Wham! “Make It Big” released 35 years ago today, October 23rd, 1984. Wham!’s second album was a massive smash and I absolutely loved it (this is my original copy from ‘84) – it went to #1 all over the world, including in the US and the UK. Fantastically crafted 80′s pop in the spirit of 60′s Motown (see the girl-group, wall-of-sound inspired “Heartbeat” in particular), Make It Big spawned four hit singles including the infectious dance track “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (#1 UK and US), “Careless Whisper” (#1 UK and US) whose sad 80′s sax still brings up the ugly heartbreak of 13 year-old puppy love (long-story short, I got ditched at a junior high school dance and this song came on and it was ugly), “Freedom” (#1 UK, #3 US) which is notable for its video recorded while Wham! was on tour in China (1984/85 height of Cold War tensions), and “Everything She Wants” (#2 UK, #1 US), which Wham! released as a double-A side along with “Last Christmas” which, while not on Make It Big, can also count as a hit single, reaching #2 in the UK and #25 in the US (#5 on the US Holiday 100 chart, which I didn’t know existed until now).
Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin II” released 50 years ago today, October 22nd, 1969. Led Zeppelin II was the band’s first LP to reach #1 – in both the US and the UK, though they only released one single from the album (and that was outside the UK; weirdly not a single Zeppelin single was ever released in their home country): “Whole Lotta Love” which hit #4 on the US Billboard chart. It’s been ranked among the top greatest songs of all time (most especially for its guitar riff) but it was not without controversy. Parts of the track were a direct lift from Wille Dixon’s “You Need Love” (recorded by Earl Hooker and Muddy Waters in 1962 for Chess Records) but Dixon was uncredited. That led to a lawsuit which resulted in Dixon winning credit and royalties (1985).
I’ve blogged about Led Zeppelin II before so I’m going to quote myself here:
Allmusic says “Led Zeppelin II provided the blueprint for all the heavy metal bands that followed it… the overall sound of the album is heavy and hard, brutal and direct. While Led Zeppelin II doesn’t have the eclecticism of the group’s debut, it’s arguably more influential. After all, nearly every one of the hundreds of Zeppelin imitators used this record, with its lack of dynamics and its pummeling riffs, as a blueprint.”
As I’ve noted in earlier posts, I was, relatively speaking, late to Zeppelin (weird subculture “rules” being what they were, 80′s punks – at least in my town- did not listen to Zeppelin, that was for the grits/heshers/dirts/headbangers) so I didn’t listen to any Zeppelin, including Zeppelin II, until I got to college. Now I love it. “Whole Lotta Love” has one of the most excellent and recognizable lead chords on any album ever, the groove of “What Is and What Should Never Be” is utterly addictive and Zeppelin’s spin on traditional blues in “The Lemon Song” is epic, sexy as hell if not very subtle (“Squeeze me baby, ‘till the juice runs down my leg/The way you squeeze my lemon I’m gonna fall right out of bed”). That’s just Side 1! Side 2′s bass riff on “Heartbreaker” is so slinky, Bonham’s drum solo on “Moby Dick” is insane and II has one of my all-time favorite tracks: “Ramble On.” I was on a serious Tolkien kick during my freshman year at college (I had read The Lord of the Rings as a kid but got it into my head to re-read the entire trilogy over Christmas break that year) so I found the lyrics amazing. Now they kinda make me giggle but I still love “Ramble On” intensely.
Jerry Lee Lewis “Rare Tracks” 1989. Sun Records. Nick Tosches “Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story” 1982. Author/music journalist Nick Tosches died yesterday, October 20th, just shy of his 70th birthday (b. October 23rd, 1949). I’ve been a Tosches fan for quite awhile – we have a few of his books including this bio of Jerry Lee Lewis, his 1977 underground country music book Country: The Biggest Music in America and his 1984 Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Tosches style was dramatic and riveting – an example from the second paragraph of Hellfire: “’Hell,’ Jerry Lee Lewis would tell you in the middle of the night, which he seemed to have the power to evoke, to drape about himself, at any hour; ‘Hell,’ he would tell you, looking squint at the veins in his wrists, receding into the memory of his father’s tales and the tales of his father’s brothers; ‘Hell,’ he would tell you, ‘they got a big history, the Lewises. Wild drinkers. Wild gamblers.’”
Jerry Lee Lewis’ Rare Tracks is wild, as well. It’s a collection of – as the title suggest – rare tracks (for ‘89 anyway) from Lee’s Sun Records years (1956-1963) cut by Lewis as either demos, B-sides, or album tracks that didn’t make it or ended up as filler. There’s a lot of covers, like his rendition of the 1930′s Shelton Brothers “Deep Elem Blues,” Billy Mize’s “It All Depends,” The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “In the Mood,” the 1958 hit “Wild One (Real Wild Child)” and Billy Ward & the Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man.” He even covers himself (sort of) with a very literal remake of “Whole Lotta Shakin’” which is barely tweaked to “Whole Lot of Twistin’ Going On” (it’s still a great song). And his original composition “Pumpin’ Piano Rock” which the liner notes describe as having the promise of “the perfect theme song for him” is great but when it first came out, finally, in the 70′s he’d already had enough theme songs that it was “anticlimactic” and thus overlooked.
Electric Frankenstein “Action High” 1998. One Louder Records. It’s Electric Frankenstein season! We’re heading to our first Halloween event of the year tonight so I’m spinning one of the best garage punk records of the 90′s, Electric Frankenstein’s fourth full-length LP Action High (released in the UK; in the US they released the same record as Sick Songs in ‘97 – the UK version has one extra track, “Frustration,” a cover originally by Crime in 1977). The opening title track “Action High” is one of my favorite songs of the 90′s garage punk era, but the rest of the album has so many high points: “I’ll Be Standing On My Own,” “Not With U,” “Learn to Burn,” “Back at You,” “Clockwise” and the cover of “Out There” originally by F-Word in 1978. Really just the whole damn album: relentless high energy, crashing guitars with speed-metal solos, chest-rattling bass and growling vocals. Perfect for Halloween.
Subhumans “From the Cradle to the Grave” 1983. Bluurg Records. 80′s UK hardcore punk. From the Cradle to the Grave was Subhumans’ second full-length album (they had several EP’s from ‘81 and ‘82), released the same year as their first, The Day the Country Died. I’ve been putting together a mix of UK punk tracks from the 70′s and early-to-mid 80′s and realized that I didn’t really know much about Subhumans and haven’t listened to their music much at all. As I spin Side A, which is filled with mostly short-n-fast hardcore tracks like “Where’s the Freedom?” and “Reality is Waiting for a Bus” (but also some proto-grunge-metal-prog (kinda Black Sabbath-y)/punk songs like “Wake Up Screaming” which clocks in at over 5 minutes), it strikes me how different their sound is as compared to the other UK punk I’ve been listening today. Except for the British accent and word choices (ie “advert” instead of “ad” and mentioning the queen), From the Cradle to the Grave could have come out of the early 80′s SoCal hardcore scene. “Adversity,” my favorite song on the album, has an infectious beat that would have fit in any mosh pit then and even into the late 80′s/early 90′s grunge scene. Side B is one long song, the title track “From the Cradle to the Grave” which lasts a whopping 17 minutes: unheard of for most punk for sure and filled with tempo (lightning fast to relaxed), key (major to minor – lots of minor!) and style (punk to reggae to metal) changes. The Subhumans continued to evolve their sound for one more full-length after From the Cradle to the Grave before dissolving in ‘85 due to stylistic differences (and then, of course, got together for reunion shows and another record in 2007).
Diane Coffee “Internet Arms” 2019. Polyvinyl Records, limited edition (300 copies) on clear fuchsia vinyl. Internet Arms is Diane Coffee’s (aka Shaun Fleming, former Disney actor and Foxygen drummer) fourth album and he’s still playing around with gender-bending, glammy and synthy dream pop, with a focusing on internet relationships and our relationship to the internet (spoiler: it’s not all chocolate and roses). Lots of “futuristic” electronica, some auto-tune sprinkled with gospel (ie “Simulation” and “Work It”), funky dance grooves (ie the title track “Internet Arms”), 80′s alternative pop inspiration (ie “War”) and show-tune musical flavors (ie “Good Luck” – Fleming has also performed in rock operas). I really like Diane Coffee – we’ve seen him perform a couple of times in the last few years (though we skipped his latest tour for this album because there was a bunch of other bands playing the same evening) and in concert he’s a master at working the stage and the audience. But I have to say that live experience doesn’t translate well onto wax – at least not on Internet Arms, or maybe I’m just not into this style of music when there isn’t a charismatic performer standing in front of me: it’s not mellow enough to be shoe-gaze dream pop to space out to on a long evening drive but it also doesn’t have enough energy for a sweaty dance session in my living room. It’s fine but I’m not sure how often I’ll be throwing this one onto the turntable.
Abby Jeanne “Get You High” and “Spellbound” 2019. Hi Fi Records. Very limited edition 7″ colored vinyl and even more limited cassette release. This past weekend Milwaukee’s own Abby Jeanne hosted a “Pop-Up Atomic Records” shop at the Bay View coffee shop, Hi Fi Cafe for her just-released single, “Get You High,” a dreamy track filled with swirls and tension. Side B is a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Spellbound,” which Jeanne recreates beautifully, respectfully: not many singers can match Siouxsie Sioux’s piercingly clear vocals but wow, Abby does an amazing job, adding her bluesy touch to the goth classic. The cassette has both of those tracks plus a bonus track – “Get You High (Daniel Ash ‘Paradise Mix’)” – remixed by the Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets/Pop Tone goth master himself.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “Orange” released 25 years ago today, October 12th, 1994. Matador Records, silver vinyl. Tonight we’re catching JSBX’s drummer Russell Simins’ band S-E-R-V-I-C-E at Cactus Club in Milwaukee. We saw them last month at our neighborhood street party, Bay View Bash, and back in May 2017 in Indianapolis at Hi-Fi Indy and they are amazing. Here’s a couple of shots from those shows.
Orange, my favorite JSBX record and their third or fourth (depending upon how you count the first two releases from 1992) LP, is at times sparse, chaotic, funky, punk, bluesy but always amazing. The lead track, “Bellbottoms” swells with strings and a funked out groove before hitting the staccato’d “bellbottoms” anthem. The song inspired Edgar Wright to write the 2017 movie Baby Driver, the soundtrack to which was nominated for a Grammy (the song “Chase Me” in the movie is a remix of “Bellbottoms” by Danger Mouse featuring Run the Jewels and Big Boi). “Wright laid in his bedroom listening to the song on repeat, visualizing a car chase set to “Bellbottoms.” He also started coming up with the idea of a character: a getaway driver for a bank heist, who cannot do his job properly without the right music playing.” (IndieWire) “Ditch” is hip-shaking sexy and “Dang” has fantastic, crazed harmonica solo by Judah, matched by Jon Spencer’s insane theremin. The first of two excellent instrumentals on Orange comes next: “Very Rare” slows down the beat to a hypnotic rhythm overlayed with Spencer’s signature guitar twang. “Sweat” is iconic JSBX giving us the classic line “That’s the sweat of the Blues Explosion!” “Cowboy” is weirdly mangled country-western (not my favorite track on the album) but the title track “Orange” returns to the slinky JSBX groove (Spencer name-drops ‘Star Trek’ and manages to make even that sexy). Side B leads off with “Brenda” with Spencer singing longingly, just a little too high out his range, for a girl and her money. “Dissect” is thick with musical chaos and “Blues X Man” is a “12-bar back-country roadhouse blues and back-alley back-seat eros to Lower East Side boasting about the Blues Explosion’s musical virility. It begins sparse and skeletal before adding a female backing chorus and DJ turntablism, turning traditionalism upside down and scraping country and city down to their nubs in order to make everything bleed.” (Allmusic) “Full Grown” is balls-out insanity beginning with the line “Baby baby you sure like to fuck FUCK!” and “Flavor” is hilarious, rattling off all the cities where the Blues Explosion is number one and the band gets Beck on the phone to croon out “flavor.” (The remix of “Flavor” is even better, featuring Beck and Mike D in a wicked funny video.) Orange concludes with my favorite JSBX track, the instrumental “Greyhound” which is monstrously awesome, best played at 11.
The Black Keys “Let’s Rock” 2019. Nonesuch Records, limited edition blue vinyl. Let’s Rock is The Black Keys’ 9th studio LP, which debuted at its peak chart positions of #4 in the US and #3 in the UK. They released it after a five-year hiatus and wrote it mostly in-studio; the title and cover art inspired by last words of a Tennessee convict executed by electric chair in 2018, as well as an “homage to the electric guitar” (Patrick Carney). And also because it’s a rock-n-roll record, blues-inspired for sure – waaayyyy less lo-fi than their early work – even though Dan Auerbach says, “We’re not rock’n’roll guys. We fucking hate rock’n’roll guys. We always have. The idea of pyrotechnics on stage and lasers is always so goofy.” We saw The Black Keys perform this past weekend at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee and they indeed did not have pyrotechnics or lasers, but did have some pretty great lighting and a giant electric chair replica from the LP’s cover behind them at one point. I was also pleasantly impressed with the Fiserv, a really new venue in Milwaukee (this was our first time seeing a concert there as we generally avoid big shows). In the past when I saw concerts at the now-demolished Bradley Center (which the Fiserv replaced), the sound was horrible. All concrete and echoes – just imagine seeing the last show I remember going to there: Neil Young with Social Distortion and Sonic Youth. The bands were great but the sound was fucking horrible.
Anyway, it was a great show, the duo’s sound beefed up by three backing musicians. They played several songs from Let’s Rock including a few of my favorites: the singles “Lo/Hi” (which went to the top of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock, Adult Alternative Songs, Rock Airplay, and Alternative Songs charts simultaneously, making it the first song ever to do so), “Eagle Birds” and my top-pick, “Go” which is a great summer anthem with a hilarious video (see below). I also really love “Shine a Little Light,” the album’s opener, and “Under the Gun.” I don’t love the whole LP though: “Walk Across the Water,” “Sit Around and Miss You” (though the video is damn funny, a parody of the commercial that aired incessantly in the 80′s for “Freedom Rock”) and “Breaking Down” are all a little too 60′s/70′s smooth California blues-rock for my taste. Though, weirdly, I really like “Tell Me Lies,” which has a similar sound as those last two (kinda Eagles-ish with a dash of Steve Miller Band) but it’s got such a great hook that I’m overlooking it. Honestly it’s taken me awhile to really warm to Let’s Rock: The Raconteurs Help Us Stranger was released about a week before Let’s Rock and there’s that (untrue??) rivalry between Jack White/The White Stripes and Dan Auerbach/The Black Keys that makes comparisons virtually impossible to avoid – and I really really love Help Us Stranger. So when I had the choice of which to listen to on repeat, The Raconteurs inevitably have won out – but I’m making more of an effort now.