Monday, November 12, 2012

Earle Mankey Appreciation Society, 4

The title track of the Elevators' Girlfriend's Girlfriend is another song that falls into the category of the Earl Mankey Effect... When I was like 12 or 13, the main radio station I listened to in NYC was WNEW-FM. It was my station because I had hesher taste and they played a lot of Who, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Tull, Hendrix, Cream...You get the idea. But punk and New Wave presented the station with something of an identity crisis. The 'classics' WNEW played began to seem more than a little overripe in the face of Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, Rockpile, Blondie, etc. Some of the newer bands, like the Cars, the Police, and Cheap Trick, fit into the station's playlists fairly seamlessly, largely because at some point they sold out and went corporate. Can you think of any records that are as corporate as Cheap Trick Live at Budokan or The Police's Ghosts in the Machine?  With other bands, though, like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, the fit on the 'NEW playlist was more awkward and out-of-place sounding.  But looking back on it now, it all made for some interesting, relatively eclectic programming, perhaps a last gasp of semi-freeform radio.  Fleetwood Mac alongside Nick Lowe alongside Eric Clapton alongside Squeeze alongside Rod Stewart alongside the Clash... 

There was a period - I'm thinking 1980 or so - when the station really felt its moment passing by and overcompensated with a daily New Wave hour, and the late Scott Muni, a dinosaur even then, hosted a show in the afternoons called 'Things from England', which was basically just an anglophile New Wave show. As dreamy and strange as this all seems to me now, I have to give WNEW credit for playing a lot of good music during this period of transition. New Yorkers didn't have a station like LA's KROQ until a few years later when WLIR went to a New Music format, and I hadn't yet discovered college radio, so 'NEW was my only source for cool new records, even though this wasn't the main reason I tuned in everyday. One of the singles in the station's rotation was Girlfriend's Girlfriend, a very cool little New Wave song, and fairly racy even in the early 80s. I don't think I understood the implication, I just liked the tune.  And so back to the Earle Mankey Effect: A few months back, I was poking around youtube, looking up songs stored in the dusty nether regions of my memory, and I typed in Girlfriend's Girlfriend.  Judge for yourself, but I think it still sounds great. And, like I said, this happens to me all the freaking time. I should've known because the song is so punchy and tuneful and direct, with a nice razor sharp edge. Of course it's produced by Earle Mankey, of course it is...


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earle Mankey Appreciation Society, 3

Along with the Trees record I talked about a few posts ago, Earle Mankey's finest achievement as a producer is 20/20's self-titled debut album. My favorite music tends to be stuff that captures and crystalizes its time and place. I like the listening experience to be a kind of cultural history lesson, and I like to approach songs as a pop sociologist or anthropologist. Part of this has to do with the way I live in the past and simply want music to be a kind of time machine that gets me out of the dreariness of the now. The great thing about the 20/20 record is that you play it and it transports you to Los Angeles in the late 70s, or at least a particular version of late-70's LA. Punk, New Wave, and the first wave of pop revivalism have all swept through the Hollywood clubs, and 20/20 is one of those bands that assimilate elements of all of this. They are, in other words, tailor made for Earle Mankey, a belt-high fastball down the middle that he doesn't miss. There's only a few songs on the record that feel like filler. Mostly 20/20 is just one lusciously melodic song after another. It's almost overwhelming to have so many great songs on one record. You don't have much time to breathe and take stock. I've come around to the idea that the filler on Beatles and Stones records actually served a purpose, basically to give the listener a few moments rest. There's almost no time for rest with 20/20's first. And one of the things I really appreciate about these songs is that they're edgy, sharp, and even a little bit hard in places, but they don't ever lose their tunefulness. For a brief moment in time, 20/20 made perfect pop music, with Mankey twiddling the knobs and coaxing great performances. Their music booms out of the speakers, filling the room with exactly the kind of music pop lifers need. Think of their debut as a blueprint for how its supposed to be done. My one complaint about the record is that it doesn't end with Jet Lag, but rather with a very mediocre song that sounds like filler.  Ending it with Jet Lag, which instead is the penultimate song, would have made an amazingly dramatic statement. But this is just quibbling, a small misstep that only takes away a tiny bit from the deep impression the album leaves, one that will have you wanting nothing so much as to hear it again...

Friday, November 9, 2012

byrdsongs, index

Welcome! I've spent the past three months or so listening to, reflecting on, and writing about the Byrds. This is an index for all 81 posts.  Click on any song title and – presto! – you'll be transported to my musings on everything from the enduring legacy of the 60s to the magical, mystical power of the 12-string Rickenbacker, with lots of freely associated tangents along the way.  I tried to cover everything from the early demos the Byrds recorded for Columbia in late ’64 and early ’65, through the various incarnations of the band, and up to Chris Hillman’s Desert Rose Band and Roger McGuinn’s Folk Den Project. I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say as much as I enjoyed writing the stuff. Cheers!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxxi

As a middle-aged adult, it’s probably asking too much for Byrdsongs to have the same effect on me now as they did when I was eight years old and everything was new and fresh and out there to be discovered. That’s the magic of childhood, the magic one can't really appreciate until after the fact. But it’s a testament to the power of the Byrds’ best music that, though on a more limited scale, it still has the power to inspire my imagination and to stimulate creative impulses all these years later, especially after having listened to some of these songs hundreds of times. Even slogging through the bland mid- and late-70s post-Byrds stuff has been a fascinating ride, trying to make sense of how and why things evolved the way they did. It seems appropriate to end this series with Roger McGuinn’s mid-90s Folk Den Project, in which he returned to his traditional folk roots…

So where does PLU go from here? I’m not quite sure yet. I have some great ideas but I want to take some time to catch my breath and re-stock the mental shelves.  Check in once in awhile.  I’ll be back at it before long. Cheers! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxx

It’s amazing what ten years off the grid did for Roger McGuinn creatively. Back From Rio is by no means a perfect record, but it’s easily the best thing he’d done since the Byrds’ Untitled, 20 years or so earlier. I’m not sure what accounts for this rebirth of sorts. Maybe he just needed the rest. Or maybe the imminent induction of the Byrds into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame put him in touch with the brilliance of his band’s classic period. Or maybe once punk and post-punk finally destroyed the dominance of the FM Corporate Rock Behemoth, McGuinn drew inspiration from all the Byrds-influenced music that appeared on the scene. Whatever the reason, Back From Rio is a welcome return to form. Tonight’s song, a duet with Tom Petty, is the single from the album, supposedly written when McGuinn joined the Heartbreakers while they were the backing band for Bob Dylan on on the True Confessions tour in the mid 80s. Sadly, I was too much of a punk/post-punk snob at the time to see this tour. But the idea of McGuinn and Mike Campbell playing together on the same stage makes me salivate. Campbell gets a playing credit on Back From Rio, though I’m not sure which tracks he plays on. I’d guess he’s definitely playing on King of the Hill, an orgy of luscious guitars layered on top of one another. I think the song would be even better if McGuinn sang the whole thing instead of giving a verse to Petty, but this is just quibbling.  Their braying voices are quite similar and, in any case, the singing is beside the point. This one is undoubtedly all about those beautiful guitars.  Welcome back from Rio, Mr. McGuinn!

Monday, October 29, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxvix

Roger McGuinn’s Back From Rio came out while I was living in the UK. I got to hear him play at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. And while I think the pop life seeds were in my circuitry from the very beginning of my life - an aural aesthetic fusing beauty, tragedy and romance into something so alluring that it becomes a kind of worldview - I don’t think that any of this became fully explicit for me until that night at the Corn Exchange. I heard McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker ringing out sublimely into the night, and in that moment I knew what I was about. I can’t even really fully articulate what I felt, but I know it included joy, a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion...  I knew then that Roger McGuinn gets me, and if he gets me there must be others who get me, too. I know all of this probably seems vague and not entirely coherent, but it’s just so hard to get at what I’m trying to explain.  I think tonight’s song does a better job than I could do with a million words.  Listen to the jangle of the dual 12-string guitars and perhaps you’ll understand. Listen to the lush harmonies, and to the song’s addictive tunefulness. You might notice a feeling of dread building inside you as the song fades, as if you’re about to be abandoned by a loved one, but then you’ll quickly come to the realization that, unlike the loved one who’s gone to stay, you can experience the beauty of this song again, and again…         

Sunday, October 28, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxviii

Chris Hillman had a great deal of success with the Desert Rose Band. But you wouldn't know this unless you listen to FM country stations, which I never do because most of that music sounds to me like the soundtrack to a lynching. I realize that probably sounds snobby and narrow-minded, but it's how I feel. It's a symptom of how polarized America has become. I don't even wanna dabble in anything that's associated with the red states, except maybe good barbecue. I hope - but have no real way of finding out - that Hillman is an anomaly in that world, that he's not of the same ilk as so many of the backwoods folks who I imagine are the DRB's hardcore constituents. The reason I mention all this is that, if you're like me, you probably had no idea (until I told you) that the DRB had a Number One hit on the country charts with today's song in 1988.  And guess what? In spite of everything I've said here, it's a lovely song. I stepped outside my bubble for a few minutes and was actually rewarded for it. Perhaps there's a lesson here...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Earle Mankey Appreciation Society, 2

I didn't have any awareness of Earle Mankey when I was a teenager, but I ran out and bought the one and only Tress album, Sleep Convention, which Mankey produced, immediately after seeing the video for Delta Sleep on MTV, circa 1983. It is one of the most hauntingly gorgeous tunes you'll ever hear. The great thing about New Wave is the emphasis on minimalism, the idea being that there's a paradox in music where the more spare it is, the more dramatic it sounds. I don't think this is always and everywhere the case, but there's something to be said for leaving some things to the imagination, allowing thoughts to run wild in an uncluttered soundscape. This is exactly what happens with Trees. I wouldn't say their music is simple because you'll hear some fairly unusual chord changes in the songs, and some freaky play with tempo, so perhaps frugal is a better word, frugal yet extremely heady and deep. Delta Sleep was perfect for me at the time. And like so much of the music Mankey's been involved in, it's the kind of song that sticks around in your head for a long time. Mankey's work for Sleep Convention necessarily sounds a bit dated now, but he coaxed some amazing music out of Trees. Time hasn't diminished the power of the songs on Sleep Convention one bit...

Friday, October 26, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxvii

I’ve always had the impression that country music is Chris Hillman’s first love. Rock ‘n roll was just something he did because he’s an accomplished and versatile musician, and he was in the right place at the right time in the 60s, but country and blue grass are the core components of his musical identity. Many weeks ago now, I pointed out that Hillman more or less invented country rock, for better or worse, as early as 1966, with his country flavored pop tunes on Younger than Yesterday. To any keen observer of the Byrds and their aftermaths, Hillman’s direction in the latter half of the 80s and early 90s comes as no surprise, a full-fledged embrace of purist c&w, first on his solo record, Desert Rose, and then in four records released with the Desert Rose Band. This stuff is country music, pure and simple, the kind of thing you hear on FM c&w stations, though it thankfully steers clear of the I love the USA yahoo shit. The DRB is even less palatable to me than Gram Parsons’ solo material, which doesn’t mean it’s bad music, just that I don’t particularly go for this sort of thing. Objectively speaking, if that’s even possible in music, I’ll tell you that the DRB are very good at what they do. And it’s hard to argue with their success in the c&w charts. In 1987, tonight’s song went as high as Number 2, with a bullet, on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles and Tracks. The return to his deepest musical passions gave Hillman a new lease on life. I don’t have to like the DRB’s music to be happy for the man whose rumbling bass line turned Eight Miles High into such a psychedelic beast, and who was so instrumental in the making of The Notorious Byrd Brothers. I'm glad to see that sometimes success is simply a matter of following your bliss…


Thursday, October 25, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxvi

So dig this. There’s always more to learn. You never know it all. I wanted to write about Gene Clark’s cameo appearance on the Long Ryders’ Native Sons, singing backing vox on Ivory Tower, but the only versions of the song available on Youtube are recent live performances, sans Clark, of course. So I turned my attention to Clark’s involvement (musical only, as far as I know) with Carla Olson. The duo recorded So Rebellious A Lover, Clark’s last record. Olson is best known as being the face of the Textones, an 80s alterna-rootsy-country-folky-college radio-ish kinda thing. The rest of the Textones all play on So Rebellious, so it’s really a Textones record with Gene Clark added to the mix. Full confession: I’d never heard the record until a few days ago because, notwithstanding his appearance on the Long Ryders album, the idea of Clark being thrown a bone by an 80s roots/revivalist band depresses me on several levels... 
But a little bell rang in the back of my brain, a barely remembered connection. Then it hit me: Didn’t Phil Seymour play in the Textones after his attempt at a solo career went south?  Google says yes! Worlds collide when you live the pop life! ...It would appear, then, that the Textones are the band where my faded pop life idols go before they die. Seymour passed on a few years after Clark. Both of them play on So Rebellious.  And much to my pleasant surprise, it’s a pretty nice collection of tunes. Tonight’s song is quite haunting when you put it in context. It's probably not something you need to hear every day, but it makes me feel good to know that Clark went out on a good note. I can’t really tell whether it's Phil Seymour behind the drum kit in the footage, but I’d like to think it is.  The thought of those two shooting stars on stage together brings a smile to my face...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxv

Boy, the layers of tin foil you have to peel away in order to get to tonight’s song are really quite obtrusive. There’s a very good tune underneath it all but the mix is completely swampy and claustrophobic. Sometimes it seems like 80s production was designed to make it almost impossible to hear music as anything more than muddled mush. But I give Gene Clark credit. He recorded Firebyrd­ after spending some time with Jesse Ed Davis in Hawaii trying to rehab off drugs. That he was able to be productive at all at this point is pretty remarkable. Rain Song is the best tune on Firebyrd, the appearance of which loosely coincided with the brief revivalist excitement of the Paisley Underground in Los Angeles. Clark became hip again for awhile as not only the Paisley Underground bands, but also REM, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Tommy Keene, and the dbs, to name just a few, referenced the Byrds with a new explicitness. Unfortunately, Clark was not able to parlay his newfound cache into something more enduring and he eventually slid back into drugs, drink and inner torment. The guy had so much talent but couldn’t get past his demons. It’s very sad, but he continued to make music through these struggles and its from this that we can draw a small measure of inspiration...

Monday, October 22, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxiv

The hippie cum yuppie – or yuppified hippie – is an important demographic to keep in mind in considering the music of the 80s. Much of what I used to view on MTV (while waiting hours upon hours for something masturbatable to be shown) were videos by 60s and 70s stars trying to make the transition to the 80s. Tina Turner. Jackson Browne (hardly a ‘holdout’). Henley/Frey. Elton John. Genesis/Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins. Queen. Springsteen. Bowie… You get the picture. Execrable stuff, for the most part. Give the song a tinny arrangement, replete with the requisite drum box, and give the singer a mullet and/or a pastel colored leather jacket, and there they are, right at home in the era of Ivan Boesky and Iran-Contra. Can I get another bottle of sake with my California roll? 
Once in awhile, though, this bridge connecting the 60s to the 80s produced some good stuff. I’m not talking about revivalism here, which is a different animal altogether. I’m thinking instead of songs that sound 80sish and gain emotional resonance from the dashed dreams/ideals of the grizzled artists who perform them. I’ve written about this before. My favorite example is Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, the original version of which has been scrubbed from Youtube because, after all, yuppie sensitivity is the former as much as it is the latter. But I happen to think it’s one of the best pop songs ever recorded, and certainly the greatest to come out of the 80s. The production is absolutely awful, awash in mechanized drums and synthesizers, but this only bolsters the music’s tragic ethos, giving the song a feeling of loss as it conjures up images of a one-time long hair, now neatly groomed and adrift in a sea of consumerism, with credit card in hand, but no longer in possession the moral high ground. The famous line about the deadhead sticker on a Cadillac makes a lot of people wince, especially coming from someone as shysterish as Don Henley. But I love it, and no amount of computerized effects can diminish the chills I get as the guitar fades the song out. It makes me feel like I'm wandering the aisles at Pottery Barn, in a good way. I really wish I could post the video for you because it’s of that era where the song feels somewhat incomplete without its video.
…Another example of a song with the same impact, maybe a little less stark because the vibe is so much sunnier, is CSN’s Southern Cross. I defy you to tell me this tune doesn't swing, doesn't have a melody that rings in your brain all day long, doesn't make you wanna hear it again and again, doesn't leave you with the (albeit fleeting) feeling that maybe the hippies are ok after all. And just listen to those harmonies! I think this just might be my favorite CSN song. I shit you not. It's from 1982 for god's sake, a song you might hear blasting out the windows of a DeLorean while waiting for the light to turn green on the exit ramp at Coldwater Canyon. You Know love can endure, and you know it will.  I can't really relate to this particular sentiment, but one doesn’t have to because the song’s power derives from its sense of yearning for so much more than its era can provide…

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Earle Mankey Appreciation Society, 1

One of PLU's iron-clad axions when it comes to pop music is that if Earle Mankey is involved, it's gonna be good. A few days ago, I was thinking about the music I listened to in high school, and I remembered a record I bought when I was in 9th grade, Sleep Convention, by a band called Trees. I'll post a song or two from the album in the next few days, but for now suffice it to say that the album had a profound impact on me. Trees were definitely New Wave. The songs on Sleep Convention are arty but also amazingly tuneful. Artiness often prevents music from being tuneful because a big part of artiness is dissonance, and usually dissonance is the opposite of tunefulness. Arty tunefulness is extremely rare. Bowie made a career of it, but Bowie is Bowie, and let's just say that not a lot of people can do what he does, no matter how talented they are. So, anyway, I was thinking about how much I loved Trees. I started poking around on the internet for info about Sleep Convention, and I found out that it was produced by Earl Mankey.  I didn't know this back then. I didn't even know who Mankey was until I moved to LA. Let's call this the Earle Mankey Effect:  You hear something that's somewhat obscure, but it's also incredibly hooky and has a cool L.A. vibe, and you eventually discover that it's produced by Earle Mankey.  This has happened to me on at least a half-dozen occasions. Back in the early 70s, Mankey was the guitarist on the first two Sparks records. Sparks are an acquired taste. It can be a bit of a challenge to get past their campiness, but the hooks eventually sink in if you're patient. And once they do sink in, the music becomes a bit of an addiction. Something tells me this addictiveness is, in large part, Earle Mankey's doing...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxiii

City is the last album Roger McGuinn was involved in before more or less falling off the grid in the 80s. I don't have a lot of familiarity with it because, in my life as a Byrds fanatic over the past 20-some-odd years, it's always appeared to me as a record that's probably best avoided. The sleeve makes it seem like one of those horrible 60s-guys- trying-to-do-80s-music monstrosities. My copy of the record (when I still owned records) was pressed on thin, cheap, mass-produced vinyl, the kind of thing that puts me in touch with the sense of dread people like me (liberal, neurotic, pessimistic) must have had as the Reagan era beckoned. Also, the record is credited to Roger McGuinn and Chris Hiilman "featuring Gene Clark," which, knowing what I know, is hard for me not to interpret as 'Gene's too fucked up to be a full-on participant on this one.' And that depresses me. You know what, though?  That cliched thing about not judging a book by its cover turns out to be some serious wisdom in this case. I wouldn't say City is a great record. I'd even be hard pressed to say it's a good record. But it was easily the best thing these guys had done in god knows how long. This is probably a minority opinion, mind you. There doesn't seem to be much written about the record anywhere. This is likely because the music suffers from much of what the sleeve telegraphs that it's going to suffer from (so maybe the point is that judging a book by its cover is ok, as long as you keep a semi-open mind).  The overall sound on City is, as expected, flat and tinny, in keeping with what all records sounded like starting in the late 70s. But some of the material is pretty ok, even when the guys try to be "current" with New Wavey sounding arrangements or songs about rollerskating. Your initial response might be to laugh with derision, but give at least some of these songs a chance. I hear McGuinn's 12-string chiming away here and there, albeit under layers and layers of 80s tin foil, and I think to myself, 'this works, sort of...'

Thursday, October 18, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxii

You’d think that with McGuinn, Clark and Hillman getting together again, this time without having to contend with Crosby’s ego and general douchebaggery, they could have created something so much better. You’d think they’d have learned a thing or two from the horrible Byrds reunion album they’d done a few years earlier.  You’d think that by 1979 they’d have had their ear to the ground a bit more, noticed the workability of revivalism, and gotten back to what made them so great in the beginning. On the other hand, maybe these implicit criticisms are unfair. Maybe they didn’t want to go back to making Byrdsy music because doing so would have felt like taking steps backwards. I don’t know the reasons why the reunion this time around replicated the bland corporate rock stylings of the previous reunion. I really don't. Ask yourself this question: If McGuinn Clark and Hillman weren’t McGuinn, Clark and Hillman but released the same music that’s on the McGuinn Clark and Hillman album, would anybody have given them the time of day? ...When you watch tonight’s clip, in which MC&H perform the only good song on their self-titled album, you'll notice that Clark is completely out of it. He's there but he’s not there. Is his mic even turned on? Is his guitar plugged in?  What near-lethal concoction do you think is coursing through his body as he's 'performing'? And elsewhere on the stage, who’s the dude with the black Stratocaster, wearing that horrible puke-colored shirt with the white tassels? He's like an archetype of the tacky 70s LA session player. On the plus side, Roger’s using a capo on his 12-string. I wonder if this is because it’s one of those old-style acoustic twelves where the truss rod isn’t strong enough to keep the guitar in standard tuning, or whether he just wanted to take things a few steps higher.  I know you don’t care, and I’m sorry.  I’m just vamping, looking for something interesting to point out. It hasn’t been easy these past few weeks.  As far as I’m concerned, the 70s couldn’t end soon enough when it came to those guys who'd once called themselves the Byrds…

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

byrdsongs, lxxi

It is, of course, quite difficult to make a convincing case for CSN in the context of punk and New Wave, and yet their eponymous 1977 album forces the issue with some surprisingly nice results. Perhaps this is merely the soft bigotry of low expectations talking. The record has a definite cocaine-corporate vibe that will remind you of it’s place, ten years removed from the Summer of Love. Whether these ten years were an eternity or the wink of an eye depends on your perspective, I suppose, but one hears the music on this record and pictures LA session players with permed hair, tight trousers, and shiny shirts opened to the fourth button, enough to reveal gold-plated chains burried amidst fulsome thatches of chest hair.  Welcome to the 1970s, in other words. I’m too young to have experienced the 60s firsthand. but not too young to have been profoundly shaped by the long 60s hangover. When I was a kid, radio gave me a gateway out of sadness and confusion. I listened to WPLJ FM, and WNEW FM, and WABC AM in New York City. It’s interesting that the FM stations at this time tried to simultaneously assimilate punk and keep the 60s dream alive. This was before anyone used the term Classic Rock. It was all just rock, so you’d hear Elvis Costello, Marshall Crenshaw, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Police, and CSN all in the same ‘block’ of songs. Just a Song Before I Go was played in these types of blocks all the time when I was 9 or 10 years old. There’s something about the song that enchanted me. When you’re that age, the lack of any sweeping perspective means there’s no possibility for ironic distancing, no cynicism, no jadedness, none of those things that eventually come to poison one’s frame of mind.  Music in particular takes on a magical quality.  Everything’s new and dazzling and fresh, especially if you’re wired for music at an especially sensitive psycho-physiological level. Just a Song Before I go hit me at just the right time to send my childlike imagination soaring. I realize now that the song is basically corporate M.O.R., but it retains an emotional resonance for me. Part of this is simply the emotional residue left over from my nine-year-old self. It never completely goes away. But I think there may be more going on here. One of the song’s strengths is that it’s so short. If only corporate rock could have kept things this compact and concise with more regularity! The shortness of the song elevates its tragic vibe. The music arrives with its soothing smoothness and lovely harmonies, and then it’s gone just as quickly, much like the song's protagonist, who's packing bags, navigating the dreariness of an airport, and taking leave of a loved one, possibly for good. I still remember how the song used to touch my soul and fill me with longing. Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned. What a devastating line to hear when you’re 9…when you’re 39…when you’re 69. The music transcends its time and place. It’s a love song, to be sure, but it’s also a more general ode to something departed, something that was special yet taken for granted when it was still with you, and only now that it’s gone forever do you appreciate how much it should have been cherished, nurtured, and adored...

Monday, October 15, 2012

byrdsongs, lxx

in which Roger McGuinn lends further proof to Pop Life Unlimited’s Iron Law of Cover Versions, namely that they almost always suck. But this one really sucks. It’s hard for me to get my mind around the fact that this is the same guy who did this, and this, and this, and this.  What a depressing difference a decade makes.  You can tell that corporate rock is at its nadir when disco motifs begin to creep into the arrangements, not because disco is bad, but rather because hearing white rock guys from the 60s try to play disco will make you want to stick a sharp pencil in your eardrum. And when, at the beginning of tonight's clip, you see McGuinn swinging his tush to that disco beat, you may also be overcome with the desire to scratch your own eyes out...The original version of American Girl is not a perfect song. It’s almost ruined by the thumping bass line in the bridge (white disco rearing its ugly head here as well). But the song has elements of perfection. The main riff, played in octaves, is a thing of simple beauty. And then there's those lovely hand claps. The song’s spirit cries out for a joyride down Mulholland with the top down on your Mustang convertible, your best gal riding shotgun. Petty injects the music with a transcendent vibe, call it teen-o-rama (and all that melodrama), and Phil Seymour adds just the right touch with his cheeky little ‘make it last all night.’ So in some ways there’s no place to go but down if you try to cover the thing. And McGuinn covering a guy who many saw as himself a McGuinn copycat tells you everything you need to know about how lost Roger was by 1977.  Thankfully, Thunderbyrd (oy vey) was the last solo album he put out for 13 years, and when he finally returned with Back From Rio, he'd regained his focus and got back to doing the kind of thing he was always meant to do.  The break definitely did him some good, though there’s still the small matter of McGuinn Clark and Hillman…