October 31, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Oingo Boingo

Halloween comes but once a year, and sadly of late it has done so without the vibrant insanity of Oingo Boingo. Boingo's halloween shows started in the mid-80s and by the early 90s were legendary events -- as much performance art as music. No surprise that when you learn that the band started out pretty much as a performance art troupe in the early 70s.

For myself that learning came much later. I was first introduced to Boingo in 1981 at summer camp when a friend let me listen to his very new, very cool, and very big and heavy Sony Walkman. He was playing what I thought was a punk band at the time, Oingo Boingo and it was my first taste of the group's strange version of new wave -- more synthesizers than guitars, and more vocal focus than most bands at the time. There were post-punk and ska elements mixed in, but it was hard to classify exactly what the sound was. All I knew, was I loved it. No less for the fact that to my 14 year old ears it had what must surely be socially unsuitable songs like "(I Like) Little Girls" and "Nasty Habits" and at the same time some socio-political commentary that I was just beginning to understand like "Capitalism" "Only a Lad", and "Perfect System". Even though it wasn't mod, it wasn't power pop, it wasn't motown, it wasn't from the sixties -- all things which I was then obsessed with (and am still obsessed with come to think about it) -- it was something I knew my mother would hate. I was right. She later found the cassette tape I'd bought in my bedroom was appalled by the cover and more so by the song titles and destroyed it. That forced me to smugly make my own bootleg copy with a cleverly disguised title like "Jesus Loves Me Acapella." But I digress.

The band, as I mentioned started out as more of a theater troupe and was led by Richard Elfman who eventually turned the group over to his brother Danny in the late 70s, just after they'd appeared --and won-- on The Gong Show under the moniker The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, a name they used later in their dreadful first film The Forbidden Zone. On the show Gene Barry appropriately introduced the band in a manner that I think could have been suitable through most of their existence: "And now to open the show we bring you an act who at first may shock you, but once you get to know 'em, they'll just boggle your mind."

Danny led the band more into music, though keeping a lot of the performance art aspects alive in their live shows. They had a hard edge early on, almost punk like, but with all those synthesized sounds, electronic accoutrements, and orchestrated horns and strings the songs ended up falling more into the new wave category. Even though on their first EP, Only A Lad, "Violent Love" was clearly ska influenced, "Ain't This The Life" had a very punchy, power pop like feel to it, "I'm so Bad" had an otherworldly atmosphere layered over punk like guitars, and there was the very obvious power pop song "Only a Lad" that was more British punk than the burgeoning rock like punk of the US.

The band moved away from those harder edges toward a more polished, but no less hard hitting, sound. They worked hard, and their second and third albums, 1982's Nothing To Fear and 1983's Good For Your Soul, again defied classification mixing the bizarre with the cerebral, exotic new wave sounding songs, with more guitar driven punk like numbers. Each spawned a handful of songs that garnered much college radio play -- such as it was in the early to mid 80s. They were good albums packed with some of the band's best work like "Private Life", "Wake Up (It's 1984), "Who Do You Want To Be Today", "Nothing To Fear", "Whole Day Off" and "Wild Sex (In The Working Class)".

At that same time throughout California the band was becoming almost legendary for it's live shows, especailly after popular appearances at the US Festival, and their early, annual Halloween shows. They went on to tour with lots of the new wave bands of the era -- Devo, Wall of Voodoo, and The Cars -- and even as their sound became more and more watered down and mainstream, their popularity soared. For me, the beginning of the end was the aptly name "Dead Man's Party", and of course their biggest hit "Weird Science". Later albums in the 1990s saw the band move more into the easier to classify adult alternative arena, and surprisingly produced a few songs that far outstripped what they'd done in the late 80s.

These days Halloween passes with only a tribute act led by Boingo drummer John "Vatos" Hernandez and including a number of other past members. But, Danny Elfman has decided not to do any reunions, not because of his high demand and sucess as a film score master, but because he says he has had a great deal of irreversible hearing loss and he doesn't think he could do the shows justice anymore.

For a nice historical overview of the band see this write up by Richard Elfman.

Oingo Boingo -- Ain't This The Life

Oingo Boingo -- Violent Love

Oingo Boingo -- Nothing To Fear

Oingo Boingo - Capitalism

October 30, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Corner Laughers

Can a CD be yummy? If so the new Corner Laughers release I just got is delish. The band describes their sound as "bouncy, clever, melodic pop songs". Who am I to disagree? Far from it, I can go on about them in a way that isn't shameless self-promotion.

Last year I stumbled across their first release Tomb of Leopards, and became an immediate fan. It was everything a good pop album should be -- vibrant, sunny, full of catchy hooks, hand claps, and perky melodies. Through it all is an obvious regard for pop -- a pop sensibility that appreciates the classic sounds of the sixties, eighties, and even '05. Tagged as twee, but so much more than that.

Now, Corner Laughers have just released a brand new disk, Ultraviolet Garden, produced by another of my favorite pop makers, Alan Clapp of the Orange Peels. Maybe it's just a musical maturing, or perhaps the practiced production hand of Clapp, but a sophisticated, more polished sound is obvious right away. The group's sound is less folksy, more refined. Where the first album on occasion showed a little much of the quaintness of The Decembrists and the cleverness of the New Pornographers (dlelightfully so in each case, to be sure) this album has a grace and ambience that is miles beyond what went before.

It's stocked with great songs from top to bottom. There's the guitar driven "Silver Medal" bouncing neatly between electric guitar and ukulele with nary a stutter. And the moody "Stonewords" brought to mind The Decembrists but also at the same time was somehow evocative of older new wave era bands like The Cure or even Blondie. The jaunty and catchy "Inner Archeologist" has a touch of retro-commercial to it that gives it a sort of tongue in cheek vibe and will probably make it one of their most requested. Meanwhile the soulful and girly vocal harmonies of "The Commonest Manifesto" are sure to bring about comparisons to everyone from The Shangri-Las to Duffy.

No matter what it brings to mind for you while you're listening, this is modern pop music played the way it's meant to be.

Corner Laughers -- The commonest Manifesto

The Corner Laughers -- Stonewords

October 29, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Brand New Sinclairs

There must be something in the water in the south of Europe that turns musicians into soul laden, R&B, garage rock modsters. Both Spain and Italy, by all appearances, have thriving mod scenes and are stocked with great bands.

The Brand New Sinclairs hail from Spain and, happily for American dolts like me, they sing in English. Their latest release from the wonderful Bip Bip Records spins out some great sixties styled garage rock. The songs all have a nice rough edge, not overly polished, which is important for good garage rock. However, female lead singer Ana gives these sharp toothed songs a more rounded edge with vocals that help to soften what might otherwise end up being run of the mill stuff. This is some hip shakin', foot shufflin', eye spinnin' good ol' fashioned mod music. Enjoy.

Brand New Sinclairs -- You Run

October 28, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Beat (English Beat)

In late 70s Britain ska bands were breaking out left and right just alongside of the mod revival. The two scenes shared a love of soul music, were influenced by punk rock, and had a tremendous amount of overlap among fans, and even within the bands.

Amidst all that came The Beat (known in The English Beat in the US) a group more two-tone than many of the Two Tone label bands. Alongside of The Specials and Madness, The Beat made ska a force to be reckoned with churning out three very sucessful albums in just five years. Their very first single, a ska version of soul classic "Tears of A Clown" was a huge success and their first two LPs went to #3 on the UK charts. Each spawned other great singles like "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Doors Of Your Heart", "I Confess" and "Twist and Crawl".

Although they were clearly a ska band, The Beat was able to connect with the public by fusing other popular styles into their music. Where The Specials were hard edged ska and punk, black and white in both their make-up and their sound, and Madness was grey and unpredictable like a foggy London morning, The Beat was bright - sunshine bright at times. Theirs was a very sunny sound, warm and island like blending ska with soul and pop. At the same time they were embracing new wave and power pop, fusing guitars with a layer of other sounds likes horns --mostly saxaphone from Jamiacan ska legend Saxa-- and organs, and overall they managed to hold on to a solid ska foundation with lots of reggae mixed throughout. Later on though their sound was new wave pop, a modern pop that had ska influences, but really wasn't ska anymore. Somehow that recipe was a mix for success.

Growing up in California it was common to hear The Beat on a variety of radio stations, especially KROQ and others that tended more to the new wave. You certainly heard The Beat more than you did either The Specials or Madness. They seemed to have a pulse on what the public wanted. By the time of their third album, Special Beat Service, two the biggest hits "I Confess" and "Save It For Later" were barely ska influenced, but rather were beautifully crafted pieces of contemporary pop -- bits of new wave power pop for the dance club set.

The band broke up in 1983, but like all great acts spawned two more big sucesses -- General Public featuring Beat front men Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, and Fine Young Cannibals formed around the Beat's rythm section of Andy Cox and David Steele.

These days there seems to be some interpersonal issues and politics keeping a full and complete reuinion at bay. Indeed, Wakeling and Roger seem to have divided up the world between them with Ranking Roger and other former mebers calling themselves The Beat UK and touring England and Europe (More recently this line up has included such ska friends as Jerry Dammers and Pauline Black, making it more of a two-tone super group than a Beat continuation.) Meanwhile, Wakeling and some past members have taken over the North American circuit and tour extensivly hear under The English Beat name. I saw this version a couple years ago and while I was sad not to see Saxa playing saxaphone or Ranking Roger toasting up a storm, it was still a pretty great show and Wakeling was quite the showman.

The Beat -- Big Shot

The Beat -- Best Friend

October 27, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Stone Foundation

When you first hear Stone Foundation you can be forgiven for wondering if Paul Weller has some new material. The similarity is uncanny, even Stone Foundation's lead singer's voice is on some so Welleresque you're not sure who's singing. In my book that's a good thing. If you're going to be influenced by, and emulate, some artist make it one that is head and shoulders above the rest.

Stone Foundation is a mod soul act out of the UK. They blend power pop with soul to create a typically British, and yet fresh sort of rock and soul sound. You might call it smooth soul. It is soul through and through, but some of it is so smooth, so slick, so perfectly jazzy, that it isn't like anything else you've heard. The rest of it, well, yes it's derivative, but the band is so good that they can pull it off and make you think that you're listening to something truly unique. They're tight, they're solid, and they've got a serious mod sound that isn't easy to find these days.

Their 2008 album Small Town Soul is wicked good. "Holy Blue" leads off and offers some good bluesy soul with that sort of late night orchestration that gives a song a more sophisticated feel. Again, the comparisons to Weller are inevitable, but there are also echoes of the Small Faces as well. And if you like Weller's more soulful ballads then you'll dig this track. The stand out track for me is "Crossing the Great Divide" with its beautiful northern soul beat accented by soulful horn loops. It's a floorshaker to be sure. The other 15 tracks -- that's right 17 total -- are just as good.

Of late the band has joined forces with Detroit sixties soul man Steve Calloway. The result is a brand new EP which I haven't gone over yet, but the from the video that was produced along with its release, it sounds pretty damn good.

Stone Foundation -- Crossing The Great Divide

Stone Foundation -- No More The Fool

Stone Foundation feat. Steve Calloway - Somebody Somewhere

October 26, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Love Jones

During the big lounge scare of the mid-90s two bands led the cocktail nation to new heights, both largely by being discovered by a Hollywood director. Quentin Tarantino's eye was caught by the swanky, exotic sounds of Combustible Edison, while at the same time John Favreau's attention was riveted on the cool, swingin', rat packish Love Jones.

Love Jones started out in the early 90s as a pop act in Kentucky and quickly realized their horizon was a bit limited there. So, like the Clampetts before them, they up and moved to Beverly. Along the way they perfected the retro lounge sound, modernizing a type of of music that prior to that point in time had only been popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They embraced all of the lounge elements from exotica, to easy listening, to a swingin' and soulful space age pop. Just as Nirvana was flailing its way to the top of the charts, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers was funkin up metal something serious, and Pearl Jam was embarking on a grunge driven charge to world domination, here came a band that was literally the antithesis to any such sounds. They eschewed the then typical nihilism and disdain for the past, instead embracing the pop sounds of previous eras, and idolizing the establishment cool of the 1950s, 1960s such as the Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and Bobby Darin -- and all with complete knowledge and acceptance of the irony they were touting.

Their breakthrough -- such as it was -- and by far best release was 1993's Here's To The Losers. The album was mostly a finely crafted piece of pop, heavily influenced by everything from soul to bossa nova to jazz to martinis. The album has a number of great songs like the easy listening, laid back "Custom Van" with it's swanky casino bar vocals and sultry surf-like steel guitar. And then there's the soulful "L'il Black Book" with its swirling, grooving organ and ringing guitar riffs. By far this release was the band's highwater mark. They followed it up with a more sophisticated, 70s R&B styled pop album, Power Pain Reliever that listening to actually required a lot of power pain relelivers. So, when you're Jonesing for some Vegas styled lounge music, pick up Love Jones' Here's To The Losers.

Love Jones -- Paid For Lovin'

Love Jones on Good Day LA

October 25, 2009

Modcast #144: Something Wicked This Way Comes (Halloween 2009)

The air is cold and there's a definitely chill after dark these days. That can only mean that Halloween must be nearly upons us. With that in mind here is a spooky, surprise-filled modcast from guest DJ Ken from The Shingles -- Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Listen Now

I Monster - The Blue Wrath (Neveroddoreven, 2003)
Boss Martians - Have You Ever Seen (Monster Party 2000, 2000)
3-D Invisibles - Vampires A Go Go (Vampires A-Go-Go, 1988)
Kaiser George & Los Straitjackets - All Back to Drac's (Twist Party!!!, 2006)
Hi-Risers - Gruesome Twosome (In the Spotlight!, 2001)
Social Distortion - The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You) (Mommy's Little Monster, 1983)
D.I. - Richard Hung Himself (Team Goon, 1983)
Jim Carroll Band - People Who Died (Catholic Boy, 1980)
Bauhaus - St. Vitus Dance (In the Flat Field, 1980)
Lori Burton (The Whyte Boots) - Nightmare (Single, 1966)
Otis Redding - Trick or Treat (Dreams to Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology, 1998)
Tubes - Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman (The Completion Backward Principle, 1981)
Fools - Scary Movies (Show 'em You're Nuts, 1992)
Goldstars - Halloween Hell (Tasty Instrumentals, 2008)
David Bowie - Please, Mr. Gravedigger (David Bowie, 1967)

October 24, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Muddy Waters

The story of mod has to include the blues. The beat bands, the R&B bands, the British blues groups of the sixties, hell even the British Invasion itself, all owe their existence in part to the blues. And no blues man had more of an effect on the sixties mods than the father of Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters.

Waters was a blues man from way back and by the 1950s was fronting his own band for the Chess Label, arguably the greatest blues band of all time. His songs were embraced by blues lovers, and became popular with the mainstream listening public -- a rare feet then or now. He had a string of hits in the '50s like "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You", "I'm Ready" and "Mannish Boy". That last track caught the fancy of a young mod singer named Davey Jones and he named his band after it, before later changing his name to David Bowie. Waters was a towering figure of influence for the early mods. The Rolling Stones got their name from him, Eric Clapton claimed Waters as his biggest influence in the sixties, as did The Small Faces, The Animals, and the Yardbirds. Of course it wasn't just the mods that loved Muddy Waters, Chubby Checker got his start because of him, Bo Diddly played with him, and Jimi Hendrix idolized him. Later Led Zeppelin used the song here "You Need Love" as the basis for their track "Whole Lotta Love". But, there's no denying that without Waters the blues based mod scene of the sixties might never have been born.

Muddy Waters -- You Need Love

Muddy Waters -- Mannish Boy

October 23, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Stupidity

Stupidity was an Australian mod band with a heavily soul influenced R&B sound. I first heard their tremendous "Bend Don't Break" on the original 5-4-3-2-1! Countdown compilation, and just loved their sound. Even though I had trouble tracking down their originals in the mid-80s, downunder they were taking off, making a number of appearances on various of the Countdown compilations. From Frederick St., a nice compendium of those tracks, plus a few others of their singles and unreleased material appeared a few years back courtesy of Maximum Insanity Records. The band was very influenced by the mod revival and you can echoes of The Jam, The Truth and Secret Affair throughout. The band's originals were quite good, such as "Try To Not Let It Show" from the Party At Hanging Rock Countdown compilation, and also the unreleased "Turn The Other Cheek". However, their cover of The Undertones "You've Got My Number" was over produced and didn't fit at well with the rest of their catalog. Still, their incorporation of horns, punchy bass riffs, and power chording guitars throughout gave them a distinctive, and distintively 80s-mod, sound. Sadly, the lead singer was killed in an accident in 2000, but apparently his brother has stepped in from time to time, though it's unclear to me how often the band plays anymore.

Note: The very fine Tone and Wave blog has posted two Stupidity collections, one of studio tracks, and another of live material.

Stupidity -- Try Not To Let It Show

Stupidity -- Turn The Other Cheek

October 22, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Woody & The Splinters

Brighton in the sixties was a sort of mod mecca, and even more so after Quadrophenia hit in 1979. But, in the real world of 1979 some of Brighton's best punk bands occasionally crossed over into the mod revival column from time to time. There's little doubt that mods and punks were all going to the same shows in '79, and Brighton wasn't that big a venue so naturally the two groups mixed. One of the local bands they all liked was Woody & The Splinters. More of a punk band than a mod band, nevertheless the Splinters still had fans in both camps. They had one single, "I Must Be Mad" that was a real spikey bit of power pop with staccato like guitars.

Woody & The Splinters -- I Must Be Mad

October 21, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Wards of Court

How Could You Say One Thing … and presumably mean another. That's the title of the best song from The Wards of Court. It was actually the B-side of The Wards only single, "All Night Girl" a minor hit in its own right, and features a mean tambourine, piercing horns, and some great drumming. Wards of Court probably are better known for covers than for originals, but this one is a real shaker, and very soulful. The band had a nice freakbeat soul sound not unlike some of the other blue-eyed soul outfits of the era, such as The Equals.

Wards of Court -- How Could You Say One Thing

October 20, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Toy Dolls

Just for fun. I mean what other reason would there be to listen to the Toy Dolls? A band that has built its 30 year reputation on clownishness that is second only to, perhaps, The Dead Milkmen.

Today marks the 30th birthday of the Toy Dolls, the 30th anniversary of their very first gig. Since 1979 the group has been churning out anthemic punk rock songs. Or maybe you could just say song. They do all tend to be quite similar. But the similarity is part of what makes the band fun, if predictable.

They hit it big early on with the surprising chart success of "Nellie The Elephant" in 1984, a children's song that the band turned into a top 20 hit in the UK and their own sort of theme song. Other songs are typically rhyming bits of speedy punk rock guitars and drums. "She Goes To Finos", "My Girlfriend's Dad's A Vicar", "My Wife's A Psychopath", "I've Got Asthma", and the song here "We're Mad", are all bits of lyrical genius and even a few bits of musical brilliance.

Fronted by Michael "Olga" Algar, the band has been through a lot of lineups with Olga remaining the only consistent and original member. Still, they soldier on, currently on a world wide tour, jokingly called "Our Last Tour?"

Toy Dolls -- we're Mad

Toy Dolls -- James Bond Lives Down Our Street

October 19, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Squeeze

One of the mod friendly new wave bands of the late 70s was the UK's Squeeze. The band started out in 1974 and by 1977 they were a foursome, Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook, Jules Holland and Gilson Lavis that were more of a power pop/punk band. Their first three song EP appropriately titled Packet of Three was critically acclaimed and launched the band's career. Theirs was a guitar driven sound with a typical punk edge, but that later softened on thier debut Squeeze and second release Cool for Cats as the keyboards became more prominent, the melodies sharpened, and the vocals of Difford and Tilbrook began to mesh like fine wine and dark chocolate. Holland left the band in 1980 and went on to a very successful solo career eventually having his own 18 piece big band, and now hosting his on BBC 2 music talk show. Squeeze continued on with Difford and Tilbrook always the constant members during the band's various incarnations over the years. Their third album Argy Bargy is my favorite. The songs are power pop based but well complimented by the new wavish synthesizers and jangling guitars. The band has been touring of late -- I saw them in 2008 and they were excellent -- and claims to be working on a whole disks worth of new material for release in 2010. The songs here show the beginning punky sound with "Night Ride" from their first EP, and then their more mature sound with "Vicky Verky" from Argy Bargy.

Squeeze -- Night Ride

Squeeze -- Vicky Verky

Squeeze -- Another Nail in My Heart

October 18, 2009

From The Vaults: (Halloween 2008) Modcast: Monsters A-Go-Go!

Once more into the vault my friends, once more into the vault. Step back in time, to a time when the modcast was young and fresh. Take a giant step outside your current listening constraints and journey with me all the way back to . . . . what? Just last year? That's not so far back. But it is that spooky time of year again -- Modoween. Last year Ken from The Shingles served up a heapin' helpin' of spooky stuff and he's gearing up to do so again next week. So, this week I'm just giving you a little reminder of what you have to look forward.

I've opened up the vaults and dusted off a classic Ken modcast that I think you'll enjoy. Again.

Halloween Modcast 2008: Monsters A-Go-Go!

Be afraid, be very afraid. Ken from The Shingles is at the controls of the modcast this week and if that doesn't scare you, nothing will. Get haunted.

Video clip from "Mad Monster Party" - The Mummy!:


October 17, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Buzzcocks

The Buzzcocks were a punk band that mods loved. Actually they were only a punk band if you listened to the media. But if you listened to the music they were always more of a mod band, or at least more of that nebulous un-punk sort of new-wave, power pop classification that was hard to pin down at times.

From the moment their first album burst into existence songs like "Ever Fallen in Love", "Just Lust", "Nostalgia", and the instrumental "Walking Distance" really proclaimed them as something different from the hordes of other punks out there. Maybe that something was closer to a mod sound, or a power pop sound, but whatever it was, it was pure Buzzcocks.

The Buzzcock's started out as Steve Diggle, Howard Devoto, Pete Shelley and John Maher. Devoto left pretty quickly, but even so their original output was pretty meager when compared to their long-lasting impact. Beginning to end was only about 4 years with the band originally disbanding in 1980. Since then there have been a number of reunions and lineups -- all acking Devoto but usually including Diggle and Shelley. They have released an additional five LPs, but only one of which is worth listening to -- 2005's Flatpack Philosopy. While listenable, it's got nothing on that early punk rock energy and intensity that made the Buzzcocks classic.

The Buzzcocks -- Nostalgia

The Buzzcocks -- Promises

October 16, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Champagne

Champagne is a dreamy, summery, fuzzy guitared power pop band from Spain. The song here is from their 2005 release Ready Steady Go! which is a great bit of power pop sure to brighten up any grey day. (Trust me, I'm in Seattle, I know this for a fact.) The band at times reminds me of Sparklejets UK, or Fountains of Wayne, and they've obviously been influenced by old school pop masters like Paul Collins and Elvis Costello, but also these more modern sounds like the Posies and Teenage Fanclub. The song here "Summer and Kisses" with it's Beach Boyesque vocal harmonies, and sixties pop stylings, is the perfect remedy to a rainy day, or a great send off to the beginning of summer. I don't read Spanish, but it seems that the band has a brand new album just released.

Champagne -- Summer and Kisses

October 15, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Idea

The Idea hailed from L.A.'s own backyard, Fontana. In the late 80s when the southern California scene seemed to be rude to the right of you and rude to the left you, The Idea were one of the few mod R&B acts in the L.A. scene. While the San Diego and San Francisco mod scenes always had a stronger connection to their sixties roots, L.A. and Orange Counties always seemed to go for the harder power pop, even punk, or ska bands.

So, it was nice that in 1988 a young mod band with solid soul and style started to make itself felt on the scene. Four guys barely out of high school and they put out a pretty good 7" EP with four original songs of substance. "Our Way", "Try", "You Remind Me of You", and "Power Poppers". Great songs all.

They were clearly influenced by the '79 mod revival bands such as The Jam, Squire and Purple Hearts, but also at times had some elements of other groups like The Squeeze and Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and sometimes a harder edge appeared ala The Ramones, Buzzcocks and Agent Orange. Through it all though they managed to keep a pretty good power pop and sixties foundation.

The Idea -- You Remind Me Of You

October 14, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Chest

Not only am I late to this party, but it seems the party is over. The party in question is the Spanish mod band The Chest out of Barcelona. I just recently discovered the band on a Spanish blog where I was completely unable to fathom what they were saying, other than that The Chest were a great mod band that --just my luck-- recently broke up. I started digging.

Not that I'm much of a shoveler but it's taken a few days and more than a few dead ends to actuallyl figure out that The Chest were on Bip-Bip Records, and not just a cool mod band, but a damn good mod band. I'm still trying to figure out where to pick up a CD or some such, but in the meantime the and has produced some great videos, so here's a couple to tide you over. Let me know what you find out!

The Chest -- What's Wrong With Modern Youth?

The Chest -- Miracle Guard

October 13, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Soulive

I've always loved soul music. I've always loved organ jazz. I've always loved guitar jazz. From Jimmy Smith to John Scofield to James Taylor to Charlie Byrd to Paulo Apollo Negri, those are just sounds I love. Hey you got your guitar in my jazz and your organ in my soul. Three great tastes that taste great together.

This year is the tenth anniversary of one of those great blended tastes, Soulive. Soulive is guitarist Eric Krasno, hammond BR organ master Neal Evens, and drummer Alan Evans.

More jazz than soul at times, there's still a certian something they've got that just makes the soul boy in me come alive. Soulive has achieved some great things during their tenure. I mean how many soul or jazz bands have been on the legendary Blue Note and Stax labels. (Okay, so it was the Stax revived in 2005, but it was the Stax label none the less.) And they've played and recorded with some of music's finest from Stevie Wonder to Dave Matthews to The Rolling Stones to Chaka Khan to The Roots. And while the band is a trio, it is one of those trios that has lots of other guest members, both instrumentalists and vocalists, who add all those delicious elements that make their music so fanatastic.

From the first album I heard, 2000's Doin' Somethin', (their third album actually) I have been a fan. Their sound is both funky soul, and jazz jam. It makes you want to dance, but also makes you just want to sit and listen to the notes as they settle one on top of another. They can make traditional soul music, traditional jazz, and all sorts of contemporary sounds combining the two. But they're well beyond just doing the old sound over again. That's their jazz component pushing them to do new and different things, and to break out of the tried and true molds that bands so easily fall into.

Over the years they've incorporated reggae, hip-hop, and R&B into their regular soul-jazz blend. Their albums in '05 and '07 dabble more in all of those other genres and featured a slew of guest artists, and not surprsingly only a few instrumentals with the bulk of the tracks being vocal numbers. But their latest release, Up Here, from their own Royal Family Records label is a return of sorts to the sort of soul and jazz that have always been Soulives's bread and butter.

Here are a couple of tunes. The first, "Cash's Dream" is from their Get Down album, and the second is a really great Booker T styled soul number from their latest album Up Here, "For Granted".

Soulive -- Cash's Dream

Soulive -- For Granted

October 12, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Erma Franklin

The Queen of Soul had a sister, and her couple of singles were every bit as good as the queen's. Erma Franklin is the older sister of Aretha Franklin, and an incredible gospel and soul singer in her own right. She only did a small number of recordings, and mostly settled for singing backup on Aretha's hit songs. But she turned out a couple of sweltering, northern soul, floor stompers, namely"Pieces of My Heart" later made famous by Janis Joplin. But even better is this soul song here, 1969's "Gotta Find Me A Lover" which just barely cracked the top 40 in 1969.

Erma Franklin -- Totta Find Me A Lover

Erma Franklin -- I Get The Sweetest Feeling

October 11, 2009

Modcast #143: Guest Host Neal Augenstein from Modest Proposal

One of the first mod singles I ever owned was by Modest Proposal a band out of Washington DC. It was a great single and I played it to death over the years. So, it was cool to get a message from Neal Augenstein, MP's lead singer, with news that the band was planning to reunite. They will be playing November 28th at Comet Ping Pong, on upper Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC - and the opening band will be The Reply. (Get tix here)

Neal, who now works at radio station WTOP is chronicling the band's reunion. The first post is here and there are several others as well. I wish I could be in DC to see the band back together. If any of you do get to the show take some pictures and let us all know how it turns out.

This week's show is hosted by Neal and it's a crackin' good one. I think you'll enjoy it, I know I did.

The Modern Lovers -- She Cracked
The O'Kaysions -- I'm A Girl Watcher
Petula Clark -- Downtown
Cass Elliot -- Make Your Own Kinda Music
The Jam -- Standards
Jackson 5 -- The Love You Save
Davy Jones -- Girl
The Beatles -- I Wanna Hold Your Hand
The Ramones -- Don't Go
Purple Hearts -- My Life's A Jigsaw
Peter Paul & Mary -- If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)

Modest Proposal -- Nobody Says No

October 10, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Flirtations

It's 1968, Motown eat your heart out. Here come The Flirtations. Or at least that should have been the story. The Flrtations started out as a quartet from South Carolina and finally ended up as a trio from the states reoording in the UK. They were every bit as good or better than The Supremes. Their soul sound was tight, it was even poppy and radio friendly. And yet, their only friends in the end were the soul sound afficianados of the Northern Soul scene.

The Flirtations did have a very Motown girl group sound. It was soul music through and through with the tight vocal harmonies and infectious choruses. One of their earliest singles, featured here "Stronger Than Her Love" is a great piece with a strong lead vocal, and an overall soul vibe. Other songs like "Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me" became cult classics, but it was "Nothing But A Heartache" that vaulted The Flirtations into the tops of the charts.

Sadly, they never did cash in the way that other girl groups of the sixties did. But they are still working it, and in 2007 even recorded new material for a Northern Soul compilation.

The Flirtations -- Stronger Than Her Love

The Flirtations -- Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me

October 9, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Lyres

In 1979 Jeff Connolly a few guys got together and created one of the longest running garage bands ever. Here we are nearly 30 years on and the band is still lauded as a leader in the genre and their records have quite the impact. The band? The Lyres. With a sound that is at times brooding, and at others driven, their sixties influenced rock sound can be compared to The Seeds, The Animals, Them, or even The Kinks.

The Lyres are more garage than rock or punk, and that's what makes it interesting. There's no cookie cutter production here, no label excec "fixing" things in post production. This is all Lyres, from the screeching yells of "No Reason to Complain" to the sixties pop of "Don't Give It up Now", their sound is every bit their own, even on their covers -- of which they do a fair amount. Through it all though you will hear their signature stamp, a sort of pscyhadelic pastiche over sixties garage rock, with it being neither exactly one or the other. Surprisingly there is a fair amount of soul to be found here, of a blue-eyed kind mixed with rock to be sure, but it's all serious soul none the less. And of course you get Lyres front man Connelly's farfisa organ through out, kind of like the type face that holds a printed page together.

The Lyres -- You'll Never Do It Baby

October 8, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Steve Marriott

I'm not going to waste time telling you anything about Steve Marriott. Most of you will know that he fronted perhaps the best mod band ever in the mid-60s, the Small Faces. And that he later had a great blues-rock band with Peter Frampton, Humble Pie. Blah, blah, blah. I can't add anything that isn't already covered here, here or here.

But what I am going to do is make my case that all readers of this blog need to e-mail NPR and ask them to include Marriott in their upcoming series highlighting the 50 best singers ever recorded (see below). I know it's a long shot. It does say best ever recorded. That's some serious competition. But, I think that Marriott stacks up well and should be seriously considered.

Marriott's days singing for Small Faces are hard to ignore. Listen to "Lazy Sunday", which a lot of people write off, but it's vocal component is quite compelling. Or what about the songs that were hits for the Small Faces? "Whatcha Gonna Do About It?" is a screamer that is completely made by the vocals. Likewise "(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me", "Wham Bam, Thank You Mam", and "Don't Burst My Bubble." Ever heard covers of those that were any good? If you answered yes I will guarantee that it wasn't the vocals you remember. Marriott makes that nearly impossible. But, for me, when he was with the Small Faces there is one song that stands out head shoulders above the rest. "Tin Soldier." When you've got the silken voiced PP Arnold playing second fiddle to you, well then maybe your pipes should be considered as some of the best recorded. I'm still undecided as to whether the song is improved by the video or not. It's damn powerful by itself, but there is a certain intensity to seeing the band, and especially Marriott himself, belt it out.

Not convinced? Think he was just a mod flash in the pan, a second wave of the British Invasion that was easily turned back by the buying public. Okay, then let's just flash forward to his days with Humble Pie. Take the blues rock of "Hot-N-Nasty", "Fool For A Pretty Face", or "I Walk On Gilded Splinters", and you will hear Marriott's voice at its best. But when you hear him belt out the blues on "Black Coffee", echoed by sweet soul singers, then you will agree that NPR would be remiss in leaving Marriott off their list.
50 Great Voices: Send Us Your Nominations
Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 16, we're asking you — NPR listeners and readers — to tell us who in the whole world possesses the most beautiful, singular voice you have ever heard. Leave your picks, along with a sentence defending each choice and a link to an audio clip if possible, in the comments below, or email GreatVoices@npr.org.
So, please e-mail them and nominate Steve Marriott.

Small Faces -- Tin Soldier

Humble Pie -- Black Coffee

October 7, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Fishbone

Fishbone. I'm not talkin' about the totally whacked out funk and metal version of Fishbone. I'm not even talkin' about the bad ska dancin' version that was in that horrid thing called Back to the Beach. No, I'm talkin' about Fishbone when they had equal parts ska, soul, punk and funk. It was a vicious mixture of the sublime with more ... shall we say, aggressive sides of the band. No doubt that if Madness hadn't been taken as a band name, it would have a been a top contender.

They got their start sometime around 1979 when they were still in Jr. High, if you can believe the band. No matter, early on they had a reputation for combining soul, funk and ska into an infectious sort of dance mix. It wasn't just a dance, it was a down right mosh pit, complete with elbows flyin', teeth clackin' and punches landing. For whatever reason, when Fishbone played you could expect the sort of violent slam pit that usually accompanied a DI or Cirlce Jerks gig. Most of us mods weren't up for it -- which is why we went home in the worst of shape. I broke my finger, my nose and a vinyl record -- each at a different Fishbone show. Fortunately only the nose bled profusely so I wasn't out any cool suits at the other shows.

It was around 1984 that the band started to make a splash publicly and garner attention. Fishbone's sound in the early days was funky, in a sort of crazy and eclectic way, and completely infused with ska music -- not two tone ska (though there were hints of that) but a more reggae and soul styled ska. Their early success was thanks to mods who were ska obsessed at the time. Fishbone was easily one of the biggest mod scene bands of the mid 80s, drawing upwards of a couple thousand kids to shows at places like Fenders and the Country Club. They were headlining mod shows and playing alongside of No Doubt, Three O'Clock and The Question, and their sound was definitely ska focused.

Before 1989 those guys didn't know what metal was, nor alternative music. All I can think is that some manager pawned those ideas off on them at the tail end of a party binge after some gig. To begin with, they were a ska band that knew a thing or two about soul and funk, and about how to infuse the music with a certain punk intensity and energy. It was all guitars and drums, with these crazy ska styled saxaphones over the top. And mods loved it. And even some punks loved it. And more than a few paid to see the band's antics on stage. It was all good before they tossed it all for that ridculous heavy metal funk sound of the 90s. Still, you can listen to the band's early sound and enjoy it for what it was.

Fishbone -- Ugly

Fishbone -- Skankin' To The Beat

Fishbone - Skankin' To The Beat / Party at Ground Zero (Live)

October 6, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Agent Orange

In 1979 Agent Orange started out as punk band, but a punk band that would have been a mod revival band had they lived in London. They infused their music with heavy doses of sixties power pop, British punk (which was basically sixties power pop) and surf riffs. It was perfect for Orange County circa 1980. They punked up a bunch of surf songs and surfed up a bunch of punk songs and created the surf punk genre out of whole cloth.

In 1981 their single "Bloodstains" wound up on Rodney Bingenheimer's desk and he put it into heavy rotation on KROQ which made the band local legends. Stories abound that it wasn't uncommon to see the band decked out in suits riding their scooters to gigs and then turning in a totally garage punk sort of set. In 1982 they produced the Bitchin' Summer EP where they took surf songs like "Pipeline" and "Miserlou" and transformed them into these violent bits of non-violent agression. The album also included one of the songs included here, Breakdown, an original that combined their surf punk sound with a biting commentary on selling out. With three surf tracks and the one original, it was clear that Agent Orange was unafraid of instrumentals, doing more of those than most bands, punk or otherwise.
At the same time in their live shows the band tore up popular sixties anthems like "Somebody to Love" and "Secret Agent Man", and uncovered TV theme songs like "Wild Wild West" and "Get Smart" and sped them up with crashing drums and buzzsaw quitars -- which at the time was still relatively unheard of (if you weren't the Dickies). Theirs was a beachy blend of sixties pop, surf riffs and raw, unabashed punk rock -- a blend like no one had ever seen before. As the 80s moved along so did the band, polishing their rough edges and turning out more melodic punk rock, but always with a bit of an edge.

Eventually they traded their surf boards --and their vespas-- for skateboards and a different sort of fame. Still, the earliest recordings from Living in Darkness, to the mid-80s This Is The Voice, are over powered power pop at its best.

Agent Orange -- Breakdown

Agent Orange -- Somebody to Love

Agent Orange -- Voices in the Night

Agent Orange -- Bloodstains

October 5, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Sweet

The Sweet aren't at first glance a band you'd think would be all that mod friendly. But at second, and third, and fourth listen you begin to hear it. They have a blend of bubblegum pop, soulful R&B, power pop, and glam along with an overall charm that you just can't resist.

They started out as a soul band, Wainright Gentleman, that morphed into pub rock band Sweetshop. From there it was just a tightening of the sound and shortening of the name to The Sweet. Their early sound, and first hits, were more bubblegum pop oriented pieces largely written for the band. Later on they would write their own material incorporating a heavier sound ala The Who, and always had a hard time combining the harder edged guitar sound with the softer pop vocal harmonies. In the end though it is exactly that sound that made them sucecssful with hits like "Ballroom Blitz", "Hellraiser", "Fox on the Run" and "Block Buster". All of which have an obvious power pop foundation and clearly influenced a slew of later bands from Cheap Trick to even the Cars. If you can get beyond the glam and glitz and listen to the music, you'll see what I mean. And you'll like it.

The Sweet -- Wig Wam Bam

The Sweet -- Fox On The Run

October 4, 2009

Modcast #142: Soundtrack for Groovy Living

Welcome to Mr. Suave's Mod Mod World. This week's show is nothing short of loungerific, with some groovy instrumentals, some swingin' covers, and just lots of cool songs from beginning to end.

French lounge master Chris Joss is in the house with his latest, as is Frank Popp Ensemble. Got a nice little set of pacific northwest lounge acts, The Colorifics, Dudley Manlove Quartet and Johnny Astro are complimented by the classic sound stylings of Vic Damone, Jeri Southern and the one and only Mel Torme. And there are some great bonus videos of Mel and Vic from back in the day, doing their thing. So, mix yourself a nice little libation and settle back for some sweet lounge sounds.

Listen Now

Chris Joss -- Danger Buds
The Colorifics -- City Grey
Dudley Manlove Quartet -- Seattle
Johnny Astro -- Patio Pizzicato
Euroboys -- Hong Kong Cockfight
The Lounge Brigade -- Iron Man
Smoove -- Big Balls
Vic Damone -- Little Girl
Jeri Southern -- An Occasional Man
Mel Torme -- Midnight Swinger
Frank Popp Ensemble -- Belly Bossanova

Vic Damone at Hollywood Palace

Mel Torme -- Fascinating Rhythm (Judy Garland Show)

October 3, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Barbarella

Yeah, yeah, it ain't a band or a song. So what? It's cool isn't it? Try and tell me it isn't!


October 2, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Bob Crewe Generation

Super! Groovy! Alive! Today! Now! That's pretty much how The Bob Crewe Generation were marketed in 1967, and it was a pretty spot-on description. That was the year that Bob Crewe went from behind the scenes producer genius to center stage as a front man for the aptly named orchestra The Bob Crewe Generation. And it was all thanks to a Pepsi jingle that Crewe turned into the international swingin' song sensation "Music To Watch Girls By", thanks in part to Pepsi's accompanying slogan "Come Alive! You're in the Pepsi Generation".

Crewe got his start as being primarly the producer in several producer/writer teams in the 50s. His big break came when he helped to write and produce a slew of hit songs for bands like The Four Seasons and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Lesley Gore and Bobby Darrin. Songs like "Sherry" which was a #1 single in 1962 for The Four Seasons; "Big Girls Don't Cry," another #1 hit single, "Rag Doll," also a #1 hit, and top ten hits like "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You"Ronnie," "Walk Like a Man," and "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)". On into the '70s and '80s he continued to pen hit songs for Frankie Valli, Labelle, and Roberta Flack. The Bob Crewe Generation also recorded Crewe's soundtrack for the Jane Fonda flick Barbarella, which even features Crewe on some vocal tracks.

But it was his 1967 album with its cool, go-go jetsetting sound that made Crewe a fave of lounge lovers all over. The album features some loungy/easy listening arrangements of other Crewe hits like "Let's Hang On," and "A Lover's Concerto." It also includes the song here, "Anna" which seems to borrow from all of the other tracks and has a simple but infectious bass line, and Tijuana Brass like horns, with groovy guitars throughout.

The Bob Crewe Generation -- Anna

October 1, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Mystic Eyes

If you like your garage rock tinged with folk rock and more jangly than growling then Mystic Eyes are for you. The New York band came together in the early 80s when lead singer Bernie Kugel had a song he wanted to submit to Voxx for their second Battle of the Garages comp. Don't know if they're named after the Van Morrison song, as it seems the name was bestowed on them by a friend. They were contemporaries of the Chesterfield Kings, and easily held their own alongside them, as well as among all of the best 80s garage revival acts. Late bands like The Funseekers always reminded me more of Mystic Eyes than those other bands.

Mystic Eyes did have a certain folk like vibe at times, but I always found them to be more bluesy with original rock-n-roll overtones. They had less of a punk ethos than some of the garage revival acts, and this softened them just enough to give them a more traditional sixties pop sound that went well with their love song lyrics. Songs like "Enough of What I Need" (the one from the BOG2 compilation), "I Lost My World" and the song here "My Time to Leave" were puncuated by swirling farfisa organ. The organ gave their songs an even more authentic sixties feel and added a nice psychadelic element. To get a good taste pick up the Our Time To Leave compilation from 1993.

Mystic Eyes -- My Time To Leave