Sunday, March 31, 2013

Flamin' Groovies -- "Shake Some Action" (1976) (part 1 of 3)

It's taken me so long
To get where I belong
Please don't send me back that way
For I will make you pay

Today is a very special day for 2 or 3 lines.  "Shake Some Action" is the 500th song that has been featured on my wildly popular little blog.

You best believe I think "Shake Some Action" is a very special song.  In fact, I thought about saving it to be the 1000th song featured on 2 or 3 lines, but I don't want to presume too much -- after all, I'm not gettin' any younger.  (And neither are you, I might add.)

"Shake Some Action" is too big a deal for just one 2 or 3 lines -- it deserves a two-parter.  Actually, it deserves a THREE-parter -- which is unprecedented in the history of 2 or 3 lines.

And we've pulled out all the stops for parts two and three.  Part two will feature an appreciation of "Shake Some Action" by Joe Nolte of the Last, whose "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" was the very first song featured on 2 or 3 lines way back in 2009.  Click here to read that post and listen to that remarkable song.

As good as part two is, I've saved the best for last.

Part three will feature a conversation with Chris Wilson, who became the lead singer of the Flamin' Groovies in 1972 and co-wrote the original songs on the group's greatest album, Shake Some Action (1976), including the title track.  (With all due respect to the many other fine musicians I've interviewed for 2 or 3 lines, Chris Wilson is a REALLY BIG F*CKIN' DEAL -- I'm thrilled he agreed to talk to me about the Groovies.)

How special is "Shake Some Action"?  Here's a 2001 customer review from Amazon:

I have heard the song "Shake Some Action" some 5,000 times since 1977, and from the opening notes, and from the moment those first, dark, pulsing notes ring out, the same thing happens: the world stands still, reality drops away, and I am enveloped in a total shivering, dark, throbbing universe of thrill, memory and obsession.  Not only is this song one of the greatest pop recordings ever, it is one of the most striking works of art ever created.  Absolute perfection.  Nothing else on the album is quite as good as the song "Shake Some Action" (whose first five seconds alone are towering, monumental), but very little in all of human creative endeavor quite matches it.

I couldn't have said it better myself.   (I probably wouldn't have written that "very little in all of human creative endeavor" matches this song for fear of sounding a little over-the-top, but that's pretty much exactly how I feel about this song.)

The Flamin' Groovies
You may have never heard of the Flamin' Groovies.  They put out several major-label albums between 1969 and 1979, but none of those albums were big sellers, and they never had a big hit single. 

And you may have never heard "Shake Some Action."  If you haven't, we need to cure that toot sweet.

Click here to listen to "Shake Some Action."  Take a listen to it (or two or three) and then we'll talk some more.

*     *     *     *     *

I don't know what makes "Shake Some Action" such a great song.  It's got a great little opening hook, and a great chorus.  But I think the key to the song's greatness is that it immediately gets into a perfect rhythmic groove that it never loses.  It's one-third Stones, one-third Creedence Clearwater Revival, and one-third something that's even better than either of them.

Pitchfork's Joe Tangari wrote that "Shake Some Action" is "a minor masterpiece of jangling, harmony-soaked guitar pop . . . that piles wave upon wave of hooks on a solid backbeat, all wrapped up in big, wet reverb.  It's a classic in every way except one: Almost nobody's heard it." 

Comparing "Shake Some Action" to another song on the Shake Some Action album, Rollingstone reviewer Gaylord Fields had this to say: "[T]he title song is a different, nastier animal with a riff so tough, propulsive and universal it's a wonder that it's not currently being used to hawk bluejeans or vacation cruises."  (One of the songs the Flamin' Groovies covered on that album was the Stones' "She Said Yeah," which recently was used to hawk Bleu de Chanel men's fragrance.) 

The Flamin' Groovies were always either ahead of their time, or behind it, or both.  That may explain why they were not a big commercial success.  Here's more from Pitchfork's Tangari:

The Flamin' Groovies were a band out of time.  Formed in 1965, they played lean, hard-driving boogie and had a sharp-cut, stylish image in a San Francisco scene that was more about free love, secondhand clothes, and 28-minute modal jams.  [NOTE: In other words, they weren't the Grateful Dead -- thank goodness.]  

The Groovies top a Halloween
bill at the Fillmore
That raucous, explosive version of the band lasted until 1972, when original vocalist Roy Loney left and guitarist Cyril Jordan took the reins, moving them to Britain.  There, they hooked up with roots rocker Dave Edmunds, who produced a session for them that pointed toward a distinctly different path, one deeply indebted to the British Invasion sounds that everyone else had moved on from.

Amongst their Stones-influenced cuts lay two of the most exquisite power-pop tracks of the 70s, "You Tore Me Down" and "Shake Some Action", which gave its title to the album the band made in 1976 after a lengthy recording hiatus.  Shake Some Action was in every sense both a comeback and a re-invention, and it's been rightly championed by collectors and critics extolling its effortless pop perfection.  If it had been released in 1966, it could have been a smash and a popular landmark, but a decade later, [it] sank like a stone in the marketplace. 
Since you didn't buy the LP when it was originally released in 1976, and you didn't buy the CD release in 2005, you have 2 or 3 lines to thank for the fact that you didn't go to your grave having never heard "Shake Some Action."

If all goes well, 2 or 3 lines will get to song #1000 in a little more than 34 months.  That means I have until early February, 2016, to come up with a song at least as special as "Shake Some Action."  

I'd better get busy!

Click here to listen to "Shake Some Action."  Don't forget to come back in two days for Joe Nolte's appreciation of the song, followed by our exclusive interview with Chris Wilson, the lead singer and co-writer of "Shake Some Action."

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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beatles -- "Drive My Car/The Word/What You're Doing" (2006)

Would it be too much
To ask of you
What you're doing to me?

I'm not sure I ever heard "What You're Doing" until I listened to Love, a remix-mashup album of Beatles music by legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son, Giles.

Love was created to be the soundtrack for a Cirque du Soleil show of the same name, which opened in June 2006 in a specially-built theater at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas and has been running there ever since.

Here's a trailer for Cirque du Soleil's Love that should give you an idea of what the show is like:

The Love album is almost 79 minutes long and incorporates elements from 130 Beatles songs.  Some of its tracks consist primarily of a single Beatles song, always remixed and often shortened, but sounding relatively similar to the original.  

But there are several tracks (like this one) that splice together two or three songs, throw in brief snippets from other songs -- perhaps just a single guitar chord -- and are more accurately described as mashups, although they differ in significant respects from the music created by mashup artists like Girl Talk or Super Mash Bros.  (The mashups in Love aren't quite as mashed up as most regular mashups are.)

While this track is titled "Drive My Car/The Word/What You're Doing," the actual order is "Drive My Car/What You're Doing/The Word."

The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas
Things kick off with a verse and chorus from "Drive My Car."  The verse is relatively unaltered, but the chorus is enhanced with some "Savoy Truffle" horns.

Next comes part of the guitar solo from "Taxman," which segues almost seamlessly into the guitar solo from "Drive My Car."  (One reviewer called it a "sleight-of-hand edit," and that is a very apt description.)  Fifty seconds into the song, you're ready for the second verse of "Drive My Car," but instead you get the first verse of "What You're Doing" -- once again, the transition is almost seamless.

At about 1:23 if the track, there's a brief drums-and-handclaps bridge that drops us into the middle of Rubber Soul's "The Word."  We get another taste of those "Savoy Truffle" horns before the track fades to black less than two minutes after it begins.

Here's a little background on "What You're Doing."  It was released in the United States in 1965.  It led off the second side of Beatles VI, which was actually the Beatles' seventh Capitol Records album.  (The group had previously released two other albums on other labels in the U.S.)

Beatles VI is a real mishmash of an album -- it included covers of songs by Buddy Holly, Larry Williams, and Lieber and Stoller, and several originals that had been released in the UK the previous year.  The only really well-known Lennon-McCartney song on the album is "Eight Days a Week."

Love is an album that any Beatles fan should own.  Unlike covers of Beatles songs recorded by other artists, you're getting the real McCoy here -- but a little different from what you're used to hearing.  The majority of the tracks are more remix than mashup, and much of the remixing is relatively subtle.  

Sir George Martin with his son, Giles
But just about every remixed song sounds better to me than the original.  Perhaps that's because a sophisticated producer like Martin has more electronic tools at his command these days than he did 40-odd years ago.

Or maybe it's because we've heard the originals so many times that even a subtly different mix sounds fresh.

Here's "Drive My Car/The Word/What You're Doing":

Here's a link you can use to buy the Love CD from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Coolio -- "Gangsta's Paradise" (1995)

As I walk through the valley 
Of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life 
And realize there's nothin' left

You're probably wondering why I picked this song to feature on 2 or 3 lines today.  That's a fair question, and I'm happy to answer it.

A couple of weeks ago, I somehow stumbled across a link to three Youtube videos of Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon performing medleys of brief excerpts of well-known rap songs on Fallon's late-night talk show.  

The third so-called "History of Rap" video is only five minutes long, but the boys manage to squeeze in  snippets of 18 hip-hop classics -- "Sabotage" (by the Beastie Boys), "Baby Got Back" (Sir Mix-A-Lot), "Bust a Move" (Young MC), "Jump Around" (House of Pain), and many others -- in that five minutes.    Right in the middle of the video is twelve seconds of "Gangsta's Paradise," which wasn't nearly enough to satisfy me. 

Here's the aforementioned video.  It's really, really good (as are the other two):

Before we talk about "Gangsta's Paradise," I have a brief story about Jimmy Fallon.  When I shared this video with a young woman who works in my office, she told me that she once had a date with Jimmy Fallon.  I think this was quite some time ago -- before he had his own TV show, and before he did Fever Pitch, a godawful 2005 movie (co-starring the godawful Drew Barrymore) in which Fallon plays a devoted fan of the godawful Boston Red Sox.

The second-worst scene in Fever Pitch is when Barrymore's character gets sick and throws up during her first date with Fallon's character, who wins her heart by brushing her dog's teeth after the dog eats the vomit.  The worst scene in the movie is when the Red Sox win the 2004 AL pennant over the Yankees.

(Gag me with a spoon!)
Anyway, Fallon and my young friend had only one date.  (I don't think she threw up during the date, inspiring the scene in the movie, but I don't know for sure.)  I told her that Fallon struck me as a bit of a tool, so she shouldn't feel bad.  She agreed that he was a bit of a tool, but then pointed out how much alimony she might have gotten from him now that's he hit it so big.  I tried to comfort her by telling her there are plenty of rich tools out there that a beautiful and accomplished young woman like her can squeeze a heapin' helpin' of alimony out of.  I think she felt much better after our conversation!

"Gangsta's Paradise" is the most memorable thing about the 1995 movie, Dangerous Minds, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer as an idealistic teacher at a ghetto high school in California.  It's sort of a poor man's (or poor woman's) To Sir, With Love.  

I don't know about you, but Michelle Pfeiffer never did much for me.  I liked her in Dangerous Liaisons and The Age of Innocence, but both those movies are period pieces -- her characters never really came alive for me.  (By contrast, Deborah Winger's characters always seemed very real to me -- they had an essential personality that Pfeiffer's characters seem to be missing.)

Coolio was born Artis Leon Ivey, Jr., in Compton, CA, in 1963.  "Gangsta's Paradise" was a huge international hit, reaching #1 not only in the United States, but also in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and a dozen European countries -- including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and all the Scandinavian countries.  (For some reason, it only made it to #29 in the our neighbor to the north.  What's your problem, Canada?)  The song won the Grammy for "Best Rap Solo Performance."

Coolio's career peaked shortly after "Gangsta's Paradise" was released.  Recently he's become a regular on reality TV -- last year, he finished second in the Food Network's Celebrity Cook-Off, and just a couple of weeks ago, he was on ABC's Celebrity Wife Swap.  (As the Romans would have said, "Sic transit gloria mundi.")

"Gangsta's Paradise" is nothing we haven't heard before.  The singer is a young African-American man who's trapped in a ghetto, living on his wits -- with a little help from a few guns and his homies.  He's self-aware enough to realize that he'll never walk away from his gangsta's life, despite the very real dangers that accompany it -- he's too hooked on the money and the highs.  "I'm 23 now, but will I live to see 24?" he asks himself, knowing that the answer is "probably not."  

Here's the official music video for "Gangsta's Paradise," which features Michelle Pfeiffer and a number of shots from Dangerous Minds.  

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Doors (Paul Oakenfold remix) -- "L. A. Woman" (2007

Well, I just got into town about an hour ago
Took a look around, see which way the wind blow
Where the little girls in their Hollywood bungalows?

In the previous 2 or 3 lines, I introduced you to Hank Moody, the protagonist of the Showtime television series, Californication.

Hank is portrayed by David Duchovny of X-Files fame.  Duchovny acts sort of dopey most of the time, but it's just an act.  He graduated from Princeton in 1982 -- he was an English literature major who wrote a senior thesis about Samuel Beckett's early novels, and also played basketball and baseball -- and then got a master's from Yale, where he was a student of the famous literary critic, Harold Bloom.  (He was working on a Ph.D. at Yale but got sidetracked when he became a TV and movie star.)

David Duchovny in high school
It's just amazing how the ladies are drawn to Hank in Californication.  In one early episode, a young lovely pulls up next to our hero at a stoplight.  They are both driving convertibles, so they strike up a brief conversation while waiting for the light to change.  Before the light turns green and she drives away, the young lovely throws a little paper airplane with her name and phone number written on it into Hank's car.

It's not clear what it is about Hank that inspires her to engage in such wanton behavior.  Duchovny is good-looking is sort of a sleepy way, but he's also a mess -- his clothes are disheveled, he hasn't shaved, and he's sufficiently hungover to act as if he has a room-temperature IQ.  He is driving a Porsche, but it's a very dirty 1991 Porsche with a banged-up fender and broken headlight.

Hank Moody's banged-up Porsche
Not surprisingly, Hank calls the number on the paper airplane when he gets home.  The young lovely -- a very appealing and friendly blonde -- turns out to be a porn star.  (Eureka!)  Unfortunately, her baby daughter starts crying just as she is unzipping Hank for a  . . . how shall I put it? . . . for a "Monica." 

While the porn star is willing to let her infant cry herself to sleep and continue taking care of business, Hank politely demurs.  "Go take care of your daughter," he says, and then excuses himself.  (Such a gentleman!)

I love Californication, but I can't claim that it's a very realistic show.  Think of it like a romance novel -- but for guys.  

The actress who plays the porn star looks nothing like the typical porn star, but it turns out that she is the very successful porn star, Brooke Banner.  Brooke is a stunning girl-next-door type who has been nominated for AVN Awards (the Oscars of the adult-video business) for "Best All-Girl Sex Scene" (2005) and for "Best Oral Sex Scene" (2010).

Brooke Banner giving Hank Moody the eye
Why in the world would the porn star have picked Hank to proposition when he not only looks scruffy but also looks broke?  And are we really supposed to believe that Hank would have left mid-Monica just because the young lovely's infant was bawling?

In the same episode, Hank is invited to a small dinner party at the house of his ex and the creepy rich guy she is planning to marry.  He's a real wiseass under the best of circumstances, and being with his ex and the creepy rich guy are definitely not the best of circumstances. 

Hank's introduced to a recently divorced woman named Sonja who has been invited by Hank's ex in hopes that the two hit it off.  Hank quickly insults Sonja -- he makes a nasty crack about Scientology, and Sonja announces that she is a Scientologist.  (Don't you just hate it when that happens?)

But Hank's magnetic charm (or maybe his Axe deodorant?) saves the day.  Before the evening is over, she invites him into a bedroom and disrobes for him.  She asks him to critique her body -- her ex-husband left her for another man, which (not surprisingly) didn't exactly do wonders for her self-esteem.

Hank (always the gentleman) comments favorably on her key body parts, and concludes by telling her she is one of the most beautiful women he's seen in a long time.  (That's no exaggeration.)

Click here if you'd like to watch the scene.

By the way, there was a very similar scene in a wonderful little 2001 movie called Lovely and Amazing, which starred two of my favorite actresses, Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer. 

Emily's character -- an actress -- is puzzled by her inability to get roles, and decides that directors must think there is something wrong with her body.  So she stands buck nekkid in front of a successful actor she is about to go to bed with, asking him to give her his honest appraisal of her body.  This scene alone is worth the price of a DVD of Lovely and Amazing, and the rest of the movie is great as well.

Emily Mortimer and Catherine Keener
(Before you ladies out there assume that the point of this scene was to provide a little gratuitous titillation for the movie's male viewers, I'd like to point out that the director of Lovely and Amazing was Nicole Holofcener -- who just happens to be a woman.)

I later found out that the Sonja character in Californication was played by Paula Marshall, an actress who has appeared in several movies but has had more success on the small screen. 

Paula was born in Rockville, Maryland -- which just happens to be where 2 or 3 lines world headquarters are located -- and graduated from Robert E. Peary High School in Rockville in 1982.  Peary High closed in 1984, and the building is now the home of Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, a coed Modern Orthodox Jewish day school with about 700 students.  (I've refereed at Hebrew Academy several times, and have gotten to know several Peary alums over the years.)

Paula Marshall
I was a little late to the Californication party.  The show is in its sixth season, but I've never had Showtime or HBO, so I'm dependent on my trusty public library if I want to watch it (or The Sopranos or Deadwood or The Wire or Homeland).  That means waiting a couple of years until the shows are released on DVD.   

The second episode of the first season of Californication features a remix of the Doors' classic, "L.A. Woman," by English record producer and DJ Paul Oakenfold.

When I started listening to rock music in the sixties, there was usually only one version of a song by a given artist.  Sometimes other singers or groups covered a song, but there was usually only one version of a record by a given recording artist.

There were two exceptions to this rule.  First, a singer might release a live version of a popular record.  And when rock bands started recording longer and longer tracks, they often released a version that had been edited down to a length that was more suitable to be played on top 40 radio stations.  

Today, anything goes.  Remixes of all shapes and sizes abound.

A remix usually involves stripping out a recorded song's original vocal track or rhythm track and replacing it with a different one, or otherwise enhancing the original tracks in some fashion.  Remixed songs are often lengthened in various ways -- either by repeating existing song elements, or inserting new material.

Master remixer Paul Oakenfold
A mashup differs from a remix by including elements of more than one song -- many mashups involve overlaying a vocal track from one song on an instrumental track from another.  Some combine different songs horizontally (one succeeding the other) as well as vertically (one on top of the other) .

Paul Oakenfold is usually described as a trance DJ, but there are a number of electronic dance music ("EDM") genres and subgenres, and I'm by no means sure that his remix of "L. A. Woman" (which apparently was created especially for Californication) is most accurately described as trance music rather than techno or chill-out or whatever.  Oakenfold tours a lot, and a few years he became the resident DJ at Rain Nightclub, a spectacular 25,000-square-foot dance club in Las Vegas.   

Click here to play Paul Oakenfold's compelling remix of "L.A. Woman":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Super Mash Bros. -- "Islands May Close But Little Hawaii Is Forever" (2012)

How come every time you come around
My London, London Bridge wanna go down

The main character of the Showtime television series, Californication, Hank Moody, is an edgy, angry-young-man-type novelist from New York City.  When the series begins, Hank has been living in Los Angeles for five years, and he hasn't written a word since making the move.  

Actually, that's not entirely accurate.  Hank's worried agent persuades him to write a blog for a made-up Los Angeles magazine called Hell-A.  Hank views blogging as loathsome and a total waste of time, and most of his posts are off-the-top-of-his-head rants directed at whomever or whatever gets under his skin.  (Remind you of anyone?)

Hank Moody blogging
What does a hip novelist with writer's block do to fill up his days?  In Hank Moody's case, he drinks a lot.  He also gets laid at least a couple of times a day -- usually without even trying.

In other words, a lot of young lovelies are letting their London Bridge go down for our boy Hank.  

Hank gets laid so often that you might think he must be a bit of a cad.  But Hank is a good-hearted sort.  He's a loving father (to a very precocious 12-year-old daughter) and is carrying a major torch for his baby momma -- he would gladly stop chasing bimbos if she would just come back to him.  

Unfortunately, Hank learns in the first episode of the show that his ex has decided to marry a creepy rich guy.  The guy turns out to be the father of the 16-year-old girl Hank had picked up the day before at a bookstore -- he noticed her browsing through one of his novels, which is the most powerful aphrodisiac there is for a novelist.

Hank and his 16-year-old fan (Madeline Zima)
Of course, Hank had no idea when he took her home for a romp in the hay that she was 16 or the daughter of his ex's betrothed.  (This girl is a delightfully predatory creature who who was born without a smidgen of conscience -- she will no doubt ruin the lives of many men before she is through.)

We'll learn more about Hank's very busy sex life in the next 2 or 3 lines.  But this is a music blog, right?  So we need to talk about music.

The next several 2 or 3 lines posts are going to feature mashups, remixes, medleys, and "break-in" songs -- all of which are musical creations that take one or more songs and do something to make them different.  In some cases, the resulting creation is so different that the original song is essentially unrecognizable.

Webster's defines "mashup" (or "mash-up") as "a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording."

Let's listen to today's featured mashup, "Islands May Close But Little Hawaii Is Forever," by the Super Mash Bros.  

The first part of the song combines the vocal track from "Ice Cream Paint Job," a 2009 single by Dorrough (a Dallas rapper) and the instrumental track from "Dani California," the Red Hot Chili Peppers hit that was featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines.  

(Some of you are under the illusion that I just pick songs at random.  Nothing could be further from the truth, boys and girls.  Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote that, "The common law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky," but 2 or 3 lines is not the common law -- there is a brooding omnipresence at work here.  You may not be attuned enough to discern the subtle pattern that I have woven into 2 or 3 lines, but trust me -- it is there.)  

At 00:23, there's a snippet from EMF's #1 hit from 1991, "Unbelievable."  (Don't blink -- you might miss it.)  

Next, the unmistakable introduction to Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" is mashed up with Fergie's 2006 hit, "London Bridge" -- which is the source of the lyrics quoted at the top of the post.

Fergie in front of a (but
not the) London bridge
The "London Bridge" vocals continue as "Good Times, Bad Times" makes a seamless transition to Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll."  

"Islands May Close" then closes with a minute or so from "I'm Real (Murder Remix"), a 2001 collaboration by Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule.  The instrumental track that accompanies J-Lo and Ja Rule's vocals is from "Heartbeats," a 2003 single by The Knife, which is an electronic music duo from Sweden.

Putting together mashups like this one requires an almost encyclopedic knowledge of pop music.  I'm sure that the process of stitching together all the disparate vocal and instrumental tracks that are vertically and horizontally combined in a mashup like this one requires a lot of technical skill and a lot of time.  But it seems to me that the key is having a brain that can retrieve just the right snippet from just the right song to plug into the musical jigsaw puzzle.

The Super Mash Bros. are a couple of guys who met up in 2006 while attending a Los Angeles high school.  Their name is taken from their favorite Nintendo 64 game, "Super Smash Bros," and most of their song titles are inside jokes that only their close friends understand. 

The Mile(y) High Club cover (2012)
I've been listening to the Super Mash Bros. nonstop for the last few days.  Their stuff is just delightful (not to mention addictive).  Their mashups incorporate many, many songs that deserve to be featured on 2 or 3 lines -- you can expect to see a post about "London Bridge" later this year.

I highly recommend following the Super Mash Bros. on Twitter (@SuperMashBros).  Here's just one example of their tweets:  "Anyone have tips on how to get my beard to look more like gosling in the notebook and less like to catch a predator?"

Ryan Gosling in The Notebook
"Islands May Close But Little Hawaii Is Forever" is from the duo's most recent album, The Mile(y) High Club.  I'm going to embed the song here so you don't have to scroll all the way back to the top to listen to it again.  (Is there anything else 2 or 3 lines can do to make your life easier?)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- "Dani California" (2006)

Getting born in the state of Mississippi
Papa was a copper and mama was a hippie 

A Mississippi policeman for a father and a hippie for a mother?  No wonder the heroine of "Dani California" had problems fitting in.

Dani California certainly got around.  She broke rocks in an Alabama prison, broke the law in Louisiana, and robbed a bank in Indiana.  Dani tried to make it to Minnesota, but was shot down by a North Dakota lawman before she got there.

I'm guessing Dani California wasn't her real name.  The song never places her outside of the Central Time Zone, but you have to think she made it to California at some point.  Otherwise, her moniker doesn't make a lot of sense.

"Dani California" is a single from the RHCP's ninth studio album, Stadium Arcadium, which was released in 2006.  It was a top ten hit in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, and most European countries.  It only made it to #57 in France.  (What is it with those people anyway?)

Was Dani California based on a real person?  Many people believe that she is a composite of a number of past lovers of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' lead singer, Anthony Kiedis.  (We'll refer to the band as the "RHCP" from here on.)

Dani is also mentioned in the title track of the RHCP's previous album, By the Way:

Dani the girl 
Is singing songs to me
Beneath the marquee
Of her soul

In 2007, Showtime debuted a new television series titled Californication -- which just happens to be not only the name of the 1999 RHCP hit single that was featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines, but also the title of the hugely successful album of the same name.  (Click here to read that post.)  It sold five million copies in the U.S. alone, and over 15 million copies worldwide.

Californication DVDs
Not surprisingly, the RHCP lawyered up when they heard about the Showtime series.  Click here if you'd like to read the complaint they filed against Showtime and the producer of the Californication series.  (I can't imagine why you would want to read it, but some of my readers are very odd people.)

The case was settled out of court.  Litigation is very expensive, and it's difficult to justify spending the kind of money you have to spend to go to trial unless you have an open-and-shut case.  In addition, it's not clear that the band would have been entitled to much in the way of damages even if they had prevailed at trial.

The RHCP certainly didn't invent the word "Californication."  Time magazine had used it in 1972 in an article about the fears of non-Californians that the rapid population growth and resulting urban sprawl, traffic, and other problems that were beginning to rear their ugly heads in California would spill over into their states.

Oregonians were particularly anti-California.  The creator and executive producer of the Showtime TV series claimed that he had gotten the idea for the title of the series not from the RHCP album, but from the "Don't Californicate Oregon" bumper stickers that were popular in Oregon in the seventies.

However, the Showtime series also featured a character named Dani California, which makes you wonder whether the producer doth protest too much.  (As far as I know, Oregon cars weren't sporting Dani California bumper stickers in the seventies.)

Rachel Miner as "Dani California"
in Showtime's Californication
By the way, the titles given to the novels that the main character of the Californication TV show had supposedly written (God Hates Us All, Season in the Abyss, and South of Heaven) are also the titles of Slayer albums.  And individual episodes of the show were named after songs by Bob Seger ("Turn the Page") and the Sex Pistols ("Filthy Lucre") and the Martin Scorsese movie about the Band's final concert ("The Last Waltz").

Of course, people who live in glass houses are the pot calling the kettle black.  "Dani California" sounds suspiciously similar to Tom Petty's 1993 hit, "Mary Jane's Last Dance."  (Both songs were produced by Rick Rubin.)

The video for "Dani California" is very entertaining.  It simply shows the group performing the song on stage, but there are a number of costume changes.  

Flea channeling Bootsy Collins
in the "Dani California" music video
The band's various outfits provide a sort of illustrated history (in chronological order) of different pop music genres -- beginning with rockabilly (think Elvis) and progressing through the British Invasion (think the Beatles), psychedelic rock, funk (Parliament/Funkadelic was obviously the inspiration here), glam rock, punk, Goth, hair metal, and grunge (as personified by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana on MTV's "Unplugged").

Here's the music video for "Mary Jane's Last . . ." -- oops, I mean "Dani California":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- "Californication" (1999)

It's understood
That Hollywood
Sells Californication

We're going to try something a little different today.  Pay close attention, boys and girls.

1.  "I Wonder as I Wander"

"I Wonder as I Wander" is a Christmas carol that folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles wrote in 1933.  It's based on a song fragment he heard a girl sing at a meeting of evangelical Christians in an Appalachian town.  

I mention "I Wonder as I Wander" because it is an apt description of how the typical 2 or 3 lines post is created.  There's a lot of wondering on the part of the author, and there's even more wandering.  

2. Portemanteau

The literal meaning of the French portmanteau word portemanteau is "it carries the cloak."  The plural of that word, of course is portmanteaux.  

3.  Portmanteau

A "portmanteau" -- I'm not sure why the "e" at the end of the first syllable of the French word disappeared -- is a coat tree or coat rack:  

It also means a type of luggage that opens into two equal halves:

4.  Portmanteau words

A "portmanteau word" is a combination of two (or more) words or morphemes (semantic units that may or may not be stand-alone words) into a new word.  For example, "brunch" is a portmanteau word that combines "breakfast" and "lunch," and means a meal that has certain characteristics of both.  (FYI, "brunch" was first used in the British humor magazine, Punch, in 1896.)  "Spork," "infomercial," and "turducken" are other examples of portmanteau words.

Some city names are portmanteau words -- e.g., Texarkana (which is divided by the Texas-Arkansas state line), Calexico (a California city on the Mexican border), and Mexicali (a Mexican city on the California border).

The names of "supercouples" are often turned into portmanteau words -- "Billary," "Bennifer," "Brangelina," and "TomKat" are examples.

"Frankenword" is another term for a portmanteau word, but usually connotes a somewhat awkward or clumsy one.

Don't confuse portmanteau words and syllabic abbreviations, which are words formed by combining the initial syllables of other words -- e.g., "Nabisco" (originally the "National Biscuit Company") or "SoHo" (a New York City neighborhood located south of Houston Street)

5.  Californication

"Californication" (a portmanteau word that combines "California" and "fornication") was originally used in Time magazine several decades ago.  It had nothing to do with sex per se -- rather, it was a pejorative term used by residents of other states (particularly Oregonians) to describe the unbridled growth and development of California in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  

"Don't Californicate Oregon" bumper stickers began to appear on the cars of Oregon residents who didn't cotton to California-style urban sprawl and traffic, and were afraid that immigration into the state (particularly immigration from California) would spoil the idyllic way of life enjoyed by residents of the Beaver State.

6.  Californication

Californication, which was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' seventh studio album, was released in 1999.  It was produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.

"Californication" is track six on the Californication album.  It's not really about California as much as it's about Los Angeles (especially Hollywood), and it doesn't have much good to say about it.

"Californication" is about the gap between reality and the myths that Hollywood has sold to the rest of the world.  The movies are full of special effects and computer-generated imagery ("CGI").  But the unreality of southern California goes well beyond the world of the movies.  L.A. is also the plastic surgery capital of the world, and if you live there, it's no big thing to "pay your surgeon very well/to break the spell of aging."

7.  "First-born unicorn"

"First-born unicorn," a line from "Californication," appears to be a reference to Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playboy "Playmate of the Year," who was murdered by her estranged husband after she left him and moved in with Peter Bogdanovich, who had directed Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and several other movies.  Stratten was 20 years old when she died.

Dorothy Stratten
Bogdanovich, who was 41 at the time, later wrote a book about Stratten titled The Killing of the Unicorn.  I haven't read the book, and I don't know if it explains why Bogdanovich refers to Stratten as a unicorn.  The unicorn is a legendary creature that is a symbol of purity and grace, and I assume that Bogdanovich felt that it was a fitting metaphor for Stratten.

In 1988, Bogdanovich -- who was then 49 -- married Dorothy's younger sister, 20-year-old Louise Stratten.  (It has been reported that he began sending her expensive gifts in 1982, when she was a 14-year-old junior high student in British Columbia, where Dorothy had grown up.)  They got divorced in 2001.  

Peter Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten
Dorothy Stratten is the subject of a number of songs other than "Californication," including two songs by Bryan Adams.  (Both Stratten and Adams are natives of Canada.)  

Two movies about her brief life and death were produced in the early eighties.  Jamie Lee Curtis portrayed her in Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, which aired on NBC in 1981.  Bob Fosse directed Star 80, a 1983 theatrical release that starred Mariel Hemingway.

8.  Mariel Hemingway's breast implants

In the 1982 movie, Personal Best, Mariel Hemingway portrayed a college track star.  If you've seen it, you know that Hemingway had an athletic figure with very small breasts.  

Mariel Hemingway in Personal Best
Before appearing in Star 80 the very next year, Hemingway had breast augmentation -- she didn't go for stripper-sized implants, but her breasts are significantly larger in Star 80 than they were in Personal Best.  Hemingway later denied that she got the implants for the movie, but you have to believe that she got them in hopes of giving her movie career a shot in the arm.  (Hemingway's implants later ruptured, and she had them removed.)  

Apr├Ęs les implants
I'm going to get on my soapbox for a very brief rant.  It's astonishing to me that beautiful women like Mariel Hemingway feel the need to have breast augmentation performed.

Apparently there were males out there who didn't think Mariel Hemingway was attractive and sexy because her breasts were smaller than average.  In my opinion, she didn't need breast implants -- those men needed brain implants.

9.  Californication (part two)

That's enough wondering and wandering for one 2 or 3 lines post.

Next time, we'll introduce you to the Showtime television series that's also titled Californication and discuss another Red Hot Chili Peppers song that seems to be very relevant to that show.

Here's "Californication":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Honey and the 45s -- "Lolita's Lament" (2012)

I didn’t ask for your love
Not that I mind
But where’d you come from?

The last 2 or 3 lines featured "Got the Need," a bouncy and somewhat retro-feeling song by a five-piece Chicago group called Honey and the 45s.  Click here to read that post.

Today, we're featuring "Lolita's Lament," a song with a very different feel.  

"Got the Need" is a song you'll probably find yourself singing along with.  It's almost guaranteed to get you seat dancing.  ("Seat dancing" -- also known as "dork dancing" -- is what you do when you're listening to funky music in your car, on an airplane, or at a live musical performance when the venue isn't conducive to getting on your feet to dance.)

Honey and the 45s
But "Lolita's Lament" is a song for when you're alone late at night -- it demands (and rewards) more careful listening.

The instrumentation of "Lolita's Lament" isn't entirely acoustic -- the guitars are plugged in -- but the guitars and the somewhat muffled drums (no snare, no cymbals) generally remain in the background.  The musical arrangement puts the spotlight squarely on Kim Kozel's sinuous violin.  Kristina Cottone's singing is front and center, of course, but Kim's violin functions almost like a second voice.

In the very last section of the song, Kim does sing in counterpoint with Kristina -- for me, this is when "Lolita's Lament" really takes off and becomes something special.

Kim Kozel

Before I share "Lolita's Lament" with you, I want to share part two of my interview with Kristina Cottone:

2 or 3 lines: Tell us about your new album, The Need.  I would describe it as a very eclectic album -- how would you characterize the music on it?  

Kristina Cottone:  The album reflects the diverse musical tastes of the members of Honey and the 45s.  You’ll hear jazz, rock, blues, soul, funk, folk, and even country undertones.  The album is also diverse because a few of the songs were written by me years before the band’s fruition.  They are personal songs, playful songs --  and Honey & the 45s brought them to a whole new level.  

A very young Kristina Cottone
2 or 3 lines: Kristina, where did you grow up?  Were your parents or siblings musicians -- or big fans of music?

Kristina: I grew up in Edwardsville, IL, which is about 30 miles outside of St. Louis.  There was always music in my life and in my home. My grandfather was a singer.  He sang with big bands, with quartets, with mariachis in Mexico, and basically, anywhere anyone would listen.  My mom was a private songwriter; she never really went public with any of it, but she’s very talented.  When she wasn’t writing songs of her own, she always had music playing:  Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Carole King. I fell deeply in love with Nat King Cole at a young age, and I still feel his voice is the greatest voice of all time. 

2 or 3 lines: Speaking of your mother . . . as you know, I went to high school with her.  I'm pretty sure she had a big crush on me back then -- I don't know that for sure, but so many girls I knew in high school did, so the odds are that she did, too.  I'm sure she's told you a lot about me over the years -- how much she always admired me, etc.  Am I right about that?

Kristina:  You are right on all fronts.  She has thrown the word "brilliant" around quite often. 

2 or 3 lines:  Does your mom still have the hat she's wearing in the high school newspaper picture below?  How embarrassed would you have been as a teenager if she had ever worn that hat in front of your friends?  

Kristina Cottone's mother in high school
Kristina:  She does not still have that hat, but I have similar hats of my own.  So I wouldn’t have been embarrassed.  Maybe when I was young, I would have been embarrassed by the crazy things my family did, but it gets to a point where you just say, "Yup, we’re goofy . . . and we’re fabulous!" 

2 or 3 lines: Did you have any formal musical training as a child?  Did you participate in school musical groups? 

Kristina:  I had a year of violin when I was young, but I was terrible.  I was in our middle school and high school choirs, and had fantastic teachers both places.  I never took voice lessons, but you can get away with a lot when you’re singing in a crowd.  I was actually quite shy about my singing voice until near the end of college, and I still am in a way.  Until recently I was terrified of trying to harmonize.  I was afraid I’d be off key, and I don’t know . . . the world would end if I was, right?  I had a lot of voice training for acting in college with the brilliant Phil Timberlake.  Voice training for actors is very different than voice training for singers, but I would recommend it to every singer.  

2 or 3 lines: I know a little about the way singers are trained, but I don't know anything about vocal training for actors.

Kristina:  The vocal methods I was trained in were the Fitzmaurice, Linklater and Alexander methods.  Each technique is different, but it’s all about breathing correctly, finding your own voice, and vocalizing in an efficient way that doesn't harm your voice.  Screams, cries, shouts, speaking, and singing all need to be supported.  People can do a lot of damage to their vocal chords if they don’t know what they’re doing. 

2 or 3 lines: When and where was your first public performance?  

Kristina:  My aunt was an actress. When I was five years old my family traveled to Minneapolis to see her in a production of "Nunsense" that had been running for years. The theater had a tradition of pulling a child out of the audience to say the Pledge of Allegiance before the show began. Of course, my aunt chose me. I remember the excitement of walking up to the stage, my nerves, feeling like I would forget something, and then arriving on stage with hundreds of eyes looking in my direction.  I said the Pledge with all of the fervor I could muster, and when I was finished there was thunderous applause.  I thought to myself, "Hey . . . I could get used to this!"

2 or 3 lines: What kind of music did you enjoy when you were a teenager?  Who were you a particular fan of when you were in high school?  

Kristina:  In high school, I got into Alanis Morissette, Jack Johnson, Fiona Apple, Dave Matthews Band, Ben Folds Five, Tracy Chapman, Shakira, The Black Eyed Peas, Common Sense, Mos Def, Talib Kweli.  Also Frank Sinatra -- I used to joke about how I wished Frank Sinatra could have been my prom date.  Later I went through a hip hop phase for quite a while and even attempted break dancing.  In college I fell in love with Regina Spektor, the Avett Brothers, Ray Lamontagne and Laura Marling. 

Kristina Cottone
2 or 3 lines:  When I was in college, we tended to listen to entire albums -- with LPs, it wasn't so easy to jump around from song to song.  With CDs and online music, you can  create playlists of individual songs instead of listening to albums from beginning to end.  How do you listen to music?

Kristina:  When I find an artist I like, I literally play their album over and over and over again.  I listen and re-listen for all the little details.  If a song makes me feel something powerful, I stick with it for a while before moving on to the next song.  I don’t know why but I almost feel like I’m “cheating” an album unless I’ve played it over and over again and given it my full attention before moving on to listening to another artist.  It was hard for me to get used to CD mixes for this reason.  I’ve gotten much better about this, and I’m not such an annoying road trip passenger as I used to be. 

2 or 3 lines: What artists would you say have influenced your writing and performing style?

Kristina:  Regina Spektor has certainly helped encourage the playful element of my music.  Laura Marling has absolutely influenced my lyrics -- every word out of her mouth is completely brilliant.  Eli "Paperboy" Reed has influenced the "Motown-ness" in me that you see in Honey & the 45s.  He puts on a fantastic show!  And I have to mention my significant other, Nathaniel Matthew, who has really pulled out the soul and blues in my voice and style of writing.  

The cover of Regina Spektor's latest album
2 or 3 lines: Are there any other Chicago groups you've heard or performed with who you think are especially talented?

Kristina:  Lonie Walker and Patricia Barber are two of my local favorites.  I may be biased but I think my guy, Nathaniel Matthew, is one of the most talented vocalists and musicians around -- his album, Songs Written On Recycled Cotton Pulp, is rich and soulful.  He just started a project called Crook County, and Honey has played a few shows with them.  There’s something special there.  Some of the other notable bands or musicians we’ve played with are the Outfit, Valentine Xavier, Audio Bakery, Elle Casazza, Diana and the Dishes, Lying Delilah, Egon’s Unicat, and Ahymnsa. 

2 or 3 lines: Where do you see yourself in ten years, Kristina?  

Kristina:  I can see myself owning or running an arts foundation or program in ten years: something that encourages and incorporates visual, musical, dance, and theatrical arts. I would like to have traveled and toured, put out amazing records, collaborated with hundreds of artists, directed a few plays as well as acted in dozens; I would like to have changed people’s minds.  And I would like to own some land!

2 or 3 lines: Land is good -- everyone should have a little piece of land of their own!  [Laughter.]  And what about the future of Honey and the 45s?

Kristina:  As far as Honey & the 45s go, the sky’s the limit.   I really think we have something special and I’d like to see us go far.  

2 or 3 lines:  You've talked about your fellow band members a little already, but I want you to tell me a little more about their musical strengths and what each one  contributes to the group.

Honey and the 45s during the
"Lolita's Lament" video shoot
Kristina:  Jon Gould is one of the most talented, tasteful, coolheaded, cooperative lead guitarists I have ever met.  He doesn’t try to overplay anything.  He really listens to the song and works with what is best for it.  If you need powerful, sensual, tasteful guitar licks, he can give ‘em to you.  He can also play pretty much any instrument you put in front of him. Chris Kusek is a fantastic, all-around musician. Like Jon, he is great at listening and knows how to create special moments within a song.  He is very versatile and he doesn’t mind playing goofy percussion instruments if that’s what the song calls for.  Kim Kozel can find harmonies you would never knew existed.  Not only does she sing and play the violin, she plays the saxophone.  How rare and awesome can you be?  She is dynamic, graceful, positive, and supportive and she really grounds the band.  Our newest member, Sean Tatum, has upped our “coolness” factor by at least 150%.  He’s got swagger and he’s interesting and his bass lines pour out the soul we need in our band.  I can’t wait to hear more from Tatum as we continue to work on our next album.  These buddies of mine, they’ve got it going on. We deserve to get somewhere, and I think we will.  

Click here if you'd like to visit the Honey and the 45s website.  For those of you who are in the Chicago area, check out the "Calendar" section of the website -- they perform regularly in Chicago and other cities in the midwest.  Kristina is especially excited about the group's upcoming March 21 visit to her home town -- Edwardsville, Illinois -- where they will perform at the Southern Illinois University campus and at the historic Wildey Theatre.

Here's the brand-new music video for "Lolita's Lament," which was shot on the roof of Kim Kozel's apartment on a cold Chicago day.  The video features Kamani Raqs, a Chicago dancer and dance instructor who specializes in traditional and modern belly dancing.

Click here to buy "Lolita's Lament" from Amazon: