Monday Morning Coming Down

“Islands in the Stream” – Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (from Eyes That See in the Dark)

Beautiful, beautiful. Kenny & Dolly singing a tune penned and produced by the brother’s Gibb; the sheen is painfully sharp, a pop Ginsu knife cutting tomatoes and tin cans with equal abandonment. Liked this as a kid, hated it as a teen and young adult, grew up and realized Dolly’s voice was something very special. The production on this is both dated and timeless. The Bee Gees and their co-producer’s are harkening back to am radio hits of days gone by while utilizing every piece of tech at their disposal. A quick note: next time you hear this, listen for the subtle horns that echo Dolly on the end of the chorus about 2:20 in (and again about 30 seconds later). They are nodding their assent to “we rely on each other, uh huh”; a sly, sweet, audible smile.

“I Found a Reason” – The Velvet Underground (from A Walk With the Velvet Underground bootleg)

A rehearsal tape from the summer of 1970, recorded at Max’s Kansas City. Lou coughs, laughs, flubs a line, misses a chord. A female voice, probably Moe, is asking about when to come in. The drums join in; Doug Yule’s bass becomes audible, Sterling tries to bring the tempo closer in line to the recorded version. This is shambolic but fun, and though they wouldn’t last out the year there is no sign of tension or disintegration. A peak behind the curtain, but not an essential one.

“Bill Drummond Says” – Julian Cope (from Fried)

I’ve never read what exactly caused the animosity between the former Zoo label honcho (and future KLF member) and Cope, but animosity there was/is (again, no idea if they still are at loggerheads; I should read Cope’s autobiography). Pretty little pop tune, with puzzling lyrics that imply Cope is viewing the aforementioned Drummond strangling someone. A piece of psychedelic whimsy that inspired Drummond to write “Julian Cope Is Dead.”

“Homeward Bound” – Simon and Garfunkel (from Voices of Intelligent Dissent bootleg)

Recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, I wonder if this was broadcast; the sound quality is great, their harmonies strong, clear and resonant. This show is typical of the boots I’ve heard, in that there is no accompanying band. Simon proves what a strong guitarist he is and Garfunkel sores effortlessly high above the maddening crowd.

“Moving Out” – Orchester Helmuth Brandenburg (from The In-Kraut)

From an awesomely titled compilation of German mod and funk, covering the years 1966-74. The Orchester Helmuth Brandenburg here plays full bodied soul, with powerful horns, decent drums and the jangling treble of a Steve Cropper wannabe on guitar. The horn riff is good, and the song is short enough not to wear out its welcome. You’ve heard it done better, but not by Germans!

Comic Book Poll

I’m querying you, my dear readers, as to what comic book you’d like to see me write about. I’m throwing out three possibilities, but would be willing to read and write about something else if people have any ideas. I’m limiting myself to something older, before the blight of the Image guys and foil covers, so please keep that in mind of you want to throw out recommendations.

First possibility: The Demon, Jack Kirby’s over-shadowed DC creation. I fell in love with Etrigan when he appeared in Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s run on Detective Comics, and in the subsequent Matt Wagner mini-series and Grant penned ongoing series(which was infamously taken into the shitter by Garth Ennis). Kirby’s run was 16 issues, then he went back to Marvel.

The Demon #1

Second Possibility: Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow, helmed by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. This 12 issue run, starting in April 1970, changed the face of comics. They dealt with drug addiction, abusive relations, Native American rights and other social issues of the time. It is also a buddy flick, with the two traveling through the American heartland and bickering like a married couple. Established Green Arrow as a socialist and Green Lantern as an asshole. Sold so poorly that it got cancelled, and they didn’t give Green Lantern another series of his own for five years.

Green Lantern #76

Third possibility: The Legion of Super-Heroes, volume 4. Longtime Legion artist Keith Giffen plotted and drew this relaunch, taking place five years after the end of the prior Legion series. Giffen was probably my favorite Legion artist – he drew the Great Darkness Saga, one of the truly great story arcs of any ongoing series – and he was, by the late 80s, becoming more adept as a storyteller (his Justice League stories and art breakdowns, in tandem with the dialogue written by J.M. DeMatteis and finished artwork by Kevin Maguire, are amongst my favorite comics of all time). I would chronicle the series until after “the Quiet Darkness” storyline (issue 24), when he stopped being the primary artist and others routinely penciled over his breakdowns.

Legion of Super-Heroes, v4 #1

Please leave comments as to which, if any, of those possibilities sound interesting; or, if I’ve already bored you to tears with my pedestrian picks, let me know what you’d like to read.

Good Stuff is Expensive

I read that the B-52’s were doing a club tour for Funplex before joining up with Cyndi Lauper (and in some places, but not in New England, Joan Jett) for a summer of big outdoor shows. So, having never gotten a chance to see my favorite Atlanta band, I thought maybe catching a club gig would be cool. They’re playing the Paradise in Boston and when I went online to check on ticket availability I was stunned by the price. $56 a ticket? At the Paradise?

I’m not going to see the B-52’s on their club tour for Funplex.

I’ve Been Bewitched!

I was going to say, “I’ve been Paralyzed!” but thought as a headline that might cause some concern. Paralyzed, the second album by the band Witch, has been pulverizing my eardrums since it came out last week.

Their first album I nearly loved, even if I had moments where I doubted the sincerity of those involved. The line between homage and piss-take is a fine one, and their debut self-titled release stumbled back and forth. I like Sabbath; they like Sabbath. I think Pentagram is mostly poor; they like Pentagram. The fact these guys were having fun emulating and praising their idols was enough for me to enjoy (it was my #3 album for ’06).

The atrocity of an album coverParalyzed, for the most part, drops the doom down a deep, dark well. The two tracks (“Gone” and “Old Trap Line”) which do follow the Sabbath/Pentagram path of the debut are the weakest; they sound more like outtakes from those earlier sessions than from whatever birthed this new, fuzzbox-driven rave-up of an album. While trying to find a concise description of what they now sound like, I stumbled onto the following idea: Gene Ween and Mark Arm locked in a shipping container and given a day to record a bunch of songs based on an eight year-olds’ written description of The Stooges’ Fun House. It isn’t really accurate, but there is something so fuzzed-out, sloppy, and naively charming and innocently joyous about Paralyzed; something that both Ween and Mudhoney have managed on occasion in their long careers.

I think people who were into the sound of the first record will be turned off by much of Paralyzed. With the occult trappings, down-tuned guitars, and double-clutch head-banging rhythms all pushed aside for more traditional hard rock fuzz and Grand Funk fist-pumping beats, this isn’t the Witch of 2006. This version is incorporating more and more influences and finding a patch of land – not pastiche of bands – to call their own.

A Weekend in March

Though I haven’t talked about it, I’m a huge basketball fan. It was, and is, my favorite sport to play or watch. The combination of athletic ability, acquired skill and strategy – when properly applied – I find both beautiful and engaging. If you look at the sidebar, you’ll see a handful of basketball links. Look closer, and you’ll see they’re all for people covering the professional game. There is a reason for this; the pro game is, for the most part, played on a higher level of complexity and skill and athletic ability than anywhere else. This past weekend, with the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Was there drama in those first two rounds of games? Yes. Was it because two teams were playing well? No. The winner, with rare exception, was the team who made the fewest egregious, boneheaded errors. What I saw was a litany of bad decisions; running down the court to shoot a three-pointer with no teammates in position to try to rebound the probable miss (the best shooters make four out of ten, with anything above 33% considered okay); teams playing aggressive pressure defense and never adjusting to the back-door cut; so-called defensive stoppers losing track of their assigned player for ten seconds (yes, I counted); coaches who haven’t taught anything but their plays, so if the defense is able to stop the pass or harass the shooter the team flounders.

I said their were a few exceptions, so I should justly praise those who played the game well, to the best of their abilities. Though I hate to praise Bob Huggins (his Cincinnati program was a disgrace off the court, for winning trumped education and hooliganism by the players was the norm), but his West Virginia team played well, making adjustments as needed, and they knew when to force the ball in to their best player and when and how to use him as a decoy. The off-the-bench play off Joe Mazzulla against Duke was key, and he handled the pressure of the situation with grit and aplomb. The tourney’s overall number one team, the University of North Carolina, ably lived up to that ranking by utterly decimating their weaker opponents. On both ends of the court, UNC dominated and executed to perfection, making the proper reads and decisions and rarely hoisting a bad shot or letting the other team get an easy opportunity.

The contrast between the level of play of the professional and college game was readily apparent Saturday night. While Pittsburgh was shooting a stellar 11% on three-point attempts (even though their opponent, Michigan State, turned it over on roughly 20% of their possessions which should have led to open looks on the other end), and UCLA & Texas A&M combined for a scintillating 28% from behind the arc, on another station the Celtics were playing the Hornets in New Orleans. The difference in quality was to be expected; after all, those two teams are two of the best in the game this season. But to switch back and forth between the games was illuminating.

The pros were executing plays, but also reading the defense and deviating and adjusting as appropriate. Rotations on both offense and defense were sharp and timely; the give-and-take nature of the sport was readily apparent. Both teams were playing as teams; even with the shorter shot clock and greater individual talent level, the Celtics scoring was from an assist pass 51% of the time (21 assists on 41 made shots), the Hornets 49% (19 on 39). Again, in contrast, the Pitt Panthers managed to get 4 total assists on their 17 made baskets for a paltry assist rate of 23%; UCLA, in their win over A&M, managed a 35% assist rate with 7 on 20 made shots. UCLA is a number one seed, and are picked by many to win the whole thing, so are arguably one of the best teams in the country. I actually agree with that assessment and like the Bruins, but they aren’t playing good team basketball. UNC, who I properly lauded above, are playing team basketball. They had an astounding assist rate of 64% ( 28 assists on 44 made baskets) against a solid Arkansas team.

I understand why everyone gets excited by the tournament; its one and done nature, the lower seeds that manage to upset the higher ones, the drama of close games, the ubiquitous office pools. Sadly, I’m a basketball fan first and foremost, and lately the college game hasn’t been very good basketball.

None of These Songs Are About Elvis

“Quest for Fire” – Iron Maiden (from Piece of Mind)

This is my Iron Maiden; imprinted on me in my youth as only stripped spandex is wont to do, clinging, contouring, gripping my balls so tight I think I might be able to reach the high notes with Bruce Dickinson.  I’ll try not to talk about my balls ever again.  [And, no, I didn’t actually have stripped spandex tights ala Dickinson.  Give me some credit.]

“I Wanna Be Well” – The Ramones (from Rocket To Russia)

Amazing to think they’d already worn out the “I Don’t Wanna/I Wanna” formula by album three (with exceptions, like “I Wanna Be Sedated”).  They don’t even seem to be trying this time ’round.  Still, you gotta love Joey’s accent which makes me wonder, “who is Will?” (I think Shatner)

“The Oogum Boogum Song” – Brenton Wood (from Beg, Scream and Shout!)

Piano-vamp into “Oogum oogum boogum boogum/ boogum now baby you’re castin’ your spell on me.”  Say what? Great mid-tempo 60s R&B groover.  Can’t help but smile, silly as it all may be.

“Can You Just Imagine” – Slade (from The Slade Box)

The b-side of the rip-roaring “In For A Penny,” this is Slade doing music hall, the Kinks after barrels of whiskey.  Inspired by the making of Flame, it is a delayed coda to that sound.  No voice like Noddy’s.

“No Surprises” – Radiohead (from Glastonbury ’97)

Live bootleg recording, the where and when pretty obvious.  Not sure if OK Computer was out yet (both album and festival were early summer), but this recording may be my favorite work by the band.  Great mix of material, mainly from The Bends and OK Computer, and the band seems to be enjoying themselves and the music they create; by the end of the subsequent tour they were clearly not (at least, that is the impression I got from Meeting People Is Easy).  It was also the last time I was head-over-heels for the band, so having a show from them that doesn’t sound vaguely condescending toward the audience is a huge personal plus.