Archive for February, 2007


Dire Straits

Another record from 1978– that was some year for records! This seemed to come out of nowhere– and for a first album, it sounded like the band had been around for years and knew exactly what they were doing. Everything else I was listening to at the time was punk, but this sounded totally fresh and new (you have to try to imagine a world without having had to endure years and years of Knopfler). Why does he sing, “walking WIT your wild best friend,” instead of WITH? Is that just one of those rock things?

Okay, the only reason this record is still around (in my house) is because THE FIRST TIME I HEARD IT was while driving, either to or from FLORIDA, a senior in high school, on SPRING BREAK, in the car, the whole album being played ON THE RADIO, in the MIDDLE of the NIGHT, DRIVING. So there’s quite a feeling of ocean and orange groves and cheap rum and Passport Scotch associated with this record, for me, and anything with that kind of inception is going to have somewhat of a nostalgic, magical quality, for all time.

There are a few songs I like okay still, actually, and a few I never want to hear again. I’m kind of wondering about the drummer– his first name is “Pick.” What’s with that? The one guy in the band not playing a guitar. Were they trying to do a ZZ Top thing? (The drummer, sporting only a moustache, named “Beard.”)


The Dickies “Dawn of the Dickies”

This is the 1980 record by this LA, wall of sound, cartoon power pop band– pretty catchy, but pretty dismissible. I listened to it a lot, but now there are some songs that I NEVER want to hear again. Song after song of high energy punk-pop and those snotty vocals gets old. Though similar, they’re missing something that the Ramones had, though I can’t figure out quite what.

There are some really great songs on this album though, like “Infidel Zombie”– and some great titles– “(I’m Stuck in a Pagoda with) Tricia Toyota” and “I’ve Got a Splitting Hedachi.” This album has a zombie theme– the cover is the band being attacked by zombies. One guy, I think it’s a guy in the band, and not a zombie, looks exactly like Freddie Mercury! And who’s the woman with the blue zombie face? What’s she doing now? I bet SHE has a copy of this record! Anyway, they’re still together– some form of the band anyway– and still playing.

The last song, “She Loves Me Not,” sounds like it COULD be the Ramones– I was listening to it thinking, why do those guys sing the word “me” as “my?” That thought made me remember Keith Busch giving Jerry Ramone, the singer for The High Plains Drifters, a hard time about singing the word “me” as “moi.” “Moi moi moi moi,” Keith would say– taunting him. I can still hear him.


Dead Kennedys “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables”

I was never that crazy about this record, or the DK’s, except in theory– I like the political stuff, though, now, in retrospect, it doesn’t seem extreme ENOUGH. This came out in 1981, so a lot of it has the classic hardcore sound which I was never that into. Now it sounds kind of good, though– I mean the super fast songs where the drummer can’t really keep up and it’s too fast to really totally stay together. It’s kind of charming.

A lot of this record is pretty standard rock’n’roll sped up, and surf, and rockabilly, but extreme. It sounds a little dated now, even. Or maybe it’s just that a few of the songs were so overplayed they exist more gracefully in the memory.

Of course you have to be happy Jello Biafra exists. That’s one of the all time great punk names, too. Though I liked the name East Bay Ray even more. I was jealous– I wanted to steal it. Maybe I still will.

Listening to this now, I feel like I can hear what the problem is– why I don’t like, musically, what I don’t like. It’s because there are a lot of rock’n’roll clichés, for one thing, and then a lot of it is just too fast– and there’s no groove. The one song that really stands out to me now as one I want to listen to over and over is “Let’s Lynch the Landlord.” I think that’s because it’s a little slower, and it’s the one with the groove.


Dead Boys “We Have Come For Your Children”

A lot tighter and a little slicker than their first record, but just as good, except for a few terrible songs like “Son of Sam.” I always thought of this as an inferior record, due to what I called the “Red and Black Syndrome” that so many bands were afflicted with– red and black color scheme– art direction, styled hair, and makeup– look at their hair on the cover– it’s insane! But listening to this record now is kind of a surprise– it sounds a lot better than I remembered.

Like the last album, my favorite song on this one is written by Jimmy Zero– the really poppy “I Won’t Look Back.” Maybe he was the Dead Boys’ secret weapon. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are really a better power pop band than a scary punk band, since Stiv Bators went on to sing in Lords of the New Church, who I didn’t really like at the time, but that song “Russian Roulette” is a pretty great pop song, and he’s an excellent pop singer (as well as being a legendary maniac, and, supposedly, the guy in the Stooge’s audience who gave Iggy the jar of peanut butter).


Dead Boys “Young Loud and Snotty”

This is one of those records that I’ll always keep, I have such a good feeling about it. It came out in 1977, and it defined punk rock, for me, somewhat, anyway. On the front cover they are trying to be urban and scary, and they are, pretty much, but then on the back cover it’s more of a joke, and a zombie thing I guess. They’re all standing in a bathtub. The songs are all pretty raunchy, and funny, and catchy, and memorable.

Listing to it now, I’m surprised how straight ahead rock and roll it is, and melodic, and poppy at times, and slow at times. I was a little afraid of pop music around this time, but now I’m hearing how the pop stuff is the best stuff on the album. Though I really value a song as ridiculous as “I Need Lunch,” my favorite song now is “All This And More,” which is kind of the “Dead Boys Theme” and my all time favorite of their songs.


Elvis Costello “Live at the El Mocambo”

This is a recording of a live show from 1978 at the El Mocambo in Toronto. It says it’s a radio demo put out by Columbia– not for sale– though of course it was for sale somewhere. It’s a good live record– and this is around the time I saw him in Cleveland, so I like it for that. But like any live record you can’t listen to it too much– those little comments between songs burn in your brain and become annoying. I hadn’t listened to this in about 25 years but I still had them memorized. Elvis is obsessed with getting people off their asses. He was complaining about collegiate American audiences who were all sitting down. When I saw him, we had no choice– it was in a theater. If you tried to dance you’d get kicked out.


Elvis Costello “Get Happy!!”

1980. I could never really get excited about this one– and I still can’t. There are some good songs– and a LOT of songs– 20– but as a whole it feels distant. The sound, the production, sounds one step removed, and it feels emotionally like it’s coming from down a long hallway or from over a hill.


Elvis Costello “Armed Forces”

I always think of this as an Eighties record, but it’s 1978. Eighties because song after song starts out really good then loses its edge. The production is cold and distant (Nick Lowe) and you really get the sense that EC is wearing a mask. I guess in a way that’s always his thing, the glasses, the photos where you never really see him. “What’s So Funny About Peace etc.” sounds like he’s doing a Springsteen imitation. And the painting on the back cover looks like something they bought at the natural history museum but then couldn’t find any place to put it except for the men’s room.

I was going to use the song “Two Little Hitlers” as an example of a song that promises a lot and then loses it in the chorus, but as I listened to it over and over, I became obsessed with it, and it became new and fresh to me. I still think the chorus is a little weak, but now it’s one of my favorite all-time EC songs. SO I guess the joke’s on me.

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February 2007