Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
The Troggs,
Best of The Troggs

Celebrating Troggs guitarist Chris Britton who turns 76 today.Ed.

You’ve heard of rock music? Well, these English trogolodytes played real rocks. Legend has it the members of The Troggs were discovered as feral children living in the vicinity of Cheddar Gorge in the mid-1950s, where they romped about naked and walked on all fours. Five years of English lessons, some rudimentary musical training, and learning how not to hoot and waggle their genitalia at the sight of females of the species later, they were ready to bring their ludicrously crude garage rock to the listening public.

Here in the US The Troggs are primarily (if not exclusively) known for the cave man stomp “Wild Thing,” but in England’s green and pleasant land they scored a fair number of hits, which is where 1967’s Best of the Troggs comes in. You may not have wanted to let these guys anywhere near a live chicken (the results were invariably bloodcurdling), but their early work holds up as a prime example of the sonic possibilities of inspired primitivism.

To the extent that the Troggs are labeled a proto-punk band, it has less to do with attitude (Reg Presley and the boys didn’t have a rebellious or mean-spirited bone in their bodies) than with their determination to prove that any rough beast could slouch its way towards the Top of the Pops. What the Troggs offer the listener are a bunch of likable songs banged out with an equally likable amateur spirit; it bears remembering that it took years to teach these lads how to use knife and fork, and their learning curve more or less ended there.

That said, they’re not exactly the neanderthals you might think, and if you’re expecting every track to be a barbaric yawp along the lines of “Wild Thing” you’re in for a disappointment. A few songs do the crunge: “From Home” features some nasty fuzz guitar and is heavy as a club, while “Gonna Make You” is all cock-sure assertion set to a badass Bo Diddley beat.

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Graded on a Curve:
KISS, Alive!

Celebrating Paul Stanley on his 69th birthday.Ed.

Kiss: The McDonald’s of Rock! The ultimate mass-produced fast food for your ears! Over 100 million albums served and counting! Hell, they actually kinda LOOK LIKE Ronald McDonald! And their concerts should have drive thru windows!

Which is to say that while other bands may produce better songs, when it comes to dependable lowest-common-denominator rock product, Kiss makes most (if not all) of your other hard rock outfits look like mom and pop burger joints.

But I’m not slagging ‘em. No matter highly evolved your tastebuds may be, don’t you ever get the unshakable hankering to sink your teeth into a Mickey D’s cheeseburger? They’re so wrong they’re right! And it’s just like that with Kiss. I can make fun of the make-up and the dumbed down music (they make Grand Funk sound smart!) but when push comes to shove I can’t resist songs like “Strutter” and “Black Diamond” and “Rock and All Nite” any more than I can a holster of McDonald’s fries. They’re greasy and taste great with salt on ‘em!

And THEE DEFINITIVE Kiss product is of course 1975’s Alive!, which in the great seventies live el pee tradition is a twofer and as such probably one LP too long, but who’s counting? Think of it as a double Happy Meal! As a graduate of the Class of ’76 I couldn’t escape this baby, everybody owned a copy on 8-track and played it nonstop in their cars as they rolled down the main drag of Littlestown, Pennsylvania (which was so small it didn’t EVEN HAVE a McDonald’s) looking for girls WHO DIDN’T EXIST, that is when they weren’t playing Frampton Comes Alive! (which in the great seventies live tradition was a double album as well).

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Graded on a Curve: Richard Hell and
the Voidoids,
Blank Generation

Of New York punk’s first wave, only Richard Hell and the Voidoids truly embraced the nihilism that punk has come to represent in the popular imagination. The Ramones, great as they were, were one step away from being a joke band; Television was far too ascetic and monk-like; and the Talking Heads were too intellectually frigid. As for Patti Smith, she flirted with the idea of anarchy, but was far too positive a soul to be a nihilist. It’s not her fault; nihilists never hail from New Jersey.

I could go on but I won’t, because the only point I want to make is that Hell was the only musician at that time and place asking the only question the existentialists found pertinent, to wit, “Why should I bother living?” And his grappling with this question—along with the excellence of his band, which included the late, great guitarist Robert Quine—are what makes 1977’s Blank Generation such a seminal punk recording.

Hell, aka Richard Mayers, was born in Kentucky and took the scenic route to the Voidoids. Having moved to New York City, he commenced his rock career as a member of the Neon Boys, which became Television. Friction with Television’s Tom Verlaine led Hell to leave and co-found the Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders, but Hell found it no easier to work with Thunders than he did with Verlaine, so he finally set about establishing a band in which he was boss. The Voidoids—they got their name from a novel Hell was writing—included Hell on vocals and bass, Quine and Ivan Julian on guitars, and Marc Bell on drums.

Hell—he took his name from A Season in Hell by that enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud, whose life and work made him a totem amongst the intellectual wing of the CBGB’s crowd—was a well-read poet who gravitated towards literature’s dark side, and found there—just as I did—plenty of reasons to give the gimlet eye to human existence.

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Graded on a Curve:
Moving Waves

In a 2017 poll, Focus’ 1971 “Hocus Pocus” was voted the best song of all time. By exactly three people. Two are natives of Liechtenstein and probably fibbing, seeing as how they hail from a country whose very name begins with a lie. The third is an ardent alpine yodeler, who followed Focus everywhere until the Dutch progressive band filed a restraining order. This did not stop the ledenhoser from yodeling at them from a great distance.

But if “Hocus Pocus” isn’t the greatest song ever, I never hear it without an admixture of mirth, awe and admiration. Within the framework of a kick-ass rock song you’ll find a killer hook, a pair of whizz-bang guitars solos, “yodeling gnomes” (thanks for the phraseology go out to my Dutch pal, Martijn de Vries), non-lexicable vocals, whistling, tasty jazz flute, and to quote Martijn again, “a drummer who makes me want to head butt the Eiffel Tower.” No one in English and America, and I’m including Frank Zappa, could have created a song so utterly off the wall. From my description you may get the impression that the song is all over the place. In reality it’s as tightly wound as a Swiss clock, and far more cuckoo.

Unfortunately, the remaining four remaining songs on side one are letdowns. The too winsome by far instrumental “Le Clochard (Bread)” is moldy guitar strum; on follow-up instrumental “Janis” the flute does the heavy lifting. “Moving Waves” is a Keith Emerson doppelganger right down to its pseudo-classical piano and portentous vocals by resident genius Thijs van Leer. The side’s closing track is “Focus II,” an exact replica in miniature of “Hocus Pocus,” Focus’ theory being (I can only assume) that there’s no sin in flogging a dead horse so long as the horse in question won the Kentucky Derby while alive. That or “Focus II” is a radio edit and no one got around to telling me.

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Graded on a Curve: Rocket From The Tombs, The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From The Tombs

In sixth grade we were assigned to enact a scene from our favorite book. I decided, no kidding, to enact the leg amputation scene from 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. I sat in a chair at the front of the room, said grimly, “I’m ready,” then commenced to scream bloody murder. For like two minutes. Needless to say, I freaked out both teacher and fellow students, and flunked to boot. I still think it was a gross miscarriage of justice. It was, after all, my favorite scene. And I may well, at that moment, have invented performance art.

In hindsight, I wish I’d had Rocket From The Tombs’ musical psychodrama “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” to enact that day—that really would have messed with some heads. Or “Life Stinks,” “Sonic Reducer,” “Final Solution,” or any of the other great tunes the seminal punk band wrote and played live during its brief heyday (from mid-1974 to mid-1975) in Cleveland’s green and pleasant land.

Rocket From The Tombs—whose “classic” line-up included Peter Laughner on guitar and vocals, David Thomas aka Crocus Behemoth on vocals and alto sax, Craig Willis Bell on bass, Gene O’Connor aka Cheetah Chrome on guitar, and Johnny “Blitz” Madansky on drums—was originally a Thomas “joke” band until Laughner joined and talked Thomas into getting serious. RFFT played out rarely, and bequeathed us only demos, live recordings, and several radio broadcasts, being too shaky an edifice to ever record a real album.

The band was divided by factionalism (i.e., art punks vs. pure punkers), arguments over Thomas’ singing abilities, and drug problems, the common cold of rock bands. Chrome recalls a desperate attempt to mend fences at Thomas’ parents’ farm in Pennsylvania: “For one brief weekend the bucolic setting of Franklin, PA was disturbed by loud music, gunfire, a drunk pig, and drunker Rockets.” But RFFT’s problems proved insoluble, and the band finally packed it in following a gig at The Viking Saloon.

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Graded on a Curve:
“Long” John Baldry,
It Ain’t Easy

Celebrating “Long” John Baldry, born on this day in 1941.Ed.

John William “Long John” Baldry was one of rock’s more intriguing footnotes, famous less for his own contributions to English blues than for the soon-to-be-famous sidemen he would introduce to public notice. A young Rod Stewart shared vocal duties with Baldry in the latter’s band Steampacket, and a young Reg Dwight—soon to find fame as Elton John—played piano and sang in Baldry’s band Bluesology.

The very long Baldry (he was 6’ 7”) was one of England’s first blues singers, but it wasn’t until 1971 that he released what most consider his finest album, It Ain’t Easy. Part of its success is due to the fact that he recorded it in convivial surroundings with two old friends—Rod Stewart, who produced the A Side, and Elton John, who produced the B Side and played piano on it as well. And it didn’t hurt that Stewart brought along Ronnie Wood and many of the players featured on his own Every Picture Tells a Story.

The Stewart sessions were riotous—Rod the Mod plied the musicians with cases of Remy Martin cognac and good champagne—to the extent that Baldry would later recount he recorded album standout “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll” sprawled out on the floor. The sound is loose and jumping, and folksier than the John-produced cuts thanks to the presence of mandolin, dobro, 12-string, and slide. Ian Armitt’s raucous boogie-woogie piano warms up Side A as well.

Baldry wasn’t the world’s best blues singer by any means. He enunciated when he should have gone for the slur, and applied a Shakespearean actor’s touch to most everything he laid his tonsils on. But on the roof-shaking rave-up “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll” he just jumps in swinging, and lets the flood—composed of equal parts guitar menace, piano onslaught, and sax squeal—carry him along. This one’s a lost classic for sure, and definitive.

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

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:
Born to Be With You

Poor Dion DiMucci. In 1975 the singer-songwriter from the Bronx—still seeking to recapture the fame he achieved in the late 1950s and early ’60s with vocal group The Belmonts and as the solo artist who gave us “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue”—made the same mistake so many musicians seem to make: he decided to hire fellow Bronxite Phil Spector to produce his album. Fortunately Spector—a stick of unstable human dynamite on a good day—didn’t shoot Dion, or so much as brandish a gun at him or even give him a wedgie, as he did the Ronettes. But Spector was his normal—which is to say volatilely abnormal—self, and the sessions were chaotic, to say the least.

And what did Dion get for his trouble? A flop. The critics panned Born to Be With You and record buyers shunned it. Even Spector and Dion hated it, the latter going so far as to disown it as “funeral music.” But the winds of fortune are nothing if not mercurial, and in subsequent years the album has become a cult fave, with critics reversing their opinions and many prominent rockers citing it as an influence on their own music.

Dion’s career trajectory is complex, zig-zagging improbably all over the place like the Kennedy Assassination’s Magic Bullet. He began with The Belmonts, which made him famous and almost killed him on the frigid evening of February 3, 1959, when Dion—travelling with the Belmonts as part of the Winter Dance Party tour—declined for financial reasons to board the infamous Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing fellow tour members Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. In 1960 Dion went solo, and more hits followed. Then he fell prey to heroin addiction, and his style of music became instantly antiquated the moment the British invaded.

DiMucci spent several years in the pop wilderness, experimenting without much pop success with rock and classic blues. But—and here we are, back at the Kennedy Assassination and the Magic Bullet again—in 1968 Dion covered Dick Holler’s “Abraham, Martin & John,” not long after having a profound spiritual experience and giving up heroin. The song became a hit and put him back on the musical map. It also helped establish him as a mature artist, rather than a teen idol. Over the next several years Dion recorded a series of excellent LPs, including Born to Be With You.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pete Townshend,
Who Came First

When it comes to grandiosity, Pete Townshend takes the cake. He’s always had huge ambitions, as his numerous concept albums—both with The Who (Tommy, Quadrophenia, the abandoned Lifehouse, and The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether–wait, that one was by The Alan Parsons Project) and on his own—demonstrate. And I suppose I always took it he had an ego as big as his ambitions. But what is one to make of his 1972 debut solo album, Who Came First, on which he turns things over on two of the LPs nine tracks to other people? And performs a third song he didn’t even write? Certainly that’s an act of humility, if not abject self-abasement.

And Who Came First isn’t particularly ambitious, either: he throws on a song that would later appear on The Who’s Odds and Sods, along with a prayer set to music for his spiritual guru Meher Baba, and so on. But there’s something becoming about Pete’s laid-back approach on Who Came First—he’s not trying to conquer the world for once, just to be content in it. And the LP includes a cool bunch of tunes that you’re guaranteed to love, even if “Parvardigar” (his salute to Meher Baba) isn’t one of them.

Pete isn’t entirely without ego. While he admirably declined to fill the studio with a star-studded cast of ringers, he went too far in the other direction, recording almost the entire LP all by his lonesome. The great Small Faces/Faces bassist and singer Ronnie Lane makes a cameo, as do musical gadfly Billy Nicholls and percussionist Caleb Quaye, best known for his work with Elton John and Hall & Oates, and that’s it. Townshend even plays the drums, adequately if not inspired, and who knew? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he also took charge of mopping the studio WC.

Opener “Pure and Easy” is real pretty, lovely actually, but it doesn’t measure up to The Who version on Odds and Sods, with its powerhouse closing and great drumming by Keith Moon. But Pete’s take is still quite nice, and well worth a listen, for his guitar solo, his equally cool keyboards, and the song’s takeout, which features some nice drumming and Townshend repeating, “There once was a note, listen,” which may be cooler on The Who version, but still packs a punch here.

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Graded on a Curve:
High Voltage

Remembering Malcolm Young, born on this date in 1953.Ed.

Rock ‘n’ roll primitivists in thrall to electricity and American thighs, these salivating koala shaggers from Oz were the dingoes who REALLY got Meryl Streep’s baby, and maybe your baby (or your mom!) too. Just about everybody I know hates ‘em, thinks their dumb, but I’m a big fan of AC/DC’s brand of Down Under thunder–it’s as close as I’ve ever gotten to being struck by lightning.

Released the year punk exploded, High Voltage (the band’s first international release) may as well have been a punk record; the snot quotient’s high enough. But the Aussie lager louts in AC/DC weren’t play-acting nihilists–all they wanted to do was get rich and get laid while sticking their tongues out (just like Angus on the album cover!) at everything (school, parents, jobs, the Twelve Commandments) that stood in their way.

Accidental electrocution risks like “Live Wire” and “High Voltage” let you know AC/DC has electricity on the brain, but that’s just cuz it takes a whole lotta juice to produce their bare-bones brand of arena-shaking amplification. Nobody’s ever accused AC/DC of subtlety, and that’s one of the things I love most about ‘em. They’re the rock’n’roll equivalent of Mike Tyson, dispensing with all that Muhammed Ali “float like a butterfly” bullshit shit in favor of big one-punch T.K.O.s.

And then there’s Bon Scott, whose premature death (gargling vomit really can be a health hazard) was a bona fide rock tragedy. High Voltage is hardly the best AC/DC LP in terms of songs (with a few exceptions they would go on to write better), or even sonic sturm und drang, but Scott–whose voice is all sandpaper and razor blades–never sounded better.

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Graded on a Curve:
Maggot Brain

A decade or so ago my friend D., a borderline sociopath jailhouse-type individual, suggested we go rock climbing. Without ropes. Idiot that I am, I said sure. I was some 20 feet off the ground—a frightful distance when you looked down—when I found myself unable to go forward or retreat. Suddenly my left leg began to violently shudder. D. looked over (I think I was whimpering for help) and mirthfully cried, “You’ve got Disco Leg!” That’s when I fell, breaking my ankle and cracking my skull.

That “Disco Leg!” never fails to crack me up, and for some reason always brings to mind Funkadelic, the greatest funk-rock band of ‘em all. And of all their LPs, my all-time fav-o-reet has always been 1971’s Maggot Brain. (Yeah, I know, 1978’s One Nation Under a Groove is brilliant, fantastic, blah blah blah, but I’ve made up my mind, and I’m too dumb to change it.) I would say you can thank guitar svengali Eddie Hazel for making Maggot Brain my most treasured slice of P-Funk, but it would only be partly true—some of the tunes on Maggot Brain barely feature Hazel at all, and I still love them every bit as much as my Black Power Fist Afro pick.

Maggot Brain features one of the more unfortunate covers in music history, with its front cover depicting a black woman buried up to her neck screaming in agony and back cover showing the same woman’s head, now become a skull. Why, it’s almost as creepy as the cover of Herbie Mann’s Push Push, on which Herbie shows off his ghastly lubed-up chest pelt for reasons I don’t care to speculate about. And the same goes for Maggot Brain. Then again, what do you expect from a band that entitles an LP Maggot Brain in the first place? P-Funk was a crazy-eyed crew of acid-gobbling freaks, and on LSD everything seems like a grand idea.

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Graded on a Curve: Mountain,

Remembering Leslie West. Ed.

Leslie West is a heavy guy. He weighs like 1,000 lbs and plays heavy music and called his band Mountain because mountains are very heavy, and his song “Mississippi Queen” is so heavy it has to be carried from gig to gig in a specially made truck of the sort the U.S. Army uses to transport intercontinental ballistic missiles. And forget about vinyl. Mountain was so heavy they released their 1970 debut on concrete. It weighed 42 pounds and crushed a whole lot of record players.

Lots of folks dismissed Mountain (West on guitar and vocals, Felix Pappalardi on bass and vocals, Corky Laing on drums, and Steve Knight on keyboards) as Long Island’s answer to Cream, and on songs like “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” “For Yasgur’s Farm,” “The Laird,” and “Boys in the Band” the resemblance is striking. But on Climbing! Mountain escapes their Cream fetish to produce songs as humongous as the whale you keep expecting to show up in “Nantucket Sleighride,” except he never does.

Given Mountain’s reputation as the heaviest beast to ever slouch out of Long Island, Climbing! is far more diverse than you’d expect. Sure, you get some nifty Godzilla stomp along the lines of “Mississippi Queen.” But the band also flirts with acid-prog of the sort that won’t wreak havoc on your tweeters, and tosses in a couple of genre-benders that defy all known ethnomusicological definition. In short, Mountain was no one-trick mastodon.

The band’s division of vocal duties further lent diversity to Mountain’s sound. West’s rhino snort contrasts nicely with Pappalardi’s Jack Bruce, and the duo delegates lead vocal chores accordingly–West sings the speaker-busters, Pappalardi the more Cream-influenced tracks.

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Graded on a Curve:
White Light from the Mouth of Infinity

Michael Gira is the Evolving Man. Emerging from NYC’s No Wave movement in 1982, his band Swans’ early music was slow, grating, and unremittingly bleak, attracting sadists, masochists, noise addicts, head cases, nihilists, hate junkies, and people who put death at the top of their Christmas wish lists. Gira’s basic message was that human beings are scum who deserve whatever shitty hand they’re dealt.

But as the years passed, a funny thing happened; Swans took the musical brutality down a notch, and their songs took on what can only be described as a cathartic quality. Gira was evolving from a pillar of rage to a seeker on a quest for transcendence. No longer, or so it seemed, was Gira feeding his demons. He was, step by halting and tentative step, seeking to exorcize them.

Swans’ transformation is on full display on 1991’s White Light from the Mouth of Infinity. Gira sounds characteristically down in the mouth, and his lyrics still tilt towards the dark side, but the songs themselves aspire to–and there’s no other of way of putting it–the sublime. Aided by choral and orchestral arrangements, the songs on White Light from the Mouth of Infinity stand as guiding stars in Gira’s search for some pure light beyond the limits of plain sight.

The best of the songs on White Light from the Mouth of Infinity explode like supernovas above the abyss. The best of them is the ecstatic “Song for the Sun,” on which Gira defiantly sings, “I will survive my life” and delivers a rare positive sentiment in the form of “Let the sun come in.” Other highlights include the soaring “Will We Survive” and the fatalistic “Blind,” with its lines, “Don’t say a prayer for anyone/It doesn’t do any good.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Bob Dylan,
Christmas in the Heart

Well, the Holiday Season is upon and soon it will be Christmas Eve, that magical time when families gather together and go for the throat. Uncle Bob will overdo it on the eggnog and topple into the Christmas tree, while ancestral family grudges will explode into bitter recombinations and shouting matches. Your sister and her boyfriend will sneak upstairs to the coats heaped on mom and dad’s bed, while the little ones will stop their shrieking and fighting just long to upload videos of a passed-out Uncle Bob, face draped in blinking Christmas lights, to YouTube. The only bright spot is your 12-year-old nephew Timmy won’t unwrap his bb gun until the next morning.

But what to play amidst the chaos? Aunts Gladys and Sue bicker over the respective merits of the Michaels Bolton and Bublé, dad clamors for Brad Paisley, while Timmy petitions for Afroman’s A Colt 45 Christmas because it’s one long pussy joke. In short it’s a free-for-all, during which some unknown somebody–perhaps the Spirit of Christmas himself–slips Bob Dylan’s 2009 Christmas in the Heart on the stereo.

And at the first strains of “Here Comes Santa Claus” everything stops. The bickering ceases, long-harbored grudges are forgotten, the kids stop running and shrieking, and Uncle Bob sits up, still wrapped in Christmas lights. It’s as if the Prince of Peace has walked into the room. A silent night has, unthinkable as it is, come to pass, because for the first time in decades everyone agrees about something.

“What is that horrible croaking noise?” asks Aunt Gladys.

“Sounds like a frog with throat cancer,” says Mom.

“Or a guy being strangled with piano wire,” says Grandma.

“Reminds me of a fella I knew in the Army, took a bullet to the neck at Chosin,” says Grandad. “He sounded just like that. Before the mortar shell blew him to smithereens.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The Replacements,

Remembering Bob Stinson on what would have been his 61st birthday.Ed.

One thing you’ve got to say for the Replacements; they knew how to record an album. The story I’ve heard, and it could well be apocryphal, is that after the Replacements finished one recording session, some poor sap had to go in to clean up the puke—off the ceiling.

The Replacements’ hard-drinking, hit-or-miss live shows became legendary; they might be great or they might be wrecked, and proceed to abandon songs in midstream, commit bodily harm to their defenseless instruments, perform covers they only kinda sorta knew, and generally muck about until they decided enough was enough. Lots of bands lay claim to being room-clearers, but the Replacements were the real deal, the kings in a world full of pretenders to the throne.

The Replacements were formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1979. Their career trajectory was rather odd; instead of starting as a hardcore band and then softening the edges as most bands did, they did just the opposite, by recording 1982’s decidedly hardcore “Stink” EP after the tangentially more melodic (which bears definite traces of vocalist/guitarist and chief songwriter Paul Westerberg’s gift for writing great, heart-wrenching melodies) debut LP, 1981’s Sorry Ma, I Forgot to Take Out the Trash.

Westerberg was supported by the Stinson brothers, Bob on guitar and Tommy—who was 11 when he first started playing, and had to drop out of 10th grade to join the band on its first national tour—on bass, and Chris Mars on drums. Bob Stinson, a lunatic and hardened alcoholic, would leave the band in 1986 and die a sad drug-related death in 1995, but all that was far in the future when the Replacements recorded “Stink.” Westerberg hilariously summed up the young band’s general attitude towards their chosen profession on Sorry Ma’s “I Hate Music,” when he sang, “I hate music/Sometimes I don’t/I hate music/It’s got too many notes.” And Westerberg hit the nail on the head on “Something to Dü” (a reference to their relatively friendly rivalry with Minneapolis’ Husker Dü) when he described the band’s job as “delivering noise.”

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