Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve: Boney M.,
The Greatest Hits

Remembering Bobby Farrell, born on this date in 1949.Ed.

Let me just say from the outset that most people would sooner push a turd up a mountain with their nose than read a review of Boney M. I know I would, and I wrote the damn thing. But I can think of plenty of good reasons to listen to the cheesy Euro-disco of this Euro-Caribbean vocal group, created by German record producer Frank (the genius behind Milli Vanilli) Farian.

The first good reason to listen to Boney M. is they’re masters of kitsch–one only need check out their video for “Rasputin” to be convinced. The guy playing Rasputin is a Borat double, and the lyrics are hilarious. The second good reason to listen to Boney M. is, believe it or not, they produced some good disco songs, many of which were as ubiquitous to European dance floors as coke spoons were to Studio 54. Imagine a dollar store Abba with–and this is all-important–a dada twist. Tristan Tzara would have loved them.

Boney M. are superstars in such disco hotbeds as Russia, Norway, and South Korea, which says everything you need to know about their appeal. They hardly made a dent in the U.S. market, and the loss is ours, because they’re oodles of good dumb fun. It’s undeniable that most of the tracks on The Greatest Hits-one of the approximately 10,000 or so greatest hits compilations out there–blow big time, but a few of its cuts are inspired shlock and essential additions to your disco library.

The first thing you need to know about Frank Farian is he’s a man of exceptional erudition; he may have majored in Disco Studies at Germany’s Heidelberg University, but he minored in history. And it’s apparent on the dance floor fabulous “Rasputin,” a monograph of sorts on the hard-to-kill Svengali and renowned Lothario. ”There was a cat that really was gone,” sing Boney M., before calling Rasputin “Russia’s great love machine.” Farian’s also an expert on America’s legendary criminal figures, as he proves on “Ma Baker.” Aside from the fact that the crime matriarch in question’s name was Ma Barker, it’s almost as wordy as Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and sounds better beneath a glitter ball.

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Graded on a Curve: Mötley Crüe,
Dr. Feelgood

Celebrating Tommy Lee on his 60th birthday.Ed.

When the news circulated about my sex tape with Pamela Anderson I went into a panic. What would my mother think? Then it came out that the sex tape in question featured Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not so my mom. She called me in a huff and said “Here’s your chance to make something of yourself and you blow it. How am I going to face the ladies at my bridge club? Did you even have sex with the woman?” “I don’t think so,” I admitted. “I fell asleep while watching Baywatch and one thing led to another.”

Critics have been sniping at Mötley Crüe for decades. In a review of 1984’s Shout at the Devil the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau wrote “It’s hardly news that this platinum product is utter dogshit even by heavy metal standards,” but then Christgau’s an elitist and hates Guns N’ Roses too. God knows it’s easy to mock Mötley Crüe, both for their brand of hair metal and their fashion sense; their hair spray budget come the release of 1989’s Dr. Feelgood was $98,000 per week, and they were responsible for one-quarter of the world’s spandex sales. Without Mötley Crüe, many of Peru’s spandex farmers would have starved.

The important question when it comes to Dr. Feelgood is simple: Does it have a reason to exist? I would say yes. Vince Neil (vocals), Mick Mars (lead guitars), Nikki Sixx (bass and keyboards), and the aforementioned Tommy Lee collectively have the intelligence of a Cuban water rat, and their misogyny grows tiresome very quickly, but there’s no question they’re a top notch metal band. And a few of the songs on Dr. Feelgood—their first LP after being weaned from every mind-altering substance on planet Earth, as well as several they had to have shipped in special delivery from other regions of the galaxy—are well worth owning.

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The Absolute Worst 100 Songs in Rock History

“There have been tens of thousands (easy) more terrible rock songs than there have been good ones,” famed rock critic my grandmother once said, and in support of her theory she pushed the entire opus of REO Speedwagon my way. “‘Ridin’ the Storm Out’ is bong steady,” she said, “but you can flush everything else down the crapper.”

She was right, of course, and that’s what made it so hard to put this list together. Few of us are financially wealthy, but we’re all rich in rock and roll dreck. When the Jefferson Starship sing “We’re knee deep in the hoopla” in perpetual contender for worst song ever “We Built This City,” we know it’s not hoopla they’re singing about, is it?

But I’ve tried, Lord knows, to devise my own list of the Awful One Hundred. I’ve had to stomach the unstomachable, bear the unbearable, listen to the unlistenable, and in general audition more musical mortal sins than a talent scout in Hell, and these were the best I could come up with. I personally believe my efforts warrant the Congressional Medal of Horror.

Some of my selections you’ll agree with, others you’ll disagree with, and still others will make you wonder what dim creature from what low-IQ planet in what slow-witted galaxy spit me out like a watermelon seed with such force that I ended up here, solely to get the whole damn thing wrong. Some of my selections have let it be known just how unhappy they are. I’ve received hate mail. Threatening midnight phone calls. One song even took to standing outside my window at night screaming “Thank God I’m a country boy!”

A brief note on how I chose the songs on my list. There are gazillions of songs we can all agree are dog turds in burning paper bags, but to my way of thinking a truly appalling song is one I turn off the very second it comes on. If this means a sprained wrist, so be it. If, while behind the wheel of an automobile, this entails running head on into an 18-wheeler full of highly flammable nuclear waste, them’s the breaks.

Then again, there are countless Lovecraftian abominations out there I won’t turn off simply because they make me laugh. And even on some good days a hearty laugh can be as hard to find as D.B. Cooper. Who, if I understand correctly, leaped from a passenger jet at 10,000 feet into sub-zero temperatures on a stormy night in the environs of some of the most rugged wilderness in the country not to make off with $200,000 in ransom money, but to escape the Original Caste’s “One Tin Soldier.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The 5th Dimension, Master Hits

Celebrating Marilyn McCoo on her 79th birthday.Ed.

It seems like just yesterday I had hair down to my ass and was rolling in the mud at Woodstock. What a time! The dope was good, the music was far out, and even the brown acid was groovy, once you got past the part where your decomposing grandmother was squatting by your side, her breath reeking of grave dirt and burning sulphur. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and peace would soon be guiding the stars.

Odd, though, that “Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was the product of a very square Black chorale group that would have been more at home in a Las Vegas nightclub than Woodstock (where they didn’t play) or Harlem’s Cultural Festival that same year (where they did). The vocal group’s repertory of styles—which included R&B, jazz, pop and soul—was labeled “champagne soul,” perhaps because their musical stylings were all bubbles and no kick.

It’s hard to imagine a group less qualified to sum up the era’s Zeitgeist. To the hippies and yippies wearing psychedelic paint on their faces and nothing else, The 5th Dimension—whose best known songs are compiled on 1999’s Master Hits—had zero freak cred. At least you knew they weren’t narcs, because narcs made it their job to fit in. Amongst the Jimis and Joplins of the time, The 5th Dimension stood out like a house cat in a panther cage.

“The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”—which first appeared in 1967’s risible Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical—is an example par excellence of cultural appropriation. The song took the revolutionary spirit of the time and diluted it, and by so doing offered the non-LSD crowd a reassuring lense through which they could catch a glimpse of a youth phenomenon they found threatening. How much of a menace could America’s young people be if their anthem was a song like this?

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Graded on a Curve:
Jerry Lee Lewis, Southern Roots: Back Home to Memphis

Celebrating “The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis on his 87th birthday.Ed.

For Jerry Lee Lewis, 1973 was the worst of years and the best of years too; despite a brief turn in prison, the death of a son, a divorce (his fourth), and rampant drug and alcohol abuse, the Killer still turned out two seminal LPs with The Session… Recorded in London with Great Artists and Southern Roots: Back Home to Memphis.

The latter LP is nothing short of a miracle; Jerry Lee somehow managed knock off ten galvanizing performances even though he was, by all accounts, out of control even by his own berserk standards. When he wasn’t abusing legendary producer Huey “The Crazy Cajun” Meaux, the heavily medicated Lewis was threatening to kill a photographer and generally being a dyspeptic old cuss. “Do you wanna try one?” asks Meaux doing the proceedings. “If you got enough fuckin’ sense to cut it,” replies the orneriest cage-rattler to ever hail from the friendly state of Louisiana.

Let’s make one thing clear from the start; neither LP comes close to recapturing the anarchic feel and demented energy of Lewis’ early recordings, or the deranged ferocity (subtlety? toss it out the goddamn window!) of his hair-raising live performance with the Nashville Teens at Hamburg, Germany’s Star Club in 1964. His vocals are lazier, and his piano playing less a frenzied hammering at the gates of Hell, the place he’s always figured will be his final destination. It may have been the pills, but the old piano burner almost sounds relaxed at times.

In short, on Southern Roots The Killer proves there’s more than one way to skin a cat. He lays back in the groove and waxes sly and lewd by turns, sounding randy even at his most relaxed and pretty copacetic for a guy who has just threatened to murder another guy for having the audacity to point a camera his way. Whether he’s singing the songs of Doug Sahm or Isaac Hayes or breathing life into novelty tune about a haunted house, Jerry Lee mostly plays it cool but isn’t afraid to blow volcanic hot when the mood strikes him.

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Graded on a Curve:
Shaun Cassidy,
Wasp

Celebrating Shaun Cassidy on his 64th birthday.Ed.

If David Bowie was so weird, how come former teen hottie Shaun Cassidy’s cover of “Rebel Rebel” on his 1980 LP Wasp makes the Bowie original sound so … tame? Sure, Bowie’s half-pooch self on the cover of 1974’s Diamond Dogs is what you might call weird even though his dog dick’s been airbrushed out, but Shaun doesn’t have to resort to such gimmickry–he looks just like his White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (as in WASP!) self on the cover of Wasp, although he seems understandably nervous cuz he’s got a stinging insect on his face.

Often derided as a last ditch effort to resuscitate Cassidy’s moribund career, Wasp was produced by Utopian Todd “I’ll produce something/anything” Rundgren, who might have turned the album into a New Wave Bubble Freak masterpiece. Unfortunately, Sir Wizard and True Star stopped short at “Rebel Rebel” (more about which later), and filled the rest of the LP with what are largely workman-like covers of largely pedestrian material.

Wasp includes three Utopia songs–exactly three more, if you do the math, than any sane listener wants to hear. None deviate much from the originals, which is to say they’re once, twice, three times redundant, which in corporate terms means they’d be given severance packages and shown the door. Except wait: the title track is fascinating indeed: Shaun shouts “Hey cowboy, didn’t you used to be a faggot bartender in the West End?” (the lyric sheet reads “packy back” but I know homophobia when I hear it ), then confuses New Wave with punk (“You’re looking mighty New Wave/I hardly recognize you with that shish kabob through your face.”) In short it’s a hoot, in large part because it betrays poor Todd’s complete ignorance of current events.

The other two Rundgren tracks are useless: on “Selfless Love” Cassidy gets his heart broken and threatens to jump off a mountain, which is a pretty selfless thing to do if you ask me. “Pretending” gives Shaun the chance to get all theatrical, and gives the impression he’s auditioning for a role in Cats.

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Graded on a Curve:
Deep Purple,
Concerto for Group
and Orchestra

I guess you had to be there. You should be glad you weren’t there. If you’re not glad you weren’t there you should schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist immediately. She won’t be able to help you, but she will take your money and urge you to come back so she can take more of your money.

The “there” I’m talking about was the Royal Albert Hall in September 1969, where Deep Purple collaborated with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on a concerto composed by organist Jon Lord with lyrics written by vocalist Ian Gillan. I will state from the outset that said collaboration was more than just a misbegotten child—it was a harbinger of worse to come from the likes of Procol Harum, Rick Wakeman, and Caravan. Deep Purple have a lot to answer for.

Rock music was moving in a classical direction at the time, a trend that would ultimately leave us cringing to the neo-classical abominations of Wakeman and, God help us all, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who dispensed with the live orchestras in favor of their own adaptations of classical chestnuts. But Deep Purple were the first, the pioneers of pomp and circumstance, and hence occupy a place of honor in the Museum of Musical Monstrosities.

The Concerto for Group and Orchestra is composed of three movements, or four too many in my opinion. You get exactly what you’d expect, pretension piled upon pretension to create a veritable mountain of pretension you’d be a fool to scale without harness, carabiners, and jackhammer-grade ear protection.

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Graded on a Curve:
Bruce Springsteen, Chapter and Verse

Celebrating Bruce Springsteen on his 73rd birthday.Ed.

Most artist compilations serve a single purpose—to give the listener who doesn’t want to spring for more than one LP of a musician or band something to buy. This is not the case with 2016’s Chapter and Verse, which offers both casual and hardcore fans of the Boss two great reasons to shell out their hard-earned shekels.

First, it includes five previously unreleased tracks of Springsteen’s early work—two with the Castiles, one with Steel Mill, and two 1972 tracks one of which, “The Ballad of Jesse James,” is a flat-out triumph. Second, it offers up a couple of recent brilliant Springsteen tracks that offer a damn good reason for lapsed fans like yours truly to check out what he’s been up to since we tuned the poor fellow out. I’ll say right now that they establish him, along with the rare likes of Neil Young, as a musician whose work remains not just exciting but vital.

Springsteen himself chose the eighteen tracks that make up this cursory overview of his long career, and frankly the whole contraption would collapse for sheer lack of meat—a simple cut from most of his studio LPs simply isn’t enough—were it not for the unreleased early tracks, which date the whole back to 1966 when Springsteen was a member of a forgotten garage rock band called the Castiles. “Baby I” may not be a song for the ages but it generates pure raw-boned excitement, and that goes double for the Castiles’ live cover of Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” which jumps and shouts to the sound of one great Farfisa organ.

Meanwhile, Steel Mill’s “He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)” is a guitar rave-up that reminds me of early Grand Funk Railroad at their best. “The Ballad of Jesse James,” which is credited to the Bruce Springsteen Band, features some truly ‘eavy guitar and one great piano, and on it Springsteen sounds like Springsteen and belts out the lyrics like his life depends on it. “Henry Boy,” on the other hand, features some fancy acoustic guitar work and would have sounded right at home on Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.

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Graded on a Curve:
Bad Company,
Bad Company

I’m bad company, I don’t deny it. I tend to monopolize conversations. I’m loud. I laugh at my own jokes. I cut other people off mid-sentence. I cheat at penny poker, although I always get caught. And I have the annoying habit of boring people with long monologues on the Versailles Treaty.

But England’s hard rock band Bad Company are another beast altogether. Their members constituted a minor supergroup. Vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Burke hailed from Free. Guitarist Mick Ralphs came by way of Mott the Hoople, where he’d tired of their fancy Glam pretensions. Bass player Boz Burrell previously played with King Crimson. Together they hammered out some of the most lowdown, stripped to the bone music of the Seventies. They had no interest in bedazzling you with subtlety.

The band’s eponymous 1974 debut was one of the premier hard rock albums of its time, and gave teen listeners a no-frills alternative to such bands as Queen, Supertramp, and the Electric Light Orchestra, amongst others. There was scads of other hard rock bands out there, but few pounded it home the way Bad Company did—Grand Funk Railroad were just plain inferior product, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive—with such up-tempo songs like “Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” and “Hey You”—may as well have been the Archies. The sole populist band their superior was Lynyrd Skynyrd, thanks both Ronnie Van Zant’s extraordinary lyrical gifts and the Southern Rock touches, which added color but never detracted from the band’s hard rock sound.

Bad Company kicks things off with “Can’t Get Enough,” with Ralphs playing pile driver guitar while drummer Burke crushes stone like a guy on a slave gang. Rodgers makes it clear he has bad manners—he doesn’t politely ask for things, he takes them. “Rock Steady” is a slinkier-than-usual statement of purpose with Ralphs playing a cool guitar hook, perfect fills and a restrained but perfect solo while a pair of female backing vocalists toss in on the choruses. As for Rodgers, he demonstrates why he’s considered one of the finest vocalists of the era and an inspiration for the likes of Ronnie Van Zant.

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Graded on a Curve:
Oasis,
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Celebrating Liam Gallagher, born on this day in 1972.Ed.

I’m of two minds about Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, which many consider the crowning glory of the 1990s Britpop movement. On one hand I can’t help but bask in its bold strokes, symphonic sweep, and big, soaring anthems. On the other, there’s this nagging voice in my head that tells me it’s a stellar example of cocaine-induced grandiosity, and all sound and fury signifying nothing.

On this 1995 LP older brother/songwriter Noel Gallagher eschewed the rawer sound of the band’s debut Definitely Maybe in favor of a slew of pumped-up arena rockers, and in so doing produced the biggest–both in sonics and sales–album to emerge from the Cool Britannia movement.

Gallagher’s formula was simple; he took a cue from McDonald’s and supersized everything. The key world is swelling, and the results sound just swell, that is unless you’re of the opinion that (What’s the Story) is all steroidal bravado and no content.

And I can understand those people who have come to the latter conclusion, because Gallagher doesn’t really have much to say. The lyrics are crap; they sound like placeholders for some real lyrics Gallagher was simply too lazy to write. He goes heavy on catch phrases, cliches, and the like, and comes up with more than his fair share of howlers; “Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball” will stand forever as one of the dumbest couplets in the history of Western Literature.

But in the end I say to hell with the slipshod lyrics and simply revel in these soaring anthems to nothing: “Wonderwall,” “Champagne Supernova,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and “Some Might Say” may not mean much of anything, but rarely have a bunch of empty gestures sounded so inexplicably… sublime.

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Graded on a Curve:
Styx,
The Grand Illusion

Celebrating Chuck Panozzo and remembering John Panozzo, both born on this day in 1948.Ed.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Beware, for if you stare long enough into Styx’s The Grand Illusion, The Grand Illusion will stare back into you.” Nietzsche had good reason to be fearful, for not only did Styx’s masterpiece ultimately drive him mad, it also happens to be the most addictive slice of “soft-core prog” (thank you, Philip) ever created. I myself was certain I hated it, but like Nietzsche I stared too long into it, and sure enough here I am, come not to bury The Grand Illusion but to praise it.

Chicago’s Styx came to be in 1972, but its members were playing together long before that under the name TW4. A lightweight ELP but with catchier melodies, far better guitar hooks, and fewer grandiose musical pretensions—no “symphonies” or 93-part songs ever came from these guys—Styx was gigantic from the late seventies to early eighties, scoring four consecutive multi-platinum albums, a feat never matched by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

Styx was your younger sibling band par excellence. While older sis Suzie sneered at Styx as a moronic shlock-rock band, younger brother Randy knew for a fact Styx could kick the asses of all those high-falutin’ progressive rock outfits like Yes and Gentle Giant Suzie thought were so sophisticated with one synthesizer tied behind its back. Styx was more fun to listen to while doing bong hits, too.

Styx recorded The Grand Illusion—their seventh studio album and the one that catapulted them to superstardom—in 1977. The album’s cover was the work of legendary psychedelic poster artists Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, while the band’s line-up at the time included Dennis DeYoung on keyboards, synthesizers, and vocals; Chuck Panozzo on bass guitar and vocals; John Panozzo on drums and vocals; Tommy Shaw on acoustic and electric guitars and vocals; and James Young on guitar, keyboards, and vocals. DeYoung handled the bulk of the songwriting duties, although Shaw and Young also contributed tunes.

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Graded on a Curve:
Paul Williams, Evergreens: The Best
of the A&M Years

Celebrating Paul Williams on his 82nd birthday.Ed.

It is the fate of some singer/songwriters to be the worst interpreters of their own work. Burt Bacharach springs to mind. Ditto Hoyt “Joy to the World” Axton and Jimmy “MacArthur Park” Webb. Kris Kristofferson falls into this category—unlike Webb and Axton he’s instantly recognizable for his rugged good looks and ragged voice, but few prefer his versions of “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Help Me Through the Night” to those of Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash.

The premiere example of the phenomenon, however, is Paul Williams. Williams may have written immortal songs like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” (amongst others) as well as hits by Three Dog Night, Barbra Streisand, Anne Murray, and Helen Reddy, but his own versions have never made a dent in the public consciousness. Even his take on “Rainbow Connection” is overshadowed by the one sung by Kermit the Frog.

Fairly or not, Williams’ failure to make a name for himself singing his own songs has much to do with the fact that he’s one of the most unprepossessing singers to ever take the stage. One is tempted to use the word gnome, but while he’s short (five feet, two inches) he isn’t ugly—just odd looking. If anything, he’s cuddly. You want to pick him up and squeeze him. It hardly matters he can sing and has great material—he simply doesn’t belong beneath stage lights. Williams is the Anti-Kris. He can sing but looks a lot like a Hobbit–Kristofferson looks like a rock star but can hardly hold a tune.

William’s presence in the public eye was limited largely to his many TV appearances—a joke appearance on The Tonight Show here, parts on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hollywood Squares and The Muppet Show there. For most he wasn’t a pop songwriter of genius—he was the Muppets guy.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Adverts,
Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts

Talk about your one-chord wonders. England in the mid- to-late seventies was awash in them, punk bands that woke up to the fact that you didn’t have to be Queen to seize the stage and play rock and roll. The spirit of the day was “Look ma! I just picked up a guitar ten minutes ago and played my first gig last night!” And it was The Adverts who perfectly captured that spirit on the opening cut of their 1978 debut LP Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts, “One Chord Wonders.”

Early arrivals on London’s punk scene, The Adverts perfectly encapsulated The Replacements’ sentiment “I hate music/ Sometimes I don’t/I hate music/It’s got too many notes.” And on “One Chord Wonders”—a feedback-laced hit of pure punk amphetamine—they turn it into both a point of pride and a manifesto. Their message: “I wonder how we’ll answer when you say/”We don’t like you – go away”/”Come back when you’ve learned to play.” And, “The wonders don’t care–we don’t give a damn.” On “Bored Teenagers” they channel the ennui of a time when the only way to get a job was with a personal referral from the Queen. Looking for something new isn’t paying off, opines T.V. Smith, tying yourself to the railway tracks isn’t a completely unreasonable idea, and everyone’s “looking for love/or should I say emotional rages.”

“New Church” is stripped-to-the-bone power pop in an era when power pop meant the Raspberries, On it T.V. Smith gobs on the notion that the meek shall inherit the earth, so he intends to stick with the winners: “So long – goodbye to the blind and the weaklings/I’ll follow my feelings/Be strong – I’ll do what I want.” “On the Roof “ is a drag that picks itself up only to fall down again, and what Smith is getting at is adult hypocrisy, which he wishes was a joke—he’s “waiting for the punchline” but it ain’t coming, and in the meantime he’ll “be on the roof/Waiting for you/Where we’ll hide.”

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Graded on a Curve: Frankie Avalon,
“Beach Party” b/w
“Don’t Stop Now”

Celebrating Frankie Avalon who turns 82 on Sunday.Ed.

It’s easy to say snide things about Frankie Avalon. I myself have called the teen idol who first made his name as a trumpet player, then as a singer, and finally as the star of such immortal motion pictures as 1963’s Beach Party (with Annette Funicello, natch) and 1965’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (with Vincent Price) the worst thing to happen to rock’n’roll this side of the extended drum solo.

I’m being unfair of course. Avalon was just a good Italian kid from Philly who specialized in froth, didn’t have a rebellious bone in his body, and never pretended otherwise. An earnest and wholesome boy who never got hooked on heroin or attempted to reinvent himself as a pinwheel-eyed avatar of the hallucinogenic sixties, was our Frankie. But say what you will about his escapist product, Avalon has always been and will always be true to himself.

As anybody who has ever listened to “Venus” or “Why,” Avalon was a crooner whose saccharine songs sound inconceivable as teen product to anyone reared in the rock’n’roll era. Lush orchestral arrangements, choirs, you name it—Frankie’s producers liked to lard it on, and on, and on. Ah, but once, just once—and it is as glorious a moment as any in the annals of rock—Avalon said to hell with it and got down with his bad self, garage rock style.

I have no idea why. Perhaps he ate an extra-large helping of some rich Italian dessert with a touch too much sweet liqueur, say amaretto, in it. Or drank one too many (as in two) glasses of red wine. Whatever the reason, on one lost day in 1963 a real, real gone Avalon swaggered into the studio, flicked a half-smoked cigarette at some studio hack, and snapped, “Fuck the strings, Johnny, and ditch the backing singers. This is Jungleland.” And proceeded to throw his everything behind as mean as guitar as he could get his goomba (no offense meant) mitts on.

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Graded on a Curve:
Faces, A Nod is as
Good as a Wink…
to a Blind Horse

Celebrating Kenney Jones in advance of tomorrow’s birthday.Ed.

Faces were The Replacements of their time. Their live shows were raucous, good-natured, often sloppy affairs, fueled by hard liquor, Ronnie Wood’s roar of a guitar, and the sandpaper vocals of Rod “The Mod” Stewart and sad croon of the late, great Ronnie Lane. They were the best party band of their era, or perhaps any era, despite critic Robert Christgau’s equivocal verdict of their legacy: “Their music was so loose and that was such an up; their music was so loose and their songs fell so apart. Come to think of it, bar bands are generally tighter.” Tighter maybe, but not 1/100th as fun, rowdy, or brilliant; show me a bar band that can write a song as great as plaintive as “Ooh La La” or as hard-edged and funny as “Too Bad.” Besides, if it’s tight you’re looking for, go listen to Emerson Lake & Palmer. Just don’t blame me for the brain hemorrhage.

And while the Faces’ LPs may have been uneven, their irresistible mix of hard rock, boogie, and doleful, lovely ballads (most of them sung by Lane, the band’s bassist) still sounds as fresh today as it did before Faces came to their ignominious end, with Wood defecting to The Rolling Stones and Stewart, who owned the best cackle in rock history, commencing his sad slide from one of rock’s great vocalists and songsmiths (“Every Picture Tells a Story” and “Maggie May” are stone brilliant, two of the best coming-of-age songs ever) to the pathetic Top 40 panderer and low-brow prat of a balladeer he is today.

Briefly, Faces evolved from The Small Faces, the mod group that gave us “Itchycoo Park” and the great Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Faces = The Small Faces minus guitar hero/vocalist Steve Marriott (who went on to form Humble Pie) plus the rooster-coifed Stewart and Wood, and the ace new line-up lost no time in establishing a reputation as loveable rogues: happy-go-lucky, down-to-earth punters always ready for a drink, a hasty knee-trembler, or a bit of innocent off-hours mischief–they were every bit as adept at getting banned from hotel chains as Keith Moon–an image best expressed in the tune “We All Had a Real Good Time” or the title of their 2005 greatest hits collection The Best of Faces: Good Lads When They’re Asleep.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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