Songs

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The other day we posted several recordings from the University of North Texas’ legendary One O’clock Lab Band (here), which has made a new album each year since 1966. Lab 68 featured performances by Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone, familiar to many for their performance in The Blues Brothers. Another member of the Blues Brothers band was Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who you may recall was working at the Soul Food Diner with his “old lady” played by Aretha Franklin in one of the film’s funniest scenes.

Murphy has one of the most impressive resumes in the industry, having joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band at nineteen in 1948. Now in his mid-80s, Murphy performs less but he certainly earned some rest. Over the years he has played guitar for Bobby Bland, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, Chuck Berry and Joe Louis Walker!

His brother Floyd was a pretty hot blues guitarist too, performing on two Sun sides by Junior Parker and the Blue Flames (“Feelin’ Good” and “Mystery Train”) in 1953. Matt “Guitar” Murphy wrote a few tunes along the way, including “Matt’s Guitar Boogie” and a rapid fire “Boogie Thing” for the James Cotton Band.

Remarkably, it was not until 1990 that he released his own album. Antone’s, the Texas label which released Way Down South, also put together reunion session for the James Cotton Band and Memphis Slim’s Houserockers. Here is the title song from his long delayed debut LP:

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little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.

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An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.

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A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

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“The Golden Sun Never Sets”

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“Study Hard for the Revolution”

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“I’ll Take Up the Gun Too, When I Grow Up”

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

Today Laura is going to compete in a triathlon for the fifth time, and everyone’s really proud of her. We don’t want to embarrass Laura so that’s all we’re going to say about it. The rest of this post will be in the form of super songs:

“The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III

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“Bike Cop” by the Taxpayers

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“It Keeps You Running” by the Doobie Brothers

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That was too much fun! How about a victory lap for Laura?

Okay!

“Swimming” by Breathe Owl Breathe

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The 7-Up guy we posted on National Bike to Work Day

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“Running, Jumping, Standing Still” by Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy

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T for Texas

It’s been a while since we checked in with our favorite correspondent, Tom T. Hall.  I heard he settled down in Texas – let’s see how that’s going.

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(“Texas Never Fell in Love with Me”)

Poor guy.

Texas Governor Rick Perry ordering Tom T. Hall to pack up and leave the Lone Star state. Maybe they could share a ride.

Angie Oase from Pennyroyal introduced us to this great band from her hometown, Minot, earlier this summer. We fell instantly in love with Wild Hands, whose debut album Oh, River is in this player. They’ll be releasing in on LP in September, and in the meantime they’ll be back here at Hymie’s tomorrow evening at 5pm. We hope you’ll come and give ‘em a warm welcome.

Oh, River is filled with bright, imaginative arrangements, from the lazy shuffle of “Colorado” to a jaunty strut in “Dirty Kids.” The album invokes the open prairies of North Dakota, it seems like it would be almost sublime to listen to it while driving an old American car across the Peace Garden State. Windows down, wind whipping papers on the dashboard. Wild Hands balance “No Depression”-style Americana with a little bluegrass and a little old fashioned rock and roll. Oh, River is one of those discs we’ve grown to love so much it’s hard to believe we only just met these folks earlier this summer.

Our own Hymie was from Minot — in fact he ran a bar in his hometown before he moved to the Twin Cities to open a record store with his friend Kent Hazen in 1986. It was called Hymie’s Downtowner. We have asked every person we’ve ever met from Minot if they have any pictures of it, because that would be a really fun thing to have on the wall next to his portrait, but no one has found one yet.

Anyway, if there is music as good as Wild Hands in Minot, and beer as absolutely delicious as the black IPA from Souris River Brewing that we had earlier this summer, maybe we need to have Trevor run the record shop for a weekend so we can go to Minot. Why not?

 

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“Man” by Rosemary Clooney

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“Woman” by Jose Ferrer

This 1953 single presents a pair of duets by Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer, newlyweds at the time. Within a decade they’d divorce and remarry, only to divorce again.

 

Peter Buck’s brief liner notes to REM’s album Dead Letter Office are better anything else you could find in decades of mainstream rock journalism. The scale of Buck’s record collection is famous and he is a well-known supporter of independent shops. We couldn’t get a good shot of the liner notes so we have added the test here:

I’ve always liked singles much more than albums. A single has to be short, concise and catchy, all values that seem to go out the window as far as albums are concerned. But the thing that I like best about singles is their ultimate shoddiness. No matter how lavish that packaging, no matter what attention to detail, a ’45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers. This is why musicians feel free to put just about anything on the b-side; nobody will listen to it anyway, so why not have some fun. You can clear the closed of failed experiments, badly written songs, drunken jokes, and occasionally, a worthwhile song that doesn’t fit the feel of an album.

In spite of Buck’s self-depreciation and the reasonable assumption that it was released for reasons related to the group’s transition from IRS records to Warner Brothers, Dead Letter Office has achieved a lofty status. REM fans love it for the very reasons described in Buck’s liner notes – Here is a variety of “failed songs” and “worthwhile songs” that offer a unique perspective of the group. The first track below is “Ages of You” from Dead Letter Office. The second is “Bandwagon”.

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A lot of sixties records are nothing more than a clumsy, poorly sequenced selection of singles, as Beatles fans know. The compilation of B-Sides is unique in that it contains previously released material. This warning is prominent on one of the earliest such records, Elvis Costello’s Taking Liberties.

Like Dead Letter Office, the Elvis Costello collection covers a short period and includes a handful of new tracks not issued on singles at all. Each is essential to fans but probably only vaguely interesting to the casual listener. Here are a couple favorites from Taking Liberties – Costello’s earliest country music effort, “Radio Sweetheart” and an alternate version of “Black and White World” from the Get Happy!!! album:

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Taking Liberties may be the earliest such album, but we can’t say for sure (Hymie’s regulars: Surly one of you knows who made the first collection of B-Sides – Let us know). The Clash put out Black Market Clash the same year (It was a 9 track, 10″ album as opposed to Costello’s 20 track epic). The Clash record is possibly the earliest recording to set a certain standard for B-Side compilations which stood for decades. Look at the tracklisting: It contains all the essential types of B-Sides. There’s the under-appreciated track that never fit on an LP (“City of the Dead”), the cover songs (“Pressure Drop” and “Time is Tight”) and the band-jammin’ instrumental (Again, “Time is Tight”). Black Market Clash also has a couple of good extended mixes of album tracks. Included here is “Justice Tonight / Kick it Out” and “Time is Tight”:

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The formula becomes pretty well established, although other groups do some aspects of it better. REM’s Dead Letter Office contains six covers, including three Velvet Underground songs and a rockin’ “Toys in the Attic”. Taking Liberties also includes several covers but from more varied sources (the best being Betty Everett’s “Getting Mighty Crowded”). The best singles collection of the 90s – J Church’s Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands, has a great cover of REM’s “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” which suggests a certain sort of continuity to it all.

Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands is actually a singles collection which compiles both A- and B-Sides. Unlike nearly every other collection of singles, B-Sides, EPs or compilation tracks, the tracks are well sequenced so as to feel like an album. Its such a great album we have been forced into an exemption from our personal ban on picture discs (Making this the only one in our collection). J Church was notorious for frequently releasing singles and EPs that quickly disappeared, making their second singles collection, Nostalgic for Nothing, also a keeper.

“Bomb/Sacrifice”, heard below, was the first side of the first J Church single, and probably a lot less crazy in the pre-9/11 era. We love these songs and never really thought about the lyrics, let alone the extent to which Lance Hahn is out of key.

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A lot of mid-90s independent groups put together great collections like this. Superchunk’s first release on their own Merge Records was a singles collection called Tossing Seeds, but it was their second singles collection, Incidental Music, that really rocked. It has all the essential features of a B-Sides compilation: Cover songs (“I’ll be your Sister” by Motorhead!), alternate versions (An acoustic “Throwing Things”, heard below) and totally underrated gems that deserved wider release (“Home at Dawn” which originally came out on a flexi-disc. A flexi-disc!).

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Morphine’s B-Sides and Otherwise is actually some of their best stuff, but doesn’t include a cover song. What kind of B-Sides compilation doesn’t have a cover song by your favorite band’s favorite band? Lambchop’s Tools in the Dryer has a great cover of “Love TKO” and some bizarre remixes. Tools in the Dryer also gives us a couple tracks from their early demo tapes as the Poster Children – What a deal!

One more artist deserves mention, and then I think we’ve looked at B-Side compilations for far, far too long, and that’s Bruce Springsteen. His 1998 collection Tracks compiles four discs of studio outtakes and demos – Including the albums worth of good material the Boss has dropped on the backside going back as far as “Hungry Heart” (Which carried the rapid-fire “Held Up Without a Gun” as its flip).

Born in the USA alone produced nearly an album worth of great B-Sides, including the classic “Pink Cadillac”, the long-shelved River outtake “Roulette” and this track originally written for Nebraska. Here’s Springsteen singing “Shut Out the Light”.

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This week our friends The Ericksons sent out the first single from their upcoming new album, Bring me Home, along with the artwork which will appear on the cover. It’s their fourth release, and the first to appear on vinyl as well as cd.

ALBUMCOVER_GregoryEuclideThe Ericksons — Jenny Kapernick and Bethany Valentini — have appeared here at Hymie’s many times over the years, and their last two discs made our end of the year “top ten” list, so naturally we were excited to hear what direction they will take their unique, vocal harmony based music. We caught a set recently at the Soap Factory, an art gallery in Southeast which hosted the sisters as part of the awesome ongoing Live Letters series. Also performing that night was Ben Weaver, another mainstay of the Hymie’s block party and one of our favorite voices in the Twin Cities music scene (he will also have a new LP out in October, a project that Hymie’s has become involved with — more on that in the coming weeks). When Kapernick and Valentini began their performance, we were surprised to see keyboards on the stage, since the two are known to fans for their excellent guitar skills. We were fortunate enough to hear this new single, “My Love,” an unexpected and successful experiment, blending crisp electronic production with the Ericksons’ familiar intimacy.

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“My Love”

The additional new songs we heard during their set at the Soap Factory fell into a more familiar form, with Kapernick and Valentini’s guitar playing as exceptional as ever, and the songs as sincere and evocative as any on The Wild. We are looking forward to hearing this next album, which will be released on October 3rd with a show at the Cedar Cultural Center.

 

If you missed the Hollow Boys LP release show at the Eagles Club last weekend, you’ll have another chance to see them this Saturday here in the record shop. Believe in Nothing is their third release, and is a much more fully-realized take on their self-described “gloom pop.”

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“Melted”

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“Spellbreaker”

In a City Pages feature (here) the band strikes a suitably gloomy pose and credits new bassist Cole Benson for bringing a new energy to the recordings that make up Believe in Nothing. Hollow Boys sound heavier and more driven, but the underlying pop to their melodies feels more carefully crafted. All of this is buoyed by improved production. Where the first single, “Melted,” sludges through familiar noise rock territory (sounding a little like local scene emigrés Is/Is, for instance), songs like “Spellbinder” lovingly recall those standards of gloominess, the Smiths. In fact, Ali Jaafar, who we though sounded strikingly like Texas crooner Alejandro Escoveda on It’s True, brings a good deal more Morrissey to his performance on those tracks.

You can hear their previous releases on a Bandcamp page here. Hymie’s still has a copy of It’s True, their LP on Modern Radio which was limited to 200 copies. We are out of their cassette though.

Despite its gloomy bearings, Believe in Nothing is a fun pop record, experimental in places and successful in that. The bridge between the two tracks above is spanned by several tracks that combine the jangly pop and the noisy rock. “Rue” follows an in-like-a-lamb, out-like-a-lion arc that is particularly enjoyable. Throughout, Hollow Boys sound very much like a band that’s just discovered itself, giving the new album the inspired feeling of a debut.

Hollow Boys will perform songs from Believe in Nothing here at Hymie’s on Saturday evening. White Boyfriend will play an opening set. Start time TBD — will update when that’s resolved.

In light of Sir Paul’s visit to the Twin Cities tomorrow, we’d like to visit our favorite of the forty or so records he’s made since that band he started with all those years ago. And the perfect introduction to this album is, of course, a giant sack of weed. See, in January 1980 Paul McCartney was arrested by customs officials in Japan, who found nearly half a pound of weed in his luggage. After ten days he was released without charge. His second solo project was released later that year with what looks like a mug shot on the cover.

McCartney II is one of our favorite Beatles solo projects, if only because it is one of the haziest, dope-induced albums in our collection. We’ll forgive Sir Paul for also producing “Wonderful Christmastime” during these sessions, a song we declare to be unequivocally the worst three and a half minutes in the whole history of pop music –  the album is otherwise magically fun, light-hearted as it is light-headed and a perfect antidote to the last couple of uninspired, bloated Wings albums. John Lennon, hardly a fan of Paul’s solo work, was said to have been inspired by its first single, “Coming Up,” crediting it with pushing him out of retirement.

We might have only heard these tracks as an oddball bootleg if it weren’t for Paul’s drug arrest in Japan, which grounded the Wings’ tour for Back to the Egg, an album even fans forget. Without the Wings, he dug out the home recordings he’d made the previous summer in Scotland and released them as his second solo album.

Collectors know that original US copies of McCartney II came with a one-sided bonus single, which featured the Wings performing “Coming Up” live in Scotland the previous year. Another thing to look for is the second single from this album, “Waterfalls,” because it’s backside has a McCartney II outtake that is one of the silliest things Sir Paul ever put to wax.

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(“Check my Machine”)

If pressed, we’ll name “Check My Machine” as our favorite Paul McCartney track. It’s the first thing he recorded at his farm in Scotland with his new gear (hence the title) and combines elements of musique concrète with a lazy, dub-inspired beat and a banjo. Sir Paul scratches, sings falsetto and samples the time-clock punching sheepdogs from Looney Tunes. It seems unlikely he will perform this song on Saturday, but we can dream.

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