Thursday, August 21, 2014

Offensive: Vomit Launch

Vomit Launch: Stillness

Choosing a band name should be a big deal. You would think that deciding how you are going to be known to the world makes a difference. Although I’ve never been in a band, lacking sufficient musical talent and all, I’ve always imagined deciding on a name is an important issue for the members to hash out and come to some sort of an agreement. Often, the name of the band sends a signal to what the music is going to sound like. I mean, Gentle Giant is going to be a prog rock band, Metallica, is, of course, metal and The Pure Prairie League will play country rock. For a while, in the 80s, you knew that if a band was called The [insert generic noun here], the likelihood of seeing a bunch of guys in skinny ties playing poppy new wave was pretty high.

Punk rock, though, by its very nature, wants to shock, and its emergence led to a bunch of bands that purposely chose names to offend. The Sex Pistols, of course, were not the first punk band, but they may have opened the door to a more widespread use of offensive names. I remember being told by the WPRB station manager that we couldn’t say the name of the Dickies, which to this day seems overly cautious, especially since he never seemed to have a problem with the Dead Kennedys. Bands that choose aggressively offensive names, mostly punk and metal acts that I won’t specifically mention because they might show up during this theme at some point (but here are a couple of good lists) did so to signal that they didn’t care about mainstream success and were thumbing their noses at major labels, big time radio and large venues. In some ways, it was a kind of reverse psychology—attracting people by being repulsive.

But, frankly, this strategy can backfire. If you make music that actually might be popular, is catchy and not at all offensive, choosing an off-putting name could essentially torpedo your career. And, it appears, that may have been what happened to Vomit Launch.

Vomit Launch was started in 1985 by a bunch of friends in Chico, California who decided to form a band. After a few rehearsals, they were offered a gig, and therefore needed a name. According to the band’s website, a couple of the band members “drank a bunch of wine and created a list of possible band names for future use. Unfortunately among these names were Truckload of Fuckers, Fuckload of Truckers and Vomit Launch. Needing a name with a ‘gig’ fast approaching, the band decided Vomit Launch would be a fantastic choice!”

I would suggest that they were wrong.

Although the band released a few albums, opened for some well-known acts, and even had a video that aired once—partially—on MTV, by the end of 1992, they were done. Like so many obscure bands, they still have their fans, who reminisce longingly about their short career, but I’d like to suggest that with a less offensive name, they might have been more successful.

I’m not exactly sure how I first heard of Vomit Launch. I’m pretty sure that it was as a result of my eMusic account. When I joined that service back in 2005, it was a quirky service focused on small, indie label acts and allowed an incredibly generous number of downloads a month for a low price. (Apparently, there was a period when it was essentially an all you could eat buffet, but I missed that). You overlooked the wonkiness of the website and its strange policies because it had lots of interesting music, cheap. And this allowed you to download stuff that you might not otherwise consider. Over time, eMusic has morphed into a service that has most, if not all, major label content. It is still somewhat valuable, but Its quirks are less charming now that it is competing directly with iTunes and Amazon. I think it is still worth it, especially at the low, grandfathered rate that I pay. But that’s another issue entirely.

My best recollection is that one of their songs was a free track, and admittedly amused by the name, I downloaded it and found that contrary to its name, it was a good, wholly inoffensive, new wave-ish song. I downloaded a second, similarly good song, and pretty much forgot about the band, until recently, when I got into a discussion somewhere (Facebook?) about bands with offensive names. Coincidentally, I wrote about a song by the Butthole Surfers on another site, and that all led to this theme.

I hope this didn’t offend anyone.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Tough assignment, boss! OK, could have been easy to wade into Wayne/Jayne County territory with some uber-punk swearies, but, on stripping away the counter-cultural and taboo-breaking schlock tactics, let's agree the music was, well, a little thin........ But during this same time period, roughly 77-80, punk rock year zero onward, is a golden one for unearthing golden little rotten apples of impurity, all being required is something of even just a little merit to fit our bill. (Whaaat? And this from the man who posts Chris de Burgh?!?) And then I remembered this!

Snuff was a film that relied more on hype than hope for it's trajectory towards any legendary status, purporting to be "genuine" footage of a murder, whereas it was merely an earlier dismal and dismally made slasher pic called "Slaughter". When this bombed on release, it lingered awhile in the vaults until some unrelated footage could be tackily  tacked on to the end, so as to cash in on the popular urban legend of snuff films, i.e. the filming of an actual slaying. With a rough cut and abrupt "finish", it was palmed off as being for real, with fake protesters being hired by the distributors to picket any performance, to drum up custom. This worked, to a degree, with the NYPD having to look into it and dismissing it as no more than conventional trick photography. The public were also told that the "dead" actress had contacted the Police, wishing to assure her fanbase she was still alive and in many fewer pieces than the film might otherwise suggest. (But as wiki says so often, this reference needs corroborating..........)

Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias were a comedy rock band from Manchester, UK, plugging away on the live circuit since 1972 and until a decade later. Actually very good musicians, they were a staple on the live circuit and at festivals between those years, with merciless lampooning of any number of their more earnest compatriots, from Lou Reed to Status Quo, accepting that you really had to be there, comedy and rock seldom cutting it away from the live experience.Come 1977, and arguably running out of targets, the idea of combining the punk ethos with snuff films came to them, whereby the band kill themselves on stage in the name of the ultimate anarchist expression. Every night. This actually began as a play, and was premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre, no less, with the Albertos playing all the parts and all the instruments, albeit with a more conventional "show" as their support act. And I was there, having been the recipient of a ticket as thanks for giving up my room to a pair of old chums, up in London for a week. As is the way, the original soundtrack recording became available as a record, albeit merely an EP (extended play, kiddos), 7 inches of vinyl with 2 tracks aside, something I still own with pride and play with pleasure. These were 3 parodies of the big 3 of the english punk movement, the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash, along with the then, de rigeur, roots reggae association with punk. I heartily endorse you to seek this one out, this time my link being for real, rather than a sop to the digital download police as to my what me innocence around posting youtube links. See if you can guess which this one is:

A footnote: C.P. Lee, one of the key lynchpin members of the group, is now Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and has written a brace of worthy tomes about Bob Dylan, actually well worth reading.                                      

Monday, August 18, 2014

Offensive: Camarillo Brillo

Frank Zappa: Camarillo Brillo
[purchase: Camarillo Brillo]

The Wiki informs us that Camarillo is the location of a mental institution and that there were housed therein patients whose hairstyle was "frizzed out" as a result of electro-shocks. I had come to my own conclusion that his use of "Brillo" certainly referenced certain other human "curlies". Quite likely that both are possible: Zappa had a way of pushing societal limits, almost to the point of being offensive.

SMM has numerous other Zappa posts [], and most of them verge towards the offensive either in title or in content: Don't Eat the Yellow Snow, Stinkfoot, Dinah Moe Humm, I Am the Slime ...

Overnite Sensation is likely Zappa's most offensive oevre: the picture frame that surrounds the cover artwork is one step short of nasty. Kind of a modern Heironymus Bosch.

Camarillo Brillo is only one of several songs on the album that push the limits of the acceptable  - that is assuming that you are not among those who find rock 'n roll to be the devil's music to start with, of course. But this goes well beyond what the 1950's critics had in mind when they condemned rock. Just check it out:

She stripped away
Her rancid poncho
An' laid out naked by the door
We did it till we were un-concho
An' it was useless any more

For my part, back when this came out and I was in my impressionable 20s, I memorized every line of the lyrics. I can still more or less sing along the entirety of the album from memory - 40+ years later. It was/is Zappa's irreverence for societal norms that brought meaning to his music. Aside from his guitar chops: the YouTube live versions don't even approach the guitar skills of this, the studio version.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Buy the Valentines

Buy the Huck

Come on then, who remembers this, the original version from 1982. I thought probably not, but it isn't too bad at all. Indeed, given the current de rigeur derision applied to ol' Ginger Top and the Simplys, as we call them this side, you could possibly argue that it's better. But of course it isn't, as the revisionists have forgotten 2 salient points: 1. When Simply Red first appeared they were an astonishing breath of fresh soulful air in a tired chart, and 2. By cracky, the boy could sing. And I mean really sing. So, yes, it may be now witty to exude boredom and roll one's eyes at their/his mention, they really being, to all intents and purposes, one and the same, but surprise yourself, play that 1st elpee again.

So who were the Valentines? And did the song ease their plight? Well, it got to 41 in the Billboard chart in 1982, but I can't honestly say I can think of any other of their songs, over a 4 album career, 1979 - 87, whatever wiki says. Seeing as the 2 Valentine Brothers, John and Billy, wrote it, I'll even bet they weren't too sad to see it peak their own success, reaching 28, 4 years later than their own, and number 13 in the UK.

And Mr Hucknall? I'm sure you know the all the well known stuff, but let me celebrate some of his quieter sung moments. Pre- Simply Red, he had been inspired to form a band after watching the Sex Pistols play in Manchester, another one of those gigs claimed by 1000s yet probably attended by really very few. Known as the Frantic Elevators, fame largely evaded them, but they did do an earlier version of, I guess, the "other" SR big hit , which, frankly, needed the revision and polish later gifted it.

After the demise of Simply Red, just him and anonymous session men by then, in 2010, he issued a tribute to one of his own favourite singers, the estimable Bobby "Blue" Band, essentially trying to champion his corner. Too bland by far, said the critics, but I find that harsh, and I am sure the back catalogue of Bobby will have taken a fair old hit from it's existence. You lot may know this one , first by Mick and then, by Bobby.

I was a little shocked by his next move, depping for an absent Rod Stewart in 2010's Faces reunion. Given his earlier and open rubbishings of the rock idiom, it seemed an odd move. I also note no new material came out of it. Here's a clip. And, I have to say, it's great. Until he starts singing, when it all gets a bit, well, karaoke. No wonder he went running back to safety and sales with 2012's ghastly American Soul, almost aping the recent output of Stewart himself. Hey ho, where did it all go wrong, as his bank manager won't be saying.....

A last bouquet, tho', to follow my brickbats, and that is his founding and backing for Blood and Fire records, issuing a respectable stream of dub and reggae compilations, for which I have to forever hold him high. Here is an unashamed plug.

Oh, you want to hear his version! You should have said!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Impecunious : Rich Kind of Poverty

Sam and Dave : Rich Kind of Poverty

I wasn't sure I would have time to post anything on the subject of  Income Inequality until I heard Tom Petty's NPR interview. Petty was explaining a song called "Power Drunk" off his new album, Hypnotic Eye,  when he veered onto our very topic:

   I just tried to kind of explore this gap between the poor and people that get so wealthy that making more money really wouldn't change an hour of the rest of their lives. And yet they're obsessed with making more money, regardless of how that affects other people. 

    Maybe it's a moral question of, "Do you want something so bad that you don't need, even though it will hurt others?" 'Cause we're looking at a very different time in America right now. We've rubbed out the middle class, which was really the whole point of the thing for a long time — meaning America.

   The Isaac Hayes/Paul Selph composition "Rick Kind of Poverty" comes from Sam and Dave's 1967 Soul Men, which of course featured their monster hit "Soul Man". Booker T and the MGs are the studio band.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Impecunious: No Woman, No Cry

Bob Marley & The Wailers: No Woman, No Cry

After I was chosen to become the program director of WPRB, my friend Eric Klein, the outgoing station manager, and I spent some time discussing my future tenure. I valued Eric’s advice, and generally considered him a smart guy with good musical taste. To this day, though, I remember one thing he said to me, which was, I have to say, profoundly wrong. He warned me against playing too much reggae.

It was extremely unlikely that as PD, I was going to change the sound of the station’s rock programming, which was filled with an interesting combination of new wave/punk music, prog rock and classic rock, with the occasional folk, blues and jazz interlude, into a full-on reggae station. And at the time, bands like the Clash and Police were experimenting with reggae influences in their music. So, I pretty much ignored Eric, and WPRB continued to flourish, in its own college radio way.

I can’t say that I was ever a huge reggae fan anyway. I mean, like most people of my generation, I was issued a copy of Legend, Bob Marley’s greatest hits collection, and I was aware of a few of his other songs, as well as a selection of Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff tunes. And as my musical education continued over time, I learned about other reggae artists, but I can’t say that I ever sat down and decided to listen to reggae. That all being said, I have always loved the live version of “No Woman, No Cry” that appears on Legend (originally from the Live! album). You can hear the way that Marley commands the stage and the confidence in his voice, and I suspect that it was no coincidence that the song was recorded not too long after Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers and Marley became the acknowledged star.

The song is a message from a man to the woman he is (temporarily) leaving, assuring her that even though they are poor, and live in the ghetto, things will still be fine. What is remarkable about the song is the singer’s fond memories of sitting in “a government yard in Trenchtown” (a poor housing project), around a fire, sharing cornmeal porridge. The sense of community triumphing over need is palpable, and you can understand why he can insist that she not cry, because their friends will make sure that “everything’s gonna be alright.” In retrospect, though, you wonder how good those old days really were, or if Marley was engaging in a little selective nostalgic amnesia. (And Marley did write the song, even if it was credited to Vincent Ford, a friend of Marley’s, so that the royalties would allow Ford to operate a soup kitchen in Trenchtown.)

Musically, the live version is slower and more languorous that the studio version from the Natty Dread album, which was a hit itself.  The slower tempo (and fewer electronic clicks, chirps and noises) makes the live version stronger and more powerful than the original. As did the stellar guitar work from Al Anderson, a New York native who grew up in New Jersey, attended the Berklee School at the same time as Pat Metheny and Al DiMeola, and reportedly was in early versions of Aerosmith, before turning his attentions to reggae.

There is, also, an even lesser known, older demo version of the song, featuring Marley on vocals, Tosh on piano, and some uncredited background singers. Usually referred to as the “gospel” version, this stripped down version is also powerful.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Impecunious: Beggars

So, I'm just back from the 50th Cambridge Folk Festival. (Why, thank you, yes, it was marvelous. I may have mentioned I was going.....)  Anyhow, refreshed with the delights of such devout folkies as Sinead O'Connor and Van Morrison (?), clearly my mind is still entrenched in that tradition, songs about beggars being a solid part thereof, curiously often jolly beggars, giving perhaps credence to the current urban myth that they drive in from the suburbs, change their clothes to panhandle all day, before a visit to the safe deposit box of their high interest account on their way back home. Which, on the whole, is purely that. Myth. There can be fewer more souless ways to spend a day, poor devils, however they find themselves there.

First, some essential reading , a remarkable article I found online, with an elegant expose of the various subgenres. I then searched my collection for songs with begging, beg or beggar in their title, finding surprisingly few, if one discounts the whole of Beggars Banquet, for beknighted tax exiles, Jagger at least, and the Temptations being "too proud to beg", as it wasn't money they were necessarily seeking. (Tho' in later years, as the drugs slunk in, I wonder?). However, I found these 3, each of which give off the unlikely fumes of the freedoms of the gutter.

Firstly I invite you into the Irish Tradition, now a given, on both sides of the Atlantic, but back even only 30 odd years ago the Dubliners and the Clancy brothers were all you got, decrying neither, but it took the trailblazing Planxty to fully explore and enhance the instrumental magic therein, giving a warmth and humanity to the sometimes more clinical offerings of the Chieftains, roving out themselves at much the same time. Whilst Planxty have long gone, give or take the occasional reunion gig, each of the 4 original members, Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O'Flynn, continue to imprint their identities on the tradition. Let alone later member, Paul Brady, and without them, despite their acousticity, I believe there would be no Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, whomsoever. Here is their Jolly Beggar.
Buy it!

Back across the Irish sea, at much the same time, the folk tradition was plugging in, with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and various Albion Bands subsequently each at the helm, often, in all of them, under the vigilant supervision of the "Godfather of Folk-Rock", Ashley Hutchings, who would spend all day in the archives of Cecil Sharp house, the repository of these islands' traditional song, before foisting them on his bandmates and a sometimes bemused public. Here is a relatively late, post Hutchings take on their paean to poverty, Beggar's Song.
(Not singly available on bar the full LP, Red and Gold)

Finally, a personal favourite, perhaps a better match of the acoustic purity and the sometimes leaden plod of electricity, it's Richard Thompson to whom I turn, himself also a Fairport alumnus. Incidentally, he played  at Cambridge, solo, just this weekend. (As an aside, his daughter Kami, later also appeared with her own group, the excellent Rails, featuring her nephew, Richard's grandson, on rhythm guitar and mandolin) this is from when he was a duo with Kami's mother, as Richard and Linda Thompson. This clip is their Little Beggar Girl, and I apologise for the appalling quality, making it sound as if sought from a wax cylinder field recording.
Buy it!