Saturday, August 29, 2020

Count: Count Me In

purchase [ LRB Playing to Win album]

A trip to Australia is on my bucket list, for sure. Given my experience with my yearly trip to see my mom in Eastern Washington state, which takes 5 days just to travel there and back- a trip from Istanbul to Australia seems ... outlandish.

Australia, because this post is about a group from Down Under.

When I think Down Under, the first music that comes to mind is - of course - "I come from a land down under", the classic from Men At Work. Yes, the Wiki tells us that there are lots of other famous Aussie musicians [ link], but my age and generation bring up this one first.

Howsomever, my initial search for music related to the current theme drew me to a song by the Australian Little River Band. The Ranker link above has these two ranked at numbers 23 and 24 (with the Little River Band one step ahead as I post).

Little River Band, according to the Wiki, came on the scene a few years before Men At Work, and they are still at it in one configuration or another, but not much in the way of original members - and a fair amount of litigation in the process.

Various songs titled Count Me In are listed, starting with a Gary Lewis and the Playboys piece from the 1960s with the Little River Band's piece nesteled into the middle of the list chronologically. None seem to have much relation to each other, so here's a smattering of them:

Gary Lewis (1960s)

311 (this century)

COUNT: 1,2,3,4,

There are few more rousing introductions to any piece of rhythmic music than the exhortation to the band of a swift entry count, the musical equivalent of get on your marks, get set, go. And many have made much of this, with particular favourites being the Ramones (on just about everything) and, in the middle eight drop of Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen. (It's at 3.04.) But there is another, a far more languid take on it, the appeal of which lingers for all time, making me smile even now.....

By slowing it down, as well as getting to 6, Richman totally blew my twenty year old mind when I first heard it, 'with my radio on', and it became one of the few singles this album buyer bought. Adding to the joy and the confusion was that it was on both sides; the version above nominally the A side, Roadrunner (twice) being on the flip. Even more confoundingly, 'twice' was the earlier version, '72, I think, against the '74 of 'once'. The charts were clearly not ready for this garage band romp until softened by the early UK stirrings of punk in 1977. A relatively early adopter, I was already in thrall to the Beserkely record label, the self-entitled 'Home of the Hits', populated with such delights as the Rubinoos and Greg Kihn. Trivia moment: although Roadrunner (once) is often attributed to the Modern Lovers, Richman is here actually backed by the Greg Kihn band. I don't know whether it made any impression in the U.S., but it captured a credible 11 in the UK singles chart. Richman later toured, this time with the Modern Lovers, promoting the LP, Rock'n'Roll With the Modern Lovers, getting another hit with the equally quirky (and even stranger) Egyptian Reggae, an instrumental. I didn't catch the tour, deeply of a friend who did, hooking up with the band and accompanying the band for the rest of the tour and to Germany. A very surreal experience, I gather and I am uncertain whether he was ever the same.

This is neither the time nor place to discuss further the charm of Richman, taking his idiot savant persona further and forward in ever more endearing/annoying directions. (I have R&RwtMLs and can still enjoy it, but I would confess to that being entirely as much as I need. There are only so many Ice Cream Men and Rocking Leprechauns I can stomach.)

The earlier Roadrunner (twice) probably deserves a little background, if only to namecheck the produce, welsh Velvet Underground man John Cale, he perhaps appreciating the debt to VU song, Sister Ray, which is hardly dissimilar.

The lyrics of the song are also conveniently very conducive to a counting theme, as Richman returns, time and time again, in the chorus, a repeated and echoed refrain of Roadrunner, then applying the time old contrivance of emphasis: 'I said roadrunner once, I said roadrunner twice', failing to even leave it at that. It's a delight.
You're begging to ask, was there a Roadrunner (thrice)? Of course there was, a live version, a b side of a later single.

Once, twice, thrice.........

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Counting/Count: 12345678910

Human Sexual Response: 12345678910 

Did I ever see Human Sexual Response live? Did I interview them at WPRB? I have no memory of doing so, but there’s also a good chance that I did one or both of those things, because they performed at City Gardens in Trenton during my time at WPRB. 

I do remember playing their music on the radio pretty often, initially “Jackie Onassis” from their debut, Fig. 14 (where they rhymed “Onassis” with “sunglasses”), but there were a bunch of other good songs on that record. And their second disc, “In a Roman Mood” might have been better, with the highlight being “Land of the Glass Pinecones” a true earworm if ever there was one. (Note—the Allmusic biography of the band refers to this album as “a comparatively dour affair, loaded down with art rock pretensions and lifeless arrangements,” but the same site’s review of the album itself says that it is an “extraordinary album.” Who to believe? Me.) 

If you’ve never heard the band, try to track them down. Think a mix of Talking Heads, B-52s, and fellow Boston-area band Mission of Burma (but not really like any of them), often with sexually related lyrics, befitting a band named after the famous Masters and Johnson book. One of the good non-“Glass Pinecones” songs on the album is “12345678910” which, I think, is another sex-related song, but I’ve read the lyrics a bunch of times and can’t really be sure what it is about exactly. So, I’ll just let you decide. (Too bad that the song wasn’t on Midnight Oil’s album, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1). 

Despite generally good reviews and reportedly great live performances (which makes me think that I would have remembered seeing them), the band broke up after the second album. One member left music and went to work for Sun Microsystems. Most of the other members joined different bands, sometimes together, sometimes not, and one of the band members, Dini Lamot, became a drag performer. They have reunited for the occasional show, most recently in 2017. Here’s a video of our featured song from that show, and it looks like fun.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Count: You Can't Count On Me


Purchase: You Can't Count on Me, by the Counting Crows

A dual threat here: A warning that you can't count on me, by a band that has named itself by one half after the action of counting. Not by numbers, though but more the collective images of wishing and dreaming. The band has made a wonderful song referring to the children's fairy tale of its own collective, being a murder (that's a gathering of crows). We could throw in a song about murder by numbers, as well, and still be revolving in the same metaphorical and imagistic theatre (that's a song by the Police). 

"You Can't Count On Me" was the second single release from the Counting Crows mid-career reflection on transformation, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings. Here was an album that featured an A side that was a blistering collection of rare, fired up rockers, about fame, about success and excess. The B side was the comedown from the party, softer, more reflective, somber tunes, cottony and easier, as if to sooth the lingering hangover from Saturday night, and the overabundance that often leads to a the guilt of over-indulgence.

"You Can't Count On Me" serves as a bit of a warning, as well as a break up song. Adam Duritz, famous for his dating life (which is a bit criminal, given his talent for crafting poetry that triumphs as song, but is at its heart poetry, nonetheless), writes a lot about love, and the ease at which it fails, disappoints and breaks apart an otherwise resilient soul and psyche. This song is Duritz's final word, so to speak, about the disappointments of love and his acceptance at his own failures. When you listen to the work he's done since 2008, which sadly there hasn't been nearly enough of, Duritz seems more accepting of his losses, and has moved in a direction of his work that isn't as self-introspective. But at the time, "You Can't Count On Me" seemed to serve as the final word on his private life. 

And while the song seems to fit into the Saturday Nights side of the album, it's actually part of Sunday Mornings. Duritz said in an interview that he wanted to write a song about breakups that captured both the sadness of ending a relationship, but also showed the honest truth about the damages he felt he'd caused by coping to his culpability. It's a self-flagellating song, and Duritz pulls no punches on the sadness he knows he has caused. A brave sentiment, but one that fits with his ethos as a writer, to tell truths, no matter how hard, in a beautiful way. He said, "I wanted to write a song about leaving someone that alternated between honest sad feelings about the loss and brutally honest admissions about the damage done. However honest my regrets have been and however much I ‘did the right thing.’"*

The power of Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings comes from its relatability and realness. One need not be a rock star to regret excesses or the choices we've made. We hurt people, even when we don't intend to; we are self-serving creatures, even if we have the ability to recognize what we've done wrong and how we should have been better. We don't alway achieve redemption despite how hard we might work for it; even after we give up the habits that cause problems, after the initial lightness of freedom, we still feel the sorrow and the grief. Life can't always be a Saturday night; eventually the morning comes and we wake to a clarity, no matter how muddied or sad. 

The quote from the Adam Duritz interview comes from the always phenomenal and long lasting music blog, "Ryan's Smashing Life"