25 Album – Jesus Of Cool #5

Finally, Stiff’s poster boy, Nick Lowe released an album of his own. Nick had been behind the scenes but already achieved legendary status by the hordes of fans and admirers of the new Brit movement.

We already know about Nick’s keen sense of humor. For instance, David Bowie had an album called “Low”, so Nick Lowe decided to release an EP, called “Bowi” It was this kind of tongue in cheek swipe at the corporate rock world that Nick and company had become famous for.

By this time, Nick, and Elvis had left Stiff Records and started their own Radar records in the UK. Nick Lowe’s album was entitled “Jesus of Cool”. Probably one of the greatest album titles in history. The cover was 6 frames of Nick in various poses denoting every genre of music.

But Nick wasn’t fooling anybody. This was a pop album. It had some rock n roll undertones and the punk attitude was nowhere to be found. But it didn’t matter. The quality of the songs and the smart hilarious lyrics were enough to catch my attention.

Nick Lowe followed in Elvis Costello’s footsteps by signing on to Columbia records in the States. However, they felt the title “Jesus of Cool” might be deemed as offensive. Not sure why. I mean Jesus was cool, why not Nick ?

Anyway, impressively enough, they came up with an equally clever title “Pure Pop For Now People” I am sure Nick had something to do with it.

Regardless of the title, this is a brilliant album. Filled with quirky, delightful, original pop songs. Why this album never soared to the top of the charts is beyond me, but it was out when The Village People was number one, so I guess I answered my own question.

Opening with the familiar, “So It Goes”, onto the Paul Simonesque “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass’. Highlights are “Marie Provost” about a silent film star who died way after her star had fallen . Nobody knew she had died and her dachshund dogs ate part of her corpse. Hence the lyric “she was a winner that became the doggies dinner” Tongue implanted firmly in cheek, he continued with a tribute to The Bay City Rollers in “Rollers Show”, a pop ditty about Fidel Castro called “Nutted By Reality” and many more. This album was a joy and Nick Lowe was a delight. Unfortunately nobody caught on.

Nick teamed up with rock n roller Dave Edmunds to form Rockpile, which in my estimation, turned out to be one of the best live bands I had ever seen. Pure Chuck Berry style fun rock n roll like few others.

The story goes that Rockpile had to stop touring because every band they opened for could not follow them.

Nick made a bunch of albums but none topped his debut. He still records and tours as a country balladeer, as he calls himself. A clever, funny, talented man.

Nick Lowe – Breaking Glass http://youtu.be/JhvjTcPRYy4


25 Albums – Boots and Panties #6

Completely absorbed in everything Stiff (Records), I was buying every Stiff single. One caught me as quite amusing. An anthemic “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” by Ian Dury. A jazzy rock riff played in the back of this low gravely voiced old mannish looking deviant. I was reading a lot about the whole movement in a British magazine called Trouser Press. This weekly zine covered the newest music and was required reading. They had already grabbed onto the whole Stiff movement (ugh. hard to avoid the puns).

Ian Dury and his band The Blockheads released their first Stiff album. It had the funniest cover. An old man outside some kind of store that could have been a sex shop. The title of “New Boots And Panties” gave you an idea of what kind of theme this guy was going for. Not sure why he is standing next to a small boy, but that is a little creepy.

Once again, Stiff managed to find a diamond in the rough. Ian Dury was a pub rocker with a band called Killburn & The Highroads. He now surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians I had heard. The funky jazz pub sound of The Blockheads was infectious.

Ian Dury’s half singing/half talking vocals were a perfect fit for this seedy, depraved sound. Many of  the songs have sexual undertones. THe rest were not so subtle. This album was one of my favorites and I could not get it off the turntable.

Ian Dury was disabled. Apparently he had polio. Who they hell gets polio in 1977. It didn’t matter. The music was great. The album was great and Ian was a star, to me.

Of course he never made it in the states, other than a novelty act. He had a semi-hit with “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”, which I guess was in the collection of many a Dominatrix back in the day.

Ian Dury toured with the Stiffs Live tour which included all the Stiff artists. Apparently, he could not be followed and usually closed the show.

Unfortunately he passed away about 10 years ago after losing a battle to colon cancer.

A sad loss. What a talented man.

Ian Dury – Wake Up http://youtu.be/c-VeOakGGPQ

25 Albums – Elvis Is King #7

Stiff Records was in full swing. The first couple of albums came out. The Damned was the first album, produced by Nick Lowe, of course. The Damned were a typical punk rock, three chord band, but fun as all hell to listen to. The song “New Rose” still remains as one of my all time favorite punk songs. They went on to cult status and still make albums today.

Finally, Elvis Costello’s long anticipated first album was released. Again, Nick Lowe produced. I couldn’t wait to hear what else this guy was thinking. He was already a legend and deemed as the new “Dylan” with his apparent songwriting prowess.

“My Aim Is True” showed our hero in a Buddy Holly stance holding his guitar like a machine gun. He was ready to fire away. And he did.

From the opening assault of “Welcome To the Working Week”, My Aim is True is a masterpiece. This album is chockfull of classic Costello. “Miracle Man”, “No Dancing”, “Red Shoes”, “Waiting For The End Of The World”. Anger, bitterness, double entendre and brilliant wordplay ensued. A tender ballad called “Alison” was cleverly disguised since it was clearly about murdering an ex-girlfriend who Elvis finds is made unhappy by her new husband. “I think somebody better put out the big light cuz I can’t stand to see you this way. My aim is true” (sincerity in murder)

What an entrance Elvis made. The critics were in love. WNEW and WPIX, the only two radio stations not playing Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, were infatuated with this new find. Could this be the artist that breaks it all wide open?

Elvis was signed by Columbia Records. The corporate giant that Stiff Records worked so hard to rebel against was now embracing one of their own. I imagine there must have been some mixed emotions. It was the beginning of the end of Stiff Records, and perhaps the entire punk rock movement. Elvis went where others failed. into the mainstream. Or so it seemed.

The masses were not amused, especially in the US. They didn’t get the joke. The audacity to call himself Elvis. Who the hell is this guy? Hatred for Elvis was so evident that even I, the rebel with a cause, hid my admiration for the new King. However, the Elvis cult was already in full force.

Elvis turned out to be more than advertised. Writing a song practically every week. He released more material in three years than probably any artist in history. the guy was prolific, smart and a music aficionado. He combined styles of music and threw them in a blender and created his own sound. Lyrics about suicide, pain, guilt, anger, bitterness, stalking, and self-destruction. He didn’t get screwed over by the opposite sex. He got even. All this under the guise of pop hooks galore. Sometimes three or four different hooks in the same song.

The first four Elvis Costello albums are perfect, covering every genre with expertise. “My Aim Is True”, “This Year’s Model”, “Armed Forces” and “Get Happy” are four amazing records. He takes time to enjoy for some, but worth the time.

Through his 35 year career, he went country, jazz, opera, classical, and lounge and back to rock, pop and back to country. Elvis does what Elvis does. He has earned a ridiculous amount of respect and no hit singles. He collaborated with everybody from Burt Bacharach, Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Allen Toussaint, and just seems to show up everywhere.

To this day, he remains one of the best songwriters of the past 35 years. Misunderstood by many, even me. He is never afraid to change direction and he fails, sometimes miserably, but he doesn’t care. I admire his tenacity and bravery.

Seen him live a dozen times and always love his performance. it’s like hanging out with an old friend.

Forever a fan, forever forgiving. Forever waiting for his next release to be something as good as those first four.

Elvis is King !

Elvis Costello – Red Shoes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ab_IO-SlK5w&feature=share&list=PL2D1651E432F8B4C2

if it ain’t stiff it ain’t worth a f**k

The UK punk scene was fast and furious. Unfortunately, it was met with resistance from the powers that be. Bands like The Vibrators, Buzzcocks and certainly The Sex Pistols were banned from many clubs due to indecency laws. The kids were turning the whole punk craze into some kind of fashion statement, wearing safety pins in their cheeks, coloring and spiking their hair. I think the music got lost in the flurry of negative attention.

However, somewhere in London, something was afoot (as Sherlock Holmes might say). a pub rock scene was emerging. Bands were cropping up in small taverns and gaining momentum but gainfully ignored by the massive corporate record companies. A couple of millionaires decided to pick up on this growing trend and started their own record company. In England, when a record didn’t hit the charts it was called a stiff. The artist rarely got a second chance. They just muddled around in the underground scene until they faded away.

With the emergence and hunger for new music, two guys named Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson formed Stiff Records and a new era was born. It was perfect timing for a genius idea. They monopolized on the idea of signing artists that were deemed as “stiffs” by the record companies. Using clever slogans such as “if it ain’t stiff it aint worth a fuck” and releasing singles almost weekly, they were building the future of some of the greatest music to come out of Britain.

Stiff singles would hit Record Stop each week and I bought them in order. Nick Lowe, crowned as the biggest stiff, had been part of a pub rock band called Brinsley Schwartz in the early 70’s and was completely ignored more than any other artist. He quickly became the poster child for Stiff Records. He recorded, produced and served as A & R and PR man, and all around office boy of Stiff.

Stiff #1 had to be by Nick Lowe. The song was “So It Goes” and it was a welcomed change from the previous punk releases from the UK. It was pop music with an edge. I immediately became a fan. I couldn’t wait for the next Stiff single. The first 10 were great. Bands like The Damned, Tyla Gang, Pink Fairies were all great, but it was Stiff #11 that changed my life, at the time.

Stiff #11 –  It was a reggae inspired pop ditty sung by this bespectacled nerdy looking guy with a funny name. Elvis Costello, “Less Than Zero”. Elvis Presley died in August of 1977. He was still fresh in the ground and this guy has the balls to call himself Elvis? I became not only quite enamored with Elvis Costello, but a huge fan for years. I have forgiven him a million times over the years, but still find him amazing. More on Elvis coming up in the next post. I loved the whole Stiff concept. Bought every single.

Stiff went on to sign many great acts like Ian Dury, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric, and later dug into the US with acts like Devo, Rachel Sweet and Madness.

Like anything great, egos, money, and fame destroyed Stiff records, but the legacy lives on.

Great music and some of my all-time favorite artists originated from these guys. They saved the punk explosion from becoming a footnote in rock n roll history.

They opened my eyes and ears to another genre of music.

Documentary film “If It Ain’t Stiff” Part 1 (follow it to the last part) http://youtu.be/-iSzS9lGBbo

Nick Lowe – So It Goes http://youtu.be/5yN40x82FWU

25 Albums – Lovin The Lovers #8

Hanging with the regular Thursday crowd at Record Stop always felt like an exit off the mainstream music highway I had been subjected to at Record World. There was never a shortage of new music to discover.

Going through the record bins weekly, it seemed like I was familiar with just about everything. One of the regulars was raving about this band called The Modern Lovers. He said they were a simpler version of The Velvet Underground. Having just discovered The Velvets I was ready to give The Modern Lovers a listen. Nipo thew it on the turntable and from the first song, “Roadrunner”, I was a fan. This album is one of my all-time favorites to this day. I still listen to it. I was not surprised to discover it was produced by none other than John Cale. This album came out in 1976, but remained undiscovered by just about everyone.

Jonathan Richman sings with the innocence of a 7-year-old, discovering life, love and his surroundings for the first time. It’s this suburban, anxiety ridden awkwardness, combined with the simplicity and raw energy of the Modern Lovers that make this a landmark album. It’s brilliant.

The Modern Lovers, besides Jonathan, include Jerry Harrison (before he joined Talking Heads) on keyboards and Dave Robinson (later joined The Cars) on drums.

“Roadrunner” is the opening number and is so catchy. It was later covered by a few bands, specifically The Sex Pistols and Joan Jett. Songs like “Astral Plane”, “She Cracked” and “Someone I Care About” have that typical live punk feel, but not offensive or in your face. Subtle, yet powerful. You can almost hear Jonathan giggling through the lyrics. The improvosational feel and joy in his voice is infectious.

Jonathan really shows off his writing skills in songs like “Old World”, “Girlfriend” and “Modern World”. My favorite song on this album is a slow ballad called “Hospital, about a girl Jonathan is in love with who is in the hospital after a probable drug overdose. The lyric “I go to bakeries all day long, there is a lack of sweetness in my life” is an example of the tenderness and poetry Jonathan is capable of.

Other songs cover life in Massachusetts, having a first girlfriend, being old-fashioned. Until we get to “Pablo Picasso”. Here, Jonathan takes a left turn into anger and jealousy. with lyrics “Some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso. He could walk down the street and girls could not resist his stare, Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole, not like you” It’s about as angry as Jonathan gets.

The Modern Lovers put only one album out. Jonathan went on to other forms of the band and a long solo career that continues today. He is still the same childish man and you can’t help but smile when you hear his songs. However, the original power of the band is gone and I still love that first album.

An under rated and underappreciated pioneer of the punk movement, Jonathan Richman enjoys only a cult following. Artists like They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, and a few others cite Jonathan as a huge influence.

If you can find this first album (Amazon?), get it. You will not be disappointed. It’s an enjoyable listen even after the 2,500th time.

Modern Lovers – Roadrunner http://youtu.be/vZUSF0Zd_Yw

25 Albums – Velvet #9

Brian Eno inspired me to explore the weird side of music. I had been a fan of Lou Reed’s solo work. Back in my rock days, I was introduced to the live “Rock n Roll Animal” album which all my school buddies loved, due to extended guitar solos and overall rock anthem quality of that album.

Lou Reed’s solo albums however were mostly an acquired taste. Dark and disturbing is probably the best way to describe Lou. “Berlin” is probably the most depressing album ever recorded.

Having already been enamored with John Cale and Lou Reed, it was time to go for the origin. The Velvet Underground. What better place to start than the immortal first album.

This album is as groundbreaking as The Stooges, but in a different vain. It’s not an easily accessible album and the furthest thing from commercial pop music. Much of this album feels like it’s recorded in a basement full of drug induced and comatose hippies.

Keeping that description in mind, it’s an amazing record. The Lou songs are diverse. “Sunday Morning” and “Pale Blue Eyes” are polar opposites of “Heroin” and “Venus in Furs.” The Nico songs are hypnotically wonderful. John Cale’s minimalist production is felt throughout the record. I understood why The Velvet Underground sparked more kids to pick up guitars. The simplicity and the honesty is unsurpassed. This is what is missing in music today.

The raw energy, attitude, innocence and flair for fashion of the Velvet Underground is felt in just about every New York punk record.

This album takes a while to get into, but once you do, it crawls into your soul. It’s a landmark album and solidifies The Velvet Underground as punk pioneers. It’s hard to imagine that this album is 45 years old. It’s still different than anything you hear today.

Lou Reed and John Cale continue to record separately. I know they reformed The Velvets a couple of times, but I don’t think it went over too well. A mix of egos and the loss of innocence leave only songs.

I saw Lou Reed once and it was the strangest concert experience of my life. It started great, but one hostile audience member kept yelling “Do Walk On The Wild Side” FInally Lou told him to shut up, then tortured the audience with a 70 minute version of the requested song. It was painful, on purpose.

I forgave him and would be happy to see him again sometime.

The Velvet Underground – Venus & Furs http://youtu.be/iLQzaLr1enE

25 Albums – Here Comes Eno #10

Back in the days of vinyl albums, there were liner notes and information on the jacket that always brought the fun of listening to a new level. Like reading a cereal box, it’s an educational experience. I was always attracted to the producer of the albums. This started back with the Beatles. George Martin was considered the fifth Beatle for a reason. The producer put it all together, made the record sound unique and it could either make or break the artist.

Todd Rundgren, John Cale and Richard Gotterher were a few of the main producers of interest in the punk days. Brian Eno entered the scene with Talking Heads and was extremely outspoken about his admiration of the punk sound. I knew Eno from Roxy Music and soon discovered he had a couple of solo albums.

I discovered an album by Eno called “Here Come The Warm Jets.” It featured mostly Eno with some other musicians, including Phil Manzenera of Roxy Music and Robert Fripp from King Crimson. King Crimson were one of the few prog-rock bands I found interesting. Fripp was an oddball. I liked the oddballs of rock, obviously. Fripp’s guitar solo on the song “Babys On Fire” is legendary. It’s so good it hurts.

“Here Come The Warm Jets” is an unusual album with some very strange sounds and hilarious lyrics. The feel of the album has some definite glam-rock overtones, some artsy punk stylings ala Talking Heads,  with layers of Roxy type synthesizers and that crazy guitar work of Fripp and Manzenera. It’s a brilliant album most of the time, but completely unlistenable in parts. But that’s okay because it’s art. You aren’t supposed to like it all. It could be offensive, obnoxious, yet colorful and brilliant. Certainly beyond the mainstream. I imagine that as a child, Brian Eno liked to color outside the lines of the coloring book, maybe outside of the book. There is a childish quality to Eno’s albums that I find most amusing. His music makes me smile.

This album is a work of art and it opened me up to another level of music. I revisited the early Roxy Music albums at this point and understood them better, started listening more to the Bowie’s  “Low” and “Heroes” albums, which I was not fond of before. Eno expanded your mind like acid, without actually taking acid.

Brian Eno has a ton of albums, mostly ambient music for films, airports and elevators, but “Here Come The Warm Jets” and a couple of others like “Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy” and “Before And After Science” are the closest he ever came to pop music.

Brian Eno is an acquired taste to say the least. I don’t like everything he does, and that’s okay. I have huge respect for him and will always be interested in whatever piques his interest.

Eno – Baby’s On Fire http://youtu.be/q_LhWyzV01c

25 Albums – Heads Off to #11

The punk explosion produced so many bands it was a challenge to keep up. It seemed that every band gave their best on the first album and many of them fell apart by the time they could release a follow-up. Some only survived a couple of singles and never even got to release an album.

One band that fell into the punk category sort of by accident was Talking Heads. They didn’t have that three chord power, in your face, angry snotty attitude. They had something different. Artsy, intelligent and odd. Led by David Byrne, a borderline psychotic geek, Tina Weymouth on bass with precision like few others and by far one of the most underrated bassists in music. Drummer Chris Franz and Jerry Harrison round out the sound of this unbelievably tight unit.

Talking Heads 77 was a brilliant collection of hyper-active pop songs that stuck in my head for most of the year. I was extremely excited when Talking Heads were playing at a new theater in NYC called The Entermedia. I was not only fortunate to get tickets, I was in the 5th row center. It was one of the most anticipated concerts in my music life at the time.

There I was in the 5th row with my sister, Diana. My sister is 5 years younger than me, but loved the same music. She was a huge Talking Heads fan and more than happy to accompany me. I remember her noticing Andy Warhol behind us, two rows back. She said “Holy crap, we have better seats than Andy Warhol”

Talking Heads took the stage and proceeded to completely blow our minds. They had just released a 2nd album, which I had not purchased yet. It just came out that day. They played the entire album.  I was hearing these songs for the first time. To this day, I remember that concert and it is surely in the top 5 of my favorite concerts of all time.

The album was “More Songs About Buildings And Food”. A funny title, since there was only one song about food and no songs about buildings. It was produced by Eno, the guy I remembered from Roxy music.

This album is so musically tight and precise it blows my mind whenever I hear it. I love how even the space in between songs are timed perfectly. It’s just an amazing album. Every song is brilliant. Not a bad song on this album.

I remember playing this album for my Record World co-workers and even the Disco/Led Zep/Billy Joel fans loved it. It was infectious. As usual, there was no getting through to the suburban sewer we called customers. They were too busy buying  Steve Miller Band and Boston to even pay attention. Idiots.

Talking Heads followed up with “Fear Of Music” and “Remain In Light”, also brilliant albums. They had an almost meteoric rise to the top, more than any other band in the punk period, although I would not categorize them as punk. They have their own sound. Their influence is evident in just about every Indy band I have heard recently (Vampire Weekend, Franz Ferdinand, etc.)  I think if Talking Heads came out today they would fit right in. Sadly, they would probably be catagorized as “hipster” and ignored by too many people, once again.

David Byrne went on to a highly artistic career in music of all kinds. He is a master and a genius and the weirdest guy at the party.

I have a feeling there is a whole cult out there of people who worship David Byrne. And rightly so.

For more about Talking Heads try the movie “Stop Making Sense”, one of the best concert films ever made and the recently released “Chronology” which is an amazing documentary of the band from the beginning to the end.

I love this band.

Talking Heads – Thank You For Sending Me An Angel http://youtu.be/W888EzZ0lrk

Job Of A Lifetime

Sometime in the latter part of 1977, I was wandering through the South Shore Mall in Bayshore. I saw a sign at Record World. They were hiring. How cool would it be to work at a record store? I certainly wouldn’t need any training.

I applied and got the job.

Record World was the biggest record chain store on Long Island in those days and I was thrilled to be around music all day. Part of the job was actually playing records. Insane.

However, it was on a sharing system so I had to compete with some of the worst music I had ever heard. Specifically, DISCO. Disco was making a huge impact on the pop music scene. I hated it with a passion. I wanted it to die. I even joined in on the “Death To Disco” movement that seemed to be gaining momentum.

Nipo, wrapped up in the punk movement, started his own record label called Death Records. It was a very exciting venture. The first single released was Jimi Lalumia & The Psychotic Frogs “Death To Disco” And we were waving our punk flags high aimed at the destruction of this horrible music.

Since Disco only lasted about three years at best, I am taking personal responsibility, along with my punk rock revolutionaries, for the killing of this abomination. Recently, I have grown fond of some the music of that era. I was a young angry rebel back then. Now I’m old and couldn’t care less. Life.

Being a rebel at Record World, I wanted to convert the huddled, suburban masses to punk rockers. Mostly, I failed miserably. Customers were set on buying Billy Joel. Meatloaf, Donna Summer and The Village People. I felt powerless. I was at least able to convert the co-workers. One story that comes to mind is a young Rich Dolan started Record World at 17 yrs old. My first question was “what kind of music do you listen to”, he replied with his voice cracking “Kansas”. After wincing, I replied “I can fix that”. With in a week, little Richie Dolan was listening to The Clash.

However, my co-workers for the most part were music geeks and aficionados. I learned a lot about music from those folks. We existed in a bubble, apart from the mainstream.

I can talk forver about specific life-changing moments that occurred at Record World. The obvious one is meeting Margie, my future wife. We just passed our 30 year mark, so I guess it’s working out.

Musically, I can point to some specifics.

Russell was a co-worker, who looked like Peter Frampton (70’s) Russell was a Robert Plant wannabe. He loved Zeppelin, and all the usual bands that fall into that category. I had already passed that stage, but he was a good guy so I was forgiving. The cool thing about working here was we got the first shot at any new releases that came in. We were the first line of fire in the recording industry, or so we thought. Russ was unpacking a box of new releases when he called me over. “Look at this, some new band I never heard of called Van Heflin” (Van Halen). Getting a good feeling about it, he snuck it on the turntable. At this point in time, heavy metal or hard rock was pretty much dead. When we heard the opening track “Running With The Devil”, we both looked at each other and knew immediately this band was going to bring back that hard rock sound that had been missing. Obviously we were right.

That was the beauty about working there. Discovering the next big thing and sharing our personal favorites with eachother.

Ron Tedesco was an assistant manager and an avid Kinks fan. I had lost track of The Kinks. Ron got me back into them. I eventually became quite a Kinks collector, completing the catalog of albums and singles.

Ken Cassidy was a great guy and introduced me to the genius of The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and other great songwriters. My mind was pretty open back then, as long as it wasn’t disco, Billy Joel or Meatloaf.

Steve Matteo and I shared the same musical tastes. Steve was a huge fan of The Who. I will never forget the day he chatted with a customer and she was so impressed with his knowledge of The Who, she revealed that she worked for Pete Townshend and hired him to also work for Pete. PETE TOWNSHEND. I hated him for that. Lucky bastard.

I will never forget all my Record World friends. Bill Cowan, Rita Randall, Karen in 45’s, Don Neckameyer (the boss), Alan Tesman (RIP), Patti Wrobleski, Steve Gravano, Lou ( the heroin addict), Cowboy Al, Marion, Nancy, all the Christmas temps that wanted to hear Meatloaf and Billy Joel while I wanted to hear The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and Blondie.

Those were the days.

Record World Commercial 1978 http://youtu.be/sAJjU2My4Bw

Jimi Lalumia & The Psychotic Fogs – Death To Disco  http://youtu.be/ezbudorragA