We’re not even halfway into the year, and already an abundance of phenomenal music has been released. Parked right at the top.of the pile is the third album from The Legal Matters, which is appropriately dubbed Chapter Three. Comprised of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, the Michigan-based band roped in “unofficial member” Donny Brown to play drums on this remarkable album.
Brimming brightly with layers of luscious harmonies and reels of rock solid melodies, Chapter Three spools out one serviceable pop tune after another. Echoes of artists such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, The Smithereens and Matthew Sweet may be apparent, yet The Legal Matters possess the proper tools to refurbish these influences into their own recognizable style.
An exquisite ballad, The Painter, pins heart-wrenching lyrics to plush and expansive arrangements, resulting in a spellbinding survey of sadness and beauty. Vibrant vocals, teeming with power and polish, aided by a spot of swirling Hammond organ fills a la Procol Harum, also carpet the striking track.
Conceived of shifting tempos, Independence Well Spent juggles soft textures with a menacing crunch, and the jingling bounce of Please Make A Sound captures everything that constitutes a perfect pop song. Spiked with the whirring zoom of a synthesizer, Light Up The Sky illuminates the band’s incredible lung prowess and telepathic musicianship to towering heights.
Fashioned of a dance hall beat that would prompt Ray Davies to glow with paternal pride, The World Is Mine pedals in as a subsequent revelation, while the atmospheric patterns of Passing Chord yields a lovely choral pop vibe.
Stuffed to the stars with smooth and stately pop pleasures, Chapter Three is the kind of album that has no expiration date. These great songs are so timeless that they could have been recorded in any era. The Legal Matters boast both the talent and wisdom to craft and perform long-lasting music, and having said that, I can hardly wait to hear their next chapter of sonic creations.
5 Above picks five great songs within a specific category. Look out below–these are five that rise above.
THE KINKS IN THE ’70s
5 Above was inspired by a suggestion from writer, cartoonist, and musician Dan Pavelich, who asked me to come up with a piece about my five favorite Kinks songs. The problem: I’m not gonna pick just five favorite Kinks songs. Nope. Not happening. Man, I haven’t even been able to pick out what score and a quarter Kinks songs will make my long-promised All-Time 25 Kinks piece. A mere five Kinks songs…?! Still, a request is a request. Dan posts my stuff twice a week on his pop culture website Pop-A-Looza, and I wanna [ahem] give the people what they want. And thinking about how I could carry out Dan’s request led me to the idea of picking five Kinks songs from the ’70s. Oooo, and maybe a second piece about five Kinks songs from the ’80s! I probably couldn’t come up with five from the ’90s (though I haven’t ruled it out), and I couldn’t limit myself to just five from the ’60s. But five from the ’70s. Five from the ’80s. And then maybe some other lists of five in other categories: five that I think are notable, five that rise above the rest. 5 Above. And just like that, I had a brand new series for Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). This inaugural edition of 5 Songs is a request for Dan Pavelich of Kenosha, Wisconsin. It appears first at Pop-A-Looza, and then migrates to its retirement home at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Everybody’s a dreamer, everybody’s a star. I think I hear a song coming on….
This is the most famous study of celebrity and idolatry in the Ray Davies songbook. It takes some cues from the wistful reverence of “The Village Green Preservation Society.” In some ways, it kinda presages the study of Frankenstein’s-monster stardom in The Kinks Present A Soap Opera, albeit more kindly, informed by affection for silver-screen icons rather than distrust in the cynical process that manufactures pop stars. Everybody’s a dreamer. Everybody’s a star. And success walks hand in hand with failure along Hollywood Boulevard. Nostalgia for the pop culture of the first half of the 20th century was omnipresent in the early ’70s, and no other song can express that interest with an eloquence to match “Celluloid Heroes.”
The 1977 Sleepwalker album was released just as I was becoming increasingly fascinated by The Kinks. It was the right album at the right time, unencumbered by the larger themes of the group’s then-recent series of concept albums, fittingly sprightly and energetic at a time when punk rock was also about to draw my interest. I saw The Kinks perform the album’s title track on TV, on both The Mike Douglas Show and NBC’s Saturday Night. Each of these home tube appearances was supplemented by older Kinks material–“Celluloid Heroes” on the Douglas show, an exciting medley of “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Well Respected Man,” and “Lola” on the show soon to be renamed Saturday Night Live–reinforcing the connection between past and present. The Kinks weren’t back; they’d never gone away.
I wound up absolutely obsessing over a Sleepwalker album track and single called “Juke Box Music.” That song’s bouncy saga of a girl who maintains a far-too-literal belief in the lyrics of the songs she loves resonated within my own ongoing conflict of thinking too much versus not thinking nearly enough, taking things too seriously (and being waaaay too thin-skinned) versus developing an elusive emotional and (quasi-) intellectual balance. As a college freshman in the fall of ’77, I wrote a short story inspired by my interpretation of “Jukebox Music.” In the spring of ’78, I saw The Kinks in concert. “Jukebox Music” was their encore. Right place at the right time. God save serendipity, and God save “Jukebox Music.”
“Lola” was the first Kinks song I ever knew. I’m old enough that I should remember “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” from the ’60s, but while I’m sure I heard them, I wasn’t truly conscious of them prior to my sudden plunge into the Kinks canon in late ’76/early ’77 (a tale told here). “Lola” is no longer one of my key go-to Kinks songs, but I still love it, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include it in a listing of my favorite ’70s Kinks songs.
No More Looking Back
YES!! Concurrent to my deepening interest in The Kinks in 1977, WOUR-FM in Utica was still playing this sublime track from the group’s 1975 album Schoolboys In Disgrace. “No More Looking Back” was as much a part of my essential Kinks indoctrination as “Well Respected Man” or “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” and it probably played a larger part than either or both of those ’60s classics. The song aches with regret and hurt, feigning a resolve that is not yet set, and soldiering on nonetheless. My # 1 Kinks tune of the ’70s, and one of my top picks in any era.
You Can’t Stop The Music
Other than Schoolboys In Disgrace, I mostly missed out on The Kinks’ concept album phase. I saw Preservation Act 1, Preservation Act 2, and The Kinks Present A Soap Opera in the bins at Gerber Music, but I didn’t hear any of that until many years later. And while I appreciate them and dig each of them in its own right, I can’t rank them alongside The Kinks’ 1960s album masterpieces like Face To Face, The Village Green Preservation Society, or Arthur. With that said, “You Can’t Stop The Music” is (along with “[A] Face In The Crowd”) one of a couple of standout selections on Soap Opera. It serves as a de facto statement of intent, and a reminder of the resilience of the sounds we adore. We’ll be revisiting that theme when 5 Above turns its dim widdle spotlight on The Kinks in the ’80s.
BUBBLING UNDER: Muswell Hillbilly, One Of The Survivors
‘Cause I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy, and ya can’t ignore a song that name-checks Johnny and the Hurricanes.
An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! This post was originally published privately, for Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) subscribers only, on January 4th, 2017. This is its first public appearance. For as little as $2 a month, supporters of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on Patreon receive one exclusive bonus post each month: Fund me, baby!
THE KINKS: “You Really Got Me” The record had no precedent.
Link Wray was the closest thing it had to a prototype; the growling, cantankerous power chords of Wray’s “Rumble” sounded like a force of nature, a monolithic, lumbering whamwhamWHAM! pouncing through cheap speakers to devour unsuspecting radio listeners in 1958. “Rumble” influenced anything loud and threatening that was ever played at 45 rpm from that second forward. And one imagines it must have influenced The Kinks, as well. Nonetheless, even six years later in 1964, there had still never been another record quite like “You Really Got Me.”
It’s not just a matter of velocity; “You Really Got Me” seems faster than it really is, and attempts to play it too fast or (worse) too heavy–like Van Halen‘s meatball cover in the late ’70s, or even The Kinks’ own live renditions in the ’80s–feel insincere, wrong. No, the song is methodical, deliberate, but still pounding with desire and passionate, right-now insistence. Its implied speed, its breakneck illusion, makes it all the more powerful, menacing, like a cobra poised to strike and rob you of your last breath. It’s a punk song, even a proto-metal song, but it has a groove. It has a soul. It has a heart.
And it seethes with the frustration from which it was born.
The Kinks had released two previous singles: a perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” (backed by a great beat raver, “I Took My Baby Home”) and a lovely Britpop number called “You Still Want Me.” The former had sold respectably (but unspectacularly) in the UK, and the latter had been a relative stiff. The song’s composer, Ray Davies, is said to have pounded out “You Really Got Me”‘s bluesey creation at home, on his parents’ piano. Frustrated. His frequently estranged brother, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, couldn’t get the dirty, gritty six-string sound he wanted on the song–Frustrated!–and wound up slashing his amp with a razor blade just to get the guttural effect he could only hear in his head. Ray Davies thought the first recording too polite, too polished, too smooth. FRUSTRATED!! He begged the record label to let them have another go at getting it right.
And they did. Release! Girl, you really got me goin’. Cigarette?
With “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks had their first big hit, and not just in the UK. That simple, ferocious riff echoed across the Atlantic, and The Kinks were suddenly part of a British Invasion, an insurrection armed with guitars, bass, and drums, a rock ‘n’ roll police action that reclaimed the colonies for Her Majesty. Yes, of course, The Beatles were the shaggy-headed faces of this unexpected Britmania, and those Liverpudlians’ wit and style and sheer pop brilliance were the driving force of that scene and its sound. But no other rock ‘n’ roll group was more British than The Kinks, and no song ever summed up the British Invasion as well as “You Really Got Me.”
The Rolling Stones tried to surpass it, tried to make a record that could beat the overwhelming, transcendent urgency of “You Really Got Me.” And while the Stones created a lot of terrific singles in the process, they couldn’t match The Kinks. Nor could The Who, nor The Sex Pistols, nor even The Ramones, though Forest Hills’ Finest likely came the closest. The Kinks also tried; their follow-up single “All Day And All Of The Night” was arguably even better, a steamrollin’ refinement of “You Really Got Me”‘s primal attack. But “better” isn’t the same as Greatest. In the visceral realm of pop music, of rock ‘n’ roll, immediacy can be immortal. God save the greatest. And God save The Kinks.
The music of my teenage years will stay with me unlike any of the other music I’ve enjoyed in my life. It is forever entwined with first love and loss, disappointment and doubt, Spring break and Fall football games, dances attended and dances sat out. These songs are as indelible as my most personal memories, and as inescapable as each mornings’ new gray hair. This music is quite literally in my heart.
Word Of Mouth was released in 1984, and fell on my ears as junior year in high school was turning into senior year. My band played Do It Again in the school talent show, and I remember just loving the hell outta that song, from the first time I heard it. I worked overtime trying to get Dave Davies’s guitar parts down, and our little group sounded pretty damn good. Our singer forgot the lyrics, but I didn’t even notice. I was too busy pretending I was a guitar hero like Dave, bashing out those power chords.
I was happy to find that my friend Robert was into Word Of Mouth, and I’m sure that one of us had a cassette of it that was always getting shoved into the tape player in his Pontiac. We did a lot of driving, sometimes with our friend Cheryl. Just like in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we’d cut class, stop at 7-Eleven to pick up a bag of cheese popcorn, jerky and soda. And we’d head for Chicago, which was about 45 minutes south of us. The sun was always shining.
Living On A Thin Line was released as a single, cementing my love of this record. There are some songwriters, Ray Davies & brother Dave being two, that have the ability to write a song that pulls multiple emotions out of you, and, boy, Living On A Thin Line does that to me. It’s love, regret, hope and sorrow, all tangled up in a seemingly-simple pop song.
Sold Me Out and Guilty are both top-notch rockers, and sound unbelievable cranked in the car, on a warm, Spring day. I love every song here, but these two really lift my mood. Every time.
Closing out the record are two songs that are perfectly suited to close it out. Knowing that Robert, Cheryl & I really only had one more summer together (before the reality of adulthood seriously began), I felt like Summer’s Gone was being sung directly to the three of us. Regardless of what the meaning behind Ray’s lyrics might have been, I took the feeling of this one personally.
The very last song is Going Solo, which is what every member of our trio would soon be doing. Although it’s an upbeat song, it’s theme of separating from the people you love always chokes me up.
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.