Sunday, October 26, 2008

Attack of the Ramones Clones

It's always been easy to ape the Ramones. That handful of chords, those two or three tempos, those simple tunes, that leather n' denim uniform and the so dumb-its-smart attitude. But it's deceptive, trust me I've tried (more on that later) and so have a 378,00o other bands. None of those bands ever wrote a string of classics that can overcome the boundaries between good and bad taste. The Ramones songbook will outlive the few remaining members - with the entire frontline being dead and all their drummers alive the Ramones ended up as the anti-Spinal Tap.

The band is cited as an influence by groups like Sonic Youth and U2 who sound, charitably, nothing like the Ramones. Then, there are the thousands of pop-punk bands who use the Ramones as their entire blueprint. Many of these bands (the Richies anyone?) are only of interest to Ramones Fanatics ("no comment, your honour"). However, starting in the late eighties a raft of American bands from the mid-west and Southern California built impressive discographies on the foundation that the Ramones bashed together. Many of these bands recorded entire Ramones albums in tribute and while, inevitably, none surpass the masters, you could at least say that each of those cover albums are more intriguing and more rewarding than Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot re-make of Psycho. Not a flattering comparison, I grant you but I only mean to praise with such faint damning.

Chicago's Screeching Weasel (by Ben's own admission) stole more from the Ramones as they progressed through their first few incarnations. When one of those incarnations was at a low point in 1993 the band recorded the entire Ramones debut album in its entirety. While, unfortunately, they don't mess with the arrangements much they do jack up the tempos and add a mid-western snarl. If you like either band, it's worth the listen especially since the re-issue adds a great late-period Screeching Weasel single which proves that Ben's catchy originals have a prickly intelligence that the Ramones never pursued. Available from littletype

Obsessiveness loves company, so in 1994 fellow Chicagoans the Vindictives recorded The Ramones second album, Leave Home. Re-arranging the track order ("You Should Never Have Opened That Door" moves from near the end to being the second song) is the first indication that will be the least conservative of the series. The nerdy-whiny of Joey Vindictive gives a new desperation to the songs and little twists (odd samples, new guitar lines, strange backing vocals and twisted endings) make this the freshest of the series. Available from Interpunk

The Queers entire catalog is a tribute to the Ramones, so surprisingly their 1994 tribute to the strongest Ramones album, Rocket to Russia, is nice but uneventful. Available from Interpunk

Thus far I've refrained from expounding on the twisted lyrical vision of the Mr. T Experience's Dr. Frank (a.k.a. Y.A. author Frank Portman) since almost all of the good Doctor's work remains in print via Lookout Records. While it may be the slightest of this Berkley band's mighty works, MTX's 1998 Road to Ruin takes an inherently limited opportunity and makes a fist of it, especially when they dig into the bleaker tracks such as "I Wanted Everything" and their acoustic take on "I've Gone Mental". Currently unavailable...

Download Road to Ruin

Perhaps God May Not Have Made Dee Dee So Funky After All

Next, no obsessive's musical experience is complete without hearing the jaw-dropping oddity that is Dee Dee's rap album, Standing In The Spotlight. The album, (which, like all his solo work, doesn't even rate a mention in the discography at the back of Poison Heart) is a wreck. However, the awfulness of it all (check out those rhymes; "Snap, crackle, pop/I'm the master of hip-hop") fascinates, in that grisly accident sort of way. I got my copy, on cassette, from the dollar bin at the first records store I ever worked at and sold it within twenty-four hours. Dee Dee throws a lot at the wall here - B-5s's-ish rockabilly ("Mashed Potato"), nerdy Kool Moe Dee hip-hop ("2 Much 2 Drink"et al), schmaltzy pop ("Baby Doll") and a few punkers ("Poor Little Rich Girl" and "The Crusher") - and not much of it sticks. However, there is a poignancy to failure, especially the failure to break free of one's own shortcomings. So listen to learn, obsessives, about Dee Dee's failures and maybe our own.

Download Standing In The Spotlight

Next: Ramones Clones

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Poisoned Heart

"I lived your life for so many years
all I got was self-pity and tears"

Whatever the credits on Brain Drain say, that's a classic Dee Dee couplet: blunt, hostile and dripping with self-loathing. If you expanded that line into 289 pages you'd have Dee Dee's autobiography, Poison Heart: Surviving the Ramones.*

In this, the first of Dee Dee's three books, he rails against those who tried to control his life (Mom, Connie, Johnny Ramone) while he stumbles from one intoxicant to the next. When not detailing his narcotic abuse, Dee Dee mainlines self-pity. That woe-is-me sentiment stalks the narrator, whether he's walking into an AA meeting (after crashing his Camaro) and declaring. "I felt they were all against me" or wrapping it all up in the epilogue by saying, "I feel vulnerable, out of place and unwelcome everywhere I go". It's not just disillusioning (even if you have few illusions about the Ramones), it's actually a bit embarrassing.

The actual music he was such a crucial component of only comes up in drips and drabs, such as when Dee Dee confesses, "To this day I still have no idea how they made the album End of the Century..." The scattershot narrative reminds me of Winston Smith's interview with the prole in 1984, when he discovers that the man's memories are too fractured to be instructive.

It's a sad read: the self-inflicted pain, the repetitive prose, the cheap snapshots of Dee Dee drinking with his dog and his teenage Argentinian bride. The saddest part of all is the cruel irony that, despite the few victories our narrator ekes out, within a few years of publication he'd die of a heroin overdose. I kept expecting a third person epilogue, (like for All Quiet on the Western Front) that would explain that Dee Dee died before the end of his particular war.

If you can survive this book, savour Dee Dee's defence of the two Ramones songs he seems proudest of: "Warthog" and "Poison Heart". Odd choices perhaps, but intriguing. "Warthog" risks being thrash-by-numbers but here Dee Dee explains it's warp-speed belligerence as pure rehab catharsis. On the opposite pole, "Poison Heart" flirts with singer-songwriter mushy-mindedness but instead it's Dee Dee's true autobiography - with a verse and a chorus that, together, show his defiance in the face of his own misanthropy.

"There's danger on every corner but I'm okay
Walking down the street trying to forget yesterday

Well I just wanna walk right out of this world
'Cause everybody's got a poison heart"

Remember the music - it's all that's left us.
Here's a bootleg of studio odds n' ends called Unreleased Tracks

Download Unreleased Tracks V. 1

* Re-titling the Second Edition "Lobotomy" was just cruel to Dee Dee.

Next: God Made Dee Dee Funky

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Re-Upped VIII

How do you top excellence? Shake Some Action died after this, perhaps recognizing that by number eight, even nigh-on perfect volumes were going to seem merely like treading water. If they feared running out of what they call "aural artifacts" there's no evidence here; it's mostly highlights,with just a few fun throwaways to fake you out. The Keys, "Just a Camera" is singalong whose lyrics seem to be a wistful narrative about drugs and pornography.The Elevator's "Your I's are Too Close Together" has a kinetic chorus that juxtaposes an art-punk intro with a pure-pop finish. DJ and bandleader Mike Read gets two bubble-punk songs, "Are You Ready" as a solo act and "High Rise Living"as the lead singer of the excellently-named Trainspotters. B.T.P Folders (their singer, Neil Shaw, left a comment on this post that the initials stand for Blue Transparent Polyurethane) rip through "All of a Sudden" - and it's only the the b-side (!) of their hyper-pop single. The Valves say goodbye to the series with their surf-punk masterstroke, "Ain't No Surf in Portobello.
Say a prayer (or a curse) for Alan Fleagle or whoever the hell it was that strung all these addictive hits together.

Download Vol. 8

In case the first link fails, the entire BTP Folders single is now HERE

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Re-Upped VII

Shake Some Action Vol. 7 offers another American assortment. While no stone-classic, like "Teenline", "Let Me Take Your Photo' or "A.M." emerges, it's still an excellent approximation of what American radio might have been in 1979 in a revised and better past. So we have more wussy-pop (like Quincy and the Leopards), Some Beatles business (the Boys) and some bands that had their ear turned to the NME (Tweeds, Dirty Looks and Cris Moffa and the Competition). Of course there's the band who tries to combine these different threads and call themselves the Beatles Costello but, unfortunately, it sounds as graceful as it reads. Finally, a strain of garage rock pops up in the Nightmares and the Blackjacks that shows the key American source of the British New Wave.

Download Vol. 7

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Re-Upped VI

Shake Some Action Vol. 6 takes on the whole wide world and, of course, comes up short. Lots of Northern Europe, a bit of Australia/New Zealand, a touch of Spain and France plus an entry each from Japan and Brazil pretty much covers it. No Canada - no Bureaucrats, no Pointed Sticks, no the Fuse, no Young Canadians. Well, maybe that was gonna be volume nine! It's still a great sampler of what the liner notes call "world music" - check out the sterling "Gotta Have Pop" by the Moderns, the erroneous pop-prophecy of "Ice Age" by Babijar and the head-bopping "Manen" by the Mops. It maybe the least appreciated album of the series but it proves that "la-la-la" and "whoa-oh-oh" are part of some universal language.

Download Vol. 6

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Re-Upped V

Shake Some Action 5 returns to the UK and it swings like a pendulum do. This volume, quite feasibly the series' highlight, just has no weak tracks, though a few do suffer in comparison - bicker amongst yourselves about which ones. This set sounds like of those "Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits" compilations might have, if, instead of being bogged down with gimmicky synth-pop, each track had bristled with jagged guitars, pounding rhythm sections and killer verse-chorus-verse structures. While, overall, power-pop dominates, this album has depth. "Audio, Audio" by the Classics is a Blondie-like update of the Spector Sound, Andy Arthurs gives a hell of a pop kick to the New Wave quirk of "I Can Detect You For 1.00.0o0 Miles", "Love Letter" by the the Step goes for a Northern Soul groove, the Jolt attack "I Can't Wait" like a '77 take on the Small Faces and White Heat's "Nervous Breakdown" explodes like a fully-executed punk anthem should.

Someone once claimed that, "no one hums albums"; but you will now.

Download V. 5

Friday, October 17, 2008

Re-Upped IV

When Shake Some Action Vol. 4 returns us to the 'good 'ole U.S. of A., the wuss factor spikes. (Listen to David Finnerty's "Hold On", which threatens to blow away with a slight breeze, while the Monroe's manage to make such wussiness a virtue in "What Do All the People Know"). Then there's more post-Knack chart-grasping such as the Continentals, Four Eyes and, what is no doubt the worst song in the series, The Now's "I Like Girls". Despite all that softness, a couple of bands, like the Jumpers and The Penetrators, adopt a charming faux-punk sneer, while D.L Byron and Code Blue each add a ripping rocker. Attention must be paid to the Shades, "Hello Mr. Johnson", which slipped under my consciousness and exploded. Repeated listening revealed it's punk-rock Dylan-isms ("I was born premature - I'm still ahead of my time") that can match Elvis Costello's, it's weirdly wonderful bridge and the ratcheted up tension of that final chorus - "Hello Mr. Johnson - meet your audience". Most importantly, there's the Speedies who, with their deliriously snotty pop song, "Let Me Take Your Photo", proved (via its appearance in an HP ad) that so many of the songs herein really coulda been contenders.

Download V. 4

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Re-Uploaded III

Volume Three gets us back in the UK, where instead of soft rock (in the Kansas-Boston-Chicago) the kids of the late 70's recycled glam rock in the Gary Glitter/Sweet/Mott the Hoople mode and that Small-Faces/Who/Action mod sound of '65. Another crucial distinction was that while in America only a few highly-produced young power-pop bands made it onto US radio while many of these UK bands had real shot at chart domination. And it shows. Listening to Protex,The Stillettos, The Strangeways or the Newhearts and you're baffled; This wasn't a monster hit? Perhaps a glut of "The" bands with kicky tunes and punchy choruses overwhelmed the United Kingdom to the point that only now, thirty tears later, are we prepared to exhume their discarded treasures. Even the weak tracks are a joy, so dig in.

Download V. 3

Re-Uploaded II

Volume two shifts to the USA, which in the late 70’s, deep in the thrall of Jimmy Carter, John Travolta and cheap cocaine, often lacked the lean edge of desperation which propels the best power-pop. However, the SSA team expertly juxtaposes the different facets of America’s Me Decade Pop Underground. We certainly get our share of nonthreatening low-power-pop (like Gary Charlson), which at its worst sinks to the Boston-on-a-budget AOR sound of Arlis! (and their annoying exclamation mark). Then there's a slew of Beatles worshippers, like Revolver, The Pop and the Boys (who may not be the bands you think they are) which help connect America and England on some mondo-retro level. Also on the Anglophillic side of things, we have the more sneering, propulsive Elvis Costello-like bands like the Reaction Formation, the Puppet Rulers and the Re-Runs. Best of all, representing a kind of power-jangle, Anglo-American fusion, are bands like Shivvers who kick off this comp with Teenline, which builds to a full-throttle crescedo and The Marshals who somehow managed (despite little else to recommend them) to write the most soaring attack on dead-air radio ever, in the magnificent pop song, A.M. Check out Teenline, followed by A.M. in the players below and then enjoy the whole deal, even if you have to cut through the flabby stuff.

Download V. 2

P.S. Fans of American Power-pop are hereby advised to check out the Ascenders

P.P.S. The songs I upload to DivShare do not play on my computer but do when I check from other computers. Can everyone else listen to the songs? Please let me know.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Talk show hosts, journalists and sociology profs hunting for a thesis love to prattle on about the addictive qualities of the Internet. “It’s the crack cocaine of sex addiction”, “It’s human communication stripped of nuance” and of course ‘blah-blah-Foucault-blah-blah-Derrida-blah-blah”. Now sex and disaster keep the media in business, so it’s understandable that they ignore the real problem: musicoholism (I sense a thesis on the make – musicism might work better but it doesn’t sound as…well…sexy!)

I’ve got six hundred CD’s, three hundred records and as many tapes. Plus my computer (and it’s little bitch, the iPod) is crammed with thousands and thousands of mp3's. I own more music than I can possibly appreciate. Why? Because the idea that there is one great song that I haven’t heard (and cannot access in a heartbeat) is unbearable to me – like ignoring a ringing phone.

I started out on Audiogalaxy. For an inveterate taper, a cherry-picker of the good songs, this was a direct bulls-eye in the pleasure centre. (The beautifully-maintained Mod-Punk Archives added to the damage done exponentially by showing me that there were 100,000 brilliant unrecognized bands from the late 70’s and early 80’s to be scored). Withdrawal would be a euphemism for my pain when Audiogalxy got busted by the RIAA, even though P2P only made me buy more albums. I sampled Bearsahre, Kazaa and Winmx (only warming to bit torrents recently) till I found the Harder Stuff, Soulseek. Between Soulseek, and now Google Reader for mp3 blogs, I've become the Johnny Thunders of this particular affliction.

So, as Archie Andrews had to pass on his compulsion to say, “Molly on a trolley/Found a seat by golly" to someone far away, so I’ll spread the addiction to you. From Japan to New Zealand to Norway to South Africa MRML has already become a few people’s local supply. Damn you, pusherman. To make a bad thing worse, I offer you the purest of product: Shake Some Action. These ex-pen-sive boots are, indubitably, amongst the greatest compilations ever (sorry Nuggets, Killed By Death, D.I.Y., Songs We Taught Duran Duran etc. ).

Maybe Rhino will call me up to release my own punk-mod-power-pop comps called...Shrapnel (Or is that merely the delirium tremens of a musicoholic…)

Volume One covers the UK from 1979-1986 and is bursting with rushing guitars and big hooks. Highlights include the anthemic "Don't Let Go" by Seventeen (who later became the Alarm), The Keys jangle-punk monster "I Don't Wanna Cry" (album here), the pop-perfect "Don't Go" by the Donkeys ( album available here) and the belligerent but infectious "Ignore Me" by The Gas (more to come). A few imperfect songs, like the rote mod-isms of "There Must be Thousands" by The Quads, only make you let your guard down for 2:42 seconds or so till the next hit hits.

Download V. 1

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bottom of the Pops

An odd facet of the vinyl era, (when information came in drips not torrents) was the discovery of the mysterious final album. Whether it was Squeeze by the Doug Yule-led Velvet Underground, Other Voices by the surviving member of the Doors or (for good Canadians) a six pack of forgotten Guess Who albums led by the bass player who copyrighted the name after the band broke up. After flipping by such oddities, any music obsessive just had to pore over the back cover for clues as to its origins. Then, with the mystery solved ("Ah, no Lou.") the album was slipped back into the stacks.
One such mystery album that did suck me in was Attack the 1983 album by the Scottish band the Revillos. Their first album, 1978's Can't Stand the Rezillos, culled from fifties sci-fi and sixties British Invasion to make a kitsch-punk classic. The even kitschier (!) Rev-Up by the Revillos (Fay Fife and Eugene Reynold's re-named version of the band) from 1980 with its trashy covers, jungle drumming and shared vocals almost sounded like a punk B-52's - but good. So I snatched up the unheard of (by me) Attack, laid down $10.00 and took it home. No sooner then it hit the turntable, then I went ‘Huh?” With it’s ultra-thin production and glaringly empty performances it sounded like it had been cut in tinfoil not vinyl. I taped the two good songs and sold it back at a loss.
Skip ahead twenty years to yesterday, when, after a re-listen, I bought the CD re-issue. It turns out that the Attack l.p. was nothing more than illegitimately-released, badly remixed demos . (Perhaps letting Venom's Kronos man the board had been a mistake.) In fact, the band had actually had the album recalled, hence its obscurity. So now we have a whole new product, with different (or re-mixed) versions of each track on the album as well as contemporaneous singles. The production, while still shiny, has new strength and these versions highlight the sheer joy of these cultural dumpster divers as they gleefully steal from Tamla-Motown ("Bitten By a Love Bug"), Cramps-ish rockabilly ("Graveyard Groove"), the British invasion ("Tell Him"), Phil Spector's girl-groups ("Midnight") and that mid 70's bubble-glam (most everything else). On top of all this you can pore all over Rocky Rythm's liner notes, which (sort-of) unravel the mystery of this album and detail the band's Joe Meek like production tricks with verve and humour.

So go and buy the albums (Can't Stand, Rev Up and Attack) but here for a blatant plug is the original "She's Fallen in love with a Monster Man" single (the same as posted here - thanks for the idea - but with a studio version of the b-side).

P.S. Check out the video for "Monster Man" here.