Splendor of Sorrow
Easter Monkeys Splendor of Sorrow LP (Hit & Run, 1990)
Band for band, there isn't a rock & roll scene that has topped Cleveland, which, for nearly a decade starting in the mid 70s, turned out great band after great band. Some towns have hit the same high but none have bettered CLE. Hell, I can name you three bands right now of which one appears in most punk cognescenti's top ten: Electric Eels, Pagans, Pere Ubu. And then there is the list of classic and cult bands, all of which are primo: Rocket from the Tombs, Mirrors, Styrenes, Dead Boys, and, today's feature, Easter Monkeys.
The Easter Monkeys were born in 1981, when former Electric Eels/Styrenes member Jim Jones got together with ex-Kneecappers Chris Yarmock, Charlie Ditto and Linda Hudson, sister of Mike and Brian Hudson of the Pagans. They had a three year run and broke up with only an appearance on the classic comp, Cleveland Confidential. Some years after their demise, a collection of their recordings were slapped together on this LP.
You get to hear two cuts from the record. I could have easily posted more but what is the fun in that. I would rather taunt you with a killer driver like Take Another Pill and send you out into the night, rabidly clawing for the few of these pups that exist but littered records stores' clearance bins in the mid 90s. Happy hunting.
Michael Psycho s/t
Michael Psycho s/t LP (Black Hole, 1990)
From Bobby Brown to Donnie Jupiter, Sacramento breeds its fair share of individualist musicians. Of our many outcasts, only one has made a loner punk classic and that person is Michael Psycho. My first encounter with Mister Psycho was seeing him front an early 80s punk band called Industrial Hate. Good, speedy punk rock, IH reflected the misfit nature of the band. After IH broke up, Michael formed a two-piece called Inducore. It was on an Inducore tape that I heard early versions of the songs that turned up on this record.
Recorded in the late 80s and released in 1990, Michael Psycho's debut is full of frustration, hate, bitterness, disappointment, and, underneath all that, a sincere longing for something better - all hallmarks of great loner punk. If I remember right, all the instruments here are played by Michael; the album recorded in his apartment. The playing is a bit clunky but that is to Psycho's credit. As good as his songs are, slicked up, the songs wouldn't have the impact that they do here. Another plus is Psycho's vocals, which sound remotely like No Alternative's Johnny Genocide.
Five hundred of the record were made. One hundred circulated around Sacramento, a few escaped through mail order and very small distributors. A little less than four hundred were stored with Psycho's landlord with the understanding that they would be kept safe while Michael was away. Landlords being landlords, the near four hundred wound up in a landfill. I used to find these in Sacto record bins quite often, however those were different times. Now they are scarce scarce scarce.
Seventeen Bubblegum Smashes!
Pink Filth Presents Seventeen Bubblegum Smashes! LP (Lost, 1998)
Buying a record like this is easy. Though I didn't know what it was at the time, it possessed some points that I look for. The sleeve is a paste-on, it doesn't look like many were made, I never heard of it before, and the record is full of covers of Bubblegum classics. The $4 price tag means the risk is little.
What is tough is finding a record like this when you are on a road trip and not being able to listen to it NOW. In this instance, Nebraska was where is was when I found this in a record store bin. It was day four of a 30 day road trip. So Pink Filth sat in a box in the back of my truck waiting for me, tempting me. Sure, covers of Lemon Pipers, Ohio Express, and Sweet create a twinge of anticipation; but the real lust kicks in upon seeing that Pink Filth remakes Alice Cooper's Clones and Hawkwind's Quark, Strangeness and Charm.
I never ever would have pegged Hawkwind as Bubblegum. As poppy as a song like Silver Machine is, monsters like Orgone Accumulator are just too heavy for the Chewy Chewy crowd. Credit Pink Filth as geniuses for seeing Bubblegum in Quark..., a record I never really enjoyed. Like any great recreation, Pink Filth's rendition has sent me back to the stacks to dig out that late Hawkwind album. Pink Filth creates not just one classic: Their versions of Lemon Pipers and Cryin' Shames are also great. And they sneak at least one original in (Sipping Strawberry Tea).
Pink Filth existed through the 1990s and released their last record in 2001. They are/were from San Antonio. I don't know if they are still playing music.
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
The Tritons (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction 7" (Barclay, 1973)
Euros forgive me. Though The Tritons cover of the Rolling Stones' classic was a huge hit in Italy and throughout the continent, it was unheard in America. I didn't become aware of it until I saw it in front of me, priced at 1 euro at a seller's table at a Paris record swap. The sleeve seemed promising and since it was a cover of Satisfaction and $1.15, why the fuck not? I bought it and packed it in the suitcase that I had brought, a suitcase dedicated to the records I had picked up in my week of Parisian/Belgian record hunting. Once home, the single made it to the top of the stack of about 100 and upon listen into the list of best finds on the trip.
I am sure that we are all familiar with Devo's amazing cover of Satisfaction, so no need to comment on that other than to say, it is peerless. That being that, it does not shame The Tritons' version. The Tritons had their own thing going. Like Devo, they did what every band who covers a song should do and that is make the song their own. So many bands nowadays either cover songs note for note or they do a punk speed up or something that tinkers with but does not approach the song different than it has been done before. That is fine and dandy when you are playing things for the pleasure of playing them or even in a live setting, but why make a record that has been made (usually a lot better) before? Believe me, I am painfully aware that there are a lot of records out there and the environmentalist in me says, "Protect our resources and only press what needs to be pressed." In other words, just because you recorded a version of someone else's song and made it louder, don't think you need to release it. Back down off your ego and think for a moment: Do we really need to hear your garage punk version of Strychnine? Really now.
So what do the Tritons do that is so good? They kick the song down a notch and put a cool Dylan meets the Pogues style jangly swing to it (though this was made before the Pogues existed but you know what I mean). The accented vocals make the song even better, the horns punching another element of swinging good time into it. A perfect version, this is.
Of The Tritons, I know what I read, and rather than repeat words, I urge you to check the story out yourself.
Rocco Scotti My Wonderland b/w Strange 45 (Rendezvous, 195?)
While Rocco Scotti has performed with orchestras and symphonies the world over, what he is known for is singing the National Anthem. And he is known. Since 1974, Scotti has sung the National Anthem for Baseball's Cleveland Indians. By his reckoning, he has done the song more than 3000 times. Most descriptions of Scotti's performance contain the word "belted." As one fan notes, "He would literally shake the speakers with the strength of his voice, and by the time he hit his peak at the line 'and the home of the brave,' the crowd would be worked into a patriotic frenzy."
When I found this single, I knew nothing about Scotti. I picked up the record because the vocals were so over-the-top I couldn't pass it up. I enjoyed the absurdity of it. However, like a lot of records repeated listening pushed the absurdity to the margins and made me concentrate on the power of Scotti's voice. I can only imagine the thrill it was to hear him belt out that old whore, The Star Spangled Banner (music or poetry, you can't defend the Star Spangled Banner. It is gaudy, over-written, and undemocratic. Undemocratic? Yeah, what commoner can sing it? No one! Only a master like Rocco Scotti can do the thing justice. A much, much better national anthem for the United States would be America The Beautiful). Enjoy the majesty of Rocco Scotti.
Yak Bezaf Felas
Lamari Said Yak Bezaf Felas 7" (Bel Air, 1960)
This is a recent favorite. I picked it up at a flea market in Paris for one euro. Taking a very shallow, self-interested view, one of the benefits of French imperialism is that there are some terrific Algerian records floating around France and they tend to be cheap. I am not going to lie to you and front that I knew who Lamari Said was before I got this record. I do have a healthy stack of records of Middle Eastern music, but aside from a few artists, most of my vinyl came from blind buying. Price is right, cover looks okay, Arabic writing = Time to take a chance. Lamari Said was another chance that was worth taking.
Yak Bezaf Felas starts with some piano riffs backed by a subtle drone. The drone mellows the piano into melancholy. Said sings a bit and then the song kicks into a faster rhythm. On the surface the song isn't much different than a lot of Middle Eastern songs, but listen close and the oud and piano are doing strange things in the background. They go on quick runs and strike odd notes. Said's voice also develops an almost punk-like sneer. The whole of Yak Bezaf Felas is fantastic.
The little I know about Lamari Said is what I can decipher from the sleeve notes. He was born in Tizi-Guzou, Algeria in 1918. He was a singer on Radio Alger and also performed on television. Other than that he is a mystery to me.
Remember Boa Boa
The Waikikis Remember Boa Boa 45 (Kapp, 1965)
Dig for records and you discover that every band/artist has a hit miss ratio. With some - like Jacques Dutronc, the Equals, or the Swell Maps - there are more hits than misses. With others the misses far out pace the hits. Few bands have a great gulf between hits and misses than The Waikikis.
One of the many acts to cash in on the Hawaiian music craze and the exotica trend, the Waikikis turned out dozens of records - every single one of them that I have picked up has sucked. Make that, everyone except one, or, really one half. But that one half of record has made all the others that went from thrift store bin to my turntable back to thrift store bin worth picking up.
Remember Boa Boa is one of the best songs I've heard, period. The percussion track that opens the song sets a great mood, enhanced by a luscious slide guitar. And that is it. That is the song and that is what makes it great. There is no Hawaiian tourist jive stinking this one up. Sure, it has an exotica feel, but there is nothing wrong with that.
Though this record is treasured by those who have heard it, do a search on the net and you find it isn't hard to fine. Though when you search, look for Hawaii Honeymoon, as that is the A-A-side. No surprise that the B-side is the hit here.
Laurindo Almeida & George Fields Naked Sea 7" (Capitol, 1955)
Wow! What a package! The movie is a documentary about a tuna boat full of fishermen, trucking up and down the South American coast (15 thousand miles worth of trucking!), encountering things such as a hurricanes and volcanos. Very cool indeed. And even better, they get Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida to do the soundtrack.
Here are three songs from a four song promo ep. I've found two copies in three years of looking, which, in my book, says it is findable. I picked it up for a couple of reasons: I am game for any old 7" ep that is either soundtrack or exotica and this looked like both, and I've got a Sammy Davis, Jr. album with Almeida on it and it is fucking great! I recommended to any fan of Crud Crud.
Back to the Stacks
The Webs People Sure Act Funny b/w You Pretty Fool 45 (MGM)
Man, I don't know about this one. People... is hyped up country-meet-MC5 version of the R&B standard, though it is all slicked up and has really jive Black lady gospel backing vocals. The flip is above average pop-psych, a cross between the Byrds and BeeGees with some nice backwards guitar.
Pat Briley One for My Baby b/w But It's Over (Whiz)
I have a fondness for sub-Donovan rip offs and Pit Briley is a good one. What puts him over the top is a nice combo of relaxed tempo and cheesy horn arrangements. One for My Baby could be really shitty but it is not. Again, star here is the flip - a really nice haunted pop song anchored by very cool bass/drum beat. The piano and horns come in very nicely.
Little Caesar & the Consuls Poison Ivy b/w Hang on Sloopy (Mala)
A serviceable frat rock version of Poison Ivy. The gem is the slow, creeping version of Hang on Sloopy, maybe the best that I've heard. It has a similar feel to Human League's version of You Lost that Loving Feeling. Only complaint is it should be twice as long.
The Blemonts Come on Little Angel b/w How about Me (Sabina)
Good early rock & roll. Little Angel sound like the blueprint for Monster Mash. How about me reminds me of early Beach Boys.
Debbie Dovall Hey Lover b/w This World We Love In (Roulette)
The A side has that girl group meets Motown sound, not quite soulful but jumpier than standard Duh duh dunt girl group sounds. This World... is a slower number and did I hear some German in there? Hmmm.
DeJohn Sisters Straighten Up & Fly Right b/w Wrong Guy (Sunbeam)
Straighten Up... is a great early R&B novelty song about an obnoxious attack money, with a great spoken intro, a flustered teacher, and chorus of "Cool down, teacher. Don't you flip your wig." Wrong Guy is a very cool slow girl group vocal that is very stripped down. Buddy Holly style guitar over a very very very swank bongo percussion track.
Faye Adams I'll be True b/w Happiness to My Soul (Herald)
I'll be True is an okay early rock & roll song. It has a good shuffling beat and the production is barebones enough to make it work. People wonder where bands like the Fall and Swell Maps picked up their "shambolic" shuffle need to listen to some early rock & roll. That shuffle is all over the place. Happiness... is a slow one that reminds me of Wynona Carr, though not as good.
Rusty Geis Harlem Nocturne b/w Danny Boy (Down Home)
Geis's version of Harlem Nocturne is kinda obnoxious and kinda cool. He slows it down and that is great. Then he over exagerates the horn to the point of jive. You can picture him strutting the stage while he plays and that is not good. His overplaying does lead to a few squeaks of the sax but not enough. And then he does a slow version of Danny Boy, which is actually much better than you would think. Walk in off the melody and you might think this an Otis Redding backing track. Of course Geis over exagerates. But the very very cool organ backing really makes it. In fact, the unnamed organist is the real star here.
The Guilloteens Hey You! b/w I Don't Believe (HBR)
There's some great Hanna-Barbera records out there and you can count this as one of them. Hey You! is a great Back From the Grave worthy garage punk cruncher. Teen angst & attitude couple with a great primitive fuzz guitar. I Don't Believe is an odd twangy pop song that sounds like it is supposed to be Blue Eyed Soul but the production couple with clunkiness of the band handicaps it in a good way. This is the most interesting of the two cuts, but Hey You! still rules this 45.
Frank Gorshin Turn Around, Look At Me b/w Free (King)
I am sure at least one of you knew Frank "The Joker" Gorshin made records and you probably have them all. This is my first and it is not bad. The guy has a nice voice and loves to play with it. It is pretty amazing the arsenal of voices he has, all of which he displays on this Vegas floor show-style novelty 45. Hard to listen to more than once.
Eddie Cooley & the Dimples Priscilla b/w I Got a Little Woman (Royal Roost)
Early rock & roll. Priscilla is good for what it is. I Got a Little Woman is a bit better, a safer version of Jerry Lee Lewis. I am sure there are collectors who swoon over this, but not me.
The Tommy Heck Quintet The Lost World b/w Blue 22 (Chariot)
Tommy Heck! What a name! I guess Tommy Hell was taken or maybe a bit edgy for Mr. Heck. That's fine, as Heck does two really good guitar instrumentals. They are lo-fi enough and with a decent amount of twang to provide a nice counter to an exotica string section. I'm talking Lost World here. On Blue 22, Heck shifts things up with some Wipe Out, Mexican guitar, spy music, and noir swing. It all works and makes for a real cool 60s instro 45.