Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Punctuation: fun.

fun.: All The Pretty Girls
[purchase the studio version]
[check out this version on Daytrotter]

A few years ago, probably when my daughter was in high school, she discovered that I had songs in my iTunes library from a band called The Format. To this day, I have no memory of how I got them—probably from some free online sampler, or because I had read a review about the band. I can’t say that I paid the songs all that much attention—they sounded good, so I put them on my iPod. It turned out that my daughter had, independently, discovered the band, and really liked them, so we were able to bond over that.

The Format, however, broke up, and the lead singer, Nate Ruess, who has a voice and theatricality that has reminded more than one person of Freddie Mercury, joined up with a few other musicians, notably Andrew Dost, of Anathallo, and Jack Antonoff, of Steel Train, to form a new band. They wanted to call it Fun, but according to the band, a Scandinavian death metal band already had the name, and suggested that they modify it. So, they decided to use a lower case “f” and add a period, so that they would, someday, be eligible for this SMM theme.

Fun.’s first album, Aim and Ignite was quite good, mixing pop, prog, rock and other influences into a sound that was different from most of the other stuff around. It got pretty good reviews, and had some success, including getting a song on an Expedia commercial. My daughter introduced her older brother (and her father) to fun. My son, away at college, picked up the fun. standard, and embarked on a personal crusade to promote them. Through this effort, mostly on tumblr and Twitter, he not only became part of a family of fun. fans, but began to interact with the members of the band, first through Twitter, and later meeting them at shows.

In early 2012, fun. released Some Nights and shortly after that took over the world. For people like my son, it was a vindication of their devotion to the band, and when the band was still mostly playing shows in smaller venues that were booked before their meteoric rise, they still made time to see my son. In fact, on his birthday in 2012, another member of my son’s fun. “family” was backstage at a show in Canada and videotaped members of fun. calling my son and wishing him a “Happy Birthday”. Not only that, when the album hit #1 on iTunes, the band tweeted their thanks to their fans, and mentioned my son by name. Which is pretty cool.

Personally, I liked Some Nights, but preferred the less produced sound of Aim and Ignite. Today’s song, “All the Pretty Girls,” appeared on that album, but the version above is from a Daytrotter session from 2009, recorded live in the Daytrotter studios in Iowa, and is even more stripped down. (And, if you don’t know what Daytrotter is, you should. Click on the link above and discover an incredible archive of similar live performances by a huge variety of artists, available to listen for free, and to download for a pretty low membership price).

As someone who has been a music fan all of my life, I was amazed at how social media has allowed fans to interact and relate to musicians in ways that I never could have imagined. More recently, it seems that my son’s fun. fanaticism has tempered somewhat. He now has a job that keeps him busy, and he and his girlfriend have a social life. And it appears that the increased demands on the members of fun. that come with their exploding popularity have limited their interaction with fans like my son.

But it always has been that way—you fall hard for a band, you obsess about the band, then you move on, often tucking away your feelings without totally losing them. Popular music is essentially predicated on this, and continues to provide serial opportunities to fall in love. I think that most people—at least people who care about music—maintain a catalogue of music that was, at one point, a favorite, even if they haven’t listened to it for a while. And when that music emerges—on the radio, in a random iPod playlist, at a wedding or on the soundtrack of a TV show—you remember how strongly you felt about it back in the day.

I’m willing to bet that when my son is my age now, and he hears a fun. song, however music is being delivered in 30 years, he will remember back to the end of his college years, and how he felt about the band and their music. Unlike me, when I think about the music l listened to in college, he will also remember his personal interactions with them, on social media, on the phone, and even in person. And that is also pretty cool.

Monday, November 11, 2013


96 TEARS: ? and the Mysterians
Purchase link

I was never sure where the idea that punctuation occupied an alternate alphabet came from, but it certainly seems to have been the case, ooo, well, at least as long ago as swearing. Or, rather, swearing being seen as too impolite to sully ones eyes with. Fine for ears, but even now many newspapers shy from printing all those words with "f"s and "c"s. I'm not even sure if SMM would thank me for spelling them out, especially as I mention this merely to wrest your attentions. This post is not in the least sweary or confrontational.

I remember the first time I heard this song. I was a young man in London, exploring both the city and my imagination, visiting all those places I had heard of and that sounded sufficiently outre and cutting edge to make me seem anything but the middle class mummy's boy I probably was. The ICA was one such place, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, just behind Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch. I reckoned there would be a whole lot of crazy art there, and hippies and stuff. Hey, maybe even some nudes. It was, sadly, quite a disappointment, being full of odd and rather dull exhibits to my innocent eyes. But, it did have a juke box. (I have to say that as I type I wonder how sound my memory is, wondering how likely, even if it did, is it that I would have played it, but I am sure this happened. Can anyone confirm?) And I liked the name of the song. And the name of the band. That may have almost been enough, as I was, you may already have appreciated, a somewhat precious and  precocious child, but the sound that came out the front of the wurlitzer was something so much more. Rinky dink single finger organ, snarled vocals and repetition. This was 1975 and it was already nearly a decade old. I had to have this and I eventually tracked a copy of it down, years later, in a 2nd hand record stall, when such things were on every corner.

So who were ? and the Mysterians, and who was ? himself? It seems they were all 2nd gen mexicans  from Michigan, naming themselves after a 1957 japanese sci-fi film. Originally with no vocalist, when Rudy Martinez joined them, he took on the snappy monicker of ?. "96 Tears" appeared in 1996, which was a smash in the US, selling over a million copies, launching an acclaimed career. Or not, as, like me, I guess you would be fairly hard pressed to think of the name of anything else they ever did. Hell, I can't even remember the b side, yet, through the power of wiki, it looks as if a version of the band, sans ?, lurches on to this day. But who cares, like the altogether not dissimilar "Wooly Bull" by Sam the Sham and the Phaorohs, if you had but one song that you could be remembered by, wouldn't you want it to be like them. I know I would.

I was always amazed how few cover versions were ever made, thinking it a shoo-in to be covered when the term punk rock was resurrected  from 60's garage bands to, well, 70's garage bands, albeit an ocean apart. Eventually, of course, towards the end of their classic era, the Stranglers did this version, which, however much I like the Stranglers, is distinctly 2nd division. They don't look as cool either.

Punctuation: Everything You Wanted to Know About !!!

10cc's 1978 album, Bloody Tourists, remains an all time favorite of mine even though I know, as a rock snob, I shouldn't care for anything after the implosion that sent two original members, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, packing years earlier.

If I could go back in time, would I snatch the Bloody Tourists cassette out of my teen-age hands? Not a chance! There's plenty of great music here. The UK #1 single "Dreadlock Holiday" is the best known song, but there's a stretch of Side Two that's also brilliant: "Life Line", "Tokyo" and "Old Mister Time"

Eric Stewart's  "Everything You Wanted To Know About !!! (Exclamation Marks)" isn't one of the best tunes on the album, but it mines the same sex-obsessed silliness to which 10cc often resorted ( in "The Dean And I" from the debut, "Head Room" from How Dare You! and "Shock on the Tube" from the same Bloody Tourists). 

In this case the young, virgin singer fails to perform in his first outing with a prostitute:

She had to laugh
I nearly died
Some Superstud!
There's more to this than meets the eye

By the way, 10cc was never afraid of punctuation marks. The B-side to their second 10cc single, "Johnny Don't Do It" is "4% of Something".

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Punctuation: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

CSNY: Almost Cut My Hair

What do The Hollies, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield have in common aside from the fact that they were all successful bands in the mid to late sixties? The answer, of course, is: they were spawning grounds for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (sometimes referred to as CSNY – but that moniker doesn’t highlight the punctuation necessitated by this week’s theme)

1970’s Déjà Vu, the first album with all 4, followed on the eponymous CSN album from 1969. With the exception of “Woodstock” (written by Joni Mitchell), all songs on the album were written by band members. My favorite of their albums, Déjà Vu’s vocal work showcases the height of their harmony. Sadly, throughout the band’s existence, interpersonal dis-harmony was an issue. History has it that even by the release of Déjà Vu, the band had already broken up for all intents and purposes. Dominant individuals all, right from the start, Neil Young had a contract that allowed him to pursue work with his Crazy Horse band and Graham Nash was more or less on loan to Atlantic courtesy of some David Geffen finesse.  In fact, the band’s name itself is indicative of the members’ assertiveness: no one leader, no collaborative name.

The band was equated with protest during the Vietnam war era. The song “Ohio” specifically focused on the killings at Ohio State following anti-war protests. And “Almost Cut My Hair”, waves the “freak flag” proudly. Do compare the 70’s photo at the top with the visual in the clip below: more or less Crosby's current appearance .
I'm not givin' in an inch to fear
If you're thinkin' "KKafa ... Deja Vu", you may be right: