Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dave Clark Five - At The Scene

(Epic, 1966)

“At the Scene” is basically a better, heavier “I Like it Like That.” Sure, the last line of the chorus has the obnoxious sound of an advertising jingle (or “King of the Road”?!), but the super-dense mix of keys/sax/guitar, that ever-present thumpa-thumpa on the drums, and the particularly raunchy vocals more than compensate for any simpleminded songwriting. This is a good one: hedonistic, egalitarian, direct, catchy, a fist-pumping beat… Holy Moses, it’s like Andrew W.K. 35 years early! THAT’S NOT EVEN A JOKE! And on the B-side we get “I Miss You,” or, as I like to call it, “This Boy,” by The Beatles. Zing! Jeepers creepers, they’re not even trying to disguise the similarity. I give you an F for eFfort, fellas. At least make a half-assed attempt to cover up your copycat-ism!

Hey, while we’re all here talking about the Dave Clark Five, can I ask whether Rick Huxley was REALLY married to Sharon Osbourne? Wikipedia says so, but the suspicious lack of sources claiming this elsewhere on the internet – not to mention no appearance of the word “Huxley” in her autobiography – makes me think that this “fact” might not be true. Much as I’d love to establish a DC5-Black Sabbath connection, I suspect this isn’t going to be it. What say you, public?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dave Clark Five - Over And Over

(Epic, 1965)

This was the Dave Clark Five’s only American number-one hit?! I guess hard-hitting gangsta-pop like “Catch Us If You Can” was too menacing for the drooling public, and so only watered-down, brain-dead nonsense like “Over and Over” – which features a far limper version of the “Catch Us” chorus’s classic drum lead-in – was destined to make it to the top. Seriously, this is some Herman’s Hermits-style tripe, more annoying than catchy, and that awful nasal warbling sounds nothing like the rockin’ bellow that has served the band so well elsewhere – it practically resembles the guy from the fucking Gentrys, fer cripes sake. Thankfully, “Over and Over” isn’t on any of the regular studio albums, so you don’t have to worry about its sock-hop nursery-rhyme silliness befouling your next DC5 LP purchase (though it is on the otherwise fine Greatest Hits). “I’ll Be Yours (My Love)” is a gutsier, piano-driven love song that, aside from the outstanding vocal, feels clunky and skeletal, but it’s at least an improvement over the A-side. Man, call it a crime that such a lousy single was slipped into such an attractive picture sleeve.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dave Clark Five - Catch Us If You Can

(Epic, 1965)

“Catch Us If You Can” is the Dave Clark Five doing everything right, with swinging, finger-popping verses exploding into a rave-up chorus that sticks in the head for decades. Those gunshot drums are king, but credit for the overall excitement is also owed to the surprise harmonica solo and Mike Smith’s simple but texturally important keyboard playing. It’s a wild song, and even the lyrics see the band in a surprisingly defiant mood, snottily challenging us – or, rather, some larger, unhip “them” – to try our darndest to keep up with da boyz. This makes sense, as the film from which this comes, Having a Wild Weekend, looks to be a Hard Day’s Night rip intended to establish the DC5’s Youth Culture bona fides (while raking in a ton o’ dough). True to the fellas’ clean-cut, play-it-safe form, however, the plot synopsis printed on the back of the soundtrack LP promises that that message of rockin’ teen rebellion will be sold out in the end as “all realize you can’t run away from life’s responsibilities.” OOF! Dave! Wotta gut punch! Anyway, on the B-side, sheets of hot saxXx dominate the surfy hotrod-isms of “On the Move,” an anachronistic instrumental that’s still scorching enough to earn its place on this wholly wonderful disc. Both songs are on the parent soundtrack, though, so feel free to skip this taster and go right for the full meal. Myself, I’ve eaten six copies of Having a Wild Weekend today alone, and boy are my insides bloody. Yum!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dave Clark Five - I Like It Like That

(Epic, 1965)

Hoorah! A rocker! A big beat, some sax a-blowin’, and gritty lead vocals! But: “I Like it Like That” has a lunkheaded, early-’60s frat-rock feel to it and – despite the hilariously balls-out performance from our buddy Mike Smith on the mic – has never been my favorite song, its American rawkiness coming off rather awkwardly in the DC5’s hands. It’s also worth noting that its release as a single in 1965, while other popular British bands were making serious leaps forward with their music, is a pretty good indication of why the Dave Clark Five wasn’t destined to remain a top-tier contender for too much longer; thing’s borderline regressive. But hey, I don’t want to be too hard on these guys for failing to be(come) pretentious eggheads… it’s honestly a fun, raw song, and it has a poppier B-side (“Hurting Inside,” an original from Weekend in London) that balances the band’s soft and loud sides better than most of its other ballads. “I Like it Like That” was the hit, but there’s no reason “Hurting Inside” couldn’t have been an A-side and a chart winner on its own.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dave Clark Five - Come Home

(Epic, 1965)

Reckon a light bulb went on in Dave Clark’s noggin when he saw the smash-crash-yippee success of the group’s previous ballad, as here are two more slow’uns that are clearly in the mold of “Because.” Again, they’re perfectly inoffensive radio confections with Beatle-inspired vocal harmonies and a whiff of DC5 pep in the upfront bass/percussion. Pleasant. Sweet. Forgettable. I think that one of the biggest problems with these love songs is that they de-emphasize Mike Smith’s great rock ’n’ roll voice, which is a shame since his howlin’ was always a chief strength for the band. The mini-crescendos in “Come Home” do allow him a few bluesy cries, but it’s frustrating to hear him have to rein it in on such singles, particularly on castrated pop candy like “Your Turn to Cry.”

Both songs, by the way, are taken from Weekend in London, an album birthed in such a spirit of artistic purity that it is named for the grand prize offered (in 1965) to the winner of Revlon’s “Natural Wonder Swingstakes” contest. No kidding.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dave Clark Five - Because

(Epic, 1964)

The Dave Clark Five’s recording career overlapped neatly with that of the Beatles, and while they didn’t have the genius or the savvy to evolve in any radical or especially satisfying sense over the course of their 12 American albums, the formula they employed for most of their hit singles was an exciting and distinctive one. A heavy drum stomp and blasts of saxophone set the DC5 apart from other prominent British Invasion acts, and blaring early records like “Glad All Over,” “Catch Us If You Can,” and “Having a Wild Weekend” whip up a teenybop frenzy like nobody’s biz. Check out one of their best-of LPs; this is one of those bands where, as the record plays, you realize you already know pretty much all of the songs from oldies radio. So good work, Dave Clark Five, even if there are whispers going ’round about who actually did or didn’t write what, and who actually did or didn’t play what, and who actually did or didn’t get paid for what! But never mind all that for now.

“Because,” from the American Tour album, shows that the business-minded Dave Clark wasn’t just a master at (allegedly) screwing his songwriting buddies out of great rock ’n’ roll songs, he could also (allegedly) screw ’em out of great ballads, as well. This sensitive, for-luvbirds-only number is the “If I Fell” to the band’s usual “She Loves You” fare, and even features the string-soaked, soundtracky instrumental “Theme Without a Name” (recycled from the …Return LP) on the B-side to further please parents everywhere. Naturally – OK, deservedly – it was a big hit (and there is a nice snap to the drum-sound), but I’ve always felt that “Because” would sit more comfortably in the Peter & Gordon catalog than it does alongside the DC5’s heavy-pop bread-n-butter, as it’s of a piece with Brit Invasion ballads like “World Without Love.” And while that’s fine, and I can’t fault the band for displaying another facet, it’s just not what I’m looking for when I buy a Dave Clark Five record… gimme the beat and the shouting and the loudness!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Child Molesters - Surfing With The Child Molesters

(Sympathy For The Record Industry, 1994)

Awright, here’s one I’m not too crazy about. “Pray For Surf” is a twangy midtempo surf number laced with mildly dirty double entendres (spoken not sung) that fail to bust any guts on the strength of delivery or wit. It’s a snoozer, a groaner. Why the label decided to pluck this weakling from the so-so Legendary Brown Album LP – a record whose recording date, like that of this single, is unclear – and release it as a 7” is a mystery for the ages… thing just doesn’t do right by the Child Molester legacy. Nor does the exclusive cover of “Muscle Beach Party” on the B; while it’s entertaining to hear the band take on those high backing vocals, the recording is respectful enough of the saccharine original to effectively reduce the group to a bunch of competent hacks fronted by a guy who sings in a funny voice. None of the confrontational verve or expectations-trashing musical creativity of which the Child Molesters were quite capable is in evidence on “Surfing With,” and it’s fair to wonder if this is the sound of the barrel being scraped. Skip ’er.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Child Molesters - So Fucked Up

(Sympathy For The Record Industry, 1989)

SFTRI blesses us with a blue-vinyl double-set of four (count ’em) hotfuzz Child Molester recordings from 1978, plus a chained nudie on the cover as an extra bonus. It’s extreme anti-social goofing across the board on danceable punk-bop hits like “I’m So (Fucked Up)” and “13 is My Lucky Number,” the latter probably taking the crown for being r-n-r’s all-time catchiest and least-subtle ode to statutory get-down. Disc two was actually released as the second CM single in 1979, and despite its lyrical focus on violence (songs: “I’m Gonna Punch You (in the Face)” and “(I Wanna See Some) Wholesale Murder”), there’s surprisingly less musical muscle here – especially on “Punch” – as the lyrics and melodies carry the songs to a greater extent than usual; heavy rhythms and weird guitar queasiness aren’t lugging the load they normally do. The songwriting is thumbs-up strong, though, so don’t fret (& the solos are nice). All four sides are crazed, hooky, distorted, funny, and inappropriate, just as they should be… The aim is to shock and piss off, but these swastika-wearing perverts make music that’s just too doggone lovably entertaining to cold-shoulder, like a rougher, artier Ramones that couldn’t care less about the charts. Won’t you invite this record into your home today, and set a place of honor for it at your ear-table? Please?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Child Molesters - Diary Of Madness

(Ace & Duce, 1985)

Charming young Los Angelinos with LAFMS ties, the Child Molesters turned out an impressively nasty body of work that was uncompromising in its unpleasantness, if of uneven quality. The “Diary of Madness” / “Espionage” single came out of the band’s final sessions and was posthumously released as a 7” in ’85, three years after it was recorded. More of an emphasis on heavy, doomy rhythms here, as opposed to the slightly lighter/punkier touch on earlier material. There’s also a bleakness to the lyrical content that contrasts with the I-could-give-a-fuck smirks of records past; funtime was over for the Child Molesters, I suppose. No matter. Farren Foreceps’ bluesy rawk-growl (half Beefheart, half Michael Gerald) provides more menace and greater power than most rabblerousing punkers could ever hope for, while the wobbly guitar-crunch is a sickeningly unique take on heavyosity. And is that a bass version of the Peanuts theme bubbling underneath “Diary of Madness”?! Like all the CM singles (tho not the LP), it’s worth every second you spend locating it, and every cent you spend buying it. This is what I always wished Pere Ubu sounded like, whatever that means.

Wiseguys will want to find a copy of Forced Exposure #12 (Summer 1987), which has a three-page overview of the Molesters’ career, including a Dennis Duck interview, a discography, and a transcript of a 1980 radio appearance wherein the band repeatedly begs for little girlies to call in. An educational must-have.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chicago Cubs - The Chicago Cubs Sing

(Chess, 1969)

A handful of
Chicago Cubs step up to the mic for a soulful little rocker about the team’s chances in ’69, and, gosh bless ’em, the thing ain’t half bad. In fact, I’ll give “Pennant Fever” a hearty recommendation for being by far the least embarrassing combination of sports and music that I’ve ever heard. And though that compliment sounds backhanded (the sports/music bar being pretty fruggin’ low), this single really IS a fun piece of music that transcends its natural haw-haw novelty status on every front. Yeah, it’s just a baseball-centric rewrite of “Fever,” but the singing is respectable, the backing is some exciting piano-driven jump biz, and the canned crowd noise that gets dropped in from time to time sounds more like explosions of Who-style feedback. Do I love this song? I THINK I JUST MIGHT! Sheesh, even the instrumental B-side, “Slide,” shocks with its funky organ tootling. Don’t forget the sleeve, either: Seven square-looking Cubs in street clothes are gathered in the studio, armed with lyric sheets and beer to sing the praises of their can’t-miss club (lookin’ good, Gene Oliver!). Too bad they ended up pulling a choke-job late in the season and finishing a distant second to the Mets. Oh well; at least we can sleep easy knowing we got this single out of it all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Charlene - Summertimer

(SharkAttack!, 2001)

As my favorite poet once wrote with his boogie-woogie quill, “I’m back. I’m back in the saddle again.” And in my case, eight days after I boarded a plane for distant lands and left my turntable behind, that saddle is THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! Yes, it was good fun seeing monkeys atop motorcycles, museums of meat, and scores of destitute limbless with begging-cups extended, but nothing beats coming back home to unpaid bills and nightmares of bedbug-infested luggage. And 45s! More 45s! Boxes of 45s waiting just for me! Friends, rest easy knowing that those 45s were never far from my mind: I was actually thinking a bit about these Charlene records while I traveled, and what really struck me is how GREAT they all sound. The group’s self-production – even on fuzzier songs like “Summertimer” that forego the spacey sheen of other releases – is always stunning and expensive-sounding, further cementing my opinion that nothing in the Charlene camp is done half-assed, that they are in scary-full control of their entire musical operation. I said it before: this band seems to know exactly what it wants to do, and then it goes off and does it well. Dang! There’s an epic mid-tempo indie-psych quality to these two particular songs that’s quite rare in my listening experience; the best comparison I can come up with is, musically, Hit to Death In the Future Head, and, emotionally, early Spiritualized. “Talk Me Down,” especially, is both impressively towering and yet appealingly homespun. I don’t know what else to say… I can (and would) fawn over Charlene all day, but the bottom line just remains “you should hear the records.” SO DO IT. Still batting 1.000, it’s another winner outta these guys.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Charlene - No Fly

(SharkAttack!, 2000)

Uh oh. I’m leaving tomorrow for a vacation, and I can’t help noticing that dark omens are gathering all around me. Like the title of this single: “No Fly.” I’m supposed to fly at 6:00pm!! And late last night I heard – and enjoyed – the scary Bloodrock song “D.O.A.” for the first time. It’s about a plane crash!! And then this evening, I was invited to go see a screening of Ishtar at Anthology. That film was a famous ‘BOMB’!! Might a fiery death stand in the way of my quest to review every 7” I own? It seems a forgone conclusion, but stay tuned to Wednesday’s papers to find out for sure!

Until then, assume the worst and remember me the way I’d like to be remembered: Sitting on a bare mattress and reviewing the second Charlene single. Cuz it’s a killer, this one. “No Fly” is a thumping, crunching blisstrip, a track that startles with a near-radio-ready catchiness that nevertheless joyfully subverts itself with sudden bursts of feedback overtaking the twangy, rippling guitar lines. The vocals sound better than ever; they – and the song as a whole – are quite similar to Hopewell’s work, in fact, but even that pop-savvy band never produced such a flawless space/psych/whatever single as this, never found “No Fly’s” oughta-be-impossible balance between narcoticized and bouncy, moody and sunny. I mean, jeez, this thing’s gonna still be running through my head when that dang plane of mine goes down in flames over the Atlantic. Could definitely do worse than that!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Charlene - Taking A Dive

(Castle von Buhler, 1999)

Charlene might well have been my favorite of the Boston bands around the turn of the century. They seemed to appear regularly as openers on prestigious bills, typically turning out the most satisfying musical portion of the evening, and I used to happily pay full admission to a club just to hear their abbreviated set (though oddly enough, I don’t think I ever saw them headline). The group also released a string of fantastic records – three 7”s and an album – between 1999 and 2002 before going into semi-hibernation; there have only been scattered mini-tours and a handful of new MySpace mp3s in the years since. Howzabout a new record, fellers?

“Taking a Dive” is their first single, and it’s a good introduction to the band’s sound: Dreamy, hazy guitarscapes with a strong melodic sense… somewhere between Flying Saucer Attack and “Big Day Coming” Yo La Tengo. Minimal tom thumps underpin the A-side’s wintry, echoing guitars, with what sounds like a mellotron flute-effect blowing through at the end; if Spiritualized was less grandiose and more resourceful, they’d have been making tasteful, delicate songs like this. Similarly, “Blackout” is a perfect drug-damaged lullaby that slowly builds to a modestly-majestic drum-heavy climax before fading away again. Excellent, excellent stuff. All of it! Charlene would develop a stronger rhythmic sense and get slightly more pop/rock-oriented on subsequent records (not, however, at the expensive of their psychedelic leanings), but this lovely, spaced-out bit of dreamrock is a fully-formed debut that shows they always knew pretty much exactly what they wanted to do as a band. No awkward fumbling about for these guys; it was all quality all the time from the get-go.