The Real King of Rock and Roll

This one is gonna get me in a lot of trouble.

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Elvis was good, hell Elvis was great.  He made colored music acceptable (or at least accessible) to prejudiced white folks.  He was also a great performer and really probably a pretty good guy all in all.  He could identify a great song.  He was criminally manipulated by his so-called friends and screwed by the US government.  But my friend, I’m sorry to tell you, despite all of this, he is not the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  No siree.  He is merely the White King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Not a bad thing to be really.  Right up there.

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So who is the real King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, you ask?  Chuck Berry.  That’s it.  The real King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Why?  Because he invented it, plain and simple.  The riffs T-Bone Walker was fingering, Berry was bending; that and four major chords says it all.  Johnny B. Goode is as much an autobiography as any blues song ever written.  At the same time Berry was bending he was also freeing rock and roll from its blues roots, making it acceptable for a white boy to sing and play it.  No more blues minor chords.  We’re off to feelin’ good now.  Off to the Beach.  Surfin’ USA.

Berry is the oh so woefully underappreciated inventor of rock and roll.  No longer would it be called “race music.”  So why is this self evident fact largely unacknowledged.  Why is Elvis the marquee while good ol’ Chuck is almost a footnote?  Why don’t we say:  “Chuck:  The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?”  Because America was (is?) a racist society that is sculpted by the Media.  Chuck was Black.  Chuck was a Man (not a cute teenager).  Chuck was not the sleek white American ideal of what a star should be.  And heaven forbid that 13-year old white girls should swoon over a black man.

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So the next time you listen to Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music, Maybelline, Run Rudolph Run, Little Queeny, Carol, or the Sex Pistols, or Johnny Thunders, or the New York Dolls, or The Ramones, or The Beach Boys, or the early Beatles, or the Rolling Stones remember who the real King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is.

He could play that guitar just like a ringin’ a bell.

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Faster and Louder Part 3 (To Hell with the Boys)

tohellwiththeboysNobody likes the same music I do.  That’s because they’re stupid.  I like fast and loud songs with funny and intelligent lyrics.  Nothing too long in case you don’t like that particular song.  Then it’ll get over sooner and another, better, louder and faster song, will take its place.  Overamped guitars and just enough of a Johnny Thunders type guitar solo to make the middle 8 kick ass for the chorus and a lively end to the song.  None of that Jazz or Blues improvisation; never a weak fade-out ending, that’s for folk singers and singer-songwriters like the despised James Taylor.  Something you can pogo to and get a nosebleed.  Good times.

Even J.S. Bach knew this way back when (No, I’m not looking it up).  They didn’t have electricity, so no electric guitar; no faster and louder; it was just a dream.  Then they invented pipe organs.  Don’t need electricity.  All they needed was some dumb ass like you to keep the bellows going.  Herr Bach knew what to do with it.  Toccata and Fugue in D minor.  Fast and LOUD.  Creepy too.  You can go beserk to Toccata like Keith Emerson before he became too pretentious (get out your dictionary).  If you can climb into the pipe loft you can really go berserk.  Louder than a Who and Ramones concert together.  Blow your eardrums out.  The pedal notes will make your chest vibrate better than a Kanye West rap in a 2010 Cadillac.

They knew what they were saying when they said:  “Go for Baroque.”  I bet they were sweatin’ in the pews.  Toccata yo’ mama.  Good times that 17th century.  Kicked ass over the Middle Ages.

Fast forward to 1975.  London.  Kids sick of ’70s slower and softer music.  Glam is dead.  People want to hang hippies in effigie (I blame the ’60s for most of your problems).  A bunch of guys come together and want to make some music but it’s gotta be faster and louder.  They want to sound like the Beatles, only the good Beatles pre-St. Peppers Lonely Old Farts Band, or whatever.  They want to make music like the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, The Who, The Small Faces, all the good bands from the sixties, but it’s gotta be better.  And you know what that means:  faster and louder.  The genesis of The Boys.

Soaring harmonies and punk rock guitars, but with intelligence, tongue in cheek, and what’s most important faster and louder; actual songs that have hooks that you can pogo to or just go wild.  Forget poseurs like the Boomtown Crap or the Dead Boring Boys.  We mean Jam and Who songs with a little Ramones thrown in.  And actually singing, not some sod in a leather jacket screaming into a microphone like Dave Vanian.  Real harmonies and background vocals but still faster and louder.

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The problem was The Boys were too good.  Too punk for the “New Wave” pop poseurs and too pop for the punks.  What else can you say about a group that Joey Ramone and Paul Weller both said was their favorite band?  Weller even had a Boys sticker on his Rickenbacker (look at the cover of All Mod Cons).

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First there were the singles, then the eponymous (Did you put the dictionary away?)
The Boys
.  Next the magnificent Alternative Chartbusters, then their masterpiece, To Hell with the Boys, and finally the undeservedly maligned Boys Only.  How could I forget the notoriously tasteless Christmas Album by The Yobs?  Over the years a number of B-sides and throwaways have been reissued on CD, just proving that a Boys throwaway was a song most other bands would have killed for:  She’s No Angel, Schooldays.

A pitiful lack of recognition by the trendy fruity uninspired synthesizer music industry that became the early ’80s caused the band to break up.  Honest John Plain joined the worthless Lurkers for awhile, he wrote their best song, New Guitar in Town, and then went on to keep the flame alive in other places and with solo work with various backup bands.  Well fast forward again to 2014, The Boys are back.  Punk Rock Menopause.  Great title, eh.  Faster and Louder than even the old Boys.

I wish they would tour the States again.  I’d drive a long way to see ’em, and you should too.  Fly to London right now and catch a gig and pick up a Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronic show on the side while you’re there.

I once drove 180 miles both ways on the same night to see a band, but that’s another faster and louder story.

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Faster and Louder part 2

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Everyone knows that all music is better played faster and louder.  It’s a fact.  Wired into our genes, just like anything in life is better on television, as those of you that have, against my advice, gone to Brazil to watch World Cup Soccer in person have also found out.  Should have just stayed at home in the comfort of your own little cabin and watched on your 72 inch Samsung.  Everything is better on television.  Period.  You wouldn’t have had your purse snatched in Rio either.

And every kind of music is better when played faster and louder.  Period.  The unhallowed premier purveyors of this self-evident fact is the band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.  These boys have been bangin’ it out for years unrecognized and shunned by the larger media.  It is almost as if there was a conspiracy against this getting out.

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Album after album, genre after genre, put through the buzzsaw of distorted guitars and frantic backbeats proving each and every time the song would have been better if played this way.  Why hasn’t this caught on?  Why haven’t Christina Aguilera and Barbara Streisand championed the cause of chainsaw guitars and frantic paced power chords in pop music?  The media.  Once again it’s a media conspiracy back-fueled by the music industry and ultimately the entire entertainment industrial complex to promote stars that are on top one day and then cast aside for another unknown under the music industry shackles tomorrow.  If you and I were in charge none of this would be allowed to stand.

I could go on and on about this, and I will at some future time, but right now let’s get back in the trenches and talk about those that are trying to bring the truth back to the people.

Me First & the Gimmie Gimmies

The Me Firsts.  Starting way back in 1995 these boys have been putting out themed albums of various genres and styles, everything from Broadway musicals to R&B to C&W.  Every single cut has been better than the original:  buzzsaw chords and a frantic pace.  Every once in awhile they sneak in an old punk riff just to prove that even these songs were better than all of the top 40 “songs” today.  Once you’ve heard “The Way We Were” you’ll wonder why Barbara Streisand never sported a black leather jacket and a pink mohawk.

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Not much more to say.  The music industry and media conspiracy are too powerful to ever be threatened and changed unless you want to end up taking the dirt nap, or at least your dog will.  Sadly Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry are never going to “kick out the jams.”

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Lighten Up

steve-martin_banjoSome people have taken umbrage at my musings about Bluegrass Music. Apparently these folks take life so seriously that they think my opinion 1) matters to anyone, 2) is to be taken as 100% at face value. Now seriously folks, the operative term here should be sarcasm. Bluegrass musicians are some of the most accomplished folk musicians in the world. I can appreciate their talent while at the same time I cannot bear to listen to them. It just isn’t my gig. I hate it. My apparently feeble attempt at humor in the piece was so lame that it was misconstrued as the ravings of a hydrophobic dog on Bluegrass music. Either I didn’t write things very well or you are not the sharpest tool in the shed. I know which one I’m going to bet on.

atmosphere_testing_nuclear_weapons.jpeNow seriously, how can anyone take life so damn, well, seriously? Daily life is usually the most humorous thing imaginable.  I mean unless the current situation in front of you involves death or you losing everything then it’s not fodder for tears. Make a joke. Have a laugh. Lighten up. People are always running up to me saying: “It’s a nightmare.” “We’re doomed.” “We’re porked.” I always ask: did anyone die? Did anyone go out of business. Did the ground just open up and swallow someone?  No.  I say: “Well this is just the first sign that the apocalypse is imminent.” The conference room goes quiet. Everyone in the immediate group is dead serious. About what?  The world’s going to end!  Again, I don’t think so.  Lighten up.

tsunami2There is enough grim news in the real world so your sorry insignificant little problems are a source of laughter for me and they should be for you.  See the humor in the everyday occurrences.  See the humor in your useless job.  See the humor in your whacked out family, see the humor in the fact that you have no idea why you do 95% of the things you do, see the humor in that driver texting and fixing her hair at the same time.  Bill Monroe (rest his soul) will still be there when you get back.  In all seriousness folks, lighten up!

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Faster and Louder

It’s a well known fact that all music is better when played faster and louder, just like all music is better if it includes robot voices. From punk rock to opera to new age I listen to all my music at an ear shattering volume, always have. My kids tell me I’m going to lose my hearing to which I always reply: “What?” I figure at my age if I haven’t lost all my hearing by now it doesn’t really matter if I go partially deaf later. When I die I will either not care or get to listen to all the music I want to at an ear shattering volume.

My family hates my music. My wife used to share some of my interests but gradually has spurned almost everything I like. She moved on to the one music that almost nobody actually likes: Bluegrass. I hate banjos. I hate them in any kind of music not just Bluegrass but this probably is at least partially the reason I hate Bluegrass so much. For instance, I hate Bela Fleck. I wouldn’t care what he played, I’d hate it because it has banjos in it. I have extrapolated this to the generalization that nobody really likes Bluegrass music even though for some reason nobody will say so. I think it’s one of those things like asking a group of people where they want to go eat and nobody says anything even though they each have a place they really want to go. Somebody ends up picking somewhere that everyone else hates but nobody will say they don’t want to eat there because they think everyone else does. Does that make any sense? So people are afraid to say they hate Bluegrass because they don’t want to offend anyone even though they all really hate it.

I tried to give my children a good musical education with healthy doses of bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Depeche Mode, The Toy Dolls as well as a side dose of classical music. It stuck for awhile. My oldest daughter still has tastes that are the closest to mine but I also find some of her music just noise and too avant-garde for my childish tastes. My middle daughter pretty much only listens to Asian pop music, K-Pop, J-Pop, etc. She’s in Japan now for study abroad so you can imagine she is in seventh heaven. My youngest daughter listens to Broadway musicals, Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland, you get the picture. I can stand these in small doses only. So you can see my comprehensive musical education had little to no effect on them, although my middle daughter once told me, “Nobody likes Bluegrass,” so some things were not completely ignored.

Faster and louder is the same way. Everyone really likes their music played faster and louder and with robot voices in it too, but are afraid to say it because they think everyone else will think they are stupid. If everybody would just ‘fess up, somebody take the first courageous step, then the music that gets played on the radio for instance would get a lot better when they started playing the music people really want to hear instead of say, singer-songwriter stuff.

So that’s why I’m here, to tell the truth in this blog. I have now taken that first courageous step. All you sheep can now feel safe jumping on my bandwagon and admitting what you really like.

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I gotta go now and listen to some Teenage Bottlerocket.

Nostalgia

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In my first post I finished off with a picture of my favorite popular music, rock ‘n’ roll band of all time:  Sigue Sigue Sputnik  (Boom Boom Satellite, translated from the Russian). No, for you youngsters or the unenlightened that don’t know what I’m talking about, they are not Russian, we have a British pop group here with a name supposedly cadged from a Moscow youth gang. The band, briefly popular in 1986, wanted to be the future of rock ‘n’ roll; the look, the feel, the sound. Needless to say we all know now that they never became the future. Why? Probably over-hype that couldn’t be lived up to plus a complete immunity to the hype in the US from the very start. But this isn’t my point.

Over the years there have been several reunion attempts, one actually partly successful from 2000 to 2004. They sounded good again live. Real good. Made some mostly good if uneven albums. The problem is, and this is a big problem with a band like this, they were old. Remember, in the original incarnation image was possibly more important than the sound. This is always gone by the reunion. Plastic surgery and pink fright wigs on men well beyond 40 are just sad not cool. No way cool. Ask anyone 16 to 28 years old, what do you think they will say? Cool? Nope, unless you stick your tongue firmly in your cheek and embrace the fact that you ARE really self-parody. Self-parody can succeed on another level when it is self conscious. Self-parody otherwise is sad when you are actually trying to be serious and capture and relive the past, ergo ’70s Elvis.

In the past few years there has been a clamor among SSS fans, yes we will use the acronym here, for a reunion of the original band. Remember in 2004 they were old by “cool” pop music standards, now in the ripe old year of 2013 they are inching towards walker and wheelchair material. Can you imagine trying to recapture “the magic” of my 29th year in existence when I am now well into my fifties and the band I am going to see is in their sixties, a very special image driven band? Its just sad. The Sex Pistols had a reunion of sorts 20 years on in 1996 and it was okay, but only if you kept your eyes closed. However, nothing new was achieved. The band didn’t make some new important mark on culture or even their own legacy. It was about a bit of fun and making money. Rotten, who always claimed it was all a cheat in the first place, kept his sense of humor throughout the “tour” and refused to have anything to do with it after that. But some took the whole thing so seriously…

Here is a link to the SSS YouTube video of “21st Century Boy” from TOTP in 1986. Go look at it. Really. This will still be here. Can you imagine fat bald old farts doing “classic” Sputnik like this now without embracing the comedy aspects of it? I say again: Sad.

Not only are the old farts trying to pull this thing off a sorry lot, but probably even more so, the fans that cling to it and clamor for it. Just shoot me if I’m still alive in 20 years and they put a SSS reunion special on PBS during “begging for bucks” and I still wanna watch it. Clinging to a fossilized aged 18 youth isn’t healthy. People should live in the now and just think about the past. Of course I still look the same as I did in 1986. Except for the er weight, um wrinkles, and, oh, hair.

The original founders of SSS are putting out some old cast-off recordings and demos for the fans, and this is okay, but it has fueled speculation that the band is going to go back in the studio (maybe alright) and tour again (I’m not so sure about). Martin Degville retains a presence as a solo act trumped up as Sigue Sigue Sputnik Electronic, and it looks like fun and all, but people actually whine that it isn’t up to the old “classic” Sputnik and is ruining the bands image (?). At least he re-recorded everything in a more current techno style and released some new stuff so he wasn’t too hampered by 1986. It seems to be all in good fun though, not TOO serious. I hope Martin, at least, knows not to take it all too seriously.

So, no I don’t want to see a Sigue Sigue Sputnik reunion that goes beyond the studio. It also has to be the original band, not some Sammy Hagar-style replacement singer. Because if I’m going to have to close my eyes anyway and pretend it is 1986, it ought to be in the comfort of my own little home, not some stinking dive pub in Manchester.

A couple of other things. The good old days were only one thing: old, they weren’t all that good you just only remember that part. Remember the REAL future is right around the corner if we can just wait long enough for it. Oh, and excuse my still rudimentary HTML skills, I’m still learning. It looks like the YouTube link at least works. I’ll figure out how to embed next time, maybe, no promises