I wish that one day, I could write one great song that everyone would remember. I know that people who write and perform music hope for lengthy careers with dozens of fantastic songs, but there are only so many Tom Petty's in the world. For me, it would be cool if I could just write that one memorable song. That would be enough.
I was having a conversation about one-hit wonders, and started reminiscing about some that are just fantastic tunes. I'm not going to put The Knack's "My Sharona" or Dexy's Midnight Runner's "Come On, Eileen" on the blog today. But do you remember these?
How about The Vapors with "Turning Japanese?" What a fun new wave song this one was:
Here's one last one that not everyone is going to agree was great. But it makes me smile and feel good every time I hear it. It's campy, it's weird, and it was a big hit. Carl Douglas with "Kung Fu Fighting." They even used it in Wayne's World, remember?
Oops, I just remembered one more. And it's an earworm. You'll be singing, chanting and digging this one (or wanting to kill me) because this one will be stuck with you for a while. Toni Basil with "Mickey." Hahahahahaha!
Send me some more and I'll post 'em. In the meantime, have a great weekend. And Go Eagles!
I'm In XTC
I’ve been jonesing on XTC lately. You might have noticed that at BRP. XTC is one of my all-time favorite bands, so they are always on the playlist, but lately I haven’t been able to get enough.
So I’m working out the other morning, watching TV and doing my normal morning routine. I’m flipping through the channels, Showtime has a show called This is Pop. And yup, it’s a rockumentary about XTC. I watched most of it that morning and caught the rest of it last night.
I’ve watched a number of rockumentaries, and unlike Andy Partridge, I’m a fan. Sure, some of them suck, but there are others that give the fan-boy in me the inside story about bands that I like. For instance, there is a great one about the Jam called About the Young Idea, and I actually own the Clash’s Rude Boy. There is a 4 hour (!) Tom Petty one on Netflix, and even one on the Eagles that I enjoyed. Sure, there are gag-worthy flicks as well, but the good ones are, well, good. I lump This is Pop into the “good” category.
Let’s talk XTC for a bit. They had two great songwriters, the aforementioned Mr. Partridge and Colin Moulding. Both are featured prominently in the film (but not together, which is interesting and probably better). Partridge clearly viewed XTC as “his” band, and he is right. He was the original driving force, wrote a number of their great songs, and highly influenced their “golden era” by refusing to continue to tour. But Moulding wrote the more “radio-ready” tunes that satisfy the pop-side of BRP. I like them both.
XTC started out during the great punk and new wave era of Britain, the mid-to-late 70s. And while their early music was fast, it wasn’t the political punk similar to that of the Sex Pistols, Clash and others. In fact, it was quirky, more lyrical, but still kinetic. A couple of tunes from that era still get played by yours truly with some regularity. Here you go – Statue of Liberty and Life Begins at the Hop.
The band originally did the tour thing, but stopped because of a stage fright/sick of touring/valium addiction issue with Partridge. Apparently, Andy had been on valium from the time he was 12, and then one day, his wife just flushed them all down the toilet. Going cold turkey after more than a decade on valium was, let’s say, rugged, and Partridge basically freaked out. This developed into a serious case of stage fright, and with the grind of the road on top of that, the band stopped touring. Of course, this decision was made right on the cusp of their big opportunity, a US tour backed by their record company with heavy promotion of a truly great album, English Settlement. Here are two tracks from that record: Senses Working Overtime and Ball and Chain.
What happened next was that the band went into the studio, no longer fixated on the ability to reproduce their songs live, and went hog wild. I think that, when combined with English Settlement, the next three XTC albums made for a powerhouse quartet of creative genius. Skylarking, Oranges and Lemons, and Nonsuch are all fabulous. It’s hard to characterize the music: it’s just great songwriting, beautiful tunes and poetic lyrics. Here is a sampling: Season Cycle (Skylarking), King For a Day (Oranges and Lemons) and The Disappointed (Nonsuch).
Now the true breakout story for XTC involves a controversial song called Dear God. That was the B side of the first single off of Skylarking, and DJs spun it. In our God-fearing country, it led to either acceptance of its message, or this is religious heresy. It was not planned to be a single nor to attract attention to the band, but it worked out that way and resulted in a lot of recognition and fame/infamy. Watch the film to understand this comment. And watch the video, which is posted below.
One other thing before I leave: Skylarking was produced by none other than Todd Rundgren. XTC was shooting for more of an “American” sound to get the attention of the US, and were told to pick from a list of US producers. They only knew one name on the list (Todd, of course) and picked him. The album turned out fantastic, but Todd and Andy were at each other’s throat the entire time.
Check your Showtime schedule to watch the picture, and let me know what you think. There is a lot of stuff in there about how songs are written, the ups and downs of the rock music business, and some biographical stuff about the members of the band that is interesting. And there is the (somewhat forced, in my opinion) parallel to the Beatles in songcraft, musicianship, development, and studio mastery that is thought provoking.
XTC is not the Beatles, but they were great in their own right. And maybe a comparison is fair between XTC and the post-touring Beatles, much as there is between the early Beatles and Squeeze. But it takes two fantastic post-Beatles bands to cobble together a comparison to just the Beatles output, and that comparison still ultimately falls short.
That shouldn’t dissuade you from diving into the XTC catalog at all. I love ‘em and always will. One last song? Nah, two. Here is Garden of Earthly Delights from Skylarking and The Loving from Oranges and Lemons.
See you all on the flipside – as XTC and DJs found out, you never know how that is going to turn out.
BRP, The Band
This is a tough world. I tried to sit back, relax, and provide some entertainment for you to enjoy. But my man Jonathan wasn’t about to let me off that easy. Nope. He noticed me making fun of band names, like Minus the Bear, and asked me “what would you name your band?”
Given that I have absolutely no musical capabilities of my own, I immediately thought The Talentless. It would certainly be apt and descriptive, right? You would know exactly what you are getting. Which is why I hate the fact that Supertramp didn’t use the name The Talentless themselves. Instead, they used subterfuge, sucking you in with a pretty cool name, making you think that only a decent band would be traveling under their name. Bastards. Here's one of many reasons why they suck:
But that’s a bit too easy. I guess the challenge was for me to assume that I actually could play an instrument and put together a band. If that were the case, what band name would be adopted? Well, first I would need to go further and tell you that it would be a punk/power pop band with some indie influences.
I wouldn’t want to use some cutesy name that reflects my real profession (I’m a lawyer), like Big Law or Pass the Bar. How about one that uses both my name and my profession, like Bar Bill. Admit it, you just spackled the porcelain with puke, right? I know I did. I hate those names – they are the direct descendants of bands you saw at high school talent shows that used some crappy localized reference as their name.
My best friend growing up had a much older brother who ended up being a professional classical guitarist. But when he was a teenager during the 60s, he played in a psychedelic rock band called … hold on, are you ready? Mother Murdock’s Marvelous Display of Animated Art. Of course, they pretty much went by Mother Murdock’s, but whoa, that was a helluva name. I have no idea where it came from, but I have theories. I did see them practice in the basement of my buddy’s house, and I thought they were badass. Then again, it was probably the first live band I ever saw or heard (I was probably 7), and hey, isn’t that very first rock band you ever saw, as a rule, badass?
Back to my band name. I’m going to flash a few candidates on you with the background logic as to why I selected each one. Here’s a rule: I did not go and see if any real bands exist that used any of the following names – if I know of a band by a name that came to mind, I eliminated that name, but if I have never heard of them, then it was fair for me to run with it. I haven’t had a chance to spark up in Colorado, either, and I’m straight edge these days anyway, so here goes nothing:
City of God – a fantastic movie about the slums of Rio is called City of God. The name has so much promise, yet the reality is something rough, gritty and full of lowlife. I think it’s a good name for a band.
Lunatics – In case it hasn’t dawned on you yet, I’m certifiably loonie tunes. Naming a band after my condition is personally compelling, and anyone crazy enough to want to form a band probably should travel under this name.
Thrasher – Great skateboard/punk name. You would clearly know what you are getting with this name.
We’ll Keep Melania – Obviously, I try to avoid politics on BRP as it’s so freakin’ divisive. But the First Lady is hot, and the Prez is not, so We’ll Keep Melania kind of sums up the situation.
Air Bag – Full of hot air? An accident waiting to happen? An explosion in the face that saves you, but hurts you somewhat in the process and leaves you with scars and a broken rib? Yup, welcome to punk rock.
Royal Family – Yeah, we might have the Trumps, Clintons, Kennedys and Bushes, but at least we don’t have to suffer through the Royal Family. This falls into the “count your blessings” category. And self-descriptive – the Royal Family is oftentimes a mess, just like a punk band.
Scratch the Itch – Oh, yeah, you bad boys and girls, sometimes you just have to scratch the itch even though you shouldn’t. Itch it and move your leg like a dog in that funny way. Or worse, end up like one of those dogs who have to wear the lampshade thing because that itch is just so there. Again, punk-y and fulfilling.
Don’t Call Us Fat and Ugly – We’re Americans dammit!
Even If We Are – The follow-up name as rock bands are always breaking up just as soon as they are formed.
Family Night – Ironic misnomer. You see the poster, come to see what you think is this nice band, and they do everything that a functioning and capable family shouldn’t be doing, like yelling, being super loud and aggressive, and blasting nasty lyrics about you in your face.
Shut Up Joe Buck – Does this little pretty boy sports announcer annoy you, too? Well, here’s a band that goes all in and tells him to shut the buck up.
Rinse and Repeat – Does anyone actually follow the double shampoo instructions? I don’t, but I think if you’re a band, you want repeat plays on everyone’s music machine. So it works, right?
Fight the Power – Named after the great Isley Brothers song. Isn’t rock all about sticking it to The Man? You know, speaking truth to power, blasting the conventions, pushing for teenage revolution, and refusing to ride in BMWs. On the first album, we could cover Fight The Power, I Fought The Law, and The Authority Song.
Phone Slave – It’s hard to believe that the iPhone only came out in 2007. How stupid that we have let this thing take over our lives. Punk is all about pointing out things that are wrong with society, and wasting time staring at that phone or keeping up with people that you don’t really give a crap about is absurd. Interact with a band that is right in your face. You know, real live people. How revolutionary.
There’s a Speed Limit? – A question for the ages by all those with a heavy foot (like me). Punk also moves at a rather rapid pace itself. Humor and irony are important in the punk space. And trying to stick it to the man with ignorance and puppy dog eyes.
Disarm the Doors – C’mon, flight attendants, fly with me in a space that isn’t all safe. We’re disarming at 35,000 feet! The Wright Brothers were such bad boys that they didn’t even have a solid fuselage and you’re concerned about a disarmed door? Live a little.
Your Lips Were Moving – That’s how I know you are lying! Don’t we all know people who just embellish and fib their way through life? Let’s call them out – no better way to do that than with a loud, snotty and obnoxious band blasting it right out in your face.
Chia Pet – While it’s true that they are the perfect Christmas gift, they are also a head-scratcher. You grow something out of the clay head of an animal? OK, whatever. A band with wit and humor could carry this name.
Cool. The ubiquitous slang word that has lived for decades. It would take a presumptuous band to seize on this name, and one that would need to live up to its haughty name. A challenge, that’s for sure, and one that BRP’s rockin’ band would be up for.
Rehab. No, not a post-surgery thing. The real deal, Amy Winehouse style. Let’s all joke about America’s alcoholic tendencies. But don’t go after the food court! How did people ever survive shopping without stuffing 2,000 calories into their pie-holes? Whatever happened to “you’ll spoil your dinner?” And how many times do you have to say “not that kind of rehab” when you are really going to the orthopedic surgeon’s in-house gym after you got scoped? This name can go many ways.
BRP. It’s pronounced “burp.” It can smell and taste bad. We all do it. But some of us do it louder and prouder. And hey, it’s a play on the best damn music blog out there.
I’m going to have to come back to this one and come up with band names that should be rejected and never used. Here’s a preview: How about Dick? Nah, too easy and already in widespread use by law firm partners – I don’t want to get sued for misappropriation of a well-deserved name.
In fairness, it takes a lot of time to think up these band names. Maybe that’s why so many band names are crazy or nonsensical. I prefer the names that are more fun, something that we can all relate to. Any suggestions on your part? C’mon, BRP readers are an opinionated bunch, so share ‘em and I’ll shine some light. In the meantime, we’ll get back to some other great things here at BRP and keep it coming.
Favorite BRP Singles
Everyone has songs that they can listen to over and over again and never grow sick of them. I know I do. And some of them might surprise you. Want to see what hits my individual pile of genetic material in a lasting way? Well, too bad, we’re going to do it anyway. And guess what? We’re going to come back a number of times because I like a lot of songs and can’t capture all of them in merely one post. Strap in and prepare for liftoff.
First up, it’s XTC with Mayor of Simpleton. I love XTC. They qualify as one of my all-time favorite bands. Their songs are witty, informed, emotional, and anti-educational-but-not-anti-intellectual (if that makes any sense at all, which it does). The music is layered and complex, but still has hooks galore. They also have an everyman quality that appeals to a middling, state-school, Army brat like myself. The Mayor of Simpleton captures all of this for me. While not anti-intellectual, it is an anti-elitist love song that says while I might lack the education and erudition of others, I love you like no other, and I’ll always protect you and keep you safe. Here you go:
Thin Lizzy. What a great rock ‘ n roll band Phil Lynott put together. I’m a big fan of their catalog, but their signature song, known and loved by millions, is my favorite: The Boys Are Back in Town. If you’re of a certain age, you know every word because this song got a lot of airplay in your day. It features a great guitar sound, a driving beat, and lyrics that are perfect for that mid-spring, it’s-getting-warmer-and-me-and-the-boys-just-got-back-in-town-from-school thing. I never get tired of it. Listen to it again as though it’s your first time:
I had to read Romeo and Juliet in high school. I loved it. It’s a timeless tale of true love between star-crossed lovers, intertwined with complicated politics, family rivalry and youth/age wisdoms that just resonated with me. It doesn’t hurt that it’s magnificently composed by another guy named Bill. And it sums up what happens to a lot of lovers: they are punished just for loving, and promised redemption in the afterlife. When I heard Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper, with its direct allusions to the Shakespeare classic and its theme of "death as lovers redemption," it just hit me and stuck. The signature guitar lick that initially grooves the tune, and then keeps the song on track when it shows signs of veering wildly off course, also appealed to me greatly. Having a song about death and how we are all going to go there some day, well, that's a favorite BRP subject, too. It was a fantastic late 70’s song that I have listened to time and again over the last 40 years, and will continue to spin as long as I’m still breathing.
Getting a little bit newer, the New Radicals “You Get What You Give,” is also one of my all-time favorites. It took me forever to find out who was performing this song, but when I did, it got added to the BRP repertoire forever. The song meanders for a few seconds than breaks in with a “one, two, three, four” chant that leads to a rocking tune. But it also has great lyrics that make me come back for more. “This whole damn world can fall apart / You’ll be OK, follow your heart / You’re in harm’s way, I’m right behind / Now say you’re mine” And then it rips into the crappy musicians who make millions: “Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson / You’re all fakes, Run to your mansions / Come around, we’ll kick your ass in!” I love the groove of this song.
Speaking of one, two, three, four, my favorite Ramones song is one that is funny, weird and wacky. It also sports an “it can only be the Ramones” sound. It’s none other than We’re A Happy Family. The punky sound, crazy and hysterically funny lyrics, and powerful delivery make this a classic that still brings a smile to my face even though I’ve heard it hundreds of times. And whatever is happening at the end as the “we’re a happy family” refrain is sung over and over is a garbled, fantastic mess. I hope that this is a trip down memory lane for you, or if not, and you’re a Happy Family virgin, that you take note of where you are when you first heard it.
One more for this post. The Clash is one of my all-time favorite bands, if not my all-time favorite. Their output is the stuff of legend, and the growth, change and development of this band is amazing. As they transitioned away from their original blistering punk sound to expand their musical range, they hit upon a song that still captured their rude boy journey and misspent youth: Stay Free. Acknowledging their lack of interest in school, their mates, their drunken brawling, and their turnaround as they seized upon music as a way out, it’s a fantastic and sentimental song to a friend they left behind. It would be good just for the lyrics, but when you layer on the beat and riff, well, it just transcends into a rock ‘n roll classic. I love this song.
I’m always happy to hear what rocks your boat. Do you have anything you want to share with BRP? Let me know and I’ll discuss it either right in the blog or via email with you. Send it, ok? In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my all-time favorites list and come back with more. I miss hanging out with you, and am so glad that you swung by to see me. I’m always here waiting for you when you are all alone and lonely. Get your Billy fix and I’ll keep you company. Coooooooooooooool.
Phreezing in Philly
How’s that weather up in Philly? Cold enough for you? When was the last time it was above freezing? I know, I know, you REALLY like this weather. You ENJOY the change of seasons. You LOVE wearing layers and layers of clothes, running from heated building to heated car (which, of course, is not heated when you first get in) and basically saying bye-bye to the great outdoors. With all that “winter loving” allegedly going on, I can never understand why there are so many people from Philly in places like California and Florida. Must be following the jobs, right?
Anyway, it’s been very sunny and warm in SoFla. People are living like it is still summer. Shorts, t-shirts, flip flops, swimming in the ocean, riding bikes past flowers and green vegetation, and eating outside and enjoying the Earth.
Don’t fret, it’s only a few more snowy, freezing months until the thaw begins and you can start kvetching about global warming again. In the meantime, here are a few tunes to get you thinking about the warmer days ahead.
Let’s start with Heat Wave which actually isn’t about the summer kind of heat. It’s about being around that sexy thang that makes your motor start and rev, your stomach churn, and your knees weak and shaky. I prefer the Linda Ronstadt version to the original by Martha and the Vandellas, and you probably think I’m an idiot for that, but too bad. Linda has the pipes, I’m an idiot and you’re getting LR:
What about the smell of grass, freshly cut and feeling so nice? Want an ice cream cone? Mmmm, tasty on a warm day. XTC wrote a song about being shocked about what lovers do on grass, and you don’t do it when you have to dig through the snow like a bison to find those frozen tender shoots. It’s simply called Grass and it’s a slow sexy drag through the sun and warmth. And for those who think feet are sexy, and I know you're out there, you'll dig this pretty weird video:
I know you’re watching a ton of TV right now. The sun is down by 4:45 and it’s windy and freezing outside. Turn on the tube (funny that it no longer has tubes, right?) and watch until, oh, 9 pm and then go sleep. Wake up in the dark the next morning, run to your car outside, sit on a frozen seat driving to work, and then, just when the car finally gets warm, move fast from car to building to avoid frostbit. Eat a ton. Then back to the TV. Winter has come to Game of Thrones. Isn’t life great? Well, do you remember this classic show? With Hawaii Five-O, the Ventures played a great, catchy surf jam that conjures up warm, hollow waves on the North Shore, which are probably breaking huge at Waimea, Sunset and Pipeline and packed with surfers about now:
One final track. They aren’t writing songs about getting hypothermia while snowshoeing through some frozen forest. Nope. Think this instead: Sitting by the sea. Drink in your hand, toes in the sand. Money in your pocket. And a rockin’ track to capture that scene. Van Halen will take you there. All you need is Beautiful Girls:
That was kind of mean of me. I hope that you have plenty of firewood that you are burning so that, come spring, you can dig all that stinky ash out and get covered in soot while the rest of us are out enjoying the dogwoods and azaleas. Five more months until it’s fully leafed out. I have to go put on more sunscreen since I am now dry from my daily ocean swim. Later.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.