It was forty years ago today that National Public Radio officially incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) NPO. As someone who has long labored within the realm of public radio, I can assure you civilians that not all that you listen to on your more generically termed "public radio" station is synonymous with NPR. And while I also can't think of a rock and roll song that references "NPR", Randy Newman, with some help from Mark Knopfler, does sing of "all of the people that I used to know" who he sees "lurking in book stores/working for the Public Radio". Thanks a lot for making us feel so good about ourselves, Randy. I suppose there's some comfort in knowing that song, from Newman's '88 LP Land of Dreams, is not as grim as Davy the Fat Boy from his debut.
Thirty seven years ago today Alice Cooper released their/his Xth LP, Billion Dollar Babies. Let's face it, Alice Cooper (the guy) gets most of the attention and limelight. But the guys in Alice Cooper, the band, simply kicked ass! So, it's shout out time right now: Lead git, Glen Buxton (died '97)! On rhythm guitar-Michael Bruce (still touring every once in awhile)! Dennis Dunaway (married to the "seamstress for the band") on bass! and Mr. Neal Smith (now a rock and roll realtor in New England) on drums! Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner also lended much guitar muscle to this and other Alice Cooper LPs. But here's what really gets me. For years now I've assumed that the chorus of the title track was the Coop singing with himself overdubbed. Nope. It's friggin' Donovan! I'm out of it for just now finding this out, aren't I? Go ahead, I can take it. But if you've been as out of touch as me all these years, listen! It is Donovan! Weird.
OK, I'm going to rattle off some songs I really like: The Kinks' Days, Girl from Mill Valley from the loner's Beck-Ola, Slip Kid from Who By Numbers, the Rolling Stones' She's a Rainbow, Donovan's Atlantis from the outstanding Barabjagal LP, Jefferson Airplane's We Can Be Together from Volunteers (hell, throw in the title track, too. Gotta love Paul Kantner using one riff for two songs on the same album), the Jayhawks' Waiting for the Sun from Hollywood Town Hall, John Lennon's Jealous Guy ... OK, besides the fact that I like all of them, what the heck do these songs have in common? Mr. Nicky Hopkins on piano, that's what. Legendary session musician, Hopkins was born on this day in 1944 and died far too early (plagued with poor health since childhood) at the age of 50. Ray Davies—who wrote in The New York Times in '95 that Hopkins "had the ability to turn an ordinary track into a gem"—was thinking of Nicky Hopkins and his vocation when he composed this song (with harpsichord and piano courtesy of ... well, you guess.).
Honestly, I don't know much about David Sylvian or the first group he sang for: Japan (who apparently made the unlikely evolution from slummy punk glam to experimental art rock in a five studio album arc). I know I used to own the CD The First Day, the first of Sylvian's collaborations with Robert Fripp (a guitar genius so seriously devoted to his craft that he often sits on a stool when he plays, yo!). The whole LP is filled with dreamy, sublime, sneakily funky, ambient tinged songs that always succeed in holding up as solid songs despite all the adjectives they attract. Referring to the juxtaposition of Fripp's guitar work and Sylvian's voice, Trouser Press aptly describes this LP as an "engrossing, invigorating and mind-expanding adventure of sharp teeth and smooth skin." Sylvian celebrates his 52nd birthday today. Here's a sweet live version of one of the most memorable songs from The First Day:
Happy Birthday to Jeremiah Griffin Harrison who today turns 61. He was keyboard player for the Modern Lovers on their classic debut recorded in '72 but not released until '76. By that year, Harrison had joined The Talking Heads (the only member of the group not a Rhode Island's School of Design alumn) who released eight studio and two live LPs. You might remember the song Rev It Up, from Harrison's second solo LP, Casual Gods, which received a fair amount of radio and club airplay circa '88. His first solo venture was more under the radar. Along with Bootsy Collins on bass and producer Daniel Lazerus, Harrison released Five Minutes (Bonzo Goes to Washington) in '84, the song featured one of the earliest examples of the now common hip-hop technique of lacing sampled loops of a person's speech (in this case Ronald Reagan's joke accidentally caught on an open mike about his legislation to "outlaw Russia forever" and to "begin bombing in five minutes") throughout a dance mix.
Thirty six years ago today Cher filed for divorce from Sonny Bono whom she had been married to for a decade. This is somehow sad to me. After becoming the darling couple of prefabricated folk rock, Sonny ended up on TV pretty much playing the butt of a cruel joke: the nebbish who is only barely able to hold on to or be tolerated by his hot chick wife. Then in the eyes of a nation always yearning for vicarious experiences from the glass box in the living room his persona became real life. But Sonny was strong. To quote the words he had written in a truly great song almost a decade earlier "Go ahead, laugh at me!" Some days I think the only people on earth who truly understand how great the song is are me and Ian Hunter. But now you know too, right?
The year '74 was a big one for rock and roll breakups that weren't technically divorces. Alice Cooper the singer left Alice Cooper the group. Pam Morrison left earth and (if Jim was perhaps still alive in Buenos Aires at the time) her soul mate and own true loved one as well. Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones. And Peter Gabriel left Genesis.
Athletically delivered power ska punk cover versions can sometimes be more fun than Mickey's Monkey with a buzz and sometimes be as uninspiring as Foghat stuck on repeat as demonstrated by the Floridian band Less Than Jake on Goodbye Blue and White, their hard to find rarities anthology released on this day eight years ago. The title is not a farewell to Penn State University, but a reference in homage to a faithful tour van that finally went kaput. Although they selected songs that were fist-in-the-air moronic/anthemic (Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It), raw and infectious (The Jam's Modern World) and bursting ripe with ironic potential (The Partridge Family's I Think I Love You), all the high energy's purpose seems to be put toward racing to the song's end to get it over with as soon as possible rather than fully exuberate in the joie de vivre of that ska punk slam and bounce.
They couldn't manage to do with the theme song from Laverne and Shirley what, for example, Husker Du was able to do with the theme song from Mary Tyler Moore? I can't put my finger on why, because they bring something heady to their cover of this Cheap Trick classic:
Is it because this song can easily be punked up, speeded up but not so much ska-ed up?
Happy Birthday Brian James! He was born Brian Robertson 55 years ago today. On this day in '77, as he turned 22, Stiff Records released Damned Damned Damned, the debut album by the seminal British punk band James was playing guitar for. The same label, helped by house producer Nick Lowe, had previously released the single New Rose (also on the album). While the groundbreaking Brit-punk bands of the day tended to engage in chaotic political/social commentary (The Sex Pistol's God Save the Queen or Anarchy in the UK) or intense, high energy, rocking political/social commentary (The Clash's White Riot or I'm so Bored with the USA), the Damned eschewed political/social commentary entirely to concentrate solely on intense, high energy, rocking chaos. And we're all the better for it. Let it be known throughout the land that amidst all of the Brit-punk fever and furor circa '77, the Damned were the first of the first wave of Brit-punk bands to release a full length LP. This video is of slightly low quality ... a bit dodgy as it were (which seems highly appropriate) and it cuts off before I'd like it to, but you own this record don't you?
On Bob Dylan's second studio LP, the song Girl from the North Country seems and even sounds a tad ho-hum and arid up against the magnitude of the other purely acoustic era tracks: the destined for greatness Blowin' In the Wind, the surreal epic crypticism of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, the airtight aw shucks shrugging simplicity of Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, the relentless judgmental slow burn wrath of Masters of War or even the funny, folksy absurdity of Talkin' World War III Blues or Bob Dylan's Blues. But on this day in 1969 when Dylan and Johnny Cash went into a recording studio together, they transformed it into a musical moment that practically demands to be surrounded by a stillness while the listener waits for the verses to unfold with a deliberate, unrushed and inevitable pace that transports us to a place we always knew we'd end up anyway. It was released as the opening track on Dylan's ninth studio release, Nashville Skyline.
Perhaps because it was such a departure from the instantly accessible vibe of their eponymous debut, Weezer's second album Pinkerton was at first considered a dud by many critics and sales were slow. But history and incremental sales have proved kinder than initial reaction to the LP, which includes the song "El Scorcho". Professional wrestler Johnny Grunge, who passed away at the age of 39 on this day four years ago, is mentioned in the lyrics.