Halloween Ghetto 7" (HLW, 1982)
I've only been to Belgium once. My girlfriend, Susan, and I spent a day wandering around Brussels, looking at the places she remembered from her year as an exchange student during the 1980s. Her memories of the place were much brighter than what we experienced.
Stepping out of the train station, we walk into a bleak neighborhood with torn up streets and boarded up buildings. The faces are sallow and sad, the voices angry. We hit a couple shops on our way to the town center. The people aare pushy and rude, the children loud. Though it is a Saturday, most of the businesses we pass are closed.
We make our way toward Susan's old school. The doors are padlocked and the window broken. She says that there was a shopping area a few blocks away, maybe we should check it out. What we stumble on could have been constructed in Soviet Union under Khruschev and plopped down in Belgium. Looking at the map, I figure out that there is a record store a couple blocks away. We split, agreeing to meet up at what looks like a decent pub/cafe in an hour.
I find the store and it is not only the brightest place I visited all day, but the friendliest. That is to say my "Bon jour" was met with a grunt rather than a scowl. I find a few records, including this one for one euro, and wander to meet my lady.
We go into the cafe and I hit the bathroom. I open the door and is almost knocked cold by the stench. The toilet seat has no cover. The sink doesn't work. I do my business and join Susan at a table. I look at the menu, all the food items are crossed out. They are out of food. Still the place is full of families, brutish looking men and beaten down women, surrounded by very loud children. I look at a table across the room. Sitting at it is a woman whose whole face is covered with band aids. I look at Susan and suggest that we split.
We still have 4 more hours to kill before the train we are booked on leaves for Paris. Hungry, we find a waffle stand and have the shittiest waffles I've ever had. We decide to go to the train station and see if we can get the hell out of Brussels early. Tired of walking, we find a Metro stop and catch one to the train station. As we travel, Susan points out the station called Kunst-Wet and tells me how much she used to laugh at the station-name as a kid. I cup my hands to my mouth and pretend to be a train conductor "Next stop: Wet Cunt. Wet Cunt. Boarding at Wet Cunt." The Belgians are not amused.
At the train station we are told that it will cost us 100 euros if we want a seat on an early train to Paris. We decide to stick it out and stroll around the station. After 20 minutes, both of us are thinking, "Three more hours? Three more hours?" I speak up, "It's only $75 each." She adds, "And you're supposed to spend money on vacation." The next train leaves in ten minutes so we sprint to the ticket counter and exchange our tickets. Then we haul ass to the train, the last people on board. It pulls out of the station before we sit down.
I've tried to find out information on the band Halloween, but have had no luck. The only person who has a real name is the singer and unless he is now a software developer who doesn't answer emails, I am not sure where he is. I haven't even tried to track down Free Porta (which I believe is a sex act), Pat Shark, or the fabulously named Luc Bollock. The a-side, B. Town Beauty, is a good uptempo punk song, but it is the bleak flipside, a Joy Division-inspired anthem about exterminating your elders, that reminds me of my day trip to Belgium. (This is a repost. It originally was posted 26 October 2005. Happy Halloween!)
Satanic Rites Hit and Run 7" (Heavy Metal, 1981)
Like a lot of suburban born & breed juvenile delinquents, coming of age in the 1970s, my first musical crush was heavy metal. At the time, heavy metal was the loudest, most obnoxious thing going in music. It was heavy and often anti-social and for me the best of the best was Black Sabbath. Clad in bell bottom jeans and hiking boots, long greasy hair dangling down my zit pocked face, I would march down the street with my boom box at 10, speakers blaring Electric Funeral to the world, which in my case was the Sacramento suburbs of Glenbrook & College Greens. My teen gang would march along, none of us the leader, just a pack of neer do wells intent on vandalizing whatever we deemed necessary. As a teen I had three gifts: I could spit farther than anyone else. I was great at shoplifting (built my record collection up to two hundred by walking out of a K-Mart with whatever I could grab). And I had an unquenchable thirst for music (which partially explains the shoplifting). In my crowd I was the music man. I had the boom box and I had the tapes. Everywhere I went I took my shitty portable cassette deck and a backpack full of tapes. We would go to Glenbrook Park, snort speed and kick the shit out of each other under the guise of playing football - I had the boombox pumping When the Levee Breaks. We would be at the elementary school setting fire to garbage cans - the boombox fed us Highway Star. We would watch OC dive into the American River to shepherd a keg away so that the park rangers wouldn't snatch it and thus our deposit and beer gone - the boombox blasted Symptom of the Universe (while the sheriff's helicopter hovered overhead). Heavy metal was my soundtrack until one fine day in 1979, when a fellow shitbag sung me the lyrics of the Sex Pistols' Bodies. That afternoon I was on my bike for an hour ride to Tower Records on Watt Ave in order to steal me a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks. I got home, heard the jackbooted intro, Steve Jones's guitar flails, and Johnny Rotten's caterwaul and I was hooked (a better album intro doesn't exist). A few days latter I begged my mom to crop my hair, I pegged my bell bottoms, and made a Sex Pistols shirt with a sharpie. Goodbye heavy metal, hello punk.
By the time I got into punk, heavy metal was sucking anyway. Bands like Sabbath were all coked up and turning out crap. Hard rock like Foreigner was starting to take over. It was garbage. However, in the UK punk rock was having an impact on metal. Fresh from being sacked from Hawkwind, Lemmy formed Motorhead kicked the sad old hasbeens stucking up the metal scene out on their duffs. A New Wave of British Heavy Metal was on and it was called NWOBHM for short. Like a lot of things that were sensible at the time, NWOBHM didn't catch on in the US. Motorhead's audience was limited to a few bikers, Hawkwind freaks, and punks. Our metal renaissance (again thanks to punk) didn't happen until crossover in the mid-80s. Anyway, by the time NWOBHM came around, I had little need for any heavy metal (though I did buy Motorhead records) so I missed out on the hundreds of indie 7"s that it generated. No problem. Good things come to those who dig. I was at a radio station record sale, going through 45s. Next to me was the guy who gave me the Yama Yama Man LP. We had a standing arrangement. I gave him any homemade acetate that I found: He gave me anything in a picture sleeve. So when he handed me a plastic bag with about 40 NWOBHM 7"s in it, who was I to say "No"? I got home and over a week's time played them all. Five of the 40 stood out so I kept them and sold the rest. One of the ones I kept was the debut by Satanic Rites.
If you've paid attention it should be pretty obvious why I kept the Satanic Rites 7". These guys not only nail the early Motorhead sound, but there is the sound you get on some of the Damned's Machine Gun Etiquette. Yeah, that and it is a great single. I read that these guys put out two albums, one in 1985, the other in 1987. The dates don't give me promise. I'll stick to this one.
The Whizz Kidds Sweet Honey b/w Big Teaser 45 (Highland, 1977)
When punk broke in the UK in 1977, a funny thing happened in the US. Other than a few signings which should be considered statistical anomalies, the music industry ignored it and, because the major labels weren't signing punk bands, those musicians who wanted to crash the music industry as part of "The Next Big Thing" were stymied. While many of these guys certainly knew how to play, they didn't have the thousands of dollars worth of gear in order to fuel a big touring act, and besides no one toured without a label, roadies, support, etc. The average schmoe was limited to playing at clubs. Most clubs booked cover bands and no one made it big as a cover band. In the UK, the clubs were being taken over by punk and new wave bands. Sure, there were a few clubs in LA, New York, and San Francisco that booked punk bands, but that wasn't a way to make a career. To the rescue came power pop.
One can trace power pop back to LA sunshine pop and UK Merseybeat of the 1960s and follow its progression through bubblegum to Midwest icons like the Raspberries and West Coasters the Flaming Groovies. Back to England, power pop was often the product of the fusion of punk and pub rock, its most noted practitioner being Nick Lowe. Power pop was as compact as punk and had similar pep, but it didn't have the "negative" attitude and perhaps because of that gained a certain amount of legitimacy among club owners, labels, and, hence, musicians. Certainly, the influence of the Beatles on the genre helped sell it. And it didn't hurt that you didn't have ditch your day job because you hacked off all your hair and were now going by the name Johnny Barf. Nah, that skinny tie you bought for Friday night's show could also be worn at work. In the late 70s, power pop was seen as a way to make it big, or at least pay the bills playing music. However, with a few brief exceptions, it didn't catch on (which begs the question: Would we have been spared "80s classic rock" if The Knacks' second album didn't stiff?).
While power pop never really broke, it did generate an amazing amount of records. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of 7"s were produced by bands. These records were used as calling cards to get gigs and hopefully major label attention. Some were sold to fans at shows or in a local record store. Few made their way out of wherever they were produced. For the fan of the genre, there was one reliable source for power pop and that was Greg Shaw's Bomp! label and mail order. Shaw was convinced power pop was going to take over the country. A few punk collectors took note and picked up the records as they were being released. However, at the end of the record, power pop was not only ignored by the majors but it was snuffed by the punks. When hardcore captured White middle class suburban youth, those skinny ties were shunted off to the thrift store and the guys wearing them...
Because we are dealing with vinyl, no music really goes away. When a trend it over the records find their way into used bins waiting to be rediscovered by a new set of music freaks. People go back and read old issues of fanzines and start searching out forgotten bands. Someone sees a record in a used bin of a band she saw in some club years ago and picks it up on a whim. A record is pulled out of a collection by a "weird" uncle who was in a band and he plays his one record for his nephew who is now in a band. A collector runs out of rare Mongolian goat herding songs to snatch up and turns his mania onto some "new" genre. And then someone makes a comp of rare songs. In the 90s, power pop was revived thanks to three people: Whoever compiled the two American power pop volumes in Rhino's DIY series, the anonymous person behind the Power Pearls bootleg series of rare power pop singles and Chuck Warner and his Teenline series of CDRs. I am sure there are probably a few more factors but lets just agree that DIY: American Power Pop, Power Pearls and Teenline were many people's reintroduction to power pop. Since then, finding the once plentiful power pop gem is hard work. But it does happen.
I found the Whizz Kidds obscurity about a year ago. It was sitting in a pile of records at a thrift store and it was a buck. I had no idea what it was, but thought it foolish to pass up anything by a band that not only had two "z"s in their name but also two "d"s. Got it home and was treated with two very strong Raspberries/Big Star influenced American power pop songs. These two have that sort of pre-punk laid back sound to them, but there is still enough rock in the pop to keep these at the top of my record stacks.
My research on the Whizz Kidds brought me to Syracuse, NY and a guy named Frank Simes. A 14 year old musical "whizz," he made his first record with the band Sunshine at 14. When he was old enough to get the hell out of Upstate New York, he wound up in LA and formed the Whizz Kidds. They did one record and broke up. He became a session man and songwriter. In 2000, he won a Grammy with Don Henley. He currently plays in an acoustic duo called Crimson Crowbar. Who the other Whizz Kidds where and where they are now, I don't know.
The Moon Without Earth LP (Imperial, 1968)
From the heaviness of Sudan & Angola to the frivility of Southern California we go. The Moon were a music industry pop psych creation made up of on/off again Beach Boy David Marks, SoCal garage punk legend Matthew Moore, Davie Allen/psychsploitation drummer Larry Brown, and David Jackson, all brought together by Mike Curb. They spent more than a year recording Without Earth (produced by Larry Brown) and the result is a pop psych classic. A year later they made The Moon. It, too, is full of pop gems. Both of the records were released on Imperial like a lot of that label's records, they got little promotion. No sales means no money and no money means a promising band was left to die in front of no one. Two bad because Without Earth & The Moon are a great records.
Africa in Revolutionary Music
Various Africa in Revolutionary Music LP (LSM, 1975)
It has become a cliche to juxtapose the tragic history of Africa since its discovery by Europe and the wealth of the music it has produced. Look at a country as fucked up as Sudan and you find one of the riches musical cultures in the world. Today we listen to some music from Angola, produced during some of the country's many dark years.
Angola was colonized by Portugal in the 15th Century and remained a colony until 1975, when three revolutionary armies, the MPLA, the FNLA, and UNITA won control of the country. Being that the MPLA was backed by Cuba & the USSR, the FNLA by the US, and UNITA by South Africa's apartheid government, there was no way that the country was going anywhere but into civil war. In the 25+ years since "independence" over a million of people have died and 5 million displaced. Fighting still continues.
During the 1970s, nearly every Third World revolutionary movement had some front in Europe and North America. These groups mainly published and distributed pamphlets in which the struggle of some people was documented with an appeal at the end to follow Lenin or Mao or Trotsky or Stalin or Castro or whomever the particular revolutionary group looked to for inspiration. Sometimes they put out records. The MPLA's spokespersons in North America were a Trotskyite group called Liberation Support Movement who had "information centers" in the San Francisco Bay Area and up in British Columbia. The LSM were the folks responsible for this record.
The record has cuts from 5 different African countries in revolution, as well as one from Brazil (which attempts to musically link the revolutionary movements in the two continents). My favorite cut is the one of MPLA & Angolan songs. I like the collage of sounds. It is especially striking when the songs moves into a MPLA soldier singing while his fellow revolutionaries attack a village.
Africa in Revolutionary Music used to be in every used bin in Northern California thanks to the tenacity of Trotsky's soldiers. Since the 1990s they have disappeared and why not? Who can pass up a jacket with a mom cradling an infant in one arm and a AK-47 in the other?
Hassan Atia & His Orchestra Sudanese Songs 7" (Supraphone, 196?)
When one thinks of Sudan today, images of starving refugees in Darfur, tales of genocide and rape, and the thought of a society under the totalitarian heel of shaira law comes to mind. But there was a time before Fundimentalists took charge, a time when Sudan was a more tranquil place responsible for some of North Africa's most wonderful music.
My introduction to Sudanese music came in the 1980s, when I started picking up Folkways' Ethnic series. Prior to discovering Folkways and then Nonesuch, my "international" music knowledge was limited to hardcore bands from Finland, Japan, and Brazil. Anyone who knows hardcore, understands that the music tends to homogonize rather than bring out ethnicity. So really, Folkways and Nonesuch were the two labels that opened the musical world to me. Over a couple weeks I methodically raided every used record bin in Sacramento, stripping them of Folkways and Nonesuch Explorer titles. My ears were burning with all the new and wonderful noise: Pygmy songs, Indonesian monkey chants, Whirling Dervishes, Temiar dream songs. I was a Folkways/Nones sponge, but, still, I needed more. So I started buying international music that released on other labels. One day, I stumbled upon a small stack of records by the Nubian musician Hamza El Din. And then I found a record by Abdel Gadir Salim. I was hooked.
That El Din is from Nubia, the middle of Sudan, and Salim from Kordofan, in the west, told me that Sudan had a very rich musical culture and I was right. From Sufi songs to the folk music of the Dinka, the music is as rich as any place on earth. Today's artist, Hassan Atia is from the north of Sudan, a region with a long musical history.
Northern Sudan is predominately Muslim, thus it is no surprise that Twentieth Century Northern Sudanese music is derived from Islamic hymns, the first of these genres being Haqibah. Haqibah is a stripped down music, made up of harmonic a cappella vocals, with maybe a tambourine. The introduction of the oud revolutionized the music, giving it a bit more heft, and leading to a stain of lyrical music, often used to spread anti-imperialist/pro-independence messages. With the 1940s & 50s came many Western & eastern instruments. Violin, tabla, and accordion were added. Groups were organized as big bands, Western style in structure, Sudanese in sound. The music of Hassan Atia is a good example of post-Haqibah sound.
The music continued to evolve, many Sudanese artists gaining much popularity in North Africa and the Middle East. In 1989, Fundimentalists came to power and Islamic shaira law was imposed. Music that did not sing the praises of Allah or the state was banned. Many musicians went into exile. Those who didn't were kept from performing, imprisoned, and tortured. Miles of tape was erased. Records destroyed. The state tried to wipe out centuries of culture. (Don't think for a second that if Christian Fundimentalists had their way this wouldn't happen in the United States. Put Pat Robinson in charge and the Soriano archives get melted down in order to make more Amy Grant CDs, and I'd be hanging by my toes in some dank cell, force-fed Christian Contempory for refusing to bow to their Sky God.) Records like this, stuff that got out of or that where pressed outside of Sudan is the only musical record of Sudan before its decent into hell.
One thing about Sudanese music that appeals to me are the vocals. The voices are often full of sorrow and remind me of American country blues. Combine that vocal style with the sparseness of the instrumentation and the short orchestrated blasts and I am hooked.
Despite the title, this 7" is one long song, split into two parts. I found it at a Paris flea market for 1 euro. It was made in Czechoslovakia. I can't tell you any more about it than that.
A Pitching Duel
Albert Jones Vida Blue 45 (Tri-City, 1971)
Denny McLain At the Organ LP (Capitol, 1969)
Here we are at the American League Championship series and it is the A's vs. the Tigers. In a couple days, we could see a classic pitching duel between the A's Rich Harden and The Tigers' Kenny Rogers. Then again, given the streakiness of both teams we might not. So to avoid disappointment, let's travel back in time and think of an imaginary duel between two great but troubled pitchers.
The A's of the early 70's was part circus and part freak show. Like almost all A's teams, it was one of misfits, spare parts, and castoffs. But these guys were good. One of the best was Vida Blue, their ace pitcher and the most fun A to watch. Vida windup was drama. He threw from a high stepping sprawl, like his whole body was a spring. And when the ball left his hand it was a blur.
In 1971, Blue won the Cy Young and MVP and helped his team to the World from 1972 to 1974. In 72, he held out part of the season looking for more money and opted to sell vacuum cleaners instead of play for tightwad Charlie O. He came back later in the year and killed. Seventy-two was also the year, Blue started to use cocaine. In 78, he was traded to the Giants. He pitched well but as his career went on his numbers dropped and his drug use increased. He signed to the A's in 1987, but left before the season ended rather than take a drug test.
Blue's post-Big League life saw a couple DUIs and more alcohol and drug abuse. He got a break in the late 90s when the Giants hired him as a community outreach person. He ran the Junior Giants, a group dedicated to getting poor kids off the street and into the ball park. In 2004, he was arrested for another DUI. In May 2005, he was sentenced to 6 months in jail for violating terms of his probation.
In 1971, Albert Jones made this funky tribute to Vida Blue.
Denny McLain pitched for the Tigers in the late 1960s. His best year was in 1968 and it was a year that was one of the best by any pitcher ever. In '68, McLain won 31 games (the last 30 game winner ever) and lost six! His ERA was a jaw dropping 1.96. In 336 inning pitched he struck out 280 batters and walked only 63. He pitched 28 complete games, six of those were shutouts. He pitched two games of the 1968 World Series against the St Louis Cardinals and brought the championship to Detroit with a great game 7. It should be no surprise that he was the American League MVP and won the Cy Young.
In 1969 not only did McLain win another Cy Young, but he released his first record. In his free time, McLain would relax by playing the Hammond organ. His playing style was a cross between Take Me Out to the Ball Game and pounding one's fists on the keys. No problem, Tigers fanatics made it possible for him to make two records. He also enjoyed flying his plane to Vegas. It is the later pleasure that lead to his downfall.
In 1970, McLain got caught in a bookmaking operation and was suspended from the game for 3 months. He tried to come back, pitching for the Senators, A's, and Braves, but his arm wasn't up to it. He played one year in a small Canadian league but arm problems lead to him playing the infield and then permanent retirement. It wasn't long before he was in and out jail for gambling, embezzlement, drug racketeering, and extortion. One of his known cohorts is John Gotti, Jr. During this time he ballooned to 300 pounds. To make money, he works odd jobs and signs autographs.
Here are three songs from McLain's debut album: The Latin style For Me, an entertaining take on The Look of Love, and the most bizarre version of Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man that I've ever heard.
Wynemah Indian Love Call b/w 'Till 45 (Princess, 197?)
Kathleen Emery Someone Else May Be There 7" (Love, 196?)
Here are a couple of songbirds for you to groove to! I am going to keep the commentary short and just let you dig the beautiful voices of two lovely ladies.
I have no information to tell you about Wynemah. By the sound of the record, I assume that it is a mid-Seventies production. The label is from Hollywood. And that is about it.
Kathleen Emery is known in funk collector circles for a bizarre funky version of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which has been reissued on the Jazzman label. Here she is a bit less funky but her voice shines just as bright.
Bugs!!! (or Two Venets are better than one)
The Barnstormers Bug Stompin' (Stomp that Roach) 45 (Captiol, 196?)
Gene & Wendell (with the Sweethearts) The Roach 45 (Ray Star, 1961)
Here is a strange coincidence: We have two songs that deal with bugs, specifically roaches and they are both produced by guys with the surname of Venet.
The Barnstormers are a mystery group, perhaps one that never made it out of the studio. That wouldn't be a surprise considering the two mane guys behind this record are Jimmy Haskell and Nick Venet. Haskell turned into a pretty formable producer, arranger and conductor handling bands artists such as Bobby Darin and composing for dozens of Sixties westerns and surf flicks. Nick Venet put a bigger mark on the industry: He signed the Beach Boys to Capitol Records as well as got Shel Talmy a job at Decca. Here he and Haskell were probably hacking out a song destined for the charts or the trash can. Doesn't matter their intentions: The result is a cool dance tune about killing bugs.
Gene and Wendell's killer R&B song the Roach was produced by another Venet, this one named Steven. Steven Venet was a Brill Building song writer. With Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich, he wrote Baby Be Mine. He and Tommy Boyce wrote the theme to the show Where the Action Is! He had a lot of great productions but the two GREAT ones that I've dug up are this one and The Groupies' Primitive, popularized by the Cramps. Not surprising that of these two bug songs, The Roach survives the Stompin'.
Dion (I was) Born to Cry 45 (Laurie, 1962)
Fabian Break Down and Cry 45 (Dot, 1963)
Here are two great songs about crying. I first heard Dion's Born to Cry at Tiki Men guitarist Micah Kennedy's apartment twelve or so years ago. Micah lived above Old Ironsides, a former old man bar turned into a nauseating rock club. I was there with some people to see a band and, as usual, the bar booked a couple shitty friends-of-the-daughter-of-the-owner's bands to fill the bill so a few of us went upstairs to visit Micah and drink some beers. I don't drink beer - just hard stuff - so I was shuffling around impatiently. When Micah threw Born to Cry on the turntable, I froze. Dion is great. There is no argument anyone can mount that will destroy that Truth. The guy has a fantastic voice and his songs always have a tough swing to them. Because the hip focus on rockabilly and the drips on Elvis, Dion (and Del Shannon) too often get overlooked and that just ain't right. If I ever needed to make a case for you to check out Dion, I'd slap Born to Cry on the record player. The former Fordham Baldie street gang member pulls off a sex-infused Bronx swagger while singing some of the great lines ever ("I can't remember even havin one day of fun," "I thought I had a friend once but he kicked out my teeth") and a cocky laugh. Makes being called a cry baby a badge of honor.
Let us now shuffle over to fellow Fifties/Sixties teen heartthrob, Fabian. I don't remember where I first heard the name Fabian (American Graffiti, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley?) but what I do know is that the name is almost iconic. Or at least it was. The name Fabian immediate brings to mind a young girl in Fifties garb, swooning and fainting. Fabian was a 14 year old Philly kid when he was discovered by Chancellor Records in 1959. During the next two years he had 8 Top 40 hits and then faded. I am guessing by the sound of this song that his talent couldn't carry him when his cutes faded. That voice was certainly no way to counter four Englishmen who were soon to make many a teen panty moist. So much for Fabian. Here Fabian sings his crying song, Break Down and Cry, a song turned on to me by my favorite record store owner. He was digging through a box and when he hit the Fabian, he said, "Here, this is really shitty. You'll love it." And right he was! Break Down... almost lurches forward with a garage beat, a promise trashed by Pat Boone production. But before you are let down, Fabian "sings." His voice is so flat, so devoid of expression that it makes Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire sound like a fucking party howl. Unlike Cash, Fabian can't sing worth a shit. Of course, that is fine by me. I am always game to hear a star stink.