That’s All For Everyone

December 21, 2012

endworldThere’s been a lot of calamity here on Planet Earth of late. Channel surfing is an exercise in slaloming through the carnage of twenty-four hour news networks.

I stopped on The Learning Channel to, you know, learn something other than how soon we’ll all be jobless, money will be worth nothing and everyone will be using jellybeans for currency.

Instead, I got talking heads and CGI graphics obviously designed to frighten the women and children about the Mayan calendar and this day.

Apparently today is when the Mayans return from the dead to snack on people like it’s The Walking Dead.

(OK, that’s not really what these experts were prognosticating, but, ten minutes into the show, I lost interest and started thinking about toast)

Summoning all my strength, I was ready to engage the remote for something less dire that I could ignore. Unfortunately, I was a split second too slow and I was soon sucked into a commercial for Coca-Cola.

Essentially, the clip acknowledged the trouble times with the assurance that, as long as there was Coke, everything would be fine.

So, it appears that all shall be well. And to think, the Mayans might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling cola barons.

Here are four songs that we’ll have to save for later…

Chris Cornell – Preaching The End Of The World
from Euphoria Morning (1999)

Soundgarden was a mixed bag for me. Some of it was simply too sludgy. Chris Cornell’s vocals invariably made things worth the price of admission, though.

Following the dissolution of Soundgarden, but prior to his fronting the remainder of Rage Against The Machine under the moniker Audioslave (and the subsequent reunion of the former), Cornell issued several solo albums leading off with the fine Euphoria Morning.

The sparse Preaching The End Of The World is suitably somber and driven home by Cornell’s powerful pipes.

Nina Gordon – The End Of The World
from Tonight And The Rest Of My Life (2000)

Chicago’s Veruca Salt became alternate rock darlings in the mid-’90s with their cleverly-named debut American Thighs before imploding three years later with the follow-up. The band soldiered on, but Gordon exited.

Her solo debut had a more mature and more mainstream vibe to it. I haven’t listened to it in years, but I seem to recall finding most of it ridiculously catchy.

Gordon’s update of Skeeter Davis’ ’60s weeper makes me think that The Bangles would have had a massive hit with the song during their heyday.

U2 – Until The End Of The World
from Achtung Baby (1991)

I first heard U2 with 1983’s Warand bought Live Under A Blood Red Sky on cassette when it was released that autumn. I’ve remained devoted to the band for three decades and they’re one of the few for whom I own the entire catalog.

(even Pop which might have strained the relationship most)

I talked the buyer in the large record store where I worked into selling me a copy of Achtung Baby three or four days before the street date. By the third listen through, I was certain that U2 had made the best record they ever would.

And Achtung Baby‘s finest moment is arguably Until The End Of The World with Bono wailing about Jesus and Judas while Edge plays a droning solo that would serve quite well for an apocalypse. On the album, the song followed One which made for quite a punch.

R.E.M.- It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
from Document (1987)

Of course.

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At This Time Of The Night…*

October 21, 2012

Maybe it’s the quiet and the rustling of the leaves outside the open windows of our treehouse living room.

(the temperature is surprisingly mild)

Maybe it’s having spent some time checking out blogs counting down to Halloween.

But it’s just past midnight on a Saturday night and the hour is perfect for the glow eminating from the television screen to be from some old horror movie or sci-fi flick.

On such a night – and at such a time in the night – thirty-years or so ago, the channel would be turned to Sammy Terry. Sammy was a ghoul who hosted such movies on an independent television station from Indianapolis.

The movies were rarely great works of cinema, but Sammy was there to empathize, make banter with a rubber spider named George, and crack bad jokes during commercial breaks for Don’s Guns and a used car dealer who would admit that “Old Dave needs the cash.”

Now and then, though, there would be a movie that was genuinely eerie.

(of course, I was a kid, so I recall finding portions of movies like The Deathmaster – some hippie/vampire/biker flick from the early ’70s – to be creepy)

Sammy has been retired since the late ’80s and, though I now have twenty times the viewing options, surfing through those options yields nothing.

There’s no Japanese man-in-a-suit movie or giant, radioactive ants rampaging through the desert to be found.

Apparently it’s too much to ask that one of the stations available be airing an old classic in glorious black and white like a Boris Karloff movie from the ’30s or something starring Vincent Price from the ’60s.

I’d dig finding a ’70s drive-in flick like The Legend Of Boggy Creek or The Boy Who Cried Werewolf or, perhaps, something from Chuck Heston’s oeuvre from that period – The Omega Man, Soylent Green – but no such luck.

Syfy Channel is airing some movie about bird flu that meets that station’s usual standards of excellence.

(the maddening thing about the bad movies that Syfy airs is that they aren’t even entertainingly bad)

It’s ten days before Halloween, but the late-night landscape is littered with little more than infomercials, some reality shows, and reruns of Roseanne and The Nanny.

(all frightening in their own ways, but…)

Sure, there’s DVDs, Netflix, and a number of other options for a fright fix, but there’s something about stumbling upon an old horror movie on television, late at night, that, I suppose, harkens back to childhood.

Here are four songs that will have to substitute for a midnight feature…

The Judybats – Witches’ Night
from Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow (1992)

The Judybats came together as students at the University of Tennessee and released a handful of albums in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but I don’t believe that I ever heard them on radio or even happened across a video on MTV.

I did get a couple of their albums as promos and hearing them again after so many years makes me curious to go back and relisten to them.

Witches’ Night, about a Halloween party, is engaging, jangly, folk-tinged alternative pop that certainly would have fit well on college radio in 1990.

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon
from The Ozzman Cometh (1997)

At the risk of being accused of blasphemy – possibly by Paloma – I’ve never thought much of Black Sabbath. Sure, they might have been influential, but, aside from a handful of songs, their appeal has been lost on me.

And, even twenty-five years ago, I found Ozzy’s Prince of Darkness schtick to be laughable. Would the Prince of Darkness have a paunch?

Seriously?

But I do dig some of Ozzy’s catalog and Bark At The Moon is good fun.

Mazzy Star – Ghost Highway
from She Hangs Brightly (1990)

Mazzy Star rose from the ashes of the band Opal and consisted of the duo of singer Hope Sandoval and guitarist David Roback (who, in the ’80s, had been a member of paisley-tinged rockers The Rain Parade). She Hangs Brightly was the twosome’s debut effort, arriving in 1990.

With Sandoval’s aloof vocals and a sound that was atmospheric and dreamy, Mazzy Star’s artistic slant on psychedelic rock earned comparison to acts like The Velvet Underground and The Doors. The group would navigate a record label bankruptcy to notch a hit with the wispy Fade Into You three years later.

R.E.M. – I Walked With A Zombie
from Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute To Roky Erickson (1990)

It was Paloma who turned me on to the eccentric brilliance of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators with their album Easter Everywhere.

That was four or five years after acts ranging from ZZ Top and T-Bone Burnett to The Butthole Surfers and Bongwater paid tribute to the legendary Austin cult musician, covering his songs on 1990’s Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye.

(The Judybats had actually made their debut on the compilation)


R.E.M.

September 28, 2011

R.E.M. announced their end last week and it’s taken me until now to ponder that news. That alone is evidence of how much I’d lost touch of a band that, for a good half decade or so, was a fixture in my world.

Now that I do reflect on the career of the Athens, Georgia quartet, I realize that R.E.M. was arguably the ultimate college rock act for me and, like a lot of people from that period of higher education, we simply went in separate directions, unable to maintain a once seemingly unbreakable connection.

I’m unable to place exactly when I was introduced to Michael Stipe and company.

I discovered the modern rock of 97X during the autumn of 1983, six months or so following the release of R.E.M.’s debut Murmur. The station was undoubtedly playing Radio Free Europe and Talk About The Passion and I’m sure that, on those evenings when I could get reception, I heard the songs, but to little effect on me.

I do know that by the following spring, when Reckoning was issued, my buddy Bosco sing the band’s praises and I was reading about the band in Rolling Stone.

Still, R.E.M. and I existed in blissful ignorance of one another.

By the summer of 1985, I had begun to hear R.E.M. on the radio as one of the rock stations I was listening to gave some airplay to Driver 8 and Cant Get There From Here from Fables Of The Reconstruction.

Neither song really resonated with me and neither did the critical adulation. However, it didn’t go unnoticed that my girlfriend’s older brother, home from college for the summer, was enthusuiastic about R.E.M.

A summer later, Lifes Rich Pageant was issued and as I headed to college that fall, R.E.M. had finally connected with me through the songs Fall On Me and Superman, the latter a cover of a song by ’60s band The Clique.

I was hearing the songs in the dorm and at parties, seeing the videos on MTV, and reading about them in each and every music magazine I’d pick up.

Oddly enough, though I was now in college, I didn’t have access to a modern rock station as I had in high school, so my growing interest in R.E.M. wasn’t being nurtured by radio even though the group was a cornerstone of the burgeoning college radio boom of the ’80s.

R.E.M. was definitely a part of my world for the next four years and change as the group broke through to the mainstream with hits like The One I Love and Stand but remained eccentric and enigmatic enough to be cool to me and my college peers.

I went back and purchased much of the band’s catalog.

We all but played the life out of those albums in the record store where I worked. When I worked a shift with my friend Jess, it became Pavlovian for us to catch each other’s eyes when Stipe reached “Leonid Brezhnev” in It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

We might be on opposite ends of the store, but that lyric never failed to crack us up.

The classic Out Of Time reached the store in 1991. I can still, vividly, picture the rainy spring day that I took home the CD, sprawled out on the couch of my last college apartment, and listened to it for the first time.

By summer, Losing My Religion had helped Out Of Time become the R.E.M.’s biggest-selling album and I, having graduated the previous December, had relocated, the cassette probably in the Walkman.

Automatic For The People was a deservedly feted album and a cassette dubbed from the CD spent a lot of time in my Walkman as I trudged to work in late 1992, but it was clear that the relationship had changed in some undefinable way.

It was like the friendships with college friends that were reducing to phone conversations which were less frequent, more brief, and increasingly disconnected.

I hung with R.E.M. through Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi, but, when Up arrived in 1998, I was living in London with little money and I didn’t even bother.

I’m not sure what I’ve missed in the past decade from R.E.M. Reviews I’ve read lead me to believe that the years that the band has soldiered on without drummer Bill Berry and me have been a mixed bag.

R.E.M. and I weren’t destined to grow old together. Like most of my college friends, it was meant to be a brief relationship, providing more than a few songs to the soundtrack of that time.

I can’t say I’ve listened to much R.E.M. in quite some time aside from a track popping up on shuffle. I was a bit surprised to find that I had near two hundred songs from the band.

It might be time for a reunion.

Here are a half-dozen that caught my eye…

R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe
from Murmur (1983)

I had to have heard Radio Free Europe on 97X, but I can’t recall. If I try to imagine what I would have thought of the song as a fifteen-year old kid, I’m picture myself shrugging, puzzled.

Of course, Michael Stipe’s vocals and/or lyrics were oft noted as being indecipherable and inscrutible. Radio Free Europe is an excellent example, but the song bristles with garage rock energy and I find myself singing the words that I do know.

R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)
from Reckoning (1984)

The jangly, mysterious So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry) has long been a must on any R.E.M. compilation and I’ve always loved the lyric “Go build yourself another dream, this choice isn’t mine.”

R.E.M. – Superman
from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

R.E.M. performed a lot of covers during their career – everyone from Leonard Cohen to Cyndi Lauper – but it was their take on a song by a far more obscure band from Texas called The Clique that provided the band with one of its best-known early songs.

Bass player Mike Mills took the lead vocals on Superman, and though the lyrics were as moody as their originals, the music was ridiculously upbeat and catchy.

R.E.M. – Orange Crush
from Green (1988)

Orange Crush was about Vietnam, the title a reference to Agent Orange. The political overtones of the song allowed a lot of us at the time to feel politically active by listening to the groovy, rocking song which featured some cool, jagged, chiming guitars courtesy of Peter Buck.

It was a win/win.

R.E.M. – Belong
from Out Of Time (1991)

Probably my favorite of all R.E.M. songs, Belong was the song that caused me to hit repeat the first time I listened to Out Of Time. The song drew me in.

It’s a dreamy, spoken-word fable with thumping bass, ringing guitar and soaring, wordless harmonies.

R.E.M. – Fretless
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack (1991)

Fretless was included on the soundtrack to the little-seen Until The End Of The World, a fascinating and flawed, futuristic road trip of a movie from the director of the classic Wings Of Desire.

A stellar array of alternative acts contributed songs specifically written for the film, resulting in one of my favorite soundtracks. For their part, R.E.M. bestowed the lovely, downbeat Fretless .