Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rare Album Collectibles

The November 2008 issue (#355) of the British magazine Record Collector presents the Top 200 of the most valuable albums of all time produced in the UK. As one might expect, a large number of the positions are taken by British artists, although some albums by Elvis Presley made the list. The most expensive collectible item according the writers: The Beatles by The Beatles (1968) that can go as high as € 9000 if you own one of numbers 1-10 of the first 10,000 numbered albums issued; 1,001-10,000 go for € 750.

Among the rare Elvis items listed are:

#178: The Legend – RCA 89061/2/3 3-CD (1984) - € 440

Released in 1984, this box was one of the first CD releases in the UK. RCA released the box in a numbered limited run of 5,000 with certificate and special booklet.

#101: Flaming Star And Summer Kisses – RCA Victor RD 7723 (1969) - € 690

Very high for a (1969) re-release, but apparently it is quite rare in the UK.

#57: Rock and Roll No 2 – HMV CLP 1105 (1957) - € 950

This LP is the most expensive Elvis item on vinyl in the UK. While there were many copies of this album sold, it is nearly impossible to find a record in mint condition.

I have not seen a complete list of the Top 200; if anyone has the complete list, or knows where it is posted on line, please let me know, and I'll provide a link.

Source: ElvisMatters

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: II

1. The collocations “art rock” and “progressive rock” are merely distinctions without a difference: both are attempts to assuage pop guilt.

2. Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, observes critic Harold Bloom, authored only nine poems that really matter, but what great and influential poems they are; in the history of rock, only Elvis alone sung nine that really mattered.

3. Improvisation is simply the name for the activity of privileging performance over composition, and avoiding being pretentious in the process.

4. For decades, the dictum, “don’t judge a book by its cover” was routinely violated by rock music fans; it’s why there are now books of album art.

5. The “reunion tour” is rock culture’s equivalent of purgatory--the waiting room to rock ‘n’ roll heaven.

6. To lift a phrase from Man Ray, the worst records I’ve ever heard have ten or fifteen marvelous minutes; the best records I’ve ever heard have merely ten or fifteen valid minutes.

7. When the music of Neil Young is imitated without inspiration or a sense of humor, it is called grunge.

8. If pop musicians were interested in honest self-appraisal rather than self-deification, the flip side of the Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven” would be titled, in homage to Sartre, “No Exit.”

9. The albums of the Mothers of Invention represent the music of fans trying to be artists; the albums of Captain Beefheart represent the music of an artist trying to be a fan.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Legendary movie star Paul Newman died Friday at his home near Westport, Connecticut, after a long battle with cancer. He was 83. The fascinating obituary written by Lynn Smith and published in the Los Angeles Times this morning quotes director Arthur Penn, who said, “He’s a majestic figure in the world of acting . . . He did everything and did it well.” By “everything” I think Penn means that Newman excelled in both comic and dramatic roles, and that is true. He did it all, and he did it well, and that’s perhaps one of the finest compliments one could make to an actor. Paul Newman was a great actor who also happened to be a great movie star.

There are very few feature films in which Paul Newman appeared that are not worth watching; I suspect that I’ve seen them all, and several of them many times. I’ve always admired his films because of the offbeat characters he chose to play, quirky, if charming, misfits who always seemed to have an immense inner reserve, a resilience and self-reliance that made them irresistibly compelling. The scene, so wonderfully understated, in Cool Hand Luke when his, Luke’s, dying mother—brilliantly played by Jo Van Fleet—comes to visit him at the rural prison where he’s being held is, in my view, one of the finest moments in the history of American cinema. I have watched that scene over and over, and never tire of it.

Cool Hand Luke is, in a way, exemplary of the significant contribution he made to American cinema, the image of the American anti-hero. Beginning with his sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid in The Left-Handed Gun (1958), he continued to develop the anti-hero image in classics such as The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Hombre (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), and, of course, the immensely popular Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Hud and Cool Hand Luke are two of the finest films of the 1960s; Hud, a compelling morality play, is one of my favorite films of all time. He continued into the 1970s playing unusual characters in some very interesting films, including WUSA (1970), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Sting (1973), Slap Shot (1977), and two films for Robert Altman, Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976) and the unaccountably neglected Quintet (1979).

He was nominated for Best Actor ten times, winning for The Color of Money (1986), ironically, one of his lesser efforts. The award was long overdue, of course, although Newman apparently was uncomfortable with honors and awards, referring to them as “honorrhea.” His off-screen life, consisting of car racing beginning in the 1970s, and the formation of charitable organizations in the 1980s funded through the salad dressing that bears his name, is explored in Lynn Smith’s obituary, which I strongly encourage everyone to read (just click on the link provided above). The obit contains a quotation from his friend Stewart Stern that I’m compelled to reproduce here:

“The most Paul moment,” Stern said, “is [in Nobody’s Fool] when he sees the crazy lady down the street and offers his arm and walks her back home as if she were a queen. That’s how I’ll always remember Paul: dignifying other people.”

"There but for fortune" seems to be an idea of which Paul Newman was keenly aware. In any case, his contribution to the American cinema was a significant one, making him as legendary as other actors of his generation such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Charlton Heston. His family suggests donations in his name to the Assn. of Hole in the Wall Camps, designed for children with life-threatening diseases. Information is available at: www.holeinthewallcamps.org.

Friday, September 26, 2008


The cultural practice known as “cruising”—defined by Phil Patton as “to drive without purpose”—is largely a post-World War II phenomenon, the consequence of several factors, among them, the automobile industry’s promotion of the automobile as a symbolic form of cultural capital, particularly of individuality; making the car radio standard equipment; the installation of sumptuous interiors; increased interior leg room, especially in the back seat; and, of course, inexpensive fuel. Iconic motor vehicles, such as James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder, Elvis’s pink Cadillac, Kerouac’s ’49 Hudson, and the Big Bopper’s ’59 white Eldorado, collectively contributed to American teenagers’ fascination with the powerful automobile. Patton writes:

To drive without purpose—to “cruise”—is the central trope not only of Kerouac but of a hundred popular songs, in country music and rock and roll. Just driving without goal or purpose, surrendering the mind totally to the mechanical functions of steering wheel and gas pedal, figures in such songs as solace. (Open Road, 250)

Suspended in space and time—an effect of motion—cruising links thought with mechanical function. Cruising is an attempt to defamiliarize one’s perception of an all-too-familiar geography. It represents an attempt to introduce disequilibrium (“novelty”) into a stable system, to set oneself free—to get “unstuck”—from boredom. In other words, again to quote from Patton, “The open road . . . [ministers] to the American flight from self.” As it turns out, songs about cruising (the automobile, the road, and subjective interiority) are much more heterogeneous than it might seem:

To drive without purpose (no particular place to go):
The Beach Boys – I Get Around
Chuck Berry – No Particular Place to Go

Motion as speed, speed as conducive to hyper-suggestibility:
The Doobie Brothers – Rockin’ Down The Highway
Golden Earring – Radar Love
Sniff ‘n’ the Tears – Driver’s Seat

Motion as ever-shifting space, as magical space of possibilities:
The Modern Lovers – Roadrunner

Acute hermetic isolation, car as despotic comfort:
Gary Numan – Cars

“Baby Boom” growth and the cementing over of the landscape:
Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
The Pretenders – My City Was Gone

The mysterious stranger:
David Allan Coe – The Ride
The Ides of March – Vehicle

The hitchhiker, Kerouac’s and Cassady’s “open road”:
Kris Kristofferson – Me and Bobby McGee
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Sweet Hitch-Hiker

Vehicular isolation as meditative space, knowing (certainty) reduced to feeling:
Patty Loveless – Nothing But the Wheel

The road as a means of flight or escape:
The Eagles - Take It Easy

Recommended reading:
Phil Patton, Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway (Simon and Schuster, 1986).
Ronald Primeau, Romance of the Road: The Literature of the American Highway (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One-Hit Wonderdom

The existence of the one-hit wonder—a designation used within the music industry to refer to a musician or band known almost exclusively for one hugely popular hit single—undermines the (Romantic) image of the artistic genius, supplanting it with the image of the idiot savant, an individual with an extraordinarily narrow area of expertise or brilliance. Hence, the existence of the one-hit wonder is a postmodern phenomenon, destabilizing the traditional understanding of what constitutes genius, (re)defining it by the vagaries of consumer culture. While some one-hit wonders are “novelty songs,” most of them are not, the latter often characterized by their tendentiousness, that is, by being an occasional song recorded to raise money for a certain charity (1985’s “We Are the World,” recorded in order to raise funds for famine-relief efforts in Ethiopia), or by its effort to capitalize on a current consumer fad or craze (C. W. McCall’s “Convoy” (1975), exploiting the then current popularity of citizen’s band—CB—radio).

If we consider only those one-hit wonders that cannot be considered novelty songs—those that do not overtly display any occasional or ad hoc characteristics—then one-hit wonders have no identifiable characteristics other than they must conform to the material requirements of the 7” 45 rpm single—that is, the time restriction. In its more pejorative formulation, one-hit wonders are characterized as “flukes,” that is, anomalies, the evidence being an empirical one: the individual musician or band was unable to reiterate (repeat) its success subsequently. Hence one would like to say Time is the final judge, but certain one-hit wonders have shown a remarkable durability, remaining as popular as songs by bands whose work consumers have endorsed repeated times. The late, lauded auteur Ingmar Bergman—always uneasy with his fame—once remarked, “No one remembers those who built Chartres,” by which he meant, among other things, the thing that endures is the art, not the artist, and while the names of the artisans who built that grand cathedral are not remembered, their artwork is, a testament to their resilience, their commitment, and their dedication to an idea greater than themselves. One-hit wonders are proof of the same idea, that the work remains long after the artist is forgotten.

“Best of” lists are essentially an expression of individual taste and aesthetic judgment, and as such they cannot appeal to any sort of empirical verification. As the old adage says, non disputandum de gustibus est: It is not possible to make disputations about taste. The keyword here is taste, and with that in mind, here’s my list of the best, and worst, one-hit wonders, confined, arbitrarily and capriciously, to hits in the United States during the years 1960-82. Ask me to repeat this exercise six months from now, my list most likely will be different. As Emerson said, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

The Best (with my current #1):
10. The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
9. King Harvest – Dancing in the Moonlight (1972)
8. Danny O’Keefe – Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues (1972)
7. John Fred & His Playboy Band – Lucy in Disguise (With Glasses) (1968)
6. The Seeds – Pushin’ Too Hard (1966)
5. J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers – Last Kiss (1964)
4. Jonathan King – Everyone’s Gone to the Moon (1965)
3. Sanford Townsend Band – Smoke From a Distant Fire (1977)
2. Wall of Voodoo – Mexican Radio (1982)
1. David Essex – Rock On (1973)

The Worst (but not forgotten):
10. Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods – Billy Don’t Be A Hero (1974)
9. Melanie – Brand New Key (1971)
8. Van McCoy – The Hustle (1975)
7. Alan O’Day – Undercover Angel (1977)
6. Climax – Precious and Few (1972)
5. Charlene – I’ve Never Been To Me (1982)
4. Debby Boone – You Light Up My Life (1977)
3. The Singing Nun – Dominique (1963)
2. Starland Vocal Band – Afternoon Delight (1976)
1. Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop (1964)

Recommended Reading:
Wayne Jancik, The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders. Revised and Expanded. 1998.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pop Aphorisms: I

1. Tennyson might say that the special agony of the “Baby Boom” generation is that it must watch its rock gods grow old and gray and beyond desire

2. Elton John is the Liberace of pop, while Keith Emerson is the Liberace of rock

3. The Grammy Awards are to the pop music industry what the Academy Awards are to the film industry: the attempt to resolve the irreconcilable tension between art and commerce on the side of art, and thereby assuage its guilt

4. To lift a phrase from Voltaire, “if Neil Young did not exist, it would be necessary for rock culture to invent him”

5. It is impossible to determine whether the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It),” is an unironic revision, addressed to the rock culture, of Marx’s insight, “religion is the opiate of the masses”

6. The special genius behind the invention of Top 40 radio was to employ the 7”, 45 rpm single as the means to fill the space between commercials

7. Elvis in ’56 was the cultural equivalent of a tsunami: the many who have followed are fellaheen—those who live off the ruins of a dead civilization

Monday, September 22, 2008

What's In A Name?

In one of the most famous scenes in all of dramatic literature, Juliet, one of the two very young star-cross’d lovers in Shakespeare’s tragedy, asks, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet; / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes / Without that title.” So is one’s name incidental to one’s identity, as Juliet avers, or, on the contrary, is there a sort of destiny bequeathed by it? Does one’s proper name carry one’s Fate within it? Would John Wayne have become an iconic Hollywood star had he retained his birth name, Marion Michael Morrison? The actress born with the name Lucille LeSueur became Joan Crawford because her last name reminded a studio boss of the word “sewer.” Frederic Austerlitz, Jr. became Fred Astaire. Joe Yule, Jr. became Mickey Rooney. The iconic rock figure Iggy Pop was born James Newell Osterberg, Jr. Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman. Don Van Vliet became Captain Beefheart.

So what’s in a band name? Why weren’t The Beatles content with their earlier name, “The Quarrymen”? What if they had remained named The Quarrymen? Or The Silver Beetles? There have been bands named after the group’s leader (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), last names (Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates), colors (Deep Purple, Pink Floyd), novels (Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes), movies (Black Sabbath), anonymous occupants of a street address (The Residents), generic motor vehicles (The Cars), and an existential moment (Free, Nirvana).

The more imaginative names of bands invite us to explore the latent possibilities of meaning inherent in them. For instance:

QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE – Quicksilver is another name for the element mercury. The word comes from hydrargyrum, a Latinized form of the Greek word hydrargyros, meaning watery or liquid silver, which happens to serve as an apt description of the appearance of the Pacific Ocean in and around the Bay Area of San Francisco, where the band had its beginning. The element was named after the Roman god Mercury, a courier or messenger known for his speed (quickness); mercury is also the name of a neighboring planet. By the late medieval and early Renaissance period, to discover a woman was “quick” meant that she was “full of life,” that is, pregnant. The poet Walt Whitman associated the ocean with the womb (“out of the cradle endlessly rocking”), suggesting that the sound of the ocean gives us peace because it reminds us of our fetal, utopian existence within our mother's womb. Subsequent metaphorical elaborations of the word “service” came to mean a sexual partner’s dutiful obligation to provide sexual satisfaction to one’s lover. Alchemists once believed that mercury was the fundamental element from which all metals could be derived, and the purest of all metals was gold. Hence the derivation of one of Quicksilver’s songs, “Gold and Silver.” And the name of one of their compilations on CD is titled “Sons of Mercury.”

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS – “Doobie” is a slang term for a joint (marijuana inhaled in the form of a cigarette), possibly a pun derived from “Doob grass,” a perennial, creeping grass (Cynodon dactylon). “Grass,” of course, is slang for marijuana. The name seems, vaguely, to invoke the widely accepted view (at the time) of Native American cultures, which were thought to have included some form of drugs during religious rituals. It suggests the existence of a drug subculture on the order of those that flourished in Paris in the 1840s such as the Club des Haschischins, whose members included Charles Baudelaire, Alexander Dumas, Gerald de Nerval, and Thèophile Gautier. The word “brothers,” in this context, is vaguely subversive of brothers in the monastic sense, a group of men devoted to an ascetic ideal and religious devotion. Given this later connotation, the collocation “doobie brothers” is something of an oxymoron, or at least suggests the existence of a brotherhood based on the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs, as a shared form of mystical experience. The band’s biggest hit, “Listen to the Music,” suggests the existence of a widespread, if anonymous, grass roots brotherhood (comprised of both brothers and sisters).

THE MEKONS – Widely believed to have been named after the Mekon, a green-headed, evil alien intelligence featured in The Eagle, a 1950s British comic strip, the name has other latent meanings. For Michael Jarrett, the word mekon “conflates dope and shit: Rock ‘n’ roll is the opiate of the people; it’s the fecal matter of popular culture” (144). He’s right: “mekon” is the Greek word for poppy, and meconium—from the Greek mēkōnion, dim. of mēkōn, poppy; akin to Old High German mago, poppy—is the substance that comprises the first bowel movement of a newborn baby, black-greenish in color and consisting of epithelial cells, mucus, and bile. The word meconium derives from meconiumarion, meaning “opium-like,” possibly a reference to the tarry appearance of a newborn’s excrement, or possibly to Aristotle’s speculation that the substance induced sleep in the fetus. The lyrics to the band’s song, “Brutal” (on The Curse of the Mekons), about the nineteenth-century Chinese Opium Wars, explicitly reference the poppy, suggesting the band members’ awareness of the latent meaning of the word “mekon.” “Cocaine Lil” (The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll) is another instance.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spaceship Moog

For the synthesists of the late 1960s, as Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco point out in their fine book Analog Days (2002), to be properly recognized for their efforts on a recording was a real problem. They claim that within the recording industry during the late 60s, the status of a synthesist was institutionally ambiguous: was he or she an artist, or a technician (the latter being analogous to a computer programmer)?

Was the actual creation of original electronic sounds—the patching and programming—an artistic, or engineering achievement? With all its dials and wires, it was perhaps not surprising that producers and record-industry people regarded the Moogist as being more like a recording engineer….The record industry just did not know how to deal with this hybrid machine-instrument and its operators; it defied the normal categories. (125)

This fundamental ambiguity of electronic music has persisted to the present day. As Robert Ray points out:

Sampling and sequencing, go the current complaints, make musicians unnecessary: you can make records now entirely by recombining bits and pieces sampled from other records; you don’t have to play a musical instrument at all. (70)

Virtuosity, in other words, no longer seems relevant when it comes to music, just as rhetorical eloquence is no longer relevant within a culture that more and more communicates through emails and text messages. Early “Electro-pop” (or “Techno-pop”) groups, especially those of European origin such as Kraftwerk, exploited the ambiguity surrounding the synthesizer within the music industry: Were synthesists musicians, or merely technicians, patching the correct cables and tweaking the proper knobs? Songs such as “Showroom Dummies,” “The Model,” and “The Robots” seemed to underscore this fundamental ambiguity: art, or artifice; human, or simulacrum?

“Electro” was a British term used to designate early ‘80s African-American dance music that primarily used electronic instrumentation. Perhaps the essential Electro recording (and certainly a key recording of "old school" Hip Hop) is Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” a 1982 single featuring AB’s rapping to a (Roland) 808 drum machine and a sampled melodic figure from Kraftwerk. According to David Toop, in his article, “A to Z of Electro” (1996) that can be found here, the genre of dance music known as Electro “was black science fiction teleported to the dance floors of New York, Miami and LA; a super-stoopid fusion of video games, techno-pop, graffiti art, silver space suits and cyborg funk.” While Toop suggests important precursors to Electro are figures such as Sun Ra and George Clinton, it perhaps might be important to remember that, in the 60s—meaning early in its historical reception—the (Moog) synthesizer was strongly associated with transgression, transcendence, and transformation (see Pinch and Trocco’s Analog Days). These trans-itive associations with the synthesizer seemed to have informed all its subsequent developments in the 70s and early 80s, especially evident in the work of George Clinton (who strongly influenced Afrika Bambaataa), with his creation of his idiosyncratic space mythology, in which his own experience with cultural marginalization led to a strong association with the Alien Other.

Given the recent resurgence of Electro, we perhaps might do well to understand its origins in the Moog--and all its subsequent offspring, such as the drum machine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Wanna Be a Boss

Perhaps because Americans are so preoccupied with material acquisition, the workplace (or office space) is essential to their lives, a location where they spend huge amounts of their time. And if the workplace is so profoundly important, then so, too, as a consequence, is the boss. According to the OED, the word “boss” is an American word derived from the Dutch word baas, meaning “master,” although an older meaning of the word was “uncle.” Baas is supposedly related to the Old High German word basa, “aunt.” Primarily, although not exclusively, used by Americans, the word “boss” means “the equivalent of master in the sense of employer of labour,” but can be generally applied to “any one who has a right to give orders.” Since the word boss carries the meaning of “master,” to this day it carries a particular resonance in the American South, where, because of that region's history of slavery, the word must be used judiciously. I wonder, how many times is the word “boss” uttered in Cool Hand Luke (1967), a film set in the South in the context of a prison chain gang?

Americans also use the word to refer to “a manager or dictator of a party organization,” as in “party boss” (pastiched by the figure of “Boss Hogg” in The Dukes of Hazzard) or “mafia boss” (pastiched by Fred Williamson in Black Caesar). In the discourse of popular music, Bruce Springsteen is referred to as “The Boss,” although the designation carries no pejorative meaning, but is used to connote his power and prestige within the rock culture. But boss can also be used derisively, in the same way “big shot” carries two meanings, referring to someone who has power and influence, but also to someone who mistakenly believes he has power and influence. By 1960, the word boss had become a term of approbation, referring to anything the speaker perceived as new, original, exciting, or hip: a new clothing style, a new model of automobile, most anything, could be “boss.” In the spring of 1965, two California radio pioneers, Bill Drake and Gene Chenault, transformed the Top 40 format of Los Angeles radio station KHJ into something they named Boss Radio.

As far as I can tell (that is to say, so far as I know), the first use of “boss” in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll was by Eddie Cochran, in “Summertime Blues” (1958). Soon after, blues singer Jimmy Reed recorded “Big Boss Man” (1961), a song later covered by Elvis. But the word is no doubt is used far, far more often than I can possibly enumerate here.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Songs About The Boss (not Bruce Springsteen):

Gene Ammons – Boss Tenor (bebop jazz LP, 1960)
James Brown – The Boss (from the soundtrack to Black Caesar)
Albert Hammond Jr. – The Boss Americana
Mick Jagger – She’s the Boss
Jimmy Reed – Big Boss Man
Stan Ridgway – I Wanna Be A Boss
Diana Ross – The Boss
Rick Ross – The Boss
The Brian Setzer Orchestra – You’re the Boss
Shareefa – Need A Boss
Slim Thug – Like A Boss
The Sonics – Boss Hoss
They Might Be Giants – Boss of Me (from the soundtrack to Malcolm in the Middle)


The term Krautrock refers, following the concise definition provided by Michael Jarrett, to “a genre of German experimental rock that originated in sixties psychedelia (Faust), culminated in seventies electro-pop (Kraftwerk), and influenced new wave (New Order and PIL), rap (Afrika Bambaataa), and ambient-techno musics (Orb)” (138). “Kraut,” derived from the name of a food largely associated with Germany, sauerkraut (sour cabbage), is a racial slur for a German, just as “frog” is racial slang for a Frenchman because of his supposed dietary preference for frog legs. (Food is one of the primary means by which rival cultures distinguish themselves from one another—see Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked).

As a designation for a particular genre of music, the word Krautrock seems to have originated in Britain, where the music influenced numerous synth-based bands in the late 70s and early 80s. Eventually, Julian Cope, once a member of the band The Teardrop Explodes, authored a book, published slightly over a decade ago, titled Krautrocksampler (1995), an appreciation and survey of the music, which includes an annotated appendix consisting of 50 Kosmische Classics.

Krautrock—one of the few forms of music the designation for which is derived from a racial slur—defines itself by being the antithesis of schlager, a German word meaning “hitter” or “a hit.” According to answers.com, schlager is

a style of popular music that is prevalent in northern Europe, in particular Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Latvia and Lithuania, but also to a lesser extent in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Typical schlager tracks are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light, pleasant, throwaway pop tunes. Its lyrics are typically centered [on] love . . . relationships, and feelings.

Hence Julian Cope’s list of 50 Kosmische Classics is comprised not of (pop) songs but entire albums, the LP the privileged medium, in this case, over the 45 rpm single. Defined against schlager, Krautrock is much more than a matter of a supposedly superior medium. For instance, given its bias for the LP-based format, it prefers long, instrumental tunes as opposed to those with vocals, but also prefers (listed as a series of oppositions, with the privileged term on the left, the feature of schlager on the right):

The long song – The short song (generally)
Composition – Performance
Varied arrangements – Repetitive arrangements
Male band members – Female or integrated band members
Virtuosic (professional) playing – Non-virtuosic (amateur) playing
Cool, “distant” – Sentimental
Restrained – Florid
For listening – For dancing
Industrial ("metal machine," factory) – Lyrical

I’ll refer readers to the aforementioned webpage listing Julian Cope’s 50 favorite Krautrock recordings; in addition, I’ll recommend the following (on compact disc):

V/A – Space Box: Space, Krautrock and Acid Trips (Cleopatra)
V/A – Unknown Deutschland: The Krautrock Archive, Vol. I (Virgin)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rick Wright, 1943-2008

The BBC reported this morning that Rick Wright, founding member of Pink Floyd and that band's distinctive keyboardist, has died following a battle with cancer. He was 65. As is well known, Wright was an essential member of the early Pink Floyd, contributing his highly distinctive, psychedelic textures to the first Floyd albums. Although Wright most often sang background vocals, he occasionally sang lead vocals (“Time,” “Astronomy Domine”), while as a composer, his most well-known compositions were both from The Dark Side of the Moon: “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them.” He briefly left the band in the early 80s as a result of irreparable tensions he and Roger Waters were then experiencing, but re-joined the band following Waters' departure.

I am saddened by this news because it may well have been because of Rick Wright that I became a Pink Floyd fan in the first place. By the time I became seriously interested in Pink Floyd, around September 1973, I was in my second year of college, and The Dark Side of the Moon had been released to great fanfare earlier that year, and was topping the album charts. That album very quickly became a staple of FM radio, and because I was an impecunious college student, I was in no hurry to buy it. However, that fall I did, in fact, purchase my first Pink Floyd album, not Dark Side of the Moon, but Ummagumma (1969); it had, by the time I first heard it, been in release for about four years. I bought it used from a fellow boarder in the rooming house where I was living at the time; he happened to have just cued up "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" when I stopped by his room to say hello. I was immediately hooked, particularly by the eerie, slightly sinister sounds being made the keyboards; it was as if I was listening to the soundtrack of an unnamed horror movie. He, on the other hand, wasn't all that crazy about the album, and I subsequently bought it from him for $2 (or more precisely, several quarters, a few dimes and nickels), a fair price in those days for a used record (or, in this case, two records). I played "Astronomy Domine," "Careful With That Axe...," and "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" over and over on the old J.C. Penney stereo system I then owned, and by the time Christmas rolled around later that year, I received Dark Side of the Moon, which I'd asked for, as a Christmas present.

Moments after I read of Rick Wright's death, I was prompted, in remembrance, to play Ummagumma, which I now also own on CD. But I couldn't do it, and probably won't, for a long time. Nor am I inclined to listen to any Pink Floyd, although I'm sure the FM airwaves will be filled with the band's music as a tribute to this great, innovative musician. Moreover, it will be long time before I'm prompted to watch, say, Live at Pompeii again--too much of a museum piece now, reminding me of a time when bands such as Pink Floyd defined rock music's avant-garde. Syd Barrett's death a couple of years ago marked the end of the original line-up of Pink Floyd, but with Rick Wright's death, Pink Floyd is no more, now a part of rock history--now it "belongs to the ages."

There are any number of fan sites dedicated to Rick Wright. One might well begin here, and follow the links from that point.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Unexpected Twist

Drum roll please . . . According to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, what’s the most popular single of the past 50 years? Is it by Elvis? The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? They aren’t even in the top five. The most popular single during the past fifty years? Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.” According to Billboard,

“The Twist” is the only song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to enjoy two separate chart runs to No. 1: Sept. 19, 1960 (one week), and, following an October 1961 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Jan. 13, 1962 (two weeks). It also set a record for the most weeks (39) on the Hot 100 by a No. 1 song that held until UB40’s “Red Red Wine” lasted 40 weeks in 1988.

Billboard’s list, as many have remarked, seems counter-intuitive. As someone commented on Billboard’s website, many other songs in the history of pop have enjoyed multiple chart runs: The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” The Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” and The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.” The real puzzler for me, though, is the absence on the Hot 100 list of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The song reached No. 1 on the UK singles chart in 1968 and was among the top-selling singles of the year in that country. Later the song was a Top 10 hit in 1971 in the United States as a result of being re-released after Armstrong’s death in July 1971. But the song wasn’t finished yet. It was later featured in the film Good Morning, Vietnam (1988) and again was re-released as a single in the United States and elsewhere and did very well, reaching No. 1 in Australia in June 1988.

According to an article about Billboard’s list on Yahoo! News,

Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine, acknowledged that the list might not jibe with some fans’ personal thoughts of the most popular songs of the past 50 years.

“This is simply a chronicle of how each of these songs performed in their era on the Hot 100. We’re not saying these are the most memorable songs of your life. That would be something that's almost impossible to determine,” said Mayfield. “Everyone has a subjective frame of reference.”


The Billboard Hot 100 chart measures airplay and sales information (and more recently digital downloads) in determining the nation’s most popular songs. To determine the most popular song of the Hot 100 era, Billboard used a formula to determine the top song—not always relying on weeks at No. 1 since the data was reported differently in its early days.

Initially, Billboard relied on stations to report the most popular songs, and got sales surveys from record stores. But Mayfield said stations often stopped reporting on a song’s popularity if it was no longer a priority for record labels. And in 1991, Billboard began relying on sales data from Nielsen SoundScan and airplay data from Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. So Billboard weighted certain songs from different eras to make sure all songs were on an even playing field.

“We went through each era, and we looked through the rate of turnover. The rate of turnover was very high in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and we had to put a weight on that to make the chart runs of that era equal to the chart runs that can be accomplished since 1991,” he said.

In other words, some sort of algorithm was employed to approximate the chart runs of the past based on the pattern of runs established since 1991. Clearly, though, the data analyzed was taken only from chart runs in the United States, ignoring the rest of the world.

Apparently Chubby Checker wasn’t surprised about the popularity of “The Twist.” According to the Yahoo! News article:

“My music is less played that any performer that has been a No. 1 chart man on the planet,” said Checker, who also had hits with “Pony Time,” “The Fly” and “Let’s Twist Again,” which earned him a Grammy. “I don’t get the respect that Rod Stewart gets, or the Rolling Stones, or Frankie Valli. ... But I have to deal with it.”

While the complete list can be found here, I reproduce below the rest of the top Top 10:

2. Santana featuring Rob Thomas – Smooth
3. Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife
4. LeAnn Rimes – How Do I Live
5. Los Del Rio – The Macarena
6. Olivia Newton-John – Physical
7. Debby Boone – You Light Up My Life
8. The Beatles – Hey Jude
9. Mariah Carey – We Belong Together
10. Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart

Friday, September 12, 2008

Soul Stealer: Blood And Rain

Artwork courtesy of Michael Easton and Christopher Shy

With this post, I have the distinct honor of being among the first to announce the forthcoming publication of Michael Easton’s and Christopher Shy’s second collaboration, Soul Stealer: Blood And Rain (DMF Comics). Michael was kind enough to send me the teaser art, and gave me permission to post it here on my blog. This past July, I reviewed the initial book, “The Beaten And The Damned.” I wrote at the time that I found Soul Stealer to be “Dark, original, and sophisticated . . . a beautiful, marvelous book, one whose imaginative depth enchanted me in a way that I haven’t been for years.” Others agreed; a news update at Christopher Shy’s Studio Ronin website indicated that Soul Stealer exceeded half its print run during its first week of sales.

For those who have not yet read Soul Stealer, the story’s protagonist, Kalan, is a young, Etruscan warrior once cut to pieces by a brutal, hulking savage named Apis Bull, part man, part ox. Like the Frankenstein monster—whose remorseless loneliness and parentless lineage Kalan shares—Kalan is less a man than an assemblage (“there were days I wasn’t even sure who was calling the shots inside”), re-membered and restored to life by a magician named Strabo, the father of his lost beloved, Oxania. Motivated by his profound, eternal love for Oxania—taken from him by the capricious Gods—he can do nothing but wander for all eternity through time and space, searching for a sign, some way that he might re-unite with her. As compensation for his loss, the God Osiris has given him the ability to traverse between worlds: he is able to enter hell, find an individual soul, and deliver it to the land of the living—hence the title of the series, Soul Stealer.

As I wrote back in July, I found Soul Stealer to be a great imaginative accomplishment. In addition to the book's deft storytelling, I found Christopher Shy’s artwork to be distinctive for its masterful control of light, poised between functional representation and evocative (non-representational) expressionism. Meanwhile, the multi-talented Michael Easton, currently starring in the daytime soap One Life to Live, talks about Soul Stealer here. Christopher Shy’s Studio Ronin website is available here. In addition, DMF Comics has made available a very nice Soul Stealer T-Shirt. As a fan of the series, I very much look forward to the second installment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Histoire de l’oeil

An ancient adage says, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” while in the Gospel of Mark the eyes are likened to the windows of the heart (7:20-23). Perhaps because beauty is so closely associated with the eyes, the eyes are considered highly seductive. Despite the vital role that she plays in his La Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy, Dante’s beloved Beatrice is admired almost exclusively for her smile and shining eyes; otherwise, we know very little of her physical appearance. In the Middle Ages, gray eyes were considered a sign of nobility (class, but not necessarily character). By the time of Shakespeare, the metaphorical relation between eyes and beauty had become such a hackneyed literary stereotype that he tried to work against that tradition (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”).

But according to Georges Bataille (in his essay Eye, 1929, first published accompanied by a portrait of Joan Crawford, pictured), for the civilized person, the eye is a source of great anxiety. While the eyes of animals and men are considered extremely attractive and seductive, “extreme seductiveness is probably at the boundary of horror” (17). He writes:

. . . the eye could be related to the cutting edge, whose appearance provokes both bitter and contradictory reactions; this is what the makers of the Andalusian Dog must have hideously and obscurely experienced when, among the first images of the film, they determined the bloody loves of these two beings. That a razor would cut open the dazzling eye of a young and charming woman—this is precisely what a young man would have admired to the point of madness, a young man watched by a small cat, a young man who by chance holding in his hand a coffee spoon, suddenly wanted to take an eye in that spoon.

Obviously a singular desire on the part of a white, from whom the eyes of the cows, sheep, and pigs that he eats have always been hidden. For the eye—as Stevenson exquisitely puts it, a cannibal delicacy—is, on our part, the object of such anxiety that we will never bite into it. The eye is even ranked high in horror, since it is, among other things, the eye of conscience. (17)

Kim Carnes recorded “Bette Davis Eyes,” a song explicitly about the seductiveness of the eyes--but it is a song, if you seriously think about it, that tries to push seductiveness to the boundary of horror, that is, it articulates a strong anxiety about the eyes. Georges Bataille had a fascination with Joan Crawford's eyes, Kim Carnes with Bette Davis's. How utterly appropriate, then, that both of these actresses--linked in their professional lives through their well-publicized and bitter rivalry--would, in the latter stages of their careers, star in horror films. And how remarkable that Georges Franju, director of Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) would be linked to Georges Bataille through a mutual fascination with the abottoir--Franju would make a memorable film about a Parisian abottoir, Le Sang des bêtes, while Bataille would use the image of the abottoir in his writings as a way to explore the relationship between death, ritual, and sacrifice. None of this, of course, prevents popular songwriters from employing the standard relationship between the eyes, the heart, and the soul.

Audio Ocularity, A – Z

Abba – Angeleyes
Jackson Browne – Doctor, My Eyes
Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
Bob Dylan – Blood In My Eyes
The Eagles – Lyin’ Eyes
The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You
The Guess Who – These Eyes
Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
Billy Idol – Eyes Without A Face
Judas Priest – Prisoner Of Your Eyes
Lenny Kravitz – Little Girl’s Eyes
Gary Lewis and the Playboys – Has She Got the Nicest Eyes
Van Morrison – Brown-Eyed Girl
Willie Nelson – Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Roy Orbison – Sad Eyes
The Platters - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Light Your Windows
Todd Rundgren – I Saw the Light
Sugarloaf – Green-Eyed Lady
Them – Mystic Eyes
U2 – Spanish Eyes
Bobby Vee – The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Bobby Womack (Patti LaBelle and George Benson) – Through the Eyes of a Child
XTC – Love At First Sight
Neil Young – Tired Eyes
ZZ Top – Penthouse Eyes

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection Has Arrived

Happily, Time-Life’s new Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection box set, graciously sent to me from the compilation’s producer, Joe Sasfy, arrived late last week. I would like to say that I am now ready to present my informed opinion of the recently-released box set, but I simply didn’t have the time this weekend to sit down and gather my thoughts on it—three days is neither time enough to fully assess the contents nor fully assess the presentation. I most certainly will offer my considered judgment as soon as I’m able, very soon. I suspect that many of those who have come across my blog as the result of a web search already have seen the amusing infomercial being hosted by former Sha Na Na member Bowzer, and want to know, frankly, if the collection is worth the money: it is currently listed on Time-Life’s website at $149.95 (with free shipping), which works out to less than $.99 a song, the current price of a download at Apple’s iTunes. I can’t say I’m ready to pronounce my final judgment on the collection at this point—whether it is worth paying $150 for (although I have seen it for sale on eBay for much less), that is to say. I can say, though, that the box consists of five jewel cases tucked within a handsome, sturdy case that imitates in miniature the old portable LP caddy with a latch and handle in which one would cart around one’s vinyl records. And like the old portable caddy, the case lid hinges at the top rear so that you merely tip the lid back to open it up. Snugly tucked inside the case are five individual jewel cases each holding two discs, the first CD in each labeled Side A and the second Side B; each disc contains 16 songs for a total of 32 songs in each individually titled unit—except for the fifth, the one titled “The Ultimate One Hit Wonders Collection,” which, for some mysterious reason, contains only 15 songs on each of the two discs (surely there were more than a mere thirty songs from this period qualifying as “One Hit Wonders”). Hence, just as the promotional advertisements claim, there are 158 songs included in the collection. Each individual jewel case has been allotted its own accompanying 8-page booklet containing liner notes on various songs and/or artists contributed by critic John Morthland.

The song selection ranges from 1954-1962, with the vast majority of them, as one might expect, from 1956-59. Nineteen of the songs date from 1960-61; only one (The Corsairs’ “Smoky Places”) dates from 1962. Rather than being organized chronologically (my own preferential form of organization), the songs are (loosely) grouped thematically. Hence each of the five 2/CD cases is given a title: the aforementioned “Ultimate One Hit Wonders Collection,” plus titles derived from the name of a song included in the individual subset: “Teen Beat,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Raunchy,” and “Sh-Boom.” Whether a thematic (or perhaps lyrical) form of organization is optimal in this instance is debatable, as each disc contains songs from different years and consisting of different styles. For instance, “Teen Beat” intersperses instrumentals throughout the two sides—e.g., “Tequila,” “Honky Tonk (Part 2),” “Teen Beat”—but these songs are placed side-by-side with songs such as Larry Williams’ “Short Fat Fannie” and—oddly—The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley.” Why not a whole disc (“side”) devoted to instrumentals? The argument might be that such as presentation imitates the format of Top 40 radio, when commercial programming would have dictated such heterogeneous presentation. Perhaps, but then why not organize the songs by year of release, and then in turn present them in order of release, when the information on the songs' chart position (available in the booklet) would make a bit more sense, contextually speaking?

At this point I’m still working my way through the selections and the way they are sequenced on the individual discs, so again, I’m not ready at this moment to present my final assessment. But I wanted those many individuals searching for information on the collection to have my initial thoughts. I’m loath to delay further, but there’s currently too much at the moment on my proverbial plate. I hope this information is useful to those considering purchasing the collection. More in a few short days.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Caravan of Prophets, Seers & Sages

Previously, in my entries of May 16, May 31, July 1, July 22, and August 18, I have discussed at length my experiment of trying to listen to all the rock and R&B albums released in the calendar year 1968 in the order in which they were released. Please refer to these earlier blog entries for the explanation for such an unusual project (and all its pitfalls). Listed below is October's listening schedule, for anyone wishing to duplicate my experiment. As I’ve reiterated many times, I cannot claim my list is infallible, but I continue to work to improve it. If you look back over the previous postings, you'll notice that I have continued to add to, and revise, them once I've received new or updated information. Here's the list I have assembled for October 1968, a rather interesting month in terms of the heterogeneity of albums released.

The Association, Greatest Hits
The Beau Brummels, Bradley's Barn
Canned Heat, Living the Blues
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Strictly Personal
Caravan, Caravan
Cream, [Live Cream Vol. II] [3/9-10 & 10/4] [March 1972]
Jethro Tull, This Was
Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland 10/14
Nazz, Nazz
Procol Harum, Shine on Brightly
Sly and the Family Stone, Life
Traffic, Traffic
Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention, [Ahead of Their Time] [10/23] [1993]
Tyrannosaurus Rex, Prophets, Seers & Sages - The Angels of the Ages 10/14

Additions and/or emendations are, as always, welcome.

A Head With Hair

Perhaps because our society largely judges one another by appearances, clothes, weight, and hair are crucial factors contributing to what is known as “body image.” Perhaps that explains why, for as long as I can remember, hair has been so frequently referred to in lyrics to popular songs. When I was a small boy, Elvis’s hair was a topic of conversation: he used oils and creams to “grease” his hair, in imitation of black men who used oils and creams to straighten their hair in order for it to look like white men’s hair. Soon after, the Beatles’ hair became a controversial issue, and soon after that hippies and their (long) hair became a subject of controversy. In the 1970s, rock stars preferred “blow-dried” hair; subsequently, in the 1980s, hair dryers and gels contributed to the cultivated image of what are now referred to as “hair bands.” For as long as I can remember, hair has received as much attention as clothes and weight.

There are lots of songs about hair; there has even been a list compiled of songs about hair. If one is only concerned about compiling songs with the word "hair" in the title, then the list might remain rather short. But songs about hair are far more plentiful than such a narrowly defined list might suggest. Hence I have also set out to compile a list of songs about hair, but I have not felt especially compelled to limit my choices to mere titles, but to crucial references to hair in the lyrical content. To the aforementioned list, I add the list below, not exhaustive by any means, but a good indication of the extent to which hair is frequently invoked more than titles alone might indicate, and in ways that might be surprising. Hair isn’t simply eroticized or fetishized in these songs: it is a sign of individuality, non-conformity, but also a form of sexual innuendo.

America – Sister Golden Hair
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Hair Pie: Bake 1 and Hair Pie: Bake 2
Johnny Burnette – You’re Sixteen
Rodney Carrington – The Pubic Hair Song
The Cowsills – The Rain, The Park & Other Things
Elvis (Presley) – Treat Me Nice
Five Man Electrical Band – Signs
Stephen Foster – Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair
Hall & Oates – Sara Smile
Don Henley – Dirty Laundry
Waylon Jennings – Amanda
George Jones – Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport
Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger
Nazareth – Hair of the Dog
Dolly Parton – Jolene
Gene Pitney – She Lets Her Hair Down
Jimmie Rodgers – Honeycomb
Kenny Rogers and The First Edition – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves
Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through the Night
Sonny and Cher – I Got You Babe
Conway Twitty – I’d Love to Lay You Down
Leroy Van Dyke – I Fell In Love With a Pony Tail
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vestis Verum Reddit

In last night’s blog on the subject of “sleaze,” I said that, considered as a matter of fashion or style, sleaze does not immediately invoke glamor—indeed, it seems resolutely anti-glamorous, a fashion statement which is firmly anti-fashion. Since the adjective "sleazy" originally was used as “a slur on cheap products from Silesia,” primarily cheap or inexpensive cloths and fabrics, I woke up this morning, for rather obvious reasons, thinking about clothing. Vestis verum reddit Quintilianus observed, “Clothes make the man,” and that ancient adage seems to be true at least far as popular music is concerned.

Here’s roughly two dozen pop songs exploring the old adage vestis verum reddit:

The Beatles – Baby’s in Black
Clarence Carter – Patches
Bob Dylan – Boots of Spanish Leather
Bob Dylan – Man in the Long Black Coat
The Eagles – Those Shoes
John Fred and His Playboy Band – Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)
The Hard-Ons – Girl in a Sweater
The Hollies – Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Brian Hyland – Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
Dickey Lee – Patches
The Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra
Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors
Buzz Rabin – Angels in Red
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness
Diane Renay – Navy Blue
Marty Robbins – A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)
The Rolling Stones – Factory Girl
The Royal Teens – Short Shorts
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels – Devil With A Blue Dress
Sonny and Cher – Baby Don’t Go
Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well
Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
The Velvet Underground with Nico – Venus in Furs
Bobby Vinton – Blue Velvet
Stevie Wonder – The Woman in Red
ZZ Top – Sharp Dressed Man


My previous blog entry discussed the word “raunchy,” in which I concluded by saying there was a rather significant difference between the meanings of raunchy and sleazy, insisting that the words are in no way synonymous, and indeed they are not. Raunchy is a term derived originally from the operation of the olfactory organ: the word raunchy was most likely derived from the Latin rancidus, meaning “rank” or “stinky.” In contrast, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the adjective sleazy dates from around 1644 and was used, according to William Safire, as “a slur on cheap products from Silesia,” particularly fabrics:

1644, “hairy, fuzzy,” later “flimsy, unsubstantial” (1670), of unknown origin; one theory traces it somehow to Silesian “of the eastern German province of Silesia” (Ger. Schleisen), where fine linen or cotton fabric was made (Silesia in ref. to cloth is attested in Eng. from 1674; and Sleazy as an abbreviated form is attested from 1670, but OED is against this). Sense of “sordid” is from 1941; sleaze (n.) “condition of squalor” is a 1967 back-formation; meaning “person of low moral standards,” and the adj. form, are attested from 1976.

The word sleaze encompasses the worlds of music, art and fashion in the same way the words “Punk” and “Grunge” do, but whereas the latter two movements (strongly associated with a particular form of popular music, rock) had exemplary figures or “stars” (e.g., Johnny Rotten, Kurt Cobain) whose striking singularity attracted the interest of outsiders, sleaze does not. Sleaze is not organized around any glamorous key figures, and while it resolutely lacks glamor, it most certainly expresses an “attitude” – an adopted form of behavior and a preferred set of values. To understand sleazy (understood as a form of cheap, or poorly made clothing) as sordid is to invoke the latter word’s etymology: sordid is from the Latin sordidus “dirty,” from sordere “be dirty, be shabby” (as in attire), sordere related to sordes, “dirt.” But to be sleazy can also mean to be morally corrupt, a meaning also derived from sordid by the process of metaphorical elaboration, meaning “festering” (as in corrupted, or infected), but also “foul, low, [and] mean [common, without distinction].”

A Sampling of Sleazy Songs:
[In some instances, the featured artist may not be the composer of the song]

The Doors – The End
Tommy James & the Shondells – Hanky Panky
Mary MacGregor – Torn Between Two Lovers
Meatloaf – Paradise By the Dashboard Light
Nine Inch Nails – Closer
Prince – Darling Nikki
John Prine – Let’s Invite Them Over
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap – Young Girl
The Rolling Stones – When the Whip Comes Down
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs – Li’l Red Riding Hood
Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop
Soft Cell – Seedy Films
Starland Vocal Band – Afternoon Delight
Rod Stewart – Maggie May
Rod Stewart – Tonight’s the Night
Conway Twitty – Tight Fittin’ Jeans

Thursday, September 4, 2008


The word raunch is to raunchy as the word sleaze is to sleazy—or the word grunge is to grungy: by the process known as back-formation, a new noun is created by omitting the -y from an adjective. Raunchy, of course, is a word used by those who disapprove of bawdiness, smuttiness, licentiousness, and various other manifestations of blatant sexual arousal. Rock music in its Dionysian mode—Elvis 1954-58—has frequently been called raunchy, no surprise since the collocation “rock and roll” is, as almost everyone knows, a euphemism for sexual intercourse in Black English Vernacular (BEV). How did the word raunchy get its start? According to William Safire:

There may be a connection to the Latin rancidus, “rank, stinking,” and its English offshoot, with a more general sense of “odious, nasty.” The O.E.D. has a 1903 citation of ranchy, about a “flea-ranchy” old monkey. An early sexual connotation was in a 1959 British book that described a wedding at which the bridegroom spoke of his intent to worship his bride’s body. “There was an embarrassed pause at this; and then one of the bridesmaids remarked, ‘A bit ranchy, that.’”
Along the way, users of the adjective clipped the last letter, turning it into a noun. “Presley made his pelvis central to his act,” wrote Time in 1964, “and the screams of his admirers were straight from the raunch.”

Hence the pelvis is to raunch what sweat is to Funk, and smell, in the sense of body odor, is common to both. Raunchy is etymologically linked to the Latin rancidus (“stinking”), and “bad body odor” is also, according to Michael Jarrett, one of the meanings of Funk as derived from “the African concept of lu-fuki” (33). Raunchy and funky are therefore roughly synonymous, both invoking the body in all its rank, pungent fecundity. But neither raunch nor funk is synonymous with sleazy.

Sleazy songs are a subject for a future blog.

A Few Raunchy Tunes:

James Brown – Cold Sweat
Tim Buckley – Get On Top
The Commodores – Brick House
Confederate Railroad – Trashy Women
Elvis (Presley) – Hound Dog
Exile – Kiss You All Over
Johnny Horton – Sugar Coated Baby
The Isley Brothers – Between the Sheets
Bill Justis – Raunchy
Led Zeppelin – The Lemon Song
Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire
Montrose – Rock Candy
Little Richard – Tutti Frutti
The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women
Joe Tex – Aint’ Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)
Johnny Winter And – Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I received an interesting email from David Borden, Director, Retired, of the Digital Music Program, Department of Music, at Cornell University, containing information that adds yet another piece of knowledge to our understanding of the Moog synthesizer in the context of the late 1960s and early 1970s rock culture. Mr. Borden wrote in response to an entry I posted back in early May about the particular modular Moog that was featured in Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970). I encourage readers to refer to, or to re-read, the complete text here, but for purposes of convenience I reproduce below the relevant excerpt from my earlier blog:

The special virtue of the Moog was its durability; there was no “right” or “wrong” way to use it—no particular grouping of patches, or combination of knob settings, could damage it. On the other hand, some patch combinations and knob settings would not yield any sound, so while there may have been no right or wrong way to play around with it, if you didn’t know what you were doing, nothing would happen. At the time, therefore, someone who knew how to use it—such as Jon Weiss, "the man from Moog”—was quite valuable.

However, based on his considerable experience with early versions of the Moog synthesizer, David Borden offered a correction to this passage, saying that I was not quite right about the durability of early Moog synthesizers. He writes:

Actually, there was a way to mess up the Moog modules by patching. I did it many times—in 1967. By the time Jon [Weiss] got there (to the Moog Co.) Bob had redesigned the modules so that (mostly) nothing could ruin a module due to strange patching.

I would encourage those interested to visit David Borden’s website, where one can find lots of information on his very interesting career. For instance, in 1969 he formed one of the first live performance synthesizer ensembles, called Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company, with Steve Drews and Linda Fisher. His work Easter was performed live on Easter Sunday, 1970 featuring the first live performance of a MiniMoog (pictured above; the official debut of which was still months away). At the time, no one else was performing with Moog synthesizers except for Wendy Carlos and Richard Teitelbaum, but Wendy Carlos performed live infrequently (in part due to the patching difficulties of early modular synthesizers--the MiniMoog would change that) and Richard Teitelbaum was still in Europe. Later, director William Friedkin commissioned Borden to write the score for The Exorcist, but as is well known Friedkin opted for Mike Oldfield’s minimalist derivation on his work Tubular Bells, and only about 45 seconds of Borden's material was used in the completed film.

I wish to thank Mr. Borden for writing in and sharing his knowledge about the early period of the Moog synthesizer. We can now better approximate the adoption of the Moog (that is, the MiniMoog) by rock musicians beginning in the early 1970s.

A Few LPs On Which the MiniMoog Appears:

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition (1971)
Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company – S/T (1973) [Reissued as 1970-1973 with previously unissued recordings (1999)]
Gary Numan/Tubeway Army – Replicas (1979)
Rush – A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Synergy [Larry Fast] – Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra (1975)
Rick Wakeman – Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973)
Yes - Close To The Edge (1972)