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!