mid 1960s cheese pop. admit it…you love it

The International Hits (Petula Clark album)

Petula Clark from a 1965 album cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Somewhere between the TV themes to “Leave It To Beaver” and “S.W.A.T.,” pop music evolved in interesting directions but a lot of this interesting pop history has been widely forgotten.  When people think of the 1960s, they think of beach and surf music, the Beatles, flower power, and acid rock.  But there’s another aspect of 60’s music that was popular. This is a genre that I refer to as “mid 1960s cheese pop.” As a child born in the 60s, its influence embedded itself in my brain because the style could be heard everywhere–or at least it seemed everywhere, according to my toddler mind.  Maybe it seemed that way to me because my parents weren’t avid fans of the rock n roll popular at the time.  They had albums by Peter Paul and Mary, Kingston Trio and the 5th Dimension, but their collection didn’t include any Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Jimi Hendrix.

In any case, the number one hit the week I was born was the song “Windy” by The Association.  I swear I have early memories of the song, and I absolutely love it.  (A friend of mine born the same week as me can’t stand it.)  You can hear the blend of folk, rock, lounge and pop styles within that band and even see it in their mode of dress.  It’s simple, light, whimsical, and irresistible.

The Seekers were the first Australian pop group to enjoy major chart success in both the U.S. and the U.K.

While the name of Spanky And Our Gang might invoke the Little Rascals TV series of the 1930s, the band, formed in Bloomington, Illinois, brought a significant “flower power” element into 60s cheese pop. Notice the complex and somewhat experimental arrangement of the song.

Arguable the queens of 60s cheese-pop had to be Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. Petula Clark, born in Britain in 1932, actually got her carer start as a child singer during World War II but her career peaked in the 1960s. (She stayed relevant and even caused controversy in 1968 when she grabbed Harry Belafonte‘s arm when the two singers performed an anti-war duet.)

Dusty Springfield, also born in England in the 1930’s, was heavily influenced by Motown and introduced several Motown artists into the UK while also producing her own distinct style of soul music. This arguably peaked with 1969’s Dusty In Memphis album, with the hit below.

It would only be appropriate to complete this list with this classic camp video from Nancy Sinatra.

orbital + david gray = warmth in an alien world

Orbital 20

Orbital 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never followed Orbital’s career that closely. The electronic dance music band, consisting of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnell, have put together quite an extensive catalog of music over the last quarter century. I have a  compilation of their releases called Orbital 20.  Their music is sometimes harsh and almost always futuristic. While I don’t listen to them very much, I recently stumbled across a video of a 2001 song called “Illuminate” which I find myself watching repeatedly. It’s a very sweet song featuring David Gray singing vocals.  Gray is actually a brother-in-law to the Hartnells–his wife Olivia is the sister of Phil Hartnell’s wife Rachel.  A David Gray-Orbital combination would have never occurred to me since Gray is more of a folk singer and Orbital tends more towards techno and other types of electronica, but the pairing works beautifully in this case.  The song makes me think about warmth in a world that often feels alien, and it always puts me in a good mood. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

new internet discovery: noosa, “walk on by”

Noosa

Noosa

A new internet discovery has given me a new favorite song. At some point while on YouTube, I stumbled across this video showing time-lapse scenes of life in Madison.  The time-lapse filming is incredible in and of itself but what blew me away was the song that accompanied it.  The closing credits of the video told me that the song was by Noosa and the title of the song was “Walk On By (Sound Remedy Remix).”  The video is below:

This video always makes me proud of living in Madison, even if the non-campus areas of Madison are given scant attention. The complex rhythm of the vocals backed by the synth arpeggios evoke Enya in the late 80’s, except with a beat that can be danced to. This complexity set against the time-lapse imagery makes me imagine the lifeblood of Madison flowing through the corridors of the city, and captures the vibrance that drew me here more than a decade ago. It captures the livelihood of the city now that the warm months are here

As always happens for me, once I hear a song I love, I want to hear more from the artist. I discovered that this song, which I downloaded for free from Sound Remedy’s Facebook page, was actually a re-mix of the original song.

The video for the original song is below and it is powerful in its own right. The beat is minimized and more appropriate to the subject of the song, which seems to be about a relationship breaking up. Both the song and the video capture the sadness of the subject, but in a beautiful way, with metaphors that capture in a remarkable way the cascade of feelings associated with the decline of a relationship.

The free download from Sound Remedy’s Facebook page probably generates business for this remix artist, who seems to be quite good. That free download and seeing the original video on YouTube made me want to learn more about Noosa. I probably would not have heard of Noosa were it not for the fact that it was used as the soundtrack for a Madison timelapse video. Ultimately, I bought and downloaded Noosa’s “Wonderland” from eMusic.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Placing an artist’s work online in a reasonably liberal way draws attention to the artist and then more sales of their music can result. In this case, Noosa released this debut album on her own label, which more and more artists are doing so that they can control how their music is being marketed. I think many artists choose this option because some record companies are so stringent about making sure that their music isn’t pirated that they end up cutting themselves off from potential customers–to the detriment of both potential customers and the artists.

Unfortunately, many Internet service providers are advocating for a two-tiered internet in which websites and companies unable to pay a high premium for accessibility would be relegated to the “slow lane” of the Internet. Given the slowness and inconsistency of Internet service in the U.S. compared to other countries, such sites would be effectively blocked. One possible side effect of this is that record companies might once again be able to exert tight control over what music listeners might hear, as they did when radio was the primary way we learned about music.  This would be a sad development if this did happen.

new wave was not meant to be played on a punk tape

CBGB club facade, Bowery St, New York City. Ph...

CBGB club facade, Bowery St, New York City. Photograph by Adam Di Carlo, taken 10/1/2005. Image uploaded to Wikipedia by the author. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my pre-teens and early teens, the word “New Wave” was thrown around a lot.  I remember a radio commercial for Maxell blank cassette tapes that had this synthesized female voice saying, “New Wave was not meant to be played on a punk tape. Get Maxell tape.”

But what exactly was “New Wave?”  How was it different from punk?  Did it include synth-pop?  Or ska?  And what style of music was Eddy Grant really playing?  I think the people used the term loosely without people really quite knowing what it really meant.

Maybe Pee-wee Herman below nailed it. (Note–this was pre Playhouse Pee-wee, as is obvious from the clip from Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams.)

It was basically rock, but um, different from what we knew as rock. It was a close relative of punk, and arguably overlapped with ska and synth-pop. And many artists crossed in between those genres. (For the sake of this article, I’m defining “new wave” “synth-pop” and “ska” as separate genres.)

With hindsight being 20-20, I define New Wave as being similar to punk rock in being quite fast and guitar oriented and sometimes slightly off-tune.  But while punk was defined by loud guitars, nihilism, anarchyl and two- or three- chords in the entire song, New Wave was more artsy, angst-ridden, twitchy, and deliberately weird, and usually not defined by distortion guitar. Punk tended to sport leather jackets, spiky hair, and safety pins, while New Wave sported the first mullets, skinny ties and strange uniforms. New Wave was not music to relax to, per se–in fact sometimes it seemed so impatient that it sounded like it was skipping chords and beats in its hurry to finish the song.

The term “New Wave” was originally by a few writers used to describe artsy rock groups in the early 1970’s such as The Velvet Underground and The New York Dolls.  By the mid-70’s, the label was applied to a number of underground acts come out of the famed musical venue CBGB’s, including these 1975 performances by Blondie and Talking Heads.

Perhaps David Byrne in the above video had the angst-riddine geek-rock thing down before anyone else.

Devo‘s 1978 cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” turned up the angst even higher.  (You will have to click on the video to watch it on YouTube.) Note the swim goggles, a guy flopping around like a fish out of water, and the “baby” sticking a fork in an electric toaster.

The Mo-dettes did another New Wave cover of the Rolling Stones, with their 1980 rendition of “Paint It Black.”

In this 1978 clip, The Rezillos turn the angst up to eleven. Note the 80’s mullet, alien glasses and pink motorcycle outfit on the male lead singer.

Finally, Missing Persons tended to be more synth-pop, but their 1980 release “Mental Hopscotch” was more guitar heavy and the title of the song perfectly describes the mood of New Wave. The Los Angeles-based band wrote some brilliantly eerie songs about fear and alienation in the early 80’s.

 

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freeing ourselves in the new year

It’s a new Baha’i year–year 171.  As has become a tradition on this blog, I have selected a music video which moves me deeply and gets me thinking as the new year begins.

This year, I have selected Major Lazer‘s “Get Free” featuring singer Amber Coffman.  I will write more in the future about Diplo and his side project Major Lazer.

This song can be seen either as depressing or hopeful depending on how one looks at it.  The lyrics “Look at me, I just can’t believe what they’ve done to me, we could never get free,” talk about oppression and what government and institutional oppression can do to us as individuals and a society.

The video features a lot of street scenes in Jamaica, which is fascinating because a rather unique and influential culture there has emerged out of decades of grinding poverty and oppression.

Towards the end of the song, the lyrics become hopeful, saying, “We’re all together in the same boat, I know you, you know me…”

To me, the song and the video are relevant because increasingly, large parts of the Western world, including large parts of the United States, are, in essence, become third world countries.  I am firmly of the belief that the economic crashes of 2008 were only the beginning of difficult times which will see the collapse of major institutions on which we’ve all become dependent on.  I believe that the day will come in which the only valid currency we will possess, in essence, is ourselves and each other.

Furthermore, “Get Free!” is a response to revelations in the last year of how not free we are as citizens.  The level of government surveillance through the Internet and smartphones, and the very real threat of the Internet becoming a subsidiary of the likes of Verizon and Comcast reveals just how close we are to a totalitarian regime.  We need to realize that we hold the keys to freedom in our own hands and ensure that we never give those keys away.

So those are my personal thoughts as the new Baha’i year begins. May we begin anew in the myriad ways we try to uplift ourselves and others.

 

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quilt–a psychedelic folk-rock patchwork minus the cliche

her mom likes brightly colored flowers, so thi...

her mom likes brightly colored flowers, so this was a natural (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Psychedelic rock has been very influential in my musical tastes.  The genre reached a peak the year I was born, so I didn’t hear very much of it at the time, but as I grew older, the exposure I had to it left me wanting more. For me, it started with The Doors, but as I explored the sound more, I uncovered other groups such as the folk-influenced Byrds and Donovan, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, and–two of my favorites from the era–Jefferson Airplane and Love. (It was probably ironic that, growing up, I’d heard of Jefferson Starship before their predecessor Jefferson Airplane).

While not a lot of people realize it, 80’s music had heavy influences in psychedelia.  The Bangles were quite open about their efforts to re-invoke the psychedelic era. The Bangles came out of a music scene in Los Angeles known as the Paisley Underground, which included retro-psychedelic bands such as Rain Parade, The Three O’Clock, and Dream Syndicate, and a number of other alternative-rock bands from the 80’s incorporated the style. Prince, with contributions from his backup band The Revolution, incorporated a lot of psychedelia as well.  The word “psychedelic” began to be invoked in other music scenes as well, such as Acid House, but these brought about the “psychedelic” feeling in a way almost completely different from psychedelic rock movement.

The problem with a genre such as psychedelic rock is that it lends itself to cheap imitations quite easily.  Kandy-kolored kaleidoscopes eventually become kliche. If you’ve heard one American try to play or imitate a sitar, you’ve heard them all. As such, few neo-psychedelic efforts have interested me since the 80’s.

I stumbled upon Quilt on while following the Mexican Summer YouTube channel. I like a lot of music that has been released through the Mexican Summer label.  Quilt’s sounds tends to involve more acoustic guitar picking than a lot of other psychedelic groups–not unlike Love’s greatest album Forever Changes. But what I found refreshing about Quilt is that they are willing to take the old genre in some new directions, and they manage to keep themselves sounding original rather than retro.

The band formed in the latter part of the last decade while students at the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.  They released their self-titled debut album in 2011.  According to their page on the Mexican Summer website, all of their songs were a product of relentless jamming, but rather than hook an entire song on a few riffs, they were willing to take songs in different directions.  Also characteristic of their music is vocal harmonies among several members, particulalry group founders Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski. Below are two tracks from that first album.


They released their second album Held In Splendor at the end of January 2014. The video for the album’s first track, “Arctic Shark” caught my attention when released late last fall (and was actually the first song by the band that I’d heard).

Now that I’ve listened to the entire album, I consider it to be remarkably strong for a sophomore effort. They are more willing depart from traditional song structures from this album, but not so much so that the whole effort sounds like a mess. They aren’t afraid of making abrupt changes in the middle of the song if that’s where they feel the song is going. They also incorporate a wider array of influences in their music, making the album sound very diverse. On the Mexican Summer website, Butler had this to say: “We’re really attracted to records where each song has its own voice. We wanted to focus on what each song had to say.” Such variety is one of the qualities that made Sgt Pepper such a great album, and while Quilt’s second effort is not epic and groundbreaking in the same way, I look forward to hearing more from this group in the future. Meanwhile, below are two tracks from Held In Splendor.

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pete seeger–a class act and a reason not to paddle faster when hearing banjos

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger (Photo credit: DoKwan)

Come gather ’round, club kids and pay attention. There’s someone you should know about. A piece of history died earlier this week. Someone as controversial as any rapper or rock star, yet someone with immense influence on musicians even today.

He was a political activist from an early age and sang union songs, and even songs supporting the Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He performed with folk legend Woody Guthrie as a member of the Almanac Singers, but after a few years the group was blacklisted for their activism. In 1950 former members of the group reformed as The Weavers, and despite more conservative attire and more indirect social commentary, the group was blacklisted, and Seeger was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to plead the Fifth Amendment and refused to name personal or political associations on the grounds that this was in violation of the First Amendment. He was convicted of contempt of Congress in 1961, and sentenced to ten one-year terms in jail (to be served simultaneously) but his conviction was overturned in 1962.

 

In any case, he continued to write songs. “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was picked up by a new generation of folk artists, including the Kingston Trio and Peter Paul, and Mary. The latter version is one of the first songs I ever remember hearing as a child. Of course, I did not know the name or meaning of the song or who Peter, Paul and Mary were, but nevertheless, I clearly remember listening to it as a toddler while transfixed by my parents’ reel-to-reel tape recorder.

 

His song “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There Is A Season” was taken almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible and set to music, with a few extra lyrics added. It was picked up by the folk-rock group The Byrds, and reached #1 on the pop charts in 1965. (Some have argued that this song is the oldest #1 charting song in the world–if King Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes, then the lyrics technically would date back to the 11th century BC).

 

In the video below, Seeger appeared a cameo role in Arlo Guthrie‘s movie Alice’s Restaurant. In this scene, Arlo is visiting his father Woody Guthrie (played by an actor) while Seeger is playing music for him. Seeger and Arlo Guthrie end up playing together in a jam session. Seeger and the younger Guthrie performed together a number of times throughout the decades.

 

Despite writing songs about the Spanish Civil War and performing with Woody Guthrie, Seeger managed to stay topical in 2010 when he co-wrote a song about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

I first learned of Pete’s passing from a post on Facebook from an East Coast friend of mine. Some of her friends had actually had the occasion to meet him, including one woman who at 17 had gotten lost on a hiking trail in upstate New York and ended up in Seeger’s living room. She described poetry being nailed to the trees on the property.

He died at the age of 94, but according to one grandson, had been active as ever ten days prior, chopping wood on his property.

 

 

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jelly bean staying power (how could you NOT uka-boo?)

13 Jalal 168 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Shonen Knife, “On Top Of The World”

I always find it fascinating to see which musical groups have staying power and which ones don’t.  The ones that do often surprise me.  Perhaps the last band I would have ever imagined lasting thirty years is a Japanese punk-pop band called Shonen Knife.  I first heard their song “Twist Barbie” in 1986, and they sounded like Hello Kitty trying to imitate the Ramones. However, they were actually formed in 1981, which means that they have been around for thirty years now. Below is another video from about 1986.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KT8bTRN73E&w=480&h=390]

Their roots are solidly punk and indie rock, pretty much completely ignoring the J-Pop movement that was developing the same time they were.  But I don’t think that even Johnny Rotten could have imagined the rather warped directions that three Japanese women would take the punk rock genre.  Their career has been characterized by exuberant and positive songs–frequently in broken English–about subjects such as jelly beans, fruit loops, pot scrubbers, insect collections, and banana chips.  Yet combined with a buzzsaw guitar and drums that would make any punk rocker want to pogo, the music is infectious.  Prominent alternative rock bands in the late 80’s and early 90’s were among their biggest fans.. (They wrote a rather exuberant song called “Redd Kross,” an alt rock band in the late 80’s, and the L.A. band returned the favor by writing a song called “Shonen Knife.”) One of their biggest fans was Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and Shonen Knife opened for them on one of their tours. 

In the mid 90’s, on “If I Were A Carpenter,” an alt-rock tribute to The Carpenters, they did a cover of “On Top Of The World.”  I’m not sure how Karen Carpenter would feel about the song, but in my view it is the Best. Cover. Version. Of. Any. Song. Ever.  In the video below, you can see that despite thirty years and some personnel changes (founding member Naoko Yamano is the only one remaining from the original trio), they have not lost their edge.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ba360Dz1sQ&w=640&h=390]

wwjsd?

8 Jalal 168 B.E. (Baha’i calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Johnny Cash, “Redemption Song”

Some musings on the eve of Sarah Palin’s visit to Madison…

During a time of economic insecurity, immigrants and state workers are targeted as scapegoats while those responsible for the financial collapse remain free from prosecution. Deep-pocketed special interests can now spend unlimited amounts of money on political TV ads without revealing who’s footing the bill. 

In recent weeks, I’ve found myself wondering more and more…

What would Joe Strummer do?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V73auvenZA&w=560&h=315]

a new year, newly amplified

14 Sharaf 167 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Mad Professor, “Asylum of Dub”

New Year’s Day combined with a little bit of extra pocket cash and the Internet can be a dangerous thing.

Last New Year’s Day I decided to get more serious about my DJ’ing by buying a dual-CD mixer.  It wasn’t a huge gamble because I needed a new CD player component for my stereo, and the mixer wasn’t that much more.

This New Year’s Day I decided that I needed to get new DJ headphones.  I wrecked my old ones.  I bought them maybe two years ago because they were cheap and I didn’t know how serious I would be about DJ’ing.

2011-01-12 20.42.15
In case you didn’t know, DJ’s can be pretty rough on headphones, as demonstrated by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation in the video below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0VwFq3-UI0&fs=1&hl=en_US]

So I went online to the Musician’s Friend website and found a really nice pair of Numark headphones for half off. After picking them out, I looked around and, well, decided to pick up a few more things while I was at it.

2011-01-11 20.44.11
Yeah, I guess I went kind of nuts.

But I’d been thinking about purchasing a sound system for a while, and the low price combined with the rave reviews sold me on the idea.

I am and will continue to be a grateful and loyal member of the DJ collective that runs the Madtown Barefoot Boogie.  At the same time, I’d been thinking about doing some of my own gigs.  I figure that now is as good of a time as any to do so. I feel good about the direction my DJ’ing is going and I think it’s time that I challenged myself in front of new audiences. So, I’m going to see about doing that…