Neverending Randomplay #221-#230
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 18,414 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track. iTunes links, when available, are included for your convenience.
221. Zap Mama: 'Allo 'Allo ***** iTunes
This is a breathtakingly beautiful number by a quintet of breathtakingly beautiful singers, Zap Mama from Zaire (formerly and lately known as Congo). This recording, from 1999, was controversial among diehard fans, as it was the first to include instrumentation (which is pleasingly funky, sultry, modern, and Euro/African, credit to Manu Dibango); non-purists like me will get off on this, which has an undeniably great backbeat that highlights Zap Mama's intensely beautiful harmonic blend of Euro/African/r&b vocals (in French) led by the beguiling Marie Daulne. Daulne is the daughter of a white Belgian killed in the 1960 revolution. She was born in the forset among pygmies, where her pregnant mother had fled. A chance encounter with a recording of pygmy music when she was a 20-year-old living in Europe led her back to Africa, where she founded Zap Mama. She eventually studied pygmy vocal technique, which has informed her singing to this day. That may sound weird, but trust me, this is a luscious, funky, sultry, sexy song. Zap Mama had brief exposure to rock audiences in 1993, when they opened for 10,000 Maniacs; they were still a capella back then.
222. Lovin' Spoonful: Wild About My Lovin' ***** iTunes
"Wild About My Lovin'" is a Traditional number, played here with a 50's rockabilly and blues crossed with jug-band and some country thrown in, too. A prime example of this often overlooked band's considerable talents, John Sebastian gives an easy going but earthy country-blues vocal, backed with great close harmonies, and a rocking and rollicking guitar is provided by Zal Yanovsky, who also gets a firey rockabilly flavored rock 'n' roll solo, and Joe Butler does an almost jazzy turn on drums. The Spoonful, essentially a folk-rock/jug-band at heart, were masters of such mixed musical metaphors, and their albums, particularly the first two, still make for some atmosphere and eclecticism, and are artifacts of the Village folk scene that was about a lot more than folk.
223. Counting Crows: Colorblind *** iTunes
Honestly speaking, this had meandered by for 5 minutes before I realized I wasn't listening to a recent R.E.M. album cut, but admittedly, my attention had drifted. Which meant, I had to play it again. On second listen, I learn the song is only 3:25. I can also appreciate the muted piano in the background, and Adam Duritz sounds more like Adam Duritz than latter-day Michael Stipe, but the comparison still holds; a violin comes in on the second verse. Lyrically, it takes a long time getting to where its going, which is a tender, emotive, introverted alienation-type thing that is probably cherised by his fans, but might be a little overripe for others. "Colorblind" is a non-single cut from This Desert Life, from 1999, which is arguably their best album. However, this cut is adult-alternative no matter how you slice it, and doesn't display any of the ragged Van Morrison-esque rock they're best at.
224. Bread: Aubrey *** iTunes
"Aubrey" is almost a Carpenters-level soft rock/pop, although David Gates was a better songwriter than Richard Carpenter, and a much better singer than Karen Carpenter. The band is absent; Gates accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, awash in sobbing strings. Melodically, its a quite pretty song, and Gates gives it a touching, sweet, and wistful vocal, although his naivete and overall callowness can be a little overbearing. Lyrically, the song is about lost love, Bread's specialty. The song peaked at #15 in 1973 (#4 adult contemporary), and turned out to be their last until 1977; a rift between Gates and guitarist James Griffin resulted in an acrimonious split. The duo reunited in 1977 for one last Bread album (which included a last top-10 hit "Lost Without Your Love"), but split again for good. Griffin, who won an Oscar for co-writing "For All We Know" (sung by Petula Clark in the film Lovers and Other Strangers, #3 for The Carpenters), died in 2005. "Aubrey" is from the 1972 album, Guitar Man.
225. Talking Heads: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) (live) ***** iTunes
From the acclaimed Jonathan Demme document of the Talking Heads 1983 tour, Stop Making Sense, "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" originally appeared in its studio form on the 1983 album, Speaking In Tongues. This live version is perhaps the better of the two by simply having a full band, side musicians, and backing vocalists all working together. It opens with one of the Talking Heads' trademark polyrhythms working a slow beat with a funky groove; Jerry Harrison's synth fills are atmospheric. The melody is claustrophobic, but Byrne's vocal shines, borrowing from r&b, soul, and worldbeat. The lyrics are as oddball as one would expect, but they also have a touching sweetness to them, too. The rhythm section of Tina Weymoth and Chris Frantz is tight. Somewhat reminiscent of their work in Tom Tom Club, it has a very agreeably otherworldliness, and is one of the better cuts from the band's peak era. The original soundtrack to Stop Making Sense, released in 1984, featured only 9 songs, and didn't include this one; a 1999 re-issue includes all sixteen from the film. The film itself is essential viewing for those with a fondness for rock performance documentaries; Stop Making Sense is usually mentioned in the same breath as The Last Waltz as probably the best.
226. Toto: Rosanna **** iTunes
Toto is the epitome of the late 70's-early 80's style-over-substance school of arena rock. Formed in Los Angeles in 1978 by seasoned sessionmen David Paich (keyboards, vocals), Steve Lukather (guitar, vocals), Bobby Kimball (vocals), Steve Porcaro (keyboards), David Hungate (bass), and Jeff Porcaro (drums), Toto was a session-supergroup that briefly was one of the most popular groups on the planet. Paich, Hungate, and Jeff Porcaro had played on Boz Scaggs' 1976 blockbuster Silk Degrees. "Rosanna" was written by Paiche about Lukather's girlfriend, Rosanna Arquette, and appears on the 1982 album Toto IV, their most successful ever (peaking at #4), which also included the hit "Africa". "Rosanna" is the smooth, precision-played, carefully produced catchy tune one would expect from such a product, even as it remains somewhat colorless, lacking personality. Lukather gets in a grandiose and precise guitar solo. It's better than Hall and Oates, which it recalls, but it's really a pop tune dressed up as an arena rocker. Their next album, Isolation, from 1984, showed rapid and remarkable commercial decline, despite fairly similar material, peaking at #42. While their star dimmed in America, the band enjoyed large followings in Europe and Japan into the late 90's.
227. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils: If You Wanna Go To Heaven ***** iTunes
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils are chiefly remembered, when at all, for their 1975 surprise hit "Jackie Blue", an atypical, shiny pop-rock AM hit that started out as a country-rock song. "If You Wanna Get To Heaven" is a far better indication of what this group was really about. Formed in Mossouri in 1972, the band's 1974 debut The Ozark Mountain Daredevils was produced by Eagles producer Glyn Johns, and is a fairly brilliant piece of hard rock leaning country rock with a Southern rock underbelly. "If You Wanna Go To Heaven" was the single, and is fairly arresting from the start with its steady groove, harmonica intro, and a Lynyrd Skynyrd meets the Rolling Stones preformance from the band, particularly the gritty fireworks from guitarists John Dillon and Steve Cash. The single peaked at respectable #25, but "Jackie Blue" would prove to be the only other top-40 hit the band had within them. After the disappointing sales of Ozark Mountain Daredevils (no "The") in 1980, the band didn't release an album again save for a well-regarded but commercially insignificant effort in 1997.
228. Klaatu: A Routine Day ****
Klaatu is the stuff of rock lore because in 1976, people thought the debut album by this Canadian quintet, Klaatu, was in fact the Beatles playing in disguise. This rumor started in an article called "Could Klaatu Be the Beatles? Mystery Is a Magical Mystery Tour" which appeared in the Providence Journal. The album was on Capitol, the Beatles' label, and the band mysteriously didn't include their names or photographs on the album. "Klaatu" is part of the alien phrase "Klaatu Barada Nikkto" from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, which Ringo Starr also quotes on the cover of his 1974 album Goodnight Vienna. "Sub Rosa Subway" did sound kind of like a Paul McCartney song. But the titles, which included "Anus of Uranus" and "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" (covered by The Carpenters) weren't very Beatley. Nor, in fact, was the music, which was harmonic but strangely slick, with an odd ethereal orchestral treatment that did have its own character, even if it isn't the Beatles'. By the end of 1976, the real identities of Klaatu had come out, but the band retained enough fans to see them through five albums. "A Routine Day" is from their third, Sir Army Suit, from 1978. Sir Army Suit actually was more Beatle-esque than the debut, with its carefully constructed oddball little ditties. "A Routine Day" does give off a vague Sgt. Pepper vibe, crossed with the late 60's/early 70's Bee Gees and a dash of Badfinger. Fans of XTC's baroque pop might find this a pleasant diversion.
229. Pavement: No Life Singed Her ***** iTunes
This opens in chaos and screamed epithets, and somehow finds something resembling order, as the song hits a punky groove, before collapsing in another curse out. Then, it chugs back into a propulsive rocker again. At about 1:30 into the song, there is a dramatic change in fidelity (becoming clearer), and Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg trade chainsaw guitar riffs (becoming fuzzy and distorted), the racket continues before the song fades in a brief 2:09. In other words, another non-textbook subversion of what a pop song might be, from the lo-fi subversives Pavement. Not for everybody to be sure, Pavement's brand of ironic lo-fi kitchen sink anarchy won them a fair number of anti-fans during their peak. However, their noisy experiments in acidhead Gary Young's rickety studio inspired legions of musicans turned on by the possibilities suggested on the 1992 debut album Slanted and Enchanted, from which this comes. In terms of influence, Pavement's stock continues to rise; their music holds up well. This one is only for those tolerant of noise experiments; those who are will really dig this.
230. The Motels: Mission Of Mercy **** iTunes
Those who remember The Motels chiefly via their biggest hits, the glossy "Only The Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer" might underestimate this band's modest strengths. Local favorites in Los Angeles in the late 70's, the band had a good hard rock sensibility that they applied to new wave textures; "Mission of Mercy" is a propulsive rocker with a Peter Gunn beat, heavily processed but firey guitars, and a smoking Martha Davis vocal, produced with a sheen that has large venues in mind. Their blend of old cues and modern new-wave synthetic textures actually was pretty good, kind of an earthier, less quirky Missing Persons. The single reached #23 on the mainstream rock charts in 1982, and the album, All Four One, peaked at a robust #16. "Little Robbers" from 1983 had their big hits, and is their best remembered album. Their commercial downfall was swift and savage; Shock, from 1985, peaked at #43, their last charting album. Martha Davis was diagnosed with cancer in 1987, hastening the band's demise. She recovered, and in 1998 re-formed a version of the Motels.
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