Le Jazz Primitif

Rupert Clemendore/John Buddy Williams Le Jazz Primitif LP (Cook, 1961)

What a difference a handful of cool songs an a great record cover makes!

Le Jazz Primitif was recorded in Trinidad, 1960, by Cook Laboratories in order to document the island's rich music scene, specifically the "calypso jazz" scene. Unfortunately, the jazz on half of this album - the side by Rupert Clemendore’s combo - is little more than what passes for “evening jazz” today. The liner notes make the claim that Clemendore has a “frankly Shearing sophistication set to a Caribbean beat.” And I can hear the Shearing (George, I assume), but the Caribbean beat sounds like your regular lounge-inspired brush-tap-brush-tap. Which is fine and dandy if you like your jazz lite, but primitif this is not.

John Buddy Williams’s band lords over Side B and that is good. Williams’s selections mesh straight up calypso with Latin rhythms and a somewhat-meandering jazz swing. Williams starts out with a Venezuelan waltz, which, according to the notes, is a Trinidadian jazz interpretation of the Joropo folk dance music of Venezuela. The song, Alma Llanera, has a drum heavy beat with an accent that alternates on the 2nd and 3rd beat. “Sax-clarinet” squeaks the melody and punches from time to time. The recording is raw and through the music you can hear a pretty rowdy crowd.

The second stand out cut is a Bakanal or a Jamaican calypso, a style a little more swinging than that of the other islands and where you can very much hear the roots of rocksteady. The band takes off with an energetic dance rhythm, horns spinning around each other. The horns drop back while band chants the vocal line for a verse, the crowd adding to the music with yelps and hollers.

For the rest of the record, Williams and friends stay on the calypso beat, with audience in full party mode. Most calypso records are cut in the studio, which is so far from where the music originated and was enjoyed. This live-in-the-crowd recording is so much more satisfying than the glossy tourist records that usually make it over to the States. Part of the reason for the realness of this record is due to Cook Laboratories, who were dedicated to recording and releasing records that were recorded as close to the source of the music experience as possible. It is no surprise that Folkways Smithsonian now administers the Cook archives.

Finding calypso vinyl is tough. Many of the records that are floating around are those which American tourist bought at the hotel nightclub during their honeymoon. These “honeymoon” records are hit and miss. I've found some fantastic goombay records (and a signed Byron Lee record on the Jamaican Air Lines label!) and a few killer low-fi calypso ones but there are many more I've tossed.

During the 1960s, as part of the exotica craze, some calypso albums were released stateside but a lot of those are hampered by too much polish - Harry Belafonte’s catalog for example. Of major label releases, The Eloise Trio records on Decca and the Fabulous McCkeverys on Verve are good. Sparrow (aka Mighty Sparrow) records are relatively easy to find (though spotty). I have had my best luck with crappy rip-off labels like Crown and Design. Given these labels cheapness and willingness to release anything that could sell from whatever tapes the could scrounge up, they pressed some pretty tasty and very raw calypso gems.

Recently, there has been a small wave of calypso comps released on CD. Like most comps, I advise caution. Your introduction is being mediated by someone else's ears. That said, an intro is helpful and for that I would suggest a look at the Smithsonian/Cook catalog, as well as checking out some web resources.


Ulok egy rozsaszinu kadban

Ulok egy rozsaszinu kadban b/w Citromizu banan 7" (Pepita, 1977)

What I know about Hungarian rock and roll you could put in my fist. I know that the State frowned on it. I know that, like in many Eastern European countries, it was a haven for dissidents. And I know I found a 7" by one of the top Hungarian bands of the 70s - Metro - in a Chico, California thrift store.

One of the great things about Eastern European rock and roll is that, aside from the state sponsored groups who sound stiff, the bands all wind up filtering a whole array of influences to make up a music that sounds both whole and kinda mixed up. To Eastern Euros during the Soviet reign, there were not all the genre distinctions that plagued American and British rock and roll. No glam, no garage, no psych, no prog, no blues rock, no heavy metal. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, rock and roll was rock and roll. The scarcity of it lead to whatever E. Euros could get their hands on being absorbed as an influence. Thus you get bands like Metro, who sound like they've ingested the Ohio Express, the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Os Mutantes, Cockney Rebel, the Hair soundtrack and Lenin knows what else.


Los Huevos plays Orangevale

I think it was April of 94. Los Huevos was booked at a coffee shop in a Sacramento suburb, named Orangevale in the 1930s by a development company wanting to get Easterners to the area with the promise of sun and overripe, fruit trees. What Orangevale turned out to be is tract homes and strip malls. The place we were to play was in a small strip mall, anchored by a liquor store. Other tenants were a lawyer and a chiropractor.

We pull into the parking lot and the first thing anyone notices is that the liquor store is having a sale on Old English Malt Liquor. A buck will get you a quart of that toxic brew. I should have known upon seeing the sale sign that the night was going to be trouble.

Everyone in the van piles out and all, except me, head to the liquor store to partake of the sale. The kid putting on the show asked us to show up a half hour before the first band was to start and we do. He booked five bands and I figured we would go on third. That would give us about two hours drinking time, which is the top end of what is healthy for Los Huevos. It does not work out that way.

The show is on punk rock time, which means it starts an hour after the stated time. And I am informed that since we are the “big draw,” we are playing last. And, oh yeah, another band has snuck on the bill. Our two hour drinking time has just been extended to four. Usually in this situation, cost of booze will be a regulating factor. However, at a buck for a quart of malt liquor, price is no object. I realize that the only thing keeping us in line with reasonable alcohol consumption for a competent punk rock band is will power. We are doomed.

It is 11 pm and we are told to set up our equipment. Ed can barely get his guitar out of the case. When he does get it out and strapped on, he stands in front of his amp, strumming the guitar and looking puzzled. The amp is on; His guitar is not plugged in. I plug the guitar chord into the amp and start tuning my guitar. Ed is teetering back and forth in front of his amp, hitting strings and twisting the tuning pegs. The guitar whines in pain.
Finally, Tristan, our bassist, grabs Ed’s guitar and tunes it for him.

I am pissed but I hold back my anger and patiently wait for everyone else to get done fumbling around. After about ten minutes, we are ready to play. Ed is to start the first song. It is as if he is playing in quicksand. The chord changes come at a rate that resembles Elmer Fudd on a drug trip. Ed’s 15 second solo is slurred out. Two slow, stumbling minutes later the song ends.

My mind fills with thoughts of capitulation and homicide. I snuff my blood lust and start the next song. It is a faster song. After two bars of just my guitar, the band is supposed to kick the song forward. The rhythm section comes in like a rabid bulldozer: Ed staggers in at half the pace, like his fingers have been encased in cement. Forty-five seconds into the song, I unplug my amp, grab its handle and take me and my equipment out the door.

I get to the van and the music stops. My guitar goes in its case and, with the amp, in the back of the van. Ed gets on the mike, “Sorrrrr-eye-aaahhh-noooooo!!! Sorrrrr-eye-aaahhh-noooooo!!! Please come back and playayayayay!!!” I am fuming, there is no way I’ll go back in there. We sounded like complete shit. Sloppy is one thing, but I have no intention to play when we can’t. It is a waste of time. Ed continues to yell for me over the mike. Then he says, “I’ll go get him.”

I am standing talking to someone, when two arms grab me from behind and attempt to pick me up. I whip around fast, my right arm swinging. I connect with Ed’s eye and he goes flying back, falling to the ground. He gets up and bellows, “Yooooouuuuu hit me!” and lunges forward. I dodge him as he stumbles across the parking lot. He slowly turns and comes after me again, grunting and yelling something in decipherable. I take off across the lot. Ed goes after me. The mall’s security guard, a burley dyke, steps in his way. Ed pushes her aside to go after me. Like a cartoon scene, we run around the parking lost, the chase taking place in a circle. He is too drunk to catch me. I am too smart to let him.

The security guard attempts again to stop Ed. Friends get between him and the security guard. She threatens to arrest him, as a car pulls up and level-headed minds shove Ed in the back seat. They take off, Ed yelling out the window.

The rest of the band and I go back inside and get the gear. We load up the van and take off. I get home sometime after midnight and the phone rings. I pick it up. “S-s-sorrrrr-eye-aaahhh-noooooo, yooooouuuuu hit me!” It’s Ed. I hold my tongue. “I am gonna kill you!” he yells, “I’m gonna shoot your ass!” The phone slams down.

I call this girl I am seeing and tell her the story. “Can I spend the night at you place?” I ask. “Sure, come over.” I call my neighbor. She lives in the building in front of mine. I tell her what went down and warn her that Ed might be by. I then take off.

The next day, I am told by Ed’s roommate, that after he slammed the phone down on me, he went into his room and got a handgun. Drunkenly, he stumbled to the stairs, only to pass out three steps down.

We didn’t talk or play music until six months later, after I swore never to talk to Ed about that night. My promise lasted all of three months. The band last for 4 more years. Ed hasn’t shot me yet.


The World of Gorillas and Monkeys

Brian Ingland The World of Gorillas and Monkeys (Mala)

Yes, the world's best Planet of the Apes song. I know, I know. That is a very controversial statement. Up until now, many of you thought that the Mummies' You Must Fight to Live on the Planet of the Apes was the ultimate POTA anthem. So did I. At least until I dug up this little gem.

What makes this Brian Ingland song a masterpiece? First off, while it is a novelty song, there is no tongue in cheek. I am sure that the Mummies were POTA fans, but, unlike Mr. Ingland, they did not try to deliver a message. The message here is the same as the movie: War is Bad.

While the Mummies' classic is a great piece of garage punk, POTA or not, Ingland's music is better - at least as far as matching theme to tunes. The World... starts of with a nice little piano part, Ingland warning us about the future in that "Hey Kids, wanna learn something new" voice that aging teen idols tend to use, and, with the blow of the famous POTA war horn, a kinda Vegas pop band plays Shaft while rigor mortis sets in kicks in. Every major chord change is uber emphasized. The backing vocals are extra urgent. And the topper is the final line of the chorus "All human beings will be flunkies / In a world of gorillas and monkeys." The song mellows into the piano part and then goes back into full paranoid mode. And there's also science fiction-like synth sound effects. At the song's end, all one can do is sit back amazed. Then you turn the record over to "One of These Days (We're Gonna Blow Ourselves Up)" and it is the instrumental version. How cheap! How excellent! Again, amazement is mandatory.


By popular demand

The back cover of the classic LP Pinagbyan, by the Ermar Duet. See below for more details.


Cold City

Spizzoil Cold City 7” (Rough Trade, 1978)

Poor Spizz! One catchy song about Star Trek (Spizzenergi’s Where’s Captain Kirk?), a horrible album (Athletico Spizz 80’s Do a Runner), and one very embarrassing band (Spizzenergi: 2) and all the guys work is written off as novelty pap or just plain pap. Of course, Spizz didn’t help things by turning out versions of Captain Kirk well into the late Eighties. Not to mention, releasing some pretty dire records in the Nineties, at an age when the old chap should have been pushing paper for some local agency and enjoying a nice cider at the pub after work.

Bad judgment aside, Spizz - with the help of Pete Petrol - did turn out some great records. Where’s Captain Kirk? might have been played to death, but take the Star Trek out of it and imagine the lyrics to be about gray skies and living on the dole and your tolerance level for it goes up. Really, it is a catchy song. And Spizzenergi’s version of Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain is worthy of repeated listening.

Unfortunately, most folks blank when it comes to Spizzoil, the duo of Spizz and Pete Petrol (petrol = oil: get it?). The band started out as Spizz 77, doing on-the-fly performances, mostly improv, with Spizz on vocals and kazoo and Petrol flailing away at guitar. The result was a mess of plunking and screaming but it did lead them to an opening slot on a Siouxsie & the Banshees show, where they were seen by John Peel. Peel recorded them and broadcast them on his radio show. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records heard them and the rest is on wax.

In October 1978, Spizzoil released a fantastic 3 song debut 7” (6,000 Crazy) and exposed the world to their stripped-down minimalist primitive sound. March ‘79, saw Spizzoil’s second record, Cold City.

Cold City is a step up from 6,000 Crazy. Six more months on earth “matured” the band. The songs are little less crazy primitive but certainly not slick. Petrol plays simple chords while Spizz shouts and screams and sometimes even whispers. He also honks on his ever handy kazoo.

As the song titles suggest (Cold City, Red & Black, Solarisation, Platform 3), Spizz sings about bleak, post-industrial London. The music reflects the lyrics’ desolate desperation. From regimented punk down strums to picked stark notes, the songs both march and drone. Percussion is limited to one drum (at times) and what sound like pot and pans - all drenched with reverb.

For the last couple years, the punk collector set has gone wild over British DIY punk from the late 70s and early 80s. Spizzoil fits into this genre well. In fact, based in their first two records, they should be considered one of the genre’s top bands. However, collectors are like anyone else. They care intensely what their peers think and would never admit to liking something done by the same people who “did that lame Captain Kirk song.” Good for them. They can keep ignoring great records like Cold City. It just keeps the price down and the records easy to obtain.


A favorite record cover, part two

Keith Out of Crank would not be notible if not for the fact that Keith does indeed look like he is out of crank. Keith does 60s pop, which, as the song titles suggest, borders on bubblegum. Some of the songs are Sugar Man, Candy Candy, Sweet & Sour, and Be My Girl. There is nothing outstanding about this record other than the jacket. If the cover did not make me laugh, this would be out the door. Released on Mercury in the late 60s. Found at a radio station record sale for cents.


Three great twelve inches

Rema Rema Wheel in the Rose 12" (1980)

Leather Nun Slow Death 12" (1979/1984)

The Gordons Future Shock 12" (1980)

One of the most exciting segues on record that I have ever heard is the one from The Feedback Song into Rema-Rema, on Rema-Rema’s Wheel in the Roses 12”. Originally released as the first single on 4AD, the transition from the feedbacky, squiggly wail/piano pounding/effect pedal twisting/thud thud to a buuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhm of a distorted bass slide and primitive tribal drumming is paradise. When I first heard it, I dropped the needle over and over in order to hear it again. The needle drop is not to get past Feedback Song. No, Feedback Song is great, too. The song starts with a clean bass riff and is joined by a simple drum beat that doesn’t get much beyond a throbbing drum in a hollow room. A synth washes in and even in 2005 it doesn’t sound dorky or dated, say the way the synths are on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure. Then the pleasant whine of a loud guitar cracks though and a vocalist with a Scottish (or Irish) accent sings as if he’s making a declaration. Little changes, other than a couple brief breaks. The song goes out with a chaos of feedback and synth washes, and, as described above, bamm comes Rema-Rema.

The song Rema-Rema is one of the great primitive punk / post-punk tunes. It is big; it is loud; it is dumb; it is direct. Hard primal drumming and a monster bass are fucked by more squalling guitar. The vocals sing-song over the mess. The only thing that compares by contemporary standards is the A Frames live when they are liquored up and playing stupid. As far as bands of yore: It brings to mind the other two mentioned here and Australia’s X.

Side two of this 12” is an instrumental song called Instrumental, which reeks of Chrome/Killing Joke distopian soundscape. Again, simple and thuddish, Instrumental relies on feedback and repetition. The closer is a slow thing called Found Affections. Even more atmospheric than Instrumental, FA pulses in an early industrial way, with some drugged dub influence and, of course, there is feedback.

Rema-Rema were not around for long. Band members left to form Adam & the Ants, Mass, and Renegade Sound Wave. Drummer Max (a woman) teaches ballroom dancing. The lack of experience makes for a serious lack of polish, which only aids these guys/gal. If Rema-Rema would have lasted longer and gotten “proper” studio treatment the result would have probably been slick and sterile.

My first encounter with The Leather Nun came when I bought the Primemover/FFA 7". I was so unimpressed that I ignored their output for years and never bothered to find out what came before that record. Then one day, a friend of mine pulled out the Slow Death reissue. "No! Not The Leather Nun!" I pleaded. But he assured me all was fine: I needed to hear this. He dropped the needle and he was right. I searched for the record. The two 7"s that make up the record were impossible to find and by the time I stumbled upon any Leather Nun records, I had forgotten what the damn record was my friend played me!

Then a couple years ago, another friend put a couple Leather Nun songs on a CDr he made me. "No! Not The Leather Nun!" I cried once more. "This is the good stuff," he promised. And it was. The search was on once again, but this time I had a title: Slow Death.<>Original released in 1979 on Industrial Records, the Slow Death 7" debuted the Swedish band, The Leather Nun. They say they were the first band since Abba to break out of Sweden. Maybe so. Throw this pup on your turntable and you will think that if they weren't the second Swedish rock and roll band to climb out of the north, they were the best...at least for one record.

Slow Death starts out with the song No Rules, a distorted, primal, Stoogoid/Raw Power-style riff that immediately plunges into a sub-Motorhead punked up swamp. Fuzzed vocals emerge, English painted with some evil, thuggish accent. Behind the fuzz and dumb riffage (and that is smart dumb, not dumb dumb) are some odd vocal loops or something I can't quite figure out. But it works.

Second song is the title cut, a slow, sparse crawl about someone dying slowly from burns that cover 90% of their body - fun stuff that owes a lot to Suicide's Frankie Teardrop as well as Pere Ubu's Heart of Darkness. Not quite as good as either of those two doom classics, Slow Death is still a pretty sweet song.

Ensam I Natt originally appeared as just a sliver of time on the Slow Death 7". Here, on the reissue, you get the whole show. A busy bass line starts it up and then once again we plunge into fuzz filled dumbness. Ensam is easily one of the 100 best punk songs ever made. It is primitive, it is brutal, and it is immediate. Perfect.

Death Threats closes the side. It is a combination of bass/drum loop, a band saw loop, and a drill, then a telephone ring. The vocals come in, sounding as if they were recorded in a room lined with cotton balls. The guitar arrives late, perhaps because it is being played under water. And the solo is taken up by a very loud typewriter. A drill/saw crescendo ends the song. The first time I heard to Death Threats, I was only half listening so I didn't pick up on the instrumentation until the end of the song. Upon second listening, I heard the saw, drill, etc. What I am getting at is that, hardware aside, there is a song here and it is a good one.

Side two was originally released in 1980 and is a long live version of Slow Death, featuring Genesis P-Oridge on violin and Monte Cazazza on synthesizer. Like the studio version, it creeps in. It is slow and sparse. The vocals are more distant, but that is fine. The synth and violin combine and sound, at times, like a wah-wah guitar. About the two minute mark the guitar comes in with a slashing ka-kunnnnnnnng. It takes up the melody but doesn't overpower. Past three minutes, I start looking at my watch. At five minutes, I fall back into the song, the length actually making this version better. The guitar starts what turns out to be a long, fragmented wah wah solo. Guitarist Bengt Aronsson is no Ron Ashton. And he couldn't tune Grady Runyon's gee-tar either. My man Bengt comes from the Scott Soriano School of Wah Wah Soling. The Soriano School involves mating simple phrases with complete nonsense. It involves dumb fingers - not smart dumb, this time it is dumb dumb. However, as moronic as Bengt's sub-soling is, the man nails it. A hot-shit solo would ruin the song, it would bring it crashing down in pretension. This is pretty much all of what is needed and it aces the song.

I am not a Leather Nun fan. They released far too much crap to get my endorsement. That said, I do very much recommend this 12". It is as pure and primal as loud art punk gets and well worth a hundred listens.

While that Rema-Rema segue is hard to beat, nothing compares to the introduction of The Gordons’ Future Shock. A fucked up bass grinds out the opening notes, so loud it compresses and fuzzes out. I’ve been in bands that have tried to cover this song and the bass is so mangled that it makes any attempt to do the song seem feeble. With Future Shock, I must have played the intro a thousand times more than the whole song. After the bass, a guitar does some weird squiggle riff and then spiders into a headache hook. Right before the vocals puncture the song, a desperate sax screams. “Future shock, future shock, get ready for a future shock…” we are warned. The vocalist sounds like English is his second language, though the guy is from New Zealand, where, last time I checked, they speak the Queen’s tongue. And that is about all there is to the song. The guitar gets quiet here and there, some screaming follows, we are warned a few times more about the Future Shock, the bass and drums do the same thing over and over. But all this is good. Hypnotic repetition takes hold and all you can do is enjoy the ride, until it all slows down and drops dead to some tinkling guitar shenanigans. Rumor has it Future Shock charted on the radio in New Zealand when it came out. It is certainly one of my top ten punk songs of all time.

The flip is just as simple as the fantastic A-side. Machine Song uses another simple riff, and some feedback to drive the song into a nice slow groove. Adults and Children sounds like The Fall with a swollen adrenaline gland. Again, repetition with a squalling guitar is the order of the day. And the song ends with an appropriate thud.


A favorite record cover, part one

The Ermar Duet are a Filipino folk duo. The songs sound like the Ermars were taught them by Christian missionaries into the Kingston Trio and Pat Boone-style rock and roll. Some of the song titles are Tabo, O Kikay, Ice Drop, and Yari Na Yari Na. On the back cover, there is a photomontage on one of the Ermars climbing a woman's breast while the other grabs the first one's ass. The record was made in the Philippines and is on VIP Records. No date but looks to be late 60s or early 70s. Found in a thrift store in Ithaca, New York.


An hours worth of 60s pop

Sixties pop is not an area that I would have ever thought I’d venture into. For years, my ears rebelled against anything well produced and poppy. Had you told me that I’d be digging for 60s pop 45s in my golden years, I would have said, “Fuck me,” grabbed a stick, and beat you with it. But about five years ago, I was turned onto the Bee Gees early records. After listening to Horizontal about a hundred times, I was sold. That record, especially the song Birdie Told Me, is a gem and, if not for a few clunkers, it should be given the same praise as The Zombies’ Odyssey & Oracle.

Two other things pushed me toward 60s pop. It is essentially a genre bound to the 45. I am a sucker for 45s. Most of the time, pick them up for a buck or two each, which is little to pay in order to check something out. Unlike MP3s, with 45s you still get the pleasure of dropping the needle, the record fiend’s equivalent to setting anchor on an uncharted island (where downloading an MP3 is like taking a cruise ship). It is a perfect format: compact, efficient, immediate. A 45 grabs you or it is gone. When garage and funk 45s became scarce, my attention turned toward other genres. Sixties pop being one of them.

The other influence is my girlfriend. She is big on indie pop. So after listening to hours of Belle & Sebastian, the Delgados, Polyphonic Spree, & the Tindersticks (and begrudgingly liking a lot of it), I started searching out their influences – to inform myself and to play for my lady. Girls and 60s pop kinda go hand in hand.

From my digging, I’ve been very surprised that the Beatles do not make much of an impact on these bands. I know that in some circles this discovery is as controversial as the Turin Shroud or Barry Bonds’ homerun hunt, but I think it has been well established for some time that 1. There was more than one band making in the 1960s, 2. Teens actually listened to bands other than the Beatles, and 3. Rock and roll neither began nor ended with the Beatles. A thought a bit less acceptable is that the Beatles are the most over-rated, over-hyped, and overly written about band in the history of music. You used to be able to say that about Elvis; but science has since taken the “King” off his throne. (“Punk rock” is in danger of becoming the new Beatles. Hopefully our attention deficit society will find a new Elvis/Beatles to hype.) (And Tweadles faithful, please save your rants on the Flab Four. They will be deleted in the interest of there being too much shit said praising those sobs and I ain’t gonna contribute to it here.)

What you do hear in 60s pop is the influence of Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, The Turtles, The Kinks, and The Zombies. Boyce & Hart (Monkees, solo stuff) and Burt Bacharach have a greater impact here than Brian Epstein. And there are the day’s fads & trends that producers tried to capitalize on.

Below is an hour’s worth of 60’s pop from 45s I’ve picked up. It runs from garage pop to bubblegum to orchestrated stuff. Some of it is hopelessly obscure and good luck finding it. Some are obscure but common. And a few are not obscure at all, but worthy of mention. All of this is good.

Michael & the Medallions
I Wanna Talk to You (Bragg)
Jangly, tambourine -driven garage pop with duel vocal, M & the Ms sound like an amped up Buddy Holly with Cowsills-style vocals. Though close to 60s punk, the lack of sneer and thud keep this from the Back to the Grave cannon.

Group Therapy
Bad News (Canterbury)
After a very odd Theme from Jaws intro, the Group Therapy lean heavily on the Zombies. Some feedback, fuzz and a great lead take this toward punk but the backing vocals, the echoed dramatic guy pop vocals, and the doodly doo outro make this radio friendly.

New Horizon
One Bad Thing (Bell)

Sounds like if the Bee Gees were making Bell Records style bubblegum. Surprise. Maurice Gibbs wrote the song and it was released by Bell. A great lazy day piece of confection that will have you singing along. Added plus is that the lyrics are pretty much a threat, something that always works will when coated in sugar.

The Avant-Garde
Naturally Stoned (Columbia)

From a distance, I love cynical cash-in pop. Let me count the cynicisms: 1. The band’s name, 2. The name of the song, brilliant in that it is geared toward both hippies and the establishment, 3. The James Bond riff is ruthlessly pillaged, 4. Gratuitous usage of the phrase “good vibrations,” 5. is for the Fifth Dimension, 6. A false concern for society… Top that with emphatically hip, tuff guy vocals by none other than Chuck Wollery and you have a winner. As it’s been said, “Bubble gum is the naked truth.”

New Colony Six
Come & Give Your Love to Me (Mercury)

Legendary Chicago garage pop/punk band come up with a harmonica filled popper that could easily have been turned into a thuddish proto punker by the MC5 or, ever better, exploded by Blue Cheer. The elements are there. And a very nice rip off of the I Can’t Explain riff.

The Dept. of Sanitation
Just a Good Show (Nite Life)

The Kinks can claim responsibility for the flute/french horn (or is it tuba?) riff that dominates this song. There is slightly raved up chorus. The magic is in the way the songs flows. Just the right amount of bubblegum, punk, and pop. As far as I know, the band’s only single.

The Clique
Soul Mates (Blue Whale)

Known in 60s pop circles, The Clique still have some songs that hit oldies radio. From Austin, Texas, these guys started out covering the 13th Floor Elevator and ended up doing Beach Boys – style pop. Their sound continued in bands like the Raspberries, The Shoes, and Belle & Sebastian. In the mid-60s, they moved to LA and became a vehicle for producer Gary Zekley (also responsible for the Yellow Balloon). Pretty easy 45 to find.

The Blue Things
Somebody Help Me (RCA Victor)

A Kansas frat band whose cover of this Spencer Davis Group song would be punk if not for the poppy group vocals. They started in 1964 and ended with this single in 1967.

The Shindogs
Who Do You Think You Are (Viva)

Leon Russell produces and plays on this punky popper. Again, close to Pebbles territory, if not for the group (and call & response) vocals – this time done Beach Boys style. A very nice lead break and the shakers are a plus. From 1967.

Society of Seven
Sweet Sad Clown (Uni)

Another cynical cash in here. The sound is pure Spiral Staircase. The name of the band is meant to make you think of the Spiral Staircase. And the lyrics use the dreaded “clown” metaphor. The vocals and horns are what I like to call Vegas pop. Swinging, sappy, and great. On the mostly reliable Uni Records label.

The Royal Guardsmen
Airplane Song (Laurie)
When the Royal Guardsmen sang “I can go for miles on my airplane,” they weren’t fucking with you. They rode their big hit, Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, for years turning out multiple Snoopy songs and extending a career that should have probably ended with that first novelty single. But, nope, they milked that fucker good. Luckily, they had to fill out their records with more than Snoopy songs and that is where little gems like this come in. A calliope is the main instrument here, in a song that sounds like a bubblegum version of something off of The Kinks’ Village Green… LP.

Ronnie Dante
I’ll Give You Things (Columbia)

I had high lyrical hopes for this Ronnie Dante b-side. Guy tells Girl that Dude ain’t shit and that Guy could give Girl things. Unfortunately Guy explains that those things are what “money can’t buy,” and there is not a leer in sight (i.e. country walks, moonlight strolls, etc.).
Not only does this use the James Bond riff, but the production is pure haunted pop, a sound pretty much defined by Brian Hyland’s Sealed with a Kiss and Gene Pitney’s Town Without Pity, both great songs. Before this single Dante did the lead vocals for the Archies & the Cuff Links, and later had a very success career as a producer.

Lonnie Duvall
Cigarettes (Hip)
My favorite song of this batch. It starts off with a cigarette being lit and slides into something that sounds like a swank, slow Them song. Great desperate vocals, haunted production, mournful harmonica, AND the cigarette sound effect is used more than once. Pop but still sinister and punk in its attitude if not sound. This is also absurdly scarce.

Rayner Rey
Rovin’ Young Man (Jerden)

From the loungy music to the wanky guitar work to the monumentally sappy vocals, I should scorn this song. But it is so over-the-top and infectious that I actually know the lyrics enough to sing along to it. Proof of the insidious stealthness of pop music.

The Los Vegas
As Time Goes By (Columbia)
The band’s name speaks the truth. This have all the trapping of Vegas pop and the dudes have Mexican accents. The song starts off with one hell of a riff and is topped by a excitingly nimble electric piano player. Lush production and accented vocals of a song everyone associates with the movie, Casablanca, and you have a very bizarre pop song. And I really dig the “The Los Vegas” – what a way with words!

The Sunrays
You Don’t Phase Me (Tower)

A Murray Wilson production of the “sibling” band to the Beach Boys, though I doubt any of the Sunrays had to shit on a plate for Pop Wilson.
Sounds like a punker version of the Beach Boys. It also has that hot edge you hear on Tower Records stuff from that time (Standells, Max Frost, even Mae West). Easy find.

The Barry Lee Show
I Don’t Want to Love You (Independence)
This starts off with a very nice fuzz guitar and then the Tom Jones vocals come in. The song slams into a confused mix of the Cowsills, Spiral Staircase, & Beach Boys. This should be a mess but somehow it works. Though these guys sound American, they were from Norfolk, UK.

The Murphy’s
I’ll Be Home Again (Thunderbird)

I know absolutely nothing about the Murphy’s or the label this record is on. But I can tell you what it sounds like. Buddy Holly influenced pop with male/female duel vocals, with a flute lead. This could have been a theme for any number of TV shows.

The Fifth Estate
Lost Generation (Jubilee)
Even more cynical than cash-in pop is right wing message pop and this is one of the best! Some of the lyrics are “You can find us in the city in the California night./And now isn’t it a pity that we don’t know wrong from right?/We’re a Lost Generation/Just a Lost Generation/We’re ungrateful and it’s sad/We ignore our mums & dads,” “Be it con-spic-u-ous con-sump-tion, TV sets and brand new cars/and we make that horrid music with electrical guitars,” and “We’re the terrors of the schoolroom, tuning in & dropping out/and our hair is much too long and our music much too loud.” What I wanna know is if Chris Stigliano was behind this! The music is pure oompah pop. Duel vocals and a catchy beat!

The Flying Machine
Smile a Little Smile For Me (Congress)
The one and only hit by this studio band. Make this twenty five guys & gals instead of just five guys and you have the Pollyphonic Spree. Here is the melodic template for more than one Spree song. An easy find and a very nice bubblegum “ballad” from 1969

Ronnie Dio & the Prophets
10 Days with Brenda (Parkway)
That the singer is the same Ronnie Dio who fronted Rainbow and Black Sabbath and later filled his name out to become Ronnie James Dio is just gravy. Anything but meathead metal, 10 Days… is a very cool, sparse haunted pop song with Shadow Morton-style production, a Roy Orbison-ish vocal chorus, and an eerie whistler. Best of all, the song is a break up song, Dio telling us that he no longer loves his girlfriend but he feel obligated to “give 10 more days to Brenda, then take my love away.” Wow, what a guy!

Ljuba Ljuba (A&M)

I could be cheating here. There is no date on the record so I am guessing that it is 60s stuff. But the T-Rex meets Nillson production style and the man-in-the-jungle theme, as well as the tabla, marimba, & jew’s harp, all say 1970s. That also says this should be crap, but there is something that makes this work. Maybe it is the lazy pace, the oddness, or that I was raised with “Put the Lime in the Coconut” on the radio.

Vigrass & Osbourne
Ballerina (Uni)
I know I am cheating here. The date is 1972, but this has a late 60s feel. It is a very eerie, slow, haunting pop song. There is an element of psych here, though mated with the Bee Gees’ With the Sun in My Eyes. The piano and the song’s theme make this very foppy, even fey. But there is a dark tone here that makes me think of the Dead Science or Legendary Pink Dots. I picked this up because it is on Uni, despite the title being Ballerina. Really.

Okay, that is it. I’ve wasted most a morning. If you want to waste an hour of your night or day, I will be playing a lot of these songs on my next radio show. It airs every Tuesday night at 11 pm on KDVS 90.3 FM and is archived on line. I probably won’t play the Ballerina song, as I don’t want to get my wrists broken by fag-hating, campus frat dudes.


Black Flag comes to town

When I was a young 'un, one of the biggest teases was an old Black Flag flyer that was wheat-pasted to a pillar in front of the Sam's Hauf Brau next to Tower Posters on Watt Ave in Sacramento. Tower Posters was Tower Records' head shop and is long gone. The flyer has Black Flag playing a place called Slick Willies, which was a bar in the ''burbs. I was too young to go there as it quit doing shows in '79 or so (I do have a photo of the Ramones on stage there, that I bought from a guy who used to sell concert photos in front of Tower Watt). We young punkers would stare at the flyer, fantasizing about seeing Black Flag with Keith Morris.
Hell, we dreamed of seeing Black Flag in Sacramento. The two times I had seen them was in Frisco and getting to Frisco was tough, as none of us had cars . To get there we had to try to convince some rocker with a car that they would like this show - "It's kinda like Sabbath but faster." Of course, these rides never did like the show but we got to Frisco. Failing a ride, our way out of town was hitchhiking or taking Greyhound and then walking the streets til the morning 'hound left back home.

In 1981 and 82, there were a couple Black Flag shows scheduled in Sacto but they fell through as the band was going through Chavo problems and the quest for a singer. When the search finally resulted in Henry Garfield being the singer, we were kind of excited and kind of disappointed. Excited because Henry was in SOA and they were supposed to be good live. Disappointed because Henry was from DC and we hated anything from DC because it was 1. The East Coast and 2. Straight edge. Our loyalty to the Schmidt's sports pack was as strong as our regional pride. Of course, when Minor Threat came through and then the Bad Brains, we sheepishly admitted that we just got our skulls handed to us, cracked and in an adrenaline frenzy. But still Black Flag was Black Flag, Keith, Chavo, Dez or Henry.

Finally we hear that Black Flag is coming to Sacramento. They are scheduled to play this place called the Galactica 2000. The Galactica was a disco on 15th & L. It opened up in the mid 70s and had a science fiction theme. The inside was decorated with a lot of shiny metal and murals of outer space. Painted styrofoam was glued to one long expanse of wall. By the time the Galactica was open to doing Clear & Distinct Ideas (promoter Stewart Katz and hands) all-ages shows, disco was dead and the styrofoam was pitted thanks to young punks grabbing chunks off in order to throw at each other.
As the Galactica declined, more and more good shows happened there. Eventually the place changed hands and turned into an all-ages dance club, switching names every couple years to keep ahead of rumors that the owner & staff fondled the kid dancers.

The night Black Flag came to town, the kid dancers were punks looking for a pit and all fondling was limited to body slamming off body. I am not sure who opened the show, but I do remember that Crucifix (while they were still in their Germs phase) played before Black Flag. During Crucifix's set the tension was pretty high. While they played great, everyone was buzzing about Black Flag. And, christ, why not? Black Flag were the quintessential punk band. More so than the Ramones or any UK band, Black Flag stripped rock and roll down to a raw, spastic nerve. The music was done without theatrics or a look or a fashion layout, fueled by boredom and full of anger. Any alienated child of American suburbs, with a taste for loud, fast music and willing to put themselves at odds with their peers, could relate. Nervous Breakdown, Jealous Again, and Six Pack were soundtracks as well as anthems. Fuck, Black Flag was our Elvis, our Beatles, but a hell of a lot better. So, yeah, the room was definitely buzzing for Black Flag.

Crucifix finished their set and people started pushing toward the front. As the bands and their roadies swaped out equipment, the room became so tight with anticipation that any ripple in the crowd sent people murmuring and craning their neck toward the stage. Greg, Chuck, Robo and Dez made their way on stage. People started, "Where's Henry? Where's Henry?," looking around for some bald-headed dude. After a tense five minutes, a hairy Henry pops up and the band lurched forward. The place fucking exploded. The pit became a chaos of bodies, a psychotic game of human bumperpool - with spikes and boots. People not only dove off the stage, but from whatever surface was high enough to jump from. Tables, barstools, the bar itself were all launching points. What happened was less of a concert and much, much more a release of pressure. Raw energy, completely unharnessed, bounced from wall to wall, from body to body. Focused, the energy could have razed the block; dispersed, god knows what happened to it.

The show didn't wind down as it just ended, like a car propelled off a cliff, driver thinking "Shit." No fanfare or epilogue: Sound off, good bye.


I've been meaning to do one of these blog things for quite some time but never get around to it or inspired. Tonight, as I sat down to right some reply to a post on Agony Shorthand (http://agonyshorthand.blogspot.com/) regarding Black Flag, I said to myself "Shit, why not now." So instead of this appearing on Jay's blog, it's here. Check back for more stuff later. I'll do this til I burn out on it.

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