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This was actually kind of difficult to compile – Elvis starred in an unbelievable 33 films, singing an average of ten songs in each. If Hymie’s would just get the intern I’ve been asking for I could have given that person the job of sifting through all of the soundtrack albums for the turkiest of the turkeys. Instead I had to do it myself.

(10) “Yoga Is As Yoga Does” from Easy Come, Easy Go

Funny, when you consider Elvis’ enthusiasm for karate in the early 70s (He studied with Memphis master Kang Rhee for four years). Funnier because its Elvis doing yoga.

(9) “Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce” from Girl Happy

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I think if you interviewed a dozen people leaving the theater at the end of this movie, nine of them would have forgotten the plot already. Even by beach party movie standards Girl Happy is pretty stupid. Its almost stupid by Elvis movie standards, but actually there it ranks pretty well.

(8) “Ito Eats” from Blue Hawaii

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There’s really not a lot I can add to this.

Okay, I can’t keep my mouth shut any more than Ito can stop eating – Here’s the liberation anthem of fat Hawaiian guys, seldom heard at their marches because bongo drums and ukuleles are too much work to carry around. Usually its just performed acappella around a spit.

(7 & 6) “Poison Ivy League” and “Carny Town” from Roustabout

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Roustabout is my favorite Elvis movie. First he’s cruising around on his motorcycle after getting fired for fighting with fancy college boys and then he’s invited to join a traveling carnival run by Barbara Stanwyck. The problem is the songs in Roustabout are some of the very worst. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of debate over including “Poison Ivy League” on a list of the worst Elvis movie songs, but “Carny Town” is included as a bonus because I think it could be a great punk rock anthem if played by the right group. I’d like to hear Dillinger Four take “Carny Town” on with the same fanaticism they gave to “Sally MacLennane”.

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Okay, “Hard Knocks” is also included. The songs in Roustabout are really bad! The thing about “Hard Knocks” is that Elvis really could sing the blues. He also hard a hard life. People who thumb their noses at Elvis’ 1969 hit “In the Ghetto” usually don’t understand that he grew up in rural poverty which is sometimes a lot worse than urban poverty. “Hard Knocks”, on the other hand, is about the least soulful song about tough times I have ever heard. What’s really ridiculous is that songwriter Joy Byer’s husband later asserted he wrote the songs from Elvis movies credited to her (At least 10 by my count). Who would want to claim this song?

(5) “Signs of the Zodiac from The Trouble with Girls

If you were a kid and you really liked rock and roll, and you rented a few of these movies (Remember renting movies?), you got a pretty askew view of the world. Between Elvis movie and Douglas Adams books its a wonder I grew into somebody who could succeed at all.

(4) “Song of the Shrimp” from Girls! Girls! Girls!

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Girls! Girls! Girls! includes Elvis’ only genuine sea chanty (“Thanks to the Rolling Sea”) and some irresistibly funny tracks when revisited today (“I’d Rather Be Tied” and “We’re Coming in Loaded”) but the goofiest song is “Song of the Shrimp”. In a lot of ways the Elvis movie soundtracks are charmingly naive little vignettes, and Girls! Girls! Girls! is a great example – In this case our little look at Ross Carpenter’s life is a lot of fun even if the songs he sing aren’t.

(3) “The Bullfighter Was A Lady” from Fun in Acapulco

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The next track is “There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car”, which nearly made it onto this list. Fun in Acapulco is fun movie and makes for a lively soundtrack, but it has the feeling of wasted potential. If Elvis had followed Edyie Gorme and made an album in Spanish it would probably be his most popular record today.

Okay, so I might as well tell you the truth: If I made a list of my 10 favorite Elvis movie songs it probably wouldn’t be any different. Sure, I love “GI Blues” and really everything from Loving You, but those are great songs. I don’t love them the same way I love these ten tracks.

You’re either going to love Elvis or you’re not, and nothing I can write is going to change your mind. Not going to love Elvis? Well, nuts to you. That’s right. Nuts to you.

(2) “Go East Young Man” from Harum Scarum

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The most difficult thing about compiling this list was finding nine songs worst than everything on the soundtrack to Harum Scarum, which is also the very worst of the Elvis movies. Elvis is kidnapped while touring the mideast and forced to assassinate a sheik. Hilarity ensues.

(1) “Dominic” from Stay Away Joe

So far as I can tell the songs in this movie were so bad they never bothered to makde a soundtrack album. I can’t say because this is one of the few Elvis movies I haven’t seen (Did I tell you there are 33 of them?) and I’m not going to watch it now, even for your benefit. There’s just too much else to do.

I have no idea what’s going on in this scene but I really like it.

Actually, we couldn’t really find very many sequel songs in our collection of Christmas records. This one by Homer & Jethro gives us an idea what happened next after Mommy was kissing Santa Claus in another song:

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“Santy’s Movin’ On” by Homer & Jethro

And we found a sequel to one of our favorite Christmas classics, “Santa Baby” by the incomparably Eartha Kitt. She recorded a sequel, “This Year’s Santa Baby,” the following year (1954). She also recorded the novelty number “Nuttin’ for Christmas” a couple years later.

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“Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt

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“This Year’s Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt
this years santa baby

secret stash singlesOne thing that has been really fun about Secret Stash Records, the local label that’s based here on the awesome-est street in the city, is that they’ve been making new 45s! We’re never going to get tired of digging through boxes of mixed up old 45s around here, but there’s something really fun about a new single!

A few other people in town have been doing it, too — it’s a trend that we welcome with open arms!

Here’s a sample from our incomplete collection of the Secret Stash singles. Some are new songs and some are re-issued or never-been-released classic tracks:

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“Sugar Man” by Sonny Knight & the Lakers, who just wrapped up a great residency at the Eagles Club here in our neighborhood.

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“Fell in Love” by Oscar Wright, from a bonus 45 that came with the Free Angela LP out earlier this year. This song was split into two tracks, sorry (oops).

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“Big Muffler” by Black Market Brass, an awesome new afro-beat band. This is one of the best things Secret Stash has released — in fact, this is one of those records we can play the “Beta Band” trick with when the shop is busy (what’s this?).

Their reissue of George Jones’ first album also came with a single, we just haven’t convinced anybody to bring a copy back in so we could record it for this post. There is also a second Valdons single we’re pretty excited to hear (You might remember they had two great songs on the Twin Cities Funk & Soul compilation). Yay for new 45s!

Last Wednesday we introduced our treatment for a feature film based on the life of bandleader and composer Quincy Jones (read it here). We followed the twenty-seven time Grammy winner from his childhood on the south side of Chicago through his successful career as a bandleader, record producer and Hollywood film composer.

At the end of the first half of our story, Quincy suffered a pair of severe brain aneurysms. Believing he would not survive, his family arranged a memorial service at the Shrine in Los Angeles.

Part II of our story opens ten years later…

Quincy Jones wrote, produced or arranged all the records you’ll hear in The Quincy Jones Story, except for a few early recordings intended to capture his youthful experience with the great big bands. We take the text for our story from his own recollections in an interview with Alex Haley in the July 1990 issue of Playboy.

The Quincy Jones Story

quincyPart II, Scene I: February, 1984 – Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones win an incredible eight Grammys at the 26th annual awards.

I knew it from the first time I heard it … because the hair stood straight up on my arms. That’s a sure sign, and it’s never once been wrong. All the brilliance that had been building inside Michael Jackson for twenty-five years just erupted … That energy was contagious and we had it cranked so high one night that the speakers in the studio actually overloaded and burst into flames. First time I ever say anything like that in forty years in the business.

thriller

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“Wanna Be Starting Something” performed by Michael Jackson (from Thriller)

Part II, Scene II: Back in 1974, Quincy’s jazz career had been sidelined by his health condition. While recording his first album since his aneurysms, Mellow Madness, Quincy works with two musicians from Billy Preston’s band, George and Louis Johnson. He enjoys working with them and soon finds himself producing their debut album, Look Out for #1. This launches a string of successful pop/R&B productions that would lead him to his legendary collaborations with Michael Jackson.

I was afraid … So for a long time I didn’t even try to work. I was also very weak from the surgery … The surgeon who operated on me warned me not to play the trumpet. He had put a clip on my artery to keep it closed, and he told me that I’d blow off that clip and kill myself if I tried to blow that horn. I didn’t believe him and I started blowing the horn, and one night, I hit one of those high notes and I felt something crack inside, like my head was gonna break right open… Well the doctor didn’t have to warn me again. I stopped playing the trumpet and I had to leave the band.

Surviving … made me realize that I didn’t have anything to be afraid of, except maybe giving up on myself. So I got together with two of the guys who’d gone on the tour with me — the Johnson Brothers, who had a great sound on guitar and bass — and produced a record with them. We wound up with four hits in a row and there I was, smack dab back in the record business.

right on time

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“Q” performed by the Brothers Johnson (from Right on Time)

I do have a tendency to become obsessed. When I’ve got a creative mode going with my composing partners, Rod Temperton and Siedah Garrett — I don’t want you to get the idea I do this all alone — my mind gets so fired up that I can’t turn it off and go to sleep at night. I can actually hear a song in my mind, completely orchestrated from start to finish, before we even go into the studio with my sound engineer, Bruce Swedien, to record it. But I’ve got to wait until the last minute to be at my best. It’s the fever of the recording session that gets my juices going.

george benson give me the night

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“Give me the Night” performed by George Benson (from Give me the Night)

Part II, Scene III: Quincy is asked by a friend, Alex Haley, to compose the score for a television mini-series based on his novel, Roots, which traced his ancestry back seven generations to life before slavery in Gambia. Working on the project inspires Quincy’s own search into the legacy of African music. His

rootsI was at a party in LA and ran into this beautiful brother from San Francisco who was writing this book about the story of his family and the history of black people in America, all the way back through slavery to Africa. He called it Roots, and it was just about the most moving and powerful story I’d ever heard. Well, it so happened that at the same time I was on a journey of my own, doing research on the evolution of black music, so I felt like it was fated that [we] met.

African music had always been regarded in the West as primitive and savage, but when you take the time to really study it, you see that it’s as structured and sophisticated as European classical music, with the same basic components as you’ll find in a symphony orchestra — instruments that are plucked, instruments that are beaten and instruments that are blown with reeds. And it’s music from the soil — powerful, elemental. Life-force music.

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“Oluwa (Many Rains Ago)” featuring Letta Mbulu (from the soundtrack to Roots, composed and conducted by Quincy Jones)

Composers from Bizet to Stravinsky have drawn on African influences. And in slave-ship times, it started spreading into the New World, from Brazil all the way up through Haiti to Cuba, through the West Indies, until some of the ships started landing in Virginia and New Orleans. The original African influence had been watered down and assimilated with other sounds along the way, but it was still strong enough that in 1692 the Virginia colony decided to ban the drum, because the slaves used it as a means of communication and that was a threat to plantation owners. But that didn’t stop the slaves: They started making music with hand claps and foot stomps, anything to keep the spirit alive. The slaves weren’t allowed to practice their own religions either, but the black Christian churches became the keepers of the flame for black music in America. From Gospel, blues, jazz, soul, R&B, rock and roll, all the way to rap, you can trace the roots straight back to Africa.

Part II, Scene IV: Quincy produces the score for the film adaptation of the successful musical, The Wiz. The film is a commercial and critical failure. During the project, nineteen year old Michael Jackson, who had been cast to play the Scarecrow, asked Quincy Jones to recommend some producers he could work with now that he had left Motown to record a solo album for Epic.

There’s no question that he’s brilliant — the most gifted composer and performer in popular music today. But I think it trivializes Michael to call him eccentric. He’s an incredibly rich and complex human being with both the wisdom of an eighty-five-year-old sage and the magical, childlike curiosity and wonder of Peter Pan. And the intensity of his creative energy is awesome, like a force of nature.

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“The Way You Make Me Feel” performed by Michael Jackson (from Bad)

Part II, Scene V: January 28, 1985. Quincy’s success with Michael Jackson makes him the most important record producer in America, and he directs this new found influence into a charity project that raises more than $60 million (a figure still growing) for the fight against famine in Africa. “We Are the World” also brings together an extraordinary menagerie of celebrity musicians for a single session.

we are the world

With all those superstars involved, it was like organizing D Day to get them into the same studio on the same day. We had only ten hours to do the whole thing and we had to get it right in one session because there wasn’t going to be a second one. Lionel and Michael and I knew all the things that could go wrong, so we planned it right down to where everybody in the chorus would be standing and where every microphone would be positioned so we’d pick up each voice distinctly. And we didn’t know what to expect with all those egos in the same room together. But they must have checked them at the door because the mood in the studio was like a living embodiment of the idea behind the song. As one after another showed up — Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, just about all the top people in the business — the voltage in that studio just kept rising and rising. For the first hour they were signing autographs for each other. And that spirit of brotherhood communicated itself very vividly on the sound track and in the video…

I say it’s a strange kind of mind to find fault with a project [for being to commercial] that raised fifty million dollars to feed the hungry. Thanks to Harry Belafonte, who planted the seed for the whole project, and Ken Kragen, who got it off the ground, We Are the World raised the public consciousness about world hunger, and that helped push the government into coming up with millions more… Anybody who wants to throw stones at that can get up off his ass and go do something better. There’s still plenty of starving Africans.

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“We are the World” performed by USA for Africa

Part II, Scene VI: Our story ends in 1990 (when Quincy was interviewed for the July issue of Playboy), with the successful release of Back on the Block, an album which blends jazz, R&B and rap. Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and other jazz legends are credited alongside Ice T and other contemporary rappers.

[Rap] is no fad, man. And it’s not just a new kind of music. It’s a whole new subculture that’s been invented by the disenfranchised. When you have no place in society, you say, ‘Fuck it, we’ll start our own.’ Everything from graffiti to break dancing to popping and locking, hip-hop and now rap — the voice that vocalizes hip-hop — they’re symbols of a new subculture that comes directly from the streets.

quincy jones back on the block

Black music has always been the prologue to social change. It was true in the fifties with modern jazz and rock & roll, and I think rap is a sign of the kind of changes that are sweeping the world today.

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“Prologue / Back on the Block” performed by Quincy Jones, featuring raps by Ice T, Melle Mel, Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee, plus performances by Tevin Campbell, Joe Zawinul, Bill Summers, and others.

apple jamgrape jam

Best Sneak Attack

Fans who bought Wow, Moby Grape’s second album, in 1968 received a bonus record. The two discs were packaged separately but sold together for the price of a single LP. Used copies of Grape Jam, the bonus record, are usually sold independently by record shops like ours today, and many collectors don’t even realize it was once a bonus for buyers of Wow.

Everyone who bought George Harrison’s much anticipated All Things Must Pass two years later were probably not as pleased with the bonus surprise, for they had paid closer to full price for the jam slipped into its attractive black and grey box. While Harrison’s proper debut has consistently earned masterpiece marks in the four decades since, Apple Jam remains misunderstood at best and maligned by most. Rolling Stone originally dismissed it as “mostly boring,” and today All Music pans it as “entirely dispensable.”

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“Out of the Blue” from Apple Jam (in two parts)

Moby Grape wins this round — with the Wow/Grape Jam package they convinced Columbia to release an album that otherwise would not likely have seen light. George Harrison, on the other hand, could probably have released anything he wanted in 1970 (Wonderwall, anyone?). Their add-on jam also proved surprisingly influential, given its ad hoc nature, which we’ll see in coming rounds.

There’s one last sneak attack worthy of note, however. Grab you copy of All Things Must Pass and take out the Apple Jam sleeve (go ahead, we’ll wait). Look at the credits for “Out of the Blue.” Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton, Carl Radle … where have we seen these names together…?

d&ds

That’s where — Apple Jam is where Derek and the Dominos begin! How’s that for a sneak attack?

Best Superstar Guests

In addition to 4/5 of Derek and the Dominoes, All Things Must Pass features performances by Bobby Keyes and Jim Price (from the horn section you hear on albums like Exile on Main Street and Mad Dogs and Englishmen), Gary Wright (the “Dream Weaver” guy) and Gary Brooker (of Procol Harum). Plus Badfinger. Yep, all four members of Badfinger back Harrison throughout the album, sometimes augmented by drummer Alan White (Yes) and — in an uncredited performance — a young, pre-Genesis Phil Collins.

Old Beatle pals contributed to All Things Must Pass, too — in fact, Ringo hits the skins on some of the album’s best tracks (“My Sweet Lord” and “Wah Wah” for instance). He does not, however, appear on Apple Jam. Billy Preston does, however, as well as Ginger Baker and Dave Mason. So many stars it’s hard to imagine quiet George keeping it together, but maybe that’s why it’s an informal jam.

kooper bloomfieldGrape Jam, on the other hand, rests itself proudly on two distinguished guests: Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. And Bloomfield plays the piano! What’s really remarkable about the appearance of these two is that they continued to work together, teaming up (with Stephen Stills) for the now-ubiquitous Super Session album which more or less solidified the rockin’ jam tradition to which Harrison’s Apple Jam is deeply indebted.

Credit for creating the jam session album hardly belongs to the Moby Grape crew, nor Bloomfield and Kooper — such sessions have a long history in jazz and their popularity owes much to producer Norman Granz, the founder of many favorite jazz labels, including Verve, Clef and Pablo.

Harrison’s Beatle connections earn him a win for this round, no contest. The passages on “Plug Me In” and “Thanks for the Pepperoni” during which the listener must wonder whether he’s hearing Clapton, Harrison or Mason are awesome. That said, Kooper’s piano romp on “Black Currant Jam” provides the best guest appearance moment to be heard on either record.

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“Black Currant Jam”

Best Low Point

Yep. Best. If you can’t appreciate the low points, you’re never going to learn to love 70s rock records, which owing to the jam tradition borne of the era of Apple and Grape Jam are teeming with tedious moments of self-indulgence. The worst moments of these two records isn’t in their extended jams, however, as with Super Session, Jamin’ with Edward or the Derek and the Dominoes album. Harrison and Moby Grape include short tracks that feel like outtakes from the more polished product to which their jams are attached.

Moby Grape’s “The Lake” features fan poetry (Michael Hayworth had also won San Francisco’s FKRC radio songwriting contest) and a sound collage in the style of Edgar Varèse and John Cage, likely introduced to the band by the fourth side of Frank Zappa’s Freak Out! The result probably led to Grape Jam’s reputation as a throwaway disc.

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“The Lake”

apple jam labelApple Jam’s shortest track, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday,” celebrated John Lennon’s thirtieth birthday. Here’s where Harrison fucked up: he based his short little silly song (forty-nine seconds) on Cliff Richards’ song from the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest (“Congratulations”) without crediting the original authors. Legal action followed and subsequent pressings of All Things Must Pass credited them. This, of course, was not the only accusation of plagiarism Harrison faced from the album (the decade-long legal battle over “My Sweet Lord” and it’s appropriation of the Chiffon’s “He’s so Fine” ended when Harrison purchased the plaintiff’s publishing company, Bright Tunes, from his former manager, for more than a half-million dollars).

George’s costly, embarrassing birthday message to John is perhaps the last indulgent crap track he put on an album (not to say everything on his subsequent nine albums hit the mark). This is just about the complete opposite of his former bandmates, who seemed to litter each album with novelty fillers. Let’s give him this round, too.

Best Legacy

Because this is the sort of thing music journalists write about. Apple Jam led to “Layla.” Grape Jam gave us the Super Session and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, which in turn gave us Carlos Santana. No Grape Jam no “Jingo”? Hard to say.

One band clearly influenced by Grape Jam was Led Zeppelin. They like “Never” so much they borrowed its lyrics and melody for a track on Led Zeppelin III (“Since I’ve Been Loving You”). But they didn’t like it enough to credit Moby Grape — Kind of like what they did with other songs by Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Eddie Cochran, Jake Holmes, and about ten more….

People seem to like the two jam records for different reasons, but our record shop experience has taught us that collectors are more excited about a nice copy of Grape Jam than Apple Jam. Even torn up copies of All Things Must Pass are pretty clean on sides five and six. Our two part tribute to Harrison’s epic included a defense of Apple Jam (read it here and here), which didn’t sit well with friends and fans. We’re not saying Moby Grape fans are just a little more easy going, but well…there’s that.

Best Jam

When you think about it, that’s what it’s all about. Which one has the best jam?! The rest of it’s just academic.

Let’s just admit there’s no beating a Beatle — look inside your copy of Living in the Material World. That’s George Harrison’s house. The guys from Moby Grape, on the other hand, had to fight over their name. They also faced all kind of other troubles, like homelessness and mental illness, and kids today haven’t even heard of them.

As for the records themselves — Even though Bobby Whitlock and Billy Preston both play with intensity, Apple Jam is a guitar-drive affair. Grape Jam, on the other hand, is so piano driven that Mike Bloomfield doesn’t play guitar on it at all. This puts Apple Jam much more on the “in” side of the music scene of 1968-70, where keyboards begin to become marginalized in rock and roll. It also lends a ho-hum quality to “Thank for the Pepperoni” after a couple minutes.

Harrison’s longer jam, “Out of the Blue,” slows and re-builds itself (right around the point where we split it into two tracks above). It also features a few notes from Keyes’ saxophone and for a moment a leading role for Whitlock at the keys.

The heaviest moments of Moby Grape’s “Boysenberry Jam,” feel more collaborative and jazzier. Their rhythm guitarist Peter Lewis didn’t appear on Grape Jam, and Harrison and his famous guests could probably shred circles around lead guitarist Jerry Miller. The song falters a little for lack of direction where “Out of the Blue” seems propelled forward.

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“Boysenberry Jam”

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“Thanks for the Pepperoni”

The best jam is “Black Currant Jam,” which you heard up above there a ways. Kooper steals the show but the whole band is in fine form. Mosley and Stevenson don’t fall behind for a moment. It’s the only jam on either record that captures the feeling from the notes on the back of the album:

Just laying down some music when the mood struck, indifferent to the microphones, with no afterthoughts and postmortems and retakes, laying it down just the way it happened — finding out again that music can be fun, and that the fun is easily shared….

We’ve actually visited this subject several times, including a sequel to this post from 2010 (here) and a post about the worst, hyperbolic tribute to Elvis (here). We’ve also saved a few tracks for a sequel to the sequel — maybe we’ll get that up tomorrow. In the mean time, celebrate Dia de Muertos respectfully. Your Mexican friends will appreciate that — it’s not a day to wear your pirate costume or hoot n’ holler. Remember the loved ones you’ve lost with humor & respect — create a little altar of their favorite things if you want, write a short calaveras poem about them. Eat their favorite meal with your family.

The celebration of a dead celebrity is one of my favorite thematic forms in pop music and today we’re going to listen to a small sampling that runs through most genres. Some of them are genuine tributes and some less sincere.

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This first track is Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” from the 2001 album Time (The Revelator). It was ranked #2 on our “Top Ten Songs About Elvis” a while back, falling behind “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.

I have a cassette of a Springsteen show from the Born in the USA tour which has a nice tribute to Elvis – During the Nebraska-oriented, mostly acoustic section of the show, the Boss sings his song “Johnny Bye Bye” (based on Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny”) and introduces it with a story of how he heard about the King’s death. “I never understood how somebody who made so many people so happy could end up so sad himself,” says Bruce, maybe capturing what it is that is so compelling to us about Elvis decades after his death.

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Believe it or not, Elvis is not the dead celebrity most often celebrated in song – That honor goes to the great Hank Williams. A short list of favorite Hank Williams tributes would include Waylon Jennings’ standard “I Don’t Think Hank Done it This Way”, Johnny Paycheck’s classic “Help Me, Hank, I’m Fallin’” and Robert Earl Keen’s bizarre “The Great Hank”. This track from Grand Ole Opry star Ernest Tubb is by far the most sincere and genuine of the dozens and dozens of songs written about Hank Williams.

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“A Tribute to a King” by William Bell is an excellent follow-up to the Ernest Tubb track because each are exemplary within their respective genres. William Bell’s tribute to Otis Redding is great southern soul and probably the best track on this playlist. I first heard this great song on a mix tape made by my good friend Molly and have loved it since.

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Not all songs about dead celebrities mourn their passing – Millions of Dead Cops spit on the grave of movie star John Wayne with this vitriolic attack. Its kind of hard to tell how much of John Wayne’s legacy is the interpretation of his admirers and how much was actually John Wayne. Was John Wayne a nazi? No. Is it difficult to reconcile some of the things he said? Yes. MDC took it a little too far but Lord did I love this song when I was 12 years old!

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You’ve seen this record hanging on the wall at Hymie’s – Its the picture disc with a picture of Bela Lugosi (as Dracula). Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is probably a sincere tribute but its a little weird.

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REM’s super-hit “Man on the Moon” is certainly the most successful tribute to a dead celebrity since “Candle in the Wind” and unlike most pervasive radio hits its aged really well. This is still a really great song. And Automatic for the People contained a second tribute to a dead celebrity, by the way – “Monty Got a Raw Deal” memorializes actor Montgomery Cliff who really did get a pretty raw deal.

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I love Nick Lowe – His Pure Pop for Now People is a woefully overlooked classic. Its opener, “So It Goes”, should have become an anthem and maybe it still will. Also on Lowe’s delightful debut is this gory tribute to silent film actress Marie Provost. I was disappointed when I learned that Lowe had exaggerated and that Marie Provost’s dachshund had not, in fact, eaten her corpse. There is a great cover of this on a single by the 90s punk rock group J Church.

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Kids in the Hall star Bruce McCollough probably summed it up in “Vigil”, from his truly obnoxious and listenable debut musical performance, Shame-Based Man. Its difficult to feel genuinely sad over the passing of a celebrity who took his own life but its also just difficult to understand the whole process of celebrity mourning.

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This may be an unusual place to end our collection of tributes to dead celebrities – After all, what about “Candle in the Wind”, and how can any collection be complete without “American Pie”? You’ve already heard them enough and unlike “Man on the Moon” they’ve gotten to be tired old radio standards. I usually change the station when I hear those tired 70s dogs. This collection has also entirely omitted jazz, even though jazz artists reliably remember their predecessors. I think Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (Dedicated to Lester Young) is among his finest melodies, and Duke Ellington’s album And His Mother Called Him Bill is a heartbreaking tribute to the recently-deceased Billy Strayhorn that is beyond comparison. Mingus also wrote a piece about Charlie Parker called “If Charlie Parker Had Been a Gun-Slinger There’d be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats”.

Anyway, here is Simon and Garfunkel’s “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright” which is a pretty simple farewell to the great architect. Many more unusual tracks could be added to this playlist (I’m suddenly sad I didn’t find a copy of Yo La Tengo’s “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House”). There are some celebrities overdue for a little tribute and others whose tribute was just not good enough (The great singer from The Band, Richard Manuel, was remembered with the cruddy pop tune “If I Could Give All my Love” by Counting Crows, for instance). Truly, its a growing body of work, the dead celebrity tribute. Let’s all stay tuned…

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[Yes, the image you see at the top of this post is Michael Jackson at James Brown's funeral.]

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Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck” – Ostensibly representing the two sides of an enduring conflict. Ironically, the two sides really aren’t so far apart anymore if they exist at all. Genuine hippies and rednecks seem like endangered species these days.

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Guy Drake is best remembered for singing “Welfare Cadillac”. You can probably guess how it goes. Johnny Cash was asked to sing “Welfare Cadillac” by the Nixon White House, but the man in black declined. He probably wouldn’t have sung “The Marching Hippies” either.

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These two tracks are “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills and Nash and “Hippie Boy” by the Flying Burrito Brothers. “Hippie Boy” tells a story set against the backdrop of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago.

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There’s really nothing in Johnny Paycheck’s “Colorado Kool-Aid” to suggest Johnny and his Mexican friend were hippies, but the jacket to his biggest-selling and best album, Take This Job and Shove It, shows a long-haired and bearded Paycheck. My favorite Johnny Paycheck story song is “The Outlaw’s Prayer” on his next album, Armed and Crazy. That song is about how Johnny felt unwelcome at church because of his long hair.

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I’m ending today’s playlist with the redneck anthem “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard and the Strangers. Some people insist that Haggard wrote the song (Co-written with drummer Roy Edward Burris) as a satire, but they tend to be the same people who prefer to see ole Hag as part of the “outlaw country” movement of the 1970s. The truth is, Haggard never fit in the company of Johnny Paycheck and others, even though he was the only actual outlaw among them (He spent three years in San Quentin for the attempted robbery of Bakersfield tavern*).

I think “Okie from Muskogee” is pretty sincere. There’s nothing really angry or reactionary about the protagonist. Just a sense of resignation that his way of life makes him a “square”. The song does get a little goofier on the Stranger’s live album, with the crowd cheering along and somebody yelling, “Tell it like it is!”

*What was the name of the tavern? Anyone out there know? I’ve always wondered.

Wheels

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“Wings for Wheels” (“Thunder Road” demo) by Bruce Springsteen

barcia

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“The Wheel” by Jerry Garcia

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“Where Can I Hide?” by Bernie Schwartz

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“Watching the Wheels” (Demo) by John Lennon

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“I’m Gonna be a Wheel Someday” by Bobby Mitchell

bobby mitchell

Here’s a post from 2011 about Superchunk. Their 10th album, I Hate Music, came out this week. Here at Hymie’s we’re already sold out but we’ll have more next week.

Superchunk put out a rockin’ new album this fall, Majesty Shredding, their first in nearly a decade. They also played First Avenue, regaling the faithful with a set list drawn largely from their early 90s classics. With their personal, strangely ambiguous lyrics, Superchunk was the soundtrack to my formative years – Everybody I knew had to listen to my explanations of their grandeur, although nobody really seemed as impressed as I was. Near the end of Indoor Living, Superchunk admits just about the same – “I care about the dumbest things,” Mac repeats several times.

MY TOP TEN SUPERCHUNK LYRICS

A “best of” compilation would certainly leave out several of these tracks. A lot has already been said about Superchunk’s tight arrangements of melody and noise – These are the characteristics that make tracks like “Throwing Things” indie rock classics. Even more has been said about the often meaningless lyrics of earlier bands like REM, while Superchunk’s simple, honest songs get little consideration.

(10) You been suckin’ wind so long it makes you feel full
“Skip Steps 1 &3″

For years I thought they were singing “that second went so long”. I guess that’s where it all becomes subjective because the lyrics to most Superchunk songs are ambiguous at best. Either way the message is the same – Laura Ballance did an interview earlier this year when No Pocky for Kitty, Superchunk’s second album, was reissued, in which she explained the song. “Step one is talking about doing something. Step two is doing something. Step three is talking about what you just did.”

Breakneck speed and the passage of time are recurring Superchunk themes. “Skip Steps 1 & 3″ opens No Pocky for Kitty with both in mind. Its almost like a presequel to the manic single “The Question is How Fast” from their next album. A while later Mac would sing “I wish I could have frozen time this year” (In “Silver Leaf, Snowy Tear”) but Superchunk in 1991 was in a hurry.

The chorus to the first track on their self-titled debut is “Well I thought that / Well you said that / We were gonna / So come on!” It doesn’t even matter what’s going to happen, it just needs to happen faster.

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(9) When you said you were sorry you did it without blinking / You can’t pretend to not know how that hurts
“Without Blinking”

Foolish is a remarkably dark record, but its not like this was a secret. Laura’s morbid painting on the cover shows a woman, presumably herself, in front of a skinned rabbit. Inside listeners find a picture of a live rabbit. There’s a back story to Foolish surrounding her breakup with bandmate Mac. The two continue to record together and also to run their joint venture Merge Records (Now one of the nation’s most successful independent labels but then a small operation) but civility seems to be an enormous struggle on Foolish, an album teeming with even more frustration and anger than their other records.

“Without Blinking” is a heartbreaking song when you give it a thoughtful listen – Foolish was the album that lost Superchunk a lot of fans for not being “hyper enough” but its also the album that endeared me to them. I suppose it could have fairly fit with the other break up albums I included in a recent post about divorce records, although I know a lot less about the back story behind this album than I do about Bob Dylan’s or Marvin Gaye’s. I guess I’ve always identified with Mac, Laura, Jon and Jim in a way I never could with dinosaur rockers and never elevated them to the same untouchably lofty status. They’re real people and it makes their real people problems none of my business.

Foolish was recorded after Superchunk left Matador Records because it had been purchased by Atlantic. As a teenager I always associated a lot of the frustration and anger in the disc to the band’s fight against the current of mainstream conglomerations like Atlantic, although songs like “Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything?” can’t really be anything but a fight between committed, exhausted people. Still, the chorus of “Water Wings” could rightfully be about the band’s internal conflicts or its external ones: “She pointed to a black cloud in the sky / And said that’s what happens when you’re learning to fly”.

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(8) Hit self destruct / Its marked specially / It’s easy to read
“Cadmium”

I think self-destruction is the most recurring Superchunk theme. Fuck, its easy to read. Here’s the song that should have been their anthem.

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(7) You’re in the car and you’re on the phone / Think you better follow that cord back home
“Shallow End”

Maybe its not an accident that the only Superchunk track issued on a major label was “Shallow End”, featured in the soundtrack to the Jerkey Boys movie. Its not a great soundtrack, and adrift in a sea of corporate alternative rock and metal, its a shame Superchunk launched themselves with this song and not something stronger. Still, the malice is far from subtle as Mac sings “I know you think you’re deep / But you should stay in the shallow end”.

I recall a few years ago that Carly Simon agreed to tell the largest donor to a charity fundraiser who she was singing about in “You’re So Vain”. Theories abound. I guess I’m more curious about the the record label promoter being slammed by Superchunk in this track.

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(6) I don’t have to tell you / They’re charging admission now / But you don’t care, but you never cared
“Song for Marion Brown”

I have no idea what this song from Indoor Living is about but I am fascinated by it. If its a tribute to the avant garde saxophonist I don’t get it. Marion Brown is probably most remembered as one of the performers on John Coltrane’s Ascension, but he put out several very good Impulse! albums himself. His 1975 album, Vista, isn’t avant garde at all but really just mellow, fender rhodes-steeped 70s jazz.

I don’t think anybody’s charging admission for a look at his baby teeth.

Adding to my confusion is their use of the distinctive chords from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” at the end of this track. Alongside another song about the music industry, “The Popular Music”, I feel Indoor Living was trying to make a statement about music and art and I never got it.

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(5) And I’m sorry if the ride has been so disappointing / Because to tell you from my side / I can’t remember much
“Here’s Where the Strings Come In”

A couple Superchunk albums have a title track that came later. “Foolish” and “On the Mouth” are great Superchunk songs you can hear on Incidental Music. Here’s Where the Strings Come In has eleven great songs and this time around one of them is the title track – “Here’s where everything comes together / Either that or it all falls apart” sings Mac near the end of the group’s most successful record – Hard to say what happened because I can’t remember much about it.

Unclear recollections of yesterday’s events are a pretty reliable Superchunk theme. A video for “Driveway to Driveway” captured this recurring theme as well as a humorous take on the band’s ongoing internal conflicts. “I guess I remembered it wrong,” they say on On the Mouth‘s strongest track. “I think that my memory’s strong but whatever you say.”

(4) Don’t get uppity with me / I’ve seen things that you’ve never seen / I’ve been seeing them for years / Let me whisper in your ear
“Cast Iron”

While “In A Stage Whisper” is actually performed in a mumbling, Michael Stipe-influenced whisper, the last line here is shouted. A song so nice they recorded it twice, “Cast Iron” is a punk rock come on with fantastically tight hooks. Always overshadowed by those twin classics on No Pocky for Kitty (the venerable “Seed Toss” and “Throwing Things”) this track is the heart of the only Superchunk album likely to make a critic’s list of classics.

The lyrics to “Cast Iron” are unique in the larger Superchunk canon because there’s some genuine confidence behind them rather than the typical fumbling self-depreciation. “I’ll tell you about my special friends / I only wish you were there,” is a great chorus to sing along with, whether or not we ever knew what it was about.

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(3) I tried to make a list / But there was only one
“Home at Dawn”

“Home at Dawn” was originally issued on a 7″ record that came with Speed Kills, a fanzine now fairly described as obscure. It became a more well-known Superchunk track with its inclusion on their second singles compilation, Incidental Music. Its a little stepping-stone between their punk rock roots on No Pocky for Kitty and On the Mouth and the more expansive guitar-y sound the explored on Foolish.

So we’ve all come home at dawn at some time or another. Sometimes its at the end of a long night that was great but usually its something we’re not feeling particularly proud of.

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(2) How honest can I be? / How honest can I be?
“Tiny Bombs”

A lot of Superchunk’s best lines are repeated with characteristic intensity, as on this track from the second side of Come Pick Me Up. To be honest, I really didn’t like this song when the album came out and in fact the entire thing disappointed me. The new tracks didn’t mesh well with classics like “Sick to Move” and “Throwing Things” when they toured and the whole album seemed pompous. “Tiny Bombs” was lost on me when Superchunk toured in 1999, but somewhere years ago I found this acoustic arrangement of it that captures the lyrics more simply.

Superchunk has a history of acoustic re-recordings, most of which I’ve found disappointing. A lot of their best tracks (“Seed Toss”, “Driveway to Driveway” and “Detroit Has A Skyline Too” for instance) have been re-recorded as “sensitive acoustic tracks” but none of them have captured Superchunk’s idiosyncratic energy like this one from an in-store appearance.

The general premise of “Tiny Bombs” seems to be the same chaos theory we all learned from Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park. “Tiny bombs send bigger waves / Across your once glassy sea” sings Mac. Maybe Superchunk is coming of age and regretting the consequences of the drunken exploits of the past. Hard to say, as the song ends with the anxiously repeated phrase “How honest can I be? / How honest can I be?” – The more likely conclusion leads to greater anxiety.

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(1) I’m workin’, but I’m not workin’ for you
“Slack Motherfucker”

I could write a big explanation of this song but I don’t wanna. What are you gonna do about that?

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We’re re-visiting some posts from back in the Hymie’s archive (two years back to be specific. We’ve added a new track from one of our favorite albums of 2013 to this one.

Yesterday we explored the phenomenon of “Top 40 Jesus” and today we’re taking a cue from this scene from the 1999 Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Cardinal Glick (George Carlin, in the role he was born to play) introduces Buddy Christ, the revamped Savior (“A booster!”). Of course, those of us with a collection of rock and roll records are already familiar with Buddy Christ…

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“Plastic Jesus” gets around, although of it’s many versions my favorite is still this obscure one by Mantanooska Thuderbuck on a 1976 compilation from Stash Records (Pipe, Spoon, Pot and Jug). It was originally written as a jingle for WWVA, a West Virginia AM radio station still on the air today (87 years strong by my count).

The Buddy Jesus in pop songs is a little more approachable, maybe – if possible – a little more forgiving. Sometimes he’s sort of a regular guy, as in Kris Kristofferson’s “Jesus Was a Capricorn”:

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The album Jesus Was a Capricorn also included “Why Me?”, a sincere country gospel song which topped the country chart and peaked at #16 on the pop chart (it probably should have been included in yesterday’s post).

Kristofferson seems lost or at least struggling in “Why Me?” but in this next song it’s Buddy Jesus himself who is having a rough night – This is “Jesus at the Kenmore” by Duluth’s own Charlie Parr:

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Charlie Parr’s Jesus is a lot more approachable than the Top 40′s Jesus, even as he’s being dragged from the bar saying:

You better straighten up and fly right
You know I can take you out

Actually, the recurring theme in “Buddy Jesus” songs is that the Savior struggled with his humanity – He was as lost as you and I, even when He didn’t let on (damn Capricorns). In some songs “Buddy Jesus” is really approachable, as in the lonely “I Am the Way” above (a Loudon Wainwright III song based on Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town”) of “Jesus Was a Wino” (by Lydia Loveless from the 2011 album Indestructible Machine):

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The best Buddy Jesus song could also have been included in yesterday’s collection of top 40 Jesus songs (it hit #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969). This song was the only hit for Lawrence Reynolds, who continued to sing it until he died in 2000. Here’s “Jesus is a Soul Man”:

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Since we first posted “Buddy Jesus” in 2011, Charlie Parr has released a couple albums, including Barnswallow, which has become a favorite around the record shop — if you’ve been in and out this summer a couple times you’ve probably heard a track or two from it. The album features some of the most compelling original material Charlie has written, including “Jesus is a Hobo”:

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