Monday, February 1, 2016

Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything?

Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? was pretty much ubiquitous throughout the 70's.  Almost everyone had it, or if you didn't have your own copy, you knew five people that did.  The biggest hit was Hello It's Me, which was probably Todd's biggest hit in his storied career.  I always thought it was interesting that the album had this one massive, mellow hit on it and then when people would buy it, it had three sides of just Todd doing whatever it was he wanted to do, and one side of a very loose studio session (which is where Hello It's Me came from).  Whatever it was, people loved it, though.

I remember a couple of older girls from when I was a sophomore, and they were friends of one of my best friends' older brother.  The one girl lived in an old house owned by a woman who was a councilman in our city, and absolutely one of the coolest old hippie ladies that ever walked the planet. The old house was huge, and the upstairs was a place where girls without families lived.  I don't know if it was a foster thing or what it was, because not all the girls went to my school (even though it was within walking distance).  The girl I knew was Chinese, and I think she had a family, but they were in China.  She had lived in the US for most of her life, I think with an uncle or aunt and I think they died and she wound up here.  She had what these days would be considered a horribly racist nickname, and she was really a cool chick.  She had her own car, got killer grades and worked and I think she paid her own way through college.

Her best friend was my friend's brother's biggest crush.  It really pissed him off the first time we all went to the big house to party and I knew her and got a big hug.  We had a lot to talk about because our fathers were both in the school district athletic department.  We had seen each other at functions for years, and we were close to the same age and most of the other kids that always had to go were much younger.  So we hung out, sneaked smokes and talked about music while pot lucks and awards ceremonies raged in the background.  So we had a lot of catching up to do, and she was impressed that I was good at getting alcohol together, even on weeknights.

My first order of business at any one's house was pretty much to attack their record crate and try not to be too much of a snob about what was in it.  There was a lot of slightly mellower 70's rock, and a lot of Todd.  I always loved Something/Anything? because it was such a sprawling project and it seemed to have either really mediocre songs, or really great ones.  The great ones are unbelievably great, like Couldn't I Just Tell You, I Saw the Light and Black Maria.  I really love Black Maria, and I can remember grabbing the album out of the box, and saying, "Hey, can we play side 3?"  We were all pretty buzzed, and the girls out voted me and stuck on side 4.

So I figured it was because they wanted to hear Hello It's Me, and I'm okay with that. There's some other stuff that's a little raunchy and funny on there, and I'm thinking it will be funny to see what they do when those songs come on.  Because teenage me had no fucking clue that other people actually listened to their albums, just like I did.

So the girls change the lyrics to you Left Me Sore to something I was pretty sure you needed to be a fifteen year old boy to find funny, and were dancing on the bed, spilling beer and ashtrays and singing at the top of their lungs to Slut.  I learned a lot about teenage girls that night.  I learned that I didn't know anything about teenage girls, and that I wanted to know teenage girls like these two.  I also learned that older brothers are dumb and I'm glad I don't have any.

So while I'm listening to my copy I pulled out the insert with the lyrics and personnel on it and I notice that there's a little star drawn next to the titles of some of the songs, like *It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference and *It Takes Two to Tango (This is for the Girls).  So I bought this one used because that's not something I ever did.  It's funny to see which songs the original owner liked, but better yet on *Black Maria and *I Went to the Mirror written above the * is HEAVY.

These days you may be thinking, "Todd is heavy?"  Not just heavy, but HEAVY.  Back when this was a popular record, heavy meant more than just Black Sabbath or Grindcore or whatever kind of core is heaviest these days.  Sometimes it just meant that it made you think, which is what I think the person that owned this meant I Went to the Mirror was HEAVY.  I don't necessarily agree with them, but I like the commentary from the past.  The records are in good shape, so I think I'd have liked whoever owned this record.

Of course, I'd have liked them more if they danced and sang on the bed in 1977, but for now I'll just thank them for the memories.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

Well David Bowie died the other day and everyone and their brother has posted about him ad infinitum.  I suppose that's to be expected and to be truthful I'm pretty happy to see that so many people had good things to say about him, and that everyone seemed to see that the guy was a genius, even if they didn't like parts of his career (like me).  To me, Bowie will always be the guy from the 70's that constantly was changing and pushing the envelope of Rock Music and essentially challenging us to keep up with him for as long as we could.  He was cool with it if you didn't want to keep up anymore.  Someone would take your place.

Now I find it odd that despite not really caring for his later music (and by later I mean pretty much my entire adult life), his newer music hasn't detracted from his legacy to me.  Hell, with some bands if I hear a bad album or two in a row I'm done and don't even listen to their older stuff that I liked before.  I don't know why that is, and I'm sure it's an issue with me and not them.  It's something I never faulted Bowie for, though.  He didn't need to prove anything to me, because he is a titan just for the 70's music I grew up on.

Bowie really was a titan, too.  He was like our cool yardstick.  If you weren't into Bowie, we weren't into you.  I said somewhere the other day that when I was growing up it seemed to me that you were either into Bowie and new, cool things or you were into Ted Nugent and beating people up.  That probably over simplifies things but that's certainly how I feel looking back at it, and I think I felt that way back then.

I'm not kidding when I say he was like a litmus test for us, and the album that you needed to know was Ziggy Stardust.  You needed to know a lot more than the fact that Moonage Daydream was on it, too.  You needed to know the whole album.  You needed to know it like the back of your hand, too.  It was okay to flub some lyrics here and there because who really knows what Bowie was on about half the time anyway, but you needed to know that record.  We could be friends without it, but we were tight if you knew it.

One of my favorite memories of high school is driving around in my friend's old Ford and I can't remember where we met these girls, but they didn't go to our school and they agreed to go hang out with us and drive around and do whatever stupid crap it was that we were going to get into that night. I was in the back with one girl and the other girl was up front with my friend.  I think my normal job was manning paraphernalia and handling the tunes as copilot but since this girl was up front she got to pick the music and I told her, "You can just play the radio or pick any tape outta here," and I handed her the tape box that held something like 36 cassettes.  I was the one that kept my friend's tapes organized and I remember her saying that she didn't know many people that kept everything alphabetical and then by release date (right about then i wished she was in the back with me!).  I told her it just made copiloting easier for me and that my friend just messed them up and left them lying around outside the box and I had to clean it up every time I got in the car.

Anyway, who cares, ya know?

So this girl says, "Wow! You have a lot of Bowie tapes!  Can I play Ziggy Stardust?"

"Uhhhh....yes.  Yes you can!"

So we put it in and the four of us drove around and smoked a bit of Happy and the four of us sang every single word to every single song to the best of our ability.  We may have messed up some lyrics but all that singing and smoking fogged up the windows (it was winter) and we were fucking cool as hell.  We sang Five Years.  A little to ourselves at first, but then when we all could tell that we all knew it, we built up some confidence and let it out a little.  I rolled another.  We sang Soul Love. These girls knew all the words to Soul Love?  Then Moonage Daydream and Starman.  We just aimlessly drove around, singing "It ain't EASY," and it was just weird and cool.

The auto-reverse kicked in and we sang Lady Stardust.  We sang Star and Hang on to Yourself  and it was good.  We practically cheered when we sang Ziggy Stardust and the girls sang the "Hey, man!" parts of Suffragette City and we sang, "Oh! Leave it alone!" and it went like that throughout the song. We sang, "The smell of that chick just puts my smile out of place" together and then went back to our "parts."  It was really something.

We finished with Rock N' Roll Suicide and it was the second coolest time I ever heard that song. We sang it kind of quietly because it was the end of the record (actually tape in this case).  When it was over the girl in front just turned off the stereo and we just talked for awhile until someone absent mindedly turned on the radio.  I don't remember where we went after that, I know we didn't actually make out with these two, which I'm sure was the goal when we started out, but we just hung out and had a really good time.

I never saw those girls again and I don't remember their names.  I wonder if they remember that night.  I wonder if my friend does?  Probably not, and that's okay.  Most people don't remember stuff like that, I guess.  I remember because I thought it was really worth remembering, and I still think so. When I heard Bowie had died it was the first thing I thought of.  I thought, "Thanks, Dave.  That memory is a really good one.  Looking back, I can't think of any single album that meant more to me when I was seventeen than Ziggy Stardust and I still love this record like it's a part of me.

My copy of this was a gift from my wife, who wasn't one of those girls from that night.  She probably doesn't remember giving me this particular record, but she did, and I'll never part with it because I think it's one of my favorite gifts ever.  Partly because I like that she bought something that she knew means a lot to me, but also because she likes Bowie, too.  We don't like that many of the same things musically but we like Bowie.  If I would have a Top Ten list of records I know that Exile on Main St. and Ziggy Stardust would be on it for sure, but I don't know about the rest.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Roxy Music - Stranded

I still listen to college radio.  I've always liked it, since I was a kid and stayed up late, well past my bedtime listening to my pillow speaker and looking for stations that played Rock songs I had never heard.  That's where I found out about things like Punk Rock and it's even where I first heard bands like Roxy Music.  I'd lay money on it that WCSB is the first place I ever heard Mother of Pearl from Stranded.  WMMS eventually played it, but it was one of those late night songs.  I mean, they played Love is the Drug during the day and that was about it.

The college stations would play popular albums but they'd always play some oddball song that I had never heard.  That's how I found out I really liked a band like Roxy Music.  I know I never heard the brilliant A Song for Europe on a commercial station, but I've loved this song since high school because some kids used to play it on their shows.

Then it seemed like a lot of the music I liked kind of disappeared from college radio.  Hey, I'm not a kid anymore and I'd expect that to happen. Things go away, and they really kind of should.  If Styx, Supertramp and Foreigner had moved out of the way then there would have been room for plenty of bands that deserved their shot.  Not on the college stations, but regular commercial radio.  Things should fade away and become a niche, I think.

College stations are a great place for niche music because the DJ just plays what they want to play anyway, which is really pretty cool. So I was saying that all these bands that I grew up with that were on the fringes of major label life back then had kind of faded away and I was getting around to saying the only place I ever hear these songs now is at my house or maybe my car.  I was pretty resigned to this and I really don't mind because I think it's the natural way of things.

Lately though, I've started hearing these songs crop up now and then on college radio.  There's even shows dedicated to older, guitar driven Rock and I'm pretty surprised how many of the songs I always loved are being discovered by another generation of people, and by people I mean people that aren't my kids or relatives.  I was listening the other day on some trips around town for work and I heard Brownsville Station.  I heard Johnny Winter.  I heard Artful Dodger and Blue Oyster Cult from their first album.  Now to me this stuff isn't all that obscure because I've been listening to it my whole life, but to someone in their twenties this isn't exactly the stuff packing the bins at the used record store.

It's not just one show these days.  There's a few people doing it.  Hell, I even heard Gentle Giant (hey kids, they suck - you can really stop that now!).  I was pretty damned floored when I heard Phil Manzanera's wicked guitar opening to Mother of Pearl the other day, though.  It was almost like hearing it for the first time.  It was just so unexpected and, shall we say, Out of the Blue.  I really liked hearing it and it just got me to decide I should go home and listen to Stranded because it's been too long.

I really love Manzanera's playing throughout this album.  On Amazona he sounds like he just learned something new and he just seems to play with a joy most players don't (or maybe just can't) get across.  I've always felt Street Life and Song for Europe were two of Roxy's absolutely best songs and the aforementioned Mother of Pearl is one of my favorites.  This is the first record without Brian Eno and I suppose it isn't quite as adventurous as the first two albums but it just seems a little more solid than the first two.  Like most Roxy albums, I like it a lot.

Getting back to the radio thing, I think it's cool that there's a few shows playing things that college radio actually used to play long ago.  Hell, I've heard The Yardbirds and Rose Tattoo in the same hour.  That's pretty cool.  There's hope for the future yet, but I hope these people are still listening to new stuff, too.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Quadrajets - Alabama Hip Shake

OK, so ya remember Punk Rock, right?  Not today's Green Day and their offshoots, but the original stuff from the 70's?  I love it.  I pretty much always have.  Then it turned into Hardcore, where everyone was trying to out Sex Pistol everyone else.  It kinda lost me there, especially when it morphed into stuff like Straight Edge(sorry, I never had a problem with people being wasted).  Well, you may think I'm kind of getting started saying that The Quadrajets are some kind of  Hardcore offshoot, and they aren't.  They're certainly capable of being that if they wanted, but they seem to understand that there's something to be said about getting back to the old aesthetic of "Fuck you, we play what we want and it just doesn't matter if that's in front of ten people or a 1000."

Man, I love that attitude.  I mean, The Quadrajets are Southern.  They use three guitars and they use them for making a wall of guitar noise.  They do it so well that one of my favorite bands in the whole world, The Dexateens, essentially make their own Quadrajets album once.  These guys are loose, they're loud and they must have been one of the most brutal live bands ever.  They sing about girls and cars.  Considering this came out in 1996,you kinda gotta wonder what they were thinking because like now, this is not the kind of stuff the radio is interested in.

Mostly people don't get interested in stuff like this because it's loud, fast and hard and they don't take themselves too seriously.  The kid inside me LOVES that.  I mean, a song like The Rosedale Sons of Kong is just the kind of thing that makes me want to drive 100 miles an hour and throw beer bottles at mailboxes as I drive by (not that I would, because that's irresponsible and hopefully no one's done it since 1979).  Other songs on here make you want to light fires and piss on cop cars.  Songs like Dixie Speedway and Blaster are exactly what you'd think they'd be.  They have three goddamned guitars and they don't have two of them doing the same thing all the time, trust me.  They use them ALL.

Side two keeps the energy level (and the volume level) all the way up.  Stone Cold Kickin' It (At Giza) is pretty much the Dexateens blueprint for playing fast and loud, and this original blueprint is definitely just as good.  Then the Quadrajets take Neil Young's Computer Age and turn it into something worthwhile (sorry Neil, I think Trans sucks).  Then I think my two favorite songs show up, 40 Wt. Dope and Bad Motherfuckin' Bitch.  There's just so much to love about these songs.  The riffs are HUGE.  The drums are loud and who can't sing along to "my bad motherfuckin' bitch?"

I can.  You can, too.  I'm telling ya, if you've got a coma going on, and someone plays this stuff for you, there will be a drunken party that ends in a fight on your hospital floor and when they check the security cameras it will be your comatose ass up drinking Pabst Tall Boys and lighting your mattress on fire, then sneaking back to your bed, and probably going back into your coma from being so plowed at your coma party.

I have to highly recommend these guys.  maybe I make them sound a little one dimensional, but they really just stay true to their really loud vision.  You just can't fault a band for that.  You can only admire them.

And turn them up!