THE GO-GO’S: Beauty And The Beat
The Go-Go’s do not get anywhere near the level of respect they deserve. A self-contained rockin’ pop combo that wrote nearly all of their own material, The Go-Go’s scored hits in the early ’80s, and released three fantastic albums before splintering in the acrimony that claims many a great group. They’ve reunited a few times since then for concerts and additional fine recordings. They should have been a shoo-in for induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame years ago. They have never even been nominated.
Their debut album Beauty And The Beat was my favorite new album in 1981. Nearly four decades later, I remain as fond of it now as I was then. It is very nearly a perfect album, with the cold-sounding, dispassionate new wave number “Automatic” the only track I don’t like. The rest? “How Much More,” “Lust To Love,” “Skidmarks On My Heart,” “This Town,” “Fading Fast,” “You Can’t Walk In Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep),” “Can’t Stop The World,” and “Tonight” are all engaging as hell. The first single “Our Lips Are Sealed” was one of the two best things on the radio in ’81; the other best thing on the radio that year was also by The Go-Go’s, also from Beauty And The Beat, and it was their signature tune “We Got The Beat,” a magnificent single that earns its own entry in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Gotta respect The Go-Go’s.
HERMAN’S HERMITS: Hold On!
Although I did indeed see Herman’s Hermits in their 1966 movie Hold On! when it was still in theaters, let’s forget about that. And believe me, it’s an easy movie to forget. Instead, let’s move ahead by a decade and change, to when I was an 18-year-old college freshman in 1978. That’s when I scored a truly beat-up copy of the Hold On! soundtrack LP, a record that was a lot more interesting than the cinematic trifle that spawned it.
One may be tempted to likewise dismiss the album as a trifle, but it was at least an interesting trifle; I loved some of it, and I wasn’t much put off by the rest. If I could take or leave (mostly leave) “The George And Dragon,” “Leaning On A Lamp Post,” and Shelley Fabares‘ “Make Me Happy” (which skipped on my copy anyway), I had more enthusiasm for “Hold On!,” “Wild Love,” “All The Things I Do For You Baby,” and “Gotta Get Away.” My biggest go-to tracks on Hold On! were “Got A Feeling,” “Where Were You When I Need You” (which I heard and loved here before discovering that it had later been a hit for The Grass Roots), and “A Must To Avoid.” “A Must To Avoid” quickly became my favorite Herman’s Hermits (at least until I heard “No Milk Today”). My local heroes The Flashcubes used to cover “A Must To Avoid” in their live sets, and that was okay by me.
The sharp-eyed among you will notice some scribbling near the photos on my LP cover. The Herman-less Hermits played a bar called The Gin Mill in Liverpool, NY that very same summer of ’78, and you’re damned right I was there. The Hermits put on a swell show, after which I solicited autographs from bassist Karl Green, guitarist Derek Leckenby, and drummer Barry Whitwam, plus guitarist Frank Renshaw, who had replaced Keith Hopwood in Hermitdom. I saw original Herman’s Hermits lead singer Peter Noone on several subsequent occasions, including one show with his fab early ’80s new wave group The Tremblers, but have never had an opportunity to get him to add his signature alongside those of his erstwhile co-workers.
THE KINKS: The Great Lost Kinks Album
About a year before The Who‘s vault-raidin’ 1974 compilation Odds And Sods, The Kinks‘ by-then-former American label Reprise issued The Great Lost Kinks Album, a collection of 1966-1970 recordings that The Kinks would have preferred to leave as lost. Gentlemen, start your lawyers!
I associate this album with The Vinyl Jungle, a small and short-lived record shop in my college town of Brockport in the fall of ’77. I remember seeing the album for sale at The Vinyl Jungle, but I passed on it and instead bought a Kinks compilation called The Pye History Of British Pop Music. I didn’t get my copy of The Great Lost Kinks Album until many years later, when I was considering (and finally deciding against) writing a book about the 500 definitive albums of the ’70s. This LP wouldn’t have been among the records discussed in That Great Lost Carl Book, but I scooped it up at the same time I was grabbing cheap-cheap-cheap vinyl by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat, ZZ Top, et al. for research. Far out, dude. The Great Lost Kinks Album was of much more interest to me anyway, and I especially fell for “This Man He Weeps Tonight.” All of its once-rare tracks are now readily available, the lawyers all paid and satisfied.
THE RUTLES: The Rutles
My introduction to the fictional Prefab Four The Rutles came when Eric Idle of Monty Python’s Flying Circus hosted Saturday Night Live (then still called NBC’s Saturday Night) in October of 1976, when I was a high school senior. Idle played a clip of his faux Beatles mugging through “I Must Be In Love,” and I was hooked. When The Rutles’ TV special All You Need Is Cash appeared in March of 1978, I was all in. I reveled in the promo clip of “Ouch!” that was shown on Midnight Special the week before All You Need Is Cash, and was one of several floormates crammed into the dorm room across from mine to watch the TV special itself when it aired.
Alas, I was the only one among my group who dug it.
Undeterred, I bought the 45 of “I Must Be In Love”/”Doubleback Alley,” and gratefully accepted a gift of the companion album The Rutles, brought home from England by my sister Denise. Number one, number one…!
VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Motown Sound Vol. 6
My very first Motown record? Could be, though my lovely wife Brenda thinks this was her LP rather than mine. If only we’d kept better track of stuff prior to the matrimonial merging of our collections. Either way, I do remember that we picked it up on a visit to the weekly flea market at Syracuse’s Regional Market, probably in 1979. It would have been around the same time (if not the same weekend) that Brenda snagged her flea-market copy of The Kinks’ Greatest Hits!, and/or when I got my 35-cent copy of The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy. We were frugal shoppers. In spite of many, many cullings of the collection over the years, all three of these LPs still remain in our vinyl library.
And it certainly could have been either one of us who grabbed this Motown sampler. Brenda had grown up listening to soul and R & B on the radio, and this would have been a natural thing to add to her personal stash. I was just beginning to appreciate how great all that stuff was, and would have been drawn to my favorite Supremes song “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” my favorite Four Tops song “It’s The Same Old Song,” and my favorite Stevie Wonder song “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and probably to The Miracles‘ “Going To A Go Go.” The rest would have been a history lesson waiting to happen. So: Brenda’s record? My record?
Our record now.
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Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 155 essays about 155 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).
Born on this day in 1939, in Ensley, Alabama, singer and entertainer, Paul Williams. Williams was a gifted singer, and a founding member of The Temptations. He was the group’s choreographer, and also worked out stage routines for The Supremes.
Born on this day in 1936, in Detroit, Michigan, vocalist Levi Stubbs. Stubbs was a founding member of Motown’s Four Tops, and sang lead on their biggest hits “Baby, I Need Your Loving”,”I Can’t Help Myself” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Love.”
It has been scientifically proven that music is a great healer. That said – especially now, when the world as we know it has literally collapsed – we need music more than ever to maintain a positive outlook. Here are ten pop songs that never fail to put a smile on my face, and are bound to brighten your day as well.
“And Your Bird Can Sing” (1966) The Beatles. Although the lyrics are cut of a cryptic nature, explosive harmonies, combined with chiming guitars spinning and tumbling with velocity, furnish “And Your Bird Can Sing” with a joyous tenor that grips the both the mind and the body.
“Precious To Me” (1980) Phil Seymour. From the sweet and shiny Buddy Holly influenced vocals to the clutching hooks to the neat and tidy instrumentation, “Precious To Me” not only serves as the quintessential pop song, but a superbly-articulated sonic sentiment. Precious indeed.
“Let’s Go To San Francisco” (1967) The Flower Pot Men. Lushly textured and bursting at the seams with dazzling Beach Boys styled vocal exercises, “Let’s Go To San Francisco” checks in as a charming ode to the beautiful city by the Bay. Subtle drug references led the song to be banned from many American playlists, but topped the charts in England.
“I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (1988) The Moody Blues. Shimmering with spirituality, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” sends a telepathic SOS to a long lost love with the certanity they will meet again. Ethereal vocals, accompanied by sweeping synthesizer slopes and a nice mix of acoustic and electic guitars, supply the gorgeously-groomed song with equal amounts of yearning and hope.
“She Don’t Care About Time” (1965) The Byrds. Authored by Byrds founder, vocalist and tambourine man Gene Clark, “She Don’t Care About Time” sparkles and swirls to the legendary band’s signature stance of jangling riffs and heavenly choruses. As the cherry on the sundae, the song adds a classical touch to the proceedings in the form of a Bach inspired passage.
“Not Alone Anymore” (1988) The Traveling Wilburys. Guided by Roy Orbison’s soaring lung power that invariably produces goosepimples from head to toe, “Not Alone Anymore” is a booming ballad, promising love, comfort and security. Fellow Traveling Wilburys George Harrison and Jeff Lynne also lend their assistance to the heart-swelling presentation.
“I Hear A Symphony” (1966) The Supremes. Stepping in as yet another solid gold hit from the Motown factory, “I Hear A Symphony” begins on a rather soft note before gradually ballooning into a super-sized symphony of bellowing brass arrangements, glossy melodies and supremely Supreme harmonies.
“Summerlove Sensation” (1974) The Bay City Rollers. Reflecting a cross between The Beach Boys and Raspberries, “Summerlove Sensation” smacks of carefree happiness. Sprinkled with twinkling sleigh bells, the invigorating song pours a premium on sunny singing and a bubbly beat all in the name of teen romance.
“I Can Hear The Grass Grow” (1967) The Move. Designed of psychedelic impressions, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” favors a quick and effective pace, humming with stirring licks, galloping rhythms, skyscraper choruses, pulsating percussion and bracing breaks. Hammering hard rock currents to pop sensibilities, the technicolor tune allows the imagination to run wild. The line – “My head’s attracted to a magnetic wave of sound” – drives the point home.
“Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” (1971) The Fortunes. Despite the sad prose involving a guy who apparently only sees his girlfriend on Sunday, and therefore, dreads Monday, “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” possesses a pretty and punchy tone that immediately energizes the soul. Smartly structured and polished with precision, the tasty tune is doubly highlighted by the exceptional harmony prowess The Fortunes are recognized for.
Bulletproof (Kool Kat)
The Lolas have existed in one form or another, since 1998. Head Lola, Tim Boykin, has been the one constant since then, providing lead vocals and guitar. Lolas’ records have always been tight, no-nonsense affairs, and Bulletproof is no exception. Most of these tracks clock in at around the three-minute mark.
Boykin’s voice cuts through the mix like a young John Lennon, although the songs have many influences. Destroy comes on like Ray Davies at his roughest and Oceans Of The Moon combines a Motown beat with a 90’s alt-rock attitude. It’s refrain of “Would you believe, there’s an ocean on the moon?” is catchy as can be.
My fave of the set is the driving She Will Shake The World. With a relentless drum beat and Ramones-inspired guitar work, it’s a head-bobber of the highest order. Bulletproof is probably the best full-on rock album I’ve heard yet this year, and will no-doubt end up on many year-end-best lists.
Maurice & The Stiff Sisters
Welcome To Love
Speaking as a person who consumes a large quantity of new music, I’m especially partial to artists that put a smile on my face. That unconscious action is the undoubted precursor to what we humans call happiness. Maurice & The Stiff Sisters, a swell outfit hailing from Portland, Oregon, are particularly adept at smile inducing.
The opener, “French Exit,” heralds the following nine tracks with a ringing guitar figure that starts the excitement. It’s a peppy pop song complete with staccato horns, about wanting to be invited to big events, even though you wouldn’t want to go. It’s an anthem for introverts and misfits of all shapes and sizes.
“Our Old Haunts” borrows a Motown beat, once again covering a sorrowful subject with energetic aplomb. “Punk Rocker” and “Unlucky In Love” both match modern problems and relationships with vintage flare. This is new music that strikes just the right chord, sounding vintage without being too precious about it. Very well done.