Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
King Crimson,
In the Wake of Poseidon

I’ve spent years trying to winnow my horror of progressive rock down to a simple formula. Little did I know the enemy (in the form of progrocker Dave Stewart of Egg and National Health non-fame) had already done it for me. In Stewart’s words progressive rock was “hard to learn, hard to play, and probably hard to listen to.” Take away that “probably” and I’d say he had it spot on.

Amongst the early progrock progenitors stand King Crimson and their overrated 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King. Aside from “21st Century Schizoid Man” the LP is both overblown and overwrought, but that hasn’t stopped seemingly intelligent listeners everywhere from venerating it like a splinter from the holy rood. Me, I’m with The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, who upon its release labeled it “ersatz shit.” And the band’s follow-up, 1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon, is worse, if only because its pretentious levels remain in the red zone and it doesn’t have a “21st Century Schizoid Man” on it.

Despite the excellence of Robert Fripp’s guitar and Keith Tippett’s piano, the LP’s problems are your typical progressive rock problems–this ain’t rock’n’roll, this is genrecide. Pomposity is the order of the day, as is what I can only call the bucolic plague. England’s green and pleasant land is a breeding ground for such pastoral nonsense as “Peace–A Beginning,” ”Peace–A Theme,” and ”Peace–An End,” on the last of which Greg Lake sings like he’s being castrated in Winchester Cathedral. The same goes for the sylvan “Cadence and Cascade,” which should give even the staunchest ecologist pause to consider the positive aspects of urban blight. And to punch Mel Collins’ flute solo in the mouth.

The title track’s only plus is that King Crimson keep things relatively simple. Sure, Lake’s vocal interpretation of Peter Sinfield’s lyrics–which are godawful throughout–belongs at a Renaissance Faire, but you get no 19/8 rhythms, poly-tonality or other high crimes and misdemeanors of the progressive rock genre. The jazzy “Cat Food”is the only number on In the Wake of Poseidon that doesn’t make me puke pomp, thanks primarily to Tippett’s dissonant piano going-ons.

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Graded on a Curve:
Venus and Mars

Celebrating Paul McCartney in advance of his 79th birthday tomorrow, June 18.Ed.

I finally got to see the comandante. It nearly killed me. Between the trigger-happy checkpoint guards, the high-speed ride in the bouncing wooden bed of a rickety pickup along the perilously narrow roads hanging precariously over the steep mountain gorges, and the 3-day trip upriver through alligator- and piranha-infested waters, with government troops occasionally firing upon us with AK-47s from the riverbank, I didn’t think I’d survive. But I finally arrived, having braved it all to get the STORY, the real lowdown from the general himself on the bloody revolution.

But if I thought he was as interested as I was in talking about the insurgency, I was dead wrong. The moment I entered his office he said, “Do you have it?” He was referring to my cost of admission for our tête-à-tête. “I do,” I said. He smiled. It was not a thing you would want to see. Some men smile, and it is a show of teeth. “Gimme,” he said greedily. So I handed it to him and he gazed at lovingly and said, “Amigo, Venus and Mars are alright tonight.”

Some people love sex, and some people love macaroni and cheese. The general loved two things: killing and Wings’ 1975 LP Venus and Mars. He pressed a button on his desk, and an adjutant in white gloves rushed in. “Put this on the turntable,” said the general, “and if you make so much as a shadow of a scratch, you will pay for it with your head.”

So instead of talking about the insurgency as I’d hoped, we listened to Venus and Mars. The general was rapt. No one knew how old he was (my guess: 110) or his origins (some said a patrician family, others that his mother had been a whore) or what he’d done before becoming the comandante (Proust scholar, said some, gun runner said others.) But I knew this; the bald and wrinkled old man with the great pair of big black mustaches, who looked like a character straight out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, loved Venus and Mars. And in the end I got my STORY, only it wasn’t the one I’d expected.

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Graded on a Curve: Harry Nilsson,
Nilsson Schmilsson

Remembering Harry Nilsson, born yesterday in 1941.Ed.

Harry Nilsson is one of the rock’n’roll’s stranger paradoxes; a songwriter of real genius, and one of rock’s great interpreters of other people’s songs, his gradual descent into round-the-clock consumption of Brandy Alexanders transformed him into the bawdy lush responsible for such dubious tunes as “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” (“You’re breakin’ my heart/You’re tearing it apart/So fuck you”) and “I’d Rather Be Dead” (“I’d rather be dead/I’d rather be dead/I’d rather be dead/Than wet my bed.”)

Nilsson established his critical reputation with such early classics of pop baroque as 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show and 1968’s Aerial Ballet, and his groundbreaking interpretative showcase, 1970’s Nilsson Sings Newman. He achieved his popular breakthrough with 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson, an amazing collection of originals and covers, and won critical praise for that same year’s soundtrack to the ABC animated film, The Point, which spawned the hit “Me and My Arrow.”

However, by 1972’s Son of Schmilsson and 1973’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (a selection of pop standards), Nilsson’s magic touch was fading in direct proportion to his consumption of alcohol. His definitive fall from pop grace came during his notorious connection with John Lennon during the latter’s 1975 LA Lost Weekend, with its tragicomic episode at the Troubadour, Lennon’s destruction of Lou Adler’s bedroom, and Nilsson’s hurling a bottle through a hotel window.

Their non-stop boozing and carousing culminated in the wasted, Lennon-produced fiasco that was 1974’s Pussy Cats, which included such mediocrities as the Lennon-flavored take on Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross,” a truly insipid cover of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and a sub-par “Save the Last Dance for Me” (Nilsson ruptured a vocal chord during the sessions, and hid the fact from Lennon; as a result, his normally lovely vocals were very rough). Indeed, the only song I find listenable is the truly raucous cover of “Rock Around the Clock,” which features (remarkably enough) Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and Jim Keltner on drums, as well as Jesse Ed Davis on guitar and Bobby Keys on sax.

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Graded on a Curve:
Slade, Slayed?

Celebrating Noddy Holder on his 75th birthday.Ed.

So there I was, listening to Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch and being all jazzbo pretentious and shit, when really deep down inside I was miserable when it hit me—what I needed at that moment was not the chill vibraphonic rebop of Bobby Hutcherson, but the atrocious spelling, abominable haircuts, and abysmal glitter gear of those inimitable Black Country lads, Slade.

It may be easy to make fun of ‘em, but the quartet ruled the UK charts in the early ’70s, with artists like Roxy Music and David Bowie eating their dust. And vocalist Noddy Holder and the boys have been cited as an influence by everybody from Twisted Sister and Nirvana. Not bad for a couple of skinheads-turned-glamsters from Wolverhampton, whose misspellings, I kid you not, led to protests by an entire nation’s worth of outraged school marms.

The band’s classic line-up (Holder on vocals, guitar, and bass; Dave Hill on guitar, vocals and bass; Jim Lea on bass, vocals, keyboards, violin, and guitar; and Don Powell on drums and percussion) was formed in 1969 as Ambrose Slade. Their first album tanked, and they abandoned their skinhead look due to its negative association with football hooliganism. The “Ambrose” went too, and following the release of some poorly spelled hits and a well-received live album the band blew out the pipes with LP #3, Slayed?

Filled with anthemic sing-alongs, Slayed? remains one of glitter rock’s seminal albums, despite the fact that the toughs in Slade looked about as absurd in their Glam clobber as Mott the Hoople looked in theirs. Holder wore a mirror top hat, tartan pants with suspenders, and striped socks, while Hill sported an ungodly Prince Valiant haircut and silver outfits that made him look like an alien with a retarded Venusian hair stylist. But who cares? The kids ate it up.

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Graded on a Curve:
Cheap Trick,
Heaven Tonight

Celebrating Bun E. Carlos who turned 71 on Saturday, June 12.Ed.

What a cheap trick. Here Rockford, Illinois’ finest put out Heaven Tonight which I considered the coolest album in the galaxy, only to follow it up with Cheap Trick at Budokan and the heinous “I Want You to Want Me,” which I’ve had to suffer through like 80,000 times over the years. Every single person I know loves the damn song. I’d sooner listen to the death rattle of a unicorn.

That said, 1978’s Heaven Tonight–the band’s third–still makes me as giddy as an axe-wielding maniac at a remote summer camp. It’s a knee-trembling, rock ‘em sock ‘em, wham bam than you ma’am classic, and it solidly established Cheap Trick amongst America’s Power Pop elite alongside the Raspberries, Big Star, and (my campy faves) Redd Kross.

What set Cheap Trick apart from the power pop pack was hard rock crunch. They infused their catchy melodies with steroids: had they been ML baseball players they’d have gone the way of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Songs such as “Surrender,” “On the Radio,” and “How Are You” may not be cement mixers, but “High Roller,” “Auf Wiedersehen,” and “Stiff Competition” all fall into Robert Christgau’s characterization of Heaven Tonight as “power-tooled hard rock product.”

Heaven Tonight is a case of eclecticism at work. “Surrender” is an ecstatic-making monument, like Mount Rushmore but with a better chorus. And it’s funny to boot. Robin Zander comes downstairs to discover his parents going at it, and with his Kiss records playing to boot. It’s a friendly bridge across the generation gap; if the kids are alright, so are the parents. Mom and dad aren’t out of it, they’re with it, and it’s a life-altering revelation.

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Graded on a Curve: Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith, Mark E. Smith with Austin Collings

The infamous Mark E. Smith probably wouldn’t have liked you. It wasn’t personal; the late Fall frontman didn’t much like anyone. But his misanthropic ranting and raving didn’t stop his fans from loving him; indeed, the cult of personality that arose around him turned the Fall into Manchester, England’s equivalent of the Grateful Dead. Like the Dead, the Fall attract fanatics–once under Smith’s spell you don’t so much listen to them as make them your life. And Smith did it without a single dancing bear.

Village crank and musical genius in one, Smith’s stewardship made the Fall one of the most consistently brilliant and prolific bands of their–or any–time. Since their 1979 debut Live at the Witch Trials, the Fall have released some three dozen studio LP and more live LPs than I’m inclined to count. Although when one speaks of the Fall what one is really talking about is Mark E. Smith. Enough unlucky musicians (38 line-ups as of 2002) came and went (some were fired, others fled in terror) to fill an old-school telephone directory. As Smith famously said, “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.”

The Fall never made much of a dent in the commercial market, largely because they were (and likely to remain) an acquired taste. Not only are they not for everybody, they’re hardly for anybody. I know, amongst my friends and acquaintances, of only one Fall fan, and he briefly played with the band. But if you are a serious Fall fan you are by definition a person who wants to know everything about the band, and by extension its irascible and misanthropic leader Mark E. Smith.

Which brings us to Smith’s 2009 memoir Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith. Smith was vitriolic, volatile, vindictive, and often petty, and in Renegade he goes attack dog on former band mates, record labels, and the musical press. He also vents his spleen on Manchester bands, television (although he loved Dallas), and the cinema. Yet he emerges a lovable curmudgeon. And just about everything that comes out of his mouth is hilarious.

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Graded on a Curve: Boston, Boston

Remembering the late Brad Delp ahead of his birthday tomorrow, June 12.Ed.

Boston: Home of the Boston Tea Party! And Boston baked beans! But who gives a shit? Boston is first and foremost the home of Boston, the “corporate rock band” that sold like 80 billion copies of its first album, 1976’s eponymous Boston, thanks to its power pop melodies, Brad Delp’s histrionic vocals, band mastermind’s Tom Scholz’s big guitar, and a production job that was slick as jizz thanks to Scholz’s notorious perfectionism—he once made his drummer play the kick drum some 18,000 times because it “Just didn’t sound perfect”—which gave the album the luster and sheen of a fresh-off-the-line Lamborghini. I mean, this baby was so slick you could hardly hold onto it long enough to put it on your record player.

But it sounded great back in 1976, even though I can remember debating with friends over whether Scholz was playing an actual guitar or some synthesized approximation of such, that’s how good his guitar sounded. Me, I loved it when Boston came out, and it still makes me nostalgic because it was the first LP I ever got high to—with my friend Dave beneath the Littlestown Railroad Bridge, and on 8-track no less.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Boston’s debut is that, despite its reputation for over-production, it was actually recorded for several thousand dollars—a pittance in those days. This is largely because Scholz recorded the bulk of the album in his tiny home studio in Watertown, Massachusetts, sidestepping Epic, which wanted the LP to be recorded in a professional studio. In addition, he recorded the acoustic guitar parts with a $100 Yamaha guitar.

No matter what you think of the LP—within two years the albums sounded unbearably slick to my ears, and I wondered why I’d ever loved it—there is no denying genius of the sheer guitar histrionics and cool riff that make “More Than a Feeling” a staple of FM radio, or that chorus for god’s sake. Boston’s lyrics were never better than mediocre, although they touch on universal teen themes. On the hard-charging “Peace of Mind,” for example, Delp utters the trite lines, “People living in competition/All I want is my peace of mind,” but by god the words sound good coming out of his mouth, especially with Scholz’s guitar roaring behind him.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pink Floyd,
The Dark Side of
the Moon

Back in the day–and I’m talking very back in the day–Pink Floyd’s 1973 stoner masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon played from behind the door of every pot smoke-filled room in my college dormitory. I say this with authority because I was in every one of the those dorm rooms, which meant I heard The Dark Side of the Moon a lot. And by that I mean I heard it to death, and by the time I got booted out of that dorm for smoking pot in dorm rooms I hated The Dark Side of the Moon so much I vowed to never listen to it again. And for decades I kept that vow.

But you know how it goes. One day your curiosity gets the better of you. You think you’ve thrown The Dark Side of the Moon out with the bong water when one day you wake up and decide to give The Dark Side of the Moon another listen. This is what is commonly called failing to learn from experience. But in the case of The Dark Side of the Moon I was pleasantly surprised. I would hardly call our reunion a joyful one; it was more like running into an old friend you’d grown tired of only to discover he wasn’t the bore you remembered. Indeed, with the exceptions of “Money” and “Time” (both of which had continued to annoy me thanks to incessant radio play over the years), our reunion was actually cordial.

The Dark Side of the Moon, which was produced by the band and engineered by wizard behind the control panel Alan Parsons, is very much a “studio as band member” affair. Gone were the days when Pink Floyd, as guitarist and Syd Barrett replacement David Gilmour put it, went in for “the psychedelic noodling stuff.” Plenty of fans weren’t particularly pleased to discover there would be no more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants LPs along the lines of 1971’s Meddle, but The Dark Side of the Moon attracted a slew of new fans and made the guys in the band rich and famous. “Money” indeed.

The Dark Side of the Moon is Head Muzak so potent you can actually smell the reefer, which brings us to the LP’s second track “Breathe (In the Air ”), which is good for a contact high due to its “beanbag chair paralysis” ambience. “On the Run,” on the other hand, employs a bubbly synthesizer and what sounds like a guy running through an airport, which I suppose is Pink Floyd’s commentary on the soulless hustle bustle of modern life.

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Graded on a Curve:
David Bowie,
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

Remembering Bowie bassist Trevor Bolder on the date of his birth.Ed.

Despite what you may have heard, or read, Glam Rock didn’t begin with Marc Bolan, David Bowie, or any other early seventies English rocker. It began long, long before that, during the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Forget those plain and lumbering creatures you see on the Science Channel—those were the workaday dinosaurs. The real creatures, like Glittersaurus Rex and Giganotosaurus Glamii, were fashion queens and totally outrageous.

They knew theirs was a final age of decadence and lived it to the hilt, wearing mascara, eyeliner, feather boas, and fabulous neckpieces like the one Edgar Winter sports on They Only Come Out at Night. And glitter, of course—the terminal age dinosaurs adored glitter. On their faces, on their claws, and even on their thigh-high 8-inch platform boots, which made it impossible for them to run and are the reason they went extinct. Their elegy, if they can be said to have one, was uttered by David Bowie, who said, “If those dinosaurs were the spearhead of anything, it wasn’t necessarily the spearhead of anything good. Any era that allowed dinosaurs like them to become rampant was pretty well lost.”

But we’re not here to talk about dinosaurs, but about one of the greatest albums of all time. And not just Glam albums, but albums period. 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was a concept album recorded by rock’s premiere changeling—a skirt-wearing longhair oddball ex-mime named David Bowie, who decided that outrage was the name of the game and that the most fabulous route to stardom lay in dressing up like a mincing androgynous intergalactic space fop, come to spread the news of imminent apocalypse and the gospel of hazy cosmic jive. And it worked, worked so well in fact that even Bowie himself came to believe it. Soon every teen in Glam Britannia was dressing up like a spaceman in drag, and tossing the wanker rock (e.g., Edison Lighthouse, Leapy Lee) they’d been forced to listen to until then into the dustbin. This wasn’t rock’n’roll—this was recordcide!

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Graded on a Curve:
Boz Scaggs,
Silk Degrees

Celebrating Boz Scaggs on his 77th birthday.Ed.

It took seven albums, but blue-eyed soul man Boz Scaggs hit pop paydirt with 1976’s Silk Degrees. If you were alive and had ears during America’s Bicentennial Year you’ll remember the Boz was every bit as hard to avoid as Fleetwood Mac.

But why would you want to avoid him? Silk Degrees is a small landmark in music making, and what’s all the more remarkable is that nobody saw it coming. Scaggs was a journeyman with a long pedigree dating back to the mid-sixties and stints with the Other Side, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth, and his solo career wasn’t exactly the stuff of which legends are made—his highest charting solo LP before Silk Degrees coughed and died at #81 on the Billboard Charts, and it was a smash hit compared to the five that came before it. I doubt many industry folks were betting their Andrew Gold royalty checks on Scaggs delivering an LP that would go five times platinum.

But after much tinkering with the formula Scaggs finally got it right on Silk Degrees, which veers from Little Feat-school boogie to deep-dish soul to pseudo-disco to lithesome funk without breaking a sweat or seeming to overreach. Boz does it all on this one, and while I prefer the upbeat material to the pair of ballads, he (mostly) pulls them off as well. I don’t know what he was snorting at the two studios in Hollywood where this baby was recorded, but he somehow managed to utilize El Lay studio talent—including three of the members of benighted Toto—to produce an LP that doesn’t sound like yet another example of sterile El Lay studio product.

Even the big production on such numbers as the very pop “What Do You Want the Girl To Do” and the discofied “What Can I Say” works; the former because Boz infuses his every last word with soul, and the latter because, well, Boz infuses his every last word with soul. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the arrangements are every bit as likeable as the melodies on both songs. If you hate pop and you hate disco you’re likely to hate both of them, but if you hate pop and you hate disco I can only worry about the state of your immortal soul.

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Graded on a Curve:
Barry Manilow,
Greatest Hits

Back in the mid- to late seventies, when America was flying high thanks to the exalted stewardship of such Churchillian figures as Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, one all-around entertainer bestrode the Pop World like a colossus. Men wanted him. Women wanted to be him. He floated like a god in a bubble of fame so high above the rest of us it would have taken Ted Nugent with a surface-to-air missile to bring him down to earth, and he was known to one and all as: Barry!

Seriously, friends and neighbors, who better personified the soft-rock seventies–that epoch of saccharine supremacy–than Barry Alan Pincus, aka Barry Manilow? He was stardust, he was golden. To listen to his songs was to drink from life’s enchanted cup. To see him live was the musical equivalent of pissing on an electric fence. His voice was glorious treacle. It was said that the mere sight of his perfect feathered hair could cure cancer. His sleepy bedroom eyes were known to enchant your larger farm animals, giving them the ability to speak in the voices of men–a skill he liked to show off in his live performances.

Barry WROTE the songs that defined an epoch. Okay, so he wrote hardly none of them, including “I Write the Songs,” which was penned by the Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston. But so what? Jesus’s best material was penned by other people, including Brewer & Shipley, ZZ Top, The Byrds and Ministry, and He never catches any shit for it. Fact is Barry MADE those songs his own by sheer force of his iron will; he was the divine conduit through which flowed such immortal tunes as “Mandy,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and “Copacabana (At the Copa).”

Manilow began his career as a folk singer, entertaining beatniks in such flea-ridden New York City coffeehouses as Gerde’s Folk City, the Cafe Wha? and the Greenwich Village Starbucks at the corner of Waverly Street and 5th Avenue. Said fellow folk musician Arnie Van Gleb, “They didn’t actually allow music in Starbucks, so he would sneak into the bathroom and play there. At least until they broke down the door and threw him out.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Monster Movie

Can was the best of the bands to emerge from Germany’s Krautrock scene in the late sixties and early seventies. And the band had plenty of competition; Faust, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh, Cluster (and yes, Kraftwerk) were all traveling Deutschland’s musical Autobahn at approximately the same time, but Can’s music was pioneering in so many ways it will still be influencing new artists well into the 29th Century.

Formed in Cologne in 1968, the quintet is best known for its 1971 LP Tago Mago, which the UK-based webzine Drowned in Sound has called “arguably the most influential rock album ever recorded.” Call bullshit or not, the statement gives you a rough idea of the profound sway the LP has had on fellow musicians. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith (not one for accolades) even wrote an homage to Can’s lead singer entitled “I Am Damo Suzuki.” And Tago Mago’s 1972 follow-up, Ege Bamyası is considered a masterpiece as well.

So why am I writing about Can’s 1970 debut, Monster Movie? The simple answer is I’ve never been fond of white lab coats. Tago Mago features two long experimental tracks (“Aumgn” takes up one of its four sides); Ege Bamyası includes the ten-plus minute “Soup.” Tracks like these have always stopped me dead in my tracks—it’s a royal bummer to have to interrupt my listening pleasure to pick up the old stylus and put it down on the next song.

Monster Movie differs from Tago Mago and Ege Bamyası in two additional respects. First, Damo Suzuki had yet to come on board, and vocal duties were handled by American singer Malcolm Mooney. A big deal to Suzuki fans—and who isn’t a Suzuki fan?—but Mooney’s every bit as unique and unconventional a vocalist. Second, the Can of Monster Movie had yet to fully incorporate the jazz and electronic effects that would characterize its subsequent work. Monster Movie is very much a high-octane psychedelic rock LP, with “Mary, Mary So Contrary” being the only track that would sound right at home on Tago Mago.

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Graded on a Curve:
Mott the Hoople,
All the Young Dudes

Celebrating Ian Hunter on his 82nd birthday.Ed.

Mott the fookin’ ‘Oople—you gotta love ‘em. They were the first band I ever sang along with in front of the mirror, imaginary microphone in hand, checking out my rock star moves. The song was “All the Young Dudes,” of course, and the album bearing the same title belonged to my oldest brother, who was the closest thing my tiny hometown had to an actual glam rocker; he glammed up a couple of pairs of stacked-heel shoes with sky-blue paint and glitter, and actually walked around in them, which took balls in a place where shoes like that practically screamed fag and Grand Funk Railroad was considered avant-garde.

The Mott the Hoople story is legendary; they recorded four albums that didn’t do very well, mainly because they were a diffuse mix of sludgy hard rock, irksome folk, Ian Hunter’s Dylanesque musings, and covers of everyone from Little Richard to Melanie to yes, you heard me correctly, Sonny Bono. That said, LP number 3, 1971’s Brain Capers, was a real breakthrough, containing as it did such weird and wonderful numbers as “The Moon Upstairs,” “Death May Be Your Santa Claus,” and that bizarre little ditty “The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception,” not to mention a stunning cover of Dion DiMucci’s harrowing but ultimately redemptive heroin confessional, “Your Own Backyard.”

Still, the band had decided to call it quits following a disaster of a gig in an abandoned gas holder in Switzerland—you know you’re in trouble when you’re reduced to playing an abandoned gas holder anywhere–which Hunter recounts in detail in the excellent “Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26 March 1972)” off 1973’s Mott. When who should come knocking to beg them to reconsider but Ziggy Stardust himself, who as an incentive offered them first dibs on “Suffragette City,” which they turned down (!). So the Zigster sat down and wrote “All the Young Dudes” specifically for them. Said lead singer Ian Hunter, “I’d been waiting to hear something like that all my life.” The band regrouped, this time adorned in the outrageous trappings of glam.

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

Celebrating Dez Cadena, born on this day in 1961.Ed.

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?

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Graded on a Curve:
Ron Wood,
Gimme Some Neck

Celebrating Ron Wood, born on this day in 1947.Ed.

If your idea of heaven would be a cross between the Rolling Stones and the Faces, then Ronnie Wood’s your man. He’s done stints in both bands after all, and while I infinitely prefer his work with the Faces (he kinda disappeared into the Stones machine, in my opinion) you can hear echoes of both bands in his 1979 solo LP Gimme Some Neck, which boasts a mix as dirty as Rod Stewart’s mind and lots of Wood’s jet engine of a guitar, the one to be heard on the immortal “Stay With Me.”

The only problem is Wood’s vocals; at best he sounds like a Dylan imitator, at worst his voice is as thin as cheap toilet paper. He’s at his best when he’s joined by the LP’s backing vocalists, who include some bloke named Mick Jagger, some other bugger named Keith Richards, and the legendary Jerry Williams, aka Swamp Dogg. Other notables on the LP include Mick Fleetwood, Dave Mason, Charlie Watts, Bobby Keys, and former Faces’ band mate Ian McLagan, whose keyboards give such songs “We All Get Old” an indisputable Faces feel.

But as I said previously, it’s the gritty mix, reminiscent of the Faces’ best music and the Stones’ Exile on Main Street, that makes this LP special. No polish here, thank you very much. Instead the best songs almost sound like demos, albeit good ones. Wood has his limitations both as a vocalist and a songwriter, but he sure knows his rock’n’roll, which means he’s well aware that it’s best left unvarnished, like a coat of primer on an old muscle car.

Songs like “F.U.C. Her” (which features Dave Mason on both acoustic guitar and drums) and “Infekshun” (great drumming, C. Watts, and keyboards by who knows who!) make up for what they lack in political correctness with a raucous sound that takes you all the way back to the invention of the duckwalk; “F.U.C. Her” features bona fide decent vocals by Wood and doesn’t sound like either the Faces or the Stones, while Wood’s wild and wooly guitar on the latter tune definitely makes up for his limited vocal range. And both he and McLagan dirty up the big sound of the Bob Dylan tune (Bobby wrote it for Eric Clapton, but dummy turned it down) “Seven Days.” Kudos to Wood’s pedal steel guitar, as well as to Mick Fleetwood’s tight drumming.

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