So…. what do we have here?
A brand-skankin’-new album from The Beat? No, not Paul Collins and Co. – they are officially known as Paul Collins’ Beat. And no, not Dave Wakeling and Co. – we call them The English Beat over here. This album is actually by Wakeling’s former partner in crime Ranking Roger and his UK-based version of The Beat/English Beat. If you want to get technical about it, this album is by The Beat featuring Ranking Roger.
Are you thoroughly confused already? Sorry ‘bout that…
I honestly have no idea why Mental As Anything – the Australian Rock quintet – are not superstars. And if not superstars, they should at least be a huge cult band beloved by music fans around the world. Or, at the very least, adored by fans of classic Pop acts like Nick Lowe, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, etc. Now that the Mentals are just about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary in 2017, it’s about time that the world started paying a lot more attention to them. They are truly one of the finest bands to emerge from Down Under in the last… err… 40+ years! Their blend of rootsy Rock and melodic Pop places them firmly between Nick Lowe’s side of Rockpile and Squeeze circa ’79 to ’81. The Mentals’ quirky sense of humor also fits that same comparison. However, the band were/are their own ‘thing’ and comparing them to other artists is ultimately unfair. While their music is filled with liberal nods to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s past, they don’t sound like any other band, past or present. Sure, you can hear their influences but it is hard to pinpoint any particular artist that may have inspired them along the way. Mental As Anything are true originals. They evolved over the years, adding more elements into their sound but they have never deviated too far from the sound that put them on the Oz map.
Peggy Lee had been a successful jazz vocalist for 33 years before she went into the studio to cut LET’S LOVE for Atlantic Records in 1974. With a career dating back to 1941, Peggy was still a respected jazz vocalist even though her albums weren’t selling as well as they once had. When Capitol Records dropped her in 1972 after 15 years of continuous service (2-3 albums per year), some may have thought that Lee would have spent the rest of her career playing nightclubs and appearing on Jerry Lewis telethons, but luck was always on Peggy’s side. And this time, her lucky charm was the cute Beatle, Paul McCartney, who penned and produced the album’s title track. By this time, Peggy was in her mid-50s and her vocal performances were far more subdued and intimate, which lent themselves perfectly to this lovely, lilting melody. Sounding like something penned for the McCARTNEY or RAM album, the song is a haunting gem and definitely worth the price of the album alone. Thankfully, there are plenty of other great tracks to enjoy on LET’S LOVE. Melissa Manchester’s “He Is The One,” the Stylistics’ classic “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (penned by Thom Bell and Linda Creed), Irving Berlin’s “Always” and the Dave Grusin/Peggy Lee co-write “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” are other highlights. While the album might be classified as Jazz, there are definitely elements of Soul, Funk and Pop spread evenly over the tracks. Unlike many modern Jazz artists, Lee was open to taking chances and working outside the box during her career. In fact, her next album would consist of Leiber and Stoller covers! With musical assistance from Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Harvey Mason, Chuck Rainey and others, LET’S LOVE is a fine addition to Lee’s vast catalog and certainly of interest to McCartney/Beatles collectors!
NOTE: This Wounded Bird reissue reproduces the Rhino Handmade edition and includes four bonus tracks from the same sessions including an alternate version of the title track.
Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Milwaukee’s Plasticland – founded by Glenn Rehse and John Frankovic (who has since left the band) – have remained unjustly overlooked for years… yet they have also been absolutely adored by critics off and on since they first formed some 36 years ago. The band has managed to stay on the fringe of the Alternative Rock scene but have never been fully treated like the Psych-Rock/Garage icons that they are. And I’m sure this review isn’t going to inspire a mass pilgrimage to the record store but if it piques the interest of a few of you, then we’re getting somewhere! Even though they signed to the esteemed Enigma Records in 1984, Plasticland couldn’t be bothered to cater to the mainstream. Their blend of Acid, Garage and Psych Rock wasn’t merely a tribute to the sounds that they loved – it was obvious that this music was part of their DNA. The band was capable of writing catchy songs with a built-in atmosphere that sounded both retro and modern at the same time. Perhaps that is why their recordings remain timeless today. Plasticland are to Psyche what The Fleshtones are to Frat/Garage Rock and The Cramps are to sweaty, swampy, primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll. They could have sold out in their early days and become ‘the new R.E.M.’ like a host of their contemporaries. Thankfully, they chose to stick to their guns and remain Plasticland.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(WORLD):
As the leader of British outfit The Pack, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kirk Brandon’s unique musical vision was far too adventurous to be constrained by the limits of Punk Rock so he folded that band and moved forward with new ideas. By 1980, he had formed Theatre Of Hate, which included bassist Stan Stammers, saxophonist John Lennard, guitarist Steve Guthrie and drummer Luke Rendle. During their first two years of existence, the band released a few studio singles as well as a live album, HE WHO DARES WINS. By the time the band entered the studio to work on their debut full length, Guthrie had departed and Brandon took over all guitar duties. With The Clash’s Mick Jones in the producer’s chair, TOH began work on what would become a milestone in Post Punk history – WESTWORLD! With a mix of tribal rhythms, Spaghetti Western riffs, Post Punk guitar slashing and Brandon’s passionate wailing, Theatre Of Hate was a band unlike any other. While the band was known for their live performances, they took on a different form in the studio. Pre-dating his Big Audio Dynamite recordings, Mick Jones brought a lot of his experimental ideas to the sessions, which worked extremely well with Brandon’s vision. The end result is still being talked about today…
While TOH folded in 1983 – making way for Kirk’s next project, Spear Of Destiny – their musical legacy lives on. The band has reformed with various line-ups over the years and are now making waves again with both a new album (KINSHI) and a deluxe three CD edition of WESTWORLD. This excellent reissue on Cherry Red includes a remastered version of the album alongside non-album singles, Peel Sessions, alternate mixes and a live concert taped during the WESTWORLD tour. Still sounding fresh and invigorating, this expanded edition is the definitive version of an album that helped pioneer Post Punk in the UK.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee sent off a few questions to Kirk Brandon, who was gracious enough to take the time to respond…
Back in the ‘glory days’ of Rock music – the ‘60s through the ‘80s – listeners were assaulted on Top 40 radio by ‘protest’ and ‘political’ music wrapped up in a good melody. From Bob Dylan to The Clash – just to name two of many – artists were inserting thought-provoking messages into those catchy tunes that you hummed throughout the day. Politics has weaved its way into lyrics for decades but when those artists became mainstream, their messages were embraced and understood by some while others remained blissfully unaware. And while politics has remained a hot topic in music ever since, there is very little that makes it into the Top 40 these days. But do people listen to radio anymore? Think about it – radio, the greatest platform for messages from the heart, has become a desolate desert of manufactured, mindless nonsense. Then again, people do like to feel safe and comfortable, so you can’t fault them for that…
For 50 years, David Lindley has been one of the most respected – and commercially overlooked – musicians in Rock music. Sure, he made a name for himself with the completely original Psych outfit Kaleidoscope back in the ‘60s and he has been one of the most in-demand session musicians since the ‘70s (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Rod Stewart, Graham Nash, The Youngbloods, Bruce Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, etc.) yet he has never received his due as a solo artist. However, his output has been so eclectic over the years that some of us are still trying to catch up! Do yourself a favor and read up on his career on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the ‘net. For now, I’m going to focus on a few of his ‘80s solo releases…
Yes, the rumors are true: Meat Loaf’s voice is not what it used to be. Ravaged by health issues, age and time, the mighty bellower can bellow no more. On BRAVER THAN WE ARE, his distinctive and powerful voice is now a raspy rumble – more ‘Steve Forbert impersonating Leonard Cohen’ than the Meat Loaf of old. Many people are likely going to ask why Mr. Loaf decided to make this album in the first place. The answer, my friends, is passion and determination – you can’t keep an old Meat Loaf down. Remember, this is an artist that sold millions of copies of BAT OUT OF HELL (1977) a year or two after almost every label turned the project down. And then he did it again in 1993 with BAT OUT OF HELL II, an album that defied all the odds and became a huge success in the midst of the abysmal grunge invasion. In short, Meat Loaf doesn’t necessarily play it safe – he does what he does and we definitely pay attention.
The Turtles scored a handful of hits in the ‘60s – songs that are still played on oldies stations nearly fifty years later – yet they seldom receive the credit they deserve. As I prepared to write this review, I just could not figure out why they aren’t held in higher esteem by the public at large. Sure, us music guys love them to death but why do they get overlooked when people talk about the great bands from the ‘60s? I mean, come on, folks! “Happy Together” is an absolute classic and now that you’ve read that two word song title, that song’s chorus is bouncing around inside your head, isn’t it? If not, you need to stop what you’re doing and allow that song to careen down your cranial caverns and make you feel good all over before you continue reading…
To be fair, The Turtles do get some recognition but just not as much as they deserve. There seems to be two different tiers when people think about the most influential ‘60s Rock bands – the first is the Beatles/Beach Boys/Rolling Stones/Kinks/Who tier while the second tier consists of ‘everybody else’. And as you know, that second tier is definitely crowded: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and many others are up on top of that level, enjoying constant reappraisal and critical attention. However, buried amongst those fighting for a chance to breathe are The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, Dave Clark Five, The Four Seasons and especially The Turtles.
Gather ‘round, my friends and let me introduce you to the absolute best cure for your blues: sugar. Well, “Sugar Sugar” to be more precise.
Yes, one spin of The Archies’ mega-hit “Sugar Sugar” can wipe away any negative vibe that is inhabiting your universe. Even if you aren’t a fan of ‘60s Bubblegum, you’ve probably heard this gloriously happy tune many times since it was released in 1969. Figuratively (and perhaps literally) the missing link between The Monkees and The Partridge Family, this slice of Pop love has been played millions of times all around the world, used in advertising and has been both praised and ridiculed by music fans everywhere. The fact that you still remember it today – regardless of your personal feelings – is testament to the power that “Sugar Sugar” has had on the listener.