Monday, March 29, 2010

The Weirdos: Condor

When I moved to the Pacific North-West in the spring of 1991, Grunge may have been ascendant but the alternative sound du jour was still funk-punk (a.k.a. funk-metal). Licentious California funk-punk related bands like the Red Hot Chill Peppers, Fishbone, Jane's Addiction, Faith No More and Primus ruled the day. While each of those bands had their virtues and sins, the worst aspect of this micro-genre was the wave of pseudo-funk it unleashed upon the world. Slap-bass became ubiquitous, token funk tracks invaded set-lists and white kids tried, and oh how they tried, to rap. Infectious Grooves, Bootsauce, Mind Funk, Mary's Danish, Psychefunkapus: the gruesome parade was so wretchedly phony that it makes you question if Stone Temple Pilots really represented the nadir of nineties derivation.

It was upon this funk-addled world that The Weirdos staged their most ambitious comeback attempt. Between 1990 and 1991 the Weirdos released their first two full lengths, both of which I bought on L.P. in the summer of 1991. While 1991's Weird World collected up SOME of their old singles and demos, 1990's Condor was in fact, thirteen years into their career, their debut album!

Weird World's flaw was its omission of "Destroy All Music" while Condor's was giving sock-dick'ed funky bass-man Flea a slot in the band. Flea does have accomplishments to his name (many would dispute me) but Cliff Roman was the Weirdos key song-writer and he should not have been side-lined. No matter what, side one of Condor is packed with warp-speed weirdness (much of it co-written with Roman) like "Shining Silver Light", "WWYD", "Tropical Depression", "Terrain" and the positively psychotic, "Cyclops Helicopter". The problematic side two, where the funk bleeds in on such songs as "Night After Day" and "Her" suggests The Weirdos metier was the short form.

(P.S. I've added the rawer Condor Demos becasue they contain "Nowhere To Run" which should've made the album.)

MRML Readers: Was funk-punk/funk-metal really all that bad?
Is Condor a good/bad/mixed album?
Leave us a comment!

Condor (and Condor Demos) links are in the comments.

Support the Band:
Frontier Records

For more out-of-print Weirdos (and further L.A. madness) go visit the estimable Mr. Roky Manson.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Weirdos: It Means Nothing b/w We Got the Neutron Bomb

This pair of demos includes the biting rarity, "It Means Nothing" and the first version of a track that defined American punk of the Left Coast variety, "We Got the Neutron Bomb".

MRML Readers: Is "We've Got the Neutron Bomb" THE definitive American punk rock song? Leave us a comment!

It Means Nothing link is in the comments

Support the Band:
Frontier Records

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fresh Pot for Dave Grohl

(via The Daily Dish)

Second Grohl video here at MRML this year, no explanation would really suffice...

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Weirdos: Ranting in a Rubber Room

This bootleg 2 X 7" refers to these tracks as "rehearsals", though elsewhere they're referred to as "demos". Either way, and in light of the scarcity of prime Weirdos recordings, this is valuable, raw material, absolutely laced with a ferocious intensity.

MRML Readers: Ya want more Weirdos? Leave us a comment!

Ranting in a Rubber Room link is in the comments

Support the Band:
Frontier Records

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Weirdos: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

More psychedelic-rockabilly-punk from this 1979 Weirdos e.p. on Bomp Records. While a few of these songs are spread over the two voumes of Weird World, the only way to get this currently is on a CD version of the band's first single, "Destroy All Music".

MRML Readers: Ya want more Weirdos? Leave us a comment

Who? What? Where? When? Why? link is in the comments

Support the Band
Frontier Records
Amazon Records

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Weirdos: Action-Design

""I am KAKAFONOUS A. DISCHORD, DOCTOR OF DISSONANCE," roared the little man and, as he spoke, several small explosions and a grinding crash were heard
"What does the 'A' stand for?"
"As loud as possible, " bellowed the doctor."

Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
"We're not punks, we're weirdos from Hollywood!".
John Denney, The Weirdos

The Weirdos utilized extremes of volume, tempo, noise, aggression but always made it look and sound like a joy, a fiendish joy possibly, but a real joy nonetheless. And The Weirdos really got the prime directive of the Britain's punk revolution; tear down the edifice of rock n' roll and then seize the bricks of the old order to build again. Just listen to the wreckage of old and new herein: Bo Diddley's beats, Love's guitar freak-outs, Iggy Pop's lower register, The Ramones ' relentlessness, The Sex Pistol's sneer and just a bit of Devo's art school quirks. It's a magnificent structure.

The Weirdos were one of the best and the most original American punk bands but their discography is a mess. Part of the problem is that in the seventies West Coast punk bands got no major label support and so stellar bands like The Avengers, The Pointed Sticks and The Dils, recorded singles and e.p.'s for tiny labels on minuscule budgets. Compounding the problem is that two of their available compilations, Weird World (volume one and two were released TWELVE years apart), are totally non-chronological and utterly incomplete. As an example, the other three songs from the Action-Design e.p. are not on either release. So MRML is here to rectify this problem and present you with this 1980 12" e.p. of psychedelic-rockabilly-punk. Enjoy the Weirdness.

MRML Readers: Ya want more Weirdos? Leave us a comment

Action-Design link is in the comments

Support the Band
Frontier Records
Amazon Records

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Furys: Moving Target

(all images courtesy of the beloved MODPOPPUNK ARCHIVES)

Another fine single, their third, from this L.A. power-punk group (more here) circa 1979.

Moving Target link is in the comments.

Update - check out The Furys Facebook page!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Furys: Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep

(all images courtesy of the beloved MODPOPPUNK ARCHIVES)

The Furys were an L.A. band from the seventies who straddled the line between that town's punk and power-pop scenes, like a compromising position between The Weirdos and The Knack. (If you want to hear the truth about how they pissed all over The Knack, you need to go read this blog entry). The band released three singles and a 12" e.p. before splintering, and leaving behind the chant-along classic "Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep", which made it onto Rhino's D.I.,Y. series on the We're Desperate volume (see here).

Say Goodbye to the Black Sheep link is in the comments

Update - check out The Furys Facebook page!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Channel 3: To Whom It May Concern

Why would anyone wanna listen to an L.P. of a thirty year-old demo tape from a band who never exactly changed the world?

The band in question is Cerritos, California’s Channel 3, (Mike Magrann vocals/guitar, Kimm Gardner guitar/vocals, Larry Kelly bass, Mike Burton Drums) and the record is To Whom It May Concern. Channel 3 played hardcore, which in the eighties meant only two things, either explicit pornography or the American brand of faster, louder, angrier punk rock.

In films about artists, whether it’s Jackson Pollock or Johnny Cash, there’s always that squirm-inducing scene where the exact artistic transgression that will change culture forever is explained to the audience in a massive infodump. So in their hypothetical bio-pic, let’s call it Fear of Life: The Ch. 3 Story, the expository scene, starring Kevin Spacey as David Geffen and Ryan Reynolds as Mike Magrann (damn front man always hogs the screen time) might play out like this:

David Geffen: (leans back on leather chair) You can’t play that fast, kid, someone’s gonna get hurt.

Mike Magann: (slouches against a wall lined with gold and platinum records) That’s the point, man.

David Geffen: (Leans forward, his finger pressed together) And these lyrics, they’re too socially conscious, you’re tackling taboos about American prison camps and changing sexual mores – that’s not going to sell to middle America.

Mike Magann: (Flips the bird) Screw you, David Geffen. And middle America! We’re gonna join an independent label and make raw, wild records, reminiscent of the untrammelled musical freedom of the earliest days of rock n’ roll. We’re gonna strip the music down to it’s most basic components and then play it so fast that people’ll have to read the lyric sheet just to figure what hit ‘em! (Exits, slams door to the opening riff of “You Lie”.)

So this unearthed demo provides the rush of discovery of without all that painful exposition and bad casting. Now you can hear for yourself the songs, ragers like “Manzanar” and poppier ones like “Life Goes On”, that floored producer Robbie Fields, the (non-murderous) Phil Spector of hardcore. You’ll hear Magrann and Gardner ‘s clearly articulated guitar fury and their vocal interplay powering songs which never lack for riffs, hooks or dynamics but which instead manage to do all of that in under 120 seconds.

In Nick Hornsby’s novel, Juliet, Naked, a couple break up due to their opposite reaction to a collection of demos the fictional singer-song-writer Tucker Crowe made for a famously tortured album. Since Channel 3 never traded in the kind of self-dramatizing narcissism common to musical legends from Dylan to Rollins to Morrissey, this collection isn’t likely to destroy any relationships. Instead, as the movie they DID make about the band, the documentary titled One More For All My True Friends, points out Channel 3 were more like a Band of Brothers (Magrann and Gardner having been friends since the second grade) who remain as they began, “Normal guys who got lucky and got to say what a lot of people had on their minds”.

Channel Three didn’t change the world but that might be the world’s loss.

**** out *****

Album available through:Interpunk
TKO Records

Channel 3 downloads on MRML
Channel 3's web-site
Channel 3's MySpace

Mike Magrann's blog

Friday, March 19, 2010

V.A. Faster, Louder: Hardcore Punk Vol. 2

The oddest thing is, these out-of-print Faster, Louder compilations represent, alongside the OST to American Hardcore, some of the few later attempts to make available the brutal range of music of the North American underground of the eighties to the rest of the world. There's no box-set like No Thanks or Nuggets ( the bootleg L.P.'s Killed By Hardcore are another matter) that try to document the era. Maybe it's good that after all these years later, hardcore is still considered grotty, still eyed suspiciously, still disrespected, still not fodder for car commercials.

While the omissions are brutal - no Minor Threat (though they've thrown in Wire's "12XU" to stand in for all the Dischord bands), no Big Boys, no Toxic Reasons, No Seven Seconds, no D.R.I. and no Articles of Faith (rectified by their prominence in American Hardcore) - this is still a one loudshortfasthard message from the underworld. There's no real weak spots and you get to hear Husker Du at their best in "In a Free Land", The Zero Boys sneering at full bore in "Civilization's Dying", Agent Orange's perfect "Bloodstains" and Channel 3's "Fear of Life" which now sounds more like it's just a good rock n' roll song, double-timed.

Faster, Louder: Hardcore Punk Vol. 2 link is in the comments36

Thursday, March 18, 2010

V.A. Faster, Louder: Hardcore Punk Vol. 1

It's become a touch quaint to rehash how punk or hardcore changed one's life. The whole narrative that begins with one borrowed record or one accidental gig and ends with some Damascus-like vision has passed into the realm of the old war story. Bookstore shelves strain under by tomes like Clinton Heylin's Babylon's Burning or Steve Blush's American Hardcore that re-tell such punk rock epiphanies ad nauseum.

So what if the course of your life was altered by punk? What then? Do you wave those old stories around like a flag, in an attempt to make real that sound and fury to those unaware?

You're damn right you do.

You do so, even at the risk of sounding as ridiculous as Steve Martin does in the movie The Jerk, relating his first experience with music that he understands:
Navin's {Steve Martin} bedroom, at night]
(Navin can't sleep, he's listening to the radio.)
Announcer ... and that concludes this Sunday night gospel hour. Live from the Four Square Gospel Church of the Divine Salvation in St. Louis, Missouri. The Reverend Willard Wilton, pastor. And now music throughout the night, music in a mellow mood.
({Light pop} music is playing on the radio. Navin turns on his light, his toes are tapping to beat. His fingers begin to snap, first the left, then right. He gets up out of bed, slips his slippers on; all the while dancing and moving to the rhythm. He leaves the room.)

[Grandma's room]
Navin Grandma! Grandma! Look! Look at the radio! Turn it up! Turn it up! It's unbelievable! I've never heard music like this before! It speaks to me! Taj, Dad, this is unbelievable! Now watch, watch! Well if this is out there just think how much more is out there! This is the kind of music that tells me to go out there and be somebody!

A good story about music is always worth telling. I had a neigbour a few years back, a student at the local college. He stopped to introduce himself one day and told me his name was Salif. I mentioned I knew that name because it was that of a famous African singer, Salif Kieta. Well Salif lit right up and said "He is from my country, Salif Keita". He proceeded to tell me all about the man and his music and the nation of Mali. The response was fascinating, the way Ken Burns explaining Jazz so thoroughly can be, because sometimes the narrative is as compelling as the music.

That's not the preamble, that's the bulk of today's context - a justification of what we do. Today's offering is the unofficial follow-up to D.I.Y., the two-volume Faster, Louder: Hardcore Punk.

It's strange that since geography and chronology were defining traits of hardcore, that this compilation features a seemingly random selection of great songs from San Francisco, Michigan, D.C., Minneapolis, Austin, Boston, L.A. and...Vancouver recorded between 1979-1983. (And while I won't begrudge Suicidal Tendencies their place here, should they really be track four on Volume One?) Many of you probably once made or owned a tape this good (a friend of mine recently reviewed the contents of one of my old, old works, a TDK SA-90 embarrassingly titled Hardcore Hank's Happy Trail Tunes). Sure, our mix-tapes never got distributed by Warner Brothers or had the narrative tucked right into the case but they did for punk rock what black rats did for the Bubonic Plague. Ah there I go again, telling old war stories...

V.A. Faster, Louder: Hardcore Punk Vol. 1 link is in the comments

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

V.A. - Bloodstains Across Northern Ireland Vol. 2

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Bloodstains Across Northern Ireland Vol. 2 is, if anything, more poppy (though still a a bit cardboard-sounding) than Vol. 1. This L.P. feature return visits from Protex, Rudi and Victim and a tidal-wave of la-la's and the like from bands such as The Detonators, P45, The Peasants, The Tearjerkers, The Zipps, The Tinopeners and Shock Treatment:

Bloodstains Across Northern Ireland Vol. 2 link in the comments

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

V.A. - Bloodstains Across Northern Ireland Vol. 1

Happy (forthcoming) St. Patrick's Day!

If you thought all those volumes of D.I.Y sounded too well-landscaped, then let's turn over the punk rock roundabout 1979 and see what crawled around where the sun hardly shone. Often these Bloodstains Across ____________ (pick any country from the Western hemisphere) are dedicated to your more scabby, shouty punk rock but since Ireland took to the more pop/glam side of things, you're gonna a whole lot more hooks per rpm here then elsewhere in the series. So while some raw-as-shit punk can also be found herein, pop runs amok with The Moondogs, Midnite Cruisers, Protex, The Xdreamysts and Rudi.

Bloodstains Across Northern Ireland link is in the comments.

Monday, March 15, 2010

D.I.Y. - Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-1979)

We''ll end the never clearly-ordered D.I.Y. series with Starry Eyes: UK Pop II. Calling it "more of the same" would be ridiculous, like dismissing oxygen or orgasms as old hat. It's hit-after-glorious-hit and it just happens to include THE GREATEST POWER-POP SONG EVER! (Wait for it...)

We've gone over-board on the videos once again to illustrate the difference in the push UK power-pop bands got (most of these bands played to millions on Top of the Pops) - imagine finding this much professional video footage of so many seventies American power-pop bands.

The Buzzcocks

The Undertones

Joe Jackson



The Jags

The Records

The Purple Hearts

The Searchers

For maximizing hummability and rockingness within the confines of 3:23, I now declare The Jags "Back of My Hand" THE GREATEST POWER-POP SONG ever. Leave us a comment with your own nominee, I know mine changes regularly.

Starry Eyes: UK Pop II link is in the comments

Sunday, March 14, 2010

D.I.Y. - Teenage Kicks: UK Pop I (1976-1979)

The two volumes of UK Pop are, in my estimation, the D.I.Y. series' apex. With such a rich vein of music to mine, this volume doesn't comes up short, even with its errors of omission (The Chords, Elvis Costello, The Flys) and its errors of commission (two of the first three songs are Nick Lowe - I'm a devout Nick fan but that's an awkward start to a various artists compilation). Whatever my nit-picks, it plays amazingly well. How could it not with all of this:

Eddie and the Hot Rods

The Motors

Tom Robinson Band



The Boys

The Rezillos

Rich Kids

The Yachts

The Pleasers

The Skids

Another fixed Teenage Kicks link is in the comments.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jason & the Scorchers: Halcyon Times

Cow-punk, roots-rock, y'alternative, alt country, whatever damn term you use for music that hurts like country and hits like rock n' roll, you're gonna come back to Nashville's Jason and the Scorchers. Since 1981, through break-ups and make-ups, they've never sold their Reckless Country Soul. And their new album, Halcyon Times, their first since 1996's Clear Impetuous Morning, is a barn-burner. For health and martial reasons respectively, the band has lost original rhythm section of Jeff Johnson and Perry Baggs but they carry on their unwavering devotion to Hank Williams, The Rolling Stones and The Ramones. So now it's up to Jason Ringenberg and Warner Hodges (alongside cohorts like The Georgia Satellite's Dan Baird and The Wildhearts' Ginger) to bring the country-noise, which they sure as hell do. Halcyon Days offers up metallic rockers like "It Don't Get Better Than This", fuzzed-up rockabilly like "Monshine Guy" and workin' man blues like "Beat on the Moutain" and I'm not even done talking up this album yet...





Friday, March 12, 2010

D.I.Y. - We're Desperate: The L.A. Scene (1976-1979)

We're Desperate divides much of it's playing time between radio-ready L.A. power-pop like the Motels, The Pop, The Quick and The Zippers, and punishing punk rock like The Dils, The Weirdos, The Germs.

While a strong entry to the series, especially when it adds crucial bands like The Plugz (who who would briefly, gloriously back-up Bob Dylan), The Zeros, X, and The Dickies it does feels a bit diffused, as if we're jerking into the early hardcore era (which Rhino would do with Faster, Louder) documented in Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization.

MRML Readers: What's best about the L.A. scene the power-pop or the punk bands? Leave us a comment!

D.I.Y. - We're Desperate: The L.A. Scene link is in the comments

No Thanks: The Seventies
Punk Rebellion available at Amazon

Thursday, March 11, 2010

D.I.Y. - Shake It Up: American Power-Pop (1978-1980)

The second D.I.Y. to cover American power-pop, Shake It Up has less of the flouncey, cutesiness that crept in around the edges of the prior volume and includes a slew of gutsy power-pop bands like The Beat, Holly & the Italians, The Romantics, Chris Stamey & the DB's and The Plimsouls as well as wussier-but-still-great ones like Shoes, 20/20, The Rubinioos and and unfortunately The Now - basically The Knack but shittier - and their tepid tune, "I Like Girls".

MRML Readers: Did American power-pop get better of worse as the seventies wore on? Leave us a comment!

Shake It Up: American Power-Pop link in comments

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

D.I.Y. - Come Out and Play: American Power-Pop (1975-1978)

I’ve always advocated for the choppier British take on power-pop over the softer American version of the style. Despite my prejudices, on Come out and Play Rhino once again demonstrated their ace compiling skills. Here they cherry-pick the more muscular bands (Real Kids,he Nerves, The Flamin' Groovies, Cheap Trick), add some great tunes from other-wise okay bands (Pezband, Earthquake) and steal The Diodes delicious "Tired of Waking Up Tired" from Canada. (I still think British punters of the late seventies would’ve driven Fotomaker and their pleasant a.m. pop-stylings over the white cliffs of Dover.)

MRML Readers (hello?): UK or US? Whose power-pop is the best? Leave us a fuckin' comment with your choice!

Come Out and Play link is in the comments section

P.S. Oh and for those of you partisan about such things, it should be noted that "I Am the Cosmos" is a glorious, yearning slice of teenage melodrama.

P.P.S. Thanks to Longy from Punk Friction and Marky Dread from King Rocker Rocks On for making me decide not to quit posting the DIY series.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

D.I.Y. - The Modern World: UK Punk II (1976-1977)

The next volume of D.I.Y. is titled The Modern World UK Punk II and, unwieldy title aside, it’s another hit-riddled journey to punk’s dark heart. Band-wise, there is some overlap here, as X-Ray Spex, Wire, The Buzzcocks, The Jam and Generation X re-appear from the previous volume (still no Clash!) They join MRML favourites like Stiff Little Fingers, The Rezillos and 999. Once again there’s no weak tracks, though this volume is less loudfast than before, with Magazine, The Fall, Siouxsie and the Banshees,Subway Sect and The Soft Boys all promising the idea of a more experimental, so called post-punk, sound to come.

{So MRML readers leave us a comment, with your take on the highs and lows of the DIY series.}

D.I.Y. - The Modern World: UK Punk II

Monday, March 8, 2010

D.I.Y. Anarchy in the U.K. - UK Punk I

The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Stranglers, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Adverts - hell - it's tempting to call the long out-of-print Anarchy in the UK a flawless introduction to the key punk bands of '76/'77!

Flawless, except for that one cataclysmic omission, stiffly noted inside; "Due to licensing restrictions recording by The Clash were unavailable for inclusion in this collection." A bit of black mark for Rhino which was once the master at getting around inter-label conflicts. If you can forgive that loss, it's a thrilling listen even if many of you reading this already own most of these albums. And if you don't own most of these albums, maybe it's time to go out there and support some bands! While this set is long out-of-print, a replacement, of sorts, in Rhino's No Thank box-set, which has a comparable track listing only this time they couldn't get the right to The Sex Pistols material - !

D.I.Y. Anarchy in the U.K. - UK Punk I

No Thanks: The Seventies
Punk Rebellion available at Amazon

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Johnny Cash American VI: Ain't No Grave

The "new" Johnny Cash album, made up of sessions he recorded with producer Rick Rubin in the months leading up to his death 2003, is a thirty-two minute communion with the dead. These songs from the great beyond bring good and ill tidings. While nothing here ascends to the heights of the stomping "God's Gonna Cut You Down" from his last posthumous album, neither is there anything as painfully unnecessary as that album's cover of Rod McKuen's "Love's Been Good To Me". Like that last album, many of these songs, both in their performance and in our hearing of them, gain a poignancy by their proximity to death. The sepulchral "Aint No Grave" is the one of the latter-day Cash's finest moments and even the shop-worn "For The Good Times" gains an some urgency in this reading. The collection is a fine addition to The Man in Black's enormous catalog but knowing the wealth of material recorded before his death, listeners can be assured that the Rubin has by no means emptied the vault of Cash

MRML's 23 risky covers by Johnny Cash, is just over yonder.

Support Johnny Cash's legacy!

Cash @ Amazon

Cash @ iTunes

Cash @ MySpace

Cash's Hompage

Friday, March 5, 2010

Twenty-Three Risky Covers by Johnny Cash

(If you want to hear Rollins' story about this shot - go here)

“I tell people if they are interested that they should listen to Johnny on his Sun records and reject all that notorious low-grade stuff he did in his later years. It can’t hold a candlelight to the frightening depth of the man that you hear on his early records. That’s the only way he should be remembered.”
Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone 2009

There's a slow-building Johnny Cash backlash coming. After fifteen years of near-unanimous praise for his six American Recordings albums recorded with producer Rick Rubin between 1994 and Cash' s death in 2003, the snark levels are rising.

“I find it horrible they way they’ve made money out of him releasing all these maudlin recordings. Give me early Cash any day.”
Mark E Smith, The Renegade, 2008

To give the snarky their due, most of these albums do contain novelty filler, such as Depeche Mode's near-tuneless "Personal Jesus", most of which can't just be chalked up to Rubin's influence either. In fact, Rubin was just canny at picking elements of the multitudes that Cash contained to emphasize. Not only did Rubin play up Cash's long-standing morbidity, he also encouraged Cash's love of risky covers, songs who by virtue of their authors, their accompanists or the context they were performed in, challenged Cash's own limitations. Sometimes the results ended up sounding forced and awkward but other times they kicked like a mule and bit like a crocodile. Whether they all fully paid off or not, these risky covers are a great part of what makes Cash compelling, even from beyond the grave.

So now, in celebration of Cash's 78th birthday and the release of his 'final' album, American VI: Ain't No Grave, here are twenty-three intriguing, unexpected or just plain odd Cash covers. This mixed bag of songs prove that Cash, a skilled song-writer himself, could be a daring interpreter of others' work. It's sometimes said that Cash, over the course of his career, and in particular on his old TV show, helped bridge the gap between left and right, urban and rural, black and white, old and young. If that sounds a bit much, just put on his version of June Carter and Merle Kilgore's "Ring of Fire" in mixed company and watch.

1. In his Sun Records days of the mid-fifties, Cash did a raw version of folk legend Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" with none of the gloss that The Weavers, Frank Sinatra or even Ernest Tubb had slathered on, in fact it sounds not unlike an American Recordings song.

2. In the early sixties Cash championed Dylan in print ("Shut Up and Let Him Sing") and on record, as evidenced repeatedly over the following years but especially on 1963's Orange Blossom Special which included three Dylan songs, including a growling take on "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright".

3. As folk turned to protest music, Cash helped it along by bringing Native American singer and activist Peter Lafarge's brutal, "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" to number three on on the ever-conservative country charts in 1964 and, a few years later, to Richard Nixon's White House, even though the President is said to have asked for Merle Haggard's redneck anthem, "Okie From Muskogee".

4. Another folk-jazz poet (oh wait...) that Johnny supported before it seemed like the most country thing to do was the brilliant Shel Silverstein, whom Johnny helped make world-famous with "A Boy Named Sue" four years after he recorded the literally gallows-humoured, "25 Minutes To Go".

5. One of the charming facets of the oft-overbearing film, Walk the Line, was how candidly it dealt with the thorny issue of June Carter's voice, which shows up in all its acquired-taste glory in this brave-but-flawed 1967 version of Ray Charles' R & B masterwork, "I Got A Woman".

6. In 1969, Cash and Dylan recorded a session that, with with the exception of "Girl From the North Country" remains officially unreleased for some valid reasons, despite some highlights such as their takes on Dylan's hard-to-fuck-up, "One Too Many Mornings".

7. In 1970 Cash recorded the pastoral (and grating to a good many) "If I Was A Carpenter" by singer-songwriter Tim Hardin, which tried to apply some sentimentality to mend the rift between the Woodstock Nation and the Silent Majority.

8. In 1973 Cash recorded a box of tapes he labeled Personal File which was a proto-American Recordings selection of songs featuring just the man and his guitar covering the breadth of American music and including John Prine's inconceivably good,"Paradise (of which Bill Monroe said, "I thought that was a song I overlooked from the 20s") from his 1971 debut.

9. in 1975 Cash covered The Band's monumental historical ballad, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".

10. In 1978 Johnny found some sympathy for the country in the Rolling Stones repertoire and did a ripping version of "No Expectations".

11. Nick Lowe, like Dylan he makes the list twice, not only married Cash's step-daughter, Carlene Carter but he showed Cash the country/rockabilly side of new wave by giving him the bright, tuneful "Without Love" in 1979 and introducing him to Elvis Costello.

12. When Johnny finally covered Springsteen in 1983, he chose to do not one but two songs ("Highway Patrolman" is stunning but "Johny 99" is almost as good) from Springsteen's bleak but beautiful solo acoustic album, Nebraska.

13. In 1985, perhaps the height of the Reagan era, Cash collaborated with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson (himself a possible entry on this list) and Willie Nelson on a leftist legend Woody Guthrie's (and Martin Hoffman's) anti-xenophobic ballad, "Deportees" and they even got Johnny Rodriguez to sing along.

14. While Mercury Records surely saddled him with some Nash-Trash material on his three albums for that label, Cash also got to do versions of Elvis Costello's "The Big Light" in 1987 and "Hidden Shame" in 1990.

15. In 1991 at what may have been the nadir of his career, Cash now without a major label deal, recorded a duet with Texas Christian punk-metal band One Bad Pig (doing his own "Man in Black") - appreciation levels will vary widely but it is proof positive of Cash's utter fearlessness.

16. Cash's re-ascendancy begins with this U2 song from 1993's Zooropa, which Cash smokes despite the band being at a bit of an artistic low themselves.

17. Risky cover sources become legion when Rubin jump-started Cash's career with the bare-bones American Recordings album in 1994 but his brutal take on Nick Lowe's "The Best in Me" is worth highlighting as it helped reinvigorate both men's careers.

18. A few of the grunge-era covers work better then they should (i.e. "Rusty Cage" as rockabilly number) but this Beck song from 1996's American II, with lines like, "Dog food on the floor/And I've been like this before", seems a pretty natural fit.

19. Willie Nelson's "Time of the Preacherman" gets a roughed-up treatment with Cash backed by Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Nirvana's bassist Krist Novaselic, and Alice in Chains' dummer Sean Kinney from the 1996 compilation, Twisted Wilie.

20. The fact that Rubin and Cash didn't search out more underground (call 'em alt. country if you must) writers like Will Oldham, whose magnificent "I See a Darkness" from 2000's American III makes for a haunting duet, instead of dredging up worn-out standards like, "Bridge over Troubled Water" is one of the nagging deficiencies of their collaboration.

21. Cash had Neil Young on his TV show back in '71 and even duetted with him on a painful version of "The Little Drummer Boy" much later on but you have to dig through the the outtakes compiled on Unearthed boxset to find his covers of Young's "Heart of Gold" and "Pocahontas", the latter of which works well despite Cash's known weakness in handling more abstract lyrics.

22. If AA is to be believed that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results then Rubin and Cash were plumb loco to stick to the somber, minimalist alterna-rock covers for five albums until this indisputably stirring version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" from 2002's American IV blew up.

23. While "Hurt" was, in some senses, Cash's crowning achievement, we'll leave you with a possibly more poignant finale; shortly before they each died, nine months apart, Cash and former Clash frontman Joe Strummer duetted on their own death song, a cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song".

So don't buy into the Cash-lash, all artists are flawed but the greatest ones, the real risk-takers, leave behind a permanent trace of glory.

Now what do you think of these choices for unusual Johnny Cash cover songs?

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

DIY Massachusetts Avenue: The Boston Scene 1975-1983

I've never been big on Boston (blame Tom Scholz and co.) No slight is intended to the legion of great bands from Boston, but their collective weight never used to seem the equal of London, New York or L.A. or even Vancouver. That said, Volume Eight of the DIY series (which has the longest timeline) makes a pretty stopping argument for Boston's diversity and depth with high points like The Real Kids, The Cars (!) and The Dangerous Birds (more to come).

So here's to Boston Rock from The Standells to The Queers to The Freeze to The Pixies to The Dropkick Murphys!

Massachusetts Avenue CD