I recently read The Dark Stuff – Selected Writings on Rock Music, by British rock critic Nick Kent. The opening 75 page article on the Beach Boys was the best I’ve ever read. The articles that followed were no disappointment.
I was intrigued by a particular paragraph Kent wrote about the young Morrissey, lead singer and lyricist of the Smiths.
And then there was music. He bought his first disc at age six – a year before Hindley and Brady’s gambols on the moors commenced.1 The record featured the virginal entreaties of a very young Marianne Faithfull singing “Come and Stay with Me”. The mild sexual overtones of the lyric went well with the halcyon blend of folk guitar and baroque pop. Indeed, Ms Faithfull was Morrissey’s first love, and in a world where first loves never die it’s intriguing the the only two non-originals the Smiths have attempted were her “Summer Nights” (a thrilling harpsichord-led piece that foreshadows some early Smiths songs) and the “Sha La La Song”. Quintessential British pop, an influence either due to the radio or elder Jacqueline or his own simple rationale: “I was brought up in a house full of books and records… I devoured everything.”
Let’s check them out for ourselves.
“Come and Stay with Me” was written by Jackie DeShannon and reached #4 in the UK for Faithfull.
The “Summer Nights” single was released in July of 1965. Faithfull performed it on the American pop music variety show Shindig.
“Sha La La Song” was the B-side to “Summer Nights.”
Now, back to The Dark Stuff. Read it!
Enjoy… until next week.
1This reference relates to the Moors murders that took place in Morrissey’s hometown of Manchester England between 1963 and 1965.
Dots Will Echo is the brainchild of New Jerseyite, Nick Berry. I have a copy of the band’s first, self-titled CD that was released on the Windham Hill label subsidiary, High Street, in 1991. Hardly anyone heard the set, but it earned a Rolling Stone feature on “artists-to-watch” and was a #3 record in Sweden. Go figure!
That version of the band included Berry (guitars and vocals), Bob Albanese (bass), and drummer Steve Meltzer.
The debut disc was full of power pop hooks. Take, for instance, the compact “Sandra”.
These songs are templates for the work of another New Jersey-based group – Fountains of Wayne, of “Stacy’s Mom” fame.
Today, DWE is the duo of Berry and drummer Kurt Biroc. They record for Sufjan Steven’s Asthmatic Kitty label. Their recent, eclectic albums have been garnering very favorable reviews.
By the way… “dots will echo” is a term from the early days of the internet. Instructions to enter a password were often followed with “(dots will echo)”, meaning that the PW would be masked using the “dots” everyone currently expects, making the phrase unnecessary today.
Today’s SotW revives the “evolution series” that I haven’t presented in a very long time. The featured song is “Mercury Blues.”
Written and first recorded by KC Douglas (and Robert Geddins) in 1948 as “Mercury Boogie”, the song was a tribute to the automobile.
The song languished in relative obscurity until it was given a facelift by Steve Miller on his multi-platinum 1976 album, Fly Like an Eagle.
The definitive, modern version was recorded by David Lindley – the el supremo session musician that has worked extensively with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and Warren Zevon – on his underappreciated solo album, El Rayo-Ex (1981).
Though the disc peaked at a modest #83 on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart, “Mercury Blues” was selected as a single and reached #38 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
“Mercury Blues” has been recorded by many other artists including country stars Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson.
Rights to the song were purchased by the Ford Motor Company (who already owned the Mercury marque). Ford, in turn, used it for a television commercial featuring Alan Jackson singing his version of the song with the word “Mercury” replaced by the words “Ford Truck.”
Today’s SotW is a beautiful “end of summer” song. “Summer Wages”, written by Ian Tyson, also seems appropriate as we celebrate Labor Day. The song has been recorded many times by many artists, including twice by Tyson himself. The version I like is technically by Ian & Sylvia, from their album So Much for Dreaming (1967), though I don’t hear Sylvia contributing her trademark harmony vocals.
And we’ll keep rollin’ on ’til we get to Vancouver And the woman that I love who’s livin’ there It’s been six long months and more since I’ve seen her Maybe gambled and gone like summer wages
In all the beer parlors all down along Main Street The dreams of the seasons are all spilled down on the floor Of the big stands of timber just waitin’ for fallin’ And the hustlers standin’ watchfully waitin’ by the door
So I’ll work on the towboats with my slippery city shoes Which I swore I would never do again Through the grey fogbound straits where the cedars stand watchin’ I’ll be far off and gone like summer wages
Ah, she’s a woman so fine, I may never try to find her For the good memories of what we had before They should never be changed, for they’re all that I’ll take with me Now I’ve gambled and lost my summer wages
So never hit 17 when you play against the dealer For you know that the odds won’t ride with you Never leave your woman alone when your friends are out to steal her Years are gambled and lost like summer wages
Years are gambled and lost like summer wages
To me, this is a story of a young man that left his girlfriend back home in Vancouver to take a summer job (as a lumberjack?) to earn money for their future together. But he blows it and loses all his earnings on a gambling spree. Now he must go home with his tail between his legs and admit his failure. He wonders if she will even still be there for him since he’s wise enough to know you should “never leave your woman alone when your friends are out to steal her.”
But it is the ambiguities that I cherish about this song. I wonder, was the woman he left his girlfriend or, was she someone he desired and hoped to impress when he returned home triumphantly (though that was not to be)? Could he bear to return home and discover she was in a relationship with one of his friends?He even thinks about not returning home (“I may never try to find her”) to keep his memories of her intact. That too makes me question if the relationship was real in the first place. If there was true love between them, wouldn’t she forgive his mistakes and welcome him back after being away for over 6 months?
As a team, Ian & Sylvia wrote a few other top-notch compositions such as “Four Strong Winds”, “Someday Soon” (popularized by Judy Collins), and “You Were on My Mind” which was a #3 hit for We Five.
I always assumed the mockumentary A Mighty Wind was inspired by Ian & Sylvia, connecting their “Four Strong Winds” and Canadian roots to the writers and cast of the film. But I was surprised that the Wikipedia page for A Mighty Wind doesn’t mention that the Mitch & Mickey characters were a parody of Ian & Sylvia. But I think my speculation holds up!
I first became aware of Procol Harum (like most everyone) when their 1967 evergreen hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was #1 almost everywhere in the world, except in the US where it only reached a respectable #5. I didn’t buy the album but was interested enough in their sound that I began to follow later releases.
Their third album, A Salty Dog (1969), was and is still a favorite of mine. Not just a favorite Procol Harum album, but a favorite album more generally. (Two songs from that album made the SotW in November 2011.)
So I naturally picked up their 4th album, Home (1970), when it came out. But I didn’t like Home and ended up trading it at a used record store when I was in college. Perhaps I thirsted for the contributions of keyboardist Matthew Fisher, who had departed the band before Home was completed – though I don’t remember being focused on that at the time. It just had a different feel that wasn’t what I was expecting or looking for.
I eventually picked up a new copy that today has a happy “home” in my record collection. Having reconsidered, it’s a pretty good disc. The lead track is “Whiskey Train.”
“Whiskey Train” was written by Robin Trower and Keith Reid. This signals one of the changes from previous albums – that Trower’s guitar is taking a more prominent role in the band’s sound. And “Whiskey Train” is the perfect example.
It has a killer, bluesy riff and a healthy dose of cowbell. It is easy to understand how it would inspire covers by artists such as Leslie West, Blackfoot, and David Gogo.
The album cover seems cheesy at first – until you realize it is a parody of the popular British board game called Snakes and Ladders.
There is a terrific song by The Byrds, that even many staunch fans don’t know about. That’s because it was only released as a single and stalled at #82 on the Billboard Hot 100. But don’t let its lack of exposure and commercial success fool you into thinking it is a stinker, because it is anything but!
The song is “Lady Friend”, penned by David Crosby. In fact, it is the only Crosby composition that made it onto a Byrds’ A-side. Its “failure” was deeply disappointing to Crosby and may have been a factor in his leaving the band. That, and the fact that the group wasn’t very receptive to the subject matter of the songs he was writing including “Triad” which was about a ménage à trois.
In a post for the blog Under the Radar, Beachwood Sparks’ Brent Rademaker describes “Lady Friend” fondly:
Two minutes and thirty seconds is all it takes to sweep you off the sand and pull you out with the tide and gently return you to shore on the crest of a chiming guitar and sweet harmony tidal wave. It’s a love song and those are the best ones, right? A song about losing the one you love and ultimately finding love with yourself. The imagery used is that of love coming in waves, “Here it comes again it looks just like the last wave I drowned in…Here it comes and I’m so far from shore…” As a surfer those lyrics were just perfect! You get Roger McGuinn’s 12-string in all its glory. You get treated to about ten Crozs harmonizing with each other as David didn’t care for the harmonies the band had done and over-dubbed himself for most of the harmonies.
It has a very cool arrangement too. Pay attention to the breakdown after the second chorus. A descending guitar figure, blaring horns, then the full band and vocal “ba-da-das” rise to a crescendo.
This is another cool record that deserves to be on your playlist.
Today’s SotW represents the first time I’ve posted a repeat song. It was initially the SotW back in December 2008. After almost 14 years, I think it’s OK to give it another go. Besides, my wife, Debbie Doherty, worked very hard writing it!
Happy dog days of summer all. Today’s song of the week is “Land of the Glass Pinecones” by Human Sexual Response, (yes, named after the 1966 Master’s & Johnson classic).
HSR or “The Humans” had heavy rotation airplay at our home back in the day. They were only together for four years, 1978-1982 but they were a band we loved for their energized, quirky “art performance” experience. The band was made up of one woman, Casey Cameron and six men — vocalists Larry “La” Bangor, Dini Lamot, and Windle Davis, and musicians Rich Gilbert (guitars), Chris Maclachlan (bass), and Malcolm Travis (drums) — gay, straight, and all in on the American New Wave bandwagon.
This Boston band was very popular in the northeast as well as on college radio. They did tour nationally but Boston was ground zero for their cult-like following. Their performances included flamboyant and campy costumes. I recall seeing them at the Paradise or the Rat in matching old-school nurse uniforms, covered in vines, or color block uniforms.
We had always heard that “Land of the Glass Pinecones” was based on the discarded beer bottles they would see after leaving the clubs late at night on Lansdowne Street or in the alley outside of the offices of WBCN. Makes sense — “glass pinecones”, “the farmers never gather them”, “the squirrels never scatter them”.
LOTGP was written by Bangor, Gilbert, and Maclachlan.
Land of the glass pinecones They only grow for the full moon The farmers never gather them The magic cones are heaven-sent
Land of the glass pinecones Their seeds are made of rhinestones The squirrels never scatter them They know what rhinestone seeds portend
Land of the glass pinecones They smash on the grass when the wind blows The splinters fly throughout the land And pierce the eye of every man
Land of the glass pinecones The eye now sees what the tree knows The splinters burn, but then we learn That when we spend we have to bend It’s all a part of nature’s plan All a part of nature’s plan Land of the glass pinecones
From their second album, In A Roman Mood (1981).
And this performance, from a 2017 reunion concert at the House of Blues, Boston. So fun to see them together.
In my research for today’s SotW, I found an audio interview of some members of the band from five years ago. They spoke about how people thought LOTGP was about them breaking beer bottles outside of WBCN but they say that was not the case! The song idea came to Larry when they were at a friend’s wedding. Someone had decorated a pine tree with little “pony” bottles of Budweiser beer. When Larry saw it he exclaimed “wow, land of the glass pinecones and a full moon”, and immediately wrote the first verse. True, not true, who knows?
The ‘70s and ‘80s were heady days for the Boston rock scene and The Humans were an influential part. I’m not a musician so I don’t know what secret sauce went into their music but it sure was fun. You had to get up, jump, dance, and shake a leg.
Post the band break-up (1982), my plus one and I were attending an advertising party on the Boston waterfront at an upscale Chinese restaurant, Sally Lings. We were enjoying the wine and the company when a server approached us with a tray of beautiful appetizers. We both stopped, gobsmacked that this petite, redheaded server was Casey! We so wanted to grab her tray, hustle her to a table and talk about the Humans! Hope we didn’t freak her out too much. :^ )
Back in 2000, Beachwood Sparks released their self-titled, debut album. The band was the idea of guitarist/vocalist Christopher Gunst and bass player Brent Rademaker. Their concept was to make psychedelic Americana – but before the term Americana had been coined. Gunst and Rademaker hooked up with Aaron Sperske (drums) and Dave Scher (guitar) to produce a terrific album that is still very enjoyable to listen to, well more than 20 years after its original release.
Take, for instance, “Something I Don’t Recognize.”
This cut is in the mold of The Notorious Byrd Brothers era Byrds music – all jangly guitars and trippy, psychedelic flourishes with a hint of country. If they were to take the country flavor out, you might think this was an outtake from a Dukes of Stratosphere album.
Take a listen to the rest of Beachwood Sparks and their sophomore release, Once We Were Trees (2001), to hear some terrific, underappreciated tunes.
I had the privilege of seeing Kamasi Washington in a small club setting, Menlo Park’s Guild Theater, last Wednesday. One of the highlights of the show was the performance of “The Rhythm Changes” from his acclaimed 2015 album, The Epic.
It’s the only track on the album that features vocals (by co-writer Patrice Quinn), so it veers from the hard bop jazz of the rest of the album. But it is outstanding nonetheless.
The title of the song comes from a jazz term, “rhythm changes”, which refers to a 32-bar chord progression common in jazz, that harkens back to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”.
“The Rhythm Changes” was included on the soundtrack for Becoming, the Netflix documentary on Michelle Obama.
On a side note, Washington arranged and played alto sax on Kendrick Lamar’s landmark album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), providing its decidedly jazzy flavor.
He has a few more concert dates on the west coast, then heads to the Midwest. Check him out if he visits a city near you!
Occasionally I hear a song that I liked years ago but have forgotten about because it never receives any “airplay” (whatever that means in 2022). One such song is “Richard Cory” from Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence (1966) album.
The song, written by Paul Simon, was based on a poem published in 1897 by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Wikipedia summarizes the narrative as “The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town. Despite all this, he takes his own life.”
That about sums up the Simon & Garfunkel song except “the song’s ending differs from the poem in that the speaker still wishes he ‘could be Richard Cory’, even after Cory has killed himself.”
Sounds of Silence is largely an acoustic folk album. But on “Richard Cory” Simon is accompanied by Joe South on guitar and Hal Blaine on drums.
Other versions of the S&G song exist. Van Morrison’s band Them released “Richard Cory” in 1966 as a non-album single. Paul McCartney and Wings released a version on Side 3 of their three LP vinyl release of Wings over America (1976) with band member Denny Laine taking the lead vocal.
I hope hearing “Richard Cory” brought back a happy reminder of times past or, if you’ve never heard it before, that you’ve discovered a cool new song.