music friday: plastic bertrand

On this date in 1954, Roger Jouret was born in Brussels. According to Wikipedia, where much of this information can be found, Jouret was already in a band when he was nine years old (they covered Rolling Stones songs). When he got older, he studied music theory and then, influenced by punk, he joined a band called Hubble Bubble. The timing is questionable ... while they released their first album in 1978, they formed in 1974-5, which seems a bit early to have been influenced by punk.

Hubble Bubble broke up, and the band’s manager introduced Jouret to Lou Deprijck, a singer and producer who had some minor success in the mid-70s. Deprijck had recorded two sides of a single with a studio band ... both tracks were written by Yvan Lacomblez. It took only two hours to record both tracks.

Jouret, now going by the name Plastic Bertrand, is said to have looked more like a punk than Deprijck, so the tracks was released as a single under the name Plastic Bertrand. The hit side was called “Ça plane pour moi”, and it was, and is, one of the stupidest songs ever recorded, with nonsense lyrics, mostly in French. (This was not a completely new idea. Elton John, at the peak of his popularity in the mid-70s, stuck a song on 1974’s Caribou, “Solar Prestige a Gammon”, with nonsense lyrics that he happily sang with just as much feeling as he usually put into Bernie Taupin’s material.)

Stupid, yes. Catchy, very much so. In fact, when you hear it, no matter how much you think you hate it, you are caught up in it. It made Plastic Bertrand something of a star, and several albums were released under his name.

Here is the hit version:

No one at the time knew that the singer on this, and all of those first albums, was not Roger Jouret but rather Lou Deprijck. In fact, it took until 2010 before the truth came out, after voice analysis revealed Deprijck’s role.

There are many cover versions. One early one isn’t really a cover ... Alan Ward, under the name Elton Motello, recorded “Jet Boy Jet Girl” with English lyrics that were not a direct translation (to say the least), but the backing track was exactly the same as the “original”:

Here is Sonic Youth’s version:

Finally, here is Lou Deprijck, in a video from 2010 ... I don’t know when the track was recorded:


music friday: 1967

On February 17 of 1967, three bands started a three-night stand at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. February 17 was a month after the Human Be-In, and came just a few months before the “Summer of Love”.

Opening was the Canned Heat Blues Band, later shortened to Canned Heat. They were a couple of months from recording what would be their first album release. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer, and at Woodstock two years later. The band’s “classic” lineup was 4/5 full when they played the Fillmore (a new drummer arrived late in the year). Here they are at Monterey Pop:

For another taste of Canned Heat from their second album, check out “Fried Hockey Boogie”.

Next up was The Mothers, who I believe by that point had changed their name to The Mothers of Invention. Their first album, Freak Out!, came out in the summer of 1966. From the start, they were different from pretty much anything you’d heard before. It’s hard to hear the Mothers now, after decades of experiencing Frank Zappa ... his later work colors his beginnings. But he certainly seemed to come out of nowhere at the time. Listen to the first track from their first album, “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”.

The headline act was starting their second week at the Fillmore, having headlined the week before (Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker filled out the bill). The Blues Project were an East Coast band with two albums under their belts ... although it wasn’t apparent in February of ‘67, they were falling apart ... they, too, played Monterey, but one key member, the legendary Al Kooper, had already left the band. (Kooper deserves a post of his own, or you can read one of his memoirs ... he is Rock and Roll Royalty if for no other reason than that he played organ on “Like a Rolling Stone”.)

I’m not sure what people would make of The Blues Project now. Their recorded legacy is quite slim. The debut, Live at the Cafe Au Go Go, had only one original song alongside covers by everyone from Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry to Donovan. The follow-up, Projections, was their best, with Kooper and others contributing songs. But after Kooper left, a third album was rushed out that included outtakes, live tracks, and studio tracks with audience overdubs.

Here is perhaps their most famous track, “Flute Thing”, at Monterey (Kooper wrote it, but he’s not with the band ... he was in Monterey, though, you can see him at the end of this video, at 9:53):

If I made a list now that included Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Canned Heat, and The Blues Project, I’d guess The Blues Project would be the least well-known. But they headlined over those other acts for a week and a half at the Fillmore.

Here’s the poster for the show, done by Wes Wilson:

fillmore 2-17-67


music friday: little richard, "long tall sally"

Tomás Summers Sandoval had a post today about sax solos, which ties in with the trivia note that it was on this date in 1956 that Little Richard recorded “Long Tall Sally”. Tomás didn’t include any Little Richard in his list of five top rock sax solos, but I’ve always connected saxophone solos to Little Richard. Elvis had Scotty Moore guitar solos, Chuck Berry had his own licks, Jerry Lee Lewis pounded the piano keyboard, but Richard, despite his own piano-playing skills, always seemed to find room for a sax solo on the break.

Lee Allen was the sax man on most of Little Richard’s early hits, including “Long Tall Sally”. This song was the follow-up to the cataclysmic “Tutti Frutti”, quite simply one of the greatest records of all time. There was a story to choosing “Long Tall Sally”, according to Rolling Stone:

"Long Tall Sally" was aimed squarely at pop singer Pat Boone. "The white radio stations wouldn't play Richard's version of 'Tutti Frutti' and made Boone's cover Number One," recalled [Robert “Bumps”] Blackwell. "So we decided to up the tempo on the follow-up and get the lyrics going so fast that Boone wouldn't be able to get his mouth together to do it!" Recorded at J&M Studios in New Orleans, "Long Tall Sally" was Little Richard's biggest hit. Unfazed, Boone also recorded "Long Tall Sally," taking it to Number Eight.

While the lyrics to “Long Tall Sally” are stripped to their essence, full of sexual innuendo, they are not as nonsensical as “Tutti Frutti”s (the seeming nonsense of that first hit being key to its wonder). But in both cases, and in many of Richard’s greatest hits, it’s the performance that drives it over the top. I often used “Tutti Frutti” as a teaching tool when we would work on poetry in a class. We would read the lyrics, which aren’t much on the page (“A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom” is admittedly silly), then listen to the recording, which is world-changing (“A WOP BOP A LOO BOP A LOP BAM BOOM!”). The song’s lyrics require the music to complete the art. (In this case, after 60 years, there is still some disagreement about exactly how to transcribe those lyrics, which only matters if you are treating it like poetry on the page.)

This lip-syncing rendition of the song in Don’t Knock the Rock is a great way to experience the record. (The sax player is pretending to play Lee Allen’s solo, but it’s actually Grady Gaines, who was in Richard’s touring band, as far as I can tell. I also love that the band has FOUR sax players!)

Here is Pat Boone’s version ... don’t blame me, I’m only the messenger:

(I’m sorry. Please take a moment to collect yourselves after that.)

Not every cover version sucked. Little Richard was to Paul McCartney as Elvis was to John Lennon: primary influences on monumental artists. Oh, and Ringo Fucking Starr:

And finally, a more recent use of “Long Tall Sally” in popular culture (I say “recent”, but this is 1987):


music friday: sleater-kinney, live in paris

There are a few live albums that I treasure: B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, 1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed, Neil Young’s Time Fades Away and Live Rust, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Live!, Ramones, It’s Alive, pretty much any live Bruce Springsteen albums, The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, Otis Redding’s Live in Europe, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. But mostly, I find live albums to be useful as a souvenir of a show I might have attended, but otherwise I prefer studio recordings. (This isn’t to say I prefer studio recordings to live performances, just that a lot of what makes for a good concert performance can’t be duplicated on record.)

As is well-documented, Sleater-Kinney’s comeback from a long hiatus has been a remarkable success, with the album No Cities to Love as good as any they had released, and with the subsequent tour, of which I saw three shows, showing that if anything, S-K was more powerful than ever. Thus, it’s appropriate that they have finally released their first live album, recorded early in the tour.

There isn’t anything extravagant about the album ... one disc, just over 47 minutes long, only 13 songs, no cover versions. Many, even most, of my favorites are missing. But I have no complaints about the song selection. Four songs from No Cities to Love, four from the last pre-hiatus album, The Woods (arguably their best), and five split across four albums, with “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” the oldest and Dig Me Out the only one of the four with two selections. There are two basic formats live albums take, a career retrospective or a focus on recent material. Live in Paris is largely the latter. It serves as further evidence that Sleater-Kinney is not yet in decline ... the “later” songs are just as good as the older ones.

It’s nice to have a decent mix ... there is a lot of S-K live on YouTube, but too much of it is audience recordings. What makes the album work is what makes their concerts work, indeed, what makes everything they do work. Corin is a great singer, Carrie is a charismatic and idiosyncratic guitarist and singer, Janet is one the premier living rock drummers, they write great songs, and with all of this, they are somehow still more than the sum of their parts.

The question remains, is Live in Paris a mandatory addition to the catalog? A few of the songs sound better here, everything is at least good, and the song selection is excellent. But, as is generally true with live albums, when I want to hear Sleater-Kinney, I’m more likely to put on The Woods or Dig Me Out than to listen to Live in Paris.

Sub Pop has kindly put the entire album on YouTube:

To show what a good mix can do, here is “Entertain” as it showed up on YouTube the night after the concert, followed by the audio version from Live in Paris. Janet kills it no matter which one you hear.

It's hard to deny the visuals of Carrie, but the latter sure sounds better.


music friday: the 13th annual american music awards, january 27, 1986

The American Music Awards were created by Dick Clark in 1973 when ABC lost the rights to telecast the Grammys. Grammys are chosen by members of the Recording Academy, but the American Music Awards are chosen via public voting. The artist who has won the most AMAs is Michael Jackson with 26.

Huey Lewis and the News won the Favorite Pop/Rock Single and Video for “The Power of Love”, which came from Back to the Future. The song was nominated for an Oscar (they lost to Lionel Richie). The band had their roots in Clover, who released several albums in the 70s, and later backed up Elvis Costello on his first album. As Huey Lewis and the News, they were massively popular in the 80s, selling 30 million records. While their mixture of pop and blues-rock was never a big hit with critics, they remain beloved in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I admit I have a soft spot in my heart for them, as well.

Whitney Houston had a big night at the AMAs. She won Favorite Soul/R&B Single (“You Give Good Love”) and Favorite Soul/R&B Video (“Saving All My Love for You”), while also picking up nominations for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist and Video Artist (losing in both categories to Aretha Franklin), along with Favorite Soul/R&B Album (she lost to Kool & the Gang). “Saving All My Love for You” also won a Grammy. Houston is not my personal favorite anything, so this is a rare chance to see her on this blog:

Willie Nelson may have been the leader in the Country Category. He won Favorite Country Male Artist and Favorite Country Single (“Forgiving You Was Easy”), and was a runner-up for Favorite Country Album. Furthermore, he was a member of the supergroup The Highwaymen (consisting of Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson), and they won Favorite Country Band/Duo/Group Video Artist, while “Highwayman” won Favorite Country Video.

You can watch the entire telecast here:


music friday: inauguration day

What follows is a slightly-edited blog post from 2003:

The 5th Dimension were a pop R&B ensemble formed in the mid-60s. Three men with different musical backgrounds joined together with two beauty pageant winners, all African-Americans, they were signed to the Soul City label in 1966. Soul City was the brainchild of Johnny Rivers, a white singer who had a series of hits with some excellent covers of Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, and Motown (along with the immortal theme song "Secret Agent Man"). Their first big hit was "Up, Up and Away," which won several Grammies and was written by Jimmy Webb, who also wrote such tunes as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," and "MacArthur Park." Another early hit for the group was "Stoned Soul Picnic," written by Laura Nyro, an eccentric white girl from the Bronx whose songs were also hits for artists like Barbra Streisand, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Three Dog Night.

Meanwhile, the Summer of Love came and went. Among the "inauthentic" artifacts of that period was a stage musical, Hair, that opened Off Broadway and moved to the real Broadway in 1968. Hair featured such true-to-hippies songs as "Good Morning Starshine" and the title song ("Hair! Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair!").

The story goes that the 5th Dimension took in the play on Broadway and decided to release a medley of two of the musical's songs, "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In." It was a good idea: it won Grammies, it hit #1 on the charts, it sold millions. (The subsequent album, Let the Sunshine In, included songs by not only Laura Nyro, but also Neil Sedaka and Cream.)

So ... we've got an African-American vocal group, singing faux-hippie epics from a Broadway show, on a label run by the guy who sang "Secret Agent Man" when he wasn't covering black artists himself. Some things are simply bottomless.

Fast forward to 1981. Ronald Reagan is inaugurated President of the United States. At the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco's top punk club back in the day, an anti-inauguration party is held. One of the acts is the drag band Sluts a-Go-Go. I described the event on this blog here:

one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.

Like I say, some things are simply bottomless, and you can't always predict what those things will be. Like a Broadway version of the Summer of Love, sung by R&B groups and drag queens, making an impression on a hippie wannabee like me.

 

The final onstage performance of Sluts-a-Go-Go:


music friday: when i was a teenager

Here’s the Facebook meme:

List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist. Don't take too long and don't (over)think.

I came up with ten fairly quickly. The most obvious omissions, in retrospect, were Dylan and The Yardbirds. Anyway, here are my ten, in no particular order, with one selection from each (I turned 13 in 1966, so my choices come between that year and 1970, when I graduated from high school):

Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow (“Embryonic Journey”)
The Beatles (White Album) (“Yer Blues”) (Hard to get Beatles on YouTube, so The Dirty Mac will have to suffice.)
Otis Redding, Live in Europe (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now”)
The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (“Sympathy for the Devil”)
Judy Collins, In My Life (“Hard Lovin’ Loser”)
Van Morrison, Astral Weeks (“Madame George”)
The Steve Miller Band, Children of the Future (Side One)
The Velvet Underground and Nico (“Heroin”)
The Doors (“The End”)
Love, Da Capo (“7 and 7 Is”)


what i've been reading

Fuck you, members of the media.

Fuck your constant pursuit of ratings, of quarterly profits, of giving this tinpot cumdumpster a platform with which he can influence a large part of our country

Fuck you for buying into the idea that racism should be afforded an equal platform with equality, for calling a Nazi anything other than a Nazi.

-- Chris Kluwe, “Fuck You, Donald Trump

 

Hugh Laurie, winning for his work in “The Night Manager,” joked that he assumed this would be the last Golden Globes because “I don’t mean to be gloomy. It’s just that it has Hollywood, Foreign and Press in the title. And I think to some Republicans, even Association is slightly sketchy.” The point about the press is taken, and taken with thanks, but this formulation — which Streep repeated and made worse by prefacing it to say “You, and all of us in this room, really belong to the most vilified segment of American society right now” — has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that some of the richest and most influential people in the world are victims.

-- Alyssa Rosenberg, “In the Trump era, artists can be Jimmy Fallon or Donald Glover. Choose wisely.

 

“Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt…,” [Kellyanne] Conway asked, to which, [Chris] Cuomo answered “because he’s making a disgusting gesture on video about Serge.”

-- Ken Meyer, “Conway Asks: Why Do You Believe What Trump Says ‘Rather Than What’s in His Heart?

 

If happiness comes when you find something you are good at, and then you do it, then I guess Preston Epps was a very happy man. After "Bongo Rock" hit #14 on the charts, Epps locked in with the following songs, in alphabetical order: "Baja Bongos," "Blue Bongo," "Bongo Bongo Bongo," "Bongo Hop," "Bongo in the Congo," "Bongo Party," "Bongo Shuffle," "Bongo, Bong, Bongo," "Bongola," "Bongos in Paradise," "Bongos in Pastel," "Gully Bongo," "Hully Gully Bongo," "Prest Bongos Under Glass," "Stormy Bongo," and "Surfin' Bongos." None of them made the charts, with the exception of "Bongo Bongo Bongo," which made it to #78.

-- Steven Rubio’s Online Life, January 9, 2009


music friday: happy birthday, steven rubio's online life

This blog turns 15 years old today.

I was 48 years old when I started.

The first music post (second post overall), from that first day on January 6, 2002, had a picture of Robin I called “The Cowgirl and the Cactus”, and a link to the Bruce Springsteen song, “Used Cars”. There was no apparent connection between Robin and the song.

Here is what I wrote on the occasion of the 14th birthday:

There is something old-fashioned about persisting in a format that has long been overtaken by other forms of online presentation.

And there is something odd about continuing to write for the smallest of audiences.

But think of this: my blog has never had advertising. I’ve never made any money from it, unless you count published writing that had its root here (i.e. I was “discovered” via my blog writing ... of course, much of my published writing has been unpaid/academic). This allows me to pretend my writing is “pure”.

Changes have occurred over time. I used to write about a broader area. I hesitate now to write about things where I know people who can do better jobs, so I rarely write about politics, and I write less about sports than I did in the past. The blog has become an arts site, where I write about TV, movies, and music ... and admittedly, when someone has asked me to write for publication, it’s those areas that come up.

I know there is some good writing buried in the past fourteen years, pieces where I happen to read them by accident and don’t always know they are mine until I’m finished, and I think, “I am good enough”. The published stuff, which doesn’t appear here, is of varying quality ... I think my piece on punk cinema for Nick Rombes was good, ditto for my Bugs Bunny Meets Picasso essay for Michael Berube. My Battlestar Galactica and King Kong essays might be the best of my Smart Pop work. Point is, the form is shorter, but I occasionally reach those heights on this blog. Maybe for 2016 I should find a way to foreground Past Classics.

What I hope to avoid as much as possible is the type of naked confessional I am far too capable of indulging in. It’s worth repeating every once in awhile the motto for this blog, Kael’s “I’m frequently asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.”


new year's eve with sleater-kinney

It started out as an unusual night (as Carrie said at one point, “"This is one of the first times in many years that I have actually been out on New Year’s… Way past my bedtime right now"). So it was interesting how normal it felt after a while, as if we’d been doing this forever.

The most obvious difference was never going to feel normal. My S-K buddy of almost two decades, with whom I’d attended all 14 previous shows, is living in SoCal now. You can’t normalize the absence of that kind of connection. The solution was two-fold. First, I went with two great folks for new bonding. Second, while my friend wasn’t there, three other friends did attend, named Corin, Carrie, and Janet. Corin said it was good to see us, that she remembered so many faces from over the years, prior to saying, “Some of you might recognize this song” and segueing into “Milkshake n’ Honey”, which I hadn’t heard them play in more than ten years. They don’t often surprise any more ... we know pretty much what they will do, no matter the set lists ... and that’s what I mean about being with friends.

Opening act The Thermals from Portland was pretty good ... they’ve been around for almost 15 years, so “pretty good” was expected. Most importantly, Kathy Foster plays bass. It’s rare to see a bass guitar at an S-K show. Even more rare, she joined the band for a couple of the encores, which I think was a first for me: S-K w/bass.

The music between sets came via Britt Daniel of Spoon. He relied a lot on Bowie and Prince, which was appropriate.

A little past 10:30, S-K hit the stage. They seemed to be having more fun than I remember from the past. From my spot on the floor, some rows back, Carrie seemed to have someone down front who was entertaining her (pun not intended). They pulled out “Dance Song ‘97”, which I don’t think I’d ever seen live. They trotted out warhorses like “Little Babies” and “You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun”. I began their set with my earplugs in, but I took them out for an incendiary version of “Jumpers” ... I don’t know if they hit another gear or I just reacted to the overwhelming noise, but it was then that I came closer to the rarely-achieved moment of ecstasy that I’m always hoping for at a concert.

About 11:40, they started the unmistakable riff that said "Let's Call It Love". I shouted at my friend that of course they would play it, because it usually went on for so long. Sure enough, after a segue into "Entertain", a big ball came down from the ceiling, we counted down from ten, the ball lit up to read "Sleater-Kinney 2017", and a bunch of balloons and ticker tape things fell on all of us. I don’t think I’ve ever been at something like that ... I can only remember one big New Year’s Eve party, and it didn’t have that. All of this was way more fun than I expected. I guess I assumed in my cranky way that a New Year’s celebration would just get in the way of the concert, but I was wrong.

They finished with all of the acts on stage, doing "Faith" (Carrie vocals, Corin on ACOUSTIC GUITAR!) and "Rebel Rebel" (everyone taking turns singing lead). Corin channeled her 60s Girl Group self during the latter, before turning ferocious when her lead moment arrived.

Here’s the setlist:

The Fox
Far Away
Oh!
Surface Envy
Little Babies
A New Wave
What's Mine Is Yours
Milkshake n' Honey
Get Up
Not What You Want
Bury Our Friends
Wilderness
Price Tag
Jumpers
Dig Me Out
Modern Girl
Let's Call It Love
Entertain

Gimme Love
Dance Song '97
You're No Rock n' Roll Fun
Faith
Rebel Rebel

Here is “Faith”, from the invaluable AdmiralNeeda: