The Veronicas, “Untouched”

Here’s the tune..

I’m not sure I’ll ever play it again. I’m pretty sure I never heard it before tonight.

It’s from 2008. It hit No. 17 on the US Billboard charts, but even though I had a nine year old in the house it didn’t make an impression on me. But what’s striking is the speed (fast), the strings (aggressive), and the guitars (really aggressive).

Couple it with some plain talking lyrics and an oddly effective chorus and I’m not sure why it didn’t make it to No. 3. Maybe because it’s from Australia.

In any case, this post isn’t a recommendation exactly, but a nod to the idea that the pieces of great songs and great ideas can also end up in pieces of commercial product that might actually have some personality to it.

I think I will listen again.

A Whole Lot of Gordon Lightfoot

Robbie Fulks is a songwriter I had heard about a lot more than I’d heard until a few years ago he made an album with the Mekons. A good album.

Fulks is a good songwriter and player, the opposite of a star, but a lifer with a lot to offer if you dig in. I haven’t yet dug in far enough, but this unbelievably long and detailed analysis of Gordon Lightfoot’s life and performance and songwriting is a marvel of storytelling, aesthetic analysis and covering the whole of a subject.

For instance, Fulks listened to every Gordon Lightfoot song at least once. Except maybe not all of that last 2004 album, but many others more than once.

He relates the story of Cathy Smith, a groupie with amazing breadth who went to jail for administering John Belushi’s final fatal dose, with aplomb, because it is Lightfoot’s story too at a few points.

My point is this is well worth a read even though it is way long, and if you start to lose interest skim ahead a few grafs and you’ll be onto another Lightfootian topic that will amuse and astound, ending with an in depth analysis of Lightfoot’s writing, which is exacting and sharp and a lesson in poetry and lyrics.

Dig in by clicking this link.

The Beatles Get Worst to First Treatment

Note first, Bill Wyman wrote this.

He’s a rock critic, not the Rolling Stones bassist. But does that matter?

I immediately check out the end and find Good Morning in last place. Geez. I like that tune, not in a rock sense, but in a music and attitude sense, it’s pretty powerful. So, I disagree.

And then it gets worse and better and worse, and there’s not reason to think about the ranking. This is an internet click bait thing, Wyman is a pretty decent critic, and does a good job of navigating through the ranks.

Which are totally wrong. Discuss.

Rock’n’Roll Is More Than Three Chords

Before I retired, I was a pretty high level Project Manager at ATT, a gig I worked my last eight years with the company.

Of course at work we all have our own styles, and my boss decided to audit a meeting I was holding one day. This was fine: I liked my boss a lot, and was good at my gig and always got good reviews and such.

And, with my job, I usually ran between 4-6 meetings a day. As it happened, during one of the agenda items the day my boss listened in, a couple of team members got tasks accomplished that should have taken at least another month and I blurted out, “you guys so rock it.”

The only comment Yolanda made about handling my duties was suggesting maybe another word than “rock” was appropriate. But, after another year, she retracted since my clients mostly loved my work and style telling me, “Just keep doing what you are doing and be yourself. That seems to work quite well.”

It was a big moment, for being told professionally to be yourself, was not something I have ever been used to hearing in any environ.

I have thought about that incidentt in concert with the stupid and incessant discussions (nee arguments) on this site about what RockRemnants is about.

It is clear to me that in Steve’s view, we should only be writing around Rock’n’Roll for as he points out, that is in the name of the site.

But, aside from that being boring, not to mention smacking the face of Aristotle, our first literary critic, who said writing should “teach and delight,” Steve’s provincial view of the term as it applies is just a bunch of crap.

For one thing, we all have views and the site is for fun, so suggesting some category of music or art shouldn’t be included is specious. If all he wants to write about is the Germs, fine. Boring, yeah, but again, if that is what he likes, who am I to call him “an idiot” or suggest he “ramble incoherently?”

But, to me, as I have stated repeatedly, Rock’n’Roll is about attitude and the music is simply a subset of that mindset, irrespective of whether Allan Freed named the shit before he saw Elvis swing his hips or not.

For sure Rock’n’Roll is in the first licks of Johnny B. Goode, but it also lies within the words of Howard Beale (Peter Finch in Network) when he screams “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” Rock’n’Roll is in the soul of any teenager who ever sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night to meet a lover in secret, or see a forbidden band, or ride fast in cars with one’s mates. And, like it or not, it is within Johnny Paychecks words when he said “take this job and shove it.”

So, for fun, here are some things that define Rock’n’Roll as far as I see it.

  • Muhammed Ali’s poetry and left hook.
  • James Dean’s smile.
  • Johnny Rotten’s sneer.
  • The Doors saying fuck you to Ed Sullivan with Jim Morrison screaming “girl we couldn’t get much higher” rather than the “much better” Sullivan insisted upon.
  • Mick and Keith’s on-stage interplay.
  • Joni Mitchell refusing to sell her song rights for commercial use.
  • Prince refusing to allow Itunes and Spotify stream his songs.
  • Marilyn Monroe’s voice.
  • Raj Davis’s homer to tie the 2016 World Series, and Ben Zobrist’s tenth inning double to tie it back up.
  • The wings at Virgil’s.

I could list more, but I think I make my point, and well, this is how I will continue writing and supporting the site because to me, Rock’n’Roll is indeed a music genre, but it is also part of a musical bigger whole, and music is one of the arts–like movies and painting and writing and all the other slices of imagination–the Muses ruled over.

To make one more point, if by having the name RockRemnants we are supposed to be limited to just Steve’s definition of the words and art form, then I suppose “all men are created equal” should only be applied to rich white landowning men, right?

And, if this song by Gabby Pahinui doesn’t kill you and tell you Rock is in everything, well, I feel sorry for your parochial existence.




Rolling Stone’s Top 40 Punk Albums of All Time is Alt Fact!

When it comes to pissing matches and irreconcilable pluralism, no one does it better than Rolling Stone magazine.

They decided to make a list of the 40 best punk rock albums of all time. But, they limited each band to one elpee.  While I can see the reason for the limitation, I think having decided upon it, they should have realized that calling it the Top 40 Punk Albums of All Time was a falsehood.

Also, should compilation records qualify? Singles Going Steady was almost contemporaneous, sort of, but the Bikini Kill singles album came out way later. Terminal Tower was kind of Pere Ubu’s Kinks Kronikles, but does that make it chartworthy?

Might not be a bad idea for us to play around with our own Top 10s, with as many elpees from any band as you feel is warranted in, in the comments. Think I’ll invite Dave Marsh to contribute. I’m sure he’s got a Bob Seger record in mind.

So here it is. Sharpen your knives. Have fun.

While reading, listen to this, ponder (and read fast).



Angel Olsen’s Problem

Until a few days ago, I didn’t know about Angel Olsen. But then I noticed her album, My Woman, showing up on end of the year Bests lists.

I assumed someone named Angel Olsen was a country singer. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I’d already listened to the highly acclaimed Miranda Lambert album, The Weight of These Wings, and appreciated a lot of it, but if Olsen’s album couldn’t beat Lambert’s, I wasn’t that excited.

Eventually, I played Olsen’s elpee. She has a quavery voice. She sings like a folk singer. The mix gives her a fuckload of reverb or tremolo or whatever you want to call it. And it isn’t country music. Not at all. So I listened again.

Here’s the standout song. I think I’ve heard this on the radio.

Standout, but not great. Weird, and it turns out, a much bigger performance than Angel Olsen usually delivers. For instance, her early tracks were kind of folk-weird. Nothing wrong with that, but the minimal setting was a far cry from Shut Up Kiss Me.

I’m a fan of poetic women poeticizing, but on both the minimal early recordings and the recent best of year disk, I’m concerned by the reverb that enriches her voice, and diminishes our ability to process it.

In any case, I’m not expert on Angel Olsen. My interest is in her highly-touted 2016 release. And here there is a weird disconnect. On the song that precedes Shut Up, Never Be Mine, she taps a Shangri-Las vibe, but the band never gets into it. Her vocals are strong, but the band fades into the back. A song that needs giant strings, and epic ambitions, fades into who cares.

And when I listen to Not Gonna Kill You, I hear a hard backing track that turns into muddle because of the soft reverbed vocals. I think of how Debbie Harry might have handled these words, this arrangement. How PJ Harvey, who built a career singing against a rock guitar, would have confronted the sound of the band. But Angel doesn’t. She’s too folkie for her band, and it hurts.

I have to try to understand why rock critics buy this flawed presentation. I think it pushes the rock referential buttons, and everyone loves a pretty young woman fronting a rock band. Even a wimpy one. And this band isn’t that wimpy when it’s allowed to play. Another reason critics might get into it. Not Going to Kill You rocks once the you get past the vocals.

But that’s the key. I think Angel Olsen is one of those folkie talents who ends up rocking, because that’s the best shot at being something. Even if the business doesn’t fit. Or maybe she’ll make it fit. That would be a subject for a David O. Russell film.


The Future Shape of Musical Remnants

Here are some thoughts about streaming and recorded music from recent reading. In some sense, this is a dump of links for future reference, but I hope I connect some dots, too.

Ben Sisario told the story, in yesterday’s New York Times, of a songwriter name Perrin Lamb, whose independently released song ended up in a popular playlist on Spotify and earned him $40,000.

Which reminded me of Rosanne Cash’s comment that 600,000 Spotify streams earned her $104. She called streaming “dressed up piracy,” but I think she misses what’s happening here. The streaming services are often owned, at least in part, by the big three labels, and the labels collect money and distribute it to their artists (while taking their own cut, just as they did off records). As the artist in Sisario’s story shows, if you don’t have a label more money passes through to you.

One problem with the idea that streaming services are ripping off artists is that the streaming services are all losing money. Pandora announced huge losses this past quarter, plus ended settling with music publishers for three times the cost it want to pay for the rights to stream music written before 1972. Pandora has tens of millions of customers. If it’s still losing huge numbers and it’s costs are going up, how is it going to survive? Spotify is in a similar position, losing lots of dough despite being the leader in subscribers.

Making money on recorded music, this guy Philip Kaplan argues, was a historical accident. Records were meant to be a spur to get people to buy record players, but the software companies that eventually emerged figured out ways to make more money selling copies of music than the machines to play it on. Streaming services, Kaplan argues, are simply restoring market efficiency to a process that was exploited by the labels.

A guy who has a blog called Startups and Shit, pointed me to a NY Times article from 2007 about how cultural hits, like hit songs, happen. According to the experiment Duncan Watts writes about, predicting hits is so hard because there is no single line of taste that hits have to cross. Not quality, not simpleness, not nothing. In fact, hits erupt out of apparent quality blips, in which a small network likes something which somewhat randomly spreads to other related networks simultaneously. When enough networks light up, there it is, a hit!

These network explosions amplify the perceived quality of the hits, though objective analysis among any of the individuals in the network would show a small advantage in quality. Watts calls this a “rich get richer effect.” Watts writes:

This, obviously, presents challenges for producers and publishers — but it also has a more general significance for our understanding of how cultural markets work. Even if you think most people are tasteless or ignorant, it’s natural to believe that successful songs, movies, books and artists are somehow “better,” at least in the democratic sense of a competitive market, than their unsuccessful counterparts, that Norah Jones and Madonna deserve to be as successful as they are if only because “that’s what the market wanted.” What our results suggest, however, is that because what people like depends on what they think other people like, what the market “wants” at any point in time can depend very sensitively on its own history: there is no sense in which it simply “reveals” what people wanted all along. In such a world, in fact, the question “Why did X succeed?” may not have any better answer than the one given by the publisher of Lynne Truss’s surprise best seller, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” who, when asked to explain its success, replied that “it sold well because lots of people bought it.”

The Startups and Shit piece links the hitmaking effect of networks with the network the major labels control most tightly, namely radio.

His suggestion for the streaming services is to sign their own artists and try to break them on their own radio services, much the way Perrin Lamb, who surprisingly earned $40,000 for a song from an album that wasn’t even on Spotify when it broke on Spotify.

In this way, Spotify and other services, could break the discovery grip of the labels on radio, and arrange to get more money to artists at a lower cost. Win win.

Well, not for the labels.

This leads us back to Philip Kaplan, whose piece ends with a link to a band called Extinction Level Event’s lead guitarless metal viral hit, Entropy, and to his own band’s self produced and promoted metal band, Butchers of the Frontier. Rockers, he says, from recording, promoting, selling tickets and merchandise, are doing it for themselves, as they should be.

Hot Chocolate: Errol Brown is Dead

The band Hot Chocolate had a handful of hits in the US over a short period in the 70s. But they had more than a score of hits in the UK over 30 years, which has to be of interest to those who track popularity. Or unpopularity.

Hot Chocolate’s singer, Errol Brown, died yesterday.

I’ve written about Hot Chocolate here. And here. And elsewhere.

But I didn’t really know the story. The Guardian has a bit of a story today about Brown and the band, and why they meant so much to England.

I want to leave this post with the song that got Hot Chocolate signed by the Beatles to Apple Records, which I learned about today. It’s a wacky Carribean version of Give Peace a Chance that John found out about, and which led him to sign the band. Crazy.

This post scrapes the surface of Hot Chocolate and Errol Brown. If you hear anything you like, dig deeper.