Monday, December 31, 2007

Greg Kihn - "For You" (1977)

A handful of years before before "Jeopardy" and "The Breakup Song" made them New Wave heroes, The Greg Kihn Band was a talented hard-working group who toured constantly and put out a few fine power pop albums.

Those early albums had a cult FM radio following, and Kihn was shrewd enough to cover an early Springsteen song for his second album, Greg Kihn Again. Taking a page from the Byrds' re-arrangement of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" with a straight 4/4 beat, Kihn did the exact same thing with "For You," cutting out a couple of verses, bringing out the jangling guitars and harmonica.

Springsteen's original is quite emotional, a plea for his suicidal girlfriend to stay alive. Kihn's version is less drastic, far more straight ahead, almost as if he was telling a story.

An album or two later, Springsteen returned Kihn the favor by giving him another excellent certified rocker, "Rendevous," which later appeared on The Boss' Tracks compilation.

When Kihn made a stop in the early 80's at My Father's Place in Roslyn, I got a chance to not only see him but interview him as well for the alternative music magazine The Aquarian. Kihn was no exceptional artist, nobody who was going to break sales or even be cited for being a heralded musical influence. He made it clear to me that he was just about making great rock music with a four-piece band, and cited some of his favorites such as The Byrds and Creedence Clearwater Revival. His club gig was exactly as you'd expect for a guy who was on the road perfecting his craft -- catchy songs, guitarist Dave Carpenter doing all the pyrotechnics, crack arrangements, and rowdying up the crowd, feeding off the sheer exhilaration of Kihn loving what he does. I'm still surprised his live shows didn't make him bigger than he was.

Here's my homemade video of Kihn's superb cover of "For You," featuring many photos and albums of him and the band through the years.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Led Zeppelin - "Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)" (1969)

While shooting bumper pool at the East New York YMHA's teen lounge, this song thundered out of the jukebox (literally) and stopped everything. I walked over to peer behind the glass to see the red and green 45 spinning around playing this song. From then on, I was poking the request digits for this song, as it just blew me away every time.

To this day, I remember everything about this three-minute song that pushed a button for me: Robert Plant's untamed and biting vocals ("ohh, you got it!" at the end of Jimmy Page's guitar solo), the machine-like thump of John Bonham's drums, the building guitar chords after each chorus ("So you better lay your money dow-w-w-wn!") and that crazy lead figure that leads to "Living... loving... she's just a woman."

That was enough for me to scrape together enough money and buy the Led Zeppelin II at some department store that is probably long out of business (Korvettes?). I didn't have the greatest phonograph player when I was 12, but it didn't matter. I loved every second of this album and damn, this was the second longest drum solo on an album I had ever heard (next to Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," of course). Right after "Living Loving Maid" was the hiss and crackle that lead to the soft acoustic strumming of "Ramble On." Still, this was by far the loudest record I owned at the time (not much competition at this point either with Seals & Crofts' Summer Breeze).

There are tons of online videos showing amateur guitarists demonstrating the riffs and solos of this song, and Lord knows how many cover bands, including this out-of-nowhere one from a local Canadian morning TV show that must have woken up the audience immediately. With no live Zeppelin videos, here's a nice homemade tribute which really is all about the song and definitely not the visuals.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Kinks - "Father Christmas" (1977)

One of the best rock and roll Christmas songs ever, maybe the only one you can do air guitar to. Recorded at the same time as their impressive Misfits album, the Kinks released this riff-laden ode to the real meaning of the holiday in December 2007.

While 99% of Christmas songs performed by pop artists are slicked-up versions of old standards, the Kinks dared to be original and true to who they were -- satirists and observers who can rock at the same time.

Christmas is not my holiday, although when this came out, people weren't as inundated with holiday music as they are now. "Father Christmas" appeared during the Kinks' big second wind of success, when they were on a roll with Arista Records, with albums like Sleepwalker, Misfits, Give The People What They Want, and Low Budget. They were helped along by New Wave's rock resurgence, band songwriter Ray Davies at the top of his game, and some hits like "Come Dancing."

The narrator remembers the good old days when his dad dressed as Santa Claus, so when he gets older and it's his turn to do St. Nick in front of a department store, he gets mugged by a gang of kids.

Father Christmas, give us some money
Don't mess around with those silly toys.
Well beat you up if you don't hand it over
We want your bread so don't make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys.

Don't give my brother a Steve Austin outfit

Don't give my sister a cuddly toy
We don't want a jigsaw or monopoly money
We only want the real McCoy.

No mush on this song, but walls of electric guitars, a jingle bell-like piano, a snapping drummer, and brother Dave Davies whipping out searing solos.

Below, the Kinks shot this video in their Konk Studio for the great British music series "Old Grey Whistle Test." The audio and video are not that great, but it's a treat to watch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Marshall Crenshaw - "Whenever You're On My Mind" (1983)

Marshall Crenshaw, a certified member of a dying breed, the rock and roll singer/songwriter. Not rock. Rock and roll.

Here is a proven commodity: Detroit native Crenshaw cuts an amazing debut album in 1982 for Warner Brothers, full of All-American Strat-driven early 60's rock hooks and riffs, light enough to verge on pop, hard enough to get away with being called "rock and roll." Twelve songs that just won't quit. The critics fall over themselves calling it a masterpiece, and damn, they're right this time.

So now it's time to follow it up, and Crenshaw makes a bit of a left turn. Instead of retaining the services of the first album's producer, 60's rock producer Richard Gottherer, he taps hot upcoming English producer Steve Lillywhite, who has had a hand in U2, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, and many other English new wave bands.

The result, Field Day, catches everybody by surprise -- while the songs are still top notch, the album sounds like it was recorded on inexpensive analog equipment. The drums clatter, the echo feels like slapback delay, the guitars sound big but saturated. Clearly their plan was to make a real retro sounding American rock record, turning back the hands of time 20 years when it was all recorded on four- and eight-track tape. The critics and the public didn't know what to do, simply because it didn't sound like the first. Warner Brothers gave me this record and I had the same reaction: I put it away after a jump-the-gun judgment call.

However, Crenshaw pulled out one of his rare hit singles from it, and it remains one of my very favorite Crenshaw songs, which is pretty hard to do considering his quality output. "Whenever You're On My Mind" had all the hallmarks of songs I love: unusual chord changes that sound perfectly natural, strong melody, a solo that echoes that melody, a bridge that works, all wound up in three minutes. Frankly, you can describe many of Crenshaw's songs this way, but I can't help pulling this one slightly above the others.

The video for "Whenever You're On My Mind" is typical 80's goof, and I'm surprised Crenshaw indulged, but that's probably what Warner Brothers was paying for. This was one tough video to find, so enjoy it (and pardon the commercial before it).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In Memorium - Dan Fogelberg (August 13, 1951 - December 16, 2007)

Today, singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg passed away from prostate cancer, which he found out about a few years ago. When I heard about his death tonight while driving in my car to pick up dinner, it reminded me in the back of my mind, that this day was going to come sooner or later.

I am far from the biggest Dan Fogelberg fan, yet there was a period around 30 years ago where my friends and I were very much into two of his then-current albums, which was still early in his career. During my freshman college year, Souvenirs (1974) and Captured Angel (1975) got regular spins on my phonograph.

Fogelberg was part of the burgeoning country-rock boom of the mid 70's which gave us The Eagles, Poco, Pure Prairie League Linda Rondstadt. Fogelberg was a multi-instrumental talent who clearly had classical and bluegrass influences, considering some of the serious orchestration and lullaby patterns of his music. He was a good looking dude like Jackson Browne, and his song lyrics were equally as self-observing as sometimes quite philosophical. Unlike the other country-rock pioneers who sang of Southern California life, Fogelberg was all about Colorado and the South.

My friends and I had a saying that "if you felt depressed, you listen to Eric Carmen. If you felt betrayed, you listen to Dan Fogelberg."

Souvenirs contained his first hit single, "Part of the Plan," which was also his first song to capture my attention. The words were typical Fogelberg, self-probing, deep, verging on the pretentious:

I have these moments All steady and strong I’m feeling so holy and humble The next thing I know I’m all worried and weak And I feel myself Starting to crumble. The meanings get lost And the teachings get tossed And you don’t know what you’re Going to do next. You wait for the sun But it never quite comes Some kind of message comes Through to you. Some kind of message comes through.

Fogelberg's songs could be quiet ("Changing Horses, "Old Tennessee") or be straight ahead rockers ("As The Raven Flies"). On that Souvenirs album, there was a building ballad called "The Long Way" which I would play on the piano and my friend John would sing, working up bis best for the long notes of the final choruses.

Captured Angel took a baby step forward for what was already a good album (and he painted the cover too). Fogelberg included two of my favorite songs of his, both of them those famous "segue songs" which were two in one. In this case, the opener "Aspen/These Days," which started Fogelberg's penchant for short little orchestrated opening pieces going right into another song. His other one starts off the second side, "Man In The Mirror/Below The Surface," which may be his best piece, in my opinion. These two spirited upbeat songs blend beautifully, and here's a sample of those lyrics:

Some people tell you
They're trapped in the distance
And can't get what
They want most.
They throw a wall
And then call for assistance
And make no attempt to get close.

Oh, I think you should know
You've got to go slow
Below the surface
And easy through the waves.
Slow below the surface
And easy through the waves.

After these albums, Fogelberg got more pretentious and sappier, and that's when he lost me. I liked a little bit of his Netherlands album ("Once Upon A Time"), but that was it. Of course, this was when he became most successful with stuff like "Longer," "Leader of the Band," and "Heart Hotels."

But I don't want to get much more critical than that now that he has passed. He was a fine fine artist and it's always sad to see a talent leave us so young. Tonight I felt a small part of my past fade out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

John Fred & His Playboy Band - "Judy in Disguise" (1968)

For a quasi-novelty number, "Judy In Disguise" was still a great party song right through the late 80's. In those days, when was I renting the second floor of a three family home with two other friends in Briarwood, Queens, this song was mandatory on the party tapes. Like The Isley Brothers' "Shout" or The Rascals' "Good Lovin'," it was a blatant 60's -era song that wouldn't quit.

"Judy in Disguise" had its own variation of the tried-and-true bass motif based on the major 6th pattern, also employed artfully from Gary Lewis & The Playboys' "She's Just My Style" to Squeeze's "Black Coffee In Bed."

However, "Judy in Disguise" sped faster than any of those variations, with straight ahead drums and the snap of the snare. Much of the song's melody incorporated that major 6th pattern, going up in the first words ("Judy in disguise") and down the next few ("Hey that's what you are").

At first, it sounded like he was singing" Judy in the skies," a parody of The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky (With Diamonds)" -- which it
was. You could clap your hands, shake and shimmy as the horns powered out that major 6th riff, as an unusual set of high strings went front and center for the instrumental break. Those strings also suddenly went out of tune and psychedelic for a few seconds just before the last verse, a subtle dig at the orchestra crescendo of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life." Even the song's end had a detuned guitar following the solo lead vocal. This was probably one of the most cleverly arranged one hit wonders of the 60's.

If you read the lyrics, you realize that although it sounded nothing like the Beatles' classic "Lucy In The Sky," they were clearly poking fun at the Fab Four's more "out there" words:

Judy in disguise, well that's what you are
Lemonade pie with a brand new car
Cantalope eyes come to me tonight
Judy in disguise with glasses

Keep a-wearing your bracelets and your new rara
Cross your heart with your living bra
Chimney sweep sparrow with guise
Judy in disguise with glasses

Special attention, though, must be made to the vocals of John Fred, a stage name if there ever was one. He sounds like he's going to break out of control, with subtle vibe of horniness. His vocals are charged with confidence, but it seems like any second, he's going to go nuts. By the time the song hits that weird psychedelic break, with the dissonant strings going up and down, he's panting and moaning, so is he putting you on or not?

The video below is really hilarious and of the time, as it was shot on a local Cleveland pop TV show "Upbeat" that was clearly trying to be cool with some green lens effects. At least the band has horn players to play to the track, but where the hell is the drummer? And you've got to love the quick cutaway closeups of the individual musicians, who seem to have no idea what to do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heart - "Barracuda" (1977)

The most successful rock and roll sister act of all time. To guys living in college dorms, the Wilson sisters were a dream come true, and you could have your choice -- you want the raven-haired babe with the powerhouse vocal cords or the the cute blonde who jumped all around with her acoustic guitar? To quote Animal House, "Thank you God."

We had a taste of the Wilson sisters when they put out this one album Dreamboat Annie on the independent Mushroom label that featured two highly-charged rock hits with erotic undercurrents, "Magic Man" and the even better "Crazy On You." Seeing the group's potential, CBS stole them from Mushroom and put them on their Portrait label, and soon there was the album Little Queen.

"Barracuda," the album's first single, went through the roof but was remarkably influential to guitarists everywhere. At that time, you were considered "cool" on the guitar if you could play the acoustic introduction to Yes' "Roundabout," ditto Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "From The Beginning" and the opening distorted chord riffs and harmonics from "Barracuda" -- electric guitar definitely needed for this last one. Galloping lower E note up to the G, followed by the chord harmonics on G chord with the third inversion and then G sixth with the prominent E note (whammy bar for effect, of course).

But enough technicalities. This was all about these Seattle-based goddesses turning the tables on a sleazeball guy, the "barracuda" of the title, with typical Heart obscuro/symbolic lyrics which seem to refer to both sisters being burned by this same tosser:

Back over Time when we were all trying for free
Met up with porpoise and me
No right no wrong you're selling a Song - a name
whisper game

If the real thing don't do the trick
You better make up something quick
You gonna burn it out to the wick
aren't you, Barracuda?

"Sell me sell you" the porpoise said

Dive down deep to save my head
You... I think you got the blues too.

All that night and all the next
Swam without looking back
Made for the western pools - silly fools!

The porpoise? Is this supposed to be their twist on "I Am The Walrus?" Huh? Whatever. If the porpoise looked like Nancy Wilson, my best friend was Flipper. (Nancy went on to marry journalist/director/screenwriter Cameron Crowe.)

Heart was an amazingly crack rock band, with the guitarists employing all kinds of impressive trills, double solos, and distorted harmonics. And they were heavy, which was something you didn't associate with rare women-led rock bands. Remember, as per my previous post about Ian Dury, the radio was full of very frivolous pop/disco music, and Heart's thunder was like the anvil falling down at the opening of every Monty Python show.

Wading through many online clips of Heart doing "Barracuda" right up through a few years ago, I found this perfect one from the March 1978 California Jam 2 concert held at Ontario Motor Raceway.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" (1977)

It would have to be a very, very bad song for anything called "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" to miss. Fortunately, Ian Dury was a witty master of words with well-chosen collaborators and a cooking band behind this bent three-minute anthem.

In the October 2007 issue of UK music production magazine Sound on Sound, journalist Richard Buskin accurately called Dury's music "pub-rock disco." Dury recruited a band of fellow R&B-loving Brits for an unlikely blend of 4/4-heavy beats, funk bass, and comical lyrics. The musical director was the brilliant keyboardist/guitarist Chaz Jankel, who was totally in synch with Dury's musical direction. Jankel would go on to write the Quincy Jones hit "Ai No Corrida," record his own solo albums, and score various films.

Picture the unlikeliness of of Ian Dury & The Blockheads: The heavy Cockney-accented Dury, limping from a childhood bout with polio... disco, funk & R&B beats when punk rock was raging... recording on Stiff Records, the pistol-hot British indie rock label that gave us Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe... Dury's sharp satirical lyrics which belied the disco beats.

I remember hearing the song in college and admiring such a blatant song title when the radio was full of syrupy schlock at the time. Let's face it, in 1977, the top songs were Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," Stephen Bishop's "Save It For a Rainy Day," Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life," and Kenny Nolan's "I Like Dreamin'." There was nothing remotely edgy or punk about them.

But there was no way to miss when you had a singalong chorus like this:

Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Is all my brain and body need.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Is very good indeed.

Fuzzy guitar line echoing that famous "sex and drugs" chorus, with that rhythm section in a funky groove, Dury's lyrics are quite mild compared to the chorus, and you've got to really listen when that accent is so strong. As a matter of fact, I'm not quite sure how the verses connect with that chorus except the verses seem quite conservative compared to what he's proclaiming in the chorus. Maybe that was his inside joke, but they are sung practically like nursery rhymes:

Every bit of clothing ought to make you pretty
You can cut the clothing, gray is such a pity
I should wear the clothing of Mr. Walter Mitty
See my tailor, he's called Simon, I know it's going... to... fit!

And if that wasn't a bit twisted enough, Dury starts yelping like a dog during the outgoing choruses, while some kind of ragtime chorus is heard building, sounding vaguely Zappa-ish.

In Buskin's Sound on Sound interview with Dury's producer/engineer Laurie Latham, he recalls: "That song was recorded with hardly any equipment. Chaz played his Gibson ES335 through my little Selmer amp, which had a blown speaker — that's what you hear the 'Sex And Drugs' riff going through..."

Below is a video of the boys doing the song live in 1977 and talk about being locked in a groove... You also get to see the dark showman side of Dury too, in a dapper black derby and kerchief.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Supremes - "Up The Ladder To The Roof" (1970)

When Diana Ross started her Berry Gordy-engineered solo career, it was not the end of the Supremes. Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong were joined by Jean Terrell, sister of singer Tammi, and they were off to the top of the charts with hit singles of their own.

While all those old Diana Ross and The Supremes songs were classics, from "Baby Love" to "Someday We'll Be Together," I'd venture to say that "Up The Ladder To The Roof" was easily their equal.

You have to give Motown credit for not only keeping the Supremes going (maybe they figured the public would still think Ross was still in the group?), but giving them an excellent writing and production team to create a new path. Frank Wilson, who would go on to mastermind Eddie Kendricks' "Keep On Truckin'" arranged, produced and co-wrote "Up The Ladder To The Roof." I don't know why Wilson does not get any of the acclaim that Holland-Dozier-Holland or Norman Whitfield did, because he certainly kept Motown rolling in successful product.

Is it not ingenious to start the song "cold" on the line "Come with me?" Terrell did sound somewhat like Ross but with a slightly thicker tone. To me, it seemed Wilson took the guitar lick and orchestra sound of "Someday We'll Be Together" and took it to the next step. You have the patented Motown hi hat clasp and downbeat, much like the Gladys Knight & The Pips version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," quarter note ride cymbals, and the twangy guitar that cries out like a cat during the chorus.

The song genuinely propels itself, with the Supremes' and Terrell's vocals becoming more intertwined and complex as it goes on, in almost a beck and call towards the end. While there are countless come-on's in popular music, this one has sort of a sincerity to "come up the ladder to the roof/where we can see heaven much better." Isn't that what Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote about in "Up On The Roof" for the Drifters?

Come with me, come with me
And we shall run across the sky.
We illuminate the night.
Ohhhh, i, I will try and guide you
To better times and brighter days.
Just don't be afraid.

The arrangement's clincher is when Terrell's voice gradually rises in the final verse ("I will never ever ever leave you leave you alone to wonder/As we go on our love it will grow much stronger and stronger"), the music suddenly stops as we hear the brief reverb of the word "stronger," and in a gospel flourish she beckons "Don't you wanna go?" Then it all comes back in louder than ever with tambourine and handclaps: "Up the ladder to the roof!" Mary and Cindy go back and forth with Terrell, as she calls to them: "Come on and walk. (ooo) Come on and talk. (ooo). Come on and sing about love and understanding!"

This is really perfect classic pop/soul music in a mere three minutes.

I don't know what TV show this video is from, but here they are from 1970, in those gloriously flashy glittering red gowns, impeccably choreographed. Just beautiful.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ambrosia - "Nice Nice Very Nice" (1975)

Ambrosia is unfairly lumped with wimpy 70's bands because of a few Doobie Brothers-ish commercial hits on their later albums -- "How Much I Feel," "Biggest Part Of Me" and "You're The Only Woman." But if you heard the rest of the albums they came from, you'd be hard-pressed to call them creampuffs.

When I first landed in Buffalo to start my freshman year in college, this was the first album I had to buy at the school's record co-op. I had heard this magical song "Nice Nice Very Nice" on then -progressive radio FM station WNEW a few times over the summer and it knocked me out.

Ambrosia's album was as spaced-out as the cover, drawing from many musical sources: progressive rock, jazz, R&B, and film music, sort of a more commercial, next generation version of King Crimson. When I say "prog rock in the case of Ambrosia," I don't mean Yes or Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, but a blend of numerous styles of music and eclectic instrumentation, with a literary twist.

"Mama Frog" paused halfway for a recital of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." A clock tower rang in time with the bass and jazz guitar to start "Time Waits for No One," which breaks into a flat-out flamenco dance with handclaps as it hurtled towards its climax. A harpsichord plays an Irish jig in "Make Us All Aware." All four band members were multi-instrumentalists who each could sing powerful leads and harmonies.

This was a "headphone album" in every sense of the phrase. And it should be no surprise that it was engineered by Mr. "Dark Side of the Moon" himself, Alan Parsons.

"Nice Nice Very Nice" was the perfect curtain-raiser for Ambrosia, because of its trademark elaborate arrangement of electric instruments, drums, bassoon, trumpets, and synthesizers. The verses were lovely major/minor patterns, building up to the chorus which the group echoed and layered in beautiful harmonies.

As a matter of fact, it seems like a beautiful prog-rock overture, borrowing its lyrics from author Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Cat's Cradle" painting the "many pieces make up the whole" theory of the world:

Oh a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park
Or the lion hunter in the jungle dark.
Or the Chinese dentist or the British queen
They all fit together in the same machine.

Nice, nice, very nice
Nice, nice, very nice
So many people in the same device

Oh a whirling dervish and a dancing bear
Or a Ginger Rogers and a Fred Astaire
Or a teenage rocker or the girls in France
Yes, we all are partners in this cosmic dance.

David Pack, who would go on to co-write songs with James Ingram, sing on David Benoit tunes, produce a Patti Austin record, eventually leave Ambrosia and find Jesus, truly had one of the most distinctive voices in rock music and unfortunately, probably never heard enough. He had a theatrical take on the lyrics, creating an effected accent for "a Ginger Rogers and a Fred Astaire," coarsening his voice for "teenage ROCK-er," then softening for the soft "a" in "France."

The song's ending is a huge shift, softening down and then a ethereal acoustic guitar comes out of nowhere strumming the final four chords, slowing while a synthesizer note jumps a few octaves to hit the final high tone in time with the guitar.

I could find not videos of "Nice Nice Very Nice," but I did find a site that streams the whole song in high quality Quicktime. By all means, click on the link below and listen to it in a quiet place.

"Nice Nice Very Nice" by Ambrosia

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Kings - "This Beat Goes On/Switching To Glide" (1980)

Paul McCartney was the pioneer of segue songs -- you get two, two, two songs in one. Once he left the Beatles, he went segue song crazy, even to this day. The one that started it all, of course, was "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey."

Next to McCartney, the most famous one in my book is by this Canadian band called The Kings, who blew out the charts in the new wave heyday of 1980 with "This Beat Goes On/Switching To Glide." Teaming up with super producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Kiss), The Kings created one of the pluckier party songs of the time and it still sounds great cranked up in the car.

When I was in graduate school, one of my roommates was always quoting one of the lines from the "Switching to Glide" part of the songs, which I think was his favorite: "Nothing matters but the weekend/From a Tuesday point of view."

The Kings represented everything that was going right with the New Wave style of music -- it was heavily indebted to early 60's rock and roll with basic instrumentation. The song starts with an overdriven rhythm guitar playing your standard major 5th/6th boogie riff, joined by the cheesy Farfisa sounding organ, then the drums, and then lead singer David Diamond's greasy come-on to the girls to party:

Hey Judy, get Trudy,
You said to call you up if I was feeling moody,
Hey little Donna, still wanna?
You said to ring you up if I was in Toronto.
I have lots of friends that I can ding at anytime.
Can mobilize some laughs with just some call.
Like a bunch of lunatics, we'll act till way past dawn,
Sure, we'll be rockin' till our strength is gone,
Yeah, this beat goes on!

After boogying for a minute or so with the girls, there's a big synth swoop down, sort of like the song's bookmark, and it's into the march beat intro of "Switching To Glide." Ramming down on power chords between lines, Diamond sings those famous lines (with those guitar chords notes in the bars):

Nothing matters but the weekend [bam, bam]
From a Tuesday point of view [bam, bam]
Like a kettle in the kitchen [bam, bam],
I feel the steam begin to brew [snare snap]
Switching to glide!

You can distinctly hear the the 8th note chords playing in military precision during the "Switching To Glide" chorus, the organ bashing the chords, and a new synth echoing the "glide."

One of my favorite little production tricks is the second verse, when following the line "Energy can be directed," where he says "I'm turning it up, I'm turning it down" and he literally goes up the scale and then down, along with the rest of the band. It's a very striking and funny part of this truly great song.

The Kings followed with other albums that never quite caught on here at all, although they had some later success in their native Canada.

One piece of advice: some new wave music CD compilations only have one half of the song, either "This Beat Goes On" or "Switching To Glide." Do not accept substitutions or cut-in-half songs! Get it only if it's the whole thing!

Below is an exhilarating video as described by band member "Mister Zero" in an e-mail to me: "The video was cut to the studio version of the song from over 40 sources, all live in concert except the 'American Bandstand' footage which I obtained legally from Dick Clark's company."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Merrymakers - "Saltwater Drinks" (1998)

In the late 90's, I rediscovered power pop music all over again by stumbling across the record store/label Not Lame, run by the esteemed Bruce Brodeen in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was like unveiling a goldmine of incredible music under the springboards that's been there all the time, except nobody on the radio was playing it!

There was a whole section devoted to Swedish power pop, and hey, what did these guys know that earned them an area all to themselves? Knowing the longtime pop heritage of the Swedes, from The Shocking Blue to ABBA to the production behind all the boy bands right up to today's divas like Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears, there was something in the water that made them create great pop music.

I took a whirl on a handful of albums by bands I knew nothing about except Brodeen said they were "Extremely Highly Recommended." One of the absolute best was this album Bubblegun by The Merrymakers, and their leadoff single, "Saltwater Drinks." The album was distributed in the US, along with a bonus EP of older material, on the Big Deal label, which I found out was right around the corner from my office!

The Merrymakers had all classic power pop rules of the game down: slavish obsession with early Beatles, no song lasting more than four minutes, lots of jangly guitars and harmonies, super catchy melodies, and lyrical devotion to girls, cars, and the other simple things in life. As an added bonus, some of their songs were produced and accompanied by former Jellyfish drummer Andy Sturmer. And any power pop fan knows that Jellyfish (sadly no more) is one of the most influential power pop bands next to The Raspberries, right?

So you have these two immensely talented Swedes, Anders Hellgren and David Myhr, creating a fantastic record that every power pop fan must get their hands on through eBay or elsewhere (that's an order!). They kick it off with "Saltwater Drinks," which defines the term "exploding out of the speakers." At first, it's just a solo vocal -- "I would like to go away/See the world in just one day/How I wish that we could be-e-e" -- bam! In come the jangly guitars and drums and we're off to the races!

Sailing in a boat for two,
Across the seven seas with you,
Saltwater drinks are all on me...
I believe in you,
I'll believe in my pa-a-ast!
I won't forget my past,
And even if I do,
This moment's gonna last,
And you will guide me through.

The beauty of this song is that in three minutes, these guys take you on a musical roller coaster ride, which isn't a description that comes about very often. The verses move speedily along, then the bridge builds and builds with more background vocals and climbing chords, until it just whooshes with the release of the chorus, tambourine coming in right on time. Even the short instrumental section, which features a whistle solo (!), goes right into second gear with the bridge and its layered vocals, stops a brief second, and dives right into the chorus for a final two times.

You would truly have to have no pulse to be swept up in the perfect power pop of this song.

Where are The Merrymakers now after making such a fantastic album? Sadly, no other album followed this one. Everything in their Wikipedia entry stops in the late 90's, yet their own web site is still alive and well, but with no news. There is a MySpace page, which doesn't have much on it, but it seems there are some new songs which I'm downloading now.

Below, a rather odd but fun promotional video for "Saltwater Drinks."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seals and Crofts - "Summer Breeze" (1972)

Seals and Crofts' Summer Breeze album was the first album I ever bought. It may have been Led Zeppelin II, but it was definitely one of them followed by the other. As this was the advent of the 70's soft rock era, I was curious about the songs I was hearing on FM radio from the album, since they featured unusual chord progressions compared to what else was being played.

The duo went on to become huge stars for the next few years, ushering in the soft rock music, which they were unfairly maligned for. Unlike other acts lumped into this category, there was nothing syrupy or schmaltzy about Seals and Crofts, that's for sure. They also got grief later on for their abortion views, but that's another story.

Utilizing the cream of LA studio musicians and produced by guitarist Louie Shelton, Seals and Crofts were immensely talented singers and songwriters whose arrangements were quite sophisticated. Best described as "folk pop," they very rarely utilized typical chord combinations, and definitely had an affinity for the major seventh chord.

Jim Seals played acoustic guitar while Dash Crofts, with the more reedy voice, was a master mandolinist, which also stood out on the musical landscape. And as if that wasn't enough, they were both strong followers of the Baha'i Faith, which originated in Persia in the 19th Century, and they incorporated its spiritual unity tenets throughout much of their works.

After three poorly received albums, this one broke through bigtime. There was nothing religious, however, about their first huge hit, "Summer Breeze," which depicted rural domesticity, coming home from "a hard day's work," and seeing "the paper lying on the sidewalk." Even some hippie allusions of "blowing through the jasmine in my mind." Pretty damn simple.

However, they mixed major and minor inversions of the same chords, fifths and sevenths -- I mean, simple to play on the guitar but very atypical chords for a pop song. "Summer Breeze" was not the exception to this style, as they continued to experiment with the formula for the next five years to resounding fame. You would have thought that with all these striking elements -- a distinct mandolin, complex songwriting, some exotic religion -- this would be an unlikely success story, but clearly the public was ready for something different.

I remember seeing the TV clip below from "Midnight Special." It's just Seals and Crofts with a bassist playing "Summer Breeze" at the end of the show.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Kirsty MacColl - "A New England" (1985)

The late Kirsty MacColl, teaming up with her then-husband, producer Steve Lillywhite, created what is surely one of the most originally conceived remixed songs of the 80's. The four-minute single of "A New England" absolutely stands on its own, but the remix is breathtaking.

In the United Kingdom, Kirsty MacColl was an institution and deservedly so. She had a beautiful voice, wrote marvelous pop songs, and came from musical lineage as she was the daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl.

You already know one of her songs -- Tracy Ullman made her girl-group-ish "They Don't Know" an international hit in 1983, although MacColl's own version came out four years earlier.

But nothing could prepare anybody for the brilliant cover of folk singer Billy Bragg's "A New England," especially in its full eight-minute remixed version. Completely reconfiguring the wistful tune into a high speed tour de force of multitracked vocals, delayed guitars, and a tommygun-programmed drum machine, this was a creative production achievement matched by few at that time.

Launching with just MacColl's heavenly reverbed vocals accompanied by a drum machine ramping up to supersonic speed more commonly associated with drum and bass electronica, "A New England" bursts into a bright mix of bubbling guitars and chords very reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell" from
The Wall. You can tell Lillywhite produced the early U2 albums because of their shared epic guitar tones.

The first two minutes cook like a racing overture with layers and layers of MacColl's wordless vocals and doo-wop inflections swelling and then simmering down for the initial verse. When Billy Bragg heard MacColl was doing an epic remix of the single, he wrote two additional verses for the production.

MacColl sings the lyrics with a combination of being wise beyond her years and subtle bile at a former elusive lover, completely changing the lyrics to a female perspective, as you can hear from the original Bragg version:

I was 21 years when I wrote this song
I'm 22 now but I won't be for long
People ask me when will I grow up to understand
Why the girls I knew at school are already pushing prams

I loved you then as I love you still
Though I put you on a pedestal you put me on the pill
I don't feel bad about letting you go
I just feel sad about letting you know

I don't want to change the world
I'm not looking for a new England
Are you looking for another girl?
I don't want to change the world
I'm not looking for a new England
Are you looking for another girl?

Despite the lovelorn subject matter, the charging drums, guitars and vocals bring about a rare sense of euphoria for a rock remix record.

MacColl truly cemented her place in British music history by later recording "Fairytale of New York" with the Irish band Pogues, which has become something of a modern Christmas classic.

MacColl tragically died in a boating accident in Mexico where she was diving with her two sons in 2000. While in the United States, there were small obituaries, the UK was put into a state of shock. Many young girls grew up admiring MacColl for being a successful songwriter and recording artist, and identified with her distinct female viewpoint and sense of humor.

While leaving us with several albums over the years, "A New England" still stands as an amazing collaborative achievement of songwriting, sound, production and creativity that is still riveting today.

Below is the song's official video of the single starring MacColl strolling through the English winter, followed by a tribute video of the classic remix in all its glory.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Brewer & Shipley - "One Toke Over The Line" (1971)

It's not every day that a very catchy folk rock song about dope running cracks the Top 10 charts. Brewer & Shipley's one hit song managed to pull off that feat but trust me, it wasn't done quietly.

Epitomizing the Grateful Dead and the hippie culture that had blossomed in the late 60's, the duo recorded this single on the Kama Sutra label, better known for bubblegum and mainstream pop acts.

It's hard to imagine this song being a smash today because of not fitting into today's strict style formats, along with that touchy subject matter. On the surface, the song seems to be about a dashing young man, traveling from town to town, meeting women, and living a carefree life. But it's the rather obvious chorus with the title in it that gives the plot all away:

One toke over the line, sweet Jesus, one toke over the line
Sittin' downtown in a railway station, one toke over the line
Waitin' for the train that goes home, sweet Mary
Hoping that the train is on time
Sittin' downtown in a railway station, one toke over the line

The "toke" part was not lost on many people at the time, and in a beautiful case of reverse psychology, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew condemned the song, sending its sales soaring. WNBC-AM in New York banned the song as well as some other stations, but that just fed the curiosity.

Just to show you the strong drug connection this song has, on the soundtrack to Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, they dub a rather memorable little speech from the film before the tune kicks in: "We had two bags of grass,
seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole multi-colored collection of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers.... Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyl's. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can."

If you take away all the controversy, though, what you have is an irresistible country-rock anthem, with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, about as catchy as "This Land Is Your Land." Brewer & Shipley have marvelous voices that really peak out when they are repeating the chorus over again towards the end, with counter harmonies running at the same time.

In the strange but true department: when this song was a hit, despite the hubbub, schmaltzy bandleader/TV host Lawrence Welk arranged two of his singers to perform it on his ABC-TV show. Welk's accordionist introduces it as "one of the newer songs." Welk calls it "modern spiritual" when the song is done. Yes, indeed it is.

So below you have Brewer & Shipley lipsynching through "One Toke Over The Line" followed by the insane sight of the same song being performed on "The Lawrence Welk Show." Must be seen in order to be believed.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A-ha - "The Living Daylights" (1987)

Twenty years ago, A-ha recorded what I think is the last great James Bond title song. "Goldeneye" was good, a potent combination of Tina Turner singing U2's composition. But it was the unlikely synth pop group from Norway who really pulled off a truly compelling title song, with tricky key changes, wide open production, a veritable mix of dark Europop and John Barry snazz.

For many years, Bond title songs were memorable ballads sung by Matt Munro ("From Russia With Love", Nancy Sinatra ("You Only Live Twice"), Louis Armstrong ("We Have All The Time In The World"), Carly Simon ("Nobody Does It Better"), Rita Coolidge ("All Time High") and Shirley Bassey ("Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever"). Tom Jones added some histrionics for "Thunderball" and Lulu's "The Man With The Golden Gun" was so-so, even it picked up the pace. McCartney's "Live and Let Die" was a good pop song, but nobody would ever say it "rocked." It was not until Duran Duran entered the picture with "A View To A Kill" (1985) that the drums really exploded, the guitars slashed and the sampled brass popped.

With full permission now to get fast and loud, A-ha put their own Europop twist on the title song.

If you live in the US, you remember A-ha has the three good looking guys who starred in one of MTV's truly pioneering videos in their song "Take On Me." But if you have lived in Europe and the UK, you know that A-ha has been a pop supergroup for years, with high charting albums and greatest hits collections.

For this film where Timothy Dalton did the Bond honors, A-ha had to merge their distinct synthpop sound with famed series composer John Barry, not an easy task. I reckon it would take a couple of listens to "The Living Daylights" for one to realize there's a lot of cool little things going on in this Cinemascope sounding song, a wonderful mix of sound elements to make this a repeater.

Heavily treated electric guitars, hard acoustic guitar strums at emphatic parts, galloping drums with suddenly building snares, twinkling synths, a distorted sax solo, and the falsettos and harmonies of the group itself. John Barry comes in loud and clear with his trademark brassy blasts during the intro and the chorus. Listen for the in-time horseshoes when the song settles in about halfway through before that dirty sax solo.

Instead of some of the ballads Bond fans have been treated through over the years, "The Living Daylights" is pure musical adrenaline for rocketing down the highway.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Four Tops - "Are You Man Enough?" (1973)

The Isaac Hayes soundtrack to the original Shaft movie was an instant classic, still fantastic to enjoy to this day. Since the movie was a hit, MGM was going to milk that black detective franchise for everything it was worth... which was not much.

The first sequel, Shaft's Big Score, did respectable business in 1972, but by the time it staggered to 1973 with Shaft in Africa, the box office wasn't coming in like it used to. Each sequel was sillier than the last, and this one was thrown together fast for a quick buck that never came.

At this point in the 70's, the Four Tops had left Motown, where they had earned their bread on classics like "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love" and others. They were now recording with ABC's Dunhill Records, which teamed them with songwriters Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter and producer Steve Barri. In retrospect, you wouldn't believe how many pop hits these guys cranked out, from the insipid (Coven's "One Tin Soldier"), to slick (Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds' "Don't Pull Your Love") to cheesy (Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy").

Lightning struck again for this match-up, as they cranked out more soulful hits, like "Keeper Of The Castle" and "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I Got"), all using the careful wah-wah guitars and late Motown-era strings (think The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"). So it was natural for Shaft in Africa's producers to have them come up with a song for the film's opening credits.

Even if this film was unintentionally hilarious (and you'll see what I mean below), the song was killer -- same production style as their other hits, ear-grabbing opening with heavy beat kick drum, clavinet and tuned congas, feeling like a private dick film already. I loved the solo handclaps before the chorus, a great device to build up tension waiting for that part.

"Are You Man Enough" asks if you're ready to play tough as Shaft:

Are you man enough?
Big and bad enough?
Are you gonna let 'em shoot your down?
When the evil flies and your brother cries
Are you gonna be around?

I've got some real treats for videos below. First is the Shaft in Africa trailer, and like the one I posted for Trouble Man, it's blaxploitation jive talk through and through. Next is "Are You Man Enough" over the opening credits. Finally, and this has to be seen to be believed, a scene from Shaft in Africa where Shaft's car is running over these ridiculous looking assailants in some of the worst, yet most hilarious stunt work you'll ever see

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gary U.S. Bonds - "This Little Girl" (1981)

Rock and roll comeback stories like this are far and few between. They don't seem to happen anymore, really. So before we even talk about the song, this story has to be told first. It's become rock music urban legend.

In the early 60's, Gary U.S. Bonds had a few big rock party hits, along the same lineage as The Isley Brothers' "Shout" and J.J. Jackson's "It's Alright." Bonds' recordings were kind of primitive but they zoomed up the charts and became classics of the era -- "New Orleans," "Dear Lady Twist," and the one that went to the top, "Quarter to Three."

Then, nothing. The hits stopped coming after a three year ride.

Fast forward 15 years later. Bruce Springsteen and the Street Band are touring to promote Darkness on the Edge of Town. As a matter of fact, he's been doing "Quarter To Three" as an encore. The band hears that Bonds is performing at some Jersey hotel nightclub, so they go see him. They agree to keep in touch.

A couple of years later, Springsteen is touring for his double album The River, which is heavily influenced by those early 60's rock songs. Springsteen and Miami Steve reunite with their hero Bonds and record an entire album with him, with the two of them contributing songs and vocals. EMI Records signs Bonds and out comes his big comeback album Dedication, blessed by the E Street Band.

The record opens up with a joyous version of an old Cajun song, "Jole Blon," where Bonds duets with Springsteen, and E Streeter Danny Federici joins in on accordion. But the next song becomes Bonds' comeback hit, "This Little Girl," written especially for him by Springsteen, and man, it does not disappoint.

Coming right out of that River-era mold, it starts with a slow A minor strum across a Telecaster through a tube amp, like a curtain opener. Then right into that 60's party beat you can clap your hands to -- "Here she comes... Walking down the street." Mighty Max Weinberg builds up on his booming snare drum to the chorus, "This little girl is mine, wo-oh, this little girl is mine. This little girl, this little girl, this little girl is mine!" It's like the hands of time spun all the way back again, and Bonds has himself a moderately-sized FM radio hit.

Bonds, who already years touring, hits the road again with a new band, this time with the Bruce Blessing. He tours clubs everywhere, bringing back his original hits while playing his new album.

And that is history, my friends. Bonds followed up with another Springsteen/Miami Steve album called On The Line, which was good but never broke through like Dedication. A few years later, he was back on the nostalgia circuit, still as smooth and young looking as ever.

As an aside, there was a time when people where covering Springsteen songs left and right (remember the Pointer Sisters doing "Fire?")and he was giving them away or co-writing them with notables like Patti Smith ("Because The Night"). It's been many years since he's done that and boy, we could use some more of those Springsteen tossaways.

Below is a video of Bonds and his band making an early 80's pit stop on the wonderful cult New Jersey local TV access program, "The Uncle Floyd Show," which attracted many rock notables of the day like the Ramones. The songs were always lip-synched, but that was part of the corny fun of that program, which is also missed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Steely Dan - "Bad Sneakers" (1975)

Every day that I went to college, putting a Steely Dan album on the phonograph was virtually a regimen. I ran into many people who seemed to be fixated on a few groups, owned all their albums, and listened to them every day. Steely Dan was my habit.

So obsessive was this habit that I would listen to a different full album each day in chronological order, as if I was taking required vitamins.

Steely Dan was the archetypal band where music geeks like me would pore over the album credits. Especially these guys, who hired only the best studio musicians to perform every single part. This is where I learned about people like drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist Chuck Rainey, drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Larry Carlton, and the slide work of Rick Derringer.

"Bad Sneakers" was my favorite song from my favorite Steely Dan album. It was very difficult to choose a top Steely Dan album but somehow this was always it because it seemed to be the ideal bridge between the rock songs of the first few albums and the much jazzier stuff that was to come with things like Aja and Gaucho.

"Bad Sneakers" seemed to capture the spirit of being a more independent soul being away at college and coming home. By the time I hit junior year, I lobbied the college paper, The Spectrum, to have my own music column and they let me have a test drive. I called it "Bad Sneakers" for really no good reason except I loved the song. I even had a friend of mine design a simple boxed logo for the column, which I don't even think lasted more than a couple of months. Somewhere in my attic, I have copies of these columns stored away.

The song was a rambling scenario of hanging out in mid-town Manhattan with your ratty clothes and acting stupid with your friends. When you are a fancy free college dude, it's hard not to share the spirit. It's got a slight rumba beat in A major for the verses, the very distinct Michael McDonald background vocals mixed prominently beginning with the second verse, and the key shift to C major for the chorus, which was actually a pretty simple little C-Am-Dm7 -G7 affair, especially for these guys who normally used fancy chords.

Bad sneakers and a pina colada
My friend
Stompin on the avenue
By Radio City with a
Transistor and a large
Sum of money to spend

Steely Dan's own Walter Becker does the searing guitar solo before the final bridge and chorus conclude this mere three minute and thirty second masterpiece.

When Steely Dan reunited in 1993 after many, many years off, they cut some great live stuff in the studio with their new band and turned it into a DVD. Below is their version of "Bad Sneakers." The band was known for its pristine audio engineering, so this must be one of the best sounding YouTube clips out there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jay Ferguson - "Thunder Island" (1978)

You'd be right to say Jay Ferguson was a one-hit wonder with "Thunder Island," although his semi-clone follow-up "Shakedown Cruise" crawled up the chart some distance. This song will be played on all the radio one-hit wonder weekends, and yes, it has an irresistible chorus consisting of mainly "doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doooooo."

But Ferguson was already part of two major rock bands before he went solo for this one hit. He sang for the seminal 60's rock band Spirit, which experimented with rock and jazz, and had some classics of their own ("I Got A Line On You," "Nature's Way"). He then went off to form the much more southern California rock-based Jo Jo Gunne and their one-off hit "Run Run Run."

Ferguson found short-lived solo success as sort of a more poppier version of Joe Walsh. He shared the same producer as Walsh and the Eagles (Bill Szymczyk), so you know it was very slick with that Southern California rock feel those guy patented. "Thunder Island" was Ferguson's bouncy reminiscence of hanging out with a gorgeous native island girl who was "the color of Indian summer," getting caught in a tropical rainstorm and "making love out on Thunder Island."

The verses had a semi-reggae beat while the choruses were the aforementioned singalong "doo-doo-doo's." In between, the slide solo from Joe Walsh himself. And Ferguson's little kicker of a line towards the end, "So, sha-la-la-la-la-la my lady/In the sun with your dress undone...."

Southern California rock bubblegum? Perhaps. Great opening acoustic guitar riff with C chords backing into the F, the C, and the G major open? Yep. Hey, even if you didn't know the chords, this is one fun song.

Below is Jay Ferguson and his band performing the song as their finale for a 1979 concert in Japan.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The first three songs of Peter Wolf's album "Lights Out" (1984)

Out of print and sitting in eBay auctions, Peter Wolf's first solo album, Lights Out, turned out to be one of the most ingenious rock and R&B albums of the early 80's. As the era of corporate rock was beginning to take over many radio station formats, Wolf's album stands as a triumph of colorblindness in an era when consultants were segregating every musical strand.

Peter Wolf was the perfect candidate to draw no color lines. After spending years touring as the lead singer of the fabulous J. Geils Band, which turned rhythm and blues, doo wop and soul into a rock and roll party, the group split after its biggest-selling album, Freeze Frame. Before joining Geils, Wolf played all those black-based musical genres DJ'ing on Boston's progressive WBCN, famous for his rhythmic patter and rap between songs. As a matter of fact, that rap style can be heard prominently on the J. Geils Band live album Blow Your Face Out in his intro to "Musta Got Lost" [Hey Rapunzel! Heh heh... Hey Reputa the beautah! Reputa the Beautah! Hey Reputa the Beautah flip me down your hair and let me climb up to the ladder of your love!"].

Wolf made a brilliant decision to invite Michael Jonzun and his Boston-based team to work on the solo album. At the time, Jonzun was a pistol-hot producer of the burgeoning "electro-funk" scene, creating hits with his Jonzun Crew like "Pack Jam" and with his brother Maurice Starr masterminded New Edition and New Kids On The Block. You could call it "black bubblegum"

The resulting album was a landmark, synthesizing electric guitar power chords, funk and R&B rhythms, letting Wolf sing with soul and a dash of his rhyming "patter" rap. There was something "old school" and slyly innocent about the lyrics, while the music sounded fresh and edgy ("Dancing in the dark/To the radio of love").

I listened to the first three songs over and over, and frankly, that's all I wanted from it. After that, it would have felt spoiled. Those are the same tunes I played for my eight-year-old daughter, who not only has them on the iPod we share now, but sings them back to me.

  • "Lights Out" -- the big title song hit, "Light out! Uh huh! Blast, blast, blast!" Nothing more to say about that.
  • "I Need You Tonight" -- To a thumping drumbeat, shimmering 16th electric guitar notes played cleanly on a tube amp, with a cheesy synthesizer pushing the chords. More of those throwback lyrics: "When the music stops, I walk you to your door/I say goodnight, like a thousand times before/This is the night, I just can't walk away/This is the night, I need you even more."
  • "Oo-Ee-Diddly-Bop" -- "I'm about to blow my top." Electro-funk at its prime, with Wolf rapping about his electricity, phone and heat turned off, can't get a loan (an old blues stand-by), the beat continues while he drifts off to a land where he's "dancing with mermaids" only to find himself back in reality. However, "But I keep on dreamin'/Nobody better try to take/My dream away from me" and right into a breathy flute solo."
The real shame was that Wolf was never able to top that solo album. He had one more terrific tune from his next album ("Come As You Are"), but nothing ever clicked the same way afterwards. I always thought Wolf would take a cue from David Johansen and create more ingenious ways to entertain and educate (really) audiences with his great R&B music knowledge. To me, Wolf was made to return to his DJ ways on one of the satellite radio networks.

Below are the three videos of those songs, in order. Check out Wolf's tackily-dressed DJ rap at the opening to "Oo-Ee-Diddly Bop":