Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve: Blondie,
Parallel Lines

Happy 75th birthday to Debbie Harry!Ed.

A bit of history: When Blondie signed on with Australian producer Mike Chapman (of Chapman and Nicky Chinn glam rock fame) to record their 1978 breakthrough LP Parallel Lines, little did they know what they were in for. Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, and the rest of the band had a rather punk attitude towards the studio, and everything else for that matter; as Chapman noted later, “They were really, really juvenile in their approach to life—a classic New York underground rock band—and they didn’t give a fuck about anything. They just wanted to have fun and they didn’t want to work too hard getting it.”

Chapman the perfectionist called Blondie “hopelessly horrible” and explained his attitude towards the sessions in frankly dictatorial terms: “I basically went in there like Adolf Hitler and said, ‘You are going to make a great record, and that means you are going to start playing better.’” And they did. The result was a landmark record that everybody should own but you know what? I really kind of miss the hopelessly horrible band that gave us Parallel Lines’ predecessor, Plastic Letters.

Sure, Plastic Letters lacks the gloss of Parallel Lines’ disco-inflected “Heart of Glass” and a song quite as catchy as “Hanging on the Telephone,” but it possesses the same gritty and off-kilter NYC charm as the first recordings by the Dictators and the Ramones. Spies, strange happenings in the Bermuda Triangle, and cheating at poker by means of telepathy—Plastic Letters may be an imperfect recording, but boring it ain’t.

That said, Parallel Lines is still loads of fun, and retains that good old punk spirit on such numbers as “Hanging on the Telephone” (love Harry’s New Yawk squawk), “One Way or Another” (great chainsaw riff meets manhunt disguised as love song), and the belligerent closing track, “Just Go Away,” which boasts wonderful shouted backing vocals and really snotty vocals by Harry. And then there’s the pneumatic “I Know But I Don’t Know,” which features some great vocals by an unnamed member of the band, who accompanies Harry and sounds about as New York, New York as they come.

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Cooper,
Love It to Death

Alice Cooper, 1971; it’s almost enough to break your heart. Alice put out two LPs that year, Love It to Death and Killer, and both include a handful of incredibly great hard rockers combined with their fair share of duds, including a boring nine-minute workout on Love It to Death (“Black Juju”) and the equally coma-inducing eight-plus minute “Halo of Flies” on Killer. I know bands were often contractually obligated to produce two LPs per annum back then, and that may or may not have had something to do with the limited number of fabulous tracks on both LPs. But imagine, just for a moment, had Alice Cooper put out just one album in 1971, an album containing the best songs from both LPs. The finished product would have been brilliant, and one of the best rock LPs of all time.

Alas, you can’t turn back the clock—if you could, I’d move it back to the glory days, when I could smoke tons of pot and not get paranoid—and we’re stuck forever with two woulda-coulda been tremendous albums marred by too many weak tracks to be called great. As for the band, they got their start in Los Angeles on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, but following the disappointing sales of their sophomore LP (1970’s Easy Action) they up and moved to Pontiac, Michigan, where they fit in perfectly with bands like the Stooges and the MC5. Cooper himself blamed the band’s failure to make a mark in LA to drugs; “L.A. just didn’t get it,” he stated. “They were all on the wrong drug for us. They were on acid and we were basically drinking beer. We fit much more in Detroit than we did anywhere else.”

It was LP #3, Love It to Death, that turned things around for the band, which consisted of Vince Furnier aka Alice Cooper on vocals, Glenn Buxton on lead guitar, Michael Bruce on rhythm guitar and keyboards, Dennis Dunaway on bass, and Neal Smith on drums. It didn’t hurt that the band was winning mucho notoriety for their elaborately macabre stage antics and androgynous attire. The kids in the concert halls ate it up, and turned the single “I’m Eighteen” into a teen anthem to boot, and Alice Cooper never looked back. The image of Cooper in garish face make-up, boa constrictor wrapped around his neck, has become part of our cultural heritage, and every bit as important as Abraham Lincoln signing the Declaration of Independence, or Lee Harvey Oswald shooting Jack Ruby.

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Graded on a Curve: 10,000 Maniacs,
In My Tribe

Some things you should know about the 10,000 Maniacs:

1. There only five of them. None of them are maniacs.

2. Natalie Merchant has a voice so lovely I’d dive into an icy lake to rescue it. Kinda husky, but not husky in a hockey player kinda way. More like Stevie Nicks without the cockatoo on her shoulder kinda way.

3. 10,000 Maniacs have yet to receive their due for spawning the Lilith Fair.

4. Natalie Merchant’s a folk artist in the grand tradition of the late Dan Fogelberg.

5. The word that best sums up the the music of 10,000 Manias is placid. But not placid as in Lake Placid, the horror movie where a 30-foot-long saltwater crocodile chows down on the citizens of Maine.

5.1. Had the man-eating crocodile in Lake Placid put In My Tribe on heavy rotation, today he’d be the owner of a New Age boutique.

6. “Like the Weather” is a fantastic song and I love to sing along with it in the car, despite the fact I don’t know the words. This tends to irk the other people in the car.

7. Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” appeared on the original release of In My Tribe, but was omitted from later U.S. releases. I don’t want to go into the religious issues involved, but suffice it to say that had Salman Rushdie jumped aboard the peace train, Stevens would have pushed him off.

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Graded on a Curve: Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Not Fragile

I may or may not have once described that inimitable Bachman-Turner Overdrive sound as meat and potatoes rock, minus the meat. And I may or may not have once called them Bachman-Turner Overweight. But if I did so, I was joking. I love BTO. They remain, no doubt about it, Manitoba, Canada’s finest ever contribution to the un-fine arts. The music critic Robert Christgau, a fan as am I, once summoned up the band’s lead-footed lumberjack charm with the words, “Clomp on.”

BTO were about as subtle as a blow to the head; imagine a Canadian Bad Company. They playfully entitled their 1974 LP Not Fragile as a retort Yes’ LP Fragile, because they felt their music could be “dropped and kicked” without suffering any damage. Hard rock doesn’t come any harder than this; when they call a song “Sledgehammer,” they’re not pussyfooting around like that English fop Peter Gabriel.

No, this is blue-collar rock, and to paraphrase Lynyrd Skynyrd, all you effete pencil pushers are advised to stay out of BTO’s way, especially when C. Fred Turner’s doing the singing. Compared to his gruff, no-nonsense vocals, Randy Bachman may as well be Mariah Carey.

It’s a pity that BTO is perhaps best remembered as the band that brought us “Takin’ Care of Business,” because while nobody in the band strikes me as a Mensa candidate, “Takin’ Care of Business” is too dumb for words. Me, I’d sooner remember them for such great songs as “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “Roll on Down the Highway,” and “Let It Ride,” to name just a few of the band’s keepers.

Not Fragile’s title track is a midnight creeper, and could easily pass for a Spinal Tap song, and I mean that as a compliment. The only thing cooler than Turner’s singing, “Comin’ to you cross country/ Hoping boogie’s still allowed/ You ask do we play heavy music/ Well, are thunderheads just another cloud, And we do/ Not fragile, straight at you” is the way R. Bachman intones the words, “Not fragile” behind him. The guitar solo is pretty cool too.

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Graded on a Curve:
La Düsseldorf,
La Düsseldorf

You’ve got to love a band with a proofreader. (La Düsseldorf has one and he’s listed on the credits!) Lord knows Slade could have used one. But unlike we English-speaking types, your Germans are a punctilious people and good spelling is important to them, probably because they regularly gutteral up words like Unabhaengigkeitserklaerungen, which if I understand correctly means cow.

But enough with the spelling bee. La Düsseldorf were a trio of art-rocking sauerbraten eaters who climbed from the wreckage of Neu! when that band exploded like a V-2 in 1975. Its embers included Kraftwerk/Neu! multi-instrumentalist Klaus Dinger and Neu! collaborators Thomas Dinger and Hans Lampe, and boy did they like to get their drone on.

On their 1976 eponymous debut, La Düsseldorf split the difference between Neu!’s trademark motorik beat and Bowie/Eno atmospherics, but spiced things up so you could dance to their songs in Berlin discotheques with frosty Helgas in black leather and frosty Ernsts in black leather and frosty dachshunds in black leather if that’s your scene.

The title track is the standout. “ La Düsseldorf” is the band’s equivalent of Neu!’s “Hallogallo”–you get the same I can’t drive 88–in kilometers that is–motorik beat and a cool keyboard drone, but unlike “Hallogallo” you also get explosions, Who-sized power chords, scat singing, piano plonk, soccer chants, what sounds to me like the banjo playing kid in Deliverance, screaming crowds, and enough other stuff to build a Teufelberg with.

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Graded on a Curve:
Lou Reed,
Lou Reed

Long derided as the failed predecessor of 1972’s Transformer, at first glance Lou Reed’s eponymous debut is a utter disappointment, slapdash, marred by perfunctory playing, poorly produced and short on new material. According to sideman Rick Wakeman of Yes fame, Reed insisted the lights in the recording studio be kept off “so nobody could see.” An apt metaphor that–by all accounts, Reed was a man blindly feeling his way through the darkness that followed upon the collapse of the Velvet Underground. So why is it I prefer Lou Reed to Transformer? I’ll get around to that.

Lou Reed followed a 15-month hiatus that gave Reed ample time to write new songs. But his muse was clearly comatose on a couch somewhere, because eight of the ten songs he brought to the table dated back to his days with the Velvet Underground. Reed’s inexplicable failure to come up with new songs isn’t Lou Reed’s only failing. Everybody’s favorite control freak let RCA Records pick his band, and he got what he deserved.

The guys from Yes and the guy from Elton John’s band and the other guys I’ve never heard of are hardly the B-listers Victor Bockris made them out to be in his 1994 book Transformer: The Lou Reed Story, but in this outing their performances are uniformly uninspired. (And they were hardly suited to back Reed in the first place. Try to imagine Wakeman in the Velvet Underground, I dare you.) Add to that Reed’s decision to hand off axe duties to Elton John band guitarist Caleb Quaye and Yes’ Steve Howe and it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Lou was, whether he knew it or, dead set on sabotaging his solo career before it had even begun.

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Graded on a Curve:
Sly and The Family Stone, There’s a Riot Goin’ On

By 1970, Sly Stone was no longer his happy-go-lucky, upbeat-hits-producing self. Stone and his band had taken to ingesting large quantities of cocaine and PCP, a paranoia-inducing combo if ever there was one, and Sly’s own intake was such that he carried his stash in a violin case. The results were predictable. Sly went from multi-racial inspiration to Richard Nixon-level paranoiac, and hired shady characters, gangsters, and even a Mafioso as a Praetorian Guard to keep an eye on his “enemies,” some of whom happened to be members of The Family Stone. Recording came to a standstill, and Stone began his infamous habit of missing gigs.

When Stone finally dragged his bad self into the Record Plant in Sausalito to record the band’s fifth album, the results were completely unlike any previous Family Stone release. What is surprising, given Stone’s precipitous psychic decline, is that the result, 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, is perhaps the most brilliant LP he ever recorded.

Dark? No shit. Gone was The Family Stone’s trademark cheery psychedelic rock and soul, replaced by a raw funk—which would reverberate in the ears of George Clinton and innumerable future funkers like a revelatory crack of thunder—that was as every bit as murky and hopelessly disillusioned as it was bracing. “I Want to Take You Higher” had become “I Want to Bring You Down, Way Down.” There’s a Riot Goin’ On was a sign o’ the times—of riots in the inner cities, Altamont, The Manson Family, and the Death of the Age of Aquarius—just as his more playful earlier LPs had been signs of theirs. But Sly had done more than just tap into the gestalt; he had just recorded his Exile on Main Street.

There’s a Riot Goin’ On’s gritty, tape-hiss heavy sound was the result of Stone’s incessant overdubbing and erasures. The album’s unique sound also stems from Stone’s use of a rhythm box instead of drums, as well as programmed keyboards and synthesizers. Evidently Sly played many of the instruments himself, although you wouldn’t know it from the album credits, which include Family Stoners Larry Graham (bass, backing vocals), Greg Errico and replacement Gerry Gibson (drums), Little Sister (aka Vet Stewart, Mary McCreary, and Elva Mouton, backing vocals), Rose Stone (vocals, keyboards), Freddie Stone (guitar), Jerry Martini (tenor sax), and Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), as well as luminaries Ike Turner and Bobby Womack (guitars) and Billy “The Black Beatle” Preston (keyboards).

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Graded on a Curve:
The Beach Boys,
Wild Honey

Following the disastrous Smile sessions and amidst the continuing psychic disintegration of band auteur Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys took a daring step; they dispensed with Brian’s meticulously brilliant studio wizardry—not that they had any choice, given his poor mental condition—and their choir boy image at the same time, and put out an album, 1967’s Wild Honey, that shocked the world by demonstrating that the Beach Boys, those sexless avatars of surf rock in matching striped shirts—had actual huevos.

Instead of paeans to hanging ten, little deuce coupes, or teenage symphonies to God, the band settled into Brian Wilson’s living room and recorded a swear-to-God soul and R&B LP, one that downplayed the band’s group vocals and actually rocked. It’s to their credit that the Beach Boys, faced with the drug-induced abdication of Brian Wilson as the band’s sole creative force, didn’t retreat back to their roots as a harmony-oriented surf band. Instead they recorded an album that was, for them, every bit as groundbreaking as Pet Sounds. It’s been described as “California soul,” and the title fits; they even cover a Stevie Wonder song, and make it work. The pity is Brian Wilson had already basically given up; he told one interviewer, “I think rock n’ roll–the pop scene–is happening. It’s great. But I think basically, the Beach Boys are squares. We’re not happening.”

There was no denying that the Beach Boys were stuck with an un-hip image, but Wild Honey proves they were still “happening.” It sounds downright lo-fi in comparison to the Beach Boys’ previous LPs, and that’s one of its chief charms. Another is the vocals of Carl Wilson, which are loud and soulful and pure rock’n’roll. He’s especially great on the title cut, on which he practically screams. Throw in some great backing vocals, a rollicking melody, and one strange organ solo, and what you’ve got is a killer tune. Carl even shouts, “Sock it to me!” likes he’s a cast member of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. “Aren’t You Glad” is pure pop, and a happy-go-lucky tune featuring horns, hand claps, and the vocals of Mike Love and Carl and Brian Wilson. It sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded, as does the band’s take on Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her,” on which Carl Wilson shows off his chops as a soul shouter to the accompaniment of some great backing vocals.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Stooges,
Fun House

I suppose somebody had to do it. I suppose somebody had to go and make an album that isn’t an album, but a great sucking sound that slowly drags you through the filthy, rat-infested back alleys of rock’n’roll straight to the dark and dirty portal to Hell that is “L.A. Blues.” “The derangement of all the senses” was what the 19th Century French poet Arthur Rimbaud was seeking, and all I can say is it’s a pity he never got the chance to hear The Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” or the album it closes, 1970’s Fun House.

Because Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ best album isn’t just a slow descent into atonal skronk, it’s a road map to Hades. From its opening cut to its close it takes you down, down, down, into an abyss from which there’s no return. “Take it down!” howls Iggy, and he’s talking about everything, the whole damn world; the shrieks that follow demonstrate that once you’ve entered the fun house, everything collapses; the Stooges take you from the street into a maelstrom of sax-based (long live the late Steve MacKay) madness. Iggy’s words are unintelligible; he screeches and howls, and it’s too late to turn back now.

“L.A. Blues” isn’t a song; it’s a free jazz explosion, with enough electrical feedback to power the city it was named after. Jim Morrison loved the city of motel money murder madness, but not even “L.A. Woman” can compete with “L.A. Blues”; somebody once compared Hollywood to a tour of a sewer on a glass-bottomed boat, and on Fun House Iggy (aka James Osterberg) and his compadres (brothers Ron and Scott Asheton on guitar and drums, respectively, and Dave Alexander on bass) are the guys doing the rowing. This is it, right here and now, the sound of the apocalypse scorching you like a blowtorch through your headphones.

On chug-a-lug opener “Down on the Street” Iggy struts his stuff, “deep in the night, lost in love.” Ron Asheton’s guitar is pure insanity, the rhythm section pounds and pounds, and Iggy is in his element, looking to fuck or suck or score something he can put up his nose or shoot into a vein. The intensity leaps fourfold on follow-up “Loose,” on which Iggy shouts, “Look out!” before sticking it deep inside, and we’re not sure whether he’s talking about his cock or a needle full of junk. “Chow chow chow chow chow!!” he shrieks as Ron Asheton solos, and for pure sonic energy there may be no beating this song, by anybody, ever. “Cuz I’m LOOSE!” shouts Iggy, a panther in heat escaped from his cage, and no one, and I mean no one, is safe.

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Graded on a Curve:
Hüsker Dü ,
Land Speed Record

I’ve set myself a 27-minute time limit on writing a review of this 17-track amphetamine blur of an LP–recorded live on a 4-track soundboard tape at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 15, 1981 for $300 bucks–seeing as how that’s the album’s run time and people of conscience (Black Lives Matter!) have more important things to do than read record reviews.

On the appropriately titled Land Speed Record you can hardly make out where one song ends and the other begins, the lyrics are unintelligible, and good luck finding a melody. The Hüsker Dü that recorded Land Speed Record had a long way to go in the songwriting department, but they would carry one thing into the future, namely Bob Mould’s rage. Even if you need a lyric sheet to figure out exactly what he’s so enraged about.

Land Speed Record has a savage and nihilist bent that Mould himself would soon lambast in the anthemic “Your Anarchy I Bullshit” anthem “Real World.” “Don’t Have a Life” and “Let’s Go Die” are characteristic hardcore tropes, but then again neither were Mould/Hart creations. They were written instead by bass player Greg “King of the Handlebar Mustache” Norton, whose songwriting credits soon fell to nil, perhaps because the other guys feared “Let’s Go Die” might become the hardcore equivalent of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Desolation Boulevard

Today we remember Sweet’s Steve Priest who passed away on June 4, 2020 with this look back from our archives.Ed.

We live in complicated times. This was brought home to me years ago, when I TWICE found myself on board flights from Frankfurt to Berlin with the band Sweet. They were flying peon class just like me, and looked haggard, hungover, and very thick in the middle. But what complicated matters was this: while I knew they were Sweet (I chatted up the drummer, who was sitting morosely beside me) I had no idea whether they were Steve Priest’s Sweet, Andy Scott’s Sweet, or Brian Connolly’s Sweet.

That’s right. During those years there were three different bands calling themselves the Sweet out there, keeping themselves alive primarily by playing glam oldies shows in Finland, Denmark, Norway, etc., with the likes of Suzi Quatro. Now you might think three Sweets is four too many, and I would be inclined to agree with you, that is if I hadn’t just spent days listening to the band’s 1974 classic, Desolation Boulevard. Opened my eyes, it did. Sweet is primarily known for two songs, at least in the United States, but Desolation Boulevard has a slew of tasty tracks, even if some of them sound like uncanny copies of other bands’ sounds.

Recorded before Sweet exploded into multiple Sweets, Desolation Boulevard included original members lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bassist Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker. Formed in 1968, they quickly teamed up with the pop songwriting machine that was Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, with whom they produced bubblegum hits with titles like “Funny Funny,” “Co-Co,” “Wig-Wam Bam,” and the horrifying, “Little Willy.”

But by 1974 Sweet wanted to be taken seriously, and in so doing parted ways with Chinn-Chapman, although Desolation Boulevard, or at least the U.S. version (which differed drastically from the English release), consisted of a Side One consisting solely of Chinn-Chapman contributions. As for their new, tougher, rougher sound, it won them some real critical respect; indeed, Pete Townshend asked Sweet to open for The Who, an offer Sweet had to turn down due to severe throat injuries suffered by Connolly in a fight. It also resulted in his not handling lead vocals on a pair of tunes on Desolation Boulevard.

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Graded on a Curve:
Shaun Cassidy,

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:
No Trend,
Too Many Humans/
Teen Love

Drag City Records’ May 29 release of the No Trend Too Many Humans/Teen Love box set comes during a resurgence of interest in the Ashton, Maryland hardcore band turned three-ring circus. While the band went on to record three additional LPs and an EP with Lydia Lunch, the Drag City compilation chronicles the band’s early years, when their Flipper meets PiL grind and black humor made them the enfants terribles of Washington, DC’s hardcore scene.

I exchanged e-mails with the duo who co-produced the set: former No Trend guitarist Buck Parr (who played with the band in 1985-86) and writer Jordan Mamone, and together they cast light on how the project came about. But first, here’s Parr’s rundown of the box set’s contents:

“The box set includes exact vinyl facsimiles of the Too Many Humans LP and the “Teen Love” 7″ and 12″ right down to the original inserts, and how things are folded. It comes with 40-page booklet with a great interview I did (tooting my own horn, but whatever), plus the French Too Many Humans bootleg book, one of the ‘lost’ dance books, and all manner of other nonsense. (The box set also includes flyers from a variety of shows, as well as bonus CDs consisting of demos and live recordings from San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens and LA’s Cathay de Grande.) Comedian Neil Hamburger (aka Gregg Turkington) actually recorded one of these shows. How weird is that?”

“For decades,” Parr added, “people had been writing to Jeff (band leader Jeff Mentges) in an effort to re-release the material on this set (the Too Many Humans LP and the “Teen Love” EP). Jeff, for reasons known only to himself, would refer these inquiries to me. I’d check them out–some of them seemed rather worthy–and report back to Jeff, who would invariably kill the idea. He really had little interest in seeing this material out again. He’s never been altogether concerned with the band’s legacy and saw releasing old material as pointless.”

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Graded on a Curve: Emerson, Lake & Palmer,

It’s the coup of the century! I’m talking about my exclusive interview with the shade of the late Greg Lake, singer, bassist and guitarist of the greatest pomp rock band in history, Emerson, Lake & Palmer! Greg had a prior commitment (“I’m off to jam with Rachmaninoff”) but he set aside a few moments from his busy schedule to answer a few questions. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

For starters, I would just like to say how much I love “Nights in White Satin.”

GL: That was by the Moody Blues.

My bad. “Lucky Man” then. And that song, I can’t remember the name of it, that starts “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.” Are you talking about the song, which seems to go on forever?

I see “Karn Evil 9″ a a stripped-to-the-basics rock ’n’ roller. We wrote it in the spirit of Carl Perkins.

I hear that simplicity in all of your work. It has an almost garage-like feel that brings to mind the Standells’“Dirty Water.” With Hammond organ, St. Mark’s Church organ, piano, celesta, and Moog modular synthesizer thrown in.

We liked to think we were playing Chuck Berry with a tip of the old orchestra to Tchaikovsky.

Some would say your music is pretentious.

Is it our fault we were the first band to realize the potential of artificially inseminating rock with the jism of classical music? Why restrain yourself to playing three chords when you could be playing 4017?

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Graded on a Curve: Ramones, Ramones

Joey Ramone would have turned 69 today. We remember him fondly with this look back from our archives.Ed.

It’s easy to take this the Ramones’ landmark 1976 self-titled debut too seriously. Sure, it signaled a seismic shift in rock music, exploding like an M80 in the minds of every cretinous young thing who’d had it up to here with the pompous, bloated likes of ELP, Queen, and the Eagles. And sure, this baby is often celebrated as the first real punk rock LP.

But so far as declarations of war go, Ramones is a hilarious one. On it the most famous band to ever come out of Forest Hills, Queens state their demands (they wanna be your boyfriend and they wanna sniff some glue; they don’t wanna go down to the basement and they don’t wanna walk around with you), dabble with fascism (“I’m a Nazi schatze”), and beat on the brat with a baseball bat. The Ramones weren’t the first NYC band to give voice to the inchoate yearnings of teengenerates everywhere; the Dictators got there first with 1975’s Go Girl Crazy!, and they deserve their due. 

But unlike Handsome Dick Manitoba and Company the Ramones got their yucks playing their songs at tempos that boggled the imagination; I saw the Ramones early on, without having ever heard a single note of their music, and the experience bordered on the traumatic.

The songs–which segued one into the other with nary a pause–went by at an insane, buzzsaw blur that night, obfuscating what is obvious to anyone who listens to the album now–that the Ramones mated their 160 beats per minute ferocity to an impeccable pop sense that gives many of these songs the loving feel of good bubblegum.

The Ramones won their rep by keeping their songs nasty, brutish and short. But their secret ingredient was melody; their songs are both catchy and likable, and that’s what makes Ramones sound as fresh today as it did the day it hit the streets.

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