Let Them Eat Crow: 3 Bands, 3 Years, Yet The Song Remains The Same

crow~~~~~~~_crowmusic_101bby Kevin Kimmes

The great cosmic river that is music can take you anywhere on any given night, oftentimes to destinations you never planned on visiting or even knew existed. Thus is what happened on Wednesday night when I decided to take “Crow Music”, the 1969 release by Minneapolis blues rockers Crow, out for a maiden spin.

Everything was going fine and I was enjoying myself when the third song on the album, “Thoughts”, keyed up and I went scrambling to find 2 other albums. Here, have a listen:

Now, I know what your thinking, “They ripped off Led Zeppelin!” Well, no they didn’t. Remember when I said that “Crow Music” was released in 1969? Well, Led Zeppelin’s “IV” wasn’t released until 1971.

So, Led Zeppelin ripped off Crow? Maybe, but there is probably one better solution. Someone in Crow was aware of Spirit.

You see, in 1968, one year prior to the release of “Crow Music”, Los Angeles based psych rockers, Spirit, had released a self titled debut album that featured an instrumental called “Taurus”. Go to the 45 second mark of video below and give it a listen:

It seems that while relatively unknown to the majority of music fans, musicians were well aware of the genius of Randy California, so much so that his acoustic guitar playing on “Taurus” was so obviously….borrowed? While Led Zeppelin has always stayed the course of claiming that they were the sole writers of “Stairway to Heaven”, recent legal action on the part of the estate of Randy California could finally add his name to the list of credited creators. It should be noted that Led Zeppelin was a support act for Spirit during their 1968 tour, so it can not be said that they were not aware of Randy California and his work.

For comparative purposes, I’m closing today with a little “Stairway….”, afterall:

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my Spirit is crying for leaving.”

Stay weird, my friends.

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One From The Vaults: The Backbeat Soundtrack

by Kevin Kimmes

BACKBEAT_ST1

“Listen
Do you want to know a secret
Do you promise not to tell, whoa oh, oh….”

While not a secret at the time of it’s release, the soundtrack to the 1994 film “Backbeat” has certainly become a forgotten gem that is worth dusting off and taking another look at. The film centers around the early days of the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany, with a focus on the relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon, as well as with Sutcliffe’s girlfriend Astrid Kirchher. While it would be safe to assume that the soundtrack would contain early Beatle performances, the filmmakers took a different route. Enter The Backbeat Band.

I can already sense the loss of enthusiasm from some of you, but just hold tight. You see, the band that was put together to recapture the raucous sounds of the early Beatles’ live act was an indie-rock supergroup unlike any other. See for yourself:

The Backbeat Band

Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs) – Vocals

Don Fleming (Velvet Monkeys) – Guitar/Vocals

Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) – Guitar

Mike Mills (R.E.M.) – Bass/Vocals

Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) – Drums

Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) – Vocals

Impressed? Well, you should be, because for as impressive of a lineup as that is on paper, what they committed to tape is even more impressive.

None of the songs performed were written by the Beatles, but instead were set staples from the time period which were originally written and recorded by other artists. Below is a track by track list with links to YouTube for each track:

1) Money

2) Long Tall Sally

3) Bad Boy

4) Twist and Shout

5) Please, Mr. Postman

6) C’mon Everybody

7) Rock ‘n’ Roll Music

8) Slow Down

9) Roadrunner

10) Carol

11) Good Golly Miss Molly

12) 20 Flight Rock

* “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” was included on the single for “Money”, but does not appear on the soundtrack.

So, there you have it, a 90’s indie rock supergroup unearthed for your ears only. This one will be our little secret. Enjoy.

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Zappadan: Change the Past, Fight The Future

by Kevin Kimmes

AmericanIdle

It has been over 20 years since Frank Zappa left the mortal coil. Upon discovering some of his writings from 1968, I got to thinking about what Frank might have thought about the music business and all the changes that have happened since his death. Hell, with his belief that time isn’t linear in the way that we commonly believe it is, what follows could be/has/is happening right now in some other time stream.

We Want The Airwaves, And By We, I Mean The Corporations

Research the list of names in “Freak Out” and you’ll find the names of several disc jockeys on the list. I hesitate to use the word DJ, as the modern connotations are not helpful here. Zappa was a fan of men like Wolfman Jack (whose voice is immortalized in the classic film “American Graffiti”) and Art Laboe (the man credited with coming up with the phrase “Oldies but Goodies”). Sadly, the disc jockey is a dead concept these days.

As a few corporations (Clear Channel being the main offender) bought up as much of the airwaves as they could, it became clear that the days of the man in the booth taking requests and introducing folks to new tunes were soon to be no more. Instead, they were replaced by a faceless voice playing the same 20 songs hour after hour, day after day with the sort of clockwork precision you can set a watch by. How did this all happen so fast? Well for that answer, I’ll let Corey Deitz of About.com explain:

Well, here’s how we got to where we are. Last century, in 1996, Congress passed the “Telecommunications Act of 1996”, which covered a lot of changes to cable, TV, telephone service, satellite and terrestrial Radio. Actually, only a small part of the law dealt with Radio but here’s what changed everything:

Title II, Sec. 202 (a) modified the previous law, now allowing any company to own as many total Radio stations as it wanted. In effect, the Congress shouted, “FOOD FIGHT”, created a buying frenzy and trashed “any provisions limiting the number of AM or FM broadcast stations which may be owned or controlled by one entity nationally.” “WHOO HOO!”, shouted Corporate America, sounding just like Homer Simpson discovering pie in the fridge.

Next, in Sec. 202 (b)(1), the law laid out what percentage of Radio stations in each “market” one company could own.

For instance, if your city had 45 or more commercial Radio stations, one company could “own, operate, or control” up to 8 of them, but not more than 5 of which were in the same “service” as in AM or FM.

Thanks, Corey. So you see this is why today you can spin the dial and find the same 20 songs on 5 stations in your area all on about an hour and a half long loop. Now this isn’t to say that alternatives didn’t rise up to try and combat this. Internet radio gave those seeking reprieve from the tiring drone of terrestrial radio an alternative. With no corporate overlords to dictate content, anyone could create their own station and choose what got played. This, to me, feels like where we would find Frank, still fighting the good fight against censorship and established schools of thought. Maybe he even has his own station a mix of blues, Beefheart, doo-wop, and classical.

I’d tune in.

You Call This Reality?

“The Real World” debuted on MTV in 1992. No one knew it at the time, but it would spell the impending death of the “M” in MTV. Soon, the music video would become an endangered species as more and more of the daily programming calendar gave way to the soon to be dubbed “reality TV”. Whose reality this type of television actually represented is still unclear to this day.

As shows like “The Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” (two concepts that sound like satirical parodies fit for an early Mothers album) became the stations norm, less and less time was being dedicated to music, the thing the station was built on. The shift lead to a dumbing down of the station’s content as artistic mini-movies set to music gave way to newlyweds who didn’t know what was in a can of Chicken of the Sea (“Is it chicken or fish?”) and cheap cash grabs were made by musicians now in their twilight years (yes, we’re looking at you Ozzie).

The reality trend wouldn’t be limited to cable either, as the major networks all took their stabs at something similar and the reality contest archetype was born. It was trash TV mixed with a gameshow (which sounds a lot like the opening of “200 Motels” when you think about it) and the music industry was ready and willing to accept it with open arms.

American Idol. The Voice. X-Factor. All attempts by the networks (and labels) to continue to keep a stranglehold on popular music. I can almost hear Frank right now:

“And you too can be a musician by just standing in line for hours hoping to catch the eye of a casting director, and if you do they will have you sign your life away for the chance to be humiliated on national television and you will thank them for the opportunity. And you will be America’s sweet heart for a moment, until America’s next sweet heart takes the stage and you are forgotten and thrown out like last night’s bathwater. So is the way of pop stardom, Suzy Creamcheese.”

Now, imagine an out of touch FOX executive reaching out to Zappa about being a judge on American Idol. Preposterous you say? Just remember that NBC’s casting department recently approached Americana Music Award winner Jason Isbell to be a contestant on The Voice and anything is possible.

Thing is, Frank could have made a difference.

This goes one of two ways, either he approaches this as an opportunity to expose these things for what they are (a farce) or he could actually work from within trying to use his expertise in composition, arrangement and performance to help mold a future generation of performers who don’t feel bound to musical convention and carry the torch brightly into the future. You know what, scrap the American Idol thing entirely, now I really just want to watch Frank help build up free thinkers, dreamers and artists and expose mainstream music for the safe, canned, rehashed and sanitized tripe that it is. That’s the show I want, and maybe, in some other reality, that show exists.

Well, it’s time for me to go to work at the record store and do my part in promoting good music to the masses. Stay weird my friends.

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Zappadan: Frank Zappa is Dead, Long Live Frank Zappa

by Kevin Kimmes

Frank-Zappa

Ever heard of Zappadan? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, up until about an hour ago I hadn’t either.

Zappadan is the 18 day long celebration of the life and works of Frank Zappa. Starting today, December 4th (the anniversary of his passing), and running through December 21st (the anniversary of his birth), bloggers and the online community will take part in celebrating the gifts that Zappa left behind before leaving the mortal coil in 1993. Since this blog pays homage to Zappa and The Mothers daily, it only seems fitting to get in on this year’s celebrations.

I can hear you asking yourself, “Self, how can I celebrate Zappadan?” Well, you could go look up some live performances on YouTube, buy an album or 20 (the man has a prolific catalog for those unaware), watch “200 Motels” or even begin researching the 184 names found in the gatefold of The Mothers of Invention’s debut album “Freak Out”. Actually, yes, let’s start with that last part as it gives the uninitiated an idea of what they are getting into.

Inside of “Freak Out” the curious are given a list, well 8 lists actually, of names with this header:

“These People Have Contributed Materially in Many Ways to Make Our Music What it is. Please Do Not Hold it Against them.”

Each of these lists has 23 names in it, a number that Ben Watson states in “Frank Zappa: the Complete Guide to his Music” as “a number beloved of Samuel F.B. Morse, Aleister Crowley and William Burroughs.” Some of the names on the lists are instantly recognizable as musicians (Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, David Crosby), authors (Bram Stoker, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Joyce), artists (Salvador Dali), comedians (Lenny Bruce), bluesmen (Sonny Boy Williamson, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo, Willie Dixon, Guitar Slim) and folks like “Back to Mono” producer Phil Spector, legendary DJ Wolfman Jack and “The Fifth Beatle” Brian Epstein. There, that is 23 (an entire lists worth) deciphered for you, only another 161 entries to go.

Seriously, find this list and take some time to look up the names you don’t recognize. There is some seriously amazing people to be discovered, like Pamela Zarubica. This is my first Zappadan gift to you, loyal reader.

Well, I’m off to the record store to do some Zappadan shopping. Remember folks, “You are what you is.

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Klaatu Barada Nikto

by Kevin Kimmes

KlaatuFrontBigI’m always on the hunt for new oddities to add to my record collection, so when a friend of mine mentioned that there was an album from the late 1970’s that was at one point thought to be a Beatles record released under an alias, I had to find it. I waited patiently for several months, but finally my waiting paid off. It’s name was Klaatu.

As soon as I had it in hand, I began to see where the initial mystery had begun. The entire package contained no citations regarding who the members of this band were, and any credits given are simply credited to Klaatu. Why would someone release an album, but not take personal credit for their work? My curiosity was now fully piqued.

The album’s artwork; featuring a large smiling sun, fat field mice, butterflies and mushrooms; also seemed to be out of shift with the times (the release date is listed as 1976). Was this another clue pointing back to the 1960’s, the heyday of The Fab Four? Could this really be either a lost or new Beatles recording? It was time to give it a spin.

I settled in, plugged in the good headphones for optimal sonic enjoyment and opened my mind to the possibilities of what I was about to hear.

The album opens with the sounds of nature, fitting based on the cover art, but there is something else here. Footsteps. A crunch of dry grass and twigs lets us know that we are not alone. Fitting, I guess, for the lead to the opening track, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”.

The first voice heard is without a doubt not a Beatle, and I’m now wondering if I’ve been put on by my friend in an attempt to get rid of some old backstock that was clogging up the back room of his shop. I don’t have much time to dwell on this however as a heavily effected voice joins the mix with the line, “You’ve been observing our earth, And we’d like to make a contact with you.” Is that you John Lennon?

A McCartney-esque piano suddenly joins the fray followed by a return of the Lennon vocal and an overlap of voices, one sounding similar in tone to Ringo. What the hell is going on here? Can this truly be the real deal? Then as quick as it comes on, it’s gone and the original voice is back with a synth arrangement taking the lead musical role.

The truth is, this is not The Beatles. Klaatu (named after the alien from 1951’s sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) was a Canadian prog-rock trio consisting of John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper.

The idea that they may have been The Beatles was planted in February 1977 by Providence Journal reviewer Steve Smith. The band never played live, a fact which helped fan the flames regarding the bands identity. Additionally, Capitol Records, who had released the Klaatu record and controlled The Beatles’ catalog in the US, jumped on the rumors leading to a series of ambiguous statements about the band’s identity. For instance:

CapitolRecords-April-4-1977-KlaatuIdentities (1)

As speculation lingered, record sales soared. Eventually the charade came to an end when Dwight Douglas, programming director at Washington, D.C.’s WWDC, looked up the copywrite records and revealed the actual names of the band members. The band would go on to release a total of 5 studio albums before calling it quits in 1982.

For further information on Klaatu: Wikipedia entry for Klaatu, The Official Klaatu Homepage

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Psych, This Isn’t The Sgt. You Were Looking For

by Kevin Kimmes

There are things in this crazy world that seem to appear out of the ether when we least expect to find them. The kind of aberrations that when first discovered appear to have an otherworldly quality about them, both familiar and foreign simultaneously. Thus, I can’t be sure if I found it, or it was meant to find me.

I had fallen asleep in my office chair while listening to records and drinking a few well deserved cocktails after a particularly long week of work. When I awoke, it was there on my screen, beckoning. I clicked play and found myself tumbling down the rabbit hole.

Was this real? My brain raced as I tried to piece together what I had just witnessed. The Flaming Lips and…Miley Cyrus? This seems wrong, yet it all sounded so right.

I immediately played the track again soaking up the psych drenched sounds when it hit me, this was The Beatles’ magnum opus with the psych dial turned up to 11. Not only that, but this was really polarizing.

I could already hear the purists bitching that this was blasphemous, a slap in the face of a classic. The hipsters would scoff, “How dare they get Hannah Montana to sing Paul’s part? What does she know about The Beatles?” Yet an equally strong argument could be made that there was a bit of genius here on display.

Miley’s smoked out vocal plays an interesting counterpoint to Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne’s lead. The orchestration of the track itself seems both classic and modern, incorporating both classic psych sensibilities with a modern pop undertone. The more I listened, the more intoxicating it became.

This was challenging, confrontational, even disturbingly uncomfortable to some that I shared the video with. Some gave me the reaction I expected, “You really expect me to listen to Miley Cyrus?”, while others told me, in the most eloquent way possible, that the Flaming Lips had their heads up their asses. They all missed the point.

Projects like this one never come from a place of disrespect, they come from a place of love and admiration. Yes Virginia, believe it or not, your favorite bands have favorite bands too. I know, the concept can be mind blowing, but please try to keep up.

Paying homage to albums and artists is a great thing as it can serve as a bridge to the past for the current generation. If one kid discovers this track and that leads them to check out The Beatles, that’s a win. It’s a win for the Flaming Lips, it’s a win for The Beatles, it’s a win for the kid who broadens his musical horizons, and it’s a win for rock ‘n’ roll, because despite what Gene Simmons wants you to believe, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead yet.

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