Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
Poison,
Open Up and Say… Ahh!

With a band as great as hair metal heroes Poison, where does one even begin? With the cover of their 1986 debut Look What the Cat Dragged In, on which the boys look cuter than any of the groupies they sleazed into the sack with? Or with 1988’s follow-up Open Up and Say… Ahh!, about which muz-crit Robert Christgau wrote, “A residue of metal principle spoiled the top 40 on their debut, but here they sell out like they know this stuff is only good when it’s really shitty.”

I believe that’s what’s called a backhanded compliment. But I get where he’s coming from even if I disagree. Call Poison pop metal if you want, and no one is ever likely to call their music cerebral. But the songs on Open Up and Say… Ahh! are anything but shitty. Simplistic, sure. But Poison rocks harder than the likes of Def Leppard ever would.

These Aqua Net émigrés from Mechanicsburg, PA took both Hollywood and MTV by storm, and were so in touch with their feminine side they began their career playing pink guitars. Their sophomore LP has been called “a master-class in Eighties metal power balladry,” but that’s patently absurd. Sure, Open Up and Say… Ahh! will most likely be best remembered for the immortal ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” but the song is an anomaly; from opening track “Love on the Rocks” to closer “Bad to Be Good,” Poison eschews the maudlin in favor of rocking balls.

Like many effete and impudent snobs, I spent hair metal’s golden age sneering at Poison and everything they represented. Found them ridiculous. Never gave them a fair listen. I should have heeded the words of Oscar Wilde, to wit, “Ridicule is the tribute paid to genius by mediocrities.” In my own defense, I was far from alone. Rolling Stone only gave them one star, which is one more star than I’d probably have given them at the time.

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Graded on a Curve:
Art Garfunkel,
Breakaway

It was blasted dastardly, the way Paul Simon gave poor Art Garfunkel the old heave-ho. Absolutely duplicitous. So duplicitous in fact that I coined a shiny new word for the sad fate that befell the kinky-haired half of the famous duo—he got Garfunkeled. The word is slowing entering the popular lexicon, and I plan to patent it and thereby grow filthy rich.

Because it’s the ideal word for all manner of occasions. Say your boyfriend should, without due warning, terminate your relationship. And say said abrupt news should fall upon your heart like a ton of Mick Jagger solo albums. You are left with two alternatives. You can shed bitter tears of the sort that wilt flowers. Or better by far, you can run to your friends and cry, “The sleazy bastard just Garfunkeled me!”

In any event, having been Garfunkeled following 1970’s Bridge over Troubled Water, Art of the magic golden Jewfro found himself at loose ends. I like to imagine, although it doesn’t fit the historical time line, that he spent many a dour hour sunk in the funk at the home of Jim Messina, the poor fellow who got Garfunkeled by Kenny Loggins. In reality Garfunkel did some acting, released 1973’s Angel Clare (for which he took much abuse for his treacly version of Randy Newman’s “Old Man”), and then followed Angel Clare with 1975’s Breakaway.

Breakaway is Garfunkel’s most successful LP and a soft rock classic. Garfunkel’s choirboy vocals can rankle, but on Breakaway he gathered up a bunch of songs that made effective use of those inimitable tenor pipes of his. He also dragooned every crack studio musician in the known world, to say nothing of such folks as David Crosby, Bill Payne, Graham Nash, Toni Tennille, and (erk!) Andrew Gold. Why even Garfunkeler-in-Chief Paul Simon reunited with the Garfunkeled one on “My Little Town.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Def Leppard,
Pyromania

I see no reason to mince words; I have never had the slightest interest in, or liking for, the English hair metal band Def Leppard. Okay, so that’s a lie. I was a mite bit intrigued when they came into possession of a one-armed drummer. There is no way not to like a band, if only a little, that has a one-armed drummer.

That said, hearing them on the radio has always put me in mind of the immortal words of the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes. To whit, “Silence like a poultice comes to heal the blows of sound.” But you can’t go your whole life avoiding Def Leppard’s blows of sound, although I’m not sure why. I’ve done quite nicely turning the radio dial whenever I heard the approach of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and I’m in fine fettle. My life free of Def Leppard is, as one poet or another put it, an ode to joy. But I am also a music critic, of sorts, and therefore obliged to nosh, with mine ears, the occasional bad oyster. So I have girded my loins, and here, Def Leppard, I come.

While Def Leppard is considered part of first wave of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, what they sound like to yours truly is the second coming of REO Speedwagon. Then again, I’ve never understood the whole NWOBHM thing. Call me a snob, but I want nothing to do with a club that counts Iron Maiden as one of its members. Iron Maiden is not a rock band; it is a particularly stupid rhinoceros.

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Graded on a Curve:
Mott the Hoople,
Super Hits

I have always had a soft spot for crap “Super Hits” LPs. I know they’re déclassé exploitation packages designed to sucker the neophyte into parting ways with his hard-earned buck, and are the sort of thing your serious vinyl collector sniffs at haughtily before asking, “What reeks? Could it be this crass and repugnant straight-from-K-Tel-waste of perfectly good polyvinyl chloride resin?”

But I don’t care because I’m a crass bastard myself, and I’m totally down with those immortal purveyors of the cheap-o LP, K-Tel and Ronco Records. I gaze upon the Super Hits LPs of this world with a fond and benevolent eye. Shameless cash-ins they may be, but piss down on them from a great height or not, they serve a useful, and indeed necessary, societal purpose. To wit, they’re the perfect vehicles for the fan who likes a band but doesn’t want to buy eight of their LPs when she only loves one or two cuts off each of them.

Take Mott the Hoople. I love several of their albums to death, but should I listen to “All the Young Dudes” and then feel a sudden and irresistible hankering to listen to “Hymn for the Dudes” I have to take LP one off the turntable, fling it willy-nilly across the room, and put on LP two, and so on. Until what I’m faced with is a room with wall-to-wall polyvinyl chloride carpeting. Why, the very thought of putting all those LPs back in their jackets exhausts me. Hence the stupendous genius of the Super Evil Super Hits Konzept. Should I want to listen to “One of the Boys” followed by “Honaloochie Boogie” I needn’t raise the proverbial finger.

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Graded on a Curve: Renaissance,
Ashes Are Burning

Good morrow, dear readers. This is going to be the shortest record review I’ve ever written. Because I don’t know what to say about Renaissance the band other than that they make me wish the real Renaissance had never happened. The Dark Ages could hardly have been worse than this.

Fronted by Annie Haslam with her 93-octave vocal range, these English prog rockers were the aural equivalent of attending one of those unspeakably horrible Renaissance Faires. I attended one once, sober no less, and the sight of all those doxies, strumpets, and wandering minstrels gamboling about was more than I could bear. Within an hour I was exhibiting all the symptoms of a serious case of black bile. And I had an almost irresistible urge to bludgeon yon errant knight with an industrial-sized turkey leg. And don’t even get me started on the human chess game. Why, the mere sight of such caused me to cry, “A pox upon thee!” For verily, dear reader, I would have sooner drained a flagon of dragon piss.

Okay, so where we? Ah yes, Renaissance. During the highlight of their career they sang the praises of leather jerkin and faire merkin, the latter of which is a female pubic wig. I should add they did not do so literally. What they did in reality was fuse the gossamer sounds of the Renaissance with a rock beat, and while there’s much to be said against this unholy combination, it’s to Renaissance’s credit that they occasionally came close to pulling it off. And the reason for this is they liked their songs up-tempo. No threnodies for this gaggle of gentle minstrels. Had they fretted lugubriously about with lute, psaltery, and clarion, the results would have caused any sane human to raise the old broadsword and cry, “Fie!” But 1974’s Ashes Are Burning is far from being the musical equivalent of internment in your king’s iron maiden, a device which you’ll be pleased to know never existed. From fair merkins to iron maidens—who says you can’t enrich your mind while reading record reviews?

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Graded on a Curve:
Ringo Starr, Ringo

News flash! Critic declares Ringo Starr greatest ex-Beatle! Rioting breaks out in hipster enclaves! Brooklyn in flames! Incensed Lennonites carry signs: “Michael Little = Dingbat!” Hairy Harrisonoids counsel karmic calm: “This too shall pass!” McCartney maniacs attempt to sooth selves with “Silly Love Songs”! NME headline reads: “Panned on the run!”

In my dreams. But it’s what I really believe. I really believe that Ringo Starr, who never got no respect and was the comic foil and clown of the legendary Fab Four has—over the almost four-and-a-half decades since the Beatles went the way of the Ono, er make that Dodo—produced far more genuinely likeable pop songs than any of his “genius” fellow Mop Toppers.

But first, a sordid confession. I’ve never cared much for Ringo’s old band. I can count on one hand the number of Beatles songs I really love (“Helter Skelter,” “She Said She Said,” “Hey Jude,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “Let It Be”). As for most of the rest of their oeuvre, it could vanish into the void and I would never miss it. And there are plenty of songs (the dreadful “Long and Winding Road,” the hideous “Something,” and the unpalatable “Got to Get You Into My Life”) whose disappearance would make me very happy. As for the post-Beatles work of John, Paul, and George, I can think of maybe one or two (at most) songs I love by each of them. Shit, Ringo matched them with ONE single, 1971’s “It Don’t Come Easy” backed by “Early 1970,” a very funny series of good-natured jibes about his former band mates.

I always liked Ringo best because he wasn’t touted as a genius (although he’s a great drummer) by anyone. I’m an underdog guy, and Ringo was the ultimate underdog. Nobody expected much of him after the Beatles imploded, sucked into the black holes of John and Paul’s grossly oversized egos. And it isn’t as if Ringo has come through with a slew of artistic masterpieces. But since 1970 he’s put out a bunch of really cool pop songs, low brow it’s true, but I don’t give a shit where a song’s brow is (it can be a Neanderthal for all I care) if it has a good melody and I find myself singing along.

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Graded on a Curve: Outlaws, (S/T)

Before we delve into the pros and cons of Southern Rock band the Outlaws, we should probably get the haters out of the way first. The most withering diss of said band was delivered by the rock crit Robert Christgau, who wrote, “Outlaws my ass—I bet they’d punch a time clock if it’d make the tour go smoother. Combining the most digestible elements of the Eagles and the Allmans without ever hinting that there might be a teensy bit of genius or even originality beneath the surface—because there isn’t—this is now the hottest new rock group in America. How depressing.”

I love the “punch a time clock” bit, because there’s no denying these Tampa, Florida boys sure were as slick as an icy set of stairs. Had they been real outlaws, they’d have probably specialized in corporate crime. But methinks Mr. Christgau fails to tell the whole story. True, their big hit “There Goes Another Love Song” sounds like the unholy spawn of a mating of Dan Fogelberg and the Eagles, but it sure is catchy. And aside from the aforementioned tune, an additional couple of songs on their eponymous 1975 debut stick.

The Outlaws boasted a three-guitar line-up just like Florida contemporaries Lynyrd Skynyrd, and all three of said guitarists—Hughie Thomasson, Billy Jones, and Henry Paul—go “Free Bird” on the album’s epic closing track, “Green Grass & High Tides.” Weighing in at 9:46, “Green Grass & High Tides” is not only faster out of the starting gate than “Free Bird,” but makes said Skynyrd classic sound like a brief warm-up. If what you want more than anything in life is a swarm of guitarists throwing down for a real long time, this is the hymn for you.

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Graded on a Curve:
Glen Campbell,
See You There

The English Pre-Raphaelite poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti once wrote, “Each hour flings a bomb at my burning soul.” Before adding, “Neither from owl nor from bat can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.” I admit to being completely flummoxed by what this Rossetti chap means by “his wombat.” Did he have, in his personal menagerie, an actual wombat? One that he clasped to his troubled bosom when bombs were being catapulted at his burning soul? Your guess as is good as mine.

But I digress. The point I’m trying to make, albeit in a hopelessly circuitous way, is that my soul too has been burning of late, and I don’t see a wombat in sight. I have a cat, but when I attempt to clasp him to my bosom he is immediately transformed into a furious blur of tooth and claw. So I ask myself; how best can I regain my peace? And the answer, stated as succinctly as possible, is Glen Campbell.

The odd thing is that despite the fact that I grew up in a rural backwater, in a town so small that the “Welcome to Littlestown” sign and the “You Are Now Leaving Littlestown” sign were the same sign and many of my fellow townspeople made those toothless rustics in Deliverance look like cosmopolitan sophisticates, the only country music I ever heard came to me via Hee Haw, which I would occasionally watch with the old man. That said, I totally loved “Rhinestone Cowboy.” It fell into the rarified genre of glam country, and I could never hear it often enough. That said, I’d never heard any of his other songs and was never tempted to buy a G.C. LP.

When I finally got around to listening to him as an adult, and happened upon such immortal songs as “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” I’ll admit I was disappointed. The string-heavy arrangements turned these great numbers to treacle. Distracted from the songs’ greatness, they did. Which I why I was thrilled to discover Campbell’s final studio LP (he’s still with us, but in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease), 2013’s See You There.

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TVD Radar: The Prodigal Rogerson by J. Hunter Bennett

What a wonderful little book. J. Hunter Bennett—who when he isn’t doing the kind of thorough investigative work that makes The Prodigal Rogerson such an entertaining and enlightening read, plays bass for the D.C. band Dot Dash and practices law in our nation’s capitol—has done us all an inestimable service.

Because Rogerson is a larger-than-life figure. Bennett sums up Rogerson’s improbable existence as follows: “In 1983, Circle Jerks bassist Roger Rogerson stole the band’s van and dropped off the face of the earth. Thirteen years later he came back, demanded that his bandmates reunite so they could become “bigger than the Beatles,” and promptly dropped dead.” Bennett then lets us know, through the voices of Rogerson’s bandmates, friends, wives, step-children, and others, just what Rogerson—who was fond of going by aliases, because, or so he claimed, he was in hot water with the military for having committed a varying list of crimes before going AWOL—did during those lost years. Bennett also does an excellent job of filling us in on Rogerson’s years with the Circle Jerks, one of hardcore’s most fondly remembered bands.

In an oral history published by Portland, Oregon’s Microcosm Publishing, Bennett seeks out and interviews some 20-odd people who knew Rogerson during his life—which he spent, after disappearing with the Circle Jerks’ van, working as a security guard, driving a garbage truck, and other very odd jobs. He also married and served as a stepfather to several children, who remember him fondly, at least when he was sober. That said, he was one rather, er, unusual father figure. His stepson Wyatt Robards recalls, “I remember he told me about how to best prepare peyote to consume it,” before adding, “Why peyote would come up with an eight-year-old, I couldn’t tell you.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Black Flag,
The First Four Years

What was that? Did you feel it? It felt like, to quote the dour French poet Charles “Flowers of Evil” Baudelaire, “the wind of the wing of madness” passing over me. I felt said wind from said wing whilst reading an article written by Stereogum writer James Jackson Toth, in which he calls Black Flag “a very good band that didn’t become great until vocalist Rollins (nee Garfield) joined in 1981.What sets Black Flag apart from their contemporaries and imitators is not the supercharged beach-bum punk of the great, early records, but the hateful, heretical hardcore they produced behind the young Rollins. The fruits of this collaboration are why the band continues to earn a place within the furthest reaches of the counterculture alongside Hendrix, Garcia, and Cobain.”

Placing Rollins amidst the immortal likes of Hendrix and Cobain? This is sheer barking madness. Indeed, reading Toth’s insane words left me feeling as queasy as a lion that has just eaten a bad missionary. And they so startled the cigarette butt clinging for dear life to my lower lip that it made a suicidal leap into a nearby cup of coffee.

Sure, 1981’s Damaged is an indisputable classic, but most of its songs had already been appeared on EPs prior to Damaged’s release. And things go downhill fast from there. 1984’s Slip It In has its moments, but does anyone give a flying Chihuahua about such drags (and I mean literally; the songs drag) as My War (also released in 1984), or 1985’s Loose Nut and In My Head? As for 1984’s Family Man, it boasts a great cover by Raymond Pettibon, but aside from that it’s a complete waste of precious vinyl and proof positive that Rollins is the worst poet in rock history. No, I hold the opposite opinion; Henry Rollins ruined Black Flag with his humorless angst and macho posturing, with a noticeable assist from Greg Ginn, at whose helm B. Flag took their ill-fated swan dive into pure B. Sabbath sludge.

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