Thursday, December 31, 2009

John Lennon - Instant Karma!

(Apple, 1970)

Golly gee! Good for John Lennon, directly following up his best-ever ROCK single with his best-ever POP single in a nifty display of quick-pivot versatility (and speaking of versatility, Yoko contributes a medieval-sounding harpsichord-and-flute ditty on the B this time out!). With a big joyous chorus, bouncy piano, passionate vocal, silly drum fills, and echo up the wazoo, “Instant Karma” absolutely SOUNDS like a smash the first time you hear it, thanks to that unit-shifting combo of Lennon’s rhythmic, gut-punch popwrite and Phil Spector’s huge production. Aside from the fact that this was John’s biggest solo hit to date, Spector’s involvement on here is actually quite important in a larger historical sense. This was the first time he’d worked with any of the Beatles, and Lennon and Harrison (who plays guitar on “Instant Karma”) were pleased enough with the results that they both brought him onboard for their next solo albums – Plastic Ono Band and the VERY Spector-esque All Things Must Pass, respectively. But, perhaps more significantly, this session also led to our murderous producer friend being drafted to salvage the Let it Be tapes, a move that ultimately convinced Paul to publically put a bullet in the Beatles’ head – Spector-style, zing! – a few months later. Yes, there were obviously a number of other issues that led to the breakup (and Lennon had effectively quit by now anyway), but it’s amusing to realize that a song as simple and cosmically uplifting as “Instant Karma” played such a big role in what ended up being a decade-plus of sniping and acrimony between the ex-Beatles.

Monday, December 28, 2009

John Lennon - Cold Turkey

(Apple, 1969)

I must say that it’s funny to hear the usual pants-wetting Beatlefan crybabies bleat about Yoko Ono using the Plastic Ono Band name on her latest album, considering that the conceptual non-group was always intended to be whomever John and(/or?) Yoko surrounded themselves with at any given session. Check “Cold Turkey,” which features an entirely different cast of characters than those on “Give Peace a Chance”: This time, it’s John, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Ringo Starr, and they’re offering up a far different sound than the jangly street-chant of the previous single, here laying down a hard claustro-rockin’ tale of heroin withdrawal and general misery over some tense, jagged skree. I don’t believe that Lennon ever nastied it up guitar-wise as effectively as he does on this disc, and in terms of overall hot-rock performance, probably only “I Found Out” (which also features Voorman on mean-burblin’ bass) comes at all close to such intensity in the Lennon songbook. Further marrying an ever inward-looking tendency with a raw, Beatle-baggage-free take on the pop/rock setup, “Cold Turkey” – lyrically, musically, vocally – certainly paves the way for the similarly uncomfortable John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP of 1970. Just as satisfying, B-side “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand in the Snow)” features the same group jamming in a driving, almost-unhinged blues-rock style as Ono provides the shrieking, ululating vocals for which she’s long been (unfairly) mocked. Ground zero for the Yoko musical template, this song, as with John’s, clearly points towards work undertaken in 1970 – her own P.O.B. album, though, jumps further into crazed, jazz-informed, free-rock mindblow that thumps far harder and far freakier than any solo Beatle effort out there. Shit’s NUTS. Seriously: if you don’t own it, reconsider soon.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

John Lennon - Give Peace A Chance

(Apple, 1969)

For the first solo single from a Beatle, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, two acoustic guitars (the second played by Tommy Smothers!), and a roomful of friends/celebs/sycophants make a raucous campfire noise in support of worldwide goodvibes. No deep thoughts to be found therein (the stream-of-consciousness verses are largely incidental), but it’s raw and immediate, just as it needed to be. Which is why I’ve spent the last bunch o’ years considering “Give Peace A Chance” alongside McCartney’s similarly-hokey post-9/11 single “Freedom,” because – no matter what you think of the icky political whatsis surrounding the latter – both guys were shooting for the same thing: Whip up a simple, memorable, of-its-time, stomp-clamp anthem for People Who Want One. Sure, the market success of Paul’s sleeker effort certainly didn’t match that of John’s, but from a purely song-based perspective I think both achieved what they set out to do (though the fact that the masses didn’t embrace “Freedom” as they did “Peace” ultimately marks it a failure). For-what-it’s-worth sidenote: McCartney has since renounced his composition and has taken to covering Lennon’s on his 2009 tour.

Meanwhile, Yoko, backed by John on “Sun King”-esque acoustic, provides the lo-fi B-side, a breathy, gentle lullaby/ballad that sounds like a “White Album” demo and gives no hint of the abrasiveness of much of her later work. A track of both significant quality and interest.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Led Zeppelin - Black Dog

(Atlantic, 1971)

I worked in a supermarket through high school, and one of the great pleasures of the weeknight shift was punching out just in time to drive home to “Get the Led Out,” 101.1’s 10pm rock-block of Led Zeppelin songs. The likes of “Kashmir” and “Trampled Underfoot” were staples of the set, and I’d crank the volume to obnoxious levels as I rolled through town behind the wheel of my mom’s car, feeling groovy in my apron and tie. Much as I loved the stuff, though, it would be years before I actually owned any Zeppelin, because it’s always been my experience that a guy can turn on the radio at any time of the day in any part of the country and hear them on at least one of the classic rock stations. So why buy the cow?, as they say. Anyway, what this means is that while I am quite familiar with the band’s catalog, I only know a select few of the songs by name, and neither side of this single was one where I’d bothered to mentally pair title with riff. “Black Dog”? The one where it sounds like Jimmy Page and John Bonham go out of synch with each other during the bridge (that section has always kinda annoyed me). “Misty Mountain Hop”? The one with the funky-strut electric piano part reminiscent of “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” So yeah! You, like me, may not remember the titles, but you, like me, have heard ’em all and know ’em all, because MAN these songs are hooky and memorable! AND THEY’RE PLAYED CONSTANTLY ON THE RADIO.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends

(EMI/DFA, 2007)

LCD Soundsystem pulls a nifty trick on the multi-part “All My Friends” single, drafting John
Cale to cover the title track on one version of the 7”, and Franz Ferdinand on the other. Cale even gets A-side honors, giving the song more of an ominous Bowie/Eno feel by emphasizing the stark and jagged elements of its composition as he half-bellows what are actually quite reflective lyrics. The LCD Soundsystem take is included on the other side, and, while one of the band’s best tracks, it adds little value here in standard LP form beyond making clear, in this context, that the song’s repeating piano line likely owes a fair amount to Cale’s influence (for example, see his New York in the 1960s series of releases). But even if one already owns Sound of Silver, this is well worth finding for the excellent Cale cover. Heck, might as well get the Franz Ferdinand 7”, too; it sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound and thus isn’t too bad.

Playing this record and digging out my copy of Fear has renewed my interest in John Cale’s catalog, so I headed over to eBay, where I bought Vintage Violence, Paris 1919, Helen of Troy, Animal Justice, and Sabotage to supplement the handful of LPs currently in my clutches. My question now is whether it’s worth pursuing his music after 1980, having heard and loathed both Caribbean Sunset and John Cale Comes Alive. “All My Friends” suggests that all hope is not lost… any hidden goodies from his later career?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

LCD Soundsystem - Disco Infiltrator

(EMI/DFA, 2005)

A little clubbier than I might prefer, this one, subtracting the grit and humor of the best LCD Soundsystem songs in favor of a somewhat beat/coke-oriented W’burg/LES sheen. B- material, and the synths sound bigtime like a late-’70s Kraftwerk sample… “Hall of Mirrors”? The liners don’t indicate any such samplery, however, so I’ll take their (its) word for it. THIS TIME. And the flip? Another live-on-Brit-radio cover, here a driving BUT so-so take on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Slowdive.” If you don’t own this single – which EMI mysteriously and expensively jazzed up with heavy vinyl and a bonus poster – feel free to keep those tempting razors far, far away from your eminently slittable wrists; thing’s no hot dick-shake. Still…you know what I like about James Murphy? Guy’s a schlub. A nasal shouter. That hair might be carefully mussed, but he still comes off as a used-bin record-geek everyman, and I have found him to be quite likeable both on stage and on disc. So let that be known, o town of NY!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

LCD Soundsystem - Daft Punk Is Playing At My House

(EMI/DFA, 2005)

Reckon I got into LCD Soundsystem like most people did: “Losing My Edge” came out in 2002, I loved it, and I then religiously followed the trickle of singles that led up to the eventual full-length in 2005. In retrospect, I’m a little surprised that I was committed enough to walk over to the now-dead Virgin Megastore during my lunch breaks in order to buy the band’s major-label import 7”s… and yet here’s the vinyl evidence gathering dust in my apartment. No regrets, though. “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” is a beefy, handclappy, percussion-laden nerdfest that narrates the tense hours before the titular happening, and it’s nearly as funny as the aforementioned “Edge” while upping the overall instrumental density and twitchiness. The 7” presents the radio edit, which is effectively a partytime cockblock, truncating a song that absolutely deserves to stretch out to LP/12” length. The B-side turns that complaint into a minor quibble, however, as a fantastic BBC recording of “Jump Into the Fire” shows off James Murphy’s touring band, a tuff but tight dance/rock group that features pretty nasty bass and non-puss guitar; Harry Nilsson ends up being a great fit for a cover. Could be that I’m just getting old, but this stuff – unlike most of the other NYC dance-oriented bands of the time – strikes me as having aged extremely well. Still exciting to these ears.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lavender Faction - Ride

(Lust, 1990)

Well well well. Some PRICK sold me a Lavender Faction 7” packaged in the wrong sleeve! So now I’m sitting here like a deityfuckin CHUMP with a “Ride” 45 (not pictured) sitting all cozy inside the “In My Mind” artwork (pictured). Yeah? YEAH! DAMM SON. Still, all aren’t ain’t lost. Why? Because the music is topper-popper swell, see. And if a random blogman out there is truthful and Ride for certain took their name from the same-titled A-side, I can VERY MUCH understand that, because this is pretty much the template for that band’s commercialized shoegaze fuzzpop. Choppy, chiming distorto-stuff where the guitar-sound is more important than the vocal-hap… you know the drill. And both sides here bring it BIG in that fashion. Silly and sad that this band never got around to doing a full-length, because they deserved far better than the singles-only obscurity they got kicked into; greatness (or goodness) coulda been had with ease. Weird how these things work out.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Of The Juanitas - The Jay

(Wantage, 2000)

I was pretty excited about Big Business a few years ago, so I went nuts and bought a pile of Wantage releases – they had some deal where you paid thirty or forty bucks and received a massive sampling of the label’s wares. This Last of the Juanitas single was part of that mailing, and, uh, I’m just getting around to listening to it for the first time tonight. Sounds kinda like a more restrained Pussy Galore, keeping the scuzzy trash-rock elements but slowing it down and adding an element of instrumental competence and in-song tempo variance that Spencer’s group often lacked. Heavy stuff, largely instrumental, and boozy as they come; ’tis truly screaming hangover muzak, and that’s a compliment. Yet: Can’t say that I have much love for the Sun Ra cover on the other side, though Thurston Moore enthusiasts might enjoy its free-jazz meanderings.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Landis - The Water's Electric

(Drive-In/Siladi, 1998)

Another hunk o' indiepop with distortion, buried vocals, and some lo-fi-MBV guitarblasts, a formula pulled off far more effectively (and with better melodies) by countless American bands throughout the ’90s. Based on the evidence here, defunct Michigan musictootlers Landis on a good day would’ve rated as Slumberland C-listers earlier in the decade. Sure, there are far worse things to be than that, of course, but just know ye well that this dinky one-sided (NOW COME ON, GUYS!) 7” isn’t anything particularly special or memorable. Prime dollar bin fodder.

And hey, not to change the subject, but let’s change the subject. Am I crazy, or does the part in Alice Cooper’s “Elected” right before the line “We’re gonna win this one, take the country by storm” sound a WHOLE LOT like the dramatic bit leading into “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes…” in “Born to Run”?! This has been weighing heavily on me, what with Cooper having blatted his biz first.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lambchop - Up With People

(City Slang, 2000)

Every time I bother to throw one my cruelly-neglected Lambchop discs on the stereo, I find myself enjoying their lush pop sounds a great deal and thus make a mental note about how I need to purchase more of their albums. Which, for years, is something I’ve never followed through on. UNTIL NOW! After reviewing “Soaky in the Pooper” Sunday night, I finally decided to give these Nashvillains their due (and my cash) by ordering a hefty haul of seven LPs in one fell swoop, and if any of those are half as satisfying as the largely faultless Nixon, I’ll be a happy headphoneman. Cuz that album’s a real groover, see. And “Up With People” is the single, a toe-tappy AM-radio swinger with an arrangement (heavy on the horns and gospel-tinged backing vocals) that’ll please non-rock generations mightily. I could see Kurt Wagner’s ironic-sounding croon putting some off, but his songs are so well-constructed and well-played that it’s tough not to be won over; dude’s a bit like a twangier Liam Hayes. The Vic Chesnutt cover on the flip, “Miss Prissy,” is soothing in a Neil-Young-when-he-does-quiet kind of way, and makes for another horn-laced winner… find it here or on the Tools in the Dryer rarities comp.