Friday, February 28, 2020

Stranglers – "(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)" – 1977

The worst crime that I ever did
Was playing rock ’n’ roll

Recording artists often achieve very different levels of success in the U.S. and the UK.

But rarely has a band that was so popular with the Brits been a bigger flop with Americans than the Stranglers.

I’m a 100%, red-blooded American, so I don’t really care that the Stranglers were popular in Merry Olde.  Few people in the U.S. paid any attention whatsoever to them, and that makes them “underrated” in my book.

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The Stranglers were founded by a thirtysomething businessman (he once owned a flotilla of ice-cream vans) named Brian Duffy – also known as “Jet Black” (which is about as cool a nickname as there is.)

Jet Black
The band’s original frontman, Hugh Cornwell, was a blues musician.  Jean-Jacques Burnet had been a classical guitarist who performed with symphony orchestras.  Black/Duffy had been a jazz drummer.

But the Stranglers are usually described as a punk band – although some of their songs have new wave, art rock, and “sophisti-pop” elements.

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Six of the group’s first seven studio albums made it to the top ten in the U.K.  (The seventh one fell just short, peaking at #11.)

The Stranglers had seven singles that were top-ten hits in Britain, and 15 more that made it into the top 40.  

That’s not too shabby.

But the story was quite different in the U.S., where only one Stranglers album charted (peaking at #172).  None of their singles ever made it into the Billboard “Hot 100.”  (In other words, the Stranglers are underrated as all get out by Americans.)

The only place I ever heard the Stranglers’ records was on Steven Lorber’s “Mystic Eyes” radio show.  Their music was as good as anyone’s from that era, so I’m eternally grateful to Mr. Lorber for doing me that solid.

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Dave Thompson of Allmusic has written that the Stranglers – who started out as “bad-mannered yobs” but eventually became “purveyors of supreme pop delicacies” – were “responsible for music that may have been ugly and might have been crude – but it was never, ever boring.”

Some critics were put off by what they saw as sexist innuendo.  But Thompson believed that those critics didn’t get that the Stranglers were being ironic:  

[T]he Stranglers revelled in an almost Monty Pythonesque grasp of absurdity (and, in particular, the absurdities of modern “men's talk”).  [NOTE: as someone whose “men’s talk” is often misunderstood by members of the fairer sex, I feel a certain kinship with Stranglers.]  That people are still offended by [the Stranglers’ music] only adds to its delight – if rock & roll (especially punk rock & roll) was meant to be pleasant, it would never have changed the world, after all.  

The fact that much of the Stranglers' message was actually hysterically funny – as they themselves intended it to be – only adds to their modern appeal.  And the fact that their fans are still called upon to defend them only proves what humorless zeroes their foes really were.

The Stranglers at Battersea
Park in London in 1978
You ladies don’t want to be a “humorless zero,” do you?  Like the feminist groups who went batty when the Stranglers lined the stage with topless dancing girls when they played in London’s Battersea Park back in the day?

Of course you don’t.  So get a grip on yourself and enjoy the Stranglers – beginning with today’s featured song.

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Click here to listen to “(Get a) Grip (On Yourself),” the Stranglers’ very first single.  It was released in 1977 on the group’s debut album, Rattus Norvegicus, which eventually went platinum: 

Click here to listen to the Stranglers performing this song live in 2007 at London’s Roundhouse theatre.  (Note especially Dave Greenfield’s keyboard playing.  He’s a one-man stick of dynamite on this track.)

Click on the link below to buy the original version of there song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Elvis Presley – "A Little Less Conversation" (JXL Radio Edit Remix) (2002)

Don’t procrastinate
Don’t articulate
Girl, it’s getting late

ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits is an Elvis Presley greatest hits collection released by RCA Records in 2002.  

It included the 18 singles that reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100,” plus 13 singles that made it to #1 in the UK but not in the U.S.  

You don’t need a calculator to figure out that 18 plus 13 doesn’t equal 30.  Elvis actually had 31 singles that reached #1 in either the U.S. or the UK.  

So why was the album titled 30 #1 Hits?

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In 2002, Dutch musician Tom Holkenborg (a/k/a JXL) remixed Elvis’s 1968 recording of “A Little Less Conversation.”  That remix hit #1 in the UK just before the 30 #1 Hits was scheduled to be released, so RCA decided to add it to that compilation.

God only knows why RCA didn’t change the title of the album from 30 #1 Hits to 31 #1 Hits.  (I’m guessing it had something to do with saving money.)

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I mentioned before that Elvis had 18 #1 singles in the U.S., and that 13 additional Elvis singles made it to #1 in the UK.

But six singles made it to #1 in both countries.

So Elvis actually had more #1 hits in the UK than in the U.S. – 19 compared to 18.

I find that very surprising.  I had no idea that Elvis was even more overrated in the UK than he was in the U.S.

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I’m featuring Elvis in the 29th and final of this year’s “29 Posts in 29 Days” because I think he is unquestionably the most overrated recording artist of my lifetime.

Take a look at Elvis’s #1 hits sometime.  Most of them were released between 1956 and 1962 – a period of time when popular music was truly horrible.

The top selling records of those years included “Love Letters in the Sand” and “April Love” by Pat Boone, “Singing the Blues” by Guy Mitchell, “It’s All in the Game” by Tommy Edwards, “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors, and “Rock and Roll Waltz” by Kay Starr.

Given the level of competition, it’s hardly a surprise that crap like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” “Teddy Bear,” “Love Me Tender,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” were so successful.

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The original version of today’s featured song – which was written by Mac Davis and “Wrecking Crew” member Billy Strange – may be my favorite Elvis song ever.

“Viva Las Vegas” is pretty good, too.

But after that, you fall right off the cliff.

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Click here to listen to Elvis Presley’s 31st #1 hit single.

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Love – "A House Is Not a Motel" (1967)

And the water’s turned to blood
And if you don’t think so
Go turn on your tub

Love’s Forever Changes, which was released in 1967, is one of the few albums – perhaps the only album – that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

The “Forever Changes” album cover
Yet Forever Changes peaked at #154 on the Billboard 200 album chart in February 1968.  

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Here are some of the other albums that were listed ahead of Forever Changes on the Billboard 200 that week:

#153 – Clear Light (by Clear Light)

#152 – A Kind of Hush (John Davidson)

#138 – Valley of the Dolls soundtrack

#129 – Encore! More of the Concert Sound of Henry Mancini 

#125 – The Best of Herman’s Hermits, Volume III 

[NOTE: The only two songs I recognize that are on that album are “There’s a Kind of a Hush (All Over the World)” and “No Milk Today,” which both suck donkey d*ck.]

#122 – Bill Cosby Sings/Silver Throat  

#104 – Hawaiian Album (Ray Coniff)

#101 – Groovin’ with the Soulful Strings

#92 – My Cup Runneth Over (Ed Ames)

#62 – Please Love Me Forever (Bobby Vinton)

#46 – Snoopy and His Friends (Royal Guardsmen)

#41 – Clambake (Elvis Presley)

#12 – It Must Be Him (Vikki Carr)

#10 – The Last Waltz (Engelbert Humperdinck)

I could go on, but I’ve probably beaten that dead horse quite enough for one night.

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Actually, let me beat it just a bit more and make absotively, posilutely sure it’s dead.

Can you believe there were no fewer than eight different Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass albums listed ahead of Forever Changes that week?

One of the eight
(I like “The Lonely Bull” and “A Taste of Honey” as much as the next guy, but EIGHT albums ranked ahead of Forever Changes?)

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Love’s biggest hit single, “7 and 7 Is” – which is the quintessential stick-of-dynamite record – topped out at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It was the group’s only top 40 “hit.”  (No Love single ever charted in the UK.)

Today’s featured song was the B-side of “Alone Again Or,” the only single from Forever Changes to chart in the U.S. – if you can call peaking at the #123 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 “charting.”

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Love’s admirers included Robert Plant, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and the Doors.  

Arthur Lee with Jimi Hendrix
“Love was one of the hottest things I ever saw,” Ray Manzarek of the Doors told an interviewer in 2017. “The most influential band in L.A. at the time, and we all thought it was just a matter of time before Love conquered America.”

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“A House Is Not a Motel” (and most of the other songs on Forever Changes) was written by the group’s lead singer, Arthur Lee.  Lee was all of 22 years old when the album was released.  (He died of leukemia in 2006, when he was 61 years old.)

A lot of musicians and critics thought Arthur Lee was a genius.  I hope Lee believed them, and that the praise they lavished on him made up at least in part for the total lack of public recognition and commercial success that he achieved in his lifetime.

Lee and Love are clearly underrated.  In fact, Love may be the most underrated group of all time.

Click here to listen to “A House Is Not a Motel.”  

Click here to read what 2 or 3 lines had to say about “You Set the Scene,” the best song on Forever Changes.  (“A House Is Not a Motel” is tied for second place with all the other songs on the album,)

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:  

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Fleetwood Mac – "The Chain" (1977)

I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain

Imagine if David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash left Crosby, Stills and Nash and were replaced by three other musicians and started playing heavy metal.  The band wouldn’t really be Crosby, Stills and Nash, now would it?

That’s sort of what happened to Fleetwood Mac in the early seventies – the band’s singers, songwriters, and guitarists were all replaced and the band started playing and recording a completely different style of music, but the band didn’t change its name.  (Luckily for Fleetwood Mac, it was named after its drummer and bassist, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who stuck it out through all the changes.)  

It was sort of like if Coca-Cola had started putting Sprite in Coke cans.

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The new Fleetwood Mac – which was built around the singing, songwriting, and instrumental skills of Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie – became one of the most successful pop groups of all time.  Its 1977 album, Rumours, has sold 20 million copies in the U.S., making it one of the dozen top-selling albums of all time:

(Do you know what the weird photo on the Rumours cover signifies?  Neither do I.)

The four other Fleetwood Mac albums released in the seventies and eighties also went platinum, and nine of the group’s singles were top-ten hits. 

Was the new Fleetwood Mac really that good?  I was a hater for a long time, but the group’s music started to grow on me a couple of decades after it was released.  

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think the new Fleetwood Mac isn’t overrated – just that it’s not as overrated as the Eagles and the Police.

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I was surprised to learn that today’s featured song was never released as a single.  (For me, no song says “new Fleetwood Mac” more than “The Chain” – the group often opened its live shows with the song.)  

Click here to listen to “The Chain.”

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, February 24, 2020

Fleetwood Mac – "Oh Well (Part 1)" (1969)

But don’t ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to

Fleetwood Mac, whose original members were guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood, was formed in 1967.  Shortly after the release of the band’s second studio album, 18-year-old Danny Kirwan joined the group, which played electric blues almost exclusively.

Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970.  The band’s manager, Clifford Davis, gave this explanation for Green’s departure:

The truth about Peter Green and how he ended up how he did is very simple.  We were touring Europe in late 1969.  When we were in Germany, Peter told me he had been invited to a party.  I knew there were going to be a lot of drugs around and I suggested that he didn’t go.  But he went anyway and I understand from him that he took what turned out to be very bad, impure LSD.  He was never the same again.

Spencer was the next to go.  He went out to buy a magazine one morning while Fleetwood Mac was on tour in the U.S. in 1971 and promptly disappeared.  It turned out that he had joined a religious cult, and he never came back.

Danny Kirwan developed an alcohol dependency and was fired by Fleetwood after freaking out during a 1972 tour of the U.S.

(Not entirely true!)
The band soldiered on with replacement guitarists Bob Welch and Bob Weston.  But during the group’s 1973 U.S. tour, Fleetwood found out that Weston was having an affair with his wife, Jenny Boyd Fleetwood, whose sister Pattie was married to George Harrison, then to Eric Clapton.  Weston got booted and the 1973 tour was cancelled.  

If my math is right, that’s three American tours and three lost guitarists.  (You would have thought that the band would have learned from previous experience and given up on touring the U.S., but they didn’t).  

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Fleetwood Mac got off to a strong start in the UK – their first three albums made the top ten, and “Albatross” was a #1 single in 1968.

But the group’s records sold very poorly in the U.S.  None of the Green-Spencer-Kirwan albums climbed higher than #69 on the American album charts, and Fleetwood Mac never had a top 40 single.

That’s partly because Fleetwood Mac didn’t seem all that interested in commercial success.  (They all had started out as blues purists, and blues purists don’t sell a lot of records in this country.)

Another problem might have been a certain inconsistency in style – it was hard to pin down Fleetwood Mac.  (The songs Green wrote didn’t sound much like the songs Spencer wrote, which were quite different from the songs Kirwan or Bob Welch wrote.)

I once owned three of Fleetwood Mac’s early albums.  I had to listen to them quite a few times before I started to get into them.  (Obviously most Americans weren’t as patient as I was.)

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Later, Fleetwood Mac revamped their lineup, adding guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, and giving Christine McVie – John McVie’s wife – a more prominent role in the group.

The “new” Fleetwood Mac’s music couldn’t have been more different than that featured on the group’s early albums – original Coca-Cola and new Coke were a lot more alike than the original Fleetwood Mac and the new Fleetwood Mac.  The change in direction was a big hit with the public, and Fleetwood Mac became one of the most successful recording artists in the world.

You certainly can’t say the new Fleetwood Mac is underrated.  But I think the old Fleetwood Mac was – not as underrated as many of the other underrated artists featured previously in this year’s “29 Posts in 29 Days,” but underrated nonetheless.

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Click here to listen to “Oh Well (Part 1),” which is a major stick of dynamite.

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Eric Clapton – "Blues Power" (1970)

Bet you didn’t think I knew
How to rock ’n’ roll

I play keyboards, not guitar – so I’m not qualified to judge Eric Clapton’s technical ability as a guitarist.

But what this year’s “29 Posts in 29 Days” is about is whether a recording artist is overrated or underrated based on the quality of his or her recorded music – not on his or her ability as an instrumentalist or a singer or a songwriter.  

By that criterion, Clapton is clearly overrated – at least as a solo artist.

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Type “Eric Clapton overrated underrated” in a Google search box and you’ll see that a lot more people see him as overrated as underrated.

David Hayter of Guitar Planet magazine has written that the young Clapton “played with both an effortless sauntering swagger and a luscious melting tone that could pierce one moment and ooze seductively the next.”  

But Hayter thinks Clapton peaked a long time ago:

His glory lays in the distant, distant past.  [After] the halcyon days of youth, when his sound was a revelation . . . Clapton quickly began to wane, and Slowhand set about an arduous three and half decades of meandering jams, indulgent and unspectacular live performances, and innovation free LPs.

Many critics think Clapton was more of a borrower than a creator.  They give Clapton little credit for what the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominoes accomplished.  “Left to Clapton, Cream would have played half-hour versions of Robert Johnson's ‘Crossroads’,” wrote Kieron Tyler of the Guardian.   “And the thrilling guitar on ‘Layla’ was played by Duane Allman.”

There’s little doubt that Clapton’s solo records are mediocre at best.  Most of his best-known covers (like “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Cocaine,” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”) are inferior to the originals, while his most successful originals (like “Lay Down Sally,” “Wonderful Tonight,” and “It’s in the Way That You Use It”) do nothing for me except make me change the channel when I hear them on my car radio.

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“Blues Power” – which was released on Clapton’s eponymous debut solo album in 1970 – was co-written by Clapton and Leon Russell.  It sounds like it’s 99% a Russell song, but I could be wrong.

The Eric Clapton album featured many of the same musicians who played on the Delaney & Bonnie & Friends album, On Tour with Eric Clapton, which had been released earlier that same year – Leon Russell, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, and saxophonist Bobby Keys.

Click here to listen to “Blues Power.”

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rutles – "Ouch!" (1978)

Don’t desert me!
Please don’t hurt me!

In 1978, NBC aired a brilliant “mockumentary” about the Rutles, a fictional British Invasion band whose music bore more than a passing resemblance to that of the Beatles.

All You Need Is Cash – which featured guest appearances by Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, George Harrison Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Bill Murray, and Paul Simon (among others) – had the lowest ratings of any primetime network show that aired that week, but quickly achieved legendary status.

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The soundtrack of All You Need Is Cash contains fourteen songs that not only are dead-on parodies of well-known Beatles songs, but in many cases are actually better than the originals that they are based on.

Neil Innes
The All You Need Is Cash songs were written by Neil Innes, who died only a few weeks ago at age 75.  Innes often collaborated with the six members of the Monty Python comedy troupe – he was sometimes called “The Seventh Python” – and was a member of the avant-garde Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (which appeared in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie).

Innes was friends with the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and other superstars of that era.  Their fame had made most of them miserable – Clapton once told Innes that “It’s too much for anyone to take all this idolatry” – and Innes decided he would stay out of the limelight as much as possible.

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The songs in All You Need Is Cash cover the Beatles gamut – there are parodies of the Fab Four’s early boy-band hits, later songs like “Get Back,” and everything in-between.  

The one Rutles song that isn’t arguably better than the original is “Piggy in the Middle,” which was inspired by “I Am the Walrus.”  That’s not because “Piggy in the Middle” isn’t a great song – it mos’ definitely is – but “I Am the Walrus” may be the best Beatles song of all.  (It’s certainly in the top three.) 

Today we’re featuring “Ouch!” – a parody of “Help!” 

Click here to watch the music video for “Ouch!”

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon: