Saturday, January 31, 2009

Discovering Buried Treasure: Steve Young

I was planning on posting these few songs from Steve Young's 1969 debut album and I was going to talk about how it's too bad this guy never recorded anything else, but lo and behold as soon as I started doing some research I realized that he's got lots of albums and is pretty well known. I'm not exactly certain how I managed to miss hearing anything else about him, but the good news is that I now have a new favorite artist to explore. So I don't know much more about him than this album, but its more than enough to whet my appetite for more. Here's Steve Young:

Steve Young featuring Gram Parsons - That's How Strong My Love Is
This is a cover of a classic Memphis soul song originally recorded by O.V. Wright and later by Otis Redding. Gram plays organ on this tune and it only seems to creep up towards the end of the song.

Steve Young - Rock Salt & Nails
What a tune! The lyrics are really something else . . . makes me think of another O.V. Wright song, "A Nickel and a Nail".

Steve Young featuring Gene Clark - My Sweet Love Ain't Around
Another cover, this time of Hank Williams Sr. and that's Gene Clark on the harmonica.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rare Byrd Sightings

Here are a few tunes to tide you all over from the quality Byrds catalog. Before doing a wee bit of research just now, I was unaware how closely these two songs were linked. Both songs were unissued Byrds songs that were eventually released in 1969 as "Pre Flyte", a compilation of songs that pre-dated their first album "Mr. Tambourine Man." Both songs don't sound particularly Byrd-like, but that doesn't mean they're not excellent folk-pop numbers.

The Byrds - Airport Song
McGuinn shares the writing credits on "The Airport Song," but its delicate lead vocal and its jazzy changes mark this as a Crosby song, and not a bad one at all. Though not quite up to the level of "Everybody Has Been Burned," which dates from Crosby's pre-Byrds career as a solo folksinger, "The Airport Song" shows him working in similar territory. (from The Byrd Watcher site)

The Turtles - You Showed Me
One of the earliest Byrds songs, "You Showed Me" was an auspicious beginning. A minor-key romantic ballad, the song has a near- Beach Boys feel and ends up being an effervescent piece of moody pop. Although this fine song was left off the Byrds' debut album (no doubt to make room for more Dylan covers), it is available on Preflyte (or In the Beginning on Rhino). The Turtles did a fabulous, slowed-down cover of the song, which was a huge hit in 1969, at the end of their career. Furthermore, U2 sampled the Turtles' version for the hook on "Playboy Mansion" in the late '90s, providing the writers with another, unexpected royalty windfall.

"The 1989 debut album by hip-hop combo De La Soul featured an uncredited sample from the Turtles (specifically, the intro to "You Showed Me"), in the song "Transmitting Live from Mars". Kaylan and Volman sued, winning a large settlement, setting a legal precedent, and causing the music industry to begin carefully crediting (and paying royalties for) sampled works on future rap and other recordings. As they explained, "We don't hate sampling; we like sampling. If we don't get credit, we sue, and all that stuff (a share of the royalties, plus punitive damages) comes back to us!" (from Wikipedia)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vanishing Point Soundtrack

I can't even quite remember how I first came across the 1971 cult-classic film "Vanishing Point." It probably had something to do the Delaney & Bonnie kick I was on several years back when I found some obscure reference to a movie that they appeared in playing musical Jesus-Freaks that lived out in the desert. I managed to catch part of the movie on cable TV and then a few years later found a gently-used VHS copy at a thrift store. I was of course on the hunt for the soundtrack, but that proved a little trickier to find. I managed to find a copy in Porto Alegre, of all places, in the southern part of Brazil. Why, you ask, would this obscure movie soundtrack deserve a Brazilian pressing? It turns out that the major Brazilian TV network, Globo, used the song "Freedom of Expression" by the J.B. Pickers (featured below) as the theme song to one of their news programs, "Globo Reporter".

Here's the original movie preview:

Here's the US release of the album:

The J.B. Pickers - Super Soul Theme
So, who exactly were the J.B. Pickers? Well, the J.B. I assume stands for Jimmy Bowen, a longtime Nashville producer who was big in the late 60s country-pop scene, having shepherded the careers of Kenny Rogers and Glen Campbell, among others. He came out with a book about a decade ago retelling his story and rise to fame and fortune in the country music business - he retired before Garth Brooks could have him fired. Jimmy's players have three tracks on the soundtrack, two of them being included here and the last credited to "Jimmy Bowen Orchestra" being a little schmaltzy as the score to the nostalgic/romantic flashback scenes. This track here is the one for the beat-heads with its open drum-break intro and funky vamping. Country-Funk, served up in honor of DJ Super Soul aka Cleavon Little, best known as the black cowboy from Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.

Here's the scene that introduces DJ Super Soul and is fairly representative of the film in its artsy approach and deliberate pacing: small-town life contrasted with a high-flying car chase.

Bobby Doyle - The Girl Done Got It Together
I have no idea who Bobby Doyle is but I've always liked this uptempo country-rock nugget that is the soundtrack to the an earlier scene in the movie before things start to go horribly wrong.

Gotta love the naked hippy chick cruising around the desert on a motorcycle.

Jerry Reed - Welcome to Nevada
Jerry Reed is another big name in 1970s country and I really like this rocky instrumental that was clearly written for this movie as Kowalski makes it halfway to San Francisco and enters Nevada.

The J.B. Pickers - Freedom of Expression
This is the track from Brazil's "Globo Reporter". I've also found it make a perfect soundtrack to high-stakes driving as it happened to be playing on the CD player one winter while heading home from some hot-springs in the mountains with 6 inches of slushy snow on the ground, the sun setting and our minivan fishtailing down the road. My dad was driving and after a minute or two of white-knuckled musical accompaniment, he kindly asked me to turn it off as the driving was stressful enough.

Jimmy Walker - Where Do We Go From Here?
Like the Bobby Doyle track, I have no idea where Jimmy Walker came from or where he want after this soundtrack, but this is another poppy tune that really gets stuck in your head. It's also kind of like Kowalski's theme song . . . "Hooray for the man of vision."

Delaney, Bonnie & Friends - You Got To Believe
This is the Delaney & Bonnie track that seems to have actually been recorded on set and specifically for this movie. If you see the movie you'll notice that an uncredited Rita Coolidge is also part of D&B's religious tribe. In doing research for this post I learned that Delaney Bramlett passed away at the age of 69 just after Christmas. He will be missed. I will definitely be doing a fuller D&B post in the future on Weed, Whites & Wine, so stay tuned.

This really is kinda the perfect soundtrack for Weed, Whites & Wine with its cross-pollination of country and rock and even its overt drug references (Kowalski's marathon car-chase is fueled by pills and he meets the hippy chick and her hippy daddy in search of a refill).

The film is well known enough to illicit numerous tributes, among them a couple of Chrysler employees trying to convince us that their new Challenger is in the mold of the famous white Challenger from the movie.

Or here we have the lead single, "Kowalski" from Primal Scream's 1997 album, "Vanishing Point". If the film wasn't such a cult classic, the references would have probably been over the top, but these guys were clearly fans of the film and Kowalski's heroic story. Their video is a visual homage to the film.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

One Monkee Requests a Brief Intermission

This is a big generalization, but . . . the sharpest, most eloquent and put together types don't make the best musicians. The great musicians usually have some critical character flaw that is compensated for because of their immense creative genius. Rarely do I find that popular music celebrates the soberly insightful straight-talker. In the case of today's highlighted artist, he's been hiding in broad daylight as that dude from the Monkees who wore the dorky stocking cap.

When I first got tipped off to Michael Nesmith as a serious artist I too scoffed. During my road-trip this summer I managed to find his first and third solo albums at a record shop in Nevada City, CA and I took a chance on them. I have yet to amass his entire solo works, but if they are anything like the three albums I do have then I'll be on the lookout for the others. A bit of internet research about the guy and you'll find his credibility is not in question. This interesting article in Swindle Magazine gives a decent overview of his life's work to date.

Like some of the other artists we've highlighted so far on WW&W, the Monkees crew were also very much intertwined in the hippy Laurel Canyon L.A. Rock scene. Fellow Monkee, Mickey Dolenz, was the most notorious Monkee in the canyon, but clearly Papa Nez (his nickname) was tight with some of the L.A. rock luminaries, such as Frank Zappa.

Later, after having pitched the idea of Music Videos to Nickelodeon's parent company (see the Swindle Mag article), he won the first Grammy award for Video in his "Elephant Parts" series of skits. You can buy it here. The previous year his mother, the inventor of liquid-paper, died and left him with over 50 million dollars. Papa Nez also founded the Council on Ideas, a biannual think-tank gathering of distinguished individuals brought together to brainstorm big ideas that can help heal the world.

To get back to my earlier generalization . . . Michael Nesmith is clearly no slouch, but after listening to these handful of tracks I think you'll find that his music is pretty good too. Sure, it's cerebral, but its also very artful and his lyrics are extremely honest and poignant, often showing an emotional maturity that is rarely found in rock music.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Calico Girlfriend
The rockin' lead-off song from Papa Nez's first post-Monkees album.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Nine Times Blue
Just listen to the words on this one. Have you ever heard such a plaintive and honest plea for a forgiveness?

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Little Red Rider
And I love how the last song segues right into this funky rock tune.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Joanne
This is the "big hit" from his first album. I love his country-inflected falsetto.

p.s. - these four songs are the first four songs on the album meaning the whole thing is pretty nice.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Nevada Fighter
This is almost like country-prog-rock with its strange and complicated arrangements.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - Tumbling Tumbleweeds
A nice version of this classic country tune that you may recognize in another version from the movie "The Big Lebowski."

Michael Nesmith - Different Drum
Papa Nez wrote this song and Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponys made it a hit. This is from a later album of his after he disbanded the first and second national bands. This album is stripped down to just Michael on guitar and vocal and Red Rhodes (who played on nearly everything he did during the early seventies) on pedal steel.