Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Max Frost and the Troopers --"Shape of Things to Come" (1968)

Let the old world make believe
It's blind and deaf and dumb
But nothing can change the shape of things to come 

The movie Wild in the Streets was released on May 29, 1968 -- the day before my 16th birthday.  

I probably saw it at a local drive-in -- that's where most of the movies released by American International Pictures ended up, after all.

American International Pictures (or "AIP") was way, way ahead of other movie studios.  The company's based its strategy of making low-budget movies designed to appeal to teenagers on rigorously logical principles, to wit:

(a) A younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
(b) An older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
(c) A girl will watch anything a boy will watch;
(d) A boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
Therefore, to catch your greatest audience, you zero in on the 19-year old male.

AIP's most famous director/producer was Roger Corman, who later wrote a book called How I Made 100 Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.  He is best known for his series of horror movies based on Edgar Allan Poe stories (all of which were in the public domain, but obviated the need to pay royalties), but he also directed the Peter Fonda motorcycle movie, The Wild Angels, and the Shelley Winters gangster movie, Bloody Mama, which featured a very young Robert DeNiro.    

In 1968, the voting age in the United States was 21.  In Wild in the Streets, a Kennedyesque Senate candidate calls for the voting age to be lowered to 18 (which actually happened three years later, when the 26th Amendment was ratified), and enlists the help of rock star/revolutionary Max Frost.  But when Frost performs at a televised rally for the candidate, he shocks his sponsors by proposing a more radical revision of the voting age in a song called "Fourteen or Fight."

(Did you see who the drummer in Max's band is?  That's right -- Richard Pryor.)

Max's anthem triggers massive protests and demonstrations throughout the country, and the old-guard politicians cave in almost immediately, agreeing to lower the voting age to 15.  The kids quickly agree to this "compromise" and things quiet down temporarily, but the genie is out of the bottle.  Max's girlfriend is elected to Congress, where she introduces a constitutional amendment to allow 14-year-olds not only to vote, but to hold political office.  Max's allies spike the Washington, DC water supply with LSD, and the amendment passes.  Max is later elected President, and his administration rounds up everyone over 35 (including his mother, memorably portrayed by Shelley Winters) and sends them to "re-education" camps where they are given daily doses of LSD and live happily ever after.  

The star of the movie was a young actor named Christopher Jones -- the James Dean of his day, but virtually forgotten today.  Jones, who had gone AWOL from the army to make a pilgrimage to Dean's family home in Indiana, was cast in a Broadway production of the Tennessee Williams play, The Night of the Iguana, when he was barely 20. He then studied at the Actors Studio under the legendary "method acting" proponent, Lee Strasberg.  A few years later, Jones moved to Hollywood and landed the starring role in a TV series called The Legend of Jesse James.  Jones starred in two AIP productions in 1968 -- Wild in the Streets was followed by Three in the Attic, a movie guaranteed to inflame the fantasies of male teenagers even more than Wild in the Streets.
In Three in the Attic, Jones played a college student named Paxton Quigley, who picked up women as thoughtlessly (and about as frequently) as most men pick up the TV remote.  Unfortunately, three different women he is sleeping with at the same time discover what's going on and decide to gang up on him.

Here's where it gets really good.  You know how the three women decide to avenge Paxton's infidelity?  They lure him to the dormitory where one of them lives and lock him in the attic.  Then they take turns having sex with him 24/7 to punish him.  (I kid you not!)

Apparently this is too much of a good thing for even a healthy young male like Paxton, who is quickly worn to a frazzle -- he goes on a hunger strike.  After a couple of weeks, Paxton's absence from class is noticed, and rumors about what is going on in the attic get back to the college's dean.   Paxton is released from captivity just in the nick of time and is taken to the hospital to recover from his ordeal.  The authorities decide that because Paxton was such a cad, the three women should not be punished.

Three in the Attic, which was filmed on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, has some remarkably bad lines.  My favorite is the line Paxton uses to pick up Yvette Mimieux: "You have nice hair -- it fits the mood of your butt."  (Her response is scornful -- "You're infinitely boring" -- but it doesn't take long for him to bed her.)

In 1970, Jones appeared in a serious, big-budget movie -- Ryan's Daughter, a romantic drama set in Ireland during World War I and based very loosely on the novel Madame BovaryRyan's Daughter was directed by legendary British director David Lean -- who directed the epics The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago -- and also starred Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, John Mills (he's the village idiot), Leo McKern and Sarah Miles.

Here's a short documentary on Lean and Ryan's Daughter:

The role of the young British army officer that went to Jones was originally written for Marlon Brando.  Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, and Richard Burton were also considered for the role, but Lean decided he wanted Jones.  The two men did not work well together.  

During filming, Sharon Tate -- the wife of director Roman Polanski -- was killed by Charles Manson and his followers.  Jones later claimed that he was the father of the baby Tate was pregnant with when she was murdered.

Christopher Jones then walked away from his movie career.  He moved back to Los Angeles and devoted his energy to painting and to being a father to his five children.

In 1994, Quentin Tarantino asked Jones to appear in Pulp Fiction.  Jones turned the offer down.  

In 1996, Jones did a cameo in a crime movie called Mad Dog Time, which featured Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Gabriel Byrne, Ellen Barkin, Diane Lane, Burt Reynolds, Richard Pryor, Billy Idol, Paul Anka, and Rob Reiner -- among others.  (One reviewer said the film was "jaw-droppingly incoherent."  Siskel and Ebert picked it as the worst movie of the year, and Ebert said it was "the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time.")  That was apparently enough for Jones -- he never appeared in another film. 

But back to our song.  "Shape of Things to Come" was written by the husband-wife team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who also wrote "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (a hit for the Righteous Brothers), "Kicks" (Paul Revere and the Raiders), "On Broadway" (the Drifters), "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (the Animals), "I Just Can't Help Believin'" (B. J. Thomas), and many other hit songs.  

The song is credited to Max Frost and the Troopers, which was Christopher Jones's fictional band in the movie.  It appears that the singer was Paul Wybier and the band was Davie Allan & the Arrows, a Southern California surf music band that was signed by record producer Mike Curb in 1964.  Curb later signed a deal with AIP to supply it with movie soundtracks.  Allan -- best known for his heavily distorted "fuzz" guitar sound -- had his biggest hit with "Blue's Theme" an instrumental from the soundtrack for The Wild Angels.
Here's the song:

A number of bands have covered "Shape of Things to Come," including Paul Revere and the Raiders, Rush, Slade, and the Ramones:

To buy this song from iTunes, click here: Max Frost & The Troopers - Shape of Things to Come - Single - Shape of Things to Come

To buy it from Amazon. com, use this link:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holly and the Italians -- "Youth Coup" (1981)

I'm bored with everything that I see
I'm bored with you and you with me
I can't get a job, I can't advance . . .
There's gonna be a youth coup
'Cause it's time for something new
Even though I'm almost 58 years old, rock music is still VERY important to me.  But it  bothers me to see bands still touring when their members are my age or older.

Rock music performers should be young and they should be pissed off at their parents or adults in general.  In "My Generation," the Who famously sang "Hope I die before I get old" -- but they didn't.  (Except for Keith Moon, of course, whose drumming on "I Can See For Miles" is without a doubt the greatest performance by a rock drummer ever.)  Any true fan of the Who who saw their travesty of a performance at halftime of the 2010 Super Bowl had to feel like it would have been better if they had. 

"Youth Coup" is hardly "My Generation" circa 1981.  But at least Holly Vincent of Holly and the Italians had a little bit of an attitude.  

This short-lived band is better known for "Tell That Girl to Shut Up," the single that led to their getting an album deal.  But "Youth Coup" is a great little rock anthem.  And like the songs discussed in my last few posts, I discovered it thanks to the "Mystic Eye" radio show.

Here's the album version of "Youth Coup":

Here's a video of the band performing the song live:

As a special bonus, here's "Tell That Girl to Shut Up": 

But wait, there's more!  Here's the video of Transvision Vamp's 1988 version of that song:

To order an MP3 of "Youth Coup" for your very own, click here:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Urban Verbs -- "Next Question" (1980)

I'm faced with 
The next question
Is this love
Or just a feeling?

For some reason, I always associate the Urban Verbs -- yet another band whose music I first heard on the "Mystic Eyes" radio program in 1980 -- with the Talking Heads.  I'm not sure why, except for the fact that the Taking Heads' drummer, Chris Frantz, was the brother of the Urban Verbs' lead singer, Roddy Frantz.  Both were beloved by most critics, but the bands really couldn't have been more different in attitude.  The Urban Verbs were unhappy, full of angst -- some might say they were whiny and their music was depressing -- while the Talking Heads were quirky and offbeat and funny, and usually had their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks.

The Urban Verbs didn't last long.  Their debut album -- or their eponymous debut album (that's a word you pretty much only use when you're talking about debut albums) -- was released in 1980.  Its tracks included "The Angry Young Men" ("Oh no, the end is at hand"), "Subways" ("Down here I don't have to say anything/I just sit and look out the window"), "Tina Grey" ("Tina's put her fist through the glass" because "she doesn't want a baby"), and "The Good Life" ("I wouldn't take a piss on your good life") -- I warned you their music was depressing.  They put out a second LP the next year, and then broke up in 1982.  Sic transit gloria.

"Next Question" is my favorite Urban Verbs song.  It's about a couple who may or may not be in love, but the singer is willing to assume, arguendo, that they are in love.  His question is  

If this is love, how will it change us?
Make us move just a little bit closer
Or will you call me every evening? . . .
What do you want?
Why don't you show me?
Hold hands in public?
But then we'd look like we're married

Poor guy -- so confused.

This song reminds me of something A. J. Byatt wrote in her novel, Possession, about modern young intellectuals:  "They were children of a time and culture that mistrusted love, 'in love,' romantic love, romance in toto, and which nevertheless in revenge proliferated sexual language, linguistic sexuality, analysis, dissection, deconstruction, exposure."

In Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance," the singer is the male member of a young, inexperienced, Romeo-and-Juliet-like couple:

Well, I remember when the lights went out
And I was tryin' to make it look like it was never in doubt
She thought that I knew, and I thought that she knew
So both of us were willing, but we didn't know how to do it

Byatt's overeducated post-docs have just the opposite problem.  They know exactly how to do it,  but aren't quite sure if they want to do it or would prefer to just talk about doing it or better yet write an article for a scholarly journal exploring the biological, psychological, sociological, anthropological, philosophical, or literary implications of doing it.

The narrator of "Next Question" is like Byatt's grad students -- he talks too much and thinks too much.  He's trying to write a script for his life rather than just letting it happen.  You really want to grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shaking.

Here's a Youtube video featuring a live version of "Next Question":

If you'd like to buy the song, here's a link:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Squeeze -- "If I Didn't Love You" (1980)

If I
If I
If I
If I
If I
If I
If I
If I didn't love you, I 'd hate you
Squeeze is yet another band I first heard on the "Mystic Eyes" program, although they became popular enough that I also heard their music elsewhere as well.  This song is from their third LP, Argybargy, which is a new wave masterpiece -- it has a number of very strong and very memorable tracks, and it's essentially impossible not to sing along when you listen to them.  (I was singing along to this one today while on a bike ride, and got a number of admiring looks from the walkers and joggers that I passed while singing at the top of my lungs.)

I have to disagree with Squeeze when it comes to love and hate -- love and hate aren't always mutually exclusive, either-or emotions.  Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel wasn't talking about romantic love when he said "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference," but I think that principle applies to romantic love.  

The French writer, Marcel Jouhandeau expressed a similar sentiment: "To really know someone is to have loved and hated him in turn."  (Jouhandeau also said "The heart has its prisons that intelligence cannot unlock," which may be as good as any explanation why love and hate can go together.)

Love most often turns to hate when it is not reciprocated, or when the beloved is guilty of deception or betrayal.  Perhaps Squeeze should have said Because you don't love me, I hate you, or Even though I love you, I hate you.

Here's the song:

Gruppo Sportivo -- "Hey Girl" (1979)

She said "Your nose is running, honey"
I said "Sorry, but it's not"
(Listen to the song a couple of times – you'll get it eventually.)

Someone once described Gruppo Sportivo as a Dutch band with an Italian name (which the band saw on a poster and liked – it means "sports team") that sang in French and English (sort of).  They are another one of the great bands that I became acquainted with in 1980 thanks to the "Mystic Eye" radio show.

Gruppo Sportivo's song lyrics sound they are the result of a partnership between a literature professor and a really obnoxious, show-offy 6th-grade boy.  (I'm pretty sure the 6th-grader wrote the lines quoted above.)  I'm a sucker for pop songs with goofy yet clever lyrics – Sparks, 10cc, etc. – especially if the band includes a Farfisa or Vox Continental organ:

Vox Continental organ
Gruppo Sportivo's first album – which was released in Europe in 1977 – was titled Ten Mistakes.  Their first American album – which was released in 1979 – was titled Mistakes, and most of its content came from Ten Mistakes.  

*     *     *     *     *

The first song on Mistakes is "Mission à Paris," which the band's website describes as "a dime-store spy novel of stolen NATO plans and secret rendezvouses at the Eiffel Tower."  (Whoever wrote that line could use an ESOL class or two.)

Mission a Paris
Shoot down immediately
Oh oh so and so
Du Deuxieme Bureau
Who stole a NATO plan
For flying carpet men
A secret formula
Ca va et cetera
(The Deuxieme Bureau was the French military intelligence agency.)

Click here to listen to "Mission à Paris."

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The most outrageous song on the LP (and there was some very stiff competition for that title) was "P.S. 78," an infectious little ditty about a high-school French class:

We are American kids
Rich daddies and big t*ts
Vive la France, les Wallons
Le camembert, et le bonbons
(If you can't remember the difference between camembert and brie, this article will help.)

Unfortunately, I can't find this song in its entirety on Youtube or elsewhere online – the best I can do for you is to provide a 30-second taste of "P.S. 78"  courtesy of Amazon.

*     *     *     *     *

Click here to listen to today's featured song, "Hey Girl."

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tru Fax and the Insaniacs -- "Washingtron" (1980)

I used to work as a waitron
in the lounge of the Hiltron
Now I work for my Senatron 
and I live in Arlingtron . . .
I'm just a Washingtron

I've written elsewhere on this blog about "The Mystic Eye," a bizarre Saturday-night radio show on the old WHFS in Washington, DC -- I taped about a hundred hours of this program in 1980, and still have those tapes. Recently, I discovered my handwritten lists of the songs on those tapes (or at least the songs that were identified on the tapes). At least half of the music on those tapes is stuff I never heard anywhere else, ranging from new wave to punk to power pop to truly bizarre novelty songs.

Let me digress briefly (sort of) to talk about two of the more memorable novelty songs. One was titled "My Girlfriend Is A Rock," by the Nervebreakers, a Texas garage band, and featured these lyrics:

My girlfriend is a rock
My girlfriend is a rock
She really likes to pogo to the beat
She dances pretty good for a piece of concrete
Yeah, my girlfriend is a rock . . .

Man, you oughta see her at the local pool
She swims pretty good as a general rule
But she doesn't swim quite as good
As a girlfriend made of wood

Unfortunately, the only video I could find of the Nervebreakers performing this song was shot in 2009, when the band was a bit past its prime:

The second novelty song I wanted to mention is "Fifi Goes Pop," a cautionary tale about a pet owner in a big hurry who puts his poodle in a microwave after bathing her -- obviously he had not read his owner's manual very carefully:

Fifi goes pop
At setting number two
Cooked from the inside out
In a Fifi barbecue

Here's the original "Fifi" 45:

Sucks to be Fifi, huh?

That brings us back to Tru Fax and the Insaniacs, a Washington punk band that made its first appearance at the infamous 9:30 Club (then located at 930 F St. NW in DC, only two blocks from my current office) in 1980, the year the club opened -- and the same year I was faithfully recording "The Mystic Eye" every Saturday night. (To read the Washington Post's recent article on the old 9:30 Club, just click here -- I've done all the work for you.)

The final concert at the original 9:30 Club took place on December 31, 1995. The bands who performed the last few days before the club moved to new digs included Tru Fax and many other "Mystic Eye" stalwarts -- like the Insect Surfers, Urban Verbs, Slickee Boys, and Tiny Desk Unit. Some of the performances from the club's last week have been released on two CDs titled 9:30 Live: A Time, A Place, A Scene.

"Washingtron" was the band's most popular song by far -- they didn't record that much. As someone who worked for the federal government back in those days, I can attest that it captured a certain aspect of the reality of life in Washington: for a lot of people, life in DC was a pretty mundane 9-to-5 kind of existence.

Tru Fax's lead singer, Diana Quinn, has a website with some information on the band's history if you're interested.  (By the way, I don't think "Tru Fax" has anything to do with facsimile machines -- which were not widely used when the band got started in 1978.  Think "true facts" instead.)

To buy "Washingtron" from Amazon or just hear a 30-second excerpt from the song, go here:

To buy the entire 9:30 Live compilation from Amazon, go here: