Saturday, July 14, 2018

One Hit Wonder No More, No. 4: Bruce Channel, Hey! Baby

Pronunciation guide.
Yeah, you’ve got it. It is pronounced “sha NEL.” Of course that’s how you’d say it.

On the other hand, Bruce Channel, individual, sounds like he plays very much against that type over the course of one long, undated, and just fun interview I read. It covers a lot of ground - e.g., from the rock ‘n’ roll scene in late 1950s east Texas (he hails from a town called Grapevine) to his original manager, Major Bill Smith, and his fixation on Elvis Presley still being alive - and Channel comes off equal parts humble and charming through it all. It also offers a remarkable history of how music got made and promoted at the time, up to and including how Channel and Delbert McClinton, the musical partner he stumbled into in Major Bill’s studio, played with The Beatles when they were small enough to “open” for Bruce Channel. That was back in 1962,when they still had Pete Best on drums. (For what it’s worth, Channel floats a couple theories on why they let go of Best, one probably true, the other with a wink.)

If there’s one anecdote/myth that seems to keep coming up across what I’m reading about Channel and McClinton, it’s the story about John Lennon “learning everything he knows” about the harmonica from McClinton. Channel laughed that off as a joke McClinton tells, but the statement McClinton puts on it a separate (and also fascinating) interview puts it plainly enough to feel accurate:

“John did mention to me that he was inspired by ‘Hey! Baby.’ Of course, it's hard to show anybody anything on a harmonica. But later, he told someone I showed him everything he knew. Just like anything, it gets romanticized.”
Just to note it, if I could share a beer and a conversation with only one of Channel and McClinton, it wouldn’t be an easy choice, but leaning McClinton. He had the better connections overall. And the name of his original band? The Straitjackets. That one would still fly.

The two songs by The Beatles McClinton’s “harp” playing inspired were the parts of, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.” (You don’t get the harmonica in the live performance of “Please Please Me” that I dug up, but you do get to see The Beatles play live, if with muddle audio.) Both men clearly admire and marvel at how the enormity of The Beatles, and the way they talk about it shows how well they understand the distance between them and the Liverpool legends (McClinton’s quick revelries about being a small-town Texas kid in London are worth the glance). All the same, they had some sense of the life of an overnight sensation.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

One Hit Wonder No More, No. 3: Frankie Ford, Sea Cruise

Could have been this chain? Also, who cares?
“’He was playing this schmaltz stuff in a bar. We requested “Alimony,” which is one of his songs he hadn't played in years. He was overjoyed. He stopped playing and came and talked to us. And we were thrilled.”
- Jimmy Plant, yes that one
The name Frankie Ford barely makes a ripple in pop culture waters at this point (even asked my parents), and most people who know his most famous song, “Sea Cruise,” might only know it as a jingle in a Red Lobster commercial. The restaurant could have been Skippers, or some other seafood cuisine joint, but I can’t remember, and I think there’s a little justice in that. The thought of a raunchy rock legend like Plant “thrilling” (his word) on meeting Ford finishes that thought to: whether they respect the music or the performance, I always get a kick out of stories like that. It’s not just the bond between artists, it’s also how weird they get. It even carries through to The Clash.

The two obituaries I read for Ford note the same thing, only without saying it outright: Ford never stopped working. To extrapolate a little from a line in the obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picuyane (“[Ford] held down regular gigs at the Ivanhoe, the Backstage 500 Club, the Gateway, his own club at Toulouse and Bourbon, and finally Lucky Pierre's, presiding over a lounge-style act peppered by risque one-liners.”), Ford's world shrank a bit after “Sea Cruise” shoved him onto the national stage, and quite a bit. Still, the man played American Bandstand, aka, The Big Time, at least once, sure as that’s Dick Clark pitching a pack of gum in the intro.

All that said, there’s a wart in this story and there’s no point talking around it. To preface it, I lifted this out of The New York Times’ obituary:
“In the late 1950s, [Ford] came to the attention of New Orleans record producers and label owners who were keen to craft “teen idols” - white singers who might tap into a larger market than what was available to black rhythm & blues singers.”
I wasn’t in the relevant rooms, so I won’t declare that Frankie Ford climbed another man’s ladder back to get to his big break, but just the history of rock ‘n’ roll, in general (outlined above), makes a pretty good case that I should be talking about Huey “Piano” Smith right now. There could be more to the story, absolutely - during his induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame at Baton Rouge (LMHOF BTR), Ford explained this as a touring issue (i.e., Smith didn’t travel, whereas Ford did) - and Smith’s Wikipedia page doesn’t make any reference to him leaving Louisiana. It also doesn’t mention any hang-ups about traveling, but it does note that Smith had two more gold records than Ford, so draw whatever conclusions from that that most brighten your day, I guess.

Monday, June 11, 2018

One Hit Wonder No More, No. 2 (Well...): The Monotones and "The Book of Love"

"Just this hit, not one fuckin' more." (True story.)
When I started this series with Bobby Day, it felt like I was really on to something. Day, as it happened, had enjoyed a long, storied career, and on top of floating two-three bona fide hits into the pop culture ether. Bob & Earl, The Hollywood Flames, shows at the Apollo Theater, all the way across the country from his Los Angeles base of ops.

It’s the opposite with The Monotones. The one hit they had - “The Book of Love” - was massive. Possessed with the cultural stickiness of, say, Soft Cell's “Tainted Love,” The Monotones’ takes people back to their youth, almost physically with the way they tell it. And it sounds all kinds of 50s, of course, the clean, signature-swing back-beat of doo-woop, nice tempo, nice, polite vocals: it’s a step away from radio standards, but not a huge one, not yet. “Novelty” was a word that I kept coming across when reading up on the band, and that fits “The Book of Love.” It riffs off a conceit about books; one chapter of a book in one couplet, another chapter in the next. (Then again, when have I never shit on Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book”?)

My point is, it’s the song of a generation by way of nostalgia, not content. The earth moved under no one’s feet, and not a single mind got blown by The Monotones 2:18 of pop confetti. It’s a fun tune, though, an easy sing-along (that’s four parts to vibe with, minimum), and with good, clean lyrics that absolutely no one but a moral maniac could object to.

And that’s where the (mild) tragedy kicks in (c’mon, they had their 15). All the half-dozen sites I found on The Monotones hit the same anecdotes: the story of how Charles Patrick came up with the song (toothpaste commercial), the brick coming through the window at the recording session, called back forever more with the bass-drum kick before “who wrote the book of love” of the opening. Those stories get less interesting each and every time you read it, and that’s the kicker: the “happy” for this band ends, more or less, with “The Book of Love.”

Before dragging through the dirt, it’s worth taking a detour into how they arrived. A famous church choir (wait for it) and a housing project threw together the seven members of The Monotones: Patrick, Warren Davis, George Malone, Frankie Smith, John Ryanes, and Warren Ryanes. The Housing Project was Baxter Terrace, which mattered more to those seven young men than it does to history, but the choir was the New Hope Baptist Choir directed by Cissy Houston, yes, mother to Whitney Houston, aunt to Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick (and, having been raised Lutheran, I understand the concept of “directing” a choir, but without thinking I’ve actually seen it). I grew up on those names, and it’s possible I could have hummed “The Book of Love” by the time I reached 30, but attaching that song to The Monotones and naming even one member? There’s no way in Hell I could have done that. And that’s the rest of the story…

Monday, June 4, 2018

Playlust May 2018: A Monument to My Enthusiasms

Just five minutes of your time. That's all I need.
One can become a victim of his own enthusiasm. When I really like a band or an artist, I really like them. More on that shortly…

I’ve flailed in the shallow end a bit during a multi-faceted transition on how I handle a variety of projects, both on this site and elsewhere. Happily, the outline for these Playlust posts/playlists is coming together reasonably well. Moreover, I have a break coming up that will give still more space for a mental reset/readjustment on what’s feasible.

Back enthusiasm and having too much of it: I’ve spent around two months now with three artists/five projects in fairly heavy rotation: from the Sadie Dupuis Universe, there was Speedy Ortiz and more Speedy Ortiz/Sad13; after starting with Jeff Rosenstock’s epic Worry., I checked back (just last night) to Bomb the Music Industry! (and more Rosenstock solo); finally, I lost whatever shit I had left over on Low Cut Connie, on which I passed on some notes in April's Playlust post. [ed. - All the links in those sentences go back to earlier posts on each of those artists, which include steadily improving notes and links to just a fuck-ton of songs - enjoy!] I can’t say if it’s related, but the traffic around just about everything I do online has tapered off during the same period time and, while I’m not celebrating that or anything, these bands/people hardly swim huge laps in the zeitgeist. All the same, growing up loving soccer and punk rock sort of inoculated me against people having no interest in the things I love. On a related note, I should also link to my post on Bobby Day and The Hollywood Flames, the first of the One Hit No More series that I hope/plan to keep moving forward through the year.

When I built this “week’s” playlist (I am so fucking far out of sync), I wound up sending some real favorites by all those acts to the cutting room - and that broke my damn heart (those include, in no relevant order, “Montreal” by Low Cut Connie, Sad13’s “Line Up,” and “Can’t Complain” by Bomb the Music Industry!). Given the intensity of the fandom, 16 songs of 40 total feels pretty dang restrained…so back off.

As for the rest, some choices came harder than others. For instance, Cold War Kids’ “First” slots into the same space as everything by, say, Tom Petty: I hear it often enough on the radio (that I don't listen to...wtf?) that I don’t really need it on a playlist no matter how much I like it (a surprising amount, honestly). Other acts - here, I’m thinking Sloucher and Skating Polly - I wound up liking literally just one song from all the stuff I sampled. That includes “Certainty” (augh! what's with that moon?) by the former and “Queen for a Day” by the latter - and you can tell which one I liked better by which one stuck to the final playlist (it’s down below, along with the link...drum roll…). I can’t see myself going back to either band, really, but I still like dropping names in these posts in case other people connect with them.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

One Last Pick Through the Bins Volume 56: Bomb Rosenstock, A Mash-Up of Modern Punk Legend

An image for "play within a play." I feel good about it.
A couple Thursday back, Jeff Rosenstock - now playing under his own name, but formerly from Bomb the Music Industry! (BtMI!, going forward) - came to Portland, and that allowed me to wrap up an accidental cycle on him (started with this post), and his remarkable career.

More than anything else, I got the chance to see Rosenstock and Co. play live at Portland’s Aladdin Theater. For those who haven’t been there, that’s a physically quirky venue and interesting for it, but not the best venue either; it’s worth going there, in other words, just to see the shape of the thing and imagine about all the ways it could work better. Also, if you ever do attend a show at the Aladdin, try to sit up close next to the fire aisle. So long as there’s a big enough crowd, a show within the show plays out there, a drama of people trying to get into a throbbing mosh pit, only not too deep, and with the security staff (patient people, generally) making darting, flashlight raids to keep that aisle clear.

That didn’t become much of a problem until Jeff Rosenstock took the stage, because most people stayed back for opening act, Great Grandpa. (Just to note it, I gave them one album test drive twice before the show; they were good on stage, the album might grow on me, but it hasn’t yet, and I’m distracted, etc.) The place filled in fast once Rosenstock took the stage, especially the open, yet cramped space in front of the stage. The song he started with (could be wrong, but I remember), “You, in Weird Cities,” set the tempo for the set surely as cruise control. Even when he came around to a song like “9/10,” the set still barreled forward. Momentum is a powerful thing and Rosenstock juiced the mosh-pit blender over and over. (That said, I still get a kick out of seeing a mosh-pit gradually lose interest; check the time on “USA” to see how that happens.)

A close friend of mine talked about seeing Ozzy Osbourne play once at the Rose Garden (yeah, back then), sometime in the early 2000s, if I remember right (probably not). The first thing he talked about when I asked about the show was how happy Ozzy was to be on stage performing. That’s Jeff Rosenstock too. He looked positively giddy up there, a laughing, joking bouncing ball of 35-year-old energy; it just looks like the time of his life, and that’s contagious. The sincerity doesn’t hurt either; as an artist, Rosenstock feels as open and inviting as the biggest, most glowing wrap-around porch in human history, and I suspect that’s another part of his appeal. For instance, a young woman who kept coming in and out of the fire aisle near me (stage left, looking from the stage) went through a series of massively emotional moments that night - tears ‘n’ ecstasy, about one half hour apart, and all of it unloading on the same friend, who held her through more than one set of sobs. All in all, seeing Jeff Rosenstock live feels a lot like an enthusiastic, thoroughly sincere hug; I think the same thing goes for most of the music he put out, both as a solo artist and with his middle act, BtMI!

I guess it’s here that I acknowledge that The Arrogant Sons of Bitches just never floated my boat…

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

One Hit Wonder No More, No. 1: Bobby Day, Rockin' Robin


Bobby Day got top billing on the Google search. Yay.
The concept beyond this latest series of posts is the thought that inspired this whole damn site. Hope any and all visitors enjoy it!

As someone who suffers from #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) just a little more than the next guy, the simple existence of the One-Hit Wonder just doesn’t sit right with me. I mean, sure, that’s the most famous song, but it can’t be the only one. Right? With this series, I look beyond the one slim hit that made a bunch of one-hit artists famous to see what else they tried (hoped?) to put into the world. The candidates come from (where else?) a Wikipedia page devoted to these artists and I’ll be using Spotify for the research.

Love it or hate it, Spotify definitely made me a little crazy. But I digress…

This edition’s featured artist is Bobby Day, born Robert James Byrd, 1930, in the greater Fort Worth, Texas metropolitan area. My Wikipedia source material lists “Rockin’ Robin” as Day’s signature hit, but finding a couple other famous songs didn’t surprise me either. Later versions of each would later eclipse his originals, but Day got big enough to play at least a couple decent, miles-out-of-market gigs with a handful of artists whose names stuck to their songs for the long haul - e.g., The Penguins, with “Earth Angel.” He enjoyed a decade-plus career in the Los Angeles music scene on top of that, bouncing between this act and that - typically as the starring member - and those famous songs are truly his, down to the authorship on two of them. Just not “Rockin’ Robin.”

I’d call that a good run, a nice start to this series, and the spirit I want to capture. With that, here’s Bobby Day…

Day ditched Texas for Los Angeles fame at the young age of 15, which, to date him, coincides with the last year of World War II. For most of his career, he came in and out of an act called The Hollywood Flames, but he had a complicated relationship with that anchor act. The group approached fame in a remarkably “throw-it-at-the-wall” spirit, with a notable number of name changes* and creative alliances that shifted as other performers came in and flew out of The Hollywood Flames’ orbit. (*These included, not just complete changes in name to The Turks, The Jets, and The Sounds, but also little switch-ups that looked designed to tweak the marketing - e.g., Bobby Day & the Satellites when Day led the group, or Earl Nelson & The Pelicans, when his future collaborator in Bob & Earl, Earl (duh) Nelson took lead vocals). Day stayed near enough to the top of that shifting pile to record a couple dozen songs as a solo artist - and those include Day’s most famous numbers.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Playlust, May 2018 Week 2: Bumbershoot, No Festival for Old Men

Shows never look like this for me. I can't help it.
What do you say about music festival you’re virtually certain you wouldn’t enjoy? I have some thoughts…

First, my concept of Seattle’s Bumbershoot Musical Festival (is it? Yep!) never left the 1990s; that seems relevant. Not that I paid much attention to it when I lived there (never went), but, you say “Bumbershoot,” I say, “rock festival.” And even that’d be sloppy. More than anything else, I imagine Bumbershoot as standing around on a really hot day while listening to 12-15 solid hours of KNRK.

This week made a mockery of not just that idea, it also gave some sense as to the distance between me and…just that. It’s not that I don’t know any names in the line-up (for reference) - I’d call it about a dozen, give or take - but I only know, say, four-five  acts, I have no interest based on what I know of, say, six of them, and, that I really hate The Chainsmokers, and that Fleet Foxes have always bored the shit out of me. I blew those acts off - especially, the four-five bands I like, because I’ll get to them later - and spent the last week focusing on, oh, nearly all the roster. To name the place where time ran out and/or my legs gave out, I’d put it between Ripe and Wimps.

The rest of this post, before the playlist at least, I’ll talk about the kinds of sounds I heard amongst all those names. After that, I’ll name the five new artists that I liked most…needless to say, most of them showed up in the smaller font areas. Never been a main-stage kinda guy…

First, or rather second (first is up above), a couple-KNRK/KNRK adjacent acts did make the stage. Cold War Kids definitely make the KNRK cut, that’s the only reason I’ve heard them, but a couple acts sounded like they could get there, even if they haven’t yet - e.g., lovelytheband (this song, pretty sure I’ve heard it) and AJR (this song, who sound enough like 21 Pilots, c’mon). Still, the genre(s) I heard most included stuff I’d lump in as EDM, (or some offshoot, and for lack of alternatives), chill-era R&B, or a combination of those two sounds, as they’ve evolved into this year (and well before...so behind). In so many words, and based on a (very) loose understanding, the kids are depressed, so even their love songs sounds like that. A cool, spare digitized sound dominates, even the treble notes on the super-poppy stuff have a dusting of frost on them (thinking someone like Tinashe, there, this song). I’d put Elderbrook (this song, and its several remixes…did I note how I touched on all these bands?*) closer to the center of what I heard - which is to say, straight-up pop music still struggles to make the stage at Bumbershoot, only without that big a gap between them. An act/dude called Lane 8 probably topped my list of the stuff I read as straight EDM (or offshoot genre; this song), and only one act/dude - Towkio - made my final playlist. A little funk helps, just sayin’…