The Never-Ending Mixtape: Tune Out

 

 

“If you to be continuously bummed out, you should read the news.”

My dad told me this once after I tried to get him into RSS feeds.1. Something I’m still pretty much addicted to It’s a true statement, but seems to hold more weight in the last few weeks than in recent memory. With the continuation of attacks in Gaza, police militarization in Ferguson, escalation of offenses in the Ukraine, and the suicide of one of my favorite comedians, I opted to take this edition of The Never-Ending Playlist and make something positive out of it.

My parents loved listening to compilations when I was a kid. In fact, Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation is the earliest album I remember owning on cassette.2. Aside from anti-consumer advocate/children’s singer Raffi Every so often, my mom or dad would dub songs from tapes to blank tapes, making their own compilation mixtapes to listen during long car trips or in the kitchen.

Like last month’s playlist segment,3. Pardon the lack of updates. There will be another one next week. I focus on ’60s/early ’70s baroque pop, rock, and psychedelic groups.  However, instead of trying to highlight the psychedelic movement, I’m simply creating a compilation of my own to temporarily drown out bad news for a few minutes.

(Starting from Track 54)

54) Bee Gees – I Started A Joke
My girlfriend and I think this would make for an excellent montage in a film. For all I know, it was already used in that way. The scene in The Fighter where the mother sings a rendition of this song is pretty beautiful, too.

55) The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset
I chose this for two reasons: it’s a beautiful pop song, and I was at a wedding wedding this past weekend for friends who got engaged on Waterloo Bridge at sunset (yes, because of the song). It’s not my favorite Kinks song, but it’s a great song, nonetheless.

56) The Troggs – With A Girl Like You
It’s a great original Troggs song. Also, the bride and groom at the wedding danced to it during their first dance.

57) The Who – Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand
Did I pick a random song from The Who Sell Out? Sort of, but not really. This is one of my favorite Who songs.

58) The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
A better rendition of the song than Dylan’s own version. Fun Fact #4: I’m not a huge Dylan fan (and while we’re on the subject, I hate, hate, hate Nashville Skyline).

59) Small Faces – Lazy Sunday
My second favorite song off Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, one of the best albums of the ’60s.

60) The Ronettes – Be My Baby
The first Ronettes song I ever heard. I got into the Ronettes around the same time I got into the Beatles, but forgot about them for the better part of a decade.

61) Herman’s Hermits – No Milk Today
Nuggets classic, and probably the only minor key-driven song on this playlist.

62) The Monkees – Daydream Believer
These days, I’m using every chance I can to get people to The Monkees. This is one of the best songs of all time,4. Of all time! and possibly the best Monkees song that’s not “Porpoise Song”.

63) The Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream
I fondly remember hearing this in a car at the age of three. The dynamic of the song make the song, more or less, but it’s also well written and fairly intricate, despite being a quasi-goofy pop song.

64) The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
One of my favorite Beach Boys songs, one of my favorite songs off Pet Sounds (though I really do like them all), and one of the first pop/rock songs to mention “God” in the lyrics.

65) Love – Old Man
It’s sort of a sad song, but it’s pretty upbeat in the way it’s written/played. Arthur Lee’s vocals are slightly subdued for a large part of the song’s duration, and it shows his strengths as one of the best pop vocalists ever.

66) The Zombies – This Will Be Our Year
This will probably be my wedding song, unless I read too much into the lyrics and deem it inappropriate. It’s one of the best Zombies songs, and I like it a lot better without the horns (though the horns don’t detract from the song in that particular version).

1.
 Something I’m still pretty much addicted to
2.
 Aside from anti-consumer advocate/children’s singer Raffi
3.
 Pardon the lack of updates. There will be another one next week.
4.
 Of all time!

Listening To: Merchandise

Tampa, Florida-based band Merchandise announced their signing to label 4AD earlier this year. I’ve listened to 4AD for over two decades, chasing the label’s perfectly curated bleak-yet-beautiful sound, including albums from Cocteau Twins, His Name Is Alive, and pretty much everything I grew up listening to as a teenager.

This particularly post-punk band flew under my radar for their first few years until the release of 2013′s Total Nite, a fine five-song EP (album? mini-album?) and the band’s third release. The above track, “Anxiety’s Door,” serves as the album’s standout piece and a prime example of how the band blends ’80s 4AD elements with their own punk leanings. Also, when was the last time a buzzworthy guitar-oriented band made excellent use of a drum machine? (OK, don’t answer that.)

After picking up Total Nite, I sought after the band’s other releases. That release, as well as Children of DesireAngels In The Station, Gone Are The Silk Gardens Of Youth, and (Strange Songs) In The Dark all show an interesting progression of a young band trying to find a distinct sound.

The band’s upcoming release, After The End, recently started streaming on The Guardian and NPR Music. After listening to the new title for approximately 10 times in a row (it’s only 44 minutes long), I’m thoroughly convinced that the album is this generation’s Ocean Rain. It sounds strikingly similar to the Echo & The Bunnymen album, but with a 2014 polish and a number of studio tricks I only dreamed of using when listening to 4AD albums as a kid. Standout tracks “Little Killer” and “Enemy” prove the band are talented enough to write ’80s post-punk pop hits for a modern audience, all while retaining the essence of a still-young group with a punk background.

I’ll have more on After The End after its release next week. In the meantime, you should definitely check out what you can of Merchandise on Spotify and iTunes.

Bad Cover Songs

I listened to a few cover songs while putting together the upcoming segment for the Never-Ending Playlist (which, I assure you, is never-ending as a project). I’m not a big cover song guy by any means, though there are a select few covers that sound significantly better than the original versions. However, I sometimes stumble upon a cover song so awful that it’s worth mentioning to other music nuts like myself.

Below are a few awful cover songs worth avoiding:

Frank Black – Hang On Your Ego


The solo debut of Frank Black is a pretty good album. It contains some sweet singles (“Los Angeles“) and interesting deep cuts (“Every Time I Go Round Here“). I understand what he was trying to accomplish with this Beach Boys cover (done in a similar manner as “Head On” off Trompe Le Monde), but it doesn’t work. It turns a decent b-side (best known as the much-loved “I Know There’s An Answer“) and makes it into a campy sci-fi track. There are theremins on it and it’s not even “Good Vibrations.” It’s a weird song for the sake of being weird and doesn’t translate well.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Porpoise Song


See also: Anyone who ever covered Porpoise Song (except for Bongwater). I love …Trail of Dead, and they’ve done some OK covers in the past. This isn’t one of them. It turns a prime example psychedelia into a pretty generic modern prog song.

Luna – Straight Up


I pick on Luna a lot, but this song is just plain awful. Taking the once-popular Paula Abdul song and making it into a jazzy number could work. However, Wareham’s vocals don’t. It’s pretty off-putting, but it was only released for a (charity?) covers compilation without much hype or exposure, so it’s not hurting anyone.

Patti Smith – Hey Joe


95% of all “Hey Joe” covers are bogus. Also, 1 out of ever 15 rock bands have probably covered it at one time or another. I’m singling Smith’s version out because it’s a rambling, convoluted mess. Sure, it launched her career and saw her release two great albums, but it’s a pretty awful version and should not be added to every ’70s punk compilation album. Maybe add “Gloria” instead?

Vacation Music: South Florida and Montreal

Since I have an abundance of free time these days, I agreed to the following:

  • Visiting my family in South Florida;
  • Attending a bachelor party/excursion to Montreal;
  • Frequent morning phone calls from my grandparents asking if I have a job yet.

I also can’t (/won’t) go a full day without listening to music. In my newfound free time, I recently started taking notes about my listening habits, beyond the data provided by Spotify and Last.FM. If I’m going to listen to music every day of my life, I should probably keep some sort of log to track my listening patterns over the years.

I took the following notes throughout my trips. They vary in levels of coherence, but I embedded relevant songs to further give an idea of my vacation music:

Florida

I spent a much needed ten days away from the blogosphere, driving around Palm Beach and Dade counties in my grandmother’s 2001 Corolla. I gained the ability to bring digital music to the “antique” car stereo after purchasing a $15 cassette-to-iPhone adapter from Radio Shack. It wasn’t long before I relived the best part of my youth: driving aimlessly around town and listening to the Cocteau Twins.

 

I saw my friend Liz several times during my trip. Liz and I have a terribly amoral inside joke related to Brand New, a band she introduced me to around the release of their third album. I never paid much attention to the band before their major label debut, but I always make a habit of listening to their discography when I’m in Florida (and not so much back home, though I should).

 

My sister also came down for some time and shared her newfound love of Queen. I tried to get her to listen to A Night At The Opera, but she opted for their “Greatest Hits” playlist.

Canada

I then found myself in Canada for a non-debacherous pre-wedding trip to Montreal and back. During the trip, the bachelors and groom-to-be held many debates on various musical milestones, including:

  • Bands who peaked at the first song on their first album;
  • Bands who should have broken up and what year their proper demise should have occurred;
  • The pros and cons of Merzbow.

I also tried and failed to get everyone into Teenage Fanclub.

Now I’m home and trying to get myself into FKA Twigs.

The Never-Ending Mixtape: Tune In

Timothy LearyFun Fact #3: I’m related to Timothy Leary by marriage. I don’t know how, as my grandparents won’t get into the specifics of which wife, what side of the family, and when. I have reason to believe that it’s Rosemary, from the three times we discussed it.

Leary had little to no impact on me as a person, other than a few of his writings and records I consumed when I thought I was “deep” as a kid. He appeared in various historical books I read, was name checked in a few songs (“Legend Of A Mind,” anyone?), and appeared to be an integral part of a subculture that I took interest in at too young of an age.

I was introduced to the Nuggets compilation album at the age of two. I gained the ability to walk, and then almost immediately learned about psychedelic rock music. I listened to The Seeds before learning how to tie my own shoes. After Nuggets, I got a decade-long guided tour in the history of psychedelic rock by going through my parents’ record and 8-track collections. It took me years to find out that Lenny Kaye (of Patti Smith fame) helped compile Nuggets, which I will discuss in a later edition of this series.

This edition of the Never-Ending Mixtape focuses on psychedelic music I’ve listened to for over twenty years. It focuses on the major ’60s groups that dabbled in psychedelic rock, and the one-hit wonders that made their mark on the genre (and likely reunited a bunch of time since for a nostalgia tour). I finally made my own compilation filled with singles and deep cuts from memories of a compilation (itself based on memories of an era).

(Starting From Track 40)

40) The Who – Armenia City In The Sky
A Who song sung by Keith Moon and not written by The Who. “What are The Who doing on a psychedelic rock playlist?” you ask. This was the band dipping a toe in the genre. And it happens to be better than 95% of anything released in the era.

41) The 13th Floor Elevators – Slip Inside This House
Screamadelica is a great record, but Primal Scream’s cover of “Slip Inside This House” took the fun and mystery out of it. It’s a very good minor-key jam that plays on the strengths of Erickson’s voice and the band’s songwriting strengths, with the best example in the song being the bridge. Also, I could have included “You’re Gonna Miss Me” but that would just be expected.

42) The Beach Boys – Vegetables
Smile only recently officially came out for the first time. This was supposed to be included, but ended up on a record called Smiley Smile released decades ago. (Confused? Read this.) Coupled with several songs from Smile, including “Good Vibrations,” the album features a bunch of material from a drugged-out Brian Wilson that hold up years later when compared to often-cited highlights of the era.

43) Count Five – Psychotic Reaction
You’ve probably heard this a million times, even if you didn’t seek out psychedelic music. The lead guitar line is catchy, psychedelic, and partially folky all at the same time. It’s a psychedelic standard, which is why I included it in this playlist.

44) The Mojo Men – Sit Down I Think I Love You
Does it sound like something Van Dyke Parks arranged? That’s because it is! Such a weird and wonderful Buffalo Springfield cover.

45) The Electric Prunes – I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
This song is the reason I obsessed over drum reverb effects. The good kind, not the ’80s Genesis kind. It has some of the best percussion sounds of the era.

46) The Amboy Dukes – Journey To The Center Of The Mind
If you didn’t pick up on it already, this entire portion of the mixtape is structured with gradually-building tempos. This is the high point of the track listing, with songs placed afterwards getting progressively slower (until…well, you’ll see). This is also the only good part of Ted Nugent’s storied career.

47) The Rolling Stones – The Lantern
I’m going to be honest: I just picked a random song from Satanic Majesties that wasn’t “She’s A Rainbow.” It’s a pretty good album from who I consider to be The Most Mediocre Rock Band Ever, but my elders constantly tell me to shut up about that because “I wasn’t there.” This song isn’t the greatest psychedelic song, but it’s not bad either. That’s not a ringing endorsement. You should listen to it at least once, though.

48) The Seeds – Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
One of the first songs I heard off the Nuggets compilation, but out of context on a mixtape (an actual cassette tape) supposedly made by a much-older cousin. Billy Corgan, of all people, would jump on The Seeds train years later.

49) Love – The Red Telephone
Love’s goofiest song (in terms of lyrical content) but not a bad song at all. Though “I feel real phony when my name is Phil” is a pretty awful line.

50) Jefferson Airplane – Today
Yeah, yeah, “White Rabbit” and all that, but “Today” is just as powerful a song and doesn’t feature lead vocals from Grace Slick. The electric guitar lead lines work perfectly here with the acoustic guitar, and the song features my favorite vocal track ever from Marty Balin.

51) The Zombies – Beechwood Park
Everybody knows The Zombies for “She’s Not There” or “Time of the Season.” Like Surrealistic Pillow, Odessey and Oracle is a perfect album, top to bottom, and “Beechwood Park” is a fantastically trippy deep album cut.

52) Donovan – Hurdy Gurdy Man
Seen as the “stereotypical psychedelic song,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” includes the following:

  • Sitar
  • Multi-track vocals with way too much reverb
  • Fuzzed-out guitar solos
  • That drum fill that goes ba-ba (rest) ba-ba-dum-dum that you can hear in pretty much every three Hendrix songs

But it’s still one of the greatest psychedelic songs of all time. And I got to meet Donovan at the age of 5 before I understood things like subtext, subtlety, and what LSD did to songwriters in this era.

53) The Monkees – The Porpoise Song
Here’s a song I haven’t heard for over 13 years until about three weeks ago. In fact, I kind of forgot about the entire Monkees psychedelic phase. And while we’re at it, no. I still haven’t seen Head, but I fully intend to. The single version of this song is a lot better than the one included on the soundtrack because it includes a beautiful orchestral outro.

Johnny Winter, 1944-2014

I didn’t grow up with much of a blues influence at home. Anything I learned related to the blues came from a short stint in a jazz (but really blues) band at school, an even shorter stint with a blues-loving piano teacher, and watching the occasional PBS concert. I had to seek out the blues on my own if I wanted to hear more than my parents’ love of “classic” rock or my own infatuation with alternative music.

Somehow, near the end of high school, while still not educated in Delta Blues artists and everything related to, I got into Edgar Winter, the Edgar Winter group, and Rick Derringer. At the same time, friends were listening to The Faint and The Mars Volta. I didn’t get too deep into the Edgar Winter catalog (I mainly stuck with They Only Come Out At Night as we had it on vinyl and CD), but explored it more once I was away at college with unlimited bandwidth and a decent amount of free time.

In 2003, I was introduced to the Roadwork album, featuring a cover of Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” that blows the original version out of the water. Johnny Winter, Edgar’s older brother, played guitar and sang in this version, which led to my further exploration of Johnny’s entire discography at the college radio station’s archive. Come to think of it, I still need to return a couple of CDs.

Johnny had a fairly prolific career from the late ’60s until the early ’90s, including working with Muddy Waters and a number of other high-profile collaborators. And though he left the music business for over a decade due to drug addiction and other issues, he put out a couple of pretty great guitar-oriented releases in the last 10 years. He even overcame a longstanding addiction to opiates with help from his friend and tour manager a couple of years back.

I somehow missed every time Johnny Winter was in town for one reason or another, so I never got to see him live. But I did keep tabs on the man’s output and any mentions of him by other guitarists and musicians in interviews. And after combing through albums like Johnny Winter And, I finally made a point of seeking out both popular and obscure blues musicians, influencers to Johnny Winter, and so on. And every couple of months or so, I still go back and listen to the Roadwork album, but just for that one song.

Slowdive Playing Terminal 5 In October

slowdive

’90s shoegaze band Slowdive reunited earlier this year. As someone who grew up on 4AD and Creation Records artists as a teen, Slowdive was on constant repeat during times of heartbreak, teen angst, and post-high school hijinks. In fact, I would count Souvlaki as one of my 25 favorite albums of all time, loving it to the point where I can actually spell the word “souvlaki” without relying on spellcheck, thank you very much.

As a longtime fan (and by longtime I mean over a decade+, pre-Lil B’s sampling of “Catch The Breeze”), I found out about the band’s reunion and, since it’s 2014, their subsequent official Instagram account. I naturally left comments unrelated to the pictures the band posted asking them to come to New York, because that’s how you interact with bands in 2K14. Apparently Halstead et. al. read random comments from random fans and happily comply with requests to play at desired tour stops (sadly no Duluth stops, but good try anyway, TwinsFan55).

Fast forward to today, and I bought a ticket to see Slowdive on October 25 at Terminal 5. For those of you that aren’t in NYC or don’t go to shows, Terminal 5 is New York’s Worst Venue™ due to its inconvenient location on the west side of Manhattan, its poor sound system, and the fact that it happens to be a major venue in New York City, where 65% of concertgoers are there to hear a single from the headlining band, take a Facebook picture, and talk by the bar for the rest of the evening.

Regardless, Slowdive is coming to New York and I’ll get to see them approximately one year after I saw the reunited My Bloody Valentine. If high school Scott knew about these opportunities, he would say, “What do you mean Maxwell’s isn’t a venue anymore?” and then chill out and listen to Mojave 3.

Fun Fact #2: In addition to creating one of my favorite albums of all time, Slowdive released one of my favorite music videos of all time. Nobody throws parties like this anymore:

4Knots Festival 2014

The Siren Festival isn’t held anymore at Coney Island for whatever reason. Now everyone goes to the South Street Seaport for 4Knots, a Village Voice-promoted free summer festival with assorted branded shenanigans. This is my fifth year in a row attending the festival, but only the first year when I remembered to wear sunscreen and bring cash beforehand. Also, I went to this weird bar again with autographed bras and styrofoam cups of craft beer and somehow ran into a wedding party. Odd stuff.

Today I got to see Speedy Ortiz, who are now touring with an excellent guitarist after their founding guy bailed to form his own band (the nerve!). I asked singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis about her overdrive pedal and she was pretty cool:

20140712-231504-83704241.jpg

I caught Nude Beach playing a bunch of songs from an upcoming album on Don Giovanni Records. Fun Fact #1: the owner of the label and I share the same last name. I don’t think we’re related. Who knows:

20140712-231805-83885538.jpg

I also managed to catch some of Dinosaur Jr. but was too far back from the stage to hear or get a picture. They played a bunch of old and new songs and supposedly ended with a Cure cover. I left a bit early because my girlfriend was exhausted and also did I really want to be surrounded by a horde of Facebook-checking 20-year-olds while Jay, Lou, and Murph tore the pier down? I’ll gladly pay the cost of a ticket the next time the band comes to town to hopefully avoid such a scene. Then again, this is New York City, so good luck to me, right?

Overall, it was a fun festival and made me even more excited about upcoming free outdoor shows in NYC, especially Teenage Fanclub on July 24. There’s also a Mykki Blanco show coming up, and I’m surely not going to miss the Afro Punk festival this year when D’Angelo’s headlining it. Did I mention it’s a free show?

The Never-Ending Mixtape: Billy Corgan, Pretty Much

I listened to Zwan recently and thought that it would make for a good inclusion into the Never-Ending Mixtape series in some capacity. Unfortunately, Spotify doesn’t have rights to Zwan, or the Starjob EP by The Frogs and produced by Billy Corgan, or a few other things I enjoyed over the years that Corgan meddled with. So I created a playlist section featuring The Smashing Pumpkins and a couple of other artists who worked with Corgan (obvious choices, might I add) because I could. I also wanted an excuse to feature this picture:

PAWS CHICAGO 2014

(Starting from Track 30. Due to rights limitations, I can no longer add John Cage’s 4:33 in between playlist segments.)

30) The Smashing Pumpkins – Muzzle
My favorite song on Mellon Collie. The local alt. rock radio station in Westchester used to play it more than the singles. Maybe that’s why they got shut down?

31) Hole – Malibu
“Celebrity Skin” is my favorite track co-written by Billy, but it would have been an obvious choice. No matter how many times I hear this song over the years, I still get surprised by the bridge.

32) The Smashing Pumpkins – Untitled
The last song recorded by The Smashing Pumpkins before they dissolved and then “reformed” several years later. It sounds like early Pumpkins, and the guitar solo at the end is kind of cheesy, but also a welcome addition to the song.

33) The Smashing Pumpkins - Stand Inside Your Love
It’s a cheesy song, no doubt, and the video doesn’t help it any more. But it’s also a pretty great love song that should have been the album closer. That is, if the album didn’t follow some hackneyed narrative arc that would later be developed into a cancelled animated series.

34) The Smashing Pumpkins – Thirty-Three
I remember when the video premiered on MTV. It was not too long after Jonathan Melvoin died and Chamberlin was fired from the band. Originally, it was a song I constantly skipped on the CD, but after hearing it on MTV, it became one of the most played songs of 1997 for me.

35) The Smashing Pumpkins – Pug
Adore is an underrated album. It’s not the best Pumpkins album, but it’s a pretty daring feat in the sense that it’s 100% nothing like Mellon Collie. And after selling millions of copies of their previous album and losing a drummer, this was the best possible direction for the band. At least I thought so. I’m not so sure about the other record-buyers at the time.

36) The Smashing Pumpkins – Eye
The soundtrack to Lost Highway is an example I always use when talking about the great film soundtracks of the ’90s. Everyone from David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, and a host of dark, brooding songs to match the mood of the movie. Sadly “Song to the Siren” wasn’t included on the disk and I didn’t discover it for a few more years, but “Eye” is a good lead-in to the Adore album and introduced me to new genres of music I wouldn’t have listened to before.

37) Marilyn Manson – The Speed of Pain
Yes, Marilyn Manson. I remember hearing in ’97 that Billy Corgan was producing a Marilyn Manson record. He’s credited as “consultant” or some odd title, possibly not even in the liner notes, but he probably had more of an influence than given credit for. The end result, Mechanical Animals, is a great album despite it being a Marilyn Manson record (depending how you look at that; I was a Manson fan as a kid and still enjoy listening to this and other earlier albums once in a while). According to Discogs, Corgan sang background vocals for this track.

38) The Smashing Pumpkins – Mayonaise
The deep cuts on Siamese Dream are equally as good as the singles. The odd tuning and somber tone of this track really stuck with me as a kid and still does. It also inspired me to mess around with alternate tunings on my own when I started playing guitar.

39) The Smashing Pumpkins – Rhinoceros
This was my introduction to shoegaze as a kid, long before I first heard Loveless. It’s a brilliant song and a prime example of how the Pumpkins totally killed with dynamics. The Pixies are often noted for their odd song dynamics, but the Pumpkins had a ton of great songs that started off quiet and ended in a bombastic mash of guitars, drums, and (often soft) vocals. The overdriven guitars in this song were a catalyst for my hoarding of pedals later in life, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend and my ENT.