Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Soundtrack of My Childhood (Happy Father's Day!)

I came across what might be the worst “mixtape” of all time on Rdio.

At first, I thought, “interesting.”

Then I saw that song one is the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop,” and I almost got offended that this is someone’s idea of “dad’s music.” Then I thought, “Let’s be honest.  I’m old enough to be a mom, and the Ramones precede me.”

Then I saw song two, what could be on my personal list of The Worst songs, Faith No More’s “Epic.” And I thought, “What kind of dad’s mixtape is this?” It’s almost an offense to dads everywhere, as if they blindfold themselves and walk like zombies through record stores, putting random CDs into their carts and then making mixtapes from them. Awkward juxtaposition is often a hallmark of a great mixtape . . . but not this time.

While I’m being honest, I can admit that I owe a large part, if not all of, my musicality to my dad. Not just his genes, but his voracious consumption of music and his habit of keeping it playing at all times (and sometimes way too loudly, especially when it was four albums in a row of Eddie Fisher on a cross-state drive). I’ve also developed a taste for most of his favorite things: 50s cinema, black licorice, food, dancing, and 50s music (although I prefer Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, and Elvis, and while he likes them a lot, he prefers Eddie Fisher, Joni James, Tony Bennett, and Sinatra). My dad played the accordion, a skill he hated acquiring since his weekly class was scheduled during the Milton Berle show. And he gave piano lessons, despite not knowing how to play piano (He said he knew he’d always be one step ahead of the children he was teaching.) He also taught ballroom dance, a skill I wish I’d picked up from him as a teenager.

So, in honor of him and father’s day, with a little help from my sister, I put together my own Dad’s mixtape. Like it or not, these are a sifter-full of the songs that made up the soundtrack of my, my sister, and my brother’s childhoods. Being a romantic, you will notice a romantic tinge to my father’s taste (and before you comment, think about the fact that he’s reading). I’m thankful to him for not only teaching me an insatiable thirst for music, but also respecting the “high” and the “low.” Just last night, at a Madison club, I experienced just such a juxtaposition, as my friends and I (and the members of Cocorosie) danced to JD Samson’s own digital fusion.

Eddie Fisher, “I Need You Now”
Roy Orbison: “Only the Lonely”
Culture Club: “Karma Chameleon”
Toto: “Rosanna”
Neil Diamond: “Sweet Caroline”
Frank Sinatra: “Strangers in the Night”
Abba: “Fernando”
Archie Bleyer: “Hernando’s Hideaway”
The South Pacific soundtrack: “Some Enchanted Evening”
The West Side Story soundtrack: “Maria”
Santa Esmeralda: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
Toto: “Africa”
Taco: “Puttin’ on the Ritz”
Eddie Fisher: “Oh, My Papa”

Abba: “Fernando”

Eddie Fisher: “I Need You Now”

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1-Up: Here Comes the Sun

(courtesy of Mike Perry Studios)

1-up is a regular feature in which we drop a quarter into music we had once written off.

By all accounts, my first listen to Olivia Tremor Control should have  been transformative.  1996’s Dusk at Cubist Castle was a poppy, meandering jaunt through a Sgt. Pepper fantasyland.  A flash of seratonin-laced brilliance in a muddled, rainy landscape.  It should have been a welcome reminder that the 90’s didn’t have to be all grim, frustrated, and downright bleak.

But I was foolish.  I took my Vitamin D, mentally connected Olivia Tremor Control with the Beatles, and tossed the whole thing (along with the rest of Elephant 6) in the bottom of the sock drawer.

It was a mistake – I heard OTC, thought of the Beatles, and proceeded to fall in love with Brit-Pop.

Now, armed with a collection of Stereophonics and Supergrass records, I find myself returning to my Athens, Georgia-based Brit-Pop roots.  Turns out they have another album – 1999’s Black Foliage:  Animation Music, Volume 1.   I think I still have $7 left in my LaLa memorial iTunes account.  It looks like there will be sunny days ahead.

Olivia Tremor Control – No Growing

Olivia Tremor Control – Hideway

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Mates of State Covers Tom Waits

Probably because they rhyme. And isn’t that as good a reason as any? The adorable parents of Magnolia and June are touring with John Panos and my personal guitar hero Kenji Shinagawa this summer, and they played the First Unitarian Church in Philly last night. I know I would see more bands I’ve been enjoying on my iPod for years if they would only hire Kenji to play with them. What an awesome, exuberant show. And that’s a completely unbiased, disinterested remark.

Of course I didn’t know this Tom Waits track before I heard the Mates’ version (from their new cover album, Crushes), but I was pretty sure it would sound completely different, in a good way. Sure enough! One’s a party, the other’s a good-night kiss: two sides of the same shiny coin.

Tom Waits, “Long Way Home”
Mates of State, “Long Way Home”

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Noise Narc Promise: Whistling, 19-Year-Old Edition

Making good on passing along any awesome songs we come by that involve whistling, here’s 19-year-old Brooklyn-ite-via-Tacoma Oberhofer’s “Away Frm U.” Much of the song has a Kurt Vile vibe with more percussive punch. But then, wait for it, wait for it… bam! Whistling at the two minute mark! Gets me every time. No kid his age should be able to whistle with this cracking intensity or craft a song this good.

OBERHOFER, “Away Frm U”

Super Important Update: At least one more song of theirs (“I Could Go”) involves whistling! Swoon! Check out their MySpace.

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Everybody Loves to Write about "To Love Somebody"

After Chris’s excellent post on the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” and its covers, I couldn’t resist popping over to Wikipedia to get a list of other covers and then to MOG to listen to them. Wikipedia’s list has some hilarious artists covering it, and for once Mog’s library failed me in ways that please: thank the heavens they don’t have Billy Corgan’s or the double evil of Damien Rice WITH Ray LaMontagne’s version (!?!).

But after having listened to Chris’ versions (of which, I agree, Dara Puspita’s is the highlight) and a dozen more, the song itself still remains incapable of being ruined. Yes, even Bonnie Tyler’s “screaming equals passion” version, Michael Bolton’s douchebag version, Lulu’s just plain worthless version, and The Animals’ House of the Rising Suck version (amidst countless other middling ones) could not fool me into thinking that this song isn’t superb. As country, rock, R&B, or Indonesian garage, it excels.

Given my recent Booker T & the MGs post, it should be no surprise that one of my favorite covers involves Booker T & The MGs. And given my recent countrification, the second shouldn’t be a surprise either. Thanks, Chris, for shining a certain kind of light on this great song. I make no apologies for posting Rod Stewart.

Rod Stewart, “To Love Somebody w/Booker T & The MGs (Early Take)”

Flying Burrito Brothers, “To Love Somebody”

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Everybody Loves To Love Somebody

One of the latest releases from Sublime Frequencies (previously mentioned on NoiseNarcs here) is a compilation of music recorded between 1966 and 1968 by Indonesian a-go-go band, Dara Puspita (Flower Girls), whom the writers at Sublime Frequencies somewhat audaciously declare to be “arguably the world’s greatest all-female garage rock band.”  Feel free to argue in the comments.

Anyway, I was thinking about doing a post about them, but while doing some quick research on the group I came across their version of The BeeGees 1967 super-hit, “To Love Somebody.” So I decided instead to do a brief (and by no means exhaustive) round-up of some of my favorite remakes of that pop masterpiece.

In a sense, the song has no original version.  Barry Gibb wrote the song for Otis Redding, who unfortunately died in a plane crash before it could be recorded.  But take a moment to imagine what that would have sounded like.  It sounds awesome in my imagination.  Quite frankly, no other version could ever live up to it.

Nevertheless, we’ll commence with the song as recorded by the inimitable Brother’s Gibb:

The Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody”

Pretty excellent, but not really my favorite version.  With the exception of the opening verse, gently sung by Robin Gibbs (I believe), something about it seems a bit too precise, perhaps a bit overproduced with the soaring strings, French horns and fade-out.

Next, from what is probably her most commercial album, 1969’s To Love Somebody, here’s Nina Simone:

Nina Simone, “To Love Somebody”

In my view, there’s little wrong that Nina Simone can do.  This track and the rest of the popular covers on that album, while far from her best work, are no exception.

Now the much rougher Dara Puspita cut:

Dara Puspita, “To Love Somebody”

That is a lot of reverb, but it’s pretty sweet, don’t you think?  Imagine 9-year-old Barry Obama on the playground in Jakarta wallowing in the heartbreak of his 4th grade crush with the help of this song.  If you like it, then I highly recommend that you support Sublime Frequencies by paying them for an album.  This track happens not to be on their Dara Puspita compilation, unfortunately, but they’re a solid outfit that collects really awesome music from all over the place.

Last but not least, Janis Joplin slows it down.  Here’s a rendition where the horns really work. From I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again, Mama! (1969).

Janis Joplin, “To Love Somebody”

Have I left your favorite version out?  Let me know in the comments.

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Minutemusic: The Dead Weather, "Blue Blood Blues"

The Dead Weather is a rock super-group featuring Jack White (The White Stripes), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), and Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes).  “Blue Blood Blues” is from their second album, Sea of Cowards, released last month.

The Dead Weather, “Blue Blood Blues”

From Wikipedia:

Jack White explained the album title to The Sun: “The album title refers to the way the internet allows people to spit venom and knock people in a cowardly way using fake names.It seems to me that people aren’t teaching this generation anything about responsibility. The internet allows people to make a statement that the whole world can read and listen to-but they’re too much of a coward to leave their actual name.”

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An Unswimmy Day with the Great Lake Swimmers

Sometimes in Madison, you get to see a great band for free, such as Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers, a band I’ve been quietly following for a few years now and who played at the Marquette festival in Yahara Park. It was rainy today, but quite a few of us braved the stormy skies to get an earful of this charming little indie folk band. A highlight was when the lyrics spoke of the sun coming out and the sun actually picked that moment to peek through the sky, to great applause.

and then we ate ice cream:

mint oreo, to be precise.

It was a lovely Sunday.

Great Lake Swimmers: Gonna Make it Through This Year

Great Lake Swimmers: Everything Is Moving So Fast

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Being Fickle is Good

In the past few days, and lot of us who used to frequent Lala and who now use MOG have shifted over to Rdio (invite only; still have a few if anyone is interested). I’m testing this service out, since it requires a small ($4.99) monthly fee. What is offers over MOG is a robust new release section (though the service is in Beta and, hence, its overall offerings are weak, to say the least) and a better interface than MOG.

As I’ve said in other Noise Narcs posts, I love these types of music/networking sites because of how rapidly they expose me to new music. I’m also fascinated by the way certain albums catch fire amongst a small population (such as Seeland’s Tomorrow Today did on Lala).

Two albums that are gathering storms on Rdio are Casiokids’ release from earlier this year, Top Stemning Pa Lokal Bar, a delightfully quirky album by a Norwegian band that apparently kicks ass live (and is just another reason to love both electro pop and Scandinavia, two of my obsessions), and Pigeons’ Here We Go Magic, an ethereal, yet grounded album that sweeps across genres, but most often reminds me of Of Montreal’s trippy, meandering rock. Oh, and bunny suit? Awesome.

Casiokids-Fot_i_hose

Pigeons: Hibernation

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Tom Petty: Good Enough for Me

confess that I’m favorably disposed to Tom Petty.  Maybe because his Greatest Hits was one of the first ten albums I ever owned.  Maybe because the video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is so delightfully sick and twisted.  Maybe because I was only about 12 or 13 when his first impression was made on me and because at that age we are such soft clay that even the most worn-down stamp still has the chance to leave some lasting mark.  Whatever the reason, my disposition inclines me to overlook those qualities of his music which seem to make him and his Heartbreakers so impossible for a lot of people in my generation, maybe even some of you, to take him seriously.

His songs lack depth and nuance; his music for the most part is that unadventurous, inoffensive sort of rock you might expect from an almost rebel who grew old instead of dying.  The message of nearly every song can be reduced to one of the following binary statements: 1) I’m trapped/I’m escaping, 2) Don’t leave me/Leave me alone, or 3) Let’s get stoned/What’s the harm in getting stoned?  I know these things.  Perhaps the best you might say about the Tom Petty oeuvre is that these songs can be fun...  Fun, for example, to sing along with when you’re driving and they come on the radio.  But who would ever sit down and give Tom Petty a serious listen?  Who, especially in this age of hyperlink-induced attention deficit, would prepare for Tom Petty one’s undivided, concentrated focus?

No one.  Not even me.  The music just doesn’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny.  Especially not “Free Fallin’.”  That song blows.  Keep these qualifications in mind if and when you sample the newly-released Mojo.

”]Perhaps a few of you caught the recent performance on SNL of “I Should Have Known It,” the first single from Mojo.  Even to my favorably disposed mind, Petty appeared tired and the song did little to recommend the album (though the official video, I think, undoes some of the damage).

But now that the album has finally dropped and I’ve had a chance to listen to it all the way through (while multitasking, of course), I think I’m willing to say that this follow-up to 2007’s Highway Companion (which I actually really do recommend…it was one of the surprisingly few albums that I had with me in the car during last summer’s 8600 mile cross-country jaunt) is greater than the sum of its parts.  Pick any one track out of the line-up and on it’s own it will appear one-dimensional, perhaps even comically so, but put them all together and you’ve got an album that tells the story of a whole life.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Good Enough”

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