Classic Rock: Guilty Pleasures, Alcohol and Experiments with a Cat

This month’s guest post from music fan, pop culture critic, and author Geoff Moore places him in the role of musical scientist, with labcoat and clip board, possibly safety goggles. Geoff answers the question of what happens when the common house cat is exposed to music of varying genres and degrees of quality.  Put down the catnip, pop a beer, and read on!

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There’s a throw on the couch in the living room (which may be a great room in current real estate jargon) because Angus the tabby likes the couch a lot. The little bastard is the only one who uses the couch and he sheds grey, white and caramel fur as he kneads the cushions before he settles.

And once the yogi-yoga position gut grooming is completed, all limbs are tucked away out of sight as he assumes the regal pose of a decoy duck, or maybe the Sphinx, but on a substantially smaller scale and with a genuine cat head. Television entertains him, but only football and hockey and he’s savvy enough to know that the figures on the screen cannot be attacked. Everything else in the cable universe induces sleep; he’s like a lot of people that way.

Twenty-five year-old Mission stereo speakers are on the TV bench, on either side of the screen. There are some claw marks in the fabric grilles, down near the logo plates, but they’re relatively ancient as Angus has come to understand a bit about what may and may not be used as a scratching post. When music is playing he stares at the black rectangles. Excessive volume seems to have the same effect on his ears as a strong wind, they drop like bent fighters.

The only living thing that looks more pissed off than a cat with its ears flattened is Lou Reed.

Certain instruments and pitches induce Angus ear reactions. A couple of the pet’s sound peeves include the guitar solo near the fade of ‘Stray Cat Blues’ and Roger’s scream in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (although this may just be the element of surprise despite repeated listenings). The Replacements are cool with the cat. As is Squeeze. And, if cradled comfortably, Angus will slow dance to ‘Incident on 57th Street,’ at least until Spanish Johnny decides to go and sit out on the fire escape.

Now, as the Boss sang in 1978, everybody’s got their secrets. Walk-in closets or IKEA wardrobes rife with skeletons; virtual vertical mass graves of gone but not forgotten trespasses, embarrassments and venial sins, some so fresh they’re still smarting. And down in the corner under the ashes of your first cigarette is that compilation of songs, those guilty pleasures that are best listened to without snickering friends or appalled family members present. But if you really like a song, there must be some merit to it, how bad can it be? But who’s to judge with steely-eyed impartiality?

When your wife travels frequently you must be mindful of what you get up to when you’re at loose ends. RDS, Quebec’s French-language TSN, is a welcome distraction and a thrifty buy to boot: all 82 Montreal regular season hockey games for less than five bucks a month. Twelve-packs of amber ale and shots of Bushmills come in handy while watching the Canadiens nurse, then blow, one-goal leads.

Siren goes, game’s over and the screen’s blank; you’re standing there looking down at the tabby cat. The cat looks back, bored, yawning, mildly curious about the next activity… A half-baked idea begins to germinate, gestate, gesticulate and then gyrate – or maybe the great room is just spinning like a CD. So…

Eleven (because Rob seems fixated on the number 10 – which is brought to you by the letter T) guilty pleasures critiqued by a cat:

Angus listens to big, dumb rawk!

Def Leppard: “Animal”. The 1910 Fruitgum Company meets Free? Same girl-as-prey lyrical turf as Free’s ‘The Hunter’ but somewhat less meat-headed and with more hooks than an abattoir.

Angus ear reaction: <> Both flattened, too much multi-tracked noise to process.

Billy Squier: “My Kinda Lover”. At its basest, rock ‘n’ roll’s about doing it without actually coming right out and saying it. Kinda graphic, but not crude and you can, er, dance to it.
Angus ear reaction: ^^ All up, nothing offensive here.

Cinderella: “Shelter Me”. Bad 80s hair and a worse name, but Stonesy. Of its time, but it’s refreshing to be reminded that hypocrites like Jimmy Swaggart eventually get what’s coming to them and the inconvenient truth is that PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore is an uptight fascist in a Democrat’s dress.

Angus ear reaction: ^> Mixed, Tom Kiefer’s voice takes some getting used to.

Journey: “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” Imagining your significant other with another can lead to madness and tragedy, but when it’s all wrapped up in a slick stadium sheen, well, who’s crying now?

Angus ear reaction: <> Oh no! The experiment’s controls go awry as Angus leaps from the couch and settles in the penthouse of his nearby six-storey cat condo.

Motley Crue: “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”. Thanks for the memories, now get lost. If the Stones had been ambitious enough to make a triple album sometime between 1973 and 1977 this song or something like it (and Cinderella’s Shelter Me or something like it) might have been buried on side six.

Angus ear reaction: ^^ But the cat frantically bathes himself and understandably so – just look at them.

Bryan Adams: “Diana”. The only song he’s ever sung in which he sounds like he means it. The flip side of the 12″ single was called “Camilla”. Honest.

Angus ear reaction: <> Chunky guitars and too much thumping for the tabby’s tastes.

Angus listens to sensitive, emotional stuff.

Carly Simon: “You’re So Vain”. Big LP covers were so enjoyable to look at. Chuck Berry wishes he’d rhymed ‘Nova Scotia’ with ‘Saratoga’ and ‘gavotte’ with apricot.’

Angus ear reaction: ^> Once you isolate Mick Jagger’s backing vocals, that’s all you hear, donchu?

George Michael: “Waiting for that Day”. The ultimate rueful, post-relationship, wrist-slitter is the Band’s It Makes No Difference, it’s untouchable, but George takes his best shot at a forlorn Jim Cuddy/Blue Rodeo ballad. The segue into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” slays.

Angus ear reaction: ^^ He still misses Emily the calico who had to be put down a couple months back.

Madonna:  “Crazy for You”. A fine ballad from a forgettable movie which is maybe why it works so well. It neither sounds nor feels like a typical Madonna album track or single (whatever her current incarnation) per se; here’s hoping Alison Moyet takes a run at it some day.

Angus ear reaction: <> Flattened due to some romantic man-on-cat, forehead-to-forehead nuzzling and baby talked endearments.

Jann Arden: “Insensitive”. Field notes from the broken hearted. Beautifully sung by a discarded angel.

Angus ear reaction: ^^

A lullaby, but only because any language beyond “Angus!” and “No! No!” is simply a series of sounds to be ignored.

Genesis: “Throwing It All Away”. Yes, an 80s Phil Collins ballad as Genesis goes pop! Motown-inspired backing vocals behind a lead which manages to convey the anguish and resignation that accompanies a cratering couple’s morning after discussion; the fighting’s over.

Angus ear reaction: ^> The breathy sighs may be a little too reminiscent of the wind on a chilly fall day.

Hair metal, AOR, singer-songwriters, adult contemporary, diluted prog… Well, that was cathartic. The shame and self-loathing in the room are as palpable as the disturbed furballs that hover just over the hardwood when you walk into the kitchen to get another beer. Angus’s stomach is big enough to hold an ashtray but smoking in the house is verboten. You light up on the deck outside, exhale at the moon and then notice that the window was wide open the whole time. And while the cat won’t ever confess, you wonder what will the neighbours think.

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Geoff Moore scribbles his thoughts in Calgary, while Angus looks on, unimpressed.  So far, the SPCA has not yet been alerted to the fact of his prolonged exposure to 80s hair metal.

Little Richard Belts Out ‘Long Tall Sally’

hereslittlerichardListen to this track, a primordial slice of rock ‘n’roll from one of the founding fathers of the genre; Richard Penniman, otherwise known to the world as the flamboyant Little Richard.

This song has been well-covered by fellow rock ‘n’ roll architects like Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran. British Invasion groups from the Beatles (who recorded it, and titled an EP after it in 1963) to the Kinks (who had a debut single with a version of it), and beyond also recorded versions of the song.  And what a tune it is, a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll anthem about ‘havin’ me some fun tonight’.

But, one thing that seems to have passed under the radar of many is the narrative that runs through this tune.  Behind the celebratory tone of the joyous sax/piano/rhythm section, and Richard’s ebullient vocal, lies a dark tale of deception, of hidden desires, of a love that dare not speak its name.

Uncle John has needs, and Long Tall Sally has everything he is looking for, unbeknownst to Aunt Mary.  This is a bit of a seedy tale, perhaps which is complicated and made more tragic somehow  because Sally is also ‘bald-headed Sally’.  Uncle John is in the closet, as Penniman himself was when he recorded this song in March of 1956, being as he was a threat to the status quo even without being gay.

Little Richard’s onstage style, his flamboyant manner, and his wild, androgynous appearance seemed to confirm everything conservative critics believed about rock ‘n’ roll – that it was a corrupting force, that it threatened the fabric of society.  And in a certain respect, they were quite correct. It certainly showed teenagers that there was more out there imagined in the philosophies of post-war America and Britain.  And if this song isn’t exactly an anthem to gay pride, Little Richard’s delivery of it certainly has a lot going for it in this respect.

Fear of change, fear of ‘mixing the races’, homosexuality, and other related societal issues seemed to be reaching a boiling point by the mid-to-late Fifties with rock ‘n’ roll musicians and the Beat poets presenting alternative visions of how life really is, or can be.  And they took a lot of the flak as being dangerous voices.  But, what became evident as the years progressed was that Uncle John’s married life to Aunt Mary wasn’t the whole picture, societally speaking.  And by the 1960s and 70s, this was more than evident.

This is what great art does – it challenges expectations and assumptions.  Rock music would come into its own in the 60s in this respect.  But, challenging the status quo certainly didn’t start there.  In this respect, Little Richard is something of a visionary, even if he was , in the end, a pure entertainer on the surface.

Enjoy!

Carl Perkins Sings “Blue Suede Shoes”

bluesuedeshoesListen to this song made famous by Elvis, but written and originally recorded by rockabilly demigod and Million Dollar Quartet member Carl Perkins.  It’s “Blue Suede Shoes”, not so much a song as a culturally significant statement that echoes down the decades as if from God’s own megaphone.

Carl Perkins never achieved the heights of fame when compared to his contemporaries, perhaps only because his career was not quite as fraught with controversy as it was in the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis (marrying his teenaged cousin), Chuck Berry (transporting an underage girl across a state line for the purposes of … well, you know), and Little Richard (a black, gay man in the 1950s? ‘Nuff said).

Yet, Perkins was as rock ‘n’ roll as any of them, mixing country with rhythm and blues with the greatest of ease,  demonstrating how interrelated those genres of American music are, and crafting many an anthem to inspire rock fans everywhere.

This hit song was one of these.  And even if  fellow Sun Records artist Elvis Presley kind of stole his thunder with this one, his influence did not go unnoticed by the next generation of rock ‘n’ roll groups, including the Beatles who recorded a number of Perkins tunes even during the height of their own careers.  His “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” is the closing number on 1964’s Beatles For Sale album.  That song’s lead singer, George Harrison, was a huge Perkins fan, temporarily christening himself as “Carl Harrison” when the Beatles were in Hamburg, and modeling his own approach to the guitar on Perkins’.

After a string of hits, Perkins appeared with Johnny Cash on a number of dates, including the historic Folsom Prison shows by the end of the 1960s with another Perkins – Luther Perkins – , Cash’s full-time guitar player in the Tennessee Three.  And his songwriting continued in earnest, particularly on the country standard “Daddy Sang Bass”, which Cash also famously recorded.   Perkins even wrote with Bob Dylan around the time of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album.

Carl Perkins with titular footwear
Carl Perkins with titular footwear

One characteristic of Perkins’ career, and his personality,  is consistency. Perkins held the torch high for the early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly sound, continued as a hard-working touring musician into the 80s and 90s, and working with a new generation of rockabillly musicians including revivalists the Stray Cats, and country-rock band The Kentucky Headhunters.  He remained married to his wife Valda through out, clearly valuing the stability of family even when singing dangerous rock ‘n’ roll songs .

Upon his death in death 1998, George Harrison attended his funeral, struggling himself with a battle against cancer at the time.  George passed by the original rock ‘n’ roller’s casket, and gave it an affectionate pat and then sang Perkins’ “Your True Love”, a final thank-you from one rock legend to another.

Enjoy!

Rock Radio: Let the Airwaves Flow

This month’s guest post from Calgarian, Montreal Canadiens nut, and rock music fan Geoff Moore explores the storied history and dubious future of modern rock radio …

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A pub lunch last week, a particularly insipid commercial FM radio station playing over the sound system, a woman’s voice sounding like a smile promising all the hits from yesterday and today (not to be confused with the Capitol Beatles release YESTERDAY & TODAY).And then Michel Pagliaro’s gleaming 1971 gem, ‘Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy,’ chimes through the noisy clutter of ad jingles, wretched ABBA retreads and sundry vapid and perky station breaks.

For a moment though, Chilliwack, A Foot in Coldwater, Andy Kim, Badfinger, Eddie Kendricks, Stevie Wonder, B.W. Stevenson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and all that was glorious about a transistor radio crackling out an AM broadcast back in the early seventies swamps diners in the tired joint like a wave. It wasn’t all great by any means. Payola aside, sometimes there’s no accounting for what hits the charts and sticks.

Memo to Henry Gross: Your dog Shannon is still dead. Goodbye, Terry Jacks. You had your time in the sun. It’s hard to die, but take your best shot. And you, Michael, with the nickel? Ram it.

Top 40 radio was training for the big show, FM – a strange, new world of stereo, of songs exceeding three minutes in length and a whole other slate of recording artists. “No static at all,” reiterated Becker and Fagen. Graduating to FM radio was some kind of rock ‘n’ roll bar mitzvah: “Today, I am a… serious music fan.” ‘Us and Them’ and soft drugs. But that was then. AM broadcasts in stereo now and FM has become what it was never meant to be: Top 40.

Another pub lunch last week, the day after the last one and the same particularly insipid commercial FM radio station is playing over the sound system. And Pag’s ‘Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy’ re-bops through the the bookshelf speakers mounted on the ceiling, about three minutes later than the day before. Heavy rotation for a 38-year-old A side. This same station plays either the Guess Who or a Burton Cummings solo track between 12:20 and 12:40 – guaranteed as the station has been newly renamed after a computer spreadsheet program (or maybe a t-shirt size?).

If memory serves, when this particular station was first launched in Calgary it was called The Breeze (definitely not a Lynyrd Skynyrd reference) and promised the Starbucks set the “softer sides of Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Sting.” Zzz. The B.B.M. ratings measured something next to nothing.

The local “classic rock,” okay, middle-aged white guys’ station’s music library seems comprised exclusively of greatest hits compilations. Mysteriously, these collections apparently consist of just three songs, so ‘Forty Licks’ is actually ‘Three Licks.’ The Beatles’ double ‘blue’ album is actually an EP. The contemporary rock station, still known by its call letters (rare these days), is unlistenable, mired in the post-grunge sludge of Staind and Puddle of Mudd and other bands who can’t spell too gud.

Criticizing commercial rock radio is as easy as shooting KISS in a barrel. And, yes, these are the cranky complaints of a Methuselah in dog years, but you cannot imagine an artist like Van Morrison, a man seemingly mystically obsessed with the medium (‘Wavelength‘ and countless coda callouts – “Turn it up! A little bit higher…”), being inspired by a single one of your local commercial FM stations these days.

Nor even, God bless us all, a one hit wonder like Autograph (‘Turn Up the Radio’). And songs of praise to disc jockeys like the jubilant ‘Saint Jake’ by the Del-Lords or the Kinks’ concerned ‘Around the Dial’ speak to another time, one when Lou Reed could write: “Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station/She don’t believe what she heard at all/She started dancin’ to that fine fine music/You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.”

Something happened to rock radio sometime between the disintegration of Led Zeppelin and the advent of Nickelback and it sure as hell wasn’t punk (two Clash songs and that Green Day ballad used in the Seinfeld finale to programmers). Corporate chain ownership, the rise and fall of A.O.R. into even more rigid and fragmented formats, staff cuts, boss jocks more concerned with their wacky on-air personae patter rather than the platters that matter? All of the above and whatever else besides.

All traditional media are hurting in this digital age which provides consumers a myriad of narrowcast, almost individually tailored, alternatives. Yet FM radio remains a proven and economical buy for advertisers (its raison d’etre after all). Improving its content by simply literally and figuratively turning the record over, as in the old days, might a good way to re-engage music fans and maybe, just maybe, create some new ones.

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Geoff Moore is a writer and advertising guy who lives in Calgary. He can’t appreciate ABBA, even ironically…

Chan Romero Sings ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’

chan-romero-hippy-hippy-shakeListen to this track, from Latino rock ‘n’ roll singer Chan Romero.  It’s the classic ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’, a storming R&B hit for Romero in 1959, and was to become a popular cover for bands ranging from The Beatles (who performed it during their Cavern Club days, with Paul singing lead), the Swinging Blue Jeans, and 80s southern rock outfit The Georgia Satellites.

Chan Romero was something of a parallel performer to the more well known Ritchie Valens, since the two of them were of similar talents, similar voices, came from a similar cultural background, and even recorded with the same band.

Yet incredibly, the two never met. Valens died on the same plane as Buddy Holly the year “Hippy Hippy Shake” was recorded.  Romero was as enamoured with rock ‘n’ roll as Valens of course, idolizing Elvis, and hitchhiking to California to seek his fortune as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist.

He would record this song on the Del-Fi label.  This is a startlingly raw rock n roll tune, with a full-on vocal that sounds like a challenge to any singer’s vocal chords.  It’s a pretty simple R&B song, and yet it seems imbued with something timeless, and primal too.

Romero’s delivery seems to burst with youthful vigour, and you can almost hear him smiling as he’s singing.  It’s irresistible.   No wonder the song has lasted so long as a rock band favourite by scrappy pick-up bands all over the world.

Chan Romero still lives in Palm springs.

Enjoy!

Chrome Dreams: Cars and Rock n roll

Once again, the Delete Bin is proud to welcome a guest post from writer and music fan, Geoff Moore.   This time, Geoff discusses one of the great rock talismans; the automobile.  From “Rocket 88”, to “the Little Deuce Coup”, to Neil Young’s custom Chrome Dream, the automobile has been more than just a machine to the rock fan.  It is has been a part of a grand tradition that celebrates identity, freedom, and the ineffable feeling of what it is to be teenager, even if you’re not…

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Detroit muscle has atrophied since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. The Oldsmobile, praised in ‘Rocket 88,’ arguably the first rock song, is an extinct though immortal American beast. Noted economist and Michigan native Bob Seger saw it coming as far back as 1982. Shame nobody ever spun Seger’s ‘Makin’ Thunderbirds’ for the Big Three CEOs*. However, it’s no surprise that one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest numbers was written about a car. Though it’s been ticking nearly 60 years, the rock ‘n’ roll heart remains eternally teenaged, the scion of the more world-weary blues. And teenagers, especially guys, are in love with their cars.

Train imagery, common in rock ‘n’ roll because of its musical roots and influences, is synonymous with older genres of American expression, country, folk and blues, all of which existed when rail travel was a way of life. In song, the train is about arrival, but mostly departure and almost always suggestive of vast distances. Boxcars west-bound through the Dust Bowl to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, Pullman coaches rattling north from Memphis to Chicago on lines of burnished steel, engines chugging, hauling their cargoes of lonesome migrants.

The automobile is rock ‘n’ roll’s train, flashy, individualistic, thoroughly modern and free to follow any road. The rock ‘n’ roll car, as subject, symbol, icon and metaphor, resonates with its younger, yearning, aspiring audience: ‘That car’s fine lookin’, man/It’s something else.’

There’s a scene in Taylor Hackford’s 1987 documentary homage Hail! Hail! Rock N’ Roll where Chuck Berry explains to the director that he was fully aware his audience was composed mainly of teenagers and purposely wrote about topics that would interest them. ‘Riding around in my automobile, my baby beside me, at the wheel…’ (For a soul-trembling adult update on Berry’s ‘No Particular Place to Go’ motif, seek out Smokey Robinson’s silky and sophisticated ‘Cruisin” and ease the seat back as far as it will go. Park first though.)

Brian Wilson understood his contemporaries. If he wasn’t writing about surfing, obsessing about his weight or struggling to compose his “teenage symphony to God“, life on the coast was all about getting around. After ‘Born to Run’ went supernova in 1975 and the inevitable backlash swelled, the facile dismissal of the Boss was that he just wrote songs about cars. Well, that’s sort of the point of it all, isn’t it? Neil Young’s latest record is a concept album about his home-grown, erm, home-made hybrid car. This from a guy who wrote ‘Long May You Run’ so it’s not a shock, but still, a fan worries about Shakey’s pot intake.

The car figures much less prominently in British rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps because the music was an import, a final Lend-Lease transaction between a wealthy and prosperous ally and its battered and austere comrade-in-arms. If the United States executive has learned anything from the Civil War and the ensuing Reconstruction, it’s that wars are best fought a long, long way from home, away from America’s existing infrastructure. This has been the case ever since, a boon of the country’s geography.

In the States, the post-war wham-boom-bam! signed, sealed and delivered Herbert Hoover’s 1928 campaign promise of “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” By contrast, on V-E Day, Britain wasn’t in much better shape than her defeated enemies. Rationing there lasted a full nine years following the cessation of the Second World War.

The Old World is just that; olde.

Small countries with cities and towns haphazardly mapped out by medieval planners connected by roads originally surveyed by Roman engineers. When the first mass-produced automobile came off the line in Detroit in 1908, the republic was just 132-years-old, fresh out of the box with the ribbon and wrapping paper still crumpled beside it on the carpet. You’re struck by the absurd notion that Henry Ford and his Model T have had a more direct influence on the evolution of the United States than the Founding Fathers and their Constitution – America was created by drivers and for drivers.

Or maybe, baby, a Frazer Nash Sebring simply doesn’t quite spark the muse like an Oldsmobile 88, a little deuce coupe, a little red Corvette, a ’69 Chevy with a 396, a long black Cadillac or even a pink one.

Though a vehicle for teen melodrama and tragedy in hits like ‘The Last Kiss’ and ‘Dead Man’s Curve,’ the American automobile otherwise came as advertised. A chariot of deliverance with a V-8 motor and lots of chrome. The promise of a car, any car, is limitless: a simple Saturday night joyride, a Main Street cruise, the Don Quixote tilting of a street race and beyond the outskirts of town, out there in the darkness somewhere along Route 66, maybe a different destiny for the driver.

But the best thing about the rock ‘n’ roll car is that there’s always room for another rider up front. And the open door, the warm and beckoning interior with the radio playing, is the only sure-fire way to attract the fundamental, the elemental, the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll itself; the lover.

* Seger defended his later decision to allow Chevrolet to use ‘Like a Rock’ in its truck commercials by rationalizing that if his song helped GM sell more trucks, his core hometown audience working on the assembly line would ultimately benefit.

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Geoff is a writer who lives in Calgary Alberta, and is the author of the novel Murder Incorporated. Geoff Moore has a class 7 driver’s license, which is a learner’s permit. He is 49-years-old. Sad, really.

 

The Hellacopters Perform “I’m in the Band”

Here’s a clip of Swedish classic rock proponents The Hellacopters with their song “I’m in the Band”, as taken from their album.

This band may have heard a few Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop albums in their time.  Luckily, they took of best of those away with them and have delivered it to us in this little tune about rock ‘n’roll fantasy.

Rock music is a many-faceted beast.  On the one hand a lot of rock music is very “grown up”.  It’s about sex.  It’s about worldliness.  Sometimes, it’s about a rather bleak outlook that it is more important to burn out than fade away.  But, equally I think rock music is about the joy of living, and that childhood rush that one gets when imagining what it must be like to play a very loud guitar, set of drums, or to yell into a microphone for a screaming throng of fans, setting aside the real responsibilities that life demands for a time.  It appeals to the innocent in us, as well as the experienced.  It registers with that part of us which sees the moment, and grasps it.

This tune by The Hellacopters is a pure ode to the power of rock ‘n’ roll, the power to transport someone away from the blandness, or grimness of their world, and deliver them to another place.  The sentiments found here have been a part of rock ‘n’ roll since the term was coined, aimed initially at a young audience, but eventually, and ultimately appealing to everyone.

Chuck Berry’s world of cars, makin’ out, and no school hasn’t really changed very much as a fantasy.   And even the most stoic among us thinks about a world with no responsibilities and instant payoffs, from time to time.

It’s not hard for anyone to understand.

For more information about The Hellacopters, check out The Hellacopters MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Dale Hawkins Sings “Suzie Q”

Listen to this song by rockabilly foot soldier and R&B crossover phenomenon Dale Hawkins.  It’s “Suzie Q”, his hit from 1958 as taken from the album Oh Suzie Q, soon to be covered by the Rolling Stones on their 1964 12×5 album, and even more famously by Credence Clearwater Revival.

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Hawkins would not be the only one in his family to give birth to new strains of rock music. His cousin Ronnie Hawkins from Arkansas would move his brand of fiery R&B north to Toronto and form the Hawks, who would leave him to back an electrified Bob Dylan, and then subsequently become the Band.

Dale Hawkins hails from Louisiana, and brings something of the swamp to this rockabilly blues number, the song which would make him a star.  Hawkins was one of the only white artists on the Chess Records label, laying down some of the dirtiest rockabilly guitar, and primitive bluesy stomps ever commited to vinyl, while clearly under the influence of labelmate Bo Diddley.

Hawkins’ sound attracted a number of guitar luminaries to his side.  Some of these included Roy Buchannan, Elvis Presley sideman Scotty Moore, and another great  guitarist who would later play with Presley, James Burton, who plays the central riff here on this song.

If ever there was a case for the benefits of  ‘more cowbell’,  then “Suzie Q” is certainly exhibit A.  In addition to standard rockabilly instrumentation, the song is driven forward by the clatter of the cowbell.  To my ears, this makes it a bit edgy, and unpredictable somehow, and the song comes off as even more lustful in turn.

The song embodies the core nature of rock ‘n’ roll, tracing it back to its origins in the blues, and adding in a bit of country swagger at the same time.  Additionally, Hawkins added some of the percussive sounds of Louisiana folk music into his sonic stew.  And  in mixing these elements together, Hawkins became one of the architects of Swamp Rock or Swamp Boogie, a style which influenced later artists such as Tony Joe White, J.J Cale, and Little Feat.  It’s no wonder that back-to-basics CCR chose it as a cover version, later to have a hit with it.

Dale Hawkins would make modest success of his career, with ‘Suzie Q” being his greatest achievement.  He continued to champion rock music as a TV host (‘The Dale Hawkins Show”) and as a producer.

Dale Hawkins has been inducted into both the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

He still performs today.

For more music and information about Dale Hawkins, check out the Dale Hawkins MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Happy Birthday, Elvis! Here’s ‘That’s Alright, Mama’ From 1968

Here’s a clip from Tupelo’s favourite son and birthday boy (Elvis would have been 74 today!), Elvis Presley with the ’68 Comeback special version of his 1954 hit, “That’s Alright Mama”, as written and previously recorded by R&B artist Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup whom Elvis had heard and admired as a young R&B fan.

The ’68 Comeback special was actually not called that (it was just Elvis, aired on December 3).  But that’s what it was. Elvis spent most of the 60s doing mediocre movies and putting out the songs – some good, some not –  on the soundtracks as singles.

But somewhere along the line, the King had lost his crown to a new generation of beat groups, all of whom still revered him.  But, it was clear the man had something to prove to himself, and this live  ‘jam session’ part of the show proved that he still had the juice, that he was still interested and able to deliver rock ‘n’ roll to the people who clamoured for it from him.

Just look at him!  He’s a god in black leather, a tanned, raven-haired Adonis in human form, but clearly irradiating something otherworldly too.  I have my own personal alternate history of Elvis in my mind, of course, since he soon became a parody of himself in the ensuing years.

Among other things, I wish he’d cut the Colonel loose.  I wish he’d toured the world, sampled other cultures, and expanded his mind a bit.  I wish he’d changed his diet, kicked drugs, and found a personal code for living.  Then, he could have let the music take him where it wanted him to go.  Then, he could have had a big tribute concert by the 1990s, singing with all of his fellow musicians and admirers.

But despite how history did unfold, I have to say this is my favourite Elvis period, from the Comeback special in 1968 to Aloha Hawaii concert in 1973.  He became more than a singer in these years.  He became divine, a paragon of untouchable artistic virtue.  But, he flew too near the sun.

Happy birthday, Elvis!

Enjoy!

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Play ‘Burn it Off’

Here’s a clip of crunchy rock ‘n’ roll iconoclasts and bass guitar aversionists Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with “Burn It Off”, a slab of steaming blues-rock that Jagger & Richards wished they’d come up with first.  The song hails from the ‘Explosion’s 2004 disc Damage.

A curious band is the Blues Explosion, a  group which utilizes the essence of the blues without actually playing it, avoiding blues based rock cliches by drenching their sound with distortion and sheer RAAAARGGH!

There’s no other word, folks.

But, by the time they’d recorded this album, and this song in 2004, they’d embraced conventional songwriting too, besides the aforementioned RAAAARGGH!.  And the results show them to be a tight little rock ‘n’ roll group, albeit without a bass player – two guitars and a drum kit would always be enough for these guys.  And they took their time on the songs too.  For instance, there are actually songs on this record over three minutes long! The punk aesthetic is there  as it’s always been, of course. But the year zero stance has been shelved.

On this song you get the impression that the band has done away with shunning the Stones, and has rather beaten them at their own game instead. And I love the video which is pure Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation. Cool!

A rock ‘n’ roll proverb to consider: when rocking, don’t cast down your idols.  Build on their shoulders. This approach, of course, is always preferable.  So here, the band works with producer-drummer Steve Jordan, who’s actually worked closely with Keith Richards on his solo projects.  Yet, also present on this record is DJ Shadow in the production chair, a sampling wizard and turntablist a million miles from traditional rock music.  It’s these kinds of moves that make me believe that, as Neil Young once put it, hey hey my my rock ‘n’ roll will never die.

For more information about Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and more music too, check out their MySpace page.  Prepare yourself for some unstoppable rock ‘n’ roll-punk-indie-psycho-billy, though.

Enjoy!