Archive for January, 2013


For the week of 1/21/2013…

“I Saw Her Again Last Night” by the Mamas & the Papas

The actual title of this song, I believe, is just “I Saw Her Again,” but it seems pretty common to take the entire first line of the song as the title.  Anyway, I’ve been listening to the Mamas & the Papas’ first two albums this week, and especially my three favorite songs of theirs:  three-minute-long drug innuendo “Straight Shooter” on their first album, the beautiful “No Salt on Her Tail” from their second, and “I Saw Her Again,” one of the singles from their second.  I can’t decide which is the best; they’re all great.

So The Mamas & The Papas, their self-titled sophomore record, was recorded in 1966 during a time of significant turmoil within the band.  As a result of the sudden massive success of their debut — released in February of that year and buoyed by era-defining singles like “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday” — the headaches of heavy touring and the accompanying drugs hung over the writing and recording of the quickly-released followup.  Most disruptive of all was the affair one of the two male singers, Denny Doherty, had with the attractive wife, fellow band member Michelle Phillips, of the other male singer, John Phillips.  Meanwhile, the other female singer, Cass Elliot, who was overweight but had the best voice in the group, was bitter because her love for Doherty was unrequited.  Michelle was briefly kicked out of the group, but returned to finish the recording sessions that had been started with temporary replacement Jill Gibson.

In the midst of all of this, John Phillips, often considered one of the great songwriters of the 1960s, forced an awkward situation:  Doherty was to co-write a song with Phillips about his affair with Phillips’ wife.  The result was this great, heavily-Beatles-influenced rock ‘n’ roll song.  In the autobiographical song, Doherty admits to wrongfully stringing her along, lying when he told her he loved her, being in way over his head, and “living a lie.”  That description makes it sound like it’s a painful song to listen to, but in fact everything about the recording sounds almost magical, from the instrumentation (including the strings interlude) and memorable melodies to the beautiful harmonies and vocal arrangements.  The false-start “I saw her… I saw her again last night” towards the end of the song is regarded as one of those accidents that sounds so good it couldn’t have possibly been accidental.  John Lennon said as much when he heard the song.

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After figuring out that the Black Keys rock my face I’ve started listening to significantly more White Stripes because they’re like the same band but with worse drumming and a woman singer.

Atoms for Peace is a band that consists of Thom Yorke, Flea, the producer from Radiohead, some dude from REM, and another guy. They’ve released two songs, but they have an album on the way later this year, yay! Predictably it sounds like Yorke’s solo work, but better because other people helped write the music. The electronic beat/melody thing is absolutely infectious; you’ll find yourself humming it to yourself randomly for the next week.

“Thalassocracy” by Frank Black

One of my favorite under two minute hard rock bits of all time. The lyrics will never make sense to me. “And make you dance flip flop, flip flop flip/ I want to sing for you make your head go bop bop bop…”
“Im Thalassocracy, you’re just Romanov off off off…”
I think it may have something to do with being ruler of the sea or somebody having hemophilia as a quick dictionary search of thalassocracy revealed. Regardless the quick guitar work and effortless power of Frank Black’s voice combine for a song that will make you’re head go bop bop bop bop bop…

Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is one of those ’80s pop hits that’s still inescapable to some extent.  That’s not to say that it’s played incessantly on the radio or something, necessarily; rather, it’s just one of those songs with enough longevity that everyone’s heard it, 30 years after it was recorded.  But what you might not know is that “Tainted Love” was actually a cover; you see, Soft Cell actually had a thing for ’60s R&B/soul, and they expressed it by covering, for example, the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” and a lesser-known tune called “Tainted Love” by a singer named Gloria Jones.  Jones’ 1965 version is quite good, but was released as a B-side on a commercially unsuccessful single.  Jones’ “Tainted Love” reached new audiences when it was rediscovered by a British DJ about a decade later, but still did not achieve mainstream popularity; at that point, however, a couple of English kids named Marc Almond and David Ball took notice.  The duo later joined together to play New Wave music under the “Soft Cell” moniker, and in 1982 their synth-pop cover of “Tainted Love” became a monster hit.  Also released on the single was a medley of “Tainted Love” and their “Where Did Our Love Go” cover.

The first time I heard the original version of “Tainted Love,” I was pretty amazed.  When you’re so familiar with a song, it’s kind of jarring to hear the same song played in the Motown style in a recording from almost two decades earlier.  It was significantly less jarring to go the opposite direction and hear the Soft Cell cover of “Where Did Our Love Go,” after having been familiar with the Supremes’ version for years.  I don’t know why.

Here’s Gloria Jones’ 1965 original version of “Tainted Love”:

Here’s Soft Cell’s 1982 cover version of “Tainted Love”:

Here’s the Supremes’ 1964 original rendition of “Where Did Our Love Go”:

Here’s Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”/”Where Did Our Love Go” medley-of-covers:

P.S.  Gloria Jones dated T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan in the ’70s and actually joined the band on clavinet and backing vocals.  She was the driver in the 1977 car crash that killed him in Barnes, England.

So, it appears that the revived version of Alice in Chains was pleased enough with their first album with replacement singer William DuVall that they’ve ventured back into the studio.  Perhaps this new song, “Hollow,” heralds the release of a follow-up to the band’s 2009 comeback album, Black Gives Way to Blue.  It looks like they’re sticking to the sound they developed for that album, with DuVall impressively taking over Layne Staley’s parts in harmonies with guitarist-vocalist Jerry Cantrell but rarely elbowing his way to the top of the mix for the kind of raw solo vocals Staley could deliver.  This song, like those on Black Gives Way, is about on par with Cantrell’s solo work and maybe some of the stuff on Alice in Chains’ self-titled final album with Staley — which certainly isn’t to say it’s bad.  But you’re not going to find the classic sound of Facelift and Dirt here, unfortunately.  The video is kind of cool, though.

“Doused” by Diiv

Here’s an example of a great song on an album that otherwise doesn’t do it for me.  As I wrote a few weeks ago:

“I don’t care much for dream-pop or shoegaze music.  But when I read about this Brooklyn band’s debut record, my interest was piqued for a couple of reasons:   First, this band’s sound draws upon ’80s post-punk to a greater extent than most other bands of the shoegaze/dream-pop genre, and second, frontman Zachary Cole Smith supposedly likes Nirvana and draws upon them as an influence as well.  (Of course, Smith’s favorite Nirvana song is on With the Lights Out, so make of that what you will….)  Anyway, the music on Oshin is very pretty, but I found myself wishing that there were more vocals, that the vocals were higher in the mix, and above all that the songs would more frequently incorporate propulsive drumbeats.  One of the album’s singles, ‘Doused,’ is driven by such a beat, and not coincidentally it rocks and stands apart as a great post-punk song.  I wish I liked the rest of the album as much as I like that song.”

More than anywhere else on the album, you can hear some Kurt Cobain in the way Smith sings this particular song.

For the week of 1/14/2013…

“Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” by the Vaccines

When the Vaccines’ much-hyped debut album, cheekily titled What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?, hit shelves in 2011, it looked like the U.K. might have produced the first really big rock band to emerge in the 2010s.  As it turns out, while the Vaccines are apparently genuine rock-stars to at least some extent in their native country, they haven’t made such a lasting impression in the States.  Perhaps it was fatigue with British guitar bands (Franz Ferdinand, Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, Fratellis, etc.) and the fact that they didn’t seem to be offering anything particularly original or inventive which has prevented them from blowing up over here.  A broad preference for hip-hop and electronica over rock certainly seems to be part of the issue as well.  Regardless, if in the future I were to make a compilation commemorating the rock music of the 2010s, I would almost certainly start with the Vaccines’ first hit single, “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra).”  Sure, it kind of kicked off the decade, you might say, but surely the Vaccines aren’t as important to the 2010s as the Strokes’ Is This It was to the 2000s.  That’s true, but… who cares?  “Wreckin’ Bar” is a great little pop-rock song, with a catchy melody, upbeat energy, and memorable carefree lyrics.  It’s short and sweet.  It’s drenched in trendy reverb like oh-so-many things from 2010-11.  And I can’t get it out of my head.

It took a while to work up those 2012-in-review posts, so I’ve fallen behind on songs of the week.  However, each week I’ve made a note of the what my song of the week would have been, and now I’m playing a bit of catch-up.  So, for the week of January 7, 2013, my song of the week was:

“Hail Bop” by Django Django

The self-titled debut album from this Scottish band came out just about a year ago now, and several of its songs have pretty thoroughly ingrained themselves in my mind.  Although single “Default” certainly fits that description, it’s the first proper song on Django Django, “Hail Bop,” which I find popping into my mind the most.  It’s also a pretty good example of why describing this band’s sound as a weird combination of the Beach Boys and Kraftwerk (as someone does in the YouTube comments for the below video) isn’t far off the mark.

Yes, this song is about the comet, or at least it uses the comet as a metaphor or something.

It took a while to work up those 2012-in-review posts, so I’ve fallen behind on songs of the week.  However, each week I’ve made a note of the what my song of the week would have been, and now I’m playing a bit of catch-up.  So, for the week of December 31, 2012, my song of the week was:

“What Gets You Alone” by Divine Fits

The debut Divine Fits album was ranked #12 in my run-down of the best albums of 2012, and for good reason:  It’s basically a slice of expertly-crafted New Wave pop-rock that somehow was written and recorded in 2012 instead of 1980.  I recommend buying the CD, and one of the songs I’d most recommend on the album is “What Gets You Alone.”  This is one of the selections sung by Dan Boeckner, formerly of the Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs.  Along with drummer Sam Brown’s pounding beat, the driving rhythm guitar, and the recurring, foreboding, briskly descending piano line, Boeckner’s vocals do a great job of giving the song the sense of urgency and frantic worry that the lyrics imply.  This relentless feeling really only lets up during the bridge, when Britt Daniel’s backing vocals join Boeckner as he confesses, “My heart’s a mess.”  Cue the emotional synth-strings, but keep up the quick tempo with the help of an acoustic rhythm guitar.  And then the pounding drumbeat comes back, heralding the return of the hopelessness of the chorus.  “I never, never, never know what gets you when you’re alone,” Boeckner sings anxiously.  And then he further concedes, “I never, never, never know… what gets you alone.”  A great, great song that also happens to rock.