31 March 2010

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 115]

The Fever
Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes
Written by Bruce Springsteen
Produced by "Miami" Steve Van Zandt
Epic Records
Released 1976

"The Fever" is a story of the mystery and mythology of rock and roll. And of local musicians and fans who at one time could define an entire area of the United States. And of the charm of independent radio and its enduring relationship with its listeners.

A young New Jersey native named Bruce Springsteen authored the song in question, some say as early as 1971. Of course, Springsteen would be "discovered" by impresario John Hammond (who had also brought Billie Hollday and Bob Dylan, among others, to Columbia Records) and his first album would be released in early 1973: Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was met mostly with shrugs. [Indeed, in retrospect, critic Lester Bangs stated that the consensus at the time was "many of us dismissed it: he wrote like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, sang like Van Morrison and Robbie Robertson, and led a band that sounded like Van Morrison's."] "The Fever" wasn't on Greetings' track listing.

That summer, the E Streeters would go back in the studio and come out with a critical masterpiece. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle further increased their growing fan base, but did not make much noise on the commercial charts. It is said that during these sessions, the song first identified as "(I Got The Fever) For The Girl" (because of the singer's literal lament heading into the initial chorus) was recorded. Springsteen's manager at the time, Mike Appel, apparently sent out a special pressing of the song to a few select independent (or "underground") FM radio stations as a means of priming the pump for The Boss' third 33" LP that would shoot for the stars.

Now, let me just say that the paragraph immediately above is hearsay. Although it might be reliable hearsay, The Night Owl's first encounter with "The Fever" was simply by word of mouth from college students originally hailing from the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas who had seen the marathon live act of Springsteen and his band at clubs like The Main Line or The Stone Pony.

But when Bruce Springsteen landed on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the triumphant glow of that third album, Born To Run, in 1975, any leak of unreleased songs only added to the growing myth of The Boss. There are few songwriters - Dylan, Lennon & McCartney - that are prolific enough to contribute first rate tunes to other artists. But Springsteen has been able to do so time and again. "The Fever" is a prime example.

"Southside" Johnny Lyon had been a member of the Jersey Shore bar band scene since the early 1970s, playing in various bands with interchangeable members, including Springsteen, "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, Garry W. Tallent, David Sancious and Danny Federici, all of whom would be members of The E Street Band in future years. While Van Zandt would join Springsteen on the Born To Run tour and Lyon formed The Asbury Jukes, "Miami" Steve would maintain his association by producing a four-song EP for the band. It was pitched to Columbia subsidiary Epic, and The Jukes went into the studio in 1976 to record what would become I Don't Want To Go Home. With Van Zandt producing and contributing lead guitar, the album proved to be a paean to classic rhythm and blues, featuring not only Van Zandt's vocals and harmonica playing, but duets with soul giants Ronnie Spector and Lee Dorsey.

While the title track would prove to be song that the band would use as their closer for years to come, the true highlight of the debut was "The Fever." Listen to the original studio version here.
The faint organ rumbling summons up the middle of the night. Then Southside enters dramatically. His vocal has a swagger, but it's tempered by the humbling of the experience of yearning for his girl (. The call and response chorus, the blues harp, and The Miami Horns' blaring chart all result in a Stax-like explosion of soul revue heaven.

Springsteen would pull out "The Fever" on occasion in concerts over the years to come. It would be a song that Bruceologists would note with glee like some of the other hits he would pen for others ("Because The Night" or "Fire") or the covers he would throw in from time to time as a tribute to his personal heroes ("Quarter To Three" or "Twist and Shout"). The Boss' version would be a bit bluesier, as one can hear in this performance at Winterland in San Francisco in 1978. [The studio recording of "The Fever" would finally be released in the compilation Tracks 20 years later. The delay was probably a nod to the fact that Bruce knew that Southside had made "The Fever" his own. And The Boss, no doubt, was pleased that he helped make that happen for a Jersey compadre.]

While the memories of "lost" tracks make for good stories, there are certainly advantages to the new age of information technology. One of them is this film of Southside Johnny and Bruce sharing vocals on "The Fever." Backed by Clarence Clemmons on background vocal, Steve Van Zandt on lead, and The Miami Horns, the perfomance is from the Agora Club in Cleveland on August 31, 1978.

30 March 2010

Crowded House Returns

TNOP favorite Crowded House, the New Zealand band that returned from a 14 year hiatus in 2007 with the solid release Time On Earth (and a world tour in support, including a stop in Milwaukee that we really enjoyed), is to release brand new music this coming June. The LP is Intriguer, produced by front man Neil Finn with an assist from engineer extraordinaire Jim Scott.

If you are one of the newer generation that hasn't been exposed to the whip-smart pop of Crowded House, we highly recommend starting with one of the better greatest hit compilations in the music catalog, Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House. You can thank us later.

To whet your appetite for Intriguer, here's a cut from the album, "Saturday Song," performed live by the boys on New Zealand's 3 News:

29 March 2010

This Date In Rock History: 29 March

The happiest of birthdays to eternal Python (and erstwhile Rutle) Eric Idle.

TNOP readers, we know it's Monday, the start of another work week. It's rainy in the East, cold in the Midwest, and tornadoes are touching down in the South. But cheer up! You know what they say . . .

28 March 2010

New LCD Soundsystem Single Leaks

The yet untitled LCD Soundsystem LP won't be released until 18 May. but over the weekend head man James Murphy leaked the first single for public listening. "Drunk Girls," a hard driving rocker reminiscent of the playfulness of "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" - and that, of course, is a good thing - was dropped on the Pitchfork website. The lyrics are, um , interesting, reciting the attributes of drunk girls and the drawbacks of drunk boys. And that's rock and roll, kids.

In addition, a portion of another new track, "Pow Pow," was posted as well at Stereogum.

TNOP reported previously that LCD Soundsystem has scored the soundtrack to the new Noah Baumbach film "Greenberg," which opened this weekend nationwide in theaters. And they landed one of the plum spots at Coachella on 16 April.
31 March Update: Paste reports that the new album will be titled This Is Happening. View the cover art here.

25 March 2010

Rock 'n Film: "It Might Get Loud"

It Might Get Loud
Directed by Douglas Guggenheim
Sony Pictures Classics, 2009

Before the advent of high-definition television and accompanying pristine digital home sound systems, rock and roll films were better off being seen at your local movie palace. Many would argue that performance videos still exclusively demand a ultra-large cinema screen with Dolby crashing around one's visual and aural senses. For example, U2 3D played to large, rapturous crowds in IMAX theaters around the country in 2008, breaking further new commercial ground. And now studios and neighborhood theaters have upped the ante by investing in the 3D experience now that it has become more common and economical.

But one can make a compelling case that some of the newer rock films are best viewed in more intimate surroundings; Jonathan Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006) and the American Masters' profile of Joni Mitchell, A Woman of Heart and Mind (2003), come immediately to mind.

Now add to that grouping It Might Get Loud, Douglas Guggenheim's portrait of, ironically, three electric guitar icons: Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. Recently released on DVD, this documentary from 2009 provides a somewhat jagged, but linear progression of the development of this trio of compelling musicians, each from a successive generation of the rock canon.

James Patrick Page is first in line. With flowing white hair and sporting a stylish long gentleman's coat, the Londoner takes on the appearance of royalty, striding through the halls of the Headley Grange Estate that Led Zeppelin used to record some of its most famous songs. Alone with a guitar strapped on like a natural appendage, Page runs through the chord progression of "Ramble On" and describes his playing as a combination of techniques: "From a whisper to the thunder." [Think of all the rock music that flows from the 1970s to the present due to that one phrase.]

Page is attracted to the instrument by accident: a guitar was left behind at the home that he moved into as a child. He really becomes enamoured when the skiffle craze hits England in the 1950s. The young prodigy constantly strums his Stratocaster; he brings it to school and plays it at recess. Appearances on amateur shows lead to commercial work in professional studios at the age of 15. Soon disillusioned with playing rote jingles, Page breaks free and joins other musicians to find his own "voice" on guitar ("pop music was rubbish so I wasn't going to play that"). Most know the rest: noted rock sideman; Yardbirds ace; legendary lead guitarist with Zeppelin.

But the charm of It Might Get Loud lies with small moments captured with each of the three subjects. For Page, it is the invitation for the viewer to enter his special room chock full of vinyl. He picks out the 45 of Link Wray's "Rumble" and puts it on the a turntable. Page is transformed; the song is still a seminal moment in his development as a guitarist. As he grooves to it and pantomimes the chord progression, Page raves about the "profound attitude" of the instrumental hit.

Dave "The Edge" Evans recounts the magic of seeing his first guitar in the window at Stuyvesant Guitars in New York City while on vacation with his family. He still covets the Explorer he bought on that day. Then there is the visit to the Dublin school where The Edge found a bulletin board advert for a guitar player authored by one Larry Mullen Jr. U2 is born with a geek so taken with the instrument that he builds a guitar with his brother from scratch as a teen and starts a lifelong search for elusive sonic landscapes that no one else hears. [The Edge is even sport enough to jump up on the school's loading dock to recount the band's first gig.]

In a parallel to the muzak threat to Page's world, The Edge decries the fatuousness of the self-indulgence of rock in the mid-70s ("we knew what we didn't want to sound like"). Paired with the social and economic upheaval in Ireland, it is natural that the young Dubliners would be attracted to the punk sounds of The Jam, Buzzcocks, The Clash and The Ramones. It was freeing to The Edge: "My limitation as a musician was not a problem because I knew I could do that."

Some of the most interesting sequences in the movie center around The Edge's fiddling with his endless array of sonic toys in a Dublin warehouse. It is here that the music lover learns how much time and dedication it takes to glean a "sound" that is like no other. Say what you will about The Edge's guitar prowess, especially in comparison to Page or White; when you close your eyes and hear his style, it is like no other in rock. And that's saying alot.

We also meet John Gillis, born and raised in an economically depressed Detroit. But our first glimpse of "Jack White" is on a farm in Franklin, Tennessee. Using a piece of wood, a wire, an old Coke bottle and a simple electric pickup, White creates a make-shift guitar and slides a few blues notes for the camera crew. Ironically enough, the guitar isn't his first choice: he is instead drawn to the drums, probably due to predominance of hip-hop and house music in his neighborhood. But when working as a furniture upholsterer, White has his eureka moment when he sees hard-driving drum/guitar group Flat Duo Jets perform.

From there, things tend to get a little murky. It is almost like White has created a Dylanesque persona to meet his own musical - and commercial - goals. The famous Montgomery Ward Kay guitar is obtained at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, "as payment for helping move some stuff." The formation of The White Stripes is choreographed to the nth degree, from the ruse of identifying his wife Meg as his "sister" right down to the red, white and black marketing colors.

But while this act can be a bit off-putting at times, White's self-described immersion in the roots of rock and roll can be very interesting. His rumination on the guts of the blues (and devotion in particular to Son House) rivets the viewer - "A freight train in the minor key, representing antiestablishment, pain and tension: I found that this is where my soul rests too." Guggenheim then shows some live footage of White literally shredding his fingers on his guitar strings, blood smeared on the instrument's shiny body. White clearly is in love with what he does; from his rerigging of a Gretsch to appreciation of all music Americana, he is clearly a logical successor to the musical tree that spawned Page and then The Edge.

The much hyped super summit at the end of the film is almost anti-climatic. Why was a sterile Hollywood set chosen as the centerpiece after nearly 75 minutes of intimate visits with the three principals? Why a ragged performance of "The Weight" as the credits roll? Luckily, two minor moments, both courtesy of Led Zeppelin, leave us fulfilled: The Edge, standing at attention, and Jack White, literally putting down his guitar, both visibly in awe of Jimmy Page while he plays the coda to "Whole Lotta Love; and all three joyously playing "In My Time Of Dying" as a slow blues and then each soloing briefly, highlighting own their unique styles of playing the guitar.

It Might Get Loud proves once again that rock and roll is most affecting when it is simple and primal. And that's why every generation still finds its way back to Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry for true inspiration.

24 March 2010

Phoenix: Free Live Album Download

Faithful readers of TNOP know that French rockers Phoenix came in at a solid #2 in our list of Best Albums of 2009 with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Now the band has decided to tip their caps to the fans and provide a free eight song downloadable album entitled Live In Sydney. No sign-ups or e-mail required; just go to their site and click and listen.

Here's the track listing:
01 Lisztomania
02 Lasso
03 Fences
04 Girlfriend
05 Armistice
06 Love like a sunset
07 Rome
08 1901

23 March 2010

Newport Jazz Festival Lineup Announced

The lineup for this summer's Newport Jazz Festival was announced this morning. Wynton Marsalis, Jamie Callum, Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, Chris Botti and Roy Haynes are among the noted artists filling the bill. But what has TNOP most excited is the treasure trove of keyboardists coming to the annual fest: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and personal favorite Ahmad Jamal. (Trivia: Chuck Berry cites Jamal by name in his "Go Go Go" - Backed up by the jazz band, layin' on the wood/Mixin' Ahmad Jamal in my Johnny B. Goode)

The Newport Jazz Festival takes place August 6, 7 & 8. Tickets go on sale Friday, March 26.

To whet your appetite, here's Jamal, accompanied by Idris Muhammad on drums and James Cammack on bass, performing "Poinciana" in 2005:

20 March 2010

Headline News

The Teletype's been clattering away here at TNOP World Headquarters, so we bring you this news . . .

Iranians Ash Koshanejad and Negar Shaghaghi are the twin songwriters of Take It Easy Hospital. They star in a new documentary called No One Knows About Persian Cats, which takes the viewer on a fictionalized account of the underground music scene in and around Tehran. The Guardian profiles the duo - who have since sought asylum in the UK - and previews the film, whose director has been arrested and jailed.

Jack White's a one-man PR machine. This week, he gave a lengthy interview to the New York Post and vigorously defended detractors of Meg White. "Her femininity and extreme minimalism are too much to take for some metalheads and reverse-contrarian hipsters," White told the paper. "She can do what those with 'technical prowess' can't. She inspires people to bash on pots and pans. For that, they repay her with gossip and judgement." He continued by saying that Meg has the last laugh over her critics. "In the end she's laughing all the way to the Prada handbag store," he said. "She wins every time." Then reported that The Dead Weather's second LP will be released on May 7. Oh, and he's done a record with Shawn Carter, better known in music circles as Jay-Z, according to GQ.

Neil Young has teamed with Jonathan Demme again, this time resulting in Neil Young Trunk Show: Scenes From A Concert. Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times and Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune offer their separate perspectives.

Smokey Bill Robinson was the deserved keynote speaker at SXSW Festival in Austin. Then he headlined a bill with this killer line-up: Raphael Saadiq, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and Mayer Hawthorne. Phew. If you were there, leave us a comment!

And speaking of soul, The Times of London share the curious story of UK group Mama's Gun, sensations in . . . Japan. Give 'em a listen.

Uncut talks to Big Star bassist Ken Stringfellow, who says that he's trying to put together a tribute to Alex Chilton to conclude SXSW. Looks like Chuck Prophet, M. Ward and Cheap Trick are in, with others to follow.

Dirty Projectors stopped by a radio station in Australia and pulled out a cover of Bob Dylan's "Dark Eyes," the fairly obscure closer on Empire Burlesque. It's a beautiful arrangement and performance.

Here's some cool news: one of the more revered rock films - but up till now seen by only a handful of fans - has been refurbished and will be released this Tuesday. The T.A.M.I. Show from 1964 featured Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, The Supremes, The Beach Boys and Smokey Robinson - all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. But the most memorable performance is by The Godfather of Soul, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, Mr. Please, Please, Please: James Brown. USA Today gives us an inside preview.

In coordination with the release of their new album The Big To-Do, The Drive-By Truckers are profiled in The Village Voice.

The A.V. Club presents a fine seminar on Pub Rock.

David Byrne & Fatboy Slim's project centering on former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, comes out 6 April. Check out the track listing, snippets of the songs and a promotional video here. Guests include Santogold, St. Vincent, Nellie McKay, Sharon Jones and Roisin Murphy.

Beck has formed his latest "Record Club" group of musicians. This time they are tackling the INXS album Kick. Their first effort will be "Guns In The Sky." Let's watch INXS' original live in
1991 at Wembley Stadium.

18 March 2010

Tribute (In Memoriam): Alex Chilton

Children by the millions
Sing for Alex Chilton
When he comes 'round
They sing: "I'm in love. What's that song?
I'm in love with that song."
---The Replacements, "Alex Chilton"

Alex Chilton, the man with the blue-eyed soul voice that hit the charts several times as a teen-age singer with The Box Tops and influenced countless indie artists via his work with Big Star, has died of a heart attack in New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of 59.

Chilton, born in music rich Memphis, Tennessee, rose to prominence as the weathered voice of The Box Tops, who hit the charts with a string of hits, including "The Letter," "Cry Like A Baby," "Soul Deep" and "Neon Rainbow." He was only 16 at the time.

After The Box Tops broke up in 1970, Chilton performed solo for a couple of years, learning to play guitar in the process. He then joined forces with a trio of musicians and formed the group Big Star. The three albums produced in the 1970s - #1 Record; Radio City; and Third/Sister Lovers - were all critically acclaimed but failed commercially, in part because their record distributor, Memphis' once mighty Stax, had fallen on financial hard times.

Chilton then began a polarizing solo career and eventually moved to New Orleans. At one point in the 1980s he worked a variety of jobs and stopped playing music publicly.

With the advent of the "alternative" movement in that decade, bands like Athens, Georgia's R.E.M. and Minneapolis' The Replacements started citing the influence of Chilton, particularly his work with Big Star. "It's a fork in the road that a lot of different bands stemmed from," Jeff Powell, a respected Memphis producer who worked on some of Chilton's records told The Commercial Appeal . "If you're drawing a family tree of American music, they're definitely a branch."

The cult of Big Star moved a little into the mainstream at the turn of the century. A reconfigured line-up toured throughout the decade. That 70's Show used the band's "In The Street" as its theme song. Rolling Stone named all three of the Big Star albums referenced above to its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And in September 2009, the box set Keep An Eye On The Sky was released by Rhino Records to critical acclaim.

Big Star had been scheduled to play Austin's SXSW Festival this Saturday.

17 March 2010

Ascending: 4 From Ireland

by Celtic Ray (TNOP Correspondent, County Clare)

Our periodic review of up-and-coming Irish music artists reveals four more contenders for your consideration:

The Holy Roman Army

Chris and Laura Coffey, a brother and sister team from Co. Carlow, are starting to make their mark. Their brand of trip-hop "indietronica" is quite affecting. Their self-produced 2009 CD, How The Light Gets In (Collapsed Adult), yielded some fine and interesting moments, in particular "Stagger Gently Home":

Now, The Holy Roman Army has stepped into the limelight again with an EP of covers titled Desecrations. But the pleasant surprise is the project is not your typical stop-gap between records. The song selection is inspired and the interpretations are truly unique, particularly Bon Iver's "Skinny Love." Even better, you can download all five tracks for free! A great little EP for the iPod.

And So I Watch You From Afar

Don't be surprised if this Belfast instrumental quartet breaks out after storming SXSW in Austin, Texas this week. ASIWYFA released its EP The Letters to local acclaim about a year ago and have been trekking across the UK and the Republic crafting their trade since with thrilling live shows, much to the delight of fans like BBC Radio 1. A lengthy tour of Europe will commence at the end of this month, starting in Dublin and Derry.

Adrian Crowley

Galway singer-songwriter Crowley rang the bell this past month when he was named recipient of the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year. Season of the Sparks is his fourth proper release and continues a soft, spell-binding style accented by deft playing of hollow-bodied electric guitar. Ryan Adams proclaimed in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2005 that Crowley was "one of the best songwriters no one's has heard of."

Lisa Hannigan

One of TNOP's favorite albums of 2009 was Hannigan's Sea Sew. (It was nominated for the Mercury Prize as well as the Choice Music Prize.) The Co. Meath multi-instrumentalist made her bones through her pivotal singing role on Damien Rice's classic O. The combination of Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone influences result in a winning style.

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

16 March 2010

A Theory To Completely Disregard

TNOP has mixed feelings every year around this time when the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inducts new members. Something having to do with suits cloistered in a private ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria. Anyway, here's our unsolicited take on the festivities this time around:

15 March 2010

Rock Monuments - Chelsea Hotel, New York

[Ed. note: Our UK music correspondent Miles Gallagher recently filed this entry from New York City.]

"I remember you well at the Chelsea Hotel" sang Leonard Cohen ("Chelsea Hotel No. 2"), ". . . in fact I'm tired of 23rd street, strung out like christmas lights, on these Chelsea Nights" sang former resident Ryan Adams ("Hotel Chelsea Nights"). In 1966, Warhol filmed "Chelsea Girls" there which served as the inspiration for Nico's album by nearly the same name. Janis Joplin had suite #411 (and a liason with Cohen who lived there for years). Bob Dylan had #2011. Of course, Sid and Nancy had #100. Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, and Arthur Miller were residents there. It goes on and on. See Cohen's excellent summary. I recommend a stay there, its reasonable, clean, cosmopolitan, one of the closest hotels to the Village, there is a subway stop on the corner, and most importantly it has a creative energy at its core. Maybe its the winding stairwell (left as payment), maybe its the funk of the casement windows, the singing in the hall, but it does have an energy.

Take a tour. This intrepid filmmaker provides a walk through right up to my room, She ultimately takes the door to the left; mine was the one on the right.


12 March 2010

Albums You Must Own (#10 in a series)

The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Velvet Underground & Nico (MGM/Verve 1967)

In rock circles, it is known far and away as the "most influential album that nobody ever purchased." Or maybe even listened to. (Can you think of number two? Off the top of my head, maybe Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights.)

But The Velvet Underground & Nico continues to cast a long shadow over the music landscape to this day. From the iconic Andy Warhol cover art to the controversial subject matter of some of its songs to the endless argument over the aesthetic value of Nico's voice, the album stays in the conversation.

Perhaps its best to try to put the work into the context of the times. While Warhol had created an artistic scene that would become legendary - painting, music, film, marketing, partying - New York City in the mid-1960s had a sense of foreboding. The West Coast was on the edge of The Summer of Love, while by 1968 a crazed hanger-on would almost kill Warhol. And NYC was hardly the center of the music world; Detroit, London, Memphis and even Los Angeles were more relevant at this point.

Into this weird breach steps The Velvet Underground, an ensemble probably no one could have dreamed up, even on paper: Lou Reed, an English literature student from Syracuse University; Welshman John Cale, classically trained viola player, influenced by musicians Erik Satie, John Cage and Aaron Copeland as well as the Fluxus movement; Maureen "Moe" Tucker, a former IBM keypunch operator who didn't start drumming until she was 19 years old (and then with quite an unconventional style); and Sterling Morrison, a guitar playing former classmate of Reed's who would later earn a PhD in medieval studies.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was recorded for a reported $1,500 in 1966 at NYC's run-down Scepter Studios. The acetate was rejected by Columbia, Atlantic and Elektra Records. Verve, a subsidiary of MGM, bought the rights in early 1967 and brought in newly acquired Tom Wilson (who had worked with Bob Dylan, among others, at Columbia) for post-production work. The album was released on 12 March 1967, without the benefit of any marketing push. Radio stations shied away from the record due to the controversial (at the time) subject matter of most of the lyrics. As a result, it sat at the bottom of the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and then disappeared without much notice.

The Night Owl did not really become familiar with The Velvet Underground & Nico until the early 1980s, when I became immersed in the solo works of Lou Reed. Even in the afterglow of the punk and new wave movements, the album was very lo-fi and, shall we say, odd upon first listens. The most identifiable tunes were those that Reed had claimed for himself: "Femme Fatale" and "Heroin." Since then, I've tried to revisit it every few years as a whole work. During that span of time, the record has garnered many critical accolades as "all-time" (Spin #1) and "best of" (Rolling Stone #13) and "most important" (NPR) lists have come into vogue.

Side One
1. "Sunday Morning" - A curious opener. The Reed/Cage composition was supposedly added after Tom Wilson became involved; indeed, the production is more slick than the other cuts on the album. This lazy swing melody with Reed's gentle vocal was issued as a single which went nowhere. It has since become recognizable for its use in soundtracks.
2. "I'm Waiting For The Man" - A stunning rock achievement penned by Reed, who also takes lead vocal. If there is any validity to the claim that Lou is the "Godfather of Punk," this song is Exhibit A. This four and a half minute novel on vinyl brings a truly unique beat and protagonist approach. The listener can feel himself in the shoes of the narrator, who is waiting to make his drug connection in Harlem.
3. "Femme Fatale" - Written by Reed from a male perspective (about model and Warhol "superstar" Edie Sedgwick?), Nico takes the reigns on this one. It will be the true test of the new listener as to how you feel about her voice. While I side with Reed's version later released on "best of" compilations, one cannot deny Nico's performance is arresting: kind of like Marlene Dietrich meets Lulu.
4. "Venus In Furs" - In which rock meets John Cale and the viola drone. The subject matter has been exhaustively discussed (a nod to a nineteenth century notorious novel). It's avant-gard psychedelia, but definitely not the multi-colored kaleidoscope popular in California clubs at the time: this is a creepy trip down in the S&M dungeon.
5. "Run Run Run" - While speculation on this song again has centered around the drug culture, no one mentions that it's basically a bar-house blues, with a freak-out guitar thrown in for effect.
6. "All Tomorrow's Parties" - Even a music festival takes its name from this title. One of Reed's earliest compositions, it was written before he started hanging out with Warhol's gang. The Byrds-ish jangly guitar line flows into a free form jazz style, fronted by an anthemic Nico vocal.

Side Two
7. "Heroin" - Flip over the record and go on a smack trip. A harrowing first-person account of an addict trying to "reach the kingdom" in order to "feel like Jesus' son." This sparse, original version of the noted song packs more emotional punch than any of the souped-up electric versions that Reed performed on stage in later years. Cale's crashing viola adds drama and climax (or is it denouement?).
8. "There She Goes Again" - Probably should have been a single. Seems to have been influenced by the British invasion.
9. "I'll Be Your Mirror" - Nico reappears as the album identified "chanteuse." A tender song from Reed that holds up well after all these years.
10. "The Black Angel's Death Song" - Clearly a nod by Reed to The Beats, who he has cited on many occasions as inspiration. Ambient noise is used to pepper the urgency of a poem sung by Reed in the style of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti.
11. "European Son" - Credited to the whole band, "Son" starts in a Dylanesque style and then evolves (devolves?) into an attack of alternately tuned sounds and feedback for its final five minutes. To these ears, the song is still barely accessible/listenable today. A curious closer, but could be a nod to Cale's admiration of John Cage and the Fluxus movement, which encouraged alternate ways of producing sound. But it seems nihilistic - do artists need that much time on vinyl to make their point?

Sure, it's a challenging, literate and thought provoking rock record. But Lou Reed didn't pander to his audience. In fact, he told an author that he thought joining gritty subject matter and music was a natural marriage: "That's the kind of stuff you might read. Why wouldn't you listen to it? You have the fun of reading that, and you get the fun of rock on top of it."

Over 43 years (!) later, The Velvet Underground & Nico still draws strong opinion amongst the music community. And isn't that a triumph for a record that was originally nothing more than an afterthought to critics, radio, rock enthusiasts and the music business?

10 March 2010

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 114]

b/w "Passing The Time"
Written by Robert Johnson
Produced by Felix Pappalardi
Atco Records 6646
Released July 1968

On 10 March 1968, the British "supergroup" Cream was at the end of a 10-night live stand in San Francisco at Winterland Ballroom (the band had also played a couple of nights at The Fillmore as well during this span). Captured on tape was arguably the greatest single live track in rock and roll history. But the man made internationally famous by the song, Eric Clapton, never liked to talk about it, and reportedly said the performance was inferior because the trio got the time disjointed a bit in his third solo chorus.

Cream (originally christened The Cream) consisted of Clapton on lead guitar, Jack Bruce on bass guitar and Ginger Baker on drums. Bruce assumed the great majority of lead vocal duties for the band; Cream had burst onto the scene with the smash single "Sunshine of Your Love" and the top five album Disraeli Gears in 1967. But from its inception, the focus had been on the blues and the band's unique "heavy" sound in transposing that traditional genre.

At Winterland on this particular night, Cream launched into "Crossroads," a staple of their set. The song was an amalgamation of "Cross Road Blues" and "Traveling Riverside Blues," both penned by legendary (and mysterious) bluesman Robert Johnson in the 1930s. While Clapton's guitar playing was already being lauded by fellow musicians and the average rock fan (the latter scrawling the now famous screed "Clapton Is God" on the walls of the London Underground), the young guitarist found Johnson's sound very hard to re-create, because it often sounded like more than one guitarist was playing. In Clapton: The Autobiography, he talks of Johnson's fingerpicking style that had him "simultaneously playing a disjointed bass line on the low strings, rhythm on the middle strings, and lead on the treble strings while singing at the same time."

Maybe the story of Johnson's deal with the devil at the crossroads rubbed off on Cream on stage, because they surely caught lightning in a bottle here. Listening to previous or subsequent live recordings of this song by the group, the level of ferocity of Cream never comes close to this single, later included on the double LP Wheels of Fire. Clapton takes the mike on lead (rare enough that Bruce - or is it Baker? - famously remarks at the end of the recording, "Eric Clapton, please . . . the vocal") and more notably fills the air with phenomenal guitar licks emanating from his solid body Gibson SG. But what is overlooked is the
incendiary bass playing of Bruce, at his very best here, keeping beat for beat with Clapton while Baker provides fills at every opportunity.

"Crossroads" was never released as a single in the UK. But it became a staple on the emerging underground FM scene when included on Wheels of Fire, which became the first platinum selling double album. It is the prototypical example of Clapton's genius on the live stage and the recording is always listed at the top of any lists of greatest live performances in rock history.

Listen to "Crossroads" here.

09 March 2010

MGMT Leaks Free Single

Brooklyn's Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, popularly known as MGMT, release their much anticipated follow up to Oracular Spectacular on 13 April via Columbia/Sony. This one's titled Congratulations. Asked to comment on influences, jovial Andrew cited Lady Gaga and the world economic crisis. But he added that the record would sound like "surfing on ecstasy."


Anyway, MGMT has leaked the first single, "Flash Delirium." You can sign up at their website and download the mp3 for free.

08 March 2010

Public Image Ltd. Reuniting For Tour

Out of the ashes of the punk scene in 1978 arose Public Image Ltd. (PiL), an avant-garde group if there ever was one. Led by John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), late of The Sex Pistols, and an interchangeable cast of players, the group sprayed various sonic influences all over a musical canvas for the next 15 years on a stop and start basis.

And looking back on PiL's career, that was exactly the point: not to be pinned down and identified with any particular genre. Of course, this type of approach won it only a small -albeit vociferous - fan base, because most listeners want more of the same on successive records, or at most a measured move away from a recognized sound. PiL played with Jamaican dub, industrial, Krautrock, drum and bass, and a number of other varied influences. In this age of obsession with labels - it's not good enough simply to be called a rock 'n roll band anymore - the only one that fits PiL would be "post-punk."

Anyway, after a hiatus since the early 1990s, Lydon has resurrected PiL, the time with Lu Edmonds, Scott Firth and Bruce Smith. The band played a handful of shows in the UK in December and now will embark on a tour of the US and Europe, starting with a prize appearance at Coachella on 16 April. And you can get a preview of the boys on 7 April when they appear on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Hit or miss, TNOP was always fascinated with the band and the free form it adopted on record, obviously at the expense of popularity on the music scene. But as Lydon likes to say, "Let's not get too excited about it all. It's just entertainment."

04 March 2010

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 113]

Morning Child
Produced by Dego & Marc Mac
Raw Canvas Records
Released 29 January 2007

Here's an irresistible pop confection that hit the charts hard in the UK but only made a blip in the States. 4hero is an electronic music collective from North London that has been producing records since the late 1980s. The leaders are Mark "Marc Mac" Clair and Dennis "Dego" McFarlane. This drum and bass crew cycles vocalists through their work resulting usually in danceable grooves.

"Morning Child" is no exception. The ringer on this record is Carina Andersson, who sounds like she's channeling a post-Motown Diana Ross. The lyrics are simple, celebrating the wonder of a new child entering the world and the promise it always brings. The beat is solid and the tune soars, staying with you to the end of the three and a half plus running time. It's a great song to blast in the car, one that can always bring a smile and tapping fingers on the steering wheel, mimicking the drum line.

Aretha Franklin Film To Be Released - 38 Years Later

On January 12 & 13, 1972, Aretha Franklin entered the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles and sang spirituals, just as the "Queen of Soul" had done since she was a youngster growing up in Detroit. The result was the double album Amazing Grace, which is still the biggest selling gospel record of all-time (it went double platinum and won a Grammy in 1972).

Given the box office success of Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, Warner Brothers (owners of Aretha's label, Atlantic Records) was keen on producing a documentary of the performances. The studio hired a young director named Sydney Pollack for the job. Pollack was an up-and-comer in the film game, with They Shoot Horses, Don't They? to his credit.

Footage was captured by Pollack and three other cameramen and the job of editing was set to begin when Warners pulled the plug on the project, claiming audiences would not turn out for such secular subject matter.

More than 20 hours of film was vaulted away for 38 years. Only snippets have been seen by the public at large (in an "American Masters" episode on PBS in 1988). Pollack tried to have the project resurrected a number of times, as did famed Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler. Both passed away over the last two years.

Fortunately, Pollack - who would go on to be an Academy Award winning director - left copious notes with regard to the 16mm footage, and the end result will be soon released on DVD, labeled "a film by Sydney Pollack." Noted author David Ritz (who co-wrote Aretha's autobiography and also authored the definitive biography of Marvin Gaye) has apparently seen most of the canisters of film. "It's the perfect music, an artist at her height, everybody there to make her feel confident and loved, the music of her childhood and the encouragement of the African-American church," says Ritz. He reports that Rev. Alexander Hamilton is seen conducting the gospel choir and is accompanied on the piano by his boss, the gospel giant Rev. James Cleveland. In the audience is Aretha's father, Rev. C. L. Franklin and her mentor, Clara Ward. And Mick Jagger is in one of the pews clapping along.

The song selections are mainly spiritual standards, with a couple of modern compositions (Gaye's "Wholy Holy" and Carole King's "You've Got A Friend").

Hamilton says he's happy the film may finally be released: "Maybe because it's history now. Here is one of the most famous artists in the world, as she was then, doing something that nobody had ever done, or has really done since. So I think the film is going to find a wider audience, not just because of its gospel roots, but because of its historical value."

No release date as of yet, but here is the trailer to Amazing Grace. We dare you to sit still.

03 March 2010

The Morning Papers

TNOP brings the news to your front doorstep . . .

NPR Music is streaming the new Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach. We're a couple of spins through and its true to the groove. While there doesn't appear to be a song like "Feel Good Inc." or "Clint Eastwood" that immediately catches the ear, the Lou Reed tune, "Some Kind of Nature," is especially cool. And you can also check out 2D, Murdoc and Noodles being pursued by Bruce Willis in the video for the first single, "Stylo." Where's Russel? Stay tuned.

On May 18, Universal Music will reissue one of the most critically acclaimed rock records of all time, The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street. The new package will include four never heard tunes produced by Jimmy Miller, Don Was and The Glimmer Twins (Mick & Keef).

Brooklyn's Yeasayer played Brighton Digital in the UK on Monday night. The Guardian reviews.

Clarence Greenwood a/k/a Citizen Cope talks with Jim DeRogatis in advance of his sold-out show in Chicago this coming Friday at The Vic.

The Morning Benders, a three piece outfit from Berkeley, California, have warmed up for some significant indie acts (Grizzly Bear, The Kooks and Ra Ra Riot, to name a few) over the past couple of years. Now they may be on the verge of breaking out with their pending CD Big Echo. You can stream the whole album over at Muzzle of Bees. And the band lets you download their Phil Spector Wall of Sound influenced opening track, "Excuses," for free at their website.

Baltimore pop duo Beach House celebrate their latest release Teen Dream with an interview and mini-set on the World Cafe.

This Saturday night The Avett Brothers play a sold-out gig at The Riverside in Milwaukee. No tickets? Hear the show live on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

If you've been a reader of this blog, you know our affinity for soul giant Bill Withers. Now the latest issue of The New Yorker profiles him.

Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot submits to a Q&A with Connect Savannah.

The Choice Music Prize is Ireland's annual bow to the best pop music on the Emerald Isle. The Irish Times gives us a run-down on all the nominees and sets the odds of winning, as well.

Finally, The Band's multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Richard Manuel passed away 15 years ago today. In gracious memory of his extraordinary talent, listen to his lead on "Tears of Rage" at Woodstock in 1969. The footage is rare and quite coarse, but it's worth it. As Levon Helm put it, ". . . once he got started, man: drums, piano, play it all, sing, do a lead in one of them high, hard-assed keys to sing in. Richard just knew how a song was supposed to go. Structure, melody; he understood it."

01 March 2010

David Byrne Tour Doc To Premiere

In 2008, David Byrne & Brian Eno released one of the year's most critically praised albums, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Byrne - but not Eno - undertook a lengthy tour in support of the CD, highlighting his body of work with the ex-Roxy Music/producer extraordinaire as well as Talking Heads compositions.

Now a documentary of the tour preparation and live dates entitled Ride, Rise, Roar, directed by David Hillman Curtis, is to premiere in Austin at the SXSW Festival in March. The trailer for the film can be viewed here; behind the scenes stuff and Eno himself seem to be a part of it all. The inevitable echoes of Stop Making Sense will most likely fill many articles about the new documentary, but given Byrne's talent for expressing himself in various media it will be surprising if this movie is simply a drab chronicling of the tour. After all, he's already weighed in with an entertaining yarn on time spent on his two-wheeler in between various whistle stops.

With this news, TNOP has an excuse to play its Best Song of 2008: