Cover of Sloan's "One Chord to Another" abum
Sloan was formed in 1991 when Chris Murphy (bass, vocals) and Andrew Scott (drums) met at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax. Patrick Pentland (guitar) and Jay Ferguson (guitar) joined soon afterwards. In 1992, the band formed their own record label, Murderecords, and released their debut EP, “Peppermint”. The band signed with Geffen Records, who released “Smeared” later that year. Geffen did not promote their second album, “Twice Removed” (1994), due to concerns that it was too melodic in the era of grunge. In spite of the lack of promotion, the album did well in Canada. The band split with Geffen, and rumors surfaced that Sloan had disbanded. Instead, they resurfaced with “One Chord to Another” (1996), released on their Murderecords imprint. The first single from this album was “The Good in Everyone” b/w “Everything You’ve Done Wrong”. This is today’s featured single. “The Good in Everyone” is a good example of the tour de force of hooks and melodies found on “One Chord to Another”. Beginning and ending with a fake live setting, the song is driven by a punk-inspired riff that makes the song sound like British Invasion pop filtered through a grunge-era prism. In fact the distortion makes it sound like a quintessentially 1990s track, even as the song has the general feel of a classic power pop song. There are only two verses, sung by Patrick Pentland, and it would probably be futile to look for multiple layers of meaning here: “First off/Here’s what you do to me/You get rough/Attack my self-esteem”. Nevertheless, the song delivers a powerful punch in a short time, clocking in at just over two minutes. As one fan observed, they out-Beatled Oasis on this track. The second track on this single, “Everything You’ve Done Wrong”, is one of the better tracks from “One Chord to Another”, and was good enough to justify release as the second single from the album. Anchored by a catchy melody and fluid lyrics (“Do your time, to pay the price/For every thing you’ve done wrong, baby/In your life, you get so high/There’s nowhere left to go but down”), the song is also accentuated by a horn section that suggests that Sloan was moving away from their punk/grunge roots and towards melodic pop. In any case, “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” is one of the band’s more memorable songs, and also one of their most successful ones, reaching #6 on Canada’s RPM Singles Chart. This single was released on Murderecords in early 1997. Subsequently, Sloan would release their fourth studio album, “Navy Blues” (1998), in which they further refined their sound, and the live album “4 Nights at the Palais Royale” (1999). The studio albums “Between the Bridges” (1999) and “Pretty Together” (2001) followed. Sloan made a concerted effort to break into the U.S. market on their next studio album, “Action Pact” (2003); the album failed to raise the group’s profile in the U.S., though the band remained popular in Canada. The band signed with Yep Roc Records for “Never Hear the End of It” (2006); their next album, “Parallel Play” (2008) was released on their own Murderecords imprint. When Sloan added a digital music store to their website in 2009, they released “Hit & Run”, an EP released through their website, to promote it. The band signed with Outside Music for their tenth studio album, “The Double Cross” (2011).
Ween's "Mutilated Lips" CD single
Ween was formed in 1984 in New Hope, Pennsylvania when Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) and Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) met in an eighth grade typing class. Finding that they were kindred musical spirits, the two began recording together. Ween’s public debut was a “Purple Haze” cover closing a 1987 talent show. They gained recognition playing bars in New Hope such as John & Peter’s on Main Street. The duo was signed to Twin/Tone Records and released their debut album. “GodWeenSatan: The Oneness”, in 1990. Their second album, “The Pod” (1991), was recorded at an apartment the duo shared in Solebury Township (also dubbed “The Pod”). This led to Ween signing with a major label – Elektra Records – who released their third album, “Pure Guava” (1992). Their next album, “Chocolate and Cheese” (1994), was their first album to use professional-grade recording equipment (the duo eschewed the four-track equipment used on their previous recordings). On the heels of the success of this album, Ween recorded “12 Golden Country Greats” (1996), a country music album which represented the first time the band limited itself to a specific music genre. Their next album, “The Mollusk” (1997), a partial concept album with nearly each song having a dark, nautical theme, had its genesis in sessions dating back to 1995, but was not recorded until 1996. The first single from the album was “Mutilated Lips” b/w “Ocean Man”. This is today’s featured single.:
“Mutilated Lips” starts off with the sound of a drum cymbal, and then we get lyrics written from the perspective of someone high on L.S.D.: “I lick my brain in silence/Rather squeeze my head instead/Midget man provoking violence/Listen not to what I said”. The “mutilated lips” of the song’s title are the lips of an ugly girl, which appear to the protagonist (under the influence of drugs) to be mutilated. It’s a singularly original idea for a song, and at the same time is an extremely funny send-up of progressive rock. Throughout their career, Ween has been able to inject humor into their music without becoming a novelty band, and nowhere is this more evident than on this track.
The B-side of this single, “Ocean Man”, is another sea-related song in keeping with the theme of the album. Although it matches “Mutilated Lips” in sheer weirdness, it is more upbeat and childlike, especially the lyrical content: “Ocean man, take me by the hand, lead me to the land that you understand/Ocean man, the voyage to the corner of the globe is a real trip/Ocean man, the crust of a tan man imbibed by the sand/Soaking up the thirst of the land.” The keyboards on this track contribute to the light, airy feel, and the song proceeds at a brisk clip, clocking in at a mere 2 minutes and 7 seconds. Overall, this is one of the better songs from “Mollusk”.
The single (catalog # is unknown) was released on Elektra Records. “Ocean Man” was eventually released as a separate single. The duo’s next release was the live retrospective “Paintin’ the Town Brown: Ween Live 1990-1998” (1999). They released “Craters of the Sac” (1999), a semi-official MP3 album, later that year. Their seventh album, “White Pepper” (2000), would also be their last on Elektra. Ween signed with Sanctuary Records, which released their next studio album, “Quebec” (2003). “Shinola” (2005), a collection of previously-unreleased songs, was released on Ween’s Chocodog imprint, as was “The Friends” EP (2007). Their next full-length studio album, “La Cucaracha” (2007), was released on Rounder Records.
Insert for Fountains of Wayne's "Denise" CD single
Fountains of Wayne was formed by songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, who met as freshman at Williams College. The two began playing in bands together in the 1980s until they went their separate ways, with Schlesinger forming Ivy in New York City and Collingwood forming Mercy Buckets in Boston. The two met up once again in the mid-1990s and formed a band together. Schlesinger sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar, and Collingwood played bass. They also recruited Joey Porter (lead guitar) and Brian Young (drums). They eventually settled on the name Fountains of Wayne, the name of a lawn ornament store at the intersection of Routes 46 and 23 in Wayne, New Jersey. The band signed with Atlantic Records and released their self-titled debut album in October 1996. Two of the songs from the album, “Radiation Vibe” and “Sink to the Bottom”, received airplay. The band toured extensively in support of the album; in the meantime, Schlesinger had written the title song for the movie “The Thing You Do!”, for which he received an Oscar nomination. The band’s second album, “Utopia Parkway”, was released in April 1999; it was well-received, but the band was dropped by Atlantic Records when sales failed to meet expectations. In May 1999, the band released the first single from “Utopia Parkway”: “Denise”/”I Know You Well”/”I’ll Do the Driving”. This is today’s featured single.
“Denise” opens with a catchy guitar riff, and soon we are in the middle of what is perhaps the prototypical Fountains of Wayne song: a song with an infectious melody, an over-the-top “sha-la-la-la” chorus, and rather silly lyrics (although there are other power pop bands that match or exceed the technical proficiency of Fountains of Wayne, I dare say that few could rhyme “Lexus” and “Texas” with equal aplomb), and a mini-guitar solo that is as compelling as anything you’ll find in similar power pop songs. While some critics will find that the band’s sense of detachment prevents them from achieving greatness, I find it one of the band’s great strengths, and while their lyrical content may not be ponderous at all, they have absorbed the clichés of the genre and have achieved and unusually adept synthesis of it. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Denise” (although they did come close to reaching this level with “Stacy’s Mom” a few years later).
“I Know You Well” is a non-album track, a pleasant piece of jangle pop which Schlesinger’s lead vocals complements well. Per usual, the band’s lyrics have an unusual fluidness, so that whether or not there is any real depth to them is incidental to your enjoyment of the track. Is Schlesinger singing about an actual relationship when he sings about “New York 1991” or not? Does it really matter? It doesn’t for this aficionado of power pop. This song also boasts some rather good backing vocals. While this probably won’t be of interest to casual fans, this is a solid song. It can be found on the “Out of State Plates” double CD compilation released in 2005.
“I’ll Do the Driving”, on the other hand, is a song that I found to be one of the band’s most humorous tracks, so it’s a shame they did not include this on a full-length CD. Starting off with Young’s drums, soon accompanied by an acoustic guitar, the song tells the tale of an airhead girl (my personal favorite is: “We’re out, the jukebox plays “Jumping Jack Flash”/She says, “I love Johnny Cash, the man in red”/I turn my head and pretend not to hear what she said”). Most people have encountered people like this (at least I have), which makes this song all the funnier. Like “I Know You Well”, this song can be found on “Out of State Plates”.
This single was issued on Atlantic Records in May 1999. The CD insert is shown in the picture above. After the release of “Utopia Parkway”, Fountains of Wayne went on hiatus, with the band members pursuing other projects. In 2001, they reunited, recording a cover version of “Better Things” for a Kinks tribute album and recording the theme song for the Comedy Central series “Crank Yankers”. The band signed with S-Curve Records (with Virgin Records handling distribution in the U.K.). In 2003, the band released its third album, “Welcome Interstate Managers”, which contained the surprise hit “Stacy’s Mom”. The band recorded an appearance on “Austin City Limits” in December 2003. In June 2005, the band released “Out of State Plates”, a compilation of B-sides and previously unreleased tracks. “Traffic and Weather”, their fourth studio album, followed in April 2007. The band’s fifth studio album, “Sky Full of Holes”, will be released in on Yep Roc Records in North America on August 2, 2011.
Atomic Rooster's "Devil's Answer" single.
Atomic Rooster was formed in the summer of 1969, when The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had to cease touring in the middle of their second U.S. tour because of keyboardist Vincent Crane’s mental illness. When he recovered, he and drummer Carl Palmer left the band and returned to England, the return date being June 13, 1969, the year of the Rooster in the Chinese calendar. He met with ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones to discuss a collaboration. When Jones died, they recruited Nick Graham on bass and vocals. This trio of Crane, Palmer and Graham formed the first Atomic Rooster lineup. The band began playing live dates around London; their first headlining gig was opening for Deep Purple. Atomic Rooster signed with B & C Records; their first album, “Atomic Rooster”, was released in February 1970. In March 1970, they added a guitarist, John Du Cann, but just as Du Cann joined, Graham left. Du Cann took over vocal duties while Crane overdubbed bass lines with his Hammond organ. This lineup lasted until June 1970, when Palmer left to join Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He was replaced by Ric Parnell on a temporary basis and then by Paul Hammond, who joined in August 1970. This lineup recorded their second album, “Death Walks Behind You”, released in September 1970, which was also their first album to receive a U.S. release. The single “Tomorrow Night” (from “Death Walks Behind You”), reached #11 on the U.K. Singles Chart in February 1971. In June 1971, the non-album single, “Devil’s Answer” b/w “The Rock”, reached #4 in the U.K. This is today’s featured single.
“Devil’s Answer” begins with a simple melody played on Crane’s Hammond organ, soon accompanied by a crunching guitar sound achieved by Cann sliding a pick down the A string. Soon Du Cann’s guitar dominates the sound, with some horns added for musical texture. Soon we hear Du Cann’s rather abstract-sounding lyrics: “People are looking but they don’t know what to do/It’s the time of the season for the people like you/Come back tomorrow, show the scars on your face/It’s a clue to the answer we all chase”. Crane’s keyboards are never lost in the mix, and help provide the backbone of Atomic Rooster’s sound here, along with Hammond’s drums. While “Devil’s Answer” may not be the most impressive song I’ve ever heard, it’s a prime example of the salad days of progressive rock, before the genre started to devolve into a parody of itself.
Picture sleeve issued by Philips for the German release of "Devil's Answer".
The B-side, “The Rock”, begins with a drum beat from Hammond, followed by a bass line (presumably provided by Crane), soon joined by Du Cann on guitar. The song is a four and a half minute instrumental, one which provides ample opportunity for both Du Cann and Crane to shine, with relatively lengthy passages featuring Du Cann’s guitar-playing and Crane’s organ-playing respectively. Although this track is not essential listening for any but the most die-hard Atomic Rooster fan, it’s a solid track, and one which allows the band to indulge some of their jazzier inclinations. “The Rock” was included on the band’s next studio album, “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster” (though “Devil’s Answer” was not).
This single (catalog #: CB 157) was released in the United Kingdom and United States (as well as Spain and Greece) on B & C Records. There was no picture sleeve issued with this single. In France and Germany, the single was issued on Philips (with a picture sleeve, shown above). By mid-1971, Atomic Rooster added vocalist Pete French to the lineup. The new musical direction of the band did not please Du Cann and Hammond, and they left shortly after recording of the band’s third album, “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster” (1971), was complete. This album did well in the wake of “Devil’s Answer”, peaking at #18 in the U.K. The band recruited Steve Bolton to replace Du Cann on guitar, and once again Ric Parnell became the band’s drummer. Pete French left the band at the end of the year, and Crane recruited Chris Farlowe. The band switched to Dawn Records for their next album, “Made in England” (1972). The album was not as successful as its predecessor, and by the end of 1972, Bolton left the band, and was replaced by John Goodsall (a.k.a. Jonny Mandala). Their fifth album, “Nice and Greasy” (1973), was released with this lineup, and met with little success. After two years without a hit, Dawn Records dropped Atomic Rooster from its roster in 1974. At this point, Parnall, Farlowe and Mandala left the band. After one final single on Decca Records in March 1974 and a benefit concert for the RSPCA in February 1975 (in which Crane was backed by the blues band Sam Apple Pie), Crane disbanded Atomic Rooster. In 1980, Crane and Du Cann reunited, recruiting session drummer Preston Heyman to record an album called “Atomic Rooster” (1980). The album release was followed by a tour; however in October 1980 Heyman left and was replaced by Paul Hammond. This lineup lasted until 1982, when Du Cann left the band. John McCoy stepped in on bass. On the subsequent album, “Headline News” (1983), Crane played keyboards and bass and sang, Hammond played drums, and several guest musicians played guitar, including David Gilmour and Bernie Tormé. Crane once again disbanded Atomic Rooster at the end of 1983, and eventually joined Dexy’s Midnight Runners in 1985. After Dexy’s Midnight Runners disbanded in 1987, Crane and Du Cann intended to reform Atomic Rooster once again. However, Crane’s mental illness intervened and he died of an overdose of painkillers on February 14, 1989. Paul Hammond died in 1993. With Du Cann the only band member still living from the “Death Walks Behind You” lineup, another reunion seems unlikely.
CD cover for the Supergrass single "Alright".
Supergrass was formed by Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey, who had been members of the shoegaze band The Jennifers along with Nick Goffey and Andy Davis. The band played gigs at various venues around Oxfordshire, and were successful enough to release one single, “Just Got Back Today”, on Nude Records, before disbanding. When Coombes began working at a local Harvester restaurant, he befriended co-worker Mick Quinn. Realizing they had common musical interests, Coombes invited Quinn to jam with him and Goffey. In February 1993, they formed Theodore Supergrass, later shortened to Supergrass. Gaz’s brother, Rob Coombes, played flute on their first gig; he soon became the keyboardist, although he wasn’t credited as a band member until a decade later. In mid-1994, they released their debut single, “Caught by the Fuzz”, on independent Backbeat Records. The limited release sold out fairly quickly, thanks in part to support from John Peel. The band was signed to Parlophone, who re-released the single in autumn of the same year. In February 1995, “Mansize Rooster” was released, their second single and first U.K. Top 20 single. This was followed by “Lenny”, their first U.K. Top 10 hit; in May 1995, “I Should Coco” was released, their debut album. The album sold over a million copies worldwide. The album contained their fourth single, the double A-side “Alright” b/w “Time”, which stayed in the U.K. Top Three for a month. This is today’s featured single.
“Alright” begins with a keyboard playing a monotonous melody, followed by guitars and Gaz Coombes’ vocals: “We are young, we run green/Keep our teeth, nice and clean/See our friends, see the sights, feel alright”. The melody is simple, using a grand total of only five chords, yet this is an infectious little song, one which is reminiscent of both British pop of the 1960s and power pop of the 1970s. The minor-key melody during the chorus provides an interesting contrast with the verses. There’s an brief but punchy-sounding instrumental break about 1 minute and 40 seconds into the song as well. Although “Alright” may be a bit annoying for 1990s Britpop detractors, I found it to be an enjoyable song.
The B-side of the single, “Time”, is a more languid, laid-back sounding, melodic song, an interesting contrast with the more anthematic “Alright”. Rather, this is a relatively simple love song: “The time, is on the way/My love/I know I’m going away/My love”. The keyboards play a less prominent role, but compliment the main melody quite well, and we even have a harmonica on this track for musical texture. The vocal harmonizing between Coombes and Goffey is a nice touch as well. “Time” may not be the teenage rallying cry that “Alright” is, but that does not mean it is any less compelling as a slice of Britpop, and even those who generally disliked the genre might take a liking to this tune.
The single (catalog #: CDR 6413) was released on Parlophone in the U.K. in July 1995. Shown here is the cover for the CD version; it was also released on colored vinyl. Supergrass toured for eighteen months in support of “I Should Coco”, then returned to Sawmills studio to record their follow-up album “In It for the Money” (1997), featuring a darker sound than its predecessor. Their third album, “Supergrass” (1999), received good reviews, but was not as successful commercially as its predecessors, although the single “Moving” from “Supergrass” did reach the Top Ten in the U.K. Their next album, “Life on Other Planets” (2002), was the first on which Rob Coombes was credited as a full member of the band; the album was not as successful as the first three albums but once again was a hit with critics. In 2004, the band released the greatest hits compilation “Supergrass Is 10” to celebrate their tenth anniversary. “Road to Rouen” (2005) was released next and was well-received by fans and critics alike. Their sixth album, “Diamond Hoo Ha”, was their lowest charting album (peaking at #19 in the U.K.) with none of the three singles from the album reaching the Top 40. The band was working on their fourth album when they announced their split in April 2010.
Urge Overkill's "Positive Bleeding" CD single.
Urge Overkill was formed in Chicago by Nash Kato (vocals/guitar) and Eddie “King” Roeser (vocals/guitar/bass), who met at Northwestern University in 1985. They formed Urge Overkill the following year with drummer Pat Byrne, and released an EP, “Strange, I…” (1986) on Ruthless Records. The EP was produced by Kato’s friend Steve Albini. Kriss Bataille replaced Pat Byrne on drums, and Urge Overkill signed with Touch and Go Records. They released their first full length album, “Jesus Urge Superstar” (1989), again produced by Albini. Both their initial EP and “Superstar” featured a noise-rock sound common to other Chicago acts of the period. Their next album, “Americruiser” (1990), in which Jack “The Jaguar” Watt replaced Bataille on drums, saw a shift in style to “a Stonesy fusion of arena rock and punk”. The album was produced by Butch Vig and featued the college radio hit “Ticket to L.A.”. Watt left the band and was replaced by Blackie Onassis for their next album, “The Supersonic Storybook” (1991). A mainstream breakthrough seemed inevitable as the band opened for Nirvana on their “Nevermind” tour and for Pearl Jam on their “Vs.” tour. They released an EP, “Stull” (1992), before signing with Geffen Records. Their jump to the majors angered the whole label, particularly their old producer Steve Albini, who publicly criticized the band in several interviews. Nevertheless, their Geffen debut, “Saturation” (1993), which was produced by the Butcher Bros., received strong reviews upon its release in June 1993. The third single from this album, “Positive Bleeding”/”Quality Love”/”Nite and Grey”, is today’s featured single.
“Positive Bleeding” is a prime example of Urge Overkill’s then-new, more commercial direction in practice. Starting off with a catchy riff punctuated by some punchy drum fills (accompanied by a sitar for musical texture), which is soon accompanied by Kato’s vocals: “Hey! Look around today/Everything don’t need to be the same./Feel. I’m feelin, lonely people/People just like me who go it alone/I guess I’m gonna go it alone”. The way Kato’s guitar follows his vocals ascending and descending during the chorus is memorable (punctuated by his “hoo-hoo-hoo” at the end of every line). While the band’s musical landscape is bare-boned, they make the most of it on this track, with catchy hooks that justify its release as a single. As a nod to their origins as a noise rock band, we get a weird, atonal coda with what sounds like backward masking. Overall, “Positive Bleeding” is arguably the best of the four singles from “Saturation”.
“Quality Love (Hong Kong Demo)” is a non-album single which also doubled as the “B-side” of the “Dropout” CD single (I guess the group didn’t have a lot of extra songs to serve as B-sides back then). We get a catchy tune about a man who wants “something more than fast action guaranteed” (i.e. “quality love”). I like the distorted guitar on this track, which figures prominently during a very brief instrumental break which takes place 1 minute and 45 minutes into the track. This song also distinguishes itself with an interesting coda, the music stopping about 2 minutes and 50 seconds into the song for a full seconds, before returning with a funky bass line and Kato singing “quality love – believe it”, once again punctuating his chorus with a “hoo-hoo-hoo”, before fading out completely. This track is probably not of much interest to casual fans, but was an interesting track nonetheless.
U.K. release of "Positive Bleeding" single (with "Nite and Grey" on the B-side but without "Quality Love") on red vinyl.
The third track on this single, “Nite and Grey”, is another track from “Saturation”. It is about someone who “was set up”; the song’s protagonist urges the person to “[l]et us help you get them”. The chorus is catchy (“Night and day/Night and grey/This is the last time/This is the last time”), and the coda, which consists of a simple melody repeated monotonously over someone saying “[i]s he on the clock or off the clock”, takes up the last minute of the track. The guitars sound crisper than on some of the other tracks on the album, and provides an interesting contrast with the somewhat more commercial-sounding “Postiive Bleeding”.
The single (catalog #: GEFDM 21864) was released in March 1994 on Geffen Records. Although “Positive Bleeding” became a minor radio hit and other tracks from “Saturation” received significant airplay, the album did not provide the breakthrough for which the group had hoped. In the meantime, the band became the target of a few anti-Urge campaigns in the indie rock underground. Still the band forged ahead, and while recording a follow-up to “Saturation”, they recorded a track for the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack, a cover version of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”. The movie became an unexpected hit, and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” reached the Top 50 in the Billboard Hot 100. The band thus had high hopes for their next album, “Exit the Dragon” (1995), but the first single, “The Break”, flopped, and the following tour, which took place in the fall of 1995, proved a disaster, with the opening act, Guided By Voices, being kicked off amidst much controversy just a few weeks into the tour. A few weeks later, the remaining concerts were cancelled altogether and never rescheduled. Blackie Onassis was arrested for heroin possession towards the end of the year. No charges were pressed and the incident was kept quiet, but the album was a commercial failure. In the aftermath, Urge Overkill was reduced to continuing as a duo consisting of Kato and Roeser, and the band left Geffen Records for 550 Music in early 1997. Kato and Roeser began feuding, which resulted in Roeser leaving the band. Roeser was replaced by Nils St. Cyr, but 550 Music was unhappy with the results, and dropped Urge Overkill from the label. At this point, the group disbanded, with Kato pursuing a solo career. In 2004, Kato and Roeser reunited and formed a new Urge Overkill lineup with Mike “Hadji” Hodgkiss on bass, Chris Frantisak on keyboards, and Nate Arling on drums, later replaced by Brian “Bonn” Quast. The band played several dates and toured Europe, North America and Australia. In May 2011, the band released “Rock and Roll Submarine”, on OU Records, their first album of new material in over fifteen years.
Picture sleeve for the U.K. vinyl release of the Posies' "Dream All Day" single.
The Posies had their genesis in a collaboration between core members Jon Auer (guitar, vocals) and Ken Stringfellow (guitar, vocals) that began in late 1986 when Ken was a student at the University of Washington. They began to perform together as an acoustic duo during the summer of 1987 when Ken was home in Bellingham. In late 1987 and early 1988, Stringfellow drove home on weekends to join Auer in recording a demo at Auer’s family’s home studio. Although their intention was to record a demo with the intention of using it to recruit other band members, the demos were so good that they became the Posies’ first self-released album, “Failure” (1988). Interest in the group increased as cassette copies of the album circulated, and soon Mike Musberger (drums) and Rick Roberts (bass) joined, allowing the band to play their first live shows in Seattle and Bellingham. “Failure” was re-released on vinyl in late 1988 by independent label PopLlama. The band subsequently signed with Geffen subsidiary DGC Records. The band released its second album, “Dear 23”, on DGC in August 1990. After an extensive U.S. tour, the band returned to Washington in late 1991 to record a third album; the band scrapped the sessions when they decided Rick Roberts’ songs did not fit the band and scrapped the sessions. Roberts was asked to leave around this time. The remaining three members developed new songs, and eventually their third album, “Frosting on the Beater”, was released in April 1993. The first single from the album was the leadoff track, “Dream All Day”. This is today’s featured single.
“Dream All Day” starts off with distorted guitar chords, which leads to a melodic tune that is an admirable slice of power pop. Although the song only employs five chords, the structure of the song is somewhat complex, with the speed of the riff changing often. And there is the lyrical content, terse yet eloquent in its own way: “I’ve got a lot of thoughts/Got a lot of plans/I lost a lot of sleep/Trying to understand/I could dream all day”. About 1 minute and 58 seconds into the track, there is a brief but intense guitar solo during the instrumental break. The vocals on the song are excellent, and the harmonization between Auer and Stringfellow is compelling. “Dream All Day” may not be the high water mark of the Posies, but it is a well-crafted song and certainly one of their better songs.
The second song on this single, “How She Lied By Living”, has a haunting minor-key melody, in which the protagonist tells about a woman that lied, and admonishes here during the chorus: “You told me, you told me you loved life/Don’t tell me, don’t tell me you loved life/Don’t tell me you loved life”. The drumming in this song is more distinct than on “Dream All Day”, and the rhythm section plays a more prominent role here. The melody, repeated almost monotonously during the instrumental break about 1 minute and 25 seconds into the song, gives the song a dark feel. Overall, “How She Lied By Living” is a solid track, and worthy of inclusion on “Frosting”.
The single (catalog #: GFS50) was issued on DGC Records in the United States and Geffen in the U.K. The single was issued with a picture sleeve (shown here is the picture sleeve for the U.K. vinyl release). Although most of the album was recorded by the trio of Auer, Stringfellow and Musberger, Dave Fox joined the band on bass during the last recording sessions for the album. Fox would leave the band in 1994. During a subsequent European tour, Musberger had a falling-out with Auer and Stringfellow and left the band. In late 1994, Brian Young took over on drums and Joe Howard took over on bass. This lineup recorded their fourth album, “Amazing Disgrace” (1996). After touring the U.S. and Europe, the band members occupied themselves with solo projects, leading to rumors that the Posies were finished. In fact, they did re-record a dozen older songs, with the intention of making it their swan song. The resulting album, “Success”, was released in February 1998. During the subsequent tour, a live album, “Alive Before the Iceberg” (2000) was recorded. After a period of inactivity, Auer and Stringfellow recruited a new rhythm section: Darius Minwalla (drums) and Matt Harris (bass). This lineup recorded “Every Kind of Light” (2005) and “Blood/Candy” (2010).
Raspberries' "Overnight Sensation" 45 RPM single.
Raspberries had their roots in two popular Cleveland bands of the late 1960s: The Choir and Cyrus Erie. The Choir consisted of Dann Klawon, Wally Bryson, Dave Burke, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti, and had an extensive repertoire of original songs, including “It’s Cold Outside”, which became a #1 hit in Cleveland and even charted nationally, peaking at #68. The Choir endured several lineup changes, although the core members Bonfanti and Smalley remained in the band until Smalley was drafted and sent to Vietnam. In the meantime, Cyrus Erie, formed by brothers Michael McBride and Bob McBride, became the better draw after Eric Carmen (guitar, vocals) joined in 1967. Carmen persuaded guitarist Wally Bryson, who had just left The Choir, to join Cyrus Erie. This lineup recorded a single, consisting of two Carmen/Bryson originals, for Epic Records. Soon afterwards, Bryson returned to The Choir, and Cyrus Erie disbanded. Carmen and Dann Klawon then formed a new act called The Quick, and recorded two singles for Epic that had little success. After discussions between Carmen and Bonfanti about forming a band, the first lineup of Raspberries came together with Eric Carmen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Jim Bonfanti (drums), Wally Bryson (lead guitar, lead vocals), and John Aleksic (bass guitar). Soon Aleksic left the band and soon former Choirs member Dave Smalley, who had just returned from Vietnam, joined the band on rhythm guitar, with Carmen switching to bass. The group made a demo, and after a major label bidding war, they were signed to Capitol Records. Their first single, “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye”, dented the Billboard singles chart (#86), but the second single, “Go All the Way”, reached #5 nationally, was awarded a gold disc and eventually sold over a million copies. This helped boost sales of their debut album, “Raspberries” (1972), which spent 30 weeks on the Billboard album chart. Subsequently, Carmen and Smalley switched instruments, with Carmen becoming the rhythm guitarist and Smalley becoming the band’s bass player. The band’s second album, “Fresh”, was released in October 1972, and spawned two more hit singles: “I Wanna Be With You” (#16) and “Let’s Pretend” (#35).
Tensions within the band developed at Carmen’s creative dominance, which seemed to dwarf the contributions of Bryson and Smalley. Their next album, “Side 3” (1973) saw a change in musical direction for the band, with a more raw, aggressive sound than its predecessors. The album spawned two minor hits: “Tonight” (#69) and “I’m a Rocker” (#94), as well as one single that did not chart (“Ecstasy”). After this album’s release, Smalley was ejected from the band, and Bonfanti left soon afterward. The two were replaced by Scott McCarl (bass) and ex-Cyrus Erie drummer Michael McBride. This lineup released “Starting Over” (1974) which would record the band’s fourth and final album. It also spawned the single “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” b/w “Hands on You”. This is today’s featured single.
“Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” is definitely one of the high water marks of Eric Carmen’s career, an epic-scale production number in which the song’s main protagonist sings about wanting to hear his song on the radio: “Well I know it sounds funny/But I’m not in it for the money, no/I don’t need no reputation/And I’m not in it for the show”. The track starts off with the songs melody played on piano (in the style of Barry Manilow), which is soon joined by an impressive wall of sound, signaling that while “Side 3” was an effort by the band to shed their teenybopper image by showing that they could rock as hard as anyone else, “Starting Over” was more about impressing the listener with top-notch production. The instrumentation is diverse (there’s a brief saxophone solo here), yet all of it works towards creating a lush musical soundscape; the Beach Boys-esque vocals towards the end are also a nice touch, as is the false ending before the song comes thundering back and fades away. The way Carmen seemingly effortlessly weaves together the song, moving from verse to chorus to bridge back to the chorus again, is impressive, and a testament to the evolution of his songcraft from the days of such relatively simplistic (though admittedly enjoyable) tunes such as “Going All the Way”. The song itself became a hit record, peaking at #18 on the Billboard singles chart.
The B-side of the single, “Hands on You”, is quite a different kind of song, with lead vocals handled by Wally Bryson and Scott McCarl, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and some strange tape loops of people clapping and making sundry noises. While the song is not as much of an achievement as “Overnight Sensation”, nor is “Hands on You” mindless pap or filler; it suggests that this incarnation of the band could step back from the grandiose leanings of such tracks while keeping the quality of songwriting high. While this album turned out to be their last, the band was by no means phoning it in, as proven by the high quality of even minor tracks on “Starting Over” such as this one.
The single (catalog #: 3946) was released on Capitol Records in 1974. As far as I know, no picture sleeve was issued with the record, but some copies were issued with a red and brown (or blue and yellow) Capitol Records sleeve. This would turn out to be the band’s last major hit as a subsequent single, “Cruisin’ Music”, failed to chart. The band broke up in April 1975, and Eric Carmen went onto success as a solo artist. Three of the original members (Bryson, Smalley and Bonfanti without Carmen) reunited for the album “Raspberries Refreshed” (1999), which attempted to recreate their original sound. In November 2004, the Cleveland branch the House of Blues opened with a Raspberries reunion concert; this led to a well-received mini-tour in 2005 which started at Chicago’s House of Blues. A date from the 2005 tour was recorded and released as a double CD and DVD called “Live on Sunset Strip” (2007).
U.S. release of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" single.
Status Quo began life in 1962 when schoolmates Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster (both students at Sedgehill Comprehensive School in Catford, U.K.) formed a freakbeat band called The Scorpions. They changed their name to The Spectres, and in 1963 they added drummer John Coghlan. They began writing their own material and in 1965 they met Rick Parfitt; he and Rossi became friends and they made a commitment to continue to work together. In 1966, The Spectres signed a five-year contract with Piccadilly Records. The Spectres released three singles (two in 1966 and one in 1967); all three were commercial failures. By 1967, the band had discovered psychedelia and changed their name to Traffic (later to Traffic Jam), to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic. By this point the band’s lineup included organist Roy Lynes and they released the single “Almost But Not Quite There”, which also flopped. In late 1967 they changed their name to The Status Quo (shortened to Status Quo in 1969), and in early 1968 they released to psychedelic-flavored “Pictures if Matchstick Men” b/w “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”. This is today’s featured single.
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” opens up with a four-note riff (D/F/C/G) repeated twice (the first time the lead guitar is the lone instrument; the rest of the band enters the second time. The same four chords are used during the verses. The opening riff is quite memorable – it’s very difficult to forget once you’ve heard it – and no doubt this is one of the reasons why this track is probably Status Quo’s best-known song. But “Pictures of Matchstick Men” also owes much to its use of phasing. The lead guitar (played by Rossi) and bass guitar (played by Lancaster) play the same melody throughout most of the song, at first in unison but in slightly different tempos. As a result, the lead guitar and bass guitar fall out-of-phase, resulting in a dissonant, aural strangeness not unlike flanging (but using a different tactic to achieve the result). This sound is augmented nicely by Roy Lynes’ wah-wah organ. The lyrical content is rather weird (telling the tale of a man who is haunted by visions of a face until he is driven to distraction), and, one suspects, LSD-influenced: “When I look up to the skies/I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow/I rush home to bed I soak my head/I see your face underneath my pillow/I wake next morning, tired, still yawning/See your face come peeping through my window”. According to Rossi, the song was for the most part written in the bathroom: “I wrote it on the bog (i.e. toilet). I’d gone there, not for the usual reasons – having a crap and what have you – but to get away from the wife and mother-in-law. I used to go into this narrow frizzing toilet and sit there for hours, until they finally went out. I got three quarters of the song finished in that khazi. The rest I finished in the lounge.” It seems a rather inauspicious beginning for such a classic song, but I suppose it’s plausible. In any case, this is probably about as psychedelic you could get on a pop single in 1968. As other fans have noted, the song is a tour-de-force that seemingly transports the listener into another world, and it’s as colorful as the band’s Carnaby Street clothing.
The B-side of this single, “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, was good enough that it was originally slated to be the A-side of the single, but then the A-side and B-side were swapped. In any case, this song is not without it’s appeal. It opens with a melancholy melody, which soon launches into a mid-tempo pop song, in which the protagonist frets about the possibility of losing his significant other: Hey Joe, have you seen my baby here?/Oh we used to share a table every night/Hey Joe, she’s the only girl who’s ever/Meant anything at all/If I lose her I lose all”. The melody is much simpler than the one employed on “Matchstick Men” – only three chords are used, and the song doesn’t use any psychedelic effects like phasing. Once again, Roy Lynes’ organ is put to good use, and it’s much more conspicuous than it was on the A-side. Overall, I liked the song – it remains somewhat of a fan favorite – even if the line about in which Rossi sings “Under a table we’d choose, she’d take off her shoes/And rub her feet against mine” was a bit too corny for me. Interestingly enough, the label on the single lists the track as “Gentlemen Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, even though all the discographies I’ve encountered have it listed as “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”.
What’s really interesting about “Matchstick Men” is that in spite of how memorable it is, and in spite of its status as their first hit (it reached #12 in the U.S., and #7 in the U.K.), it’s not really representative of the Status Quo sound. The band itself never really took “Matchstick Men” seriously (which is perhaps why it almost ended up on the B-side). Nevertheless, they would dabble in psychedelia on their first full-length LP, “Picturesque Matchstickable Message From The Status Quo” (1968) and also on their second album, “Spare Parts” (1969), but they would struggle to repeat the success of “Matchstick Men”. In the 1970’s, they would reinvent themselves as a rock-blues boogie band (the aforementioned Rick Parfitt was now in the fold as the band’s rhythm guitarist, having joined the band in 1968; Roy Lynes had left the band in 1970). With this new direction, they went on to record 50 chart hits in the U.K. “Down Down” became their first and only #1 hit in the U.K. in 1975; they would eventually sell over 118 albums worldwide. They were less successful in the United States, where “Matchstick Men” remains their only hit.
The single (catalog #: 7001) was issued in the United States by Cadet Concept Records, a blues/jazz/folk label started by Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. It was a subsidiary of Chess Records, and was arguably a vehicle for the Rotary Connection, a pet project of Marshall Chess which featured the late Minnie Ripperton on lead vocals (long before her salad days as a solo artist on Epic Records). Apparently, the label also secured U.S. distribution rights for U.K. bands, as shown by the fact that they issued “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, which was also the first single issued by Cadet Concept. It features the standard Cadet Concept label design – gray with black print, with “Cadet” printed in pink and “Concept” printed in orange, both words printed with a swirl-style font across the top of the label. The track name and artist are printed on the bottom; publishing information is on the left side, and the catalog number and track length are on the right side. Cadet Concept also issued “Messages from the Status Quo” (catalog #: LPS-315), their first U.S. full-length LP, in 1968.
Album cover for Ian Hunter's "All American Alien Boy".
Ian Hunter Patterson (a.k.a. Ian Hunter) was born on June 3, 1939 in Owestry, Shropshire, England. His father worked for the British intelligence service MI5; this kept the family on the move and by one account, Hunter had attended seventeen different schools by the age of eleven. Eventually, the family settled in Shrewsbury. There, Hunter was apprenticing for Sentinel/Rolls Royce when he and Colin York and Colin Broom, performing as a trio, won a talent competition performing “Blue Moon” on acoustic guitar. York and Broom were members of a Northampton-based rhythm and blues group called The Apex Group, and Hunter soon joined The Apex Group and moved to Northampton. Hunter left The Apex Group in 1958, and kicked around in a few local groups. Having fallen into debt, however, he opted to return to Shrewsbury. Once there, he got a job with McGowans fruit and vegetable company, and started dating Diane Coles. He also played in a harmonica duo with Tony Wardle. Hunter returned to Northampton and rejoined The Apex Group; Coles soon followed him there and the two married. Hunter pursued a musical career, forming Hurricane Harry and the Shriekers, a band that competed directly with The Apex Group (this resulted in his eventual dismissal from the latter band). When Hunter’s new band toured Germany with some success, he began to realize he might be able to support himself as a musician. In 1966, Hunter moved to London and joined The Scenery. By early 1968, that band had run its course and, with a family to support (Hunter had two children by now), Hunter resorted to taking day jobs, working as a journalist and road-digger.
Hunter never gave up the idea of working as a full-time musician, however, and in 1969, he auditioned for a band called Silence, which featured Mick Ralphs on guitar, Verden Allen on organ, Pete “Overend” Watts on bass, and Dale “Buffin” Griffin on drums. The band’s manager, Guy Stevens, felt that the band lacked an credible singer with stage presence and thus sought to recruit a new lead singer. Hunter auditioned for the band on a lark and got the job. The band signed with Island Records and released four critically acclaimed albums, and drew enthusiastic live audiences. But the albums were commercial failures, and by 1972, Mott the Hoople was ready to call it quits when David Bowie, a fan on the band, offered to write them a song. The band signed with Columbia Records, and the resulting song “All the Young Dudes”, and the album of the same name (produced by Bowie) were both hits, and the band was saved from a premature demise. Mick Ralphs left the band in 1973 to form Bad Company; Hunter assumed lead guitar duties, and for a time Mott the Hoople continued as a quartet. This lineup recorded “Mott” (1973), another successful album which contained “All the Way from Memphis”. Later that year, the band added Luther Grosvenor (a.k.a. Ariel Bender) on lead guitar and Morgan Fisher on keyboards. This lineup recorded “The Hoople” (1974) and “Live” (1974). Soon Bender was replaced by ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, but in December 1974, both Hunter and Ronson left Mott the Hoople. Hunter quickly launched a solo career, initially collaborating with Ronson, releasing his self-titled debut album in April 1975. For his second album, Hunter did not collaborate with Ronson, and opted for a jazzier sound than on his debut album, collaborating with saxophonist David Sanborn. “All American Alien Boy” was released in January 1976, and a U.K.-only single, “All American Alien Boy” b/w “Rape” was released in May 1976. This is today’s featured single.
The single version of “All American Alien Boy” is about three minutes shorter than the album version (clocking in at 4 minutes and 4 seconds), with slightly different lyrics. Stylistically, the song sounds similar to David Bowie during his Philly soul period, with a sax line that sounds like it’s been lifted from “Young Americans” (not to mention the backing vocals). Lyrically, the song is Hunter’s take on being an Englishman living in America (“reflections on being hit by America”, as Hunter himself said), with lines like “Just a whitey from blighty – heading out west/Got my little green card ’n my bulletproof vest/Goin’ to New York City – where the buzz is the best.” The idea of being an Englishman in the United States is a theme that Hunter has revisited several times in his music, most recently in “American Spy”, but “All American Alien Boy” is still unique in being one of his most convincing stabs at white-boy funk. Although both the single and album version are good, my preference is for the album version.
The B-side of the single, “Rape”, is one of the stand-out tracks from “All American Alien Boy”. The song opens with an excerpt from “Singing in the Rain” (an allusion to the rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange”?) Then, accompanied by backing vocals provided by Ann E. Sutton, Gail Kantor, and Erin Dickens, he tells a tale of injustice perpetrated against an unnamed female victim, while her assailant stands to go unpunished (“A knife full of life penetrated the bait/While he thinks ‘o the sister and the mother that he hates/And he thinks he’ll get off ‘cos he’s sick, and stoned”). This is one of the headier songs from this album, especially with the soaring, almost ethereal vocals at the end of the track, and represents a worthy addition to the Ian Hunter catalog.
The single (catalog #: CBS 4268) was released in the U.K. As far as I know, the single did not have a picture sleeve. “All American Alien Boy” was not as successful as the first album, and Hunter’s third solo album, “Overnight Angels” (1977), was not even released in the U.S. Hunter reunited with Mick Ronson for his fourth solo album, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” (1979), which was Hunter’s first album on Chrysalis some critics consider to be his best album. “Live: Welcome to the Club” (1980) and “Short Back ‘n’ Sides” (1981) sold well in spite of the lack of a hit single. Hunter switched back to Columbia for “All of the Good Ones Are Taken” (1983), on which Mick Ronson only played on one track. Hunter kept a low profile for the next six years, resurfacing in 1989 with “Yui Orta” on Polygram Records, on which Mick Ronson got equal billing. For the first half of the 1990s, Hunter once again dropped out of sight; in the meantime, his longtime collaborator, Mick Ronson, died of cancer in 1993. Hunter returned in 1995 with “Dirty Laundry”, released in the U.S. and Norway. “The Artful Dodger” followed in 1996, an album initially released in the U.K. only. “Rant” was released in 2001 on Repertoire Records, followed by “Shrunken Heads” (2007).