Friday, November 27, 2009

Bubble Puppy -- "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" (1969)


If you've found your place at last
Then you need not use the looking-glass

I disagree. I don't care whether you've found your place or you're still looking, a looking-glass sure can come in handy. Sometimes you need to check out how your hair looks -- see if you are still looking fine in general. How are you gonna do that without the ol' looking-glass?

Bubble Puppy was just a one-hit wonder, but it was one hell of a hit. The song made it to number 14 on the Billboard top 100, which I find surprising -- it's a very radical song.

I remember hearing this song on AM radio when I was a junior in high school. I almost drove my parents' 1962 Chevy Biscayne station wagon (6-cylinder engine, three on the tree, no a/c, and a vacuum tube radio that took about a minute to warm up) right into a ditch. This song is hot, hot, hot. I've never heard anything quite like it since, and I trust I never will.

Bubble Puppy was formed in San Antonio, but moved to Austin before "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" was released. Texas was sort of a psychedelic music hot spot in those days, believe it or not. The most famous Texas psychedelic band was the 13th Floor Elevators (I'll get around to them eventually) and the astonishingly weird The Red Crayola. Bubble Puppy put out one album (it flopped except for this song), changed labels, changed names (they renamed themselves Demian after the Herman Hesse novel), put out another album (it flopped), and broke up.

The first time Bubble Puppy played live before a big audience was as the opening act for The Who in San Antonio. They must have been pretty good -- their official website proclaims them to be the "most feared opening act in rock & roll history." (The most famous story about an opening act upstaging the main attraction involves Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. It's apocryphal, according to reliable sources, which is a real shame.)

Click here for an absolutely insane animation video of the song by an art collective named Paper Rad.

Here's a slightly less creative video:


Here's an Amazon.com link to this song:














Here's an iTunes link to this song: BubblePuppy - Hot Smoke - Hot Smoke and Sassafras



Eurythmics -- "Would I Lie to You?" (1985)


Would I lie to you, honey?
Now would I say something that wasn't true?

Oh, please. You really don't know the answer to that question?


Of course I would lie to you. And you'd lie to me or anyone else if you thought you could get away with it.

Everyone lies. Men lie. Women lie. I don't think dogs lie, but cats certainly do.


Here's the music video:




Here's a video of a live performance I really like.




I like it because there's a really good drum solo. You believe me, right? Would I lie to you, honey?  



Here's a link you can use to order the song from iTunes:

Would


Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:



Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Rolling Stones -- "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968)

Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste

When we were in junior-high school (7th-8th-9th grades), I and many of my friends devoted a lot of our attention to top-40 music. The Beatles were universally recognized as the best band on the radio, but we disagreed over who was the best of all the rest. My pick -- the Rolling Stones -- turned out to be a pretty good one, although Mick Jagger turned out to be something of a phony, and I think they should have stopped touring decades ago. (My best friend wasn't so lucky. He hitched his wagon to Herman's Hermits -- later he quietly switched his allegiance to Simon and Garfunkel, which was a little better, I guess.)

By the time we were in high school, we focused less on singles and more on albums. Rubber Soul and Revolver produced some hit singles, but were viewed more as a whole than a collection of individual parts -- as was the first Led Zeppelin album and many others. The Rolling Stones had some good albums prior to Beggars Banquet, but that was their first great LP.

Track one, side one of that album -- issued in a rather plain white jacket with a simple cursive-script title after the original filthy-toilet cover (here's a link) was deemed unsuitable for the American market -- was the immortal "Sympathy for the Devil," a song whose lyrics outdid almost anything else that had come along before it in terms of intellectual sophistication. It was an apologia pro vita sua of sorts sung by the devil himself ("Just call me Lucifer"), with references to Pontius Pilate's decision, the Russian Revolution, the Nazi blitzkreig, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, and various other bits of nasty business for which the Prince of Darkness is often given the credit. The song was over six minutes long, and doesn't sound a bit dated 40-plus years after it's original release.

Here's a link to the song on Amazon.com:













Here's a link to the song on iTunes: The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet - Sympathy for the Devil

I remember reading a review of the album in Newsweek, which mentioned the song's use of "politesse," a French word that can be translated simply as "politeness," but is better understood as meaning formal or genteel politeness. (Remembering to say "please" and "thank you" when you ask someone to pass the mashed potatoes doesn't mean you have politesse. We're talking the kind of politeness this is practiced by guys who wear morning coats and striped trousers when they drop by the ambassador's digs for tea or a spot of sherry.) The point of the article was that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were much more than shaggy-haired teen idols cranking out boy-loves-girl lyrics employing a 6th-grade vocabulary. In fact, they were sophisticated and intellectual -- current-day Cole Porters or Ira Gershwins, if you will.

We were all terribly concerned in those days with proving to our elders that the bands we listened to (the Doors, the Kinks, the Who, et al.) deserved to be taken seriously. I remember how one friend of mine insisted that parents listen to a song on his brand-new Steppenwolf album that he hadn't listened to yet but understood made a strong anti-drug statement. Imagine his surprise (and that of his parents) when John Kay got to the chorus of that song:

God damn the pusher
God damn, I say, the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man.

After I bought Beggar's Banquet and listened to it a few thousand times, I found the sheet music for the album at the local music store. I didn't play the guitar, but I was a very good student pianist back then, so I attempted to play "Sympathy for the Devil," and "Parachute Woman," and "Stray Cat Blues," and all the rest on the piano, reading the sheet music more or less literally. That didn't work out quite as well as I hoped.

A few years later, when I was in college, I was hanging around with a pretty bad crowd -- a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals and poseurs. One of my friends was a foreign-film aficionado (is my overuse of foreign words starting to get annoying, or is it more my affectation of italicizing them that is getting on your nerves?), and he announced to us one day that there was going to be a midnight showing of the 1968 Jean-Luc Godard film titled Sympathy for the Devil at a local theater. Godard, one of the founding members of the French New Wave filmmaking movement, was also a Marxist -- which gave him beaucoup street cred to early-1970's vintage American college students. Our friend was absolutely breathless with excitement (that's a little joke for you Godard fans out there) when he shared these glad tidings, and we all started counting the days until the big night.

Godard's Sympathy for the Devil combines footage of the Rolling Stones' recording various takes of that song -- which started as something quite different than the song that ended up on their album -- with shots of members of the Black Panthers reading from various half-baked revolutionary texts and a lot of other tedious and obscure political dreck. For a Rolling Stones fan like myself, the documentary footage of Mick, Keith and the boys in the recording studio was somewhat interesting, at least through the first few takes of the song -- eventually even the charm of that began to wear a little thin. The rest of the movie was appallingly boring.

Here's the trailer -- it makes the movie seem like it might be almost interesting. But don't be fooled.



I saw my friend a few days later and asked him what he thought of the movie. He said that it was perhaps the greatest film he had ever seen. I instantly realized that he and I saw the world very differently indeed.

That midnight showing was the end of my life as a pseudo-intellectual and the beginning of my life as an anti-intellectual. The culmination of my anti-intellectual phase came a year or two later, in a college class of mine titled "Contemporary Culture."

There were no lectures in that class. Instead, we attended various cultural events, and wrote papers on our experiences. We went to a Van Cliburn concert, saw Truffaut's The 400 Blows, visited the home of art patrons John and Dominique de Menil (which was since converted to an art museum), and spent an evening in the Rothko Chapel, which featured 14 large and essentially identical and very dark monochromatic paintings. (Anyone who has seen these paintings won't be surprised to learn that the artist who created them, Mark Rothko had a long struggle with from depression. He committed suicide in 1970.) I thought I was going to lose my mind that night. Having to sit and stare at these almost-black canvases for three hours was the worst kind of sensory deprivation. (You can get an idea of what the paintings look like by clicking on this link. Once you do that, imagine what it would be like to sit and stare at them for three hours.)

For our final project in this class, a friend of mine and I told the story of a made-up modern composer, complete with brief excerpts from his nonexistent compositions performed by me on a piano -- those excerpts consisting of totally random banging on the keys. Our creation's biography started out in a reasonably plausible fashion but got more and more absurd as it went along. We had him die by falling out of a malfunctioning Ferris wheel at an amusement park in Transylvania. (I was a great fan of Bela Bartok, a very real modern composer who was a native of Romania.) Naturally, the class swallowed our ridiculous story hook, line, and sinker -- even the professor (who later claimed to have been suspicious that we had made the whole thing up, but didn't say anything because he was afraid of offending us -- by which he meant he was as clueless as the other students, or didn't have the confidence in his critical abilities to call us out as phonies).

Our point -- that (like the Emperor in the Hans Christian Andersen story) contemporary art, music, writing, etc., had no clothes, and the artists and critics and academics who tried to persuade us otherwise were just as naked -- was far from original, and I doubt that our presentation was especially clever or creative. We were shooting fish in a barrel -- our target (pseudo-intellectualism among college students in the early 1970's) was so fat and slow-moving that we really couldn't have missed.

To be honest, I'm not totally cured of my pseudo-intellectualism. I still occasionally pick up a modern novel that the New Yorker say is to die for, or watch an avant garde film that the avant garde critics all love. But most of the time I manage to resist wasting my time on such nonsense. Before my road-to-Damascus experience at that midnight showing of Godard's film, I thought that I was going to have to read Finnegan's Wake someday if I wanted to think of myself as an educated man. Now I've know that life is too short to waste time trying to decipher Joyce. (I feel the same way about Virginia Woolf, but a friend of mine whose opinions I have the utmost respect for has told me otherwise, so I may have to give her another chance. But only one.)

Of course, being an anti-intellectual is just as much a pose as being a pseudo-intellectual. I'm a very smart guy, and I'm highly educated (albeit with a number of large gaps in my education) and a voracious reader. But I'm also a small-town kid who didn't go to Europe until I was 50, doesn't speak a foreign language, and is afraid to attempt to pronounce a large number of the proper nouns I've seen in all the books I've read because I've never heard those names pronounced and am afraid of sounding foolish in front of the more sophisticated types who know exactly how to say them correctly.

So it's hard for me to know which way to go. I can be the sophisticated Ivy Leaguer who remembers his humble roots, or I can be the unapologetic redneck who knows good writing and good art when he sees it -- and good music when he hears it. (As this blog proves.) Or I can alternate between the two depending on the environment -- always in doubt as to which is the real me.

Here's the infamous performance of the song at Altamont in 1969. (I have no idea why there is a brief excerpt from "Mad Max" at the beginning of this.)


One final note. I know that I said that I was going to be talking about songs that were relatively obscure and unknown, and "Sympathy for the Devil" is hardly that -- every classic rock station in the country has it on its regular playlist. But I create the rules and I can break them. It's my prerogative. Anyone who feels as if he or she has been misled is welcome to a full refund.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mudhoney -- "Into Yer Shtik" (1995)


You're so hounded . . . ungrounded . . . surrounded
By scum-sucking leeches who will shovel your sh*t

Hey guys, don't hold back on our account -- tell us what you really think.

Mudhoney is usually described as the first grunge band. (One of the band's members is credited with first using the term to describe this style of music.) I'm not sure if this is really a grunge song -- for one thing, it wasn't released until about a year after Kurt Cobain's death, after grunge's popularity had peaked.

Mudhoney got its name from a 1965 Russ Meyer movie, the poster for which featured this line: "Passion debased by lust . . . leaves a taste of evil." Here's how one cinephile summarized its plot:

It's 1933, in the midst of the Depression and Prohibition. Calif, a stranger with a past walks into Spooner, Missouri on his way from Michigan to California. He hires on with Lute Wade to earn some travelling money, but gets entangled in a bad family situation: Lute's daughter is married to Sidney, a good-for-nothing drunk that frequents the rural equivalent of a whorehouse and beats his wife and is just waiting for Lute to kick the bucket to get his money. When Sidney and a local wacko preacher begin orchestrating a smear campaign against Calif, he finds it difficult to conceal his past and his growing affection for Sidney's wife.

The band members never saw the movie.

I had Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains CDs back in the early 1990's, but I don't recall ever hearing anything by Mudhoney until recently. My Brother the Cow is a pretty strong CD, but this is by far my favorite song on it.

For those of you who didn't grow up watching Borscht Belt comedians on The Ed Sullivan Show, "shtik" (more commonly transliterated as "shtick") can be defined as a somewhat contrived and obvious comedy mannerism or routine. Here, I think it's used to mean the characteristics or activities that sum up what the various people in the song are really like -- "into yer shtik" is very close to "into your thing."

It certainly meets my main criteria for a true rock song -- it is loud and generally pissed off at the world. "Into Yer Shtik" views the world as being populated largely by fools and (even worse) phonies, and it is afraid to tell it like it is.

Here's what the singer has to say about one character in the song:

Susie's just a girl
Who's doing her job
That came to New York
And wanted a car
Working with the management
To the stars
Kissing ass
Is a part of her job . . .
Oh she loves her job
What the hell?

She does it so well

Here's an iTunes link to this song: Mudhoney - My Brother the Cow (Expanded Version) - Into Yer Shtik

Here's an Amazon.com link:
 











 

And since I couldn't find a performance of the song on YouTube, here's the trailer for the Russ Meyer movie.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Last -- "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" (1977)


See that girl with the soft blue eyes
They never seem to close or show surprise

I'm not going to beat around the bush -- this is the best rock single in history, and it's really not even close. And I could easily have missed it altogether -- which makes me wonder what other great records are out there that I've never heard.

I moved to Washington, DC, in the fall of 1977, and quickly discovered the Georgetown University radio station -- like a lot of college radio stations, it played a lot of crazy, random stuff you never heard on commercial radio stations. For some reason (there were different conspiracy theories going around at the time), that station went off the air a year or two later.

One of its DJs was given a Saturday evening show (7 to 10 pm, I think) on the old WHFS -- a very quirky commercial (barely) radio station that is often mentioned in George Pelecanos books. I don't know the guy's name, but the show was called "The Mystic Eye," and I taped it on my stereo cassette recorder whenever I could. There's a lot of duplication in the 100 hours or so of tapes I still have, and "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" popped up several times, but somehow I never captured the DJ giving the name of the song or the band.  [NOTE: Months later, I got an e-mail from a fellow fan of the old WHFS, who told me the DJ's name was Steve Lorber and gave me his telephone number.]

Later, I made a single 90-minute compilation tape featuring my favorite songs from "The Mystic Eye," and this song closed it -- the ne plus ultra of a lot of great, bizarre music. I made a number of copies of that tape for my friends, and I always told them about the last song, and how frustrated I was not to know what it was. Once I even called a local radio station and left a message for a DJ who had worked at 'HFS back in the day, thinking he might know something, but I never heard back.


Fast forward to the 21st century, and my discovery that you could easily find song lyrics on the Internet. This song was a live recording, and my copies of it were often incomplete and always pretty hissy, and I couldn't begin to decipher all the lyrics. But I did pick up the phrase "plastic naugahyde" near the end. ("Modified hypocrites" probably would have worked just as well as a search term, but I had no idea that's what they were singing.)

This one's for you
You modified hypocrites
God! To raise your children like goldfish
In plastic naugahyde cells

I got exactly one hit when I plugged "plastic naugahyde" into a search engine (probably Alta Vista, not Google -- this was quite awhile ago, boys and girls): http://www.dannolte.com/last/ (now http://www.laexplosion.com/), where I found everything I wanted to know about "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" and The Last. My search was over. Eureka.

The album version of the song is pretty good, but much more top-40 in feel -- this version (released as a single) is MUCH better. (Don't miss the 13th Floor Elevators-ish ululation at about 1:40.)

Here it is, courtesy of YouTube -- I strongly recommend that you have the lyrics in front of you when you listen (they are available on the "LA Explosion" website), but I'm probably wasting my breath. You'll just do whatever you feel like doing regardless of what I tell you.


Oddly, I never listened to any other music by The Last (a band that has been described by reviewers as bringing together surf music, British Invasion harmonies, pop-punk, and neo-psychedelia). I really should go back to the "LA Explosion" site or iTunes or Amazon or wherever and give some of The Last's other songs a chance -- they might be just as good as this one.

So how do I plan to top this song? I don't. This blog isn't like those lame syndicated "top 40" radio shows that start with #40 and count down to #1. I could drop dead before I find time to post again, or I could simply forget my password. So I want to be sure that if this blog turns out to be a one-post wonder, that this song is the subject of that post.

Speaking of the girl with the soft blue eyes who is described in the two lines from the song that I quoted at the beginning of this post, I think I've been looking for her since I first heard this song in 1978 or 1979. (She doesn't have to have blue eyes, although that would be a nice touch.)

If you want to buy the live version of "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" from iTunes, click here:

She


Or if you want to buy it from Amazon, click here:






What? Who? WHY?



What? My posts to "2 or 3 Lines" will always start with 2 or 3 lines from a song that you should know about but may not -- followed by a lot of miscellaneous stuff (that's the "and so much more" part), which may be related to that song or may not be. The time period will range from the mid-1960's (when I hit puberty) to now. Consecutive posts will usually cover songs that are at least 5 years apart, and preferably 10 years apart, but not always. There's probably going to be more stuff from the late 60's and 70's than from the last few years, but the were will be quite a bit about music from the last decade as well. 

Of course, I reserve the right to break my own rules at any time -- e.g., I may quote not just 2 or 3 lines, but 4 or even 5 -- or a lot more. The posts may be long or short or in-between, depending on the song itself, its historical or cultural significance (if any), and its significance to me. Be prepared to read about what was going on in my life when the song was released, why I like it or think it is worthy of discussion, blah blah blah.

Who? Who I am and how I became what I am today is very relevant to the songs I've chosen to feature on this blog, but I'm not going to give you any kind of biography here. This blog is more about the music than it is about me. Of course, you'll learn things about me from the posts, and I'm happy to respond to e-mails or comments if you want to know more. (Here are a few basic facts: I'm very good-looking, smart, and speak several languages without a trace of an accent. I don't always drink beer -- but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.)

WHY? Good question. I'm not really sure -- if I had a shrink, he or she might know. For one thing, there's a lot of music out there that has been forgotten or was never discovered in the first place -- I'm still stumbling across great songs from the 60's and 70's that I somehow missed -- and you need to know about them! 

For another thing, I like to write and I especially like to write about myself, and as you'll see, there's a lot about me here. (And forget about what I said above under "Who?" -- this blog is more about me than it is about the music.)

A word from our sponsors. At the end of each post, you'll find an Amazon link so you can also buy it if you like. (I'll make some money if you decide to do that.)  Where possible, I've included links to YouTube videos or other links to the entire song, live versions of that song, cover versions of that song, or anything else may I stumble across.