I don't know...I guess I can't speak for him, but he then went on to form Broken Bells with Danger Mouse, and announced replacements for the sacked Shins members, keyboardist/guitarist Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval.

All this leads me to the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It seemed to apply in the case of The Shins. On the heels of a highly successful debut album (2001's Oh, Inverted World) the expectations for the band were extremely the eyes of fans and critics alike. Oh, Inverted World was universally and uniformly enjoyed and this was a band primed for the all too common sophomore slump. That, however, was not to be. The second album, Chutes Too Narrow (2003) traveled down a different avenue than did the debut. The Shins exchanged the hazy, lo-fi, hushed-reverb sounds of Oh, Inverted World for a more guitar rich, crisp complexity. On Chutes... Mercer's voice takes center-stage (whereas the beautiful harmonies, at times, seemed to amalgamate with the other instruments on the previous recording). And it's a voice worth listening to...a smooth falsetto, yet filled with nervous tension. He has an incredible vocal range and makes the most of it in these forty minutes...especially on the first track, "Kissing The Lipless", where he takes your ears to another place in the line "You told us of your new life there". 

Another standout track is the first single "So Says I", a hard-rocking pop tune that picks up where Oh, Inverted World left off. "Mine's Not A High Horse", "Saint Simon", and two slower songs "Young Pilgrims" and "Pink Bullets" are also favorites of mine. The strangest of these, "Saint Simon" is magnificent. It transitions seemlessly from unequivocal pop hooks to melancholic choral sections (complete with strings) and coalesces into an aural masterpiece.

Apparently, The Shins are back. The new lineup is slated to play a few festivals this year. I'm hoping they can pick right up where they crashed, but having to replace Crandall and Sandoval is a big blow. For all of Mercer's talents, he's not much of a stage presence. All of the crowd interactions were orchestrated by Marty Crandall at center stage while James Mercer planted himself off to the side (which I always thought was odd). Here's a video of The Shins performing "So Says I" on Letterman followed by a great live performance of "Kissing The Lipless" in Sydney, Australia. Much like The Shins, I'll be taking a break from the blog as we're heading to the Netherlands for a bit. Unlike The Shins, there will be no firings or lineup changes in my household.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

26. Screaming Trees: Sweet Oblivion

No doubt the early 1990s will forever be known as "The Grunge Years" thanks to the commercial success of Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten. Those releases sparked an international interest in a musical style that had gone unnoticed (outside of the Pacific NW) prior to 1991. The following year, the movie Singles and its accompanying top ten soundtrack exposed the world to even more artists of the genre. Seattle bands Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, as well as Smashing Pumpkins (who were Chicago-based, but were desperately searching for a Seattle apartment...just kidding) all cashed in on the newfound success. Perhaps the best band of the lot never achieved the level of success of their aforementioned contemporaries. Seattle's Screaming Trees produced one of the greatest albums of the time, but were unable to gain momentum and build upon it.

In 1992, Screaming Trees released their sixth (that's right, sixth) studio album, Sweet Oblivion. While newbies such as Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, and Smashing Pumpkins were just starting to wear Pull-Ups, bands like Screaming Trees, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, The U-Men, and The Melvins had been around for years. Screaming Trees had worked with smaller labels (Sub Pop and SST) for their first four releases from 1986-1989. Their fifth release in 1991, Uncle Anesthesia, marked their major label debut. That album received some radio airtime, however Sweet Oblivion was the album that was to put them over the top. It did make them stars, to some extent, but bad timing and infighting hurt them and they lacked the staying power of their peers.

Sweet Oblivion opens with the dark "Shadow Of The Season". (Sidenote: My wife told me to post a light, summer-appropriate album, but I wanted an album from the 1990s, and the 90s just didn't go there for me. Seems like all my favorite music from the 90s was dark and depressing. Was I unhappy throughout the 90s? If anyone can remember, please let me know.) The 1970's psychedelic, classic rock influence hits you immediately with force. Once Mark Lanegan's gravelly, whiskey-riddled voice kicks in, you realize this band's been through the ringer and has stories to tell..."The hour's ended can't you see/There is no way now to be free/In the shadow of the season/Without a reason to carry on..." Following the excellent lead of "Shadow..." is the cut from the Singles soundtrack, "Nearly Lost You". It's definitely at the top of the heap here. I can't tell you how many times I've listened to this track over the years. It received more radio/MTV time than any other Trees song, and should have been the springboard to bigger and better things for the band. I haven't been able to confirm it, but I believe the album was released just months before the Singles soundtrack, which meant there wasn't the anticipation for a new Screaming Trees release for potential fans...bad timing hurt sales.

Other standout tracks include the softer hit "Dollar Bill" with its sweet acoustic verses building to hard rock choruses, "Butterfly", and "Julie Paradise" (also using the crescendo tactic, building to a rousing conclusion). Truthfully, the album is strong all the way through. Each track stands tall from the thick and fuzzy "More Or Less" to the bouncy "For Celebrations Past". The draw for Screaming Trees is Mark Lanegan. His voice is a gravel road at it's best...tightly packed and smooth. If you have a difficult time reaching high notes...he invites you to sing with him. It's a voice...deep and guttural, yet as silky as any you've heard.

I mentioned infighting, and it prevented the Trees from releasing a follow-up album until 1996's Dust. Whatever momentum they'd built with Sweet Oblivion went out the window when all that time passed. The tension between band members was present in October of 1993 when I saw them perform at LaLuna in Portland. A great show was cut a bit short when Lanegan stormed off the stage, for some reason, in mid song, while the rest of the band extended the now instrumental version of the song (can't remember which) waiting to see if he'd return...never did...still loved the show though, and the opening band Flop was terrific.

Sweet Oblivion is the best of an overall body of work superior to that of many other more commercially successful "grunge" bands of the time. Here's the video for "Nearly Lost You" capitalizing on the exposure from Singles, and a live version of "Dollar Bill" from the BBC Late Show in 1993.

P.S. Should also mention that an unreleased album recorded in 1998/1999 will finally see the light of day. Titled Last Words: The Final Recordings it should be available digitally on August 2nd...with CD and vinyl release in the next few months. Unfortunately, they have squelched any talk of a reunion.

Monday, July 4, 2011

25. Big Star: #1 Record

While it's too bad that some great bands have discographies as short as a Willamette Valley dry season, it often leaves them welcomely shrouded in mystery. Performers who are consistently producing records, making TV appearances, and touring are no longer strangers to their fans...that can be good, of course, but bad as well. A long list of records almost certainly contains some duds (especially as bands age and more current music sounds nothing like the music of the past). And fans are always craving something new...something unfamiliar. Some of the most influential bands had short careers...think The Clash, Joy Division, Pixies, The Smiths, and The Doors...and they all left their fans wanting more. Another band to include amongst those greats is Big Star.

Big Star was an American power-pop band and the brainchild of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. The two became smitten with the sounds of The Beatles during their 1964 U.S. tour. They decided then, at age thirteen, that they would someday be their own Lennon/McCartney songwriting duo. The most productive years for Big Star were from 1971-1974. In that time they recorded three beautiful albums, #1 Record, Radio City, and Third/Sister Lovers (though Third was not released until 1978). The 1972 debut, #1 Record, contains twelve songs that could've all been singles. There are obvious 60s influences at work here (The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Byrds to name a few), and a strange flow to the album. The abrupt mood changes are exciting and a bit hard to get used to at first.

The opening song "Feel" provides a chorus that sounded familiar to me at once...even though I'd never heard it before. And for the first song from the debut album to bemoan the words "I feel like I'm dying/I'm never gonna live again/You just ain't been trying/It's getting very near the end" shows both confidence and, unbeknownst to the band, an incredible sense of foreshadowing. Internal strife and the frustration of critical accolades coupled with being commercially unsuccessful killed Big Star too soon.

The high-powered tension of "Feel" is followed by the wonderfully glowing melancholy of "The Ballad Of El Goodo" which takes its refrain..."There ain't no one going to turn me 'round"...from an old spiritual which had become a slogan for civil rights in the 60s. Soon after is "Thirteen", a song Rolling Stone includes in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all Time (#396). The song is based on Alex Chilton's inspiring Beatles experience from 1964. It's a mellow stroll of a song with no percussion, and covered by many throughout the years. "Thirteen" gives way to the high-energy "Don't Lie To Me" continuing the roller coaster pattern of contrasting moods.

The second half of the album is softer overall. "Give Me Another Chance" could've come straight from an Elliott Smith record. So strong is the connection between the acoustic strumming, the lyrics, and the vocal style of Chilton and what Elliott Smith provided his fans with decades later. And "Watch The Sunrise", though void of percussion as well, builds such a rolling momentum. It's a beautiful song that was responsible for the start of the band. The story goes that Alex Chilton, who recently had a number one hit in "The Letter" (when with the soul group The Box Tops), approached Chris Bell with the desire to get a Simon and Garfunkel thing going. Bell said no dice, but invited Chilton to come hear his band Icewater (which included Big Star bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens). Chilton came, showed the band one of his own songs and the band sucked him up on the spot. That song was "Watch The Sunrise".

Big Star combined dark, nihilistic themes with the sounds of the British invasion of the 60s and the jangly/power-pop sounds of the day into an overall body of work that became the seeds of today's alternative music. Big Star has been cited as a major influence for artists such as Elliott Smith, Wilco, R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Primal Scream, and The Replacements (whose 1987 song "Alex Chilton" includes the lyrics "I never travel far without a little Big Star")...just to name a few. The band lasted only a few years, yet it continues to influence generation after generation of indie bands. As it does so, the popularity of Big Star grows and grows. Below is the song "Thirteen". No real video accompanies the audio as I wanted to include the album version. I've also included a video of "The Ballad Of El Goodo" from their 1993 reunion concert at the University of Missouri.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

24. The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead

Quite simply, 1986's The Queen Is Dead is the finest album from one of the most influential British bands of the 80s, The Smiths. It provides us with the best of Morrissey's wry wit, morbid sense of humor, and scathing contempt of popular British culture. Couple Morrissey's lyrical prowess with guitarist Johnny Marr's ability to consistently write perfectly killer pop songs and you have one of the most incredible albums of its time.

Opening with a slight introduction (World War I song "Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty") and then BAM! An all-out assault by drummer Mike Joyce. His rolling beat is reminiscent of The Cure's Lol Tolhurst on "The Hanging Garden" from 1982...the relentless pounding without pause similar to The Damned's Rat Scabies (on 1989's "Anything"). Can you imagine an American band attempting to release an aggressive, driving song titled "The President Is Dead"? The Smiths were open in their arrogance and and were not shy with words.

As the title track concludes like a tornado's sudden halt, it gives way to the contrasting, somewhat silly sounds of "Frankly, Mr. Shankly". From there, the album matures...the two songs I liked the least upon its original release in 1986 were "I Know It's Over" and "Never Had No One Ever". I was into upbeat, aggressive alternative pop songs at the time ("Inbetween Days", "She Sells Sanctuary", "World Destruction"...). Musically, I had not matured enough to appreciate these two...brilliant songs that they are. Covered respectively by two of my favorites, Jeff Buckley and Billy Bragg, they are now near the top of my list. 

The catchiness of "Cemetry Gates [sic]" is undeniable and is meant as a message from Morrissey to his detractors who cried foul at his use of texts written by some of his favorite authors. "Bigmouth Strikes Again" showcases the morbid sense of humor of our protagonist..."Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I'd like to smash every tooth in your head/Sweetness, I was only joking when I said, by rights, you should be bludgeoned in your bed." It was the first single from the album and is as aggressive as the title track...a level unmatched by any Smiths song heretofore, making The Queen Is Dead the hardest rocking Smiths album.

Lost in the overall magnificence of the album is "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side", a Johnny Marr creation which Morrissey has stated is his favorite Smiths song. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" is another example of how Morrissey can make you smile while pondering the romanticism of being killed by a double-decker bus together. And "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others"...easily recognizable, heavenly Smiths melody under lyrics that close the album exactly how you might predict...with Morrissey's biting humor. "From the ice age to the dole-age there is but one concern/I have just discovered/Some girls are bigger than others...some girls' mothers are bigger than other girls' mothers". It has an interesting introduction as well. It starts, fades away, then if a door is opened, closed on your face, then opened again with a "just kidding!"

A tremendous album, The Queen Is Dead is for anyone...Smiths aficionado or not (it's a great intro to the best music of the 1980s). The first video shows The Smiths live on the Old Grey Whistle Test in May of 1986 (just a month before the album's release...making June, 2011 the 25th anniversary of The Queen Is Dead) performing "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and "Vicar In A Tutu" (apologies for the choppy intro to "Vicar").  The second is a live performance just two months later at Salford University showing just how close to punk The Smiths were in attitude. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

23. Beat Happening: Crashing Through (Box Set)

The secret to the success of Beat Happening comes from the notion, "I could do that...that could be me." You may not think Beat Happening is the best band reviewed on Marc, Turn That Down! On your first listen to their early material, the music is crude and might even be somewhat irritating. There is no bass, and the guitars can't seem to string three chords together. Once in a while, the drums will keep the beat as you would expect, but that moment will be fleeting. And the vocals?...If you're not put off by the utter lack of musicality of Beat Happening, then Calvin Johnson's baritone-from-the-deepest-depths-of-the-earth voice will surely do the trick. So, how, based on the information I've just presented, could they have even lasted long enough for an album...nevermind released a definitive retrospective box set, Crashing Through, that has become the best music-money I've ever spent? This little band from Olympia, Washington has become legendary, and it's simply because it sounds like any of us could do it.

Beat Happening thumbed their noses at the record industry early on. Calvin Johnson started his own label called K Records in order to issue music by lesser-known bands that no major company would have otherwise released. That attitude eventually carried over to the music of Beat Happening. They didn't play for critical success or to expand the boundaries of music. They played because it was fun.

Beat Happening (1985)
The box set begins in 1985 with their self-titled debut. On Beat Happening we hear the band (Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis, and Bret Lunsford) in its infancy. They rarely had instruments and usually borrowed from bands they were playing with that night. This album is raw, and without the knowledge of what they had accomplished in their career might be a complete turn-off for most. Its child-like innocence is most evident in the lyrics of "Fourteen"..."You see, to me, the best part of sex is walking home, holding hands, after swimming in the lake/To Me, the best part of love is when you say you'll be my friend."

I first heard "Fourteen" when searching for Screaming Trees music (Calvin Johnson is linked with many NW artists). I thought...sure, it wasn't very good, but wondered what the rest of their catalog sounded like. I actually enjoyed Calvin's voice the first time I heard it. I knew it was not meant for the Grammy stage, and took it in stride. Calvin and Heather each contribute vocally, and I tend to gravitate toward CJ's songs. As such, "Our Secret", "I Love You", "Fourteen", and "Bad Seeds" are the strongest tracks from this early release...while Heather's "Foggy Eyes" may be the musical shining moment from this album. Beat Happening, though not their finest album, is seminal twee pop.

Jamboree (1988)
The second album from the set is 1988's Jamboree, which is said to be one of Kurt Cobain's favorites. Despite the upbeat title, Jamboree is decidedly darker than the debut...evident right off the bat on "Bewitched". The songs are stronger, the musicianship tighter, and this album is decidedly more Calvin Johnson than the first group effort. The highlight of Jamboree is the indie rock's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (everyone's covered it) and that's "Indian Summer". Recently done by Death Cab's Benjamin Gibbard for the soundtrack of the Kurt Cobain movie About A Son, "Indian Summer" is probably Beat Happening's best known song. Other highlights are "Hangman", Cat Walk", and "Midnight A Go-Go". Props also go to "The This Many Boyfriends Club" because I'm not sure what to think of that one...making me love it all the more.

Black Candy (1989)
If Jamboree is dark, 1989's Black Candy is a moonless midnight. Seemingly designed for a B-grade teen horror movie, songs like "Pajama Party In A Haunted Hive", "Gravedigger Blues", "Bonfire", and the title track dot the landscape of this third effort. However, it's not without its shiny moments. Like "Indian Summer", "Cast A Shadow" is another well known Beat Happening song (most famously covered by Yo La Tengo). It is a pure pop treat glittering amongst the ominous themes of its album mates. All in all, Black Candy is not the best of the collection. This batch of songs seem less, somehow, than those of Jamboree, but if you're listening to Beat Happening you're past the point of differentiating between good and bad music. You're listening for the fun of it, and Black Candy certainly provides the fun. 

Dreamy (1991)
The good times continue on the fourth album, Dreamy (1991). Dreamy is more of a return to form than a continuation of Black Candy. It is still aggressively dark like its predecessor, but the songs are stronger (similar to Jamboree) and there is more of a balance between maturity and naivete. "Me Untamed" shows right away how far their instrument playing has come and any aspiring musician would want to take a crack at the rollicking "Hot Chocolate Boy". Heather's songs ("Left Behind", "Collide" and "Fortune Cookie Prize") are memorable and lovable. The darkness rears its head as well. In the lament "I've Lost You" Calvin begs for acceptance with the line "Who's gonna love me the way that I am?", only to find acceptance and more in the sexy and underrated "Nancy Sin".  The album closes with two strong tracks...the epic "Revolution Come And Gone" and the often-covered "Red Head Walking" (most recently by R.E.M., as an Accelerate B-side in 2008). Considered by many to be their best work, Dreamy is filled with gems.

You Turn Me On (1992)
Unlike many bands, Beat Happening arguably got better with each release. With that in mind, 1992's You Turn Me On is their tremendous swan song. The band bucked many trends found on previous recordings. The biggest change is that they all but abandoned the three-minute song. A third of these tracks are over six minutes long, and it's obvious there's some heavier production at work here.

At this time, you might listen to their debut once again to appreciate the level of maturity they've hit on You Turn Me On. You'd have no idea they could've reached this point. "Tiger Trap" begins this album with jangly guitars and a calm, charming tone. It's followed by Heather's "Noise" sung with a certain delicate quality we haven't heard before. The beautifully entrancing "Godsend" (also sung by Heather) is, perhaps, my favorite Beat Happening song. The repetitive nature of this ten minute song notwithstanding, I could hear it for ten more minutes and it wouldn't get old. Of course, they let a little dark in as well. "Pinebox Derby" and "You Turn Me On" each deal with death in that fun Calvin Johnson way. "Hey Day" is also a strong song. I believe this song is a glimpse of where the band was headed had they been interested in continuing on. The fact that they quit making records just after Nirvana's Nevermind and the explosion of Pacific Northwest bands when they could've easily hitched themselves onto that wagon reminds you they did it their way...they were not looking for fame or financial success.

Music To Climb The Apple Tree By (2003)
The last album in the box set is a collection of singles and rarities titled Music To Climb The Apple Tree By (there's also a disc of a short 3-song set which includes videos of live performances). This fifteen song compilation includes two later releases, "Angel Gone" and "Zombie Limbo Time" as well as songs from an EP they recorded with Screaming Trees, and original versions of several previously released songs. Overall, like so many other compilation collections, it does lack the cohesion that brings the narrative together. You would be ill-advised to make this your only Beat Happening possession. Use it only as a springboard to get to know a band important enough to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Love 'em or hate 'em (some houses are divided) Beat Happening played music for the fun of it. The child-like innocence of the lyrics and lack of technical prowess with musical instruments should be endearing if you believe that's why music should be played...for fun. The secret to their success may be the notion that any of us could do it, but I guarantee none of us could do it like Beat Happening.

If you've read through this entire post, I salute you. You've invested a lot of your time. I'll leave you with but one video..."Indian Summer".

Saturday, June 18, 2011

22. Viva Voce: Get Yr Blood Sucked Out

I am excited to be writing about a fantastic band...Portland's own Viva Voce. Viva Voce trace their beginnings to Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1998, but relocated to Portland in 2001. Choosing an album to review for you was difficult because I cannot definitively say one is better than another, but their sinister sounding fourth album, 2006's Get Yr Blood Sucked Out (an allusion to the evils of the record industry), is when I first heard them. It's also their debut for Barsuk Records.

Viva Voce, in 2006, consisted of the husband and wife team of Kevin and Anita Robinson (they have since added two members). For this record, they played every instrument save trumpets on one song and an extra piano on another. Yes, we are talking about another guitar/drum combo from the same time period as The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and Deadboy & the Elephantmen, but, to be sure, there are different influences at work here. Get Yr Blood Sucked Out is lush, sultry, and complex, and is miles away from the garage rock sound of their aforementioned contemporaries.

The album begins with "Believer", a tense-chant of a song that sets an eerie tone. Sebastian says it sounds "like monsters marching". Kevin and Anita lay out incantations as a cool, calm two-voice harmony (they've shared vocals throughout their career)..."I'm a believer now/I'm a believer now/And there's nothing that I can do/To keep me safe from you". And as if she absolutely could not wait, Anita begins shredding her first of many guitar solos about forty-five seconds in. On "When Planets Collide" we get a taste of a song structure similar to "Alive With Pleasure" from their third album The Heat Can Melt Your Brain. The shifting movements of "When Planets Collide" create the feel of a mini-opus.

Kevin finally takes lead vocals on "From The Devil Himself", the album's main attention grabber (and my favorite track). Once again, Anita's guitar screams at the top of its lungs while Kevin sings in his powder-coated, Victor DeLorenzo voice (of Violent Femmes fame). I guess I also have a thing for hand claps. Other standout tracks include the marathon "So Many Miles", the piano-laden "We Do Not F**k Around", the pretty pop of "Faster Than A Dead Horse", the surprising catchiness in the wispy-soft 60s sound of "Special Thing"(again, love the sweet hand claps), and the weary "Never Be Like Yesterday", where the mood of the song matches its all night fight between two halves of a concrete random couple. I don't know if this song is written from experience, but the Robinsons were certainly on the same page for this album.

This Tuesday (6/21) marks the release of their sixth album The Future Will Destroy You. They'll be performing a free show at 6:00 at Music Millennium on E. Burnside in Portland. I'll be there. Maybe you can get out for the night too.

Here are two videos from Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. The first is the official video for "From The Devil Himself". The second is a performance of "Believer" from Easy Street Records in 2006. Perhaps I'm amazed because I can barely sing and breathe at the same time, but watching Kevin play drums with one hand (notice the stick twirls), play harmonica with the other (including solos), and singing to boot just boggles my mind. You also get to see Anita looking cute in her typical cowgirl-esque outfit while melting your face off with her guitar work. It's not quite what you expect.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Break Time!

Marc, Turn That Down! will be taking a short break so the teacher side of me can wrap up the school year. Be back with another post on Sunday!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

21. The Cure: The Head On The Door

The Cure have taken their fans on a thirty year roller coaster ride. They've been at it since the mid-70s and have gone through numerous transitions...both lineup changes and musical output. Robert Smith and company have delivered a host of labeled music over the years: post-punk...gothic wave. I've had a lot of favorite bands in my time, but, for me, the 80s begins and ends with The Cure. This post highlights their 1985 album The Head On The Door.

In 1985, I began helping my brother, Jeff, at his nightclub called The Ferry Club in Staten Island, New York and everything fell into place for me musically. I'm not sure how much work Jeff got out of me in bewteen my runs to the DJ booth. I would literally drop what I was doing to go ask my musical guru, DJ Mark the Spark, what that song was and who this band is. Two important songs from that year helped alter my musical tastes forever...The Cure's "Inbetween Days" and "Close To Me".  

The Head On The Door is the sixth Cure album. It marked the return of bassist Simon Gallup to the band and was the first for drummer Boris Williams. Guitarist/keyboardist Porl Thompson also joined Robert Smith and keyboardist Lol Tolhurst as an official member of the band at this time as well. The Head On The Door follows a goth-gloomy group of releases from The Cure that are all absolutely wonderful: Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981), Pornography (1982), and The Top (1984). For THOTD, The Cure learned how to mesh the gloom and doom of the previous albums with a more radio friendly sound which increased their commercial success and fan base tremendously. 

The album opens with a quick drum-intro by Boris Williams, then barrels into the familiar, cheery guitar to create the perfect pop melody that is "Inbetween Days". It is a smile-inducing song through and any company, at any time of day. It is also the perfect example of this gloom and doom meets "C'mon, Get Happy!" juxtaposition. Consider the lyrics to "Inbetween Days"..."Yesterday I got so old I felt like I could die/Yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry"...not quite happy times for Robert Smith. However, in spite of the melancholy, it remains one of the catchiest, most danceable Cure songs to this day.

"Inbetween Days" is followed by a few experiments. "Kyoto Song" has a far east quality to it, while "The Blood" employs a Spanish-flamenco sound. One of my favorite Cure songs, "Six Different Ways", has many layers of instrumentation giving it a light, airy, childlike sound. Side one closes with the epic "Push". It's "Push" that is the gateway to the continuing sounds of the band. With about two minutes of classic Cure sounding guitars before Robert Smith chimes in, you might recognize this as a track on any album hereafter.

The highlight of side two is "Close To Me". Prominently featuring xylophone-like keyboards and some garish hand clapping, "Close To Me" seems an unlikely club hit, but its quirkiness had people on the dance floor every night. "A Night Like This" is another strong track, although the saxophone solo seems a bit dated now. And harkening back to the days of black leather and ghost white faces, the album closes with the gloriously dark and dreary "Sinking".

The Head On The Door is a perfect album from the perfect time. The Cure had become the godfathers of goth and had taken it as far as they could. They were looking for a new direction and found it with The Head On The Door...a wonderful meld of old and new...of dirge and dance.

The video I've provided for you is from an old BBC2 rock music show called The Old Grey Whistle Test (catchy title, huh?).  The video contains two Cure performances. "Inbetween Days" begins about one minute in and is immediately followed by "Close To Me". The quality isn't wonderful, but I felt it was more important to show the band as it was in 1985. Enjoy!