Monday, March 1, 2010

Ode to a Mixed Tape: No Messages Music +1

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

This is a tape I made for someone else around 1990-91. It’s geared towards things I thought she may like. Below, I put as many of the actual recordings I used (all from albums rather than CDs), though I could not always find the studio version of the song on the ‘Net (came to the closest).

Baja Marimba Band - Ghost Riders In the Sky
Along with Herb Albert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights (for his rendition of “A Taste of Honey”), the BMB was popular in my parent’s collective group. This particular cover has always been a favorite of mine since we got the album in ’66. Johnny Cash’s classic, which many consider the definitive one (along with the Highwaymen) was great, but the BMB’s is an insane rave-up with hoots, hollers and horns (and a xylophone!). There are a number of time changes, all leading up to a fading, happy party.

Lenny Kaye Connection - I’ve Got a Right
If anyone has read my “Ode” series before, they’ll know I champion Lenny’s only solo full release as the LKC. This song has a video somewhere – I know, I’ve seen it – and the song should rightfully have been a breakthrough for him. Aimed at the Religious Right during the Reagan years, Lenny strongly explains that he has the right to keep his “freedom of choice.” He further states, “I don’t mind sayin’ / That I don’t mind prayin’ / But I don’t like to be told how.” Backed by a strong rhythm section and organ, he masterfully builds the song with fierceness and melody. He may be crazy like a fox, but this song is hardly subtle.

Blue Angel - I Had a Love
Before Cyndi Lauper became Cyndi “Girls Just Wanna” Lauper, she fronted this excellent Long Island rock band. As she later proved with her cover of the Brains’ “Money Changes Everything,” Cyndi knows how to rock out. This song is more of a ‘60s style ballad, but it’s beautiful and she certainly shows her range. Though a lot of Cyndi’s early solo stuff has been overplayed, her Blue Angel material deserves to be heard more.
Mystic Eyes - Calm Me Down
Off the Mystic Eyes’ first full lengther on Get Hip Records, this cover of the Human Expression tune is masterfully handled by Bernie Kugel and crew. Solid garage pop out of Buffalo (though this sounds like it could have come from the Pacific NW of the ‘60s), this song is well suited for Bernie’s voice. The production is sparse, as it should be, and backed with Eric Lubstorf’s 12-sting hugging the circular melody, Craig Davison’s bass line and Scott Davison on skins, this brings this tune to a whole new level without drowning it in studio trickery.

Dream Academy - Life in a Northern Town
Speaking of studio-work, this tune is true wall-of-sound gloss. I have to admit, at the time, I liked the song, but for me, I’ve grown a bit weary of it. Its sing-along chant was charming, but now seems to just go on and on. Plus it seems both cheery and overwrought at the same time. Tastes do change. I have the album this came off of, but honestly, I can’t remember a single other piece from it. Like “C’mon Eileen,” it is a one-hit wonder in the ‘States.

Marshall Crenshaw - Someday Someway
Yes, more people know the Robert Gordon cover, and he did a bang-up job, but Crenshaw’s original is still the far superior. His jangly, Beatles-esque guitar holds up the piece, which is extremely catchy, poppy, and bouncy. Though guitar-based, the vocals are right up front, as they rightfully should be. Crenshaw’s career may be overshadowed by this tune, but this is a classic piece of songwriting, and something of which to be proud.

Divinyls - Siren Song
I realize this Australian band is better known for their salacious “I Touch Myself” and “Pleasure and Pain,” but I always thought the material off their earlier album, Desperate, was far superior, including “Boys In Town,” and especially “Elsie.” “Siren Song” is a fun co-shared vocal of love and desperation (as is much of their material), which strangely and effectively includes most of the alphabet. Lead vocalist Christina Amphlett’s transition from off-kilter schoolgirl in this period to later sex-bomb may have been technically successful, but there was something lost. Besides, her dumping a pitcher over her head when she performed this song live is pretty intoxicating:

Ray Charles - Busted
It’s hard to say this is one of Ray Charles’ best tunes, as he was amazing so often, but I will posit that this is one of my faves. While sad, this blues number also has a very dark sense of humor (“I went to my brother to ask for a loan / ‘Cause I was busted… / My brother said ‘there ain’t a thing I can do… / And I was thinking ‘bout calling on you / ‘Cause I’m busted’”). Walter Lure also does a great cover of the song, by the way, on his Waldo’s Rent Party. Note that the video below is live, not the studio version on the tape.

Harry Chapin - If My Mary Were Here
While I found this song to be a touching number about loneliness and asking for forgiveness, the person I gave this tape to found it to be an ego trip for the protagonist, who has mistreated his ex- and only wants her back because he’s afraid of being alone, not because he cares about her. I can understand both views, honestly, yet I still find this middle-of-the-night-regret moving. Chapin may be an acquired taste for some, but once you get it, you’re rarely dissatisfied. There used to be a video of this, but now I can’t find it.

Sam Chalpin - Satisfaction
Where to even begin on this one? Sam is the father of Ed, the man who first recorded Jimi Hendrix (and my ex-boss), who was a cantor in his synagogue and felt he was a better singer than most of the music on the radio in the ‘60s. Ed took some background tracks and had his father do sort of a karaoke with them, such as this one, and “Leader of the Pack.” Hearing this elder Jewish man with a thick Yiddish accent singing these songs is truly priceless. Hysterically funny, one also needs to admire and marvel at Sam’s chutzpah. Though easy to laugh at Sam, I respect the man more, and howl in his honor.

Side Two

Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians - What I Am
The New Bohemians were going nowhere until Edie joined them, and then resented that she got all the attention. She left after a couple of albums and then they all disappeared. She married Paul Simon, pushed out a bunch of kids, and put out a failed solo release. But in all of this, Edie and the NB released a few really fine songs, such as “Circle,” “Little Miss S” (for Edie Sedgwick), and this one. While a bit lyrically overwrought with cutesiness (“Throw me in the shallow water / Before I get too deep”), the jazzy melody sustains it, along with her unique sounding voice (and stage stance).

Rutles - Ouch!
They may have been formed as a spoof of the Beatles, but the Rutles produced some mighty fine music in their own right, such as this revisionist / interpretation of “Help!” Neil Innis, known to many Monty Python fans, does a superb Lennon-esque take (as he does a great Dylan take-off with “I Suffered For Your Music Now It’s Your Turn,” or his own “How Sweet to be an Idiot,” both worth seeking out). As a stand-alone, this – er – stands on its own.

Hollies - Bus Stop
Truthfully, the Hollies aren’t one of my favorite Mersey Beat-era bands. “He Ain’t Heavy” is okay, and I detest the nails-on-chalkboard “Carrie-Ann,” but that being said about the band generally, specifically, I love this song. Perhaps it’s the key changes or the harmonious melody. There is a sanctified and stunning video done to this song by a television program called Déjà View (see below) that shows the life of the couple in the song from the bus stop’s perspective (and was clearly ripped off in the Hugh Grant walking through the market scene in Notting Hill, which uses the great Bill Withers’ tune, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which I’ve also included below as a bonus so you can see what I mean).

Theme to Grand
Grand was a two-season television show from early 1990 that had a killer theme song. I’ve included two versions of it here, first and second season, respectively. The first, season one, is more general (but the sound on the video is better), and the one included on this tape. The second shows the cast and is more championed by the fans of the show (check out the very young Sara Rue!). It had a killer cast, such as Pamela Reed and Bonnie Hunt, but like many of the Hunt sit-coms, it came and went very fast and not appreciated by many. This tune has stayed with me all these years.

Monkees - You Just May Be the One
Is there anyone else left who hasn’t’ realized that Mike Nesmith was the most musically talented of the bunch (and yes, they all deserve to be in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame)? This, along with his solo efforts of “Joanne” and “The Crippled Lion,” are great country-tinged pop songs that even Mike’s own post-Elephant Parts period hasn’t topped. Boyce & Hart wrote some amazing tunes for the boys, but Mike luckily got to sing some originals. Well, considering how the network felt about the band’s original material, we were lucky to have even heard it. Sadly, the only on-line version I found was this awful live one.

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - Abominable Snowman in the Market
This reggae-infused nonsense ditty is a perfect example of why JR’s “phase 2” (as it were) was so popular. It’s a great song. Usually I rankle at white guys doing reggae (the Police, the Clash), but this is just so innocent and cute, without being saccharine. It was during this period when I first saw JR and the Modern Lovers play in 1977 on Long Island, and I knew this album before his darker, first one (which contained the breakthrough “Road Roadrunner”). “Snowman” seemed so off the wall to me back then, and charmed me instantly. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing JR a number of times now, and videotaped him getting interviewed for Videowave cable access show. Most of the populace know him from his minstrel bit in the film There’s Something About Mary, but he is so much more than that. JR has had more incarnations than Madonna, and every chapter is unique and noteworthy. The version on the tape is studio-recorded, and the video, obviously, is not.

Roger Miller - In the Summertime
I had an early version of a greatest hits collection during my formative years, which started with his biggest hit, “King of the Road,” but the collection is just chocked full of great music. My enjoyment of old tyme country is most likely rooted in that album, and rests squarely on the shoulders of the brilliant Roger Miller. I mean, “Dang Me,” “England Swings,” “Engine Engine No. 9,” and the list goes on. This particular song is a rave-up with Miller’s often-present country scat. And this is certainly not to be confused with Mongo Jerry’s piece of crap. RIP, RM. Here is a link to a later, live version: (embedding was not allowed).

Leon Redbone - Ain’t Misbehavin’
Redbone made his mark on Saturday Night Live and became a hit. Unfortunately, his tendency to sit on stage with his hat over his face sort of had a toll on his career. His distinct voice and style is instantly recognizable. This cover of the Fats Waller classic has remained one of my Redbone faves over the years. The video is a recent live clip; nice to see he still has some career left.

Kimm Rogers - Right By You
I’ve mentioned this song before on this blog. Kimm has had a couple of albums out (that I know of – and own), and her first remains one I can listen to repeatedly from beginning to end. It’s called Soundtrack of My Life, which is a totally appropriate name, as it seems she talks about the minute thoughts that pass through her brain, and it’s usually something that strikes a chord with the listener. I have never had a chance to see Kimm perform live, sadly, but it would please me enormously to thank her for many hours of listening pleasure.

Dave Edmunds - I Knew the Bride
Gee, yet another great song off the Get It album. It’s the record that just won’t end when it comes to astonishing music. I still remember my jaw dropping when I first heard it in the late ‘70s. This rave-up made me think of a friend down south that married a straight good-ole-boy. Somehow, though, I knew she would rock’n’roll again…and she did (and does) – without him. Now she’s married to a rocker, where she belongs. But I digress. This song was on my playlist when I got married, because I wanted something that would raise the roof. The live video version does not match the studio recording on the tape, but it still rocks.

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