Saturday, July 28, 2018

Remedies: Love Potion Number 9

The Clovers: Love Potion Number 9


The Clovers started out before the rock and roll era, and became regulars on the rhythm and blues charts before anyone knew who Elvis Presley was. But they never had a number one song on the r & b charts, and never crossed over. Despite this, they were the original artists on a song that has endured long after most of the songs that charted in 1959 have been forgotten. Of course that song was Love Potion Number 9. Oddly, the song was their last major hit. The group had had lineup changes almost from the beginning, with a single member leaving at a time and being replaced. But right after Love Potion Number 9 charted, the group split in two, with both halves claiming the Clovers name. That would be the end of their popularity.

I can not help wondering what might have happened if they had stayed together. Love Potion Number 9 was the result of a big break for The Clovers. It was their first chance to work with the producing and songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. Lieber and Stoller are legends today, and rightly so. In the 1950s, it seemed that everything that bore their names turned to gold. Love Potion Number 9 would not become a major hit until it was covered by The Searchers in 1963, but I have always preferred the Clovers original version. Here, there is a nice New Orleans vibe to the rhythm that would be completely removed in the Searchers’ version.

The Coasters: Love Potion Number 9


The Clovers became the original artists on Love Potion Number 9 almost by accident. Right before Lieber and Stoller were hired for the session, they had been working with the Coasters, in a session that yielded the hits Charlie Brown, Along Came Jones, and Poison Ivy. If things had gone just a little differently, The Coasters might have been the original artists on Love Potion Number 9. They finally did record the song, as heard here, in 1971. This was a completely different take on the song then what they might have done in 1959. Times and musical tastes had changed, and The Coasters were clearly trying to update their sound with this jazzy funk take. The “Serve it up and drink it down” chorus vocal is new, and the Latin feel to the opening is something Santana might have done at the time. Curiously, there is a Santana video on YouTube that is mislabeled as Love Potion Number 9; it is actually a performance of Evil Ways, but the melodies are surprisingly similar.

The Lamours: Love Potion Number 9


I couldn’t resist including this wonderfully sassy version by the Lamours. They are clearly covering the Coasters’ version, retaining the “Serve it up and drink it down” chant and making the Latin vibe even more explicit. Male singers have always changed the year in the lyrics to keep them from being too old. So the original is “I’d been this way since 1956”, but the Coasters sang “1966”. The Lamours, however, are both shamelessly retro and female, so now we hear “I told her that I was a flop with guys/ I’d been this way since 1955”. So they are taking a 1971 version of the song, performing it now, and treating the lyric as though it was 1959 again. It’s a head scratcher for sure, but it sounds great.

Thursday, July 26, 2018


One might well question quite what medicine the band had in their pockets as you listen to this slow and dreamy waltz. Less the second coming of the Velvet Underground, as the british press cited them, this sounds more like the Shadows spaced out on quaaludes, with a brief hint of klezmer in the side streets. In a good way. I was a fan back in the day, their day, mid 90s, the band bigger in Europe than at home, the breakthrough being their UK Reading festival performance in 1993. (Now ain't that a line-up?!) Hell, you can even hear that performance here.

So who or what were Madder Rose? The brainchild of Billy Cote, songwriter and guitarist, and Mary Lorson, singer and frontperson, they came together in 1991 New York, an archetypal Greenwich Village loft band. Languor was very much a watchword for those days, and, although not perceived as bedfellows then, I can latterly see parallels with Mazzy Star and the Cowboy Junkies, as well as the Dandy Warhols and Low. This track, an instrumental closer, appears on their major label debut, 'Bring It Down', in 1993. Thanks to the support of John Peel, the UK underground through to alternative DJ I reference frequently, they secured that festival slot, selling 10k copies of that record in the UK as that took place.

Those of you, if any, who have access to this debut, may query, the featured song apart, my comparisons, but, as each successive album dropped, so the more energetic indie-isms became ever more reined in, the songs becoming more thoughtfully arranged, latterly adding even some restrained electronica to the mix. 1999's "Hello June Fool" was as far as this iteration got, sadly, the band then breaking up. It was, however, good to see their brand get a hearing on "The Sopranos" in 2007, from the same valedictory album. Remember it?

But the story didn't end there, both Cote and Lorson following through on solo works. I need here to discuss how and why I became drawn in. Cooking Vinyl, their eventual  record label, were a company that gave a good guarantee of quality. In the early 80s through 90s I was a huge fan of their roster, Oyster Band, Michelle Shocked, Jackie Leven, all sorts of left field fare. And they had a club deal: join, some sort of yearly fee, and they discounted hugely their product, provided enough was bought. That was how I caught Madder Rose and, better still, how I caught Mary Lorson's next project, Saint Low. You could argue this whole piece a shallow artifice around the presentation of a single song. To which I would respond: And?

Lorson's first solo album in this name, with some added Cote guitar duties, is the terrific, 2000's eponymous 'St. Low." And this is the closing track. Sure, she has done more since but, in my book, I rest my case. This always makes me feel a whole lot better. Try it. Sometimes I just want to play a song. That's all. Trust me. I am a doctor. If you can't love this, you don't have a heart.

Madder Rose
Saint Low

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Remedies: Cure For AIDS

Dan Bern: Cure For AIDS [purchase]

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went to see Karen Finley’s show, Grabbing Pussy (based on her new book, coincidentally published by a company partially owned by a friend). If you have never seen Karen, one of the most famous performance artists ever, you really should. Her shows, which focus on political and social issues, are always thought provoking. She makes connections and observations that are truly astounding. Watching her shows is like trying to drink from a fire hose--her words and ideas come at you in torrents, you can't take it all in, but what you are able to digest is pretty incredible.

We first met Karen years ago when I coached her daughter Violet, a friend of my daughter’s, in soccer, and became friendly with her and her ex-husband Michael. We’ve seen Karen’s shows where she channeled Liza Minnelli, Jackie O and others, but she is always her provocative self. This show, though, as you can tell from its title, was focused on the current groper-in-chief, and others, such as Harvey Weinstein, who used their power to exploit women. Karen also touched on many other things, including something that has profoundly affected her (as we have seen from her other shows and writings), the many friends that she lost over the years to AIDS.

When my wife and I arrived at the theater (early, of course), we were happy to see that Michael was there, and that Violet (who was a pretty good soccer player, and has created her own controversial art) had flown in from LA). Not surprisingly, many people in the crowd knew Karen, Michael, and Violet, and we were introduced to some of them. Joining us at the table was a gentleman who was introduced to us as Michael, another old friend, and it quickly became clear that he had an electric personality. At one point, Karen came out of the dressing room to say hi, and new Michael mentioned that he had seen an exhibition of works by David Wojnarowicz, an artist and AIDS activist who died of the disease in 1992, who had been a friend of theirs.

Our new friend, it turned out, is named Michael Alago, and he has had a fascinating life, some of which we learned chatting with him before the show, and more of it we learned from watching a documentary about him on Netfilx, with the great title, Who The Fuck Is That Guy? Alago, a gay Puerto Rican from Brooklyn was, and is, a music obsessive, whose vast knowledge of, and boundless enthusiasm for, music got him jobs at The Ritz, eventually booking the shows at that legendary venue, and as an A&R representative for Elektra Records, where he signed Metallica and executive produced Nina Simone's last album, and later at Geffen Records.

Michael (and Karen and Michael) and I are roughly the same age, and yet we lived very different lives. While I was obsessing over music in my suburban bedroom, and at WPRB, Alago was going to Max’s Kansas City, CBGB and other clubs, staying out all night, and hanging out with Bono, Johnny Lydon, Springsteen, the Dead Boys, Metallica, and many, many, many others (which you can see in the film). The three of them were part of a world of music, art, photography, and writing that was sadly filled with many people lost to AIDS, addiction, or both. And it struck me that while these losses devastated people like them, to me it was really more of an abstract concept because none of my friends died from these scourges. So, while I can certainly understand it when Karen discusses the effect of this lost generation of her friends, it can't really affect me the same way. But one of the things that great art can do is to allow you to experience feelings outside your personal existence.

Towards the end of Who The Fuck Is That Guy?, the discussion turns to the fact that Alago was HIV positive, and appeared, a number of times, to be on the edge of death, something that he was open about during our discussions at the theater. Now, because current-day Michael is all over the film, we know that he didn’t die then, and the film doesn’t really explain what happened, except to refer to new drug cocktails and regimens, so it is fair to assume that this is what “cured” him. And today, he appears to be in excellent health, he is clean and sober (although he did eat a bunch of french fries during Karen’s show), and he has left the music business to become a photographer.

Another thing that we all discussed before the show (I did mention that we got there early, right?) was the fact that there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of protest music against the president and his awful policies as there had been against the Vietnam War when we were kids. We had heard the CSN&Y song “Ohio” in the car coming into the city, and that song, about the killing of students at Kent State during an antiwar protest, was all over the radio then, and continues to be part of the classic rock canon. And it isn’t the only song like that. While there are anti-Trump songs, they don’t get played as broadly, which in part is a result of the way that the radio and music business has changed, but it also does seem that there just isn’t as much political music being made these days. Alago mentioned that Ministry recently released AmeriKKKant, which is overtly political, but it is unlikely to break into the mainstream. I brought up Dan Bern, about whom I have often written, who writes political songs (and poetry, and paints political pictures), but again, he doesn’t get all that much airplay. The Drive-By Truckers released a pointedly political album at the end of 2016, which got a reasonable amount of positive press, but was not heard much on mainstream media.

Back in 1998, Bern released an album, Fifty Eggs, produced by Ani DiFranco, which had, as one would expect from Bern, a bunch of topical songs (and one beautiful tribute to his sister). One of them was “Cure For AIDS.” At the time, the AIDS epidemic was still rampant—the number of HIV infections, globally, peaked in about 1997, the number of AIDS deaths globally was still rising, as were the number of people living with HIV. But in the US, AIDS deaths, as a result of new drug regimens, had recently begun to plummet. Bern’s song, though, posits a magic bullet-type cure for the disease, which resulted in a six-month long period of sexual excess, ready access to morning after pills, and the end of homophobia. And, most importantly, “Nobody was afraid.” Of course, none of that has happened, but it is certainly better now, when an HIV diagnosis is no longer a sure death sentence, and AIDS is no longer an easy excuse for hatred.

In March, Bern mangled some of the fingers on his left hand, and had surgery, which led to the removal of part of his middle finger, a partial remedy at best. He is out on tour—I know that at one point he had friends play guitar for him, but I’m not sure if he is able to play guitar now (there is at least one pretty famous guitarist who did pretty well without a middle finger on his right hand, though).

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Remedies: Medicated Goo

purchase [Medicated Goo]

As Darius noted, music itself is a remedy for what ails you. And Steve Winwood has long been one of my favorites to make me feel better. Not that Traffic's Last Exit album was that good, but it includes Medicated Goo, and that is a fine example of Traffic at its best.

I kind of like the imagery of the touring medicine show that the song evokes, and there have been a number of bands that styled or named themselves accordingly: Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show and Old Crow Medicine Show, as well as songs with lyrics that do the same: "Say, Say, Say" and "Your Song".

The song was co-written by Jimmy Miller, who also made music history with Blind Faith and the Rolling Stones.

It's not a very difficult song to play, so it's no surprise that there are a number of cover versions listed at YouTube:

There's a Dave Mason version but since he was part of Traffic, that may not count as a cover?

Scott Sharrard and the Brickyard Band

The Black Crowes


Band of Heathens

Jackie Greene

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Remedies: Rock and Roll Doctor

Little Feat: Rock and Roll Doctor


Different people have different definitions of what constitutes feel good music. Chances are, our new theme will bring out plenty of examples, because music that recommends a remedy should feel good. Certainly, that should be the case when the song itself advises music as the cure for what ails you. So, for me, it only makes sense to lead off with Little Feat in their classic line up. This was a band that took the blues rock that had developed in the 1960s, added at least a hint of New Orleans, especially in the rhythm section, and topped it all off with the tasty slide playing and skewed lyrical sensibility of Lowell George. That is a combination that certainly makes me feel real nice whenever I hear it.