We Like Ugly Women

Bobby Jimmy & the Critters We Like Ugly Women 12" (Rapsur, 1984)

The story goes that Los Angeles radio dejay Russ Parr had an on air character named Bobby Jimmy. One day his pal the Egyptian Lover, a West Coast hip hop and electro pioneer, called him up and said, "Hey man, let's cut a record." Egypt had already had a few 12"s out and had some distro and knew how to produce a song. Russ had a made for novelty record character. And thus "We Like Ugly Women" was born.

Low but funny humor and a hell of a lot of absurdity are the hooks for me, but better is the really weird production the Egyptian Lover gives it. Throughout the song there are odd nods, but the best and strangest passage is right before the preacher comes in, and while he gives his advice. Another plus is the guitar break. And then there is the similarity that it has to this internet classic. This is not only a good novelty song. It is a piece of great early electro. And something you can bring into 2009. Have a happy new year!


Love Life of Crime

Jack Merlin Love Life of Crime 45 (Hickory, 1965)

Here is a winner of a loser! Jack Merlin's "Love Life of Crime" is faux-Elvis that comes off more like Bobby Pickett with a speech impediment. I have no info on Jack Merlin and haven't found any chart information. The only copy I've seen is this one and it is a promo. That doesn't mean there isn't others floating around but this is one of those records that either never made it out of promo phase or got such a bad reception that they pressing was deliberately kept low. I imagine that it came about with Jack Merlin pitching his song to Hickory and insisting that he perform it. Hickory was probably looking for something that bordered on rock and country so they put Roy Acuff behind it and let it rip...to no applause. Well, I like it. Perhaps not for the "right reasons" but I certainly think it is worth throwing out there. And the song title is one of the best! The only thing missing on this is a talk over.


Greenback Dollar

Hoyt Axton Greenback Dollar 45 (Horizon, 1963)
Hoyt Axton with the Chamber Brothers Greenback Dollar 45 (Horizon, 1963)

On Saturday I took a trip to the mall downtown. I hadn't intended on mall shopping, as I hate malls, but my girlfriend Susan had killed some time there on Friday and said that every place was having a sale and not just ten or twenty percent off, but sixty and seventy-five. So, what they hell, if she is up for a walk, I'll head downtown and check things out. I can always use a thermal and some pairs of socks. Maybe I'd find a fancy hat.

The mall in Downtown Sacramento is an indoor/outdoor mall. It is two stories and all but the center strip is covered by roof. Aesthetically it is about as unattractive as pretty much every mall, however the way this one was designed it kind of has the look of a post-modern high security prison, a prison with a giant, rotating Hard Rock Cafe guitar in front of it. Downtown Plaza has never been successful. Though it has had plenty of help from the city in the form of tax breaks and grants, it limps along, year after year turning up at council meetings looking for more public subsidies. The city has yet to accept that suburbanites won't go to downtown to a mall when they can go to exactly the same shops in malls in the 'burbs, that are much closer to where they live. The city thinks things like the Hard Rock Cafe are enough to lure the masses.

Walking to the mall, we passed through the other part of K Street, the downtown portion closed to automobile traffic but not part of the mall. Many, many years ago, this part of K was home to the city's movie houses and lots of local businesses. Not any more. Now there are a spattering of small businesses, some mini-marts, and a handful of fast food joints. There are three theaters on K: The Crest, a beautiful, restored, single-screen movie house; a new live theater; and an IMAX, which is usually pretty empty and also receives taxpayer money in the form of rent subsidies. The IMAX, like the Plaza, are supposed to be valuable economic anchors, which is why they get public money. Of course, their favorite status is not based on merit or performance, but rather some consultant's pitch and the city not wanting to admit that it made a bad decision years ago when it started throwing money at these shit projects. Sacramento's downtown policy is much like Rumsfeld and Iraq, though without tens of thousands of deaths. And though K Street lacks suicide bombers, I bet downtown Baghdad has more business going on than our sad strip. On the way to the mall, we passed on nice clothing store. Two people were in it and they were employees.

Downtown Plaza was also pretty empty, especially when you consider that we were there on the Saturday before Christmas and every store had a sale. We bopped in and out of shops. I got a few shirts for ten bucks a pop, a sweater for not too much more, and a few other things. I think I spent a total of fifty bucks on clothes marked down from $200. It was fifty I wouldn't have spent otherwise so I guess the sales worked on me. But it didn't seem to work for the stores. As noted, they were pretty empty. At 2 pm, prime shopping time, I counted six people including Susan and me (sans workers) in Banana Republic. Six. And the scene wasn't much different at other stores (though when we hoofed it back Midtown and dropped by the bookstore, I was very happy to count twenty-one people, which, at one time, is a lot. Could it be that people are finally taking "Buy Local" seriously?).

This is the season of the Greenback Dollar - or at least it was. People are either being scared or they are being sensible and spending only what they can afford to spend. Many of the people I saw shopping were doing what Susan and I were doing, picking up everyday clothes for ourselves because the prices were right. Back Midtown, people are buying books, so maybe they are being sensible!

About a week ago I was asked to give a talk with my friend Dennis Yudt, at a small alternative movie theater, of "I Need that Record!", a documentary on they death of indie record stores. My take on such things is a bit different than your average lefty. I've run small businesses and know that many of them fail thanks to things they do wrong, as well as shit thrust upon them. I also know that things go in cycles. People buy certain things at certain times of the year. Business slows at different times of the month. One cycle that I don't think economists talk about much, if at all, is one that seems to occur over a longer period of time, years, or even decades. That cycle is support for local businesses and valuing your community by spending your money in your community. As I stated in my talk, when I walk home from the train station, I pass about a dozen coffee shops, a few are Starbucks, the rest are locals. Strolling by each place, I do a quick headcount. Over the past year or so, the number of people at Starbucks has shrunk, while the locals get busier and busier. Are people sick of the sterile, corporate feel of Starbucks? The drop in their sales seems to suggest so. I know Starbucks likes to blame McDonalds and their offering espresso drinks as the reason they are taking a hit, and I am sure that McD's is causing them harm. But what about people rejecting their product because they are sick of the same, chain store crap? Sure, it might be a minority of the population, but a minority can be 25%. Hell, even at ten percent, the numbers are not insignificant.

So what is my point? If you have read enough of my babble, you know I am not a glass half full kinda guy. But I am one to look at a situation and see what I can make of it. I look at the shit economy, people's anxiety over it, people wanting to feel safe and a sense of community. I see how many people were willing to either believe that Obama will help change things to a more people-to-people based society, or if not believe he can at least say "Why the fuck not?" and take a chance on the guy. People come into the store and ask for books on the New Deal. I dunno, maybe the era of the Greenback Dollar is over, at least for a while.

And over though it may be, the song "Greenback Dollar" is still one of the best tunes of American popular music (Ha! How about that segue!). Today, you get three versions of "Greenback Dollar." Two of them are done by the guy who wrote them, the great Hoyt Axton. The first version is him and an unnamed band. It is my favorite. It has a great creeping tempo and some killer guitar work. The second version came out the same year as the first and is a bit different. The tempo jumps and the band backing him is a young Chamber Brothers, back when they were struggling in the folk circuit. The last one is a video clip I found while googling the song title. This one is done by Dick Dale, with Dale on vocals and not guitar. It is a bit punk and Dale has a nice snarl going. The kids love it, most of them probably hip to the Kingston Trio's version, the one which made the top ten.

Have a good Christmas!


I'll Forget You

John Roberts I'll Forget You b/w Be My Baby 45 (Duke, 1968)

Don't know nuthin' 'bout John Roberts except he made a couple great singles produced by one Bob Garner for Duke Records out of Houston, Texas. I know a little about Duke Records though. Duke started in Memphis 1952 and had early success with Johnny Ace. After a year, Peacock Records' Don Robey got Duke's owners to merge labels with him and soon after Robey was in control. Robey's Peacock had had more success than Duke at that point - with Clarance "Gatemouth" Brown, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Sensational Nightingales, etc. - and was always to be the dominant label, even with hits by Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker. From the Peacock/Duke operation, Robey created Back Beat, which had hits with OV Wright and Roy Head. In 1973, Robey sold the labels to ABC-Dunhill.

Though Robey produced many of the records he put out and his name is usually somewhere on a release, it isn't on this one. Instead we get mystery producer Bob Garner, who could be Robey under a pseudonym or it could be Bob Garner. Whoever it is, both of John Roberts songs have the sound you hear on Robey's records - well recorded though not slick, punchy without forsaking a groove, and a bit of smokiness to the sound.

"I'll Forget You" is one of my favorite Duke sides. A vocal melody partially copped from "Summertime" and a groove that is deadly, the centerpiece of the song is the wicked guitar playing, sort of a funky chicken with a twitch. Also notable is the minimalist horn arrangement. The flip - "Be My Baby" - is also a good and would be Crud material all by itself, if not for it's funkiness than for the list of dances and songs Roberts cites.


Live Fast Die Young

Eric Lomax Live Fast Die Young 45 (Columbia, 1969)

Messages in African American music date back to slave hollers and work songs. In early Black gospel and country blues message songs were common. And in early rock & roll, every once in a while a message snuck in. However, if anyone can be said to have brought the message song into modern Black music it is Curtis Mayfield. With the Impressions and on his own, Curtis was such as great songwriter and an fantastic interpreter of his own songs that few people who followed him in the message song could escape his influence, an influence which was, during the Sixties and the Seventies, as strong on soul music as Dylan was on folk and rock. I don't know crap about Eric Lomax, but from the sound of "Live Fast Die Young", he was very much indebted to Mayfield. Though I doubt Lomax was from Chicago (nn reference to him in any of the books on Chicago soul that I have), the sound of the record is very Windy City - a little bit Simtec Simmons, a lot a bit late 60s Impressions. The vocal phrasing has that smooth hesitancy that is Curtis Mayfield. And then there is the message. Give this one a few listens. It will grow on you.


Forget Me Baby

Lulu & the Luvers Forget Me Baby 45 (Parrot, 1964)

The Gleneagles were one of the handful of bands stomping around Glasgow blasting out raw, loud R&B and when Lulu joined the band the only thing that changed was the band's name. Lulu & the Luvers (or Lulu & the Lovers or Lulu & the Luvvers) made a handful of singles but it was their first, a rippin' version of the Isley Brother's "Shout" which hit the biggest. After that it was diminishing returns. In 1965, Lulu ditched her Luvvers and struck out on a pretty successful solo career ("To Sir With Love").

Here is the B-side of the "Shout" single, a great swinging stomp with Lulu singing strained throated and a great twang guitar solo. "Shout" is fine, but I've heard it a zillion times before. The hit here is "Forget Me Baby."


Mom (Can I Talk to You)

Jan Rhodes Mom (Can I Talk to You) 45 (Blue, 1968)

Ahhh the ambiguous morality song. Here Jan Rhodes, with a lot of help from Dick Hyman, confabs with Mom about some unnamed trouble. All we know is that bad Jan went to some place for a couple hours and something happened that she needs to talk to mom about. Did she sneak a smoke? Smoke pole? Smoke a lot of pole? I don't know. Its gotta be bad. I mean, cell phones weren't around to snap a shot or take a video clip. Girls Gone Wild had yet to be invented. If Jan was gonna soil her family's name just from word of mouth, well, well.

Obviously the theme was lifted from the Shangra-Las and other early girl groups. The sound, though, is a nice blend of Shadow Morton and Burt Bacharach. And that intro is begging to be sampled.

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