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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

Archive for the tag “pop music”

New Music: “Can’t Get Started” — The Sharp Things

The Sharp Things - The Truth Is Like The SunI wrote previously on Green Is Good, The Sharp Things’ release from earlier this year. It remains one of the best albums of the 2013, due to the band’s ability to stitch together such a dazzling array of different pop styles in a way that is entirely natural and seemingly effortless. The sunshiny and soulful “Flowers For My Girl” is also one of my favorite songs of the year.

You can still get Green Is Good as a “name your price” download on Bandcamp. You certainly should do so, and at least put a couple of dollars in the tip jar.

The band has another album, The Truth Is Like The Sun, slated for release this year. The first single, “Can’t Get Started,” was uploaded to Souncloud recently. It’s a brilliant follow-up, and follow-on, to the chamber pop stylings of Green Is Good.

“Can’t Get Started” is piano-driven throughout, with multi-layered vocals, an occasional strike of the guitar, a handful a string flourishes and a slight crescendo of percussion and wall of sound at its conclusion. Its simply gorgeous.

If “Can’t Get Started” is any indication of what’s to come, The Truth Is Like The Sun could cause The Sharp Things to have released two of my favorite records in a single year. Here it is:

 

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Lou Reed’s Pop Genius

Lou ReedThe intrepid curators of the PowerPop blog unearthed and posted a wonderful piece of formerly lost pop music history — a 20 year-old “Lewis” Reed making like Dion a couple of years before the Beatles first landed in the United States. You can check out “Lewis” bouncing his way through the minute-fifty nine “Your Love” right here. It’s a nice surprise.

I bring this up because the tributes to Reed following his passing focused generally on the same things. AP’s tribute to the “iconic punk poet” is fairly typical:

His trademarks were a monotone of surprising emotional range and power; slashing, grinding guitar; and lyrics that were complex, yet conversational, designed to make you feel as if Reed were seated next to you. Known for his cold stare and gaunt features, he was a cynic and a seeker who seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the 1960s and ’70s and was as essential a New York artist as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Reed’s New York was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addicts and violence, but it was also as wondrous as any Allen comedy, with so many of Reed’s songs explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence.

Although I have no real quarrel with that, it forgets that Reed could also pen the perfect melody. The 20-year-old “Lewis” heard on “Your Love” persisted through Reed’s later excursions into “slashing” and “grinding” guitars to write some of the best and most enduring pop music of the past fifty years.

One of the best examples of Reed’s pop instincts in action is “Stephanie Says,” which was recorded in 1968 but did not officially see the light of day until 1985. Its lilting strings and celesta (a keyboard instrument with metal plates struck by hammers to produce bell-like tones) give it a baroque feel. The power of the lyrics derive from the way the words sound together instead of whatever they might mean:

Stephanie says that she wants to know/Why she’s given half her life/to people she hates now

Stephanie says when answering the phone/What country shall I say is calling from across the world

Here it is, complete with lyrics:

The celesta also “propels” another one of Reed’s pure pop masterpieces, the lush and daydreamy “Sunday Morning,” the track that kicks off The Velvet Underground With Nico. Its words are also memorable, and stick in your mind, based on how they sound strung together so simply and precisely:

Watch out, the world’s behind you/There’s always someone around you who will call/It’s nothing at all

Here it is:

I first discovered Reed and The Velvet Underground in the 80s when my I was rocking to The Clash and other kindred spirits. “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Heroin” were, and remain, great songs about “the downtown Manhattan culture of the 60s.” But I always preferred “Stephanie Says” and “Sunday Morning,” as well as songs like “Sweet Jane,” “Pale Blue Eyes” and “What Goes On.”

Anyone can make “slashing” and “grinding” guitar sounds. It takes a pop genius to write, as Reed did in “Stephanie Says,”: “But she’s not afraid to die, the people all call her Alaska /Between worlds so the people ask her/’cause it’s all in her mind/It’s all in her mind.”

Great Lost Pop Band: The Naughty Sweeties

Naughty Sweeties -- Alice

A friend posted recently on the scheduled closing later this month of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. This prompted memories of bands seen there in days gone by, particularly back in high school. The Jam, The Clash, XTC and even U2 played there back in the late-70s and early-80s. I commented that our parents had driven our 15 year-old selves to and from “The Civic” one night to see 999 and the Dickies.

999 and the Dickies! Now that’s really going back in time. I can’t even recall the last time I heard either of those two bands. The crowd at The Civic went nuts that night in March 1980 when 999 played their then-signature tune “Homicide.”999 and the Dickies

But that also got me thinking. Our parents took us to and from a whole lot of shows before either of us could drive. The Plimsouls in Hollywood and The Who at the Los Angeles Sports Arena came first to mind.

But I also recalled a parent-facilitated evening at either The Starwood, The Whisky or the Roxy to see The Naughty Sweeties back in ’79 or ’80. The Naughty Sweeties? They had a local “hit” back then that garnered a lot of air time on Rodney Bingenheimer’s Sunday night show on KROQ.

“Alice” was not necessarily a typical tune to grace the airwaves in the late-70s. It starts with an image of the aftermath of a friend’s drunken sex in a car with the singer’s girlfriend: “Pink panties on your rear view mirror/Beer cans in the back/I see that you’re going out with Alice/Won’t you give my girlfriend back,” it begins. Not exactly “I wish that I had Jessie’s girl.” More like “You had Jessie’s girl.”

The song also features great hooks, a driving melody, Ian Jack’s increasingly frantic vocals and a pounding chorus about the supposed friend taking advantage of the “hot blooded” Alice. “Why you want to make it when you know that she’s my girl?” Jack pleads as each chorus concludes before the tension begins again.

All of this kept “Alice” in my mind for more than 30 years even though I have no idea when I had last heard the 7-inch pictured at the top of the page. Luckily, someone out there ripped it from vinyl and stuck it up on You Tube:

The Naughty Sweeties called it quits around 1982, although the internet continues to memorialize the happening of a reunion show in 1987 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Madame Wong’s, another local Los Angeles independent music hot spot from the old days. Esther Wong recalled paying the band only $60 to play at her club in 1979. “They had a $300 bar tab,” Wong noted.

Drinking the profits. A venerable tradition in rock and roll.

The Sun Sawed in 1/2’s Rational Exuberance

Elephants Into SwansSometimes I’m in the mood for straightforward bass-guitar-drums and voice rock and roll. Other times, though, I reach for more elaborate, intricately arranged and lushly detailed pop. Elephants into Swans, the new record by The Sun Sawed in 1/2 — their first in thirteen years — fits squarely into the latter category. Its one of the best, most exuberant releases in quite some time.

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 is (very) often compared to Jellyfish, and for good reason. Its sound is equal parts brash, quirky, serious, not serious, psychedelic, fun, and purposefully over-the-top. Elephants into Swans is all of that. It’s also smart, melodic and filled with hooks that increasingly grab your attention upon repeated listening. And, for good measure, it picks up steam as it proceeds, making it the rare record that does front-load its virtues.

It all kicks into high gear by the third track, “Brittle Star,” a sunny up-beat tune about a mercurial girl made of “lightning, passion and rope.” “Countess I Fear Something’s Wrong,” probably my favorite track in the set, is about stolen opportunity –“they cut your song out/with pinking shears and rusted years/they gauged and gauzed it/I press to make repeat then I scan and pause it” — that concludes with a nice Beach Boys flourish for no real reason other than it just sounds great. There’s never anything wrong with that:

Indeed, “sounding great” is the partly the reason for Elephants into Swans to be. “She Offers Her Heart” adds horns to the chorus to up the exuberance factor: “She offers me her heart/and now I’m in love and now I’m in love/and now I’m in love and now I’m in love.” You can’t get any more enthusiastic than that.

Horns also help give “This Girl’s My Lullaby” a swinging, 60’s adult pop feel that veers into decidedly Bacharach territory:

The record closes with more horns on the unrelentingly upbeat and optimistic “Waltzing In Clover.” What else can be made out of these words: “I’ll marry the whole of you/Ten ways amazed for the rest of my days/I’ll marry the whole of you/I’ll drink your gaze sunlit sparkly glazed/I’ll marry the whole of you/You you you you you you’re my love”:

By the end of it, with the words “waltzing in clover” sung over themselves in a dizzying carousel of joy, you can’t help but think: “all you need is love,” in the words of one of The Sun Sawed In 1/2’s other major influences. Indeed, that could very well be the point made by the entire record.

Elephants into Swans can be downloaded for $9 on Bandcamp, a cheap price for such gleeful happiness.

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