Saturday, August 30, 2008

School Days: Baggy Trousers

Make your own Hammer pants!

Madness: Baggy Trousers


Many many apologies for my long absences between posts lately - hands up, I am sh*t! I have quite a bit going on in the 'real world' and my mind just hasn't been on fact, I have posted here more recently than at my own blog, if you can believe that.

Yadda yadda yadda...but anyway, I just couldn't let this week's theme pass without featuring the song above which, for me, is the epitome of a school song.

It was first released in 1980 and was written by band member Suggs (Graham McPherson to his mum) about his school days in Hastings (although the school used in the video was actually in Kentish Town, London). It showcases Madness' great sense of humour and is typical of their infectious ska rhythms. The album that I have taken this from is The Business (purchase link above), which is a stonking 3 disc retrospective of 69 (yes really) songs and the odd interview snippet...such as at the end of the song we have here.

School Days: School Is In

Josie Cotton: School Is In


Time for a little power-pop/new-wave (did I miss any hyphenated descriptions?) up in this Machine.

If you ever saw the film Valley Girl, and you remember the band that was playing during the big prom scene, then you've heard this number: It's on the soundtrack. It's also on Josie Cotton's 1984 release From The Hip... a search-it-down-and-enjoy-the-hell-out-of-it album. Seriously.

Here's a video tease (@ 45 seconds. Sorry, it's the best I could find:

School Days: Science Fair

Trout Fishing in America: Science Fair


Back here I suggested that we have a week of kid’s songs. Here’s another sample of what that might sound like.

Trout Fishing in America is a duo from Arkansas who have recorded on their own label for about as long as Ani Difranco has. That they are not as well known has everything to do with the fact that their best material is for kids. As you can see, they have a great deal of fun with difference in their heights, (6’9” vs 5’5”). “Science Fair” is about the awesome projects you wish you could have presented when you were a kid. It also appeals to the parents who try to recapture the feeling by helping their kids with their projects.

Friday, August 29, 2008

School Days: Good Morning Little School Girl

Muddy Waters: Good Morning Little School Girl


Sometimes, a musician becomes known for not only his own artistry, but also the quality of the musicians he draws into his orbit; these musicians get their start or reach the height of their craft while working in his band. For British blues-rock in the 1960s, that musician was John Mayall. In Jazz, over an amazing span of years, it was Miles Davis. And you can not discuss the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s without discussing Muddy Waters.

Waters was originally recorded by Alan Lomax in his home of Mississippi, playing acoustic delta blues. But, like so many of his fellows, Muddy Waters came to Chicago in the post World War II migration. On arrival, he plugged in his guitar, and became a legend. Just a few of the musicians who came through his bands were: Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf. These musicians defined the sound of Chicago blues. Later, he would work with and influence Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield, just to name two.

“Good Morning Little School Girl” is a blues classic. Originally written by Sonny Boy Williamson, there are countless cover versions. Here is another take on the tune, by Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Mississippi Fred McDowell: Good Morning Little School Girl


Thursday, August 28, 2008

School Days: Back To School Days

Dave Edmunds: Back To School Days


A familiar nostalgia for the black and white worldview of younger days couched in the familiar fifties-style Rock 'n Roll nostalgia of seventies hitmaker and Welsh pub-rocker Dave Edmunds, who we heard earlier this week as lead vocalist and guitarman for Rockpile. Edmunds supposedly returned to touring just last year after a quarter century of semi-retirement. Back to school days, indeed.

School Days: School Of Rock 'N Roll

Gene Summers And His Rebels: School Of Rock 'N Roll


School Of Rock 'N Roll was originally recorded in 1958 by Gene Summers And His Rebels, a Rockabilly band from Dallas, Texas. Gene's performing history is pretty nondescript, but he left us with the tale of a place where the only use for books is to steady a wobbling amplifier, 'cause at this here school, all you learn to do is rock.

School Days: Homework

Otis Rush: Homework


Otis Rush was born on April 29, 1934 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1948, he moved to Chicago, where he became friends with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and developed a mean vibrato guitar style.

During 1956, he secured a contract with Cobra Records. His first single, I Can't Quit You Baby, reached #6 on the R&B Charts. After the label went bankrupt in 1959, Rush signed with Chess Records, where he recorded eight tracks before moving on to Duke, where his output was one solitary single, 1962's Homework, which is today's selection.

Otis suffered a stroke in 2004, which he's since recovered from, but has hampered his return to performing. Here's hoping he's soon healthy enough to bring his unique brand of electric Chicago Blues to a stage near you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

School Days: Don't Stand So Close To Me

The Police: Don't Stand So Close To Me


As if we needed further evidence of Sting's literary leanings, here's a Lolita story of mutual longing, a teacher deperately struggling to resist nubile temptation, a parable of the flightiness of immortal youth and the dark secrets that lurk in the grown-up mind. Not exactly a celebration of the classroom, but then, school is hell for teachers some days, too.

Though it was their earlier, punkier work which makes collectors and purists drool, this song is a textbook example of the distinctive sound that made The Police a household name. Listen for the subtle bass, the bouncy guitar thrum, the tenor's cry, and the pounding "Police Pulse", and you'll have heard each band member, straining against their already growing differences, using the tension to drive the music forward. Perfect late night beachparty music, too, if you've got sand and surf and one more weekend to party before classes begin.

School Days: High School

MC5: High School


I have a sneaking suspicion that Detroit's MC5 are one of those bands that a lot of music fans have classified without actually hearing more than a few songs. While many music fans surely know MC5 form the hard and heavy live version of "Kick Out The Jams," fewer have heard the band's failed attempt at commercial success that was the Back In The USA album released in 1970.

If you haven't heard it, you might be surprised by its "retro" sound. Produced by rock-critic-and-future-Springsteen-manager Jon Landau, Back In The USA is one of the few rock albums that both looks back and forward at the same time. While paying homage to the straightforward early rock of the late 1950's (including covers of both Little Richard and Chuck Berry), MC5's sound also predicts the power pop and punk styles that would later come to fruition in the 1970's (e.g., Big Star, The Ramones).

Note: This is the second song I've posted this week featuring the lyric "Sis Boom Bah."

[Read the AMG Review.]

School Days: My Old School

Steely Dan: My Old School


Here is a song from 1973, with horns, about school. So this is the third week in a row that this could be posted.

The number three is actually my theme for this post. You see, most people think of Steely Dan as a duo. But I would argue that, in their original run of studio albums, from Can't Buy a Thrill through Gaucho, there was a third member: producer Gary Katz. Katz would be there with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen when they entered the studio to start a new album. He would help find the musicians who would play in the sessions.

But the best way to make the case for Katz as the third member of the group is to listen. "My Old School" comes from Steely Dan's second album, Countdown to Ecstasy. In the song, you can hear an early example of the classic Steely Dan sound. The rough edges of their early work start to get smoothed down, and jazz harmonies sneak their way into the mix, in the horn charts and guitar parts. And the whole thing has a glossy pop feel to it, which is entirely misleading.

If you take Walter Becker out of the equation, as on Donald Fagen's first solo album The Nightfly, you lose some of the more sneaky jazz elements and much of the bite in the lyrics. But if you remove Gary Katz, as on Steely Dan's comeback album Two Against Nature, you lose the pop sheen and much of the musical subtlety. And, by subtraction, the case is made for Gary Katz as the third member of the classic lineup of Steely Dan.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

School Days: Don't Make Me Go To School

Tammy Wynette: Don’t Make Me Go To School


Ms. Wynette got a lot of mileage out of divorce songs. (Remember the classic D-I-V-O-R-C-E?) Here she is with another tear-jerker about the damage divorce can do to kids—especially kids who are forced to subtract and divide at school.

“So please may I be absent, mom, like daddy is from home. I’d rather fail than face the class; they know my daddy’s gone . . .”

School Days: Harper Valley PTA

Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley PTA


In 1968, record man Shelby Singleton put singer Jeannie C. Riley together with a song by some guy named Tom T. Hall and the rest was music history - Riley became the first female singer to simultaneously hold the #1 spot on both the Country and Pop music charts. It even spawned a motion picture and television program of the same name. Sit back and enjoy the tale about the miniskirt mama who socked it to the wagging tongues of the Harper Valley Parents Teacher Association.

Monday, August 25, 2008

School Days: Olympia

Hole: Olympia


Though there are plenty of words in this 1994 song, they are universally adolescent, repetitive and angsty without containing much meaning. No surprise there; like lead singer and infamous skank Courtney Love, Hole is known for many wonderful loud and grungy things, but poetic depth isn't one of them. Still, near as I can figure, the premise here is that the narrator, who went to school in Olympia, Washington, found teen culture there to be universally adolescent, repetitive, and angsty without containing much meaning.

It's not a new or unique conceit by any means, but Hole's punked out garage-grunge sound strikes an especially effective pose for the age-old complaint. From its multiple false starts to its closing feedback whine to the drug-addled fuzz of second-round sound that comes back to haunt the track after you thought it was all over, the song is a wonderful example of the ways in which the musical scene in the American Northwest of the early nineties spoke to and for yet another generation of youth alienated from the norm, looking for an outlet for their rage, sure they were the only ones to ever demand rebellion.

Note: this song previously appeared in our Fifty States theme. Happily, it still rocks.

School Days: High School Confidential

Jerry Lee Lewis: High School Confidential


Jerry Lee lets loose with the title song of 50s flick, High School Confidential. During its release, it became public knowledge that Lewis was married to his 13-year-old second cousin. This caused Sun Records to promptly pull it while the song had risen to #21 on the Billboard charts. Rumors that the original title was Junior High School Confidential were unfounded.

School Days: What Did You Learn in School Today?

Tom Paxton is a folk singer who I’d like you all to meet. He is what is sometimes referred to as a songwriter’s songwriter. This means that you may very well have heard versions of his songs without ever knowing who wrote them. There are three distinct aspects to his craft.

Tom Paxton: What Did You Learn in School Today?


As a political songwriter, he makes his points with humor and irony. “What Did You Learn in School Today?” is a perfect example of this. It is also one of Paxton’s most timeless political songs; many of his political songs are topical, and have not aged well.

I do not have an example of his relationship songs that fits this week’s theme. These songs are poignant and full of emotion, and have held up very well over time. A good example would be “The Last Thing on my Mind”.

Paxton has also composed many children’s songs. The best known would have to be “The Marvelous Toy” But just for fun, I wanted to offer this little ditty, in keeping with our theme.

Tom Paxton: Barney Ate My Homework


School Days: Rah Rah Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah

The Beach Boys: Be True To Your School (Live)


The Beach Boys: Be True To Your School


When some loud braggart tries to put me down, and says his school is "great," I tell him right away: "Now what's the matter buddy, ain't you heard of my school? It's number one in the state."
The Beach Boys are so talented they can make a dorky song like this sound wonderful. Gotta love the Beach Boys!

(Note: The college fight song featured in the guitar solo is "On Wisconsin," about a second-rate University affiliated with the Big Ten Conference...)

School Days: Wonderful World

Sam Cooke: Wonderful World [purchase]

During the time Lou (Adler) and Sam had roomed together, they'd tossed "Wonderful World" back and forth, Sam playing the few chords he knew on the guitar and messing with both lyrics and melody. Cooke fiddled with it as he did with all his material: trying it out on various people, announcing it was his latest hit, showing off to women by claiming he'd written the tune right there, for them. It took shape over a long time and a lot of partying.

"Then what happened," says Adler, "is we were in the back of Keen Records on 3rd Street, and he decided he wanted to cut some things, but we couldn't get the normal drummer that we used. We were cutting them more or less as demos, because Bumps (Blackwell) wasn't there ... We got a drummer that was 15 or 16 years old and was a nephew of one of the musicians." The session on March 2, 1959, could hardly have been more bare-bones. As Adolphus Alsbrook laid down a rhumba bass line, the teenage drummer tracked along, and Cliff White picked a pretty, high guitar line. Behind Sam, hitting the last, rhymed word in each line, is Lou Rawls; Deano Lappas (Keen's house engineer) remembers him standing about a foot and a half behind Sam, singing into the same mic.

--Excerpt from Daniel Wolff, You Send Me: The Life & Times Of Sam Cooke, pp. 220-21

Sunday, August 24, 2008

School Days: School Days

Loudon Wainwright III: School Days (live, 1978)


Loudon Wainwright III: School Days (2008)


I would say all these great things about School Days, a poignant song of the crisp passions and purpose of youth which originally appeared as the very first track of Loudon Wainright III's self-titled 1970 debut. But Loudon -- who, as father of Rufus and Martha, ex-husband of folksinger Kate McGarriggle, and father of new folkblood Lucy with eerie harmony-singer Suzzy Roche, has been a unifying element (and, given the family tendency to mine their own family relations for lyrics, the subject) of a veritable dynasty of folk and fringemusic for over 35 years -- said it all himself, with the help of his agency, just a few months ago in the promotional material for Recovery, a sweet, brand-new release which features powerful new takes on some of his classic material.

Here's the money quote, on this year's most recent incarnation of School Days:

"School Days" [is] a wry slice of collegiate bravado that imbues Recovery with musings about scenarios that played out “in Delaware when I was younger” -- a notion that’s all the more intriguing when one realizes the words were written by a 23-year-old whippersnapper.

“Like most overly dramatic twentysomethings, I thought I’d burn out quickly,” [Wainwright] says of the tone expressed on that song, and several of Recovery’s other offerings. “I certainly didn’t think I’d be around any longer than Jim Morrison. But somewhere along the way, I changed my mind. I got interested in being old when I was fairly young, and wrote from that perspective. So songs about getting old had one kind of resonance for me then, and another kind now.”

It has been my experience that such a change in resonance flavors performance; I had hoped to be able to share the original, sparse album version of the song today, as well as the two versions featured above. Sadly, however, though Loudon Wainwright III the original album has recently been rereleased after years out of print, I couldn't find a pre-digitized copy anywhere. Still, the theory plays out, at least in part: though the differences between his 1978 official live recording and the 2008 version off of Recovery are primarily a matter of production choices, those willing to listen carefully will indeed find 30 years worth of wisdom flavoring the second, all remnants of earlier versions' overearnest concert braggadocio gone, the memories made more bittersweet and mellowed with age and studio setting.

Bonus: here's a look at the Wainwright dynasty through cover songs which includes another, totally different version of School Days recorded by Loudon's ex-wife, their son, and her sister a few years back. Pretty sure that's Loudon himself on background vocals, too. How odd it must have been, there in the studio, listening in the background while his exes and kids sang out his memories.

School Days: Tony

Patty Griffin: Tony


I know everyone is probably looking for the peppy little "rah rah" high school songs here, but I'm going to get a little heavy with Patty Griffin.

The story behind this song goes that "Tony" was a high school classmate of Griffin's who took his own life when he was in his early 20's. In hindsight, Tony is remembered as a quiet kid who kept to himself. Maybe he reached out for help, maybe he didn't. High school being what it is, everyone else was so wrapped up in their own problems that they barely noticed Tony's.

There is some strong language in this song.

School Days: Teacher Teacher

Rockpile: Teacher Teacher


Class, today's lesson is minimalism.