1980's were a very lame decade for mainstream music, but one of the
greatest eras ever for "the underground scene." More review soon.
- Jane's Addiction "Nothing's Shocking" 1988 (USA)
Young turned 74 years old this week. Believe it or not, after 600
CAOTWs there are still some incredibly classic albums yet to be
inducted and this is one of them! Neil Young has always been famous for
being the master of "bummer vibes" - very few in the history of music
have been as good at making listeners happy by expressing sadness. Tonight's The Night is Neil's biggest bummer of them all, the final installment of the so-called "ditch trilogy"
of cathartically depressing masterpieces he made in reaction to
becoming a superstar in the early 70's with CSNY and his big hit album Harvest (1972). The songs here were inspired by specific dreadful events, including the overdose deaths of Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten
and CSNY roadie Bruce Berry (memorialized in the title track) plus a
gruesome drug deal murder that shook the gentle hippiefolk of Laurel
Canyon where Neil lived at the time. But "critics say" it all adds up
to the ultimate statement about the dissolution of hippie idealism in
the increasingly cynical 1970's. Musically, it's probably the greatest
"drunk rock" album of all time: Neil and his band (Ralph & Billy
from the defunct-at-the-time Crazy Horse
plus Ben Keith on pedal steel and Nils Lofgren on lead guitar while Neil mostly plays piano) sound
totalllly waaaaysted on every song, which you can think of as brilliant
method acting for an album whose main theme is basically drug
addiction. I can't think of any other album by anyone that really
compares to this one. Like the author himself, Tonight's The Night is unique.
- Neil Young "Tonight's The Night" 1975 (Canada)
Joni Mitchell turns 76 years old this week, and 40 years ago she released an album called Mingus.
Joni was a folk music singer-songwriter of the Bob Dylan variety back
in the 1960's, but in the 1970's her music turned into jazz-rock fusion
and her bands and records included big names from the jazz scene like
Jaco Pastorious, Pat Metheny and Wayne Shorter. Somewhere along the way
she became pals with Charles Mingus, a legend from the post-bop "modern
jazz" scene of the 1950's and early 60's. Joni's Mingus
album was released after Charles died, but most of the tunes are
written by Mingus with words by Mitchell, including a remake of one of
the most famous Mingus tunes "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" with new Joni
lyrics. The original Mingus version of that tune is from this week's
classic album, which is probably the most acclaimed of Mingus' records,
though he made a lot of good ones so check him out if you're interested
in groovy old jazz!
- Charles Mingus "Ah Um" 1959 (USA)
In new music news, Ariel Pink has a new video for his latest collection of old tape music and I just found out about a new abum from Aussie heavy psych band ORB (released in the spring).
Halloween! Kosmik Radiation likes to play some metal around Halloween,
because obviously. When I think of scary Halloweeny metal, there is one
band that always rises to the top: the eeeevilll "satanic" thrash metal
icons SLAYER. South of Heaven
was the first of their albums I ever heard, around the time it was
released when the metalhead down the hall bought their latest cassette
(80's tech!) Though not a huge fan of metal at the time, I immediately
recognized the over-the-top gusto of these legendary metallions.
After catching up on the rest of their discography (before seeing
them in concert for the first time in 1991), I concluded that this is
one of their finest albums for its almost-progressive sense of moods
and dynamics. Why, they even have a sort-of ballad song with
non-distorted guitar (called "Spill The Blood" because they are still
eeeevilll!) They also pay tribute to their great forefathers Judas Priest with a cover of "Dissident Aggressor" which is actually beter than the original.
- Slayer "South Of Heaven" 1988 (USA)
Replacements were a unique and legendary band from the 80's American
underground scene, but I think the reason they haven't had a CAOTW yet
is that they never really made a "classic" album. The Mats were a
notoriously inebriated and unreliable group whose motto was "all for
nothing, nothing for all." They made a ton of great songs, but also
recorded their share of lazy punk rock bar band tunes: "Gary's Got A
Boner" is probably the biggest dud on Let It Be.
The other mediocrity "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" at least has funny
lyrics and is performed with plenty of drunk rock energy (and their
version of KISS's "Black Diamond" is
actually awesome!) That's as good a ratio as you'll get from this band,
and the "hits" on this record include some of Paul Westerberg's
greatest compositions like "Sixteen Blue", "Unsatisfied", and his
near-solo performances of "Androgynous" and "Answering Machine". Back
in the 1980's Bruce Springsteen was seen as the "people's poet" who
portrayed the "realistic" hopes and dreams of the Working Man in
America, but really his songs are second-rate Woody Guthrie wannabe BS
(the working class romanticized from a distance by a multimillionaire).
Westerberg sounds more like the real deal: a lonely drunk on a barstool
wondering where the hell it all went wrong, and with a voice that
sounds like that's all he would have ever been if he didn't have a
knack for classic songwriting.
- The Replacements "Let It Be" 1984 (USA)
Pink is a crucial figure in early 21st century underground music, so
time to finally add one of his albums to the CAOTW roster. At the end
of the analog era (1996-2003), Ariel Rosenberg recorded hours of
original music on old-fashioned lo-fi cassettes in his parents
basement and an ashram in L.A. where he lived for several years! These
started to get released on indie label Paw Tracks in 2004 under the
moniker "Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti" and his legend began to grow
(living in the ashram is the tip of the iceberg as far as his
notoriouly eccentric LA slacker lifestyle.) His ultra-indie analog
aesthetic became a major influence on the "hypnagogic/chillwave"
fad in underground music at the end of the twenty-aughties (whatever
you call that decade ending in 2009). In 2010, he signed with "big
indie" label 4AD and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (now an actual band)
released Before Today,
his first album of songs that were written with the intention of
actually being heard by an audience! This was followed by the even
better Mature Themes
in 2012, then this week's classic album in 2014 which was technically
his first solo album since those early analog days (his notorious
eccentricities include fighting with his band and firing them all). pom pom
is his best-produced album, and also features some of his nuttiest song
writing. The Cure and Michael Jackson (80's pop in general) were two of
his earliest influences and are present here, but with odd song
structures achieved through clever editing and studio trickery and an
attention to conceptual continuity (and juvenille/clinical fascination
with the sociology of sex) that is very reminiscent of fellow LA weirdo
studio freak Frank Zappa.
- Ariel Pink "pom pom" 2014 (USA)
was tough to find an album to induct as Classic Album of the Week #600: I wanted something that was both influential and
"unsung." I finally
settled on the debut album by an underappreciated but singular sixties
band who were an important precursor to punk and metal. Of course
everyone knows the title track from this album, which was by far their
biggest hit in America, though they had several more hits in their
native Britain and if you delve into their discography a little deeper
they were the all-time masters of lascivious caveman rock. "Trogg"
is short for troglodyte,
a term which is usually prejorative when you're talking about music,
but The Troggs really own their primitive stomp and dumb/horny teenage
lyrics. Which I think already makes them the punkest rock band around
way back in 1966! The idiot savant distorted guitar riff of "Wild
Thing" (which is exactly the same as "Louie Louie", the ultimate stupid
rock song) is also as heavy as anything you'd hear on the radio in the pre-metal years.
And if you think "Wild Thing" was a masterpiece of stoopid heaviness,
most of their songs are like that, in fact "Wild Thing" might not even
make a list of their ten best songs! Though to be fair, they did
occasionaly sink into bubblegum cheese (punk and bubblegum have always
been more musically similar than either would admit), and even worse
are the Troggs' sappy ballads (including their second-biggest hit "Love
Is All Around" which has exactly the same chords as "Wild Thing" only
- The Troggs "Wild Thing" 1966 (UK)
Coltrane's 93rd birthday was this week. When I first began to listen to
jazz music, there were two artists who served as my portal to entry:
one was Thelonious Monk, whose songs and piano style are so bizarre,
yet utterly musical, that it was hard not to recognize his genius. The
other was John Coltrane, in particular this week's CAOTW. I got
into Miles via Coltrane too, since Trane
played with Miles in the 50's. For those who lived through the real
world chronology, of course it went the other way: people found out
about Trane because he was Miles' #1 sideman during one of
his most brilliant and popular periods. Though Coltrane had released a
handful of records under his own name in the 1950's, Giant Steps
was the record where he went from being a famous sideman to a
giant in his own right. He wrote all the songs on this album, and they
are a remarkable collection of tunes. If you want to get into the technical aspects of his music, it's -- well, extremely technical. In terms of his saxophone playing, I think of Trane as being very much the Jimi Hendrix
of his day (and he was probably one of Jimi's main inspirations). Just
as Hendrix became famous for using volume effects and feedback to
extend the range of musical sounds an electric guitar can make,
Coltrane did the same at the beginning of the decade by taking
Charlie Parker's innovations and extending the range of his instrument
through overblowing and harmonics to make the horn honk and squeal in
ways the inventor of the instrument never intended. As the sixties went
on, Trane's music kept getting farther and farther out until his untimely death in 1967.
- John Coltrane "Giant Steps" 1960 (USA)
Also - this week I saw BABYMETAL on their Metal Galaxy World Tour!
group from Swindon, UK started in 1972 as a groovy proggy band called
Star Park, but after main songwriter Andy Partridge heard the New York Dolls debut album,
they turned into a punk band called Helium Kidz before finally settling on the
name XTC upon signing a record deal in 1976; their debut album came
out just a few months after the Sex Pistols.
They charted several singles in Britain in the early New Wave days, but
by the early 1980's their psych-prog roots began to reassert themselves
until they started putting out full-on sixties-style psychedelic rock albums by the middle of the decade. Black Sea
was arguably the beginning of this transition yet it is still a ROCK
album that could kick the butt of more popular New Wave bands like
The Cars. In fact, when legendary producer Robert Stigwood (Clapton,
Bee Gees) saw one of their concerts he said they were the most exciting live band he'd
seen since The Who! Unfortunately,
Partridge also suffered from serious nerves and stage fright, so the
band stopped performing live in 1982 and became a legendary studio band
in the vein of Steely Dan for the last 15
years or so of their career. More recently, there has been a "50%
reunion" of the classic lineup, with bassist and second
singer/songwriter Colin Moulding teaming up with original drummer Terry Chambers to
create the new band "TC & I".
- XTC "Black Sea" 1980 (UK)
We've also got another J-pop block on the show this week, so here's some videos to go with that: Perfume's adorable "Mirai No Museum", Reol's "Give Me A Break Stop Now" (the blonde wig is her usual look, but she's all of the girls in that video), DAOKO's "Bang!", and the "office lady" rap duo Charisma.com's "Like It". One of the catchiest power pop rockers I've come across in recent years is "Shangri-la" by Wienners, a denpa-punk band whose songs and videos are usually a lot crazier than that one!
Which brings us to the otaku-idol
group Dempagumi.inc. I have yet to find any footage of the group
performing their first independently released (non-hit) single "Mirror
Magic?" (2008) which we heard on the show this week, so instead here's
their first music video "Future Diver"
(2011), which was only a minor hit but has become a theme song for the
group. This song highlights one of the three major themes running
through their lyrics, which are "optimism for the future", "proud to be Japanese" and of course "have a good time, all
the time!" For our second selection, we bookend their career to date
with the most recent Dempagumi.inc single from August 2019, "Bon De Festa"
(the non-Japanese title seems like a hash of French "Bon",
Spanish "de" and Italian "Festa" - which adds up to "Good Of The
Party"). Over the years their music has grown much more complex, and
they've developed from the standard teen idol look of "Future Diver"
(matching dresses, animal ears, dancing in a classroom) into
iconic cartoon characters of surrealist pop.
This remarkably crude-sounding example of "raunch and roll" only comes in second behind The Stooges' most gonzo album (released the same year) in terms of being a critical influence on the punk rock explosion of 1977.
In fact, Sex Pistols manager and svengali Malcolm McLaren took over as
the Dolls' manager in the waning years of their career after their
record company dumped them; his not-so-brilliant idea was to
update the band's "drag queens who can beat you up" look with red
outfits and communist flags (as if boys in drag singing about sex and
dope wasn't already shocking enough.) No doubt Lou Reed was a key
influence, both for his gender-bending shtick in the early 70's and the
notoroiously crude but heavy sounds of his old band The Velvet Underground. Which also makes NY Dolls the missing like between the Velvets and KISS,
another band playing crude masculine glam rock in makeup and heels at
the same time in the same city (though KISS has always claimed their
only influences were British classic rock bands not any local groups,
yeah right.) One more fun fact: the Dolls' debut album was produced by
Todd Rundgren, at the very same time he was working on his masterpiece prog-pop album, which couldn't be more different from our CAOTW this week!
- New York Dolls "New York Dolls" 1973 (USA)
week our jazz fusion hour of the program concludes with J-pop, because
those two genres are more closely related than you think! Dempagumi.inc released a pair of decidedly jazzy singles last year: "Goodnight Polaris, Goodbye Parallel World" (cheezy scifi video) and "I Want To Do Something"
(nostalgia, friendship, nature, fashionable clothes) - both
composed by H ZETT M who also plays keyboards (I guess he's famous in
Japan). These tunes feature the
transitional 7-girl lineup of 2018: Moga quit two years ago ending the "classic lineup" (2012-2017) that took them from small clubs to the top of the charts, so they
added new members Nagi and Rin. Even more recently, Nemu left the band following the release of their
at the beginning of 2019. Six minus one plus two minus one more equals
back to six members now, and they've already released another
pile of post-Nemu singles this summer . . . but that will be next week's
segment of DMPA theatre!
Morrison turned 74 years old this week. I'm surprised I hadn't already
inducted this Classic Album which is arguably one of the most singular
records of the late 1960's. It's hard to see how this music could even
be called "rock", but it's not exactly folk or jazz music either.
Perhaps "mystical folk-jazz reveries" might be a good description. Astral Weeks
was recorded over three days, with Van singing and playing acoustic
guitar in a booth by himself while the rest of the band played in
another room; the producer later added strings and horns against
Morrison's wishes (something similar happened to Nico around the same time
with her similarly "unclassifiable not-rock" debut album). The band
(guitar, bass, drums & flute) included jazz-leaning session legends
Jay Berliner and Connie Kay, and was led by Prof. Richard Davis
(longtime Madison resident and member of Eric Dolphy's best band) whose acoustic bass provides the main instrumental counterpoint to Van's voice.
- Van Morrison "Astral Weeks" 1968 (UK - Northern Ireland)
Meanwhile, from 21st
century Japan - Mirin, Risa, Eimi, Nemu, Moga and "Pinky!" are the nerd-girl idol band
Dempagumi.inc! (That was the classic lineup from 2012-2017 anyway; they've since
replaced two members.) We end the show this week with a couple of their
more melodic songs, including their biggest Japanese hit to date "Even If Tomorrow's Earth Becomes A Child"
(with one of their least-wacky "normal girl" videos). Something I
appreciate very much about Dempagumi.inc is that their records sound
like they are played by actual musicians not just "computer beats":
here's a fun concert clip
showing off their high-energy choreography in front of a live band. On
the utterly opposite end of the J-pop spectrum, the artsy punk poetry
rapper Haru Nemuri just released an incredibly strange music video (a very strange remix of her 2018 single "Kick In
The World"). Though she hasn't put out any new records yet in 2019, she
has been playing a catchy new song called "Riot" at her concerts this year (this gig was recorded in Japan less than a week ago!)
Simmons turns 70 years old this week, so our CAOTW is the debut album
by his masculine glam kabuki clown b(r)and KISS. They didn't really
become popular until their fourth album in 1975, the classic concert
recording KISS Alive!,
but they had their formula down from day one. Although they did stray
from boot-stomping hard rock songs about sex from time to time (most
notably on the proggy concept album (Music From) The Elder
in 1981), overall KISS had a remarkably consistent career that has
lasted more than 40 years. Their most recent album came out in 2012;
during 2019, they have been doing a 111-date "End Of The Road World
Tour" which is scheduled to end in Japan in December (fittingly, since
Japan loved them from the start, even before they made it in America).
Will that be the
end of KISS? In Paul Stanley's autobiography (I listened to the audio
book he narrated himself; it's hilarious) he suggests that "The
Starchild", "The Demon" and the rest of the band's personas are not
unique to the members who created them and there's no reason KISS can't
continue forever with new members! There is precedent in that
for the last decade or more Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer have worn the
"Cat Man" and "Space Ace" makeup originated by Peter Criss and Ace
Frehley on their debut album way back in 1974.
- KISS "KISS" 1974 (USA)
Also on the show this week: new tunes from the forthcoming first solo album ever from Kim Gordon (ex-Sonic Youth), a new bubblegum metal jam from Poppy, and the cool Japanese dames of Tricot and Wednesday Campanella.
And (oh lord help me) my latest J-Pop obessesion: the wacky denpa idol
band Dempagumi.inc - here's two of their nationalist bubblegum anthems (most
of their songs seem to reference "Japaneseness" in some way) from 2015
(both top 10 hits in Japan) - "Bari3 Republic" (no clue what that title means) is the sound of anime and video games while "Sakura Apparition" ("Cherry Blossom Apparition") is girly pink happy funtime music. And oh yeah by the way - did you know KISS did a collaboration with a J-Pop idol band in 2015?! (The imagery in that video seems based on the Japan-themed album cover of Hotter Than Hell).
This week's CAOTW is the debut album by the kosmische supergroup featuring the two guys from Cluster with the guitarist from NEU! Both groups were still active when their members played hooky to record as Harmonia: Cluster released their classic Zuckerzeit
album later the same year, and NEU! put out their last album the
following year. Although not a popular group or record at the time,
they did draw the attention of Brian Eno
who recorded some sessions with them in 1976 that weren't released
until the 1990's (as well as an album he recorded with
Cluster-minus-Rother in 1977, called Cluster & Eno.)
Many decades later, the Harmonia and Eno-collaboration albums are seen
as landmarks in the development of "post rock" and the more meditative
end of electronic music.
- Harmonia "Musik Von Harmonia" 1974 (Germany)
Also on the show this week: the latest King Gizzard album is thrash metal! And a modern heavy classic from Japanese power trio 88Kasyo Junrei: "Kingdom of the Brain".