Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
Todd Rundgren,
Something/Anything?

Celebrating Todd Rundgren on his nomination into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Class of 2021.Ed.

The words “studio genius” get flung about willy-nilly, but Todd Rundgren, the guy who gave us “Hello, It’s Me,” is the real thing. Oh, I know, his prog explorations with Utopia are largely unlistenable, but I would ask you to look at Exhibit A, the 1972 double LP Something/Anything?, as proof of his, er, geniusitude. It was one of the greatest gifts (along with Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes and Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story) my older brother bequeathed to me when he took off to see the country in the mid-seventies, and I loved (and played) it to death.

Studio savant that he is, Rundgren recorded three of the LP’s four sides all by himself, and brought in a gaggle of studio musicians, including Rick Derringer, Randy and Mike Brecker, Hunt and Tony Sales, and Ben Keith to record side four. All four sides have titles, which we needn’t worry about, and side four purports to be a “pop operetta,” to which I can only say okay, Todd, it’s your LP. The critic Robert Christgau said of Something/Anything?, “I don’t trust double albums” before changing tracks and saying, “But this has the feel of a pop masterpiece, and feel counts.” He’s right about double albums: some of the tunes on Something/Anything? do nothing for me and have the distinctive smell of filler. That said, there are more than enough timeless tunes on Something/Anything? to justify that other overused word, “masterpiece.”

Stirring ballads (“It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”), dizzyingly marvelous power pop numbers ala The Raspberries (“Couldn’t I Just Tell You”), flat-out screamers (“Some Folks Is Ever Whiter Than Me”), great horn-driven hard rockers (“Slut”), Steely Dan soundalikes (“Piss Aaron”), utterly sublime pop confections (“Hello, It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light”) and oddball novelty tunes that nevertheless rock (“Wolfman Jack”)—that “anything” in the album’s title is Todd’s way of telling us he can do it all, and does.

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Graded on a Curve:
Carole King,
Tapestry

Celebrating Carole King on her 79th birthday today.Ed.

Carole King is a paradoxical figure; having begun her career as an assembly-line songwriter with then husband Gerry Goffin at the famed Brill Building, where the couple collaborated on a number of highly successful songs for other artists, she went on become an archetype of the sensitive singer-songwriter–that avatar of authenticity who wouldn’t be caught dead singing songs written in the musical world’s equivalent of an automotive factory.

King’s move from West Orange, NJ to Laurel Canyon in 1967 was more than just a geographical one; insofar as it symbolized her transformation from song craftsman for hire to soul-barer, it made King–along with the likes of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell–the perfect embodiment of the soul-searching Me Generation.

King’s turn toward self-expression was well in tune with the zeitgeist, as was proved by the supernatural success of her second solo album, 1971’s Tapestry. Every sensitive soul in America owned a copy, including the two spinster ladies–they were probably only in their late twenties–who ran the Catholic Youth Organization meetings I attended as a teen, that is until it finally struck me that (a) I wasn’t even Catholic, but was only there to woo my first love, and (b) could be having a much better time doing drugs.

How many nights did I listen to Tapestry while looking at the cover and thinking “Why is her hair so frizzy? Why isn’t she wearing shoes? And what is that goddamn cat’s problem?” And for a long time afterwards, having abandoned King and the school of genteel singer-songwriters in general for the electric thrills of David Bowie and Frank Zappa, I chuckled at my silly and naive thralldom to the mild comforts and gentile thrills of this snug and familiar quilt of an LP.

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Graded on a Curve: Hiroshima,
The Best of Hiroshima

Anyone can listen to good albums. But truly awful albums? They should be left to the professionals who receive combat pay for that sort of thing. Listening to a truly awful album is like tiptoeing across a minefield. You never know when you’ll get your ears blown off. Such is the case with 1994’s The Best of Hiroshima. You’d expect a name in such extraordinarily bad taste from a hardcore band, but Hiroshima are a smooth jazz ensemble composed largely of Asian-Americans. There’s no comparing them to one of humankind’s most horrifying mass atrocities, but in their own small way Hiroshima are guilty of inflicting unimaginable suffering on the innocent.

Unlike the A-Bomb, there’s nothing explosive about Hiroshima. Their songs have all the edge of a Ramen noodle, but they do have one thing going for them, and that’s their incorporation of such Japanese instruments as koto, taiko, and shakuhachi into their music. This sets them apart from the insipid smooth jazz pack, but you know what they say about setting yourselves apart from the herd–it just makes it easier for predators like me to pick you off.

But if I’m honest with myself (something I try to do as seldom as possible) I’ve heard much, much worse. Which isn’t to say the band can’t suck with the worst of them; a few of the songs on this best-of are easy listening compost of the sort used to grow Yannis. They include “Turning Point,” “Thousand Cranes,” “I Do Remember” (wish I couldn’t), and “I’ve Been Here Been Here Before” (suggested subtitle: “And I Never Want to Be Here Again”).

Most of the rest of the songs on the compilation fall into the “vacuous but perky” category. There’s the Caribbean-tinged “Island World” (criminal use of steel drums) and the similarly exotic “Hawaiian Electric,” which to its credit boasts a big funk lite bottom but still makes me want to bomb Pearl Harbor. And just to prove they’re real world travelers with no prejudice against the Middle East there’s “Time on the Nile,” which so far as I can tell has no Egyptian influences whatsoever.

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Graded on a Curve:
Allen Ginsberg,
Songs of Innocence
and Experience

I had a long talk with Allen Ginsberg once. To be more exact, he talked, and I drove him into a mad rage. Here’s the basic story: An English professor at my old alma mater, a so-so state school in rural Pennsylvania, lured Ginsberg there to do a poetry reading. And said same English professor, who’d taken a shine to me despite my shoddy class work and limited intellectual capacities, somehow convinced Ginsberg to sit down with me to discuss a paper on the Beat writers I was supposed to be working on. I’m still amazed Ginsberg agreed to do it. I suspect he demanded double his usual speaking fee.

Still, what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! How many mere mortals are granted a tête-à-tête with Allen Fucking Ginsberg, the man who’d written “I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”? There was only one problem. I wasn’t one of the best minds of my generation. I wasn’t even one of the lesser minds of my generation. What I was, frankly, was a waste product. So when we finally met I wasn’t just mildly giddy from a few weak drinks taken to calm my nerves. I was drunk, stoned, and all revved-up and ready to go thanks to some Black Beauties a pig farmer pal had given me the day before. Ginsberg never had a chance. Say what you will, it’s scientifically impossible to hold a cogent conversation with a pinwheel-eyed yahoo talking faster than the rinse cycle of a deranged washing machine.

But to get down to specifics, I opened with a few words about what an honor it was, etc, then promptly proceeded to rattle off a rapid-fire series of disjointed questions about Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Bob Dylan, the Merry Pranksters, the Fugs (a band I’d never listened to), and sundry other matters. The only thing I failed to quiz him on was the new poem (“Plutonium Ode”) he’d read just hours before. I suppose it slipped my mind.

In hindsight, this must have vexed poor Allen. Here he was, a legendary 20th Century American literary figure with a new poem, saddled with a gibbering cretin too clueless to ask him about it. Still, he continued to sit patiently through my colossal display of stark insensibility until, no longer able to contain himself, he snapped. “Are you listening to a word I say?” he shouted, spittle flying. “Shouldn’t you be taking notes for a paper or something? Did you actually attend my reading?” A good question, that. Had I? I couldn’t remember.

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Cooper,
Billion Dollar Babies

Happy 74th birthday to Alice Cooper.Ed.

Alice Cooper had the music world’s head in a guillotine in the year of our dark lord 1973; his cartoonishly ghoulish song matter and macabre on-stage shock rock shtick were thrilling to outrage-hungry teengenerates like my older brother, who went to a show on Alice’s Billion Dollar Babies tour in a suit covered with a billion dollars’ worth of stapled-on Monopoly money.

While your more sophisticated tastemakers were deriding poor Alice as so much P.T. Barnum hokum–a low-brow sensationalist who lacked the talent, subtlety and immediacy of such glam era creatures as David and Lou and Iggy–Alice was winning the big youth vote (“Elected” indeed!) and laughing all the way to the bank.

Who cares if his oh so chic contemporaries dismissed him with a smug wave of the hand? Sneered an offended David Bowie: “I think he’s trying to be outrageous. You can see him, poor dear, with his red eyes sticking out and his temples straining… I find him very demeaning.” Which didn’t stop Lou Reed, for one, from stooping to his own brand of low-rent on-stage theatrics; if shaving Iron Crosses onto your skull and mimicking shooting up on stage isn’t “straining” to be outrageous, what is?

Fact is Billion Dollar Babies isn’t really that different from Diamond Dogs or Berlin (whose producer, Bob Ezrin, also produced this baby). It’s not a concept album, per se, but it has the feel of one–on it Alice grapples with having money tossed at him, threatens to parlay the success of “School’s Out” into an apocalyptic run for higher office which he’s sure to win in a “generation landslide” cuz he’s got the toxic kiddie vote wrapped up, and in general flexes his skinny biceps while singing “God, I feel so strong, I am so strong.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The Kinks,
The Kinks Are the
Village Green Preservation Society

Celebrating Dave Davies on his 74th birthday.Ed.

Ray Davies is without a doubt the most fascinating and enigmatic figure to emerge from England’s whole Merseybeat movement. Was he a hard rocker or music hall romanticist, an ironically distanced and gimlet-eyed chronicler of an England in terminal decline or the biggest mourner at the funeral?

One can only conclude that he’s all of the above, and add that he was, during the late sixties, the smartest fellow on the entire English rock scene with the possible exception of the Bonzo Dog Band’s Vivian Stanshall. That he chose to exercise his estimable talents during this period writing seemingly modest vignettes—miniatures if you will—of middle-class English life should not stand in the way of our adjudging the results—in this case 1968’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society—to be undeniable masterpieces.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society—which was released on the same day as the Beatles’ White Album—is probably Davies’ finest hour. Indeed, I for one think it’s the finest of the “concept” albums to be released by the great bands of the era, although I’ll hardly argue with you if you go with Pet Sounds. On its 15 tracks Davies attempts to do what Marcel Proust did with his seven-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu—namely, to recapture lost time, and in specific his lost childhood spent in the little village green near his home in Fortis Green.

The album is a wistful look back at a “simpler” time, albeit one tinged with knowing irony—the Ray Davies who sings, on the title cut, “God save little shops, china cups, and virginity” is, without a doubt, having us on. And yet there’s an edge of sincerity there too—why not save vaudeville and variety, if they’re sunny childhood memories? But the truly wonderful thing about this remembrance of things past is the way Davies holds out the hope that—as he sings in “Do You Remember Walter?”—memories remain even as people change.

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Graded on a Curve:
Belle and Sebastian,
Girls in Peacetime
Want to Dance

Evolution’s a bitch. Sure, it has its good points–without it, we’d still be walking around with tails. But in the case of music–where evolution is the norm–it cuts both ways. Some bands get better as they grow and change; others, and I put Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian in this category, sacrifice the very qualities that made them special in the first place.

On 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister and 1998’s The Boy with the Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian went the twee indie pop route, and came across as young, charming, and achingly naive (a clever ruse.) But come 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress the band was buffing up its low-fi sound, and by 2014’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance they’d begun to explore dance music. I don’t begrudge them their transformation–evolution is evolution–but they left anti-Darwinists like yours truly behind, with no way to scratch our twee itch.

Don’t get me wrong. The dance on music on Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance succeeds. And Belle and Sebastian haven’t completely abandoned their roots. Indeed, half of the LP’s songs harken back to their early days, albeit dressed in contemporary couture. Standouts in the back-to-their-roots category include “Ever Had a Little Faith?” and opening track “Nobody’s Empire,” the latter of which bears eerie echoes of Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat.” Other excellent throwbacks include “Allie” and “Today (This Army’s for Peace),” a slow and lovely lullaby that demonstrates Belle and Sebastian haven’t lost the wistful melodic touch.

“The Everlasting Muse” is a slinky jazz number complete with stand-up bass that pivots to what sounds to me like a take on Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” (which the band may or may not be acknowledging with the line about stealing a melody).“The Book of You” is a hybrid, an early period Belle and Sebastian song gussied-up with booming bass, synth-chatter and some fuzzed-out electric guitar.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Dictators,
Go Girl Crazy!

Celebrating Handsome Dick Manitoba on his 67th birthday.Ed.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but LPs? A whole different story. One glance at the cover of The Dictators’ 1975 debut Go Girl Crazy!—which features roadie turned singer and “Secret Weapon” Handsome Dick Manitoba hamming it up in a wrestling outfit and a 200-watt smile, resplendent in Jewfro and dark sunglasses, an outrageous red glitter jacket bearing his name hanging from a gym locker nearby—and you know you’re in the presence of something truly outrageous and great.

Oh, how I love The Dictators. The New Yawk proto-punkers may have produced only one brilliant LP, namely Go Girl Crazy! (which sold like shit), but talk about influential; you can draw a direct line between it to The Ramones and straight to The Beastie Boys. All three bands have the same smartass “fight for your right to party” punk attitude; they all deliver tons of snotty and hilarious one-liners; and they all use great guitar riffs to deliver the goods. If The Ramones (who later did a version of “California Sun” off Go Girl Crazy!) and The Beastie Boys didn’t cop their entire shtick from The Dictators’ debut, I’m Michael Bolton, mulleted version.

But to be honest I don’t give a shit whether Go Girl Crazy! was the Sgt. Pepper of proto-punk and the Rosetta Stone for hundreds of bands that came later. All that matters to me is that Go Girl Crazy! is one of the rockingest, funniest, and most gleeful albums ever made. And it’s good-natured, too. I used the word “snotty” above, but The Dictators are a friendly lot, and as a result get away with a lot. You would expect songs like “Master Race Rock” and “Back to Africa” to be prime examples of the deliberate punk outrage, but both turn out to be just the opposite of what they appear to be, namely funny and friendly. Why, these guys don’t even swear; co-lead vocalist Andy “Adny” Shernoff says “heck!”

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Graded on a Curve: Various Artists, Footloose: Original Soundtrack of the Paramount Motion Picture

So the kids in Bomont, Oklahoma think they had it bad? In my rural hometown, we weren’t allowed to square dance. Our town elders also banned chewing gum, walking the streets after the 7:30 curfew, the subversive music of John Denver, and the word “squid.” Guess they thought it was an obscenity or something.

So imagine the liberating effect 1985’s Footloose and its accompanying official soundtrack had on us. No longer would we put up with our parents’ dour puritanism. No longer would we stand around at high school dances not dancing. We wanted to dance up a storm, press body to body and sweat up a healthy hard-on. We even created our own dance–a bouncing-like-pinballs variation on square dancing’s “boxing the qnat” we dubbed “moshing.”

The storyline of Footloose goes something like this: Chicago kid Ren moves to small town, falls for small town girl Ariel, wins game of tractor chicken (yes, it’s a thing) against town bully Chuck, and inspires the ire of the town preacher and his dour acolytes. A fist fight with Chuck and some book burning ensue, and Ren finally wins the day by holding the prom at a local grain silo, where everyone dances well past their 10:30 bedtime.

This is why I’ll always love the Footloose soundtrack; it represents sweet teen rebellion to me. Artists include, of course, Kenny Loggins, who contributes both the title track and “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man).” Other artists include the great Deniece Williams, Bonnie Tyler, Sammy Hagar, Shalamar, Moving Pictures, and Mike Reno and Ann Wilson of Heart fame, who duet on the soundtrack’s unforgettable love theme, “Almost Paradise.” Hardly what I’d call a stellar line-up for a dance-oriented movie soundtrack, and the fact that there are only two black acts represented here doesn’t improve matters. But I guess that’s the way it goes in rural Oklahoma.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Pretty Things,
Greatest Hits

Celebrating The Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor who turns 78 today. —Ed.

Mention England’s The Pretty Things, and most people will immediately direct your attention to 1968’s S.F. Sorrow, one of Western Civilization’s first rock operas (it preceded The Who’s Tommy by six months). Me, I prefer the band’s earlier, hard-driving R&B songs like “Rosalyn,” “Midnight to Six Man,” and “L.S.D.”

The pre-S.F. Sorrow Pretty Things specialized in a frenetic raunch-n-roll that split the difference between the Rolling Stones and Them. Powered by Phil May’s feral vocals and May’s stab to the heart guitar, the band’s sound was gritty as a mouthful of gravel, and you can hear them (as well as the band’s later psychedelic material) on 2017’s double LP Greatest Hits. Its 25 songs track the band from its R&B and blues-based early years through 1970’s Parachute, and make clear that Pretty Things were key players in the history of English rock ’n’ roll.

The 1964-66 Pretty Things were every bit the bad boys the Stones and The Who were, and quickly won a reputation for sowing chaos wherever they went. May claimed to have the longest hair in the UK; drummer Viv Prince’s mad behavior anticipated those of Keith Moon (and finally got hims sacked from the band). The band’s penchant for mayhem culminated in a 1965 stint in New Zealand, where they provoked as much outrage (and bad publicity) as The Who would later.

The early Pretty Things are best remembered for the 1964 song “Rosalyn,” which David Bowie covered on his 1973 LP Pinups. Bowie’s version reproduces the song’s primitive Bo Diddley beat, but Bowie’s vocals are positively enervated next to May’s Dionysian alley cat yowl. Ditto Pretty Thing’s 1964 hit “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Their version is furious, harmonica-fueled thing, and May goes at it in a full-throttle snarl. Bowie reproduces the song’s anarchic energy, but his singing’s prim, thin, mannered. It’s a case of savage vs. fop, and the savage wins hands down.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pink Floyd,
Wish You Were Here

Celebrating Nick Mason on his 77th birthday.Ed.

I have a dream. It’s that someone will put out a LP of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here made out of sugar and heavily laced with LSD. That way you could lick it before turning it on, and hear the damn album the way it should be heard, while you’re peaking.

It would be appropriate; has any major band ever been as associated with acid as Pink Floyd? (Yeah. The Grateful Dead, dumbo.) But not even the Dead managed to put out LPs (like 1969’s Ummagumma) that I would ONLY listen to while I was on hallucinogens, because they were unlistenable to anyone on the uninitiated side of the doors of perception. That said, I’ve since put on Ummagumma and found its first side to be bearable and its second side to be complete and unadulterated bullshit (“Several Species of Small Furry Animals” or “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party (Entertainment),” anyone?). And while my recollections are hazy, I have come to the conclusion that the guy in the dorm who owned it was so far out there he’d only play side two while tripping balls.

The Pink Floyd story is a familiar one. The band was formed in London in 1965 by Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright, with David Gilmour coming aboard in 1967, destined to be the substitute for Barrett, who despite the band’s success and his status as the band’s chief songwriter was coming unhinged.

After numerous legendary on-stage fiascos involving increasingly odd behavior on the part of Barrett—he might stand in the hot stage lights, crushed ludes melting in his hair, looking off into the distance with his arms dangling down, declining to play his guitar for the entire set—the band more or less decided to not pick him up for a gig, and just like that he was gone, although his living specter (he showed up, bald and bloated, at the Wish You Were Here sessions, and his evident madness left several of his former band mates in tears) would haunt the band and indeed inspire some of their best work.

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Graded on a Curve:
Neil Diamond,
Hot August Night

Celebrating Neil Diamond who turned 80 yesterday.Ed.

So my physicist buddy Stoner Doug finally managed to construct an actual time machine and was like, “Where should we go?” And we looked at each other and without even having to think about it shouted in perfect sync, “Hot August Night!” Because who wouldn’t have wanted to be at The Greek Theater on that historic August night in 1972 when Neil “Beautiful Noise” Diamond put it all out there in an orgiastic celebration of cosmic shlock?

Forget Elvis! Forget Chuck Berry! Forget Jesus Christ! This was NEIL at his Forever in Blue Jeans best, giving it his all! The Greatest Concert Ever! You don’t hear about it much because the story got suppressed by Neil’s record label, but 15 people died on that sultry August night! Steamed to death by sheer joy!

And Doug and I wanted to be two of them. So we climbed into his primitive time capsule made out of aluminum siding and flattened Dr. Pepper cans with a big sign on a stick reading “We LOVE you Neil!” And following a dramatic WHOOSH and the shriek of the time machine’s 350 Small Block Chevy engine there we were, sitting in Row Three beside a 50-year-old woman from Reno who told us she owned 13 cats all of whom were named Neil (if male) or Diamond (if female).

And there he was! Neil in the flesh! Just like on the cover of Hot August Night on which he appears to be jerking himself off! And why not? If anybody has the right to stroke his shtupper in front of an audience of thousands it’s Neil, who is THE songwriter of our time! The Brill Building savant who came up with such master strokes of pop brilliance as “Cherry, Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Song Sung Blue”! To say nothing of the deep philosophical meditation that is “I Am, I Said,” in which an existentially alone Neil complains that nobody will listen to him, not even his chair!

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Graded on a Curve,
Rick Wakeman,
The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

When it comes to the fortunately limited genre of rock concept albums about the history, myths and legends of Merry Olde England, no one holds a sword in the stone to Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. If you’re like me, the Man in the Golden Cape’s 1975 LP The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table makes for excruciating listening, but look on the bright side–it will earn you three credits towards a degree in Medieval Studies.

Wakeman is one of the most prolific artists of our time–I gave up trying to count the number of albums the keyboard virtuoso has recorded since his 1971 debut when it hit the century mark–but he’s best known for his work in the 1970s, and in particular his commercially successful concept albums (which in addition to this one include 1973’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII and 1974’s Journey to the Center of the Earth). Why on earth he didn’t keep ‘em coming is beyond me–Stonehenge, Robin Hood, the Magna Carta, the War of the Roses, and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots would all have made for essential graduate school listening, and I for one wonder how he managed to miss the Black Plague.

But you take what you can get, and what you get on The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is pageantry and fanfare by way of the New World Orchestra, overwrought vocal flourishes gratis the English Chamber Choir, the overheated to the point of combustion vocals of Gary Pickford-Hopkins, and a narrator of the Vincent Price school, all in the service of Wakeman’s synthesizers, keyboards and grand piano. Depending on your personal tastes, the results inspire either awe or a dash for the nearest wastebasket.

Even a cursory reading of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung makes clear that Wakeman’s fascination with myth is universal–we all live in the realm of myth, whether we know it or not. Rock and roll, with its gods and goddesses, and villains and heroes, is in and of itself a mythical rhythm–if Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis aren’t the stuff of myth, who are? The problem lies–and it’s an obvious one–in adapting Arthurian myth to a genre created to address the concerns of adolescents. Wakeman’s progressive rock treatment is the only approach possible, but one has to have a high tolerance for bombast to endure it. It helps if you enjoy Renaissance Faires.

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Graded on a Curve:
Mott the Hoople,
The Hoople

Remembering Pete Overend Watts who passed on this day in 2017 with a look back from our archives.Ed.

If news of the first U.S. Mott the Hoople tour in 45 years doesn’t have you digging your knee-high platform glitter boots out of the closet, well, I guess you’re just not a hopeless old glam geezer like me. Mott the Hoople ‘74 will feature core members (Ian Hunter, Ariel Bender, and Morgan Fisher) of the Mott that toured America way back in 1974, and will give their legions of lucky faithful the opportunity to swoon to all of their old favorites.

The bad news? Mott’s eight-city tour will begin in lovely Milwaukee on April 1 and end in New York City on April 10, so your opportunities to see one of England’s premiere bands of the early seventies live and in person are limited. But if you love Mott the Hoople–and you really should love Mott the Hoople–you’ll do what it takes to catch one of these shows because let’s face it, boys and girls, Mott the Hoople is THE NAZZ.

As everybody who was alive in the early seventies knows, Mott the Hoople were a hard rock band distinguishable from the pachydermal herd mainly by Ian Hunter’s lyrical (and hyper-self-aware) flights of fancy and Dylan meets pub rock vocalizations who were at the point of breaking up because nobody was buying their records when David Bowie more or less brought them back from the dead by handing them “All the Young Dudes,” which the Hoops turned into one of the most glorious anthems to teen solidarity in the face of parental sneers and fears of growing old you ever will hear. Turn twenty-five? Never! I’d sooner kill myself!

After that they cut a pair of simply extraordinary LPs in the form of 1972’s All the Young Dudes and 1973’s Mott, both of ‘em packed with songs so great you’d break your granny’s arm if she dared besmirch ‘em. You get everything from lethal stabs in the eye like “Sucker” and “One of the Boys” to big rock myth deconstructions like “Hymn for the Dudes” and “All the Way from Memphis” and “Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zurich)”, on the latter of which lets you know he knows a rock star is a rather shabby thing to be. Oh, and he also has a sensitive side; who else would have dared to produce a song (and it’s pure dead brilliant) called “I Wish I Was Your Mother”?

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Graded on a Curve:
Iron Butterfly,
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

For the past week or so I’ve been walking around singing “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” in a resonant voice, pretty much nonstop. I don’t sing all 19 minutes of it, mind you. You can’t sing a drum solo. Still, my significant other is threatening divorce, and we’re not even married.

A monolithic monument of molten metal sung by a guy with enunciation problems, Iron Butterfly’s 1968 “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (on the LP of the same title) hit the charts at the dawning of the progressive rock era, when 19-minute song cycles with titles like “Crystals Medusa” or “King Arthur’s Gelatinous Sceptre” were beginning to blight the musical landscape. There is nothing “progressive” about the 19 minutes of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”–the song’s a regressive return to the primitive simplicity of “Louie Louie” and anybody–even me–could play it, for hours if mood struck.

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is all primal force, an implacable juggernaut that grinds exceedingly fine–you don’t listen to it as much as get out of its way. Forget the Age of Aquarius–to quote Blue Öyster Cult, “This ain’t the garden of Eden… and this ain’t the summer of love.”

No, it’s the most ominous song about Adam and Eve’s playground ever–guitarist Erik Braun’s repeated fuzz-guitar riff, keyboard player/vocalist Doug Ingle’s ominous church organ, and Lee Dorman’s speaker-shuddering bass are all menace, and the only problem I have with the song–and it’s a serious one–is the way its forward motion is interrupted by a couple of lengthy solos–the first (unconscionably) by Ron Bushy on drums and the second by Ingle on organ. I’d have preferred a impregnable wall of heavy metal noise with no exits, no interruptions, no let up—the West Coast’s retort to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray.”

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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