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Pop Sunday

Jeremy / My Shining Star

Jeremy

My Shining Star (Jam)

http://www.jamrecordings.com

Since the turn of the century, Jeremy Morris has been on a serious creative roll, releasing an album every couple of months. Aside from solo projects, the Portage, Michigan based singer, tunesmith and master of multitudes of instruments, claims membership in The Lemon Clocks and The Jeremy Band. He also runs JAM Records, which not only distributes his own music, but efforts by other artists. 

Jeremy’s latest album, My Shining Star, is filled to the finish line with all the aesthetic applications he is championed for. An adventurous spirit – mirrored by songs about the Holy Spirit – bestow the thirteen track collection with a positive presence that energizes the soul.

Bright and sunny vocals of The Beatles and Byrds variety duly magnify the inspiring dialogue on New Perspective, You’re Amazing and the title cut of the album. Streaked with glittering guitars, vigorous tempos and colossal melodies of diverse contours, these irresistible entries serve as certified power pop nuggets. 

Pitching a darker and heavier tone, Love Your Enemy sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin at times. Piercing licks abound, while the dramatic drone of a Mellotron further heightens the intensity of the production. A sweet and steady jangle directs The Afterlife, which wisely notes, “nobody wants to die, but everybody wants to go to heaven,” where  Saying Goodbye carries a melancholic ring and simple, yet effective hooks. 

Designed of dreamy and ethereal textures, Light Of The World glides seamlessly to a mediative rhythm, glowing with celestial beauty. A cover of Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 hit single, Spirit In The Sky proves to be a fitting end to the album. Jeremy’s revolutionary rendition of the song extends to nearly twenty-five minutes in length and contains some additional lyrics he authored himself. In the beginning, Spirit In The Sky follows the same pattern and arrangement as the original version, with its springy cadence and chugging fuzz guitars, before exploding into a dazzling freakout frenzy of improvisational hard rocking moves and grooves. 

Considering how prolific he is, Jeremy seems to instantly conjure ideas from thin air. And what’s even more remarkable is the quality of his music remains uniformly excellent, with My Shining Star tooling in as another sure-fire keeper from this mighty talented fellow. 

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Pop Sunday

Mike Browning / Class Act

Mike Browning

Class Act

https://mikebrowning.bandcamp.com/album/class-act

At an age when most people are preparing to retire, Mike Browning launched a new career – as a recording star! The North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-varied instrumentalist’s debut effort – a six track EP aptly called Never Too Late –  was released in 2020, ensued  by a single, Another Bite At The Apple. Both of these endeavors received rave receptions, which duly celebrated Mike’s indelible talent for composing, arranging and playing hook happy pop rock to the hilt. 

However, Mike’s current collection – Class Act – was not intended to be an album. The project was initially conceived back in 2018, when Mike was enrolled in a recording and production program taught by Jamie Hoover of the famed Spongetones. Students were assigned to pick tunes of their choice to record, and the numbers on Class Act are those Mike selected. 

Exclusively covers, the material basically sticks to the same structure and tempo of the original recordings. But Mike’s bubbly harmony-laden vocals, attended by his earnest passion for the music, stamps a fresh feel onto the songs. 

Considering The Beach Boys are one of Mike’s key inspirations, it is only appropriate that Class Act opens the session with the sunshine-soaked doo-wop of Do It Again. In fact, the album focuses heavily on the sounds of the sixties. 

The Beatles are saluted on Norwegian Wood, while Picture Book by The Kinks, and the Spencer Davis Group’s keyboard-driven Gimme Some Lovin’ are also revisited in fine form. 

As well, the garage rocking (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – which was popularized by The Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders – and Just Like Romeo And Juliet from The Reflections, appear on the album. 

Then there’s a couple of Bob Dylan essays, which are delivered in the manner mainly recognized by the versions by The Byrds. Among these songs are the countrified You Ain’t Going Nowhere and the ringing folk rock of My Back Pages.  Further folk rock pieces include the quirky nursery rhyme prose of The Little Black Egg (The Nightcrawlers) and the bright and beautiful I’ll Never Find Another You, that The Seekers scored a hit with in  1965. 

XTC fans will rejoice when hearing Mike’s spot on treatment of the paisley-appareled Dear Madame Barnum, along with Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny, which bounces to a cool new wave vibe.

It is a good thing Mike decided to make these cuts available. Lively and sparkling with enthusiasm, the album certainly deserves an A-plus. Class Act will tide us over until Mike’s next album of his own great songs rears its head. 

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Pop Sunday

The Palace Guard / All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966

The Palace Guard

All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966 (Omnivore Recordings)

 These days, The Palace Guard are either a footnote in history or primarily remembered as the band that included Emitt Rhodes on drums (later to be replaced by Terry Rae) who went onto front The Merry Go Round, then launch an influential and critically acclaimed solo career. But the Hawthorne, California based group actually enjoyed a great deal of regional stardom and deserved to be heard on a far wider scale.

The other original members of The Palace Guard were the Beaudoin brothers – John on vocals and keyboards, Don on vocals and rhythm guitar and  David on vocals and tambourine – along Mike Conley on background vocals, lead guitarist Chuck McClung and bassist Rick Moser. A job as house band at the Hullabaloo Club in Hollywood, complemented by appearances on local television programs, granted the group a high profile in and about the area.

During their tenure, The Palace Guard released half a dozen singles that were as solid as anything their chart-topping contemporaries were peddling. Each side of these forty-fives have been compiled onto All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966, which offers rare photos and liner notes by Rick Moser

Synchronized harmonies – couched in the  seam of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Beau Brummels and The Byrds – were  key compotents in the Palace Guard’s repertoire. Not only could these fellows carry a tune, but they proved to be quite a tight team in the instrumental department.

 As well, The Palace Guard had the initiative to pen a few of their own songs instead of relying on cover material, which was pretty much the norm for many bands at the time. Jingly guitars and plucky rhythms, magnified by a cute and chirpy chorus of “coochie coochie coochie coo,” energizes the insanely catchy All Night Long, while rolls of spinning carnival-styled organ chords underline Calliope and the moody Greed is peppered with exotic Middle Eastern psychedelic-scented motifs.

Also a self-composed piece, Oh Blue (The Way I Feel Tonight) possesses a curious appeal, touching on plaintive  teen idol crooning, shifting tempos, ringing folk pop and ending with a snappy Yardbirds– inspired rave up. 

Each song on All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966 has merit, but the crown jewel of the set is perhaps Falling Sugar.  Taking in The Palace Guard’s strong and melodious vocal prowess, a spirited arrangement, chiming licks a plenty, spiffy breaks and a dash of wheezy harmonica playing, the infectious cut fuses Mersey-minded pop instincts with West Coast folk rock sensibilities in an immediate and direct manner.

 Don Grady, who held the role of the eldest son on the hit TV show, My Three Sons, joined The Palace Guard on a pair of numbers – the breezy Little People and the Tijuana Brass flavored Summertime Game, where an adaptation of Wilson Pickett’s If You Need Me examines the band laying down a slow burning soulful groove. Authored by future Bread master David Gates, the bouncy Saturday’s Child is no stranger to fans of sixties music, as the version by The Monkees is the one that we’re familiar with.

 In an alternate galaxy, The Palace Guard would have seized the airwaves with their hooky singles. But good songs refuse to die, and All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966 contains such evergreen entries. There’s no doubt this fine collection will spark a renewed interest in The Palace Guard. 

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Boppin'

The Flamin’ Groovies: The Power Pop Hall of Fame

“1975 will be the year of The Flamin’ Groovies!”–Greg Shaw, Who Put The Bomp magazine
“It wasn’t, but it shoulda been.”–Groovies fans ever since then

It could be argued that no rock ‘n’ roll act was ever so good and simultaneously so ignored as San Francisco’s legendary Flamin’ Groovies. Throughout their long history and many personnel changes, the group was consistently out of step with the times. While contemporaries were properly freaking out and endlessly jamming in a tedious soundtrack to an emerging counterculture, the Groovies drew on unfashionable rock ‘n’ roll roots, alternately purveying good-time jug band music á la The Lovin’ Spoonful and rockin’ the motherlovin’ house down with a ferocity to rival The Rolling Stones and The Stooges. By the time reduced-frills rock started making a comeback in the ’70s, a new incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies was dressed up in Mod clothing and playing polished power pop as if it were 1965 and the band was some mythic combination of The BeatlesByrdsBeach Boys, and Rolling Stones heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector. And by the time “jangly pop” became a buzz phrase, The Flamin’ Groovies were so far underground that no amount of excavating could bring them to the surface, let alone to the pop stardom that should have been their divine right.

As it is, The Flamin’ Groovies produced some unforgettable work, including three oft-covered classics: “Slow Death,” “Teenage Head,” and the incomparable, booming “Shake Some Action,” which sounded like the eleventh-hour announcement of pop-rock Armageddon. Groovies fans are generally divided into two camps: those who favor the manic-rockin’ original Groovies fronted by Roy Loney, and those who prefer the pop perfection of the Sire years (1976-79) with Chris Wilson. In both incarnations, guitarist Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander kept the flame burning brightly.

It’s the Sire era that puts The Flamin’ Groovies into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. That’s not a knock against the earlier stuff, much of which is just fantastic, but an acknowledgement that we wouldn’t be talking about the Groovies as a power pop act if judged solely on the basis of “Teenage Head” and “Second Cousin;” as irresistible as those tracks are, they’re closer to the cantankerous grandeur of, say, The Pretty Things than to anything one would call power pop. The Flamin’ Groovies’ three albums for Sire–Shake Some ActionNow, and Jumpin’ In The Night–radiate a catchy cool, combining the bop and swagger of a solid rock ‘n’ roll foundation with a swoon-worthy dedication to the giddy, visceral thrill of pure pop pursuits. Shake Some Action is one of the defining albums of the genre, loaded with exquisite tracks–“I Can’t Hide,” “You Tore Me Down,” “Yes It’s True,” “I’ll Cry Alone,” and the nonpareil title tune–that shimmer with conviction and glory. Now and Jumpin’ In The Night have been less celebrated by pundits, but nonetheless gave the undeserving world such pop gems as “Good Laugh Mun,” “All I Wanted,” “Yes I Am,” “Tell Me Again,” and the magnificent “First Plane Home.”

A different line-up of the Groovies (still including Jordan and Alexander) emerged in the late ’80s, releasing the Rock Juice album in 1992 before returning to the shadows. Eventually, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander reunited with Roy Loney for live gigs as The Flamin’ Groovies. Chris Wilson even joined in for an encore at one show, an event that had once seemed, y’know, really unlikely. Credit to all parties for transcending the accumulated baggage of the past.

Both Jordan and Wilson remain in the current edition of The Flamin’ Groovies, and they released an album called Fantastic Plastic in 2017, 24 years after Rock Juice, 38 years after Jumpin’ In The Night. George Alexander plays on some of the album, but Chris von Sneidern has occupied the bass spot for recent live shows. Is this finally The Year Of The Flamin’ Groovies? No, it is not. And that’s okay. To fans, every year is another year of the Groovies. Let us bust out at full speed, ’cause love is all we need to make it all right.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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Pop Sunday

Richard Turgeon / 10 Covers, Volume 2

Richard Turgeon

10 Covers: Volume 2″ (2021)

https://richardturgeon.bandcamp.com/album/10-covers-volume-ii


Every so often, Richard Turgeon takes a breather from crafting his own superb songs, and picks tunes of his favorite artists to tackle. The material included on the San Francisco Bay Area one-man band’s “10 Covers: Volume 2” slides in as the second installment of his recycling project, and features tracks that were released as digital singles over the past year.

The selections presented on this effort – which span different eras and styles –  generally follow the template of the initial versions. That is definitely not a bad thing, as some of these songs stand as of the most beloved of all time. Turgeon’s taut and durable vocals, paired with his cracking instrumental techniques, simply crystallize the qualities that made the cuts so appealing in the first place. 

Whether he is channeling the alternative rock of Hole’s “Malibu,” the twelve-string jangle of The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Better” or the driving beat of Flesh For Lulu’s “Postcards From Paradise,” Turgeon approaches the songs with earnest enthusiasm.

 Other entries heard on “10 Covers: Volume 2” are The Mamas and the Papas’ luscious harmony-laden “California Dreaming,” T,he Cure’s punchy “Just Like Heaven,” and Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” that was of course popularized in frisky fettle by The Monkees. 
Potty Mouth’s jaunty punk flavored “22,” The Bobby Fuller Four’s heartbreaking ballad “A New Shade Of Blue” and Oasis’ sweeping and soaring “Live Forever” also appear on the set.

 And how fitting it is Turgeon pays homage to Tom Petty on “10 Covers: Volume 2,” considering much of his original work invokes comparisions to the late icon. The song Turgeon elected to revisit is “Learning To Fly,” which adds a layer of  muscular guitar mettle to the mix. 

An eclectic choice of offerings, “10 Covers: Volume 2” is a nice thank you note to the musicians who have inspired Turgeon. Excellent indeed! 

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Boppin'

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE BANGLES, “7 And 7 Is”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”


THE BANGLES: 7 And 7 Is [Love]

The hit 1980s group The Bangles. The broad Nuggets niche of 1960s garage, punk, and psychedelia. Never the twain shall meet.

Those of us with even a perfunctory knowledge of pop history know the above statement is nonsense. The Bangles drew significant and obvious inspiration from the sounds of the ‘60s, notably from The Beatles and from the decade’s Laurel Canyon axis of SoCal pop music, from The Byrds to Buffalo Springfield to The Mamas and the Papas. The Bangles were originally part of L.A.’s Paisley Underground, one of many Los Angeles acts in the early ‘80s professing and practicing a devout, pervasive connection to a vibrant rock ‘n’ roll scene that came nearly two decades before them. Maybe much of the general public couldn’t automatically draw a line from ‘60s touchstones like Pandora’s Box or Riot On The Sunset Strip to this distaff Fab Four mugging through “Walk Like An Egyptian” on MTV. Fine. But you and me? We know better. The Bangles had more in common with The Standells and The Electric Prunes than with virtually any of their Reagan era Top 40 contemporaries.

The Bangles’ eponymous 1982 EP included four originals, plus one cover, “How Is The Air Up There?,” a ’60s obscurity originally done by The Changin’ Times in ’65, and later recorded by The La De Das, for whom it was a hit in their native New Zealand in 1966. The Bangles at that time were guitarists Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs, bassist Annette Zalinskas, and drummer Debbi Peterson, Vicki’s sister. The Bangles wore their ’60s loyalties like a badge of honor.

The EP was my introduction to The Bangles. I don’t recall if I read about them in the rock press or heard them on Buffalo’s WBNY-FM before I bought the record, but I was an instant fan. I remained a fan as Zalinskas moved on, as Michael Steele replaced her on the four-string, and as the group signed with Columbia Records for their first full-length album, 1984’s All Over The Place.

My God, I loved All Over The Place. The original songs were fantastic, the two covers (of The Merry-Go-Round‘s “Live” and Katrina and the Waves‘ “Going Down To Liverpool) were sufficiently obscure that I thought they were both originals, and the album will always be among my all-time favorites. The group’s tour in support of The Continental brought them to Buffalo for a show at left-of-the-dial nightclub All Over The Place, and I can testify that The Bangles were a solid live act. I don’t remember a lot of specifics, but I know I enjoyed it, and I know they covered Mose Allison‘s “I’m Not Talking,” with Michael Steele taking the lead vocal. I knew the song from The Yardbirds, and I guess that would qualify as an unexpected cover in concert.

But it wasn’t as unexpected as hearing The Bangles cover “7 And 7 Is,” a song written by Arthur Lee and originally recorded in 1966 by Lee’s band Love.

I had discovered the music of Arthur Lee‘s group Love in the early ’80s. I’d read about them somewhere, and snagged a used copy of their eponymous debut album literally off the floor at Brockport’s Main Street Records around, I dunno, ’82 or so. I picked up a greatest-hits set called Love Revisited after moving to Buffalo, and became enthralled by this furious, fascinating proto-punk tune called “7 And 7 Is.” 

If I don’t start cryin’ it’s because that I have got no eyes
My father’s in the fireplace and my dog lies hypnotized
Through a crack of light I was unable to find my way
Trapped inside a night
But I’m a day and I go
Oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip
YEAH!

Yeah, I had no idea what the hell it was about, and I woulda sworn that list bit above was an eloquent Batman-inspired Boom-biff-biff, Boom-biff-biff YEAH! rather than some [chuckle] non-sensical “oop-ip-ip” jazz. Obviously. But it didn’t matter what the words were or what the song meant. It was a freakin’ force of nature, it demanded high volume, and I played that damned track with manic devotion. I wasn’t using the phrase yet in the ’80s, but damn, this was clearly The Greatest Record Ever Made.


And now, live in 1985, The Bangles were performing on stage, right before my eyes. My jaw dropped. My fist raised itself without needing me to will it so. The Bangles. Love. “7 And 7 Is.” It was unexpected. And it was awesome!

Looking back, it shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. I knew of The Bangles’ roots in ’60s nuggets, and I wasn’t exactly shocked that they chose to cover Love. It was still a surprise, a pleasant surprise. That night, The Bangles said their version of “7 And 7 Is” would be on their next album. I regret that did not come to pass.

The Bangles’ commercial status took a dramatic upturn with their second album, 1986’s Different Light. The album’s first single “Manic Monday,” written by Prince (under the pseudonym “Christopher,” I guess because “Bernard Webb” was already spoken for), became the group’s first hit, a # 2 smash. Different Light is a very good record, but it seemed slicker and less exuberant than All Over The Place. It was an ’80s album. All Over The Place had felt timeless. Nonetheless, I cheered as this band I loved invaded the pop charts and Top 40 radio. Their success was deserved.

When The Bangles’ Different Light tour brought them back to Buffalo again, their higher profile had allowed them to graduate to a larger venue, The Rooftop in South Buffalo. Alas, I got my wires crossed about when The Bangles were scheduled to go on, and they had finished more than half of their set before I strolled in. Damn it.

The 2014 archival CD collection Ladies And Gentlemen…The Bangles! preserves concrete evidence that The Bangles covered “7 And 7 Is” in live shows, proof positive in the form of a 1984 live recording of Love via The Bangles. While most folks recall The Bangles as frothy ’80s video divas, I remember them as music fans made good, playing songs they loved in whatever venue was available. Their 1987 cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” was a bigger hit than the original. Even on New Year’s Eve of 2000, when The Bangles appeared on Dick Clark‘s New Year’s Eve TV bash, they still surprised by pulling out a cover of The Velvet Underground‘s “I’m Waiting For The Man.” The Bangles were nobody’s empty-calorie cupcakes.

The Ramones also covered “7 And 7 Is,” on their 1993 all-covers album Acid Eaters. When I interviewed The Ramones for Goldmine in 1994, I mentioned to C. J. Ramone that I’d seen The Bangles cover the song live in 1985, and that they’d intended to record it. He was surprised. “That’s wild!,” he said, clearly impressed with the notion that The Bangles did a song as cool as “7 And 7 Is.”

They did indeed, C. J. And yeah, it was unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. The Bangles loved the ’60s. The Bangles loved Love. 

Oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip, YEAH!

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: The Dark Return Of LET’S ACTIVE

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Not Brand Echh

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It’s separated here for convenience.
Never underestimate the transcendent power of just being silly.

When you’re a kid, “funny” and “silly” are pretty much the same thing. As we mature, our sense of humor may expand to embrace wit, sarcasm, irony, the sardonic, the acerbic, the caustic, the blackest of black. But if we retain some lasting connection to the inner child that understands how to have fun, we may also retain a fondness for broad slapstick, painful puns, exuberant goofiness, and the thrill of inane, delirious giggling. Silly is eternal. Silly is immortal. Silly can help to keep us young.

Most American kids in the ’60s and ’70s read Mad magazine at some point. Mad was more than merely silly; it was funny, and it occasionally achieved fleeting brilliance. It was also silly, willfully so. That anarchic, chaotic spirit was flashy, infectious; it inspired many, many attempts at the sincere flattery of imitation. Brilliance is difficult to copy convincingly. But silliness? Silliness is easy.

Not Brand Echh was brilliantly silly.

In 1967, the growing success of Marvel Comics continued to gather steam. Marvel had begun the ’60s as a lower-tier comics publisher; it would be the undisputed # 1 by the early ’70s, and it would never look back. As Marvel sought to expand its line, writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich suggested to Stan Lee the idea of a book devoted to parodies of other comics. Thomas and Friedrich wanted to channel the freewheelin’ free-for-all of the earliest issues of Mad in the ’50s, when Mad was itself still a color comic book needling other comics in such classic stories as “Superduperman,””Batboy And Rubin,” “Melvin Of The Apes,” and “Starchie.” They chose the name Not Brand Echh, utilizing Stan Lee’s familiar twist on the dismissive phrase “Brand X” when referring to other comics publishers, and pitched it to Stan as a series of take-offs on DC ComicsGold Key, and other four-color rivals. Lee insisted that the book needed to parody Marvel’s own line instead, but the concept was otherwise a go. With the tag line “Who says a comic book has to be GOOD??,” Not Brand Echh # 1 hit the stands with a cover date of August 1967.

The first issue’s dynamic and silly Jack Kirby cover subtly recalled the cover of Mad # 1 from 1952 (perhaps the only time anything was ever subtle in Not Brand Echh). It depicted The Fantastic FourThe Silver Surfer, the evil Dr. Doom, and a random scared kitty cat recoiling in horror before the advancing figure of Forbush Man, a Marvel in-joke based on the supposed mishaps of a hapless, fictional Marvel staffer named Irving Forbush. Ol’ Irv was a fixture of Stan Lee’s fan-friendly Bullpen Bulletins and Stan Lee’s Soapbox hype pages in all of the Marvel books, regular features that did as much to sell the Marvel image to eager acolytes as the stories themselves did. Turning Irving into a costumed figure–albeit one who appeared only on the issue’s cover–conveyed the message to Marvelites that this new book was guaranteed good fun for you, the discerning True Believer in this, The Marvel Age Of Comics. Excelsior!

Inside, Lee and Kirby parodied their own work, as The Fantastical Four tangled with Doctor Bloom and the stolen cosmic power of The Silver Burper. Subtlety? No time for that now! This was the broadest of broad humor, the artwork loaded with sight gags and chicken fat, the script laden with strained puns and wordplay. It was certainly silly. And, to a kid like me, it was freakin’ hilarious.

But I didn’t catch up to it until later. I may have seen Marvel’s house ads for the first issue, but I don’t recall seeing either the first or second issues on the racks at the time of their publication. The first issue I remember seeing was # 3, sitting on the spinner at Sweethearts Corner in North Syracuse, its cover hawking parodies of The Mighty Thor (“The Mighty Sore!”), Captain America (“Charlie America!”), and The Incredible Hulk (“The Inedible Bulk!”). I was probably intrigued, and also likely confused. I put it back on the spinner, and bought DC’s The Spectre instead. I couldn’t risk wasting my twelve cents on this uncertain tomfoolery, could I?

Could I?

Well, maybe I could. The image of Not Brand Echh stayed in my mind. When the fourth issue appeared at Sweethearts the following month, I was ready to take the ever-lovin’ plunge, make that furshlugginer leap of faith.

Silly. And absolutely captivating to this seven-year-old.

With a theme of “The Bad Guys Win!,” this issue showed off-kilter versions of Marvel heroes Daredevil (Scaredevil), Sub-Mariner (Sunk-Mariner), and The X-Men (The Echhs-Men, of course) being defeated by their arch-enemies, cracked view reflections of Electro (Electrico), Warlord Krang (Krank), and Magneto (Magneat-O). The humor was broad, manic, fast-paced, and as far removed from subtlety as The Three Stooges from The New Yorker. It made me laugh, man.

I missed the next two issues of Not Brand Echh (including the debut of the now-hyphenated Forbush-Man as a character [rather than just a cover joke] in NBE # 5), and returned for the seventh issue’s hysterical betrayals…er, portrayals of the origins of The Fantastical Four and the Distinguished Competition’s Stuporman. References in the latter story to DC’s Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell (Mort Wienieburger and Birdwell) sailed over my head faster’n a speeding bullet, but were still funny, just ‘cuz. I was particularly taken by the image of a window washer who looked a lot like Ringo Starr, gazing up and shouting, “Look! Up in the ever-lovin’ sky! It’s a goony-bird! It’s a Jefferson Airplane! Naw! It’s nothin’ but Stuporman. Him we gotta look at every day. I wuz hopin’ it wuz maybe a goony-bird!”

Forbush-Man returned in the next issue, chronicling his efforts to join a super team, and getting into misadventures with The Flighty RevengersKnock Furious and the Agents Of S.H.E.E.S.H., and The Echhs-Men. On that issue’s final page, a dejected Forbush-Man decided that no really famous group would ever want him as a member, and so he walked away from a chance to join The Beatles. This was, incidentally, the first time I recall ever seeing The Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band garb. The story concluded with the nonsensical moral, “The Byrds in the hand are worth The Who in the bush!” Awrighty….

Not Brand Echh switched to a 25-cent Giant format with its ninth issue, and expanded its scope to lampoon movies (Boney And Claude) and TV shows (The Mean Hornet), as well as Archie comics (“Arch And The Teen-Stalk”) and the familiar Marvel parodies (The Inedible Bulk versus The Sunk-Mariner, and Captain Marvin). But for me, the best was yet to come.

Best?

Worst!

It took two chapters (here and here) in my ’60s memoir Singers, Superheroes & Songs On The Radio to recount my memory of 1968.  Comic books were among the highlights of ’68 for me, and one of those highlights was Not Brand Echh # 10. For this was an all-reprint issue, The Worst Of Not Brand EchhWith this blockbuster, I had the chance to catch up on some of the Brecch blechh I’d missed: The origin of Forbush-Man! Spidey-Man versus Gnatman and Rotten the Boy Blunder! The origins of Charlie America and Mighty Sore! Knock Furious versus The Blunder Agents (my first vicarious exposure to The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents)! There was only one story I’d seen before, The Ecchs-Men versus Magneat-O tale from NBE # 4, which I appreciated here like a reunion with an old friend. But the prize among prizes for me was “The Silver Burper!” from Not Brand Echh # 1.

For this inaugural Not Brand Echh story, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pulled out all the stops for a jackhammer take-off on their own epic Fantastic Four classic, wherein the unspeakably evil Dr. Doom appropriated The Silver Surfer’s power cosmic. Chicken fat sight gags and goofy side comments pummeled the reader mercilessly, and I would recite many of the lines for decades thereafter. I can rule the world! The universe! DISNEYLAND! Or, How joyfully he frolics and gambols in the noonday sun! Such innocence should be rewarded! SHOOT HIM!
And, of course, my favorite of all–this exchange between Mr. Fantastical and Dr. Bloom:

DR. BLOOM: I have far more power than you!

MR. FANTASTICAL: But I know more big words!

DR. BLOOM: But I can SPELL them better!

MR. FANTASTICAL: My hair is wavier!

DR. BLOOM: My nose is shinier!

DR. BLOOM: I own a hundred suits of armor!

MR. FANTASTICAL: I own a hundred pairs of stretch socks!

DR. BLOOM: I’m the boss of a whole complete country!

MR. FANTASTICAL: I own a hundred pairs of stretch socks!

DR. BLOOM: But here’s the clinker, big mouth–Do YOU have your very own magic surfboard? Hmmm??

MR. FANTASTICAL: I own a hundred–URKK!

DR. BLOOM: Oh, shuddup with the socks already!

I believe I just snorted, and milk came out my nose. Again. Fifty years later, the memory still makes me chuckle, and smile.

Not Brand Echh only lasted for three more issues, finally succumbing to Forbush fatigue after its thirteenth issue. Marvel tried a more general parody comic book called Spoof in the early ’70s, and even tried a magazine called Crazy to compete directly with Mad magazine. I sampled both the short-lived Spoof and the longer-lasting Crazy, but found neither to be of interest to me.

Most of us are only kids once. The oddball things that tickle our fancies at a specific age, a particular flashpoint in our lives, can assume greater resonance in our emotion and memory than some other random thing that doesn’t enjoy the benefit of nostalgia or cherished recollection. By any attempted objective measure, Not Brand Echh really wasn’t exactly Proust, nor Swift, nor even Bennett Cerf. Well, maybe that last one. I think much of the artwork is beyond easy reproach–Marie Severin, in particular, was practically peerless in her mastery of humor comic visuals–but neither Stan Lee nor Roy Thomas was quite a natural at writing comedy. Much of the humor is forced. Nearly all of the parody names are awkwardly, painfully strained (and therefore a huge influence on my early, inept attempts at writing humor). But I was seven and eight years old when I first read these. This is explanation, not excuse. I adored this stuff, and no invasion of rational thought will ever change that enduring fact. Oh, shuddup with the socks already! Who says a comic book has to be good? Well…who says this isn’t good? Make mine Brand Echhs! Sometimes silly can offer all the satisfaction a kid could ever need.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.

Categories
Pop Sunday

Jeremy / Living The Dream

Jeremy

Living The Dream (JAM Records) 2020


He’s a singer, songwriter, multi-dimensional instrumentalist, record producer and owner of the Portage, Michigan based JAM label. That’s Jeremy Morris, who is known to music fans all over the world for the highly accomplished albums he has been spooling out on a regular basis for the past few decades. To say Jeremy releases a new effort every couple of months is no exaggeration. 


Although Jeremy is a master of many musical fashions, his latest album, Living The Dream, concentrates on the pop rock  side of the pole. Keying in at a whopping seventy-six minutes in length, the twenty-five track collection offers a nice mix of original and cover material. 


Costumed in a coat of chiming guitars and sparkling sensations by the score, the title cut of the album launches the set off on an optimistic note, both sonically and lyrically. The aptly coined Keep The Faith also broadcasts Jeremy’s sunny attitude, Devil Next Door races with skittish spy styled rhythms, and Can’t Buy A Thrill imparts the pitfalls of substance abuse to an edgy and electrifying tenor. 


Beaming with vibrancy and color, Your Sweet Relief could pass as a Badfinger classic, and the catchy ring of Can You Hear Me Calling? features Jamie Hoover of The Spongetones handling guitar, drums, keyboards and harmonica, as well as chipping in on vocals. 
The similarly-christened I Want To Stay and Here To Stay further bear a rather like-minded sound, as the songs are spotted with bluesy George Harrison influenced licks sweeping and weeping with humming melodies. Then there’s the hypnotic pulse of the acoustic-laced Flying Away that blooms with perennial beauty and bliss. 


Jeremy’s music has often been defined as Beatlesque, and a generous portion of Living The Dream certainly adheres to such a description. In fact, one of the remakes on the album is Dear Prudence, which melts into another Beatles song, Baby, You’re A Rich Man, before returning to Dear Prudence, resulting in a very cool and unique move.


Jeremy acknowledges his Byrdsian roots on a loyal take of So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star that includes his recently dearly departed dad, Bill Morris, on trumpet. Rick Nelson’s delicately poignant Are You Really Real? is revisited with utmost taste and grace, and The Flamin’ Groovies are saluted on the power popping nugget I Can’t Hide.

Jeremy’s shredding abilities are showcased to amazing effects on blistering readings of Rick Springfield’s Speak To The Sky and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky, where The Status Quo’s  Pictures Of Matchstick Men is seriously as great as the initial trippy version.


Raining mettlesome hooks and pitch perfect harmonies, supported by inspiring arrangements and energy to spare, Living The Dream exposes Jeremy in a full-on poptastic mode, leading to an album that is a staple of its genre.

Categories
Boppin'

5 GREAT MOVIE SONGS! (From films I either didn’t like or never saw)

Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it might not even exist if not for the movies. That may be an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that rock’s first crossover success came via Hollywood. When the film The Blackboard Jungle appeared in 1955, its opening credits sequence propelled a novelty fox trot called “Rock Around The Clock” to the top of the pops, making the seemingly unlikely figures of Bill Haley and his Comets the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll stars. The ongoing sheet-shakin’ between rock and film has been consummated again and again over the ensuing decades, from Jailhouse Rockthrough A Hard Day’s NightThe Monkees in HeadThe Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and the fictional Oneders in That Thing You Do!, plus whatever more recent iterations have occurred since I grew too old to keep up with what you crazy kids are up to. Just stay off of my lawn already.

The sheer abundance of great rock ‘n’ pop tracks that have appeared in movies makes the prospect of selecting my all-time Top 5 movie songs too daunting to consider. Honestly, I doubt I could even narrow down a list of my five favorite Beatles movie songs, and I’d still need room for at least two tracks from The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend, The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song (Theme From ‘Head’),” Little Richard‘s title tune from The Girl Can’t Help It, the museum outings montage version of Lulu‘s “To Sir, With Love,” and Paul McCartney and Wings‘ license to thrill “Live And Let Die.” Among others. Among a lot of others! “Light Of Day” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, fercryinoutloud!

So, as an alternative, I figured I’d list five great movie songs from films I either didn’t really like or have never actually seen. That narrows things down to a more manageable field. By arbitrarily discarding any song used as a film’s title tune–buh-bye “Don’t Make Waves” by The Byrds and “They Ran For Their Lives” by The Knickerbockers–I came up with a quintet of popcorn-ready tracks that mean more to me than the films that delivered ’em. Dim the room. Kill your phones. And keep your trap shut until the closing credits roll. Lights! Camera! GUITARS!!

THE CRAWLING KINGSNAKES: “Philadelphia Baby” (from Porky’s Revenge).

The only Porky’s film I ever saw in its entirety was the first one, and I did not care for it. I mean, c’mon–it’s not like it was The Hollywood Knights or something. But one of its sequels, 1985’s Porky’s Revenge, had a killer soundtrack, consisting mostly of oldies covered by acts like Jeff BeckWillie NelsonClarence ClemonsThe Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Dave Edmunds, plus Carl Perkins performing a new version of his own “Blue Suede Shoes” with two out of three Stray Cats. The soundtrack also includes George Harrison‘s otherwise-unavailable take on Bob Dylan‘s “I Don’t Want To Do It,” and Edmunds (who was in charge of the soundtrack) turns in an incredible original called “High School Nights.” But the highlight is this cover of Charlie Rich‘s “Philadelphia Baby” by The Crawling Kingsnakes. Who da Kingsnakes? None other than Robert Plant, with Edmunds, Paul Martinez, and Phil Collins. That’s a pretty impressive line-up for a no-account flick like Porky’s Revenge.

THE FOUR TOPS: “Are You Man Enough” (from Shaft In Africa).

Another sequel. I don’t remember whether or not I’ve ever seen the original Shaft, but I certainly knew Isaac Hayes‘ title theme song. I did see some episodes of the TV series that eventually followed. And everybody knew that Richard Roundtree was badass in the role of the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man. 1973’s Shaft In Africa brought “Are You Man Enough” to AM radio, and it was my de facto introduction to The Four Tops. I retroactively discovered the group’s fantastic ’60s catalog, but it all started for me with this song from Shaft In Africa. Can you dig it?

HERMAN’S HERMITS: “A Must To Avoid” (from Hold On!)

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll movies, I don’t think of concert films or documentaries. I think of scripted flicks with some excuse for a plot (however slight), and pop idols singin’ their songs. I primarily think of star vehicles, like Sonny & Cher in Good Times or Bloodstone in Train Ride To Hollywood. As a kid growing up in the ’60s, I only saw two such films: the magnificent A Hard Day’s Night and the significantly less-great Hold On!, the latter starring Herman’s Hermits. I’m sure I liked Hold On! just fine when I was six or whatever; I tried to watch it as an adult, but could not get through it. On the other hand, the soundtrack LP has its moments, particularly this rousing pop put-down, a song spirited enough that my power pop Fave Raves The Flashcubes used to include it in their live sets circa ’78 or so.

DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON: “Flowers In The City” (from Times Square)

1980’s Robert Stigwood-produced Times Square was supposed to do for new wave music what Stigwood’s earlier success with Saturday Night Fever did for dat ole debbil disco: sell records, inspire pop culture, and generate a free flow of cold, hard cash. It did not do that. The few minutes of the film I’ve managed to catch in passing on TV support the prevailing opinion that Times Square was stuffy and overly serious in its tone. I think I’d still like to see it some day, and see what I think of it. The 2-LP soundtrack album is very good, comprised mostly of familiar gems by The Ramones,
Suzi QuatroTalking HeadsRoxy MusicThe PretendersJoe JacksonXTC, et al., all of which were available elsewhere, but which made an attractive purchase when bundled together in one pretty package. “Flowers In The City,” a duet between former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and Times Square co-star Robin Johnson, is unique to the film’s soundtrack, and it’s terrific. It was released at the peak of my interest in Johansen, and it’s as great as nearly anything on his first two solo albums, and better than anything he did after that.

PAUL McCARTNEY: “Not Such A Bad Boy” (from Give My Regards To Broad Street)

Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street may get a worse rap than it really deserves. It’s not bad, but it’s not in any way special, either. Well, let’s amend that a bit–even by itself, the presence of McCartney does make it sorta special. I should add this to the list of movies I oughtta watch again and re-assess. The soundtrack is mostly very nice, including a remake of “Ballroom Dancing” and the hit single “No More Lonely Nights.” The album approaches the transcendental with two of McCartney’s best tracks of the ’80s–“No Values” and “Not Such A Bad Boy”–which are not on any other album. Both tracks feature McCartney playing with an ace combo of Ringo StarrChris Spedding, and Porky’s Revenge wunderkind Dave Edmunds, and they’re just as solid as anything Sir Paul ever did after leaving the act you’ve known for all these years. In particular, “Not Such A Bad Boy” is such a confident rockin’ pop number, oozing with swagger and amiable panache. It’s aching for rediscovery as one of McCartney’s best.

Okay, the house lights are on. Clean up your concession-stand debris and head for the parking lot. And let’s pop in a rock ‘n’ roll movie soundtrack to accompany our drive home.

If you wanna read some half-baked notions of how I would have (in theory) slapped together a rock ‘n’ roll movie when I was younger, check out my proposed Bay City Rollers movie, or my quarter-baked fantasy of an ’80s update of The Girl Can’t Help It starring Bo Derek(the latter also featuring bonus discussion of a Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart TV series and a star vehicle for Ireland’s phenomenal pop combo The Undertones. I could rule the world if I had money. And ambition. And talent. 
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Categories
Pop Sunday

The Empty Hearts / Second Album

The Empty Hearts

Second Album (Wicked Cool Records)

 
A true supergroup, The Empty Hearts are Wally Palmar from The Romantics on vocals, rhythm guitar and harmonica, Elliot Easton of The Cars on lead guitar and vocals, Andy Babiuk from The Chesterfield Kings on bass and Clem Burke of Blondie on drums and vocals. 


In 2014, The Empty Hearts released their self-titled debut album, which was expectedly greeted with wild applause. Considering how busy these guys are with their own separate projects, they can be excused for taking so long to deliver a follow-up effort. But it was definitely worth the wait, because the properly coined Second Album is just as fun and exciting as the first endeavor.


Dotted with wailing Yardbirds‘ styled harmonica trills, The Best That I Can crackles and crunches with classic  garage rock fervor, and then there’s Well, Look At You, which includes hip horn arrangements and grooves to a sprightly soulful timbre. 


Hook-laden power pop is the name of the game on fetching numbers such as  If I Could Change Your Mind and Coat-Tailer, where Sometimes Shit Happens For A Reason bristles to a gritty blues pitch managed by tobacco-ravaged vocals and raw-boned emotion.


The band’s good friend, Ringo Starr, lends his fabled tub-thumping prowess to Remember Days Like These, that chimes brightly with Byrds inspired bliss and magical melodies by the mile. An apt statement of the turbulent times we’re currently experiencing, The World’s Gone Insane roars with red hot anger generated by throttling riffs and pulsing punk rock energy. Shaped of a larger than life chorus and a stomping beat, Come On And Try It plugs in as another rousing raver included on the collection. 


Those hungry for a shot of authentic rock and roll will certainly feed their need with Second Album.  The Empty Hearts play their great songs straight from their hearts – pun badly intended –  and their passion for the music is instantly infectious. Equipped with killer-diller chops and the kind of telepathic chemistry found in the best bands, these fellows were destined to be together. Here’s to a standing ovation.