Friday, December 3, 2010

Leftovers (Discoveries): Eye of the Needle

ten wheel drive

Ten Wheel Drive: Eye of the Needle


I was busy discovering Germany during Discoveries Week and could have posted every day with ideas that came to me. This is my first Leftovers Week, too, and I can definitely see the attraction – it's pretty much guaranteed that I can match cool song to cool topic. And this song is especially cool.

I was lucky growing up with older siblings and cousins with pretty good taste. This song was hammered into my head at the tender age of 14 by my older cousin Carl, who was only in high school himself (he also introduced me to Tommy round about this time). Ten Wheel Drive was a late 60's jazz-rock group in the vein of early Blood Sweat and Tears, and with an utterly fabulous Joplin-esque vocalist—Genya Ravan. This group should've been bigger than it was, to be honest. It took several years before I got hold of a used LP of Construction #1 and managed to make a cassette tape with this wonderful song. Sadly, it went the way of most cassette tapes of the day, wrapped around the spindle, mutilated and unlistenable.

It took about 30 years for me to come across it once more. So I'm especially pleased to be able to share it with you.

Leftovers (Other People's Songs): Different Drum

The Stone Poneys: Different Drum


The Version of "Different Drum" that most of us know is the one released by Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys in 1967, but that version was neither the original nor the first cover of the tune.  Michael Nesmith of The Monkees penned the tune in 1966, and its first release came later that year on The Greenbriar Boys album Better Late Than Never (if anyone has that version, I'd love to hear it).

Even before that, however, Nesmith managed to sneak the tune onto an episode of The Monkees' TV show (see YouTube clip below).  He finally recorded a proper version of the song in 1972 for his album And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'.  Nesmith includes the song's fourth verse that Ronstadt left out of her hit.

Michael Nesmith: Different Drum (Buy Album)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Leftovers (Retrospective: Fifty States): Your State’s Name Here

Lou and Peter Berryman: Your State‘s Name Here


It’s really not hard at this point to come up with songs that fit more than one of our previous themes. This one fits at least three, including Leftovers. As you read the post, you’ll see why I had to label it the way I did.

My first post on Star Maker Machine was during Songwriting week. The following week was our first Fourth of July, and our theme was Fifty States. What a rush that was! Our goal was to post one song for each of the fifty states, and there was a rule that you couldn’t use a state that was already posted. So the posts came in fast and furious, with everyone wanting to get theirs up before someone took their state. As a guest poster at the time, I had to wait for someone to put my post up for me, and I was only able to get Louisiana. At the end of the week, we were stuck for songs for New York and Washington, so we allowed extra posts to cover those. In the end, we had 58 posts in one week, (phew!). One of the last songs was Lower 48, which covered most of them in one song. Even at the time, I wanted to finish with a song that would cover all of the states at once, and I knew just the song to do it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the song at the time, and I knew nothing about how to get it. Well, now I do. The song, of course, is Your State’s Name Here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leftovers (Call Me): Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand

Primitive Radio Gods: Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand


Do kids today even know what a phonebooth is?

This song from Primitive Radio Gods was a minor hit in 1996, and looking back, it's probably one of the songs I most identify with that year. The haunting B.B. King samples, the moody piano, the subdued vocals, all combined to perfectly captured the melancholy of my life at the time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leftovers (Trios): With These Hands


Les McCann Trio: With These Hands


I was invited to SMM the week following Trios week. I bet I'd've posted this song, which is one of my all-time favorite jazz ballads, like, ever. Les McCann excels at slow piano ballads, and this time he adds his mellow vocals to this tune from 1969's Much Les. It's just a gorgeous love song. The Les McCann Trio has Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Don Dean on drums.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Leftovers (Title Tracks): The Angel In The House

The Story: The Angel In The House


Long before Jonatha Brooke was a folkpop star, and Jennifer Kimball a lesser-known but no less talented interpreter and craftsperson in the Boston singer-songwriter scene, the two whet their teeth on the folkscene as The Story, a duo which came together when the two discovered each other finding beautiful, oft-dissonant harmonies among the more mainstream triads while in a chorus at Amherst College in 1981.

Local buskers at first, and then struggling artists with day jobs through most of the decade after graduation, the girls were finally signed in 1989, and things looked good for a while. But sadly, artistic differences soared even as Electra Records cherry-picked 'em from lesser-known folk label Green Linnet for a debut rerelease and a second album in 1993, using their sound to leverage an entry into the fledgling AAA radio format. Though the effort was a critical success by all accounts - WXPN listeners named The Angel In The House the #1 album of the year upon its release - the band dissolved the following year, and Brooke took the name and ran away with it, only shedding "and the Story" from her band name for her own sophomore effort.

Since then, both artists have tended to avoid mention of their time together, as if to suggest that their small canon represents the best of neither. But though the duo was obscure and short-lived, thanks to a command performance as "Jonatha and Jennifer" in the library at my high school just after their first album came out on, their twenty-odd collected works still echo in my ears, surfacing on mix tapes and finding their way into the perennial lists I make in anticipation of a week's theme here at Star Maker Machine - which is where I found this one, a high-production yet no less moving also-ran worth reheating, the title track from their final release.

Come to think of it, this would have made a solid story for our recent Discoveries theme, too. C'est la vie, I guess.

Leftovers (Advice): Don’t Fear the Reaper

Unto Ashes: Don‘t Fear the Reaper


It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when I was not a part of Star Maker Machine. Advice week happened two weeks before my first post, so I never had the chance to share this one.

I had heard of Goth music. The goths were the ones with the dark make-up rings around their eyes, who hung out in poorly lit clubs. They shopped at Hot Topic, wore mostly black, and were obsessively morbid. I always assumed that the music was loud and dirgy, a sort of very slow metal with glam touches. But, one holiday season, my wife found herself in Hot Topic with my niece’s Christmas list. The music playing intrigued her enough to bring home a CD of music from the Projekt label, and this version of Don’t Fear the Reaper was on it. I discovered that there is a softer side to goth music, and that I like it. Here, Reaper is reimagined as a folk ballad, with beautiful vocal harmonies on top of a solo acoustic guitar. Some other instruments come in late in the song, but that’s mostly it. Elsewhere, Unto Ashes brings medieval and Renaissance classical influences into their music, and it’s a fascinating mix.

Leftovers (Magic): You Made Me Believe In Magic


Bay City Rollers: You Made Me Believe In Magic


The Bay City Rollers have undergone a partial rehabilitation over the past few years, with their music now unironically regarded as better than we (that is, people who grew up in the 1970s) were used to acknowledge, and their silly tartan outfits seen as a marker of their taste-challenged times rather than as the fashion disasters that they were, and the girls who screamed for them now our wives (whisper it, though, that I was a young male fan before the first public follicles fought their way to the surface).

Truth is, the music mostly was not really good, a few stand-out tracks aside. Oh, but how good these few tracks are. Saturday Night is an almost perfect pop song, but even better is the song only Americans, Germans and Japanese seemed to like. Recorded by an act with greater credibility, You Made Me Believe In Magic might have become a pop classic. Appearing on BCR’s final album with Leslie McKeown on lead vocals, 1977’s It’s A Game, it stalled at #34 in the UK charts. With David Bowie’s producer Harry Maslin at the console (which explains the bizarre cover of Rebel Rebel on the LP), BCR came up with a catchy, muscular pop song that, despite disco strings, has aged very well. A good cover version by the right act could become a huge hit.

Soon McKeown would leave the band, to be replaced by Duncan Faure, singer of the iconic South African band Rabbit (which also produced Yes’ Trevor Rabin). I’ve been told that the BCR albums with Faure were pretty good, but the band sank like a stone. Apparently there are at least two rival reincarnations of BCR touring; one of them led by McKeown.

Post by Any Major Dude. Being that he's the newest SMMer around these parts, he missed Magic week (and nearly every other week too), but we hope he's game to never miss another. Thanks again, Dude!