Who Was Mr. Brown's Father?
July 31, 2005... While we're on the topic of who influenced whom, check out this track by the Wailers.
"Mr. Brown," from the 1969 album, Soul Shakedown, seems to be about a crow with the magical ability to take the form of a man, or possibly about a man with the magical ability to take the form of a crow. As fantastic as that may sound, the exploits of Mr. Brown were even reported in the (Kingston, Jamaica) Daily Gleaner, according to the website BobMarley.com.
It may be worth noting that some or all of the Wailers were Rastafarian, and that Rastafarians smoke marijuana religiously…
It may also be worth noting that the Wailers' producer at the time was the legendary Lee "Scratch" Perry of driving-around-town-with-a-piece-of-pork-impaled-on-his-car-aerial fame.
All of this is beside the point, however, as is the fact that I heard "Mr. Brown" once, somewhere, some time ago, and never forgot it. (I wasn't sure what it was called or who performed it, but recalled that the singer sounded like Bob Marley and that the song seemed to be about someone named Mr. Brown, and, lo and behold, thanks to the marvel of Google, here we are…)
No, the point of this post is that "Mr. Brown" reminds me an awful lot of another famous song from the sixties. I won't divulge which song I'm thinking about, yet. Instead, I'm going to ask you, dear reader(s), to let me know what comes to mind when you hear "Mr. Brown."
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Pretty Good Album Alert
July 24, 2005... Much has been written about Iggy & the Stooges' final studio album, Raw Power. It is the "Album Pick" from the Stooges oeuvre on the AMG website; it earned a perfect 10.0 in a Pitchfork review; and, according to Trouser Press the album is "a masterpiece." I don't know about that, but Raw Power is the sort of record a certain kind of fellow can fantasize about offending authority figures with, as generation after generation of just that sort of fellow has clearly noticed.
Originally released in 1973, Raw Power was given a "very violent" remix by Iggy Pop and re-released in 1997. It is to the remixed version of the album that my comments below pertain.
As with the first two Stooges albums, Raw Power is bleak and primitive. But unlike the first two Stooges albums--in fact, probably unlike any album by any band before it--Raw Power took rock and roll to a whole other volume level.
The main difference would appear to be new guitarist James Williamson. Williamson was a god of rhythm, hammering out precise, bludgeoning riff after precise, bludgeoning riff. What's more, in terms of guitar tone, he was without peer. Sometimes, when I listen to a record, I can tell that a guitarist has used a solid state effects pedal to distort his or her sound. The result is often thin and/or fuzzy sounding. On Raw Power, though, what I hear is a tube amplifier on full blast, with the speakers overheated and smoking, and the rest of the band cowering behind baffles in another room. There are no soft, fuzzy edges to Williamson's sound. This fucker's playing from the diaphragm.
I am a product of the 1980s hardcore punk scene, so I've heard a distorted guitar or two, but nothing grabs me by the throat like the distorted guitar tone on this record. It packs twice the punch of Metallica, but with only half as many bloody knuckles. And if that was all that mattered, Raw Power would be the desert island disk.
But that's not all that matters.
There are aspects of Iggy's performance on Raw Power that I am not crazy about. He's dropped the Mick Jagger fetish he flirted with on the band's previous album, and replaced the previous album's caveman grunts with blood-curdling screams--which are both good things. There's plenty of snarl in his vocals, of course; and, here and there, as on "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell," and the title track, I can hear the influence of modern primitive Jerry Lee Lewis. Mostly, though, what I hear in Iggy is the self-deluded swagger of faux-poet Jim "Lizard King" Morrison. Yecch.
I'm just picking nits, though. Iggy's great on Raw Power. He's just not perfect.
As for the band's rhythm section--the fabulous, furry Asheton brothers--they can barely be heard on the album. About them, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote: "Ron and Scott Asheton formed a ridiculously primitive rhythm section, pounding out chords with no finesse -- in essence, the Stooges were the first rock & roll band completely stripped of the swinging beat that epitomized R&B; and early rock & roll." But while that may have been true of the band's two previous albums Raw Power is actually chock-a-block with the swing of old-timey, big-boppin' rock and roll. Check it out.
Reach in and feel around past the crunching jackboots guitar and I'm sure you'll agree "Shake Appeal" swings like a bat. Every time I listen to the fucker, I am reminded of that other swinging cat, Chuck Berry, and his tune "Rock & Roll Music." How about you?
One other thing: Raw Power also bears the indelible stamp of (The) Alice Cooper (Group). That's right, Iggy & the Stooges were influenced by that other, less-lionized, early-seventies Detroit rock combo.
Seriously, dude, "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" sounds like an out-take from the Killer or School's Out sessions. In fact, it sounds like a more straightforward version of Under My Wheels" with the growling coda from "Public Animal #9" tacked onto it. The main difference is that the Stooges song doesn't have the shit stink of producer Bob Ezrin's banker's breath all over it.
But, dude, check this out: Killer came out in 1971; School's Out in 1972; and Raw Power in 1973. The AC Groop was foist!
Similarly, what is "Gimme Danger" other than a blood-encrusted, peanut-butter-smeared man with his hand up Jim Morrison's ass singing (The) Alice Cooper (Group)'s "(I'm) Eighteen"? You know "(I'm) Eighteen?" The song released by (The) Alice Cooper (Group) in 1969?
Anyway, as much fun as it is to try to pinpoint where Iggy & the Stooges drew their inspiration for Raw Power, it is even more fun--and much more exhausting--to pinpoint who was inspired by it in turn.
Of course, the sound of the Stooges, particularly the pre-James Williamson version of the band, clings to the lumberjackets of the grunge era like another layer of dirt. But Nirvana, at least, had a soft spot for the Raw Power-era Stooges, too. Check out the track "Paper Cuts" from the first Nirvana album, Bleach, which shares its pummeling, guitar-as-percussion approach with Raw Power's closer, "Death Trip."
"Paper Cuts" is a symphony compared to "Death Trip," however, whose single, solitary riff is pounded into the ground for nearly seven minutes while Iggy screams like a ten foot long tapeworm has just reared its head out his ass…
Even mope rockers Joy Division had at least one Stooges fans in its ranks. The bass line in the Joy Division song "New Dawn Fades" is a little too similar to the chord progression of "Gimme Danger" to be a coincidence.
Finally, in name and attitude, at least, the 1980's Italian hardcore group, Raw Power, seem to have drawn some inspiration from the final Iggy & the Stooges record, too. The sonic influence, if it is there at all, is less direct, and sounds like it might've been filtered through Bad Brains and the Ramones first. It matters not, though. Any old excuse is good enough to post this classic.
Anyway… I guess what I'm tryna say here is that if you like the various tracks I've posted today, odds are very good you will like the remixed version of the Iggy & the Stooges album Raw Power. Go buy a copy today and start offending the authority figures in your life.
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Hogfarts and Bumblebores
July 17, 2005... Like almost every blogger does at some point, I have been struggling lately with where I want to go with this thing.
When I started out, I just wanted to write about the music I like, as a way of taking my mind off things I don't like--like being underemployed and poor, and feeling powerless, for example. Lately, though, I have found this harder and harder to do.
Though I am employed full-time now, I am still desperately underemployed in the sense that most of the work I do is not mentally stimulating or rewarding in any sense other than financially.
Quite simply, I hate my job. In fact, I hate my job more than any other job I have ever had. As I walk up the stairs to the office every morning, my stomach and jaw muscles tighten. Within fifteen minutes of sitting in my chair, I have stolen the first of the many glances at my watch that will mark my working day. But, particularly given the recent split with Ms. Gumdrop, I am in such a precarious financial position that I can't just quit.
How interesting any of this is to anyone who stumbles across my blog hoping to cop some tunes and "rock out" is debatable. But, for me, trying not to write about what is on my mind has been a real struggle.
Anyway, I haven't resolved these issues for myself yet. I just want put them out there, so you know where I'm coming from.
A couple months ago, while playing guitar, I stumbled across a monster of a riff that I knew was too good to actually have come from me. I couldn't place its origin, though, so I skipped through all the CDs I'd been listening to at the time looking for the source… Nothing jumped out at me.
Yesterday on the CBC, though, there was a brief feature on Barry White, and there, in the background, was the riff: the opening salvo of keyboard in "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby." Imagine it played by a heavily distorted guitar.
Unless you've been living under Iraq, of course, you'll be aware of the fact that the new Harry Potter book has just been released.
What you may not be aware of is that, earlier this week, a B.C. Supreme Court Justice granted the book's publisher, Raincoast Books, an injunction barring anyone from "unpacking, displaying, reading, distributing, offering for sale, selling, exhibiting in public or[,] without the express consent of the Plaintiffs[,] possessing Harry Potter # 6 prior to 12:01 a.m. local time on July 16, 2005."
Raincoast Books requested the injunction to prevent any of the fourteen people who were inadvertently sold the book by a B.C. retailer a few days before from reading and divulging its contents.
I read about half of Harry Potter #1 when it came out, before the author's utter lack of imagination--evil step-parents? a character named Dumbledore?--forced me to put it down. I am still putting it down to this day.
What offends me about all of this--even more than the books themselves--is that my provincial court allowed itself to be used to prevent people who bought a book in good faith from actually reading it. Haven't they anything better to do?
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You want dead?
July 12, 2005... Though I've been ranting for a couple weeks now about the lack of menace in pop music, the truth of the matter is that most of what I've chosen to listen to lately has actually been pretty and upbeat. Today's song is a case in point.
"You Can Get It If You Really Want," is taken from the soundtrack to the 1972 movie The Harder They Come, quite possibly the first feature film ever produced in Jamaica by Jamaicans. It is the story of a young man (played by Jimmy Cliff) lured by the whine of the transistor radio from the countryside to the city, and the difficulties he faces once he arrives there.
A little known fakt is that Jimmy Cliff was pressured into changing the lyrics to the song before recording it. Originally, the chorus read as follows:
You can get it if you really want
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July 9, 2005... Maybe one of the reasons that Canadians don't make a lot of angry music is that there is so little to be angry about if you're Canadian.
Take our health care system, for example. For the benefit of those of you who don't know, most health care in Canada is provided through (or with the help of) public sector institutions. So, when you go to a doctor in Canada, while he or she may own his or her office and equipment, the fees they can charge are determined by the government. Not only that, the fees are generally paid by the government, too.
Everybody here participates in the same health insurance plan and the "premiums" they pay--in the form of income taxes--are based on their ability to pay. So, if you're poor and unlucky enough to get tuberculosis, say, you wait in the same line and get the same treatment as somebody who is rich and gets tuberculosis. (Ha ha! Small joke: rich people don't actually get tuberculosis!) What's more, your "premiums" will never increase … unless you get a higher-paying job.
(All of a sudden, I feel like a commercial for Norwich Union.)
What's great about this system is that while a catastrophic illness may kill you, it won't bankrupt you.
Maybe the knowledge that there is a social safety net to catch us if we fall frees us from having to worry, get defensive and push and shove. Maybe that's why we write pretty songs like this.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was blessed with the opportunity to get to know some of the more active people in the Dutch music scene. I couldn't help but notice how tolerant and relaxed they were. I put it all down to the Dutch social safety net. I mean, no country in the world had a more extensive social safety net than Holland--where even welfare recipients got paid vacations--and no people had more civil liberties than the pot-smoking, prostitute-shopping Dutch…
So, how come they're able to conjure up scorchers like this one--from the 1992 album And The Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders--while we're busily engaging in group hugs?
I can't get enough of those nest-of-angry-hornets guitars! For more by and about the Ex, go here.
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Give 'Em the High Hat
July 4, 2005... Of course, with the passage of time it became clear that the menace of the Jesus Lizard was more apparent than real. Before their second gig at the Apocalypse, in May 1990, I witnessed the members of the band eating pizza in a sit-down restaurant--just like normal people! Sure, later that night, David Yow stuck his peanus between his legs during an instrumental and let his pubic hair do the singing, but…
The last time I saw the Jesus Lizard, in 1994, the only menace I encountered came in the form of 1,200 stage-diving frat boys whose tomgoonery kept me well away from the stage.
As for menacing Canadian bands … well, I'm still drawing a blank.
Phleg Camp was a Canadian band whose music was clearly influenced by the Jesus Lizard, but whose stage show was not. One always felt very safe and secure at a Phleg Camp gig.
However, listening to the band's only full-length release, the Steve Albini produced Ya'red Fair Scratch, I can't help but notice how monstrously talented these guys were. Sean Dean, his bass deep and rumbling, hammered-out the foundation of the Phleg Camp sound--sloppy, confounding rhythm. Eric Chenaux, the guitarist/vocalist, added a layer of lazy, dissonant, post-hillbilly electric gee-tar jangle. With robotic precision, drummer Gavin Brown filled any remaining holes in the band's wall of sound with pops of tightly-wound snare. Underneath it all: the muffled shouting of (mostly) indecipherable lyrics.
Aside from the Jesus Lizard (bass tone and bloozy guitar playing), other touchstones for the Phleg Camp sound include Nomeanso (bass tone and occasionally rhythm), Houses of the Holy-era Led Zeppelin (reverbed funkiness), the Coen Brothers (lyrics) and Fugazi (dissonance). The album closes with the band playing along to a ghettoblaster blasting the Neil Young song "Powderfinger."
If this sounds appealing, buy a copy of the album. If you like what you hear, consider looking into some of the projects the musicians have been involved with since disbanding Phleg Camp in the mid-nineties: a veritable who's who of the Queen Street West establishment, including Big Sugar and Hayden (Brown), Life Like Weeds and Crash Vegas (Chenaux), and the Sadies (Dean).
Then burn me a CD sampler. Queen Street West being part of Canada and all, I've always assumed its musical establishment was too "soft" for me to bother looking into.
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Afterbirth of the Cool is an audioblog dedicated to popular and unpopular music and is meant to be lighthearted fun. Notwithstanding its name, this blog has little to do with jazz and nothing at all to do with Miles Davis… Not that there's anything wrong with Miles Davis...
Readers wishing to comment are welcome to e-mail me at spin_buldak [at] afterbirthofthecool [dot] com.
No revenue is generated through this site. It is a labour of love.
Audio files posted here will be available, for educational purposes, for a few days. Readers are encouraged to buy the albums if they like the sounds. That's what I do!
If you feel that material featured on this site constitutes an infringement of your copyright, just e-mail me, spin_buldak [at] afterbirthofthecool [dot] com, and I will remove it.
Other June Posts
The Wailers - Mr. Brown