Friday, June 22, 2018

Speak/Talk: Talking Heads Burning Down the House



purchase [ Speaking in Tongues ]

It seemed such a no-brainer to include Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues that I feared it had already been done here. It's been done lots of other places, but I'll bring it back from wherever in history it's been lurking for you. We're talking about 1983 here.

To start, I browsed the entire archive of Star Maker posts related to the Talking Heads over the years (of which there are about 20) and don't see that anyone has ever picked this one up.

Curiously, the Wiki tells us that Burning Down the House was their "lone top ten single on the US Billboard Hot 100." Me? I loved them and I still follow David Byrne through his mailing list/blog at http://davidbyrne.com/connect

Just about every one of their albums "went gold", so that's nothing to scoff at, and there's no denying that especially Tina Weymouth and David Byrne have written their names in the pantheon of modern music greats.

You are aware of course that their vocal style is pretty heavily built on talking imposed over a funky/new wave instrumental composition. Burning Down the House is no exception. The line itself apparently comes from a common audience chant of those years, which the band adopted/converted to their use.

And then there's the Tom Jones/Cardigans rendition of the same. One of his better outputs (unless you want to count Delilah!)


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Speak/Talk: Let's Give Them Something to Talk About



purchase the whole album! [Luck of the Draw]



There are few living that can play a slide guitar the way Bonnie Raitt does. She's played with them all: Clapton, Duane Allman, Ry Cooder, Lowell George and a number of others. But it isn't just her slide guitar - there's <something to talk about> in her vocals.


Without getting too deep into the #MeToo issue, you can assume that Bonnie Raitt has seen it all. She seems to have weathered it fairly well - I don't see her personal remarks about her man-handling over the years. Yes, she's been the subject of various public broadcasts, but mostly stayed (rightly) UN-affected. Let's Give Them Something to Talk About has gained some notoriety:

I have to note that the song was written by Shirley Eikhard, who you might want to explore, since she's written songs picked up by the likes of Anne Murray and Cher (in addition to Raitt).


Jennifer Love Hewitt

Rae Solomon


Brittney Spears

Cher


KT Tunstall & Daryl Hall

Saturday, June 16, 2018

SPEAK/TALK: DON'T SPEAK IN ENGLISH



There are a number of songs that, if it's the right word, celebrate FLLD, foreign language learning disability. At least I think that is what doughty old ex-pro gambler Chip is singing, at first to and then with winsome fiddler Rodrigues, and going on about. Or maybe not, but there seems quite a canon of songs around the apparent, um, boost that might be given to an ad-hoc liaison if one participant, usually the woman, contrives to talk dirty in foreign. The stuff of lone men without names, stalking the windswept borderlands, seeking what solace they can, after-hours in the cantinas, with dark-eyed damsels. Usually ahead of shooting everyone to bits. Or being shot. If cinema is slower to embrace such themes these days, americana certainly ain't lagging.

Chip Taylor actually was a professional gambler, it made more money than the sweatshop songwriting he was signed up for. And he was quite successful at that too, certainly more so than his original desire, of following his dad into pro-golf. Calling himself a tune-tailor, from the late 50s to a decade or so later he wrote songs that became hits for a remarkable diversity of acts. Perhaps the best known is 'Wild Thing', originally by Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones, but memorably later picked up by UK west country band  the Troggs, and, thence, Jimi Hendrix. But he also penned 'Angel of the Morning' and 'Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)', demonstrating his cross-genre ease between rock, country and soul. But the horses and casinos paid more, at least until he was banned. So, at age 53, he picked up his guitar again. Carrie Rodrigues, a classically trained violinist who had switched to fiddle after witnessing a Lyle Lovett soundcheck, caught his eye and they became a team, putting out 4 duet albums between 2001 and 2006, his rough hewed outlaw tones blending with her sweeter voice and stunning playing. She has since built up a strong solo repertoire, although not beyond still performing the odd new song, as penned by, she says, "one of our greatest songwriters of all  time", erstwhile sparring partner Taylor. He himself continues to perform and produce music, in 2016 being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, at the same time as running his own label, Trainwreck Records.

Here's a nice version of Taylor and Rodrigues together, playing 'Wild Thing'.


Now, before we lose entirely my indulgence around the aphrodisiacal enticements of endearments en espagnol, we shouldn't forget the disappointment when it fails to materialise, as drawn into focus by Mssrs. Sahm, Meyers, Fender and Jimenez, the estimable tex-mex supergroup, the Texas Tornadoes and their complementary paean, 'She Never Spoke Spanish to Me', actually written by erstwhile Flatlander, Butch Hancock.


Instead of pointing you towards any of the songs featured here; it's easy to find 'em, I'm going to direct you to a song the Taylor/Rodrigues duo slipped out a couple of years ago. The epithet remains as strong as ever: 'Who's Gonna Build That Wall?'

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Speak/Talk: Talk Dirty (To Me)



Romeo Void: Talk Dirty (To Me)
[purchase]

Romeo Void briefly shone brightly in the New Wave world with a sound that mixed punk, dance, jazz and funk, fronted by the sexy, soulful voice of Debora Iyall. And yet, after a handful of successful albums, EPs and singles, a major label contract, and packed concerts, they broke up within 5 years. Iyall has maintained that the main reason that the band gave up was because she was overweight. In an interview in 2003, she stated: "Howie [Klein] sold us from 415 [Records] to Columbia Records, and they were like 'Who's this fat chick?' They decided that was as far as it was going to get, and pulled their support." Although Iyall has subsequently backed off that claim somewhat, and there is also evidence of “health issues” and intra-band tensions that helped to break them up, I don’t think that it is inaccurate to say that the perception that it would be hard to promote a band fronted by a heavy singer contributed to the band’s failure to have a longer career. (Didn't seem to stop Meat Loaf, who released Bat Out Of Hell on another label in the Columbia family, from making it big, though. Hmmmmm.)

Founded in 1979 at the San Francisco Art Institute, when Iyall, having recently seen Patti Smith perform, got together with fellow student, bass player Frank Zincavage. They added guitarist Peter Woods and drummer Jay Derrah, and christened themselves “Romeo Void.” Saxophonist Benjamin Bossi was added shortly thereafter, and Derrah left before the band recorded their first full album, leading to an almost Spinal Tap-esque parade of drummers.

I remember hearing Romeo Void’s first album, It's A Condition, in 1981 at WPRB, and being captivated by their sound. Back in the pre-Internet, pre-MTV era [technically, MTV started in August, 1981, but I didn't see it for a couple of years, because in those days, not everyone had cable, and not every cable system had MTV.]  I don’t recall seeing any pictures of the members, and literally had no clue what Iyall looked like. And I didn’t care. It was also clear that many of the band’s songs had sexual undertones, or overtones, for that matter. One highlight from the debut was “Talk Dirty (To Me), which musically had all of the elements that made the band great, with overtly sexual, even kinky, lyrics. It foreshadowed the band’s most famous song, the Ric Ocasek-produced “Never Say Never,” released the following year, that featured the memorable chorus, “I might like you better if we slept together.”

Romeo Void’s biggest hit “A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing),” came from their last album, 1984's more mainstream sounding Instincts, so it really seems that Columbia Records’ weight shaming based lack of support might have cost them a successful band.

Iyall ended up leaving the music business for years, teaching art and engaging in projects to work with and train fellow Native Americans, although she has, recently, dipped her toe back into recording and performing. I don’t believe that any of the other members of the band had much of a musical career outside of Romeo Void.

They were an excellent live band, too—here’s a clip of “Talk Dirty (To Me)” from a show in 1981, and you can see what I am talking about. No one seemed to care that the lead singer wasn’t a stick figure. It was about this time that I interviewed the band, something that I alluded to in another column, before they performed at Trenton’s City Gardens. Having done a bit more research into the club’s calendar, I believe that the interview was in March, 1982, when they played there, with local heroes Regressive Aid opening. There’s a reference in the City Gardens’ oral history book, No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes, to the band coming to WPRB for an interview drunk in July, 1981, when school was out and I was in Europe, so I think that Randy Now, City Garden’s leader, has mixed up the two dates.

As I have mentioned, during the interview, Iyall acted really annoyingly, blurting out profanities and doodling penises on scrap paper, so if she was drunk, that makes some sense. In any event, she has noted in another interview, "I do like to be provocative, and I definitely have access to my sexuality, and as a topic I find it ripe.” She did, however, agree to do a station ID, which you can find here, along with probably way more than you ever want to know about my time at WPRB. 

In my early days on Facebook, I found that Iyall and I had a mutual friend, who herself is a sexually provocative performance artist, so it didn’t surprise me. Now, both of them block access to their friend lists, so I can’t see if that relationship has continued, but there are times that I want to reach out to Iyall and ask her if she remembers the interview, which all of us at WPRB involved in the event have not forgotten.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Gems & Stones: Gary Lewis - This Diamond Ring




purchase [This Diamond Ring]


Most 60s music doesn't light my fire - except in that it is seminal. Some of the best of today's musicians were starting out then, so their early material is potentially of interest.

Gary Lewis (and his band, the Playboys) fall into that category - if you had been around then and listening to (AM) radio, you would have heard their "hits":
Everybody Loves a Clown
Save Your Love for Me
and of course, This Diamond Ring


As is often the case, when I set out to write something here, I end up learning some new things:
Gary Lewis is the son of Jerry Lewis and singer Patti Palmer.
This Diamond Ring, while making it into the "Top" lists in 1965 under the Gary Lewis name, was actually written by another musician whose name has always sort of bubbled under the surface - Al Kooper.

Al Kooper is a gem of sorts in his own right: 70+ years playing with and writing for most anyone who's anyone. Prolific to say the least, Kooper's done it all. His Wikipedia entry says "Kooper has played on hundreds of records." Hundreds, including Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Lynryd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, he formed Blood Sweat & Tears.

As for the Playboys' rendition of the song he sold for $300, Kooper doesn't have a lot of compliments, writing in his "Backstage Passes .." book that he and the song's other writers were "revolted: at how they had made a "teenage [turkey] milkshake" out of a song that had a lot more soul in it. Hmmm. Maybe that why - besides the outdated 60s sound, I cant say I chose this one for love of it - more for the curiosities I came across in checking into its history.

Of further interest, Leon Russell was the arranger. Snuff Garrett, the producer is credited with doing a pretty amazing job not only with pushing Lewis's development as a musician but also with some excellent timing of their hits so that they didn't coincide with the Beatles' output, which was otherwise dominating the chart.

Lewis took a long break from music but has returned to performing - cruise ships, casinos, corporate events ...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

GEMS & STONES: AMETHYST/LOW



Well, my tried and tested has again come up trumps, the old my i-tunes library search model. This at least has the advantage of knowing the songs shown, rather than a pretence based on some song that just happens to have amethyst otherwise mentioned, culled from '100 Best Songs with Gemstones in Their Title', those lists forever propagated in the once venerable Rolling Stone magazine. OK, I had a false start with Jade: Wayne Shorter being perhaps too old school for this site, and Opal: Bicep, which is maybe too new. And Lapis Lazuli brought nothing forth, even though I swear it is in a lyric I can't quite grasp right now, perhaps a Jim Morrison. (Answers to me in comments, please, it is too hot a day for me to be researching.)

I really rather like Low, the husband and wife team from Duluth, famously Mormons. Although they have been around for yonks, it is probably only within the last 5 - 10 years I have become aware of them, in part through the promotion given them through the patronage of others. (Robert Plant is a prominent fan, including 2 of their songs on his 2010 album, 'Band of Joy', saying, at the time of this, possibly, given his back catalogue, unusual choice:

"It's great music; it's always been in the house playing away beside Jerry Lee Lewis and Howlin' Wolf, 
you know. There's room for everything." 


Often slow and sombre, with sparse and understated arrangements, they have a mesmerising vocalist in each of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Turner, otherwise guitar and drums respectively, but it is in duet harmony that the gem surely sparkles. I am sometimes minded of Richard and Linda Thompson's less cheerful moments in many of the arrangements, the voices melding both equivalently and equally melancholically. Bass duties have been provided by a variety of bassists over their 24 year recording history, but with Steve Garrington for the past 8. Keyboards, swathes of choral synthesised sound, are provided also by Garrington. As well as their own material they have also produced quite a selection of unlikely cover material, from Neil Young to the Smiths, Joy Division to the Trapp Family Singers(!). 'Amethyst' is from 2013's 'The Invisible Way', possibly my favourite of their output. Here is what UK online hipster resource, 'The Quietus' had to say about it.

I won't go on, the music says more than I possibly can. By way of a sign off, here is another song from the same album, 'Just Make It Stop', just to make me stop.


Amethyst, the song: here!




Friday, June 1, 2018

Gems & Stones: Diamonds Made From Rain



purchase [Diamonds Made From Rain]

I thought I knew a lot about Eric Clapton, so it surprised me to come upon one of his songs I don't recall having heard before.
That's one of the benefits of blogging here - digging around for gems.


Maybe if I more closely followed public media (I watch almost no TV), I would have known about the Cheryl Crowe/Clapton fling back around 1999. I guess it is public knowledge. But their relationship has little or no import on this theme or post. Except that it may have been a gem for either that neither you nor I know about, and it appears to have maybe been the spark for the song I've chosen.

A Google search for <Clapton Gems> brings up a 2017 Miami GEMS festival (with another scheduled for the Fall of 2018) - it appears to be a mix of film and music.
And considering Clapton's heavy touring schedule, it is no surprise that there seems to be no YouTube link to a 2017 GEMS festival/Miami event.

But .. Gems, Stones & Diamonds ... Stones that make you rich. Stones that you can pick up as you walk around are rarely those that turn you into a millionaire. It happens. But rarely, even if you live in Angola or Botswana.

Me, I have a collection of agates (some of them pretty decent) that I have found on the beach. But they aren't worth more than a $ or two - at most (kind of "dime a dozen" stones. But they are beautiful. And they have a different kind of value - they don't just show up without effort.
So .. the value of gems.

Agates are gems, but they aren't worth much.
But then again, diamonds are artificially over-priced stones (gems)
Good music is a gem that only you can place a value on: your wedding song, a song that brings tears to your eyes or a song you want to hear on your death-bed,
You define the value of a musical gem.

So ... here, we've got <Diamonds Made from Rain>

Clapton sings:
every stone that I have turned!
wash over me like diamonds made of rain
we can make diamonds from the rain
But the song appears to belong to Cheryl Crowe and not Clapton - apparently written about his infidelity?

And a cover -