Saturday, October 31, 2009

They Did The Monster (Power Pop) Mash

Abbey Pub poster taken from Penthouse Sweets website.

The Abbey Pub on Chicago’s northwest side kicked off its tribute band weekend last night in fine style with six local acts performing in the guise of famous rock bands.

Openers Benge & Short offered a mostly acoustic performance of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe songs, and their harmonies were perfect. “Cruel To Be Kind” and “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” were particularly memorable. Next up was Chris Dorf and Friends, whose high-energy set of R.E.M. covers like “Radio Free Europe” and “South Central Rain” electrified the audience. The band was basically Skapone with a guest singer who portrayed Michael Stipe with a wig for the older songs and with a shaved head for the newer stuff; and Dorf’s brother, who played guitar and added mandolin to “Losing My Religion.”

Phil Angotti, along with a band that included Ellis Clark on keyboards, offered stellar renditions of vintage Squeeze material like “Black Coffee In Bed,” Tempted,” and “Is That Love?” In addition to Angotti’s strong vocals, there were plenty of strong harmonies. Broken China covered most of The Bangles’ big hits, but it would have been interesting to see them take on Hoffs and company’s less commercial fare like “Hero Takes A Fall” or “Some Dreams Come True.” Still, the audience loved Broken China, holding up lighters during “Eternal Flame” and waving their arms to “Walk Like An Egyptian.”

M. Marlow offered a highly entertaining take on Weezer, from the early “Buddy Holly” to the current “Troublemaker.” Penthouse Sweets captured the belligerent attitude of The Sex Pistols by flashing middle fingers and spraying the audience with beer, while roaring through covers of “Pretty Vacant” and “Anarchy In The U.K.”

All the bands offered great music, and the enthusiastic audience members, many of whom came in costumes, made the evening more fun. The Abbey Pub will be at it again tonight, with an impressive line-up that includes Tomorrow The Moon as The Psychedelic Furs; Androgynous Mustache as The J. Geils Band; The Delafields as The B-52’s; The Webstirs as Fleetwood Mac; and Tiny Speakers as The Everly Brothers. Unfortunately, I can’t make tonight’s show, but I highly recommend it. Hey Abbey Pub, how about making this an annual monster mash?

31 Songs For Halloween - October 31st: “Experiment In Terror”

All this month, I’ve been spotlighting rock songs that in one way or another, exude the Halloween spirit. There are a lot of worthy candidates I didn’t get to, including at least hundreds in the heavy metal genre. I also passed on novelty hits like Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” and Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” in order to give props to lesser known bands like Bohemia, Off Broadway, Over The Rhine, The Goldstars, Fingerprintz, and The Umbrellas. But I tried to present a good variety on my list by including songs from Blue Oyster Cult, Heart, The Hoodoo Gurus, Fleetwood Mac, Lene Lovich, R.E.M., The B-52’s, Queen, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Warren Zevon, Ministry, and David Bowie. And now, the rock artist who gets the honor of appearing in the 31 Songs For Halloween finale is . . . Henry Mancini???

“Experiment In Terror” has a slow, ominous beat and twanging guitars that conjure images of a monster creeping along some darkened street, but it was composed for a 1962 cops and robbers movie called Experiment In Terror. In the Chicago area, this song is much better known as the theme for Creature Features, which presented old time horror movies like House Of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy’s Ghost on WGN every Saturday night from 1970 to 1976. In addition to “Experiment In Terror,” the show opened with a poem, which according to the “Unofficial” Creature Features website was written by WGN staffer Karen Verwolf. From what I can tell, that’s her real name. Werewolf? There, wolf. There, castle. Why am I quoting from Young Frankenstein? Anyway, Verwolf’s lines like, “Gruesome ghouls and grisly ghosts, wretched souls and cursed hosts” were read by Marty McNeely and Carl Greyson, both of whom served as announcer during the show’s run.

To be honest, “Experiment In Terror” wasn’t even on my 31 Songs For Halloween list until my wife Pam suggested it about halfway through October. I realized it would make a great finale since it will be forever linked to that horrifying guy in the top hat and cloak in the minds of many Chicagoans. In my comedy group Famous In The Future, we used “Experiment In Terror” to introduce a satirical skit I had written about the workplace called “Night Of The Living Temps.”

“Experiment In Terror” recalls our youthful fascination with monsters, the hours we spent trick or treating, carving pumpkins, and going to neighborhood Halloween parties in garages or basements. Plus, it’s a great song. In addition to the eerie guitars, a string arrangement adds drama and a cinematic feel. Later, there’s even a sexy sounding saxophone that puts the vamp in vampire. Have a fun time partying today. Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 30, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 30th: “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

What better way to follow yesterday’s “Bird Song” entry than with a cat? Even better, since this is the day before All Hallows Eve, a black cat. Few songs have made a more eerie entrance than “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” the theme from director Paul Schrader’s 1982 horror film, Cat People. After a slow drum beat and a swirl of synthesizers, David Bowie emerges, singing, “See these eyes so green/I can stare for a thousand years.” His voice is so dark and deep you have no trouble believing him, and when he adds, “I’ve been putting out fire with gasoline,” you know there’s danger afoot. Set to a guitar driven arrangement crafted by veteran film composer Giorgio Moroder (Flashdance, Midnight Express) Bowie’s lyrics evoke the doomed characters from the movie. Irena and her brother Paul, played by Natassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell respectively, are descendants of humans who mated with leopards. This causes them to turn into panthers whenever they have sex with people, and they can’t return to their human forms without killing somebody. Bowie has created several of his own fascinating characters through his music over the years, and he’s just as adept in conveying Irena and Paul’s tortured emotions. “Still this pulsing night/A plague I call a heartbeat/Just be still with me/Ya wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.” The movie Cat People successfully tapped into the superstitions we’ve had about felines for centuries. Even today, it’s a good idea to make sure black house cats are kept indoors on Halloween to prevent deranged people from hurting them. And steer clear of panthers as well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 29th: “Bird Song”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

The arrival of new wave and punk rock in the late 1970s introduced an exciting cast of talented and sometimes intimidating female performers like Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux, and Nina Hagen. In 1979, Lene Lovich, a singer with a passion for bizarre outfits and even more bizarre hair, released the frightening “Bird Song” as a single on Stiff Records. While the lyrics don’t mention anything too diabolical, Lovich’s high-pitched warble, the song’s gothic arrangement, and an ominous-sounding male chorus create a nightmarish ambience. All the while remaining catchy enough for the dance floor. Basically, this is a dark twist on the old expression, “A little bird told me,” in which a scheming feathered creature steals a woman’s boyfriend by tricking her into thinking he’s been untrue. “So with the bird, one day, you flew away/I woke up too late, you had gone/Fading on . . . with this song/Of the hurting little bird.” Lovich delivers these lines, and others like, “Such a cold bird, so hard, captured your heart/Does it matter I am falling apart” with a Nora Desmond like intensity. Later, she mentions the flesh “Of the dead little bird,” but it’s unclear whether she killed it. The whole avian thing seems to be a metaphor until you see the startling rock video Lovich created for “Bird Song,” which is executed in the style of a vintage European horror flick. She plays a runaway bride, leaving her guy at the altar while she runs outside to challenge a raven to a staring contest. The male chorus becomes a choir of priests or deacons, one of whom pounds away at the pipe organ like Lon Chaney. Maybe Lovich did lose out to an actual bird. “Still I watch the sky/Still I wonder why/Still I hope that I can carry on.” Regardless of whether the villain is animal or human, Lene Lovich’s “Bird Song” record and video are genuine Halloween classics.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 28th: “Tam Lin”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

Along with Steeleye Span, whose “Allison Gross” reared its ugly head earlier on this list, Fairport Convention helped revitalize folk rock in England by electrifying traditional ballads with modern arrangements. “Tam Lin,” from Fairport Convention’s 1969 album, Liege And Lief, features a strong-willed heroine in a hair-raising tale of lust, evil curses, and redemption. It’s based on Scottish folklore although variations have surfaced in other cultures as well. Brought to life by the terrific lead vocalist Sandy Denny, the lyrics warn maidens to steer clear of a wooded area called Carter Hall because a creepy elf named Tam Lin dwells there. Some versions of the original ballad offered unsavory reasons why a particular maiden named Janet ignores the warning, but Fairport Convention goes with the more positive view that she believes she has a right to pick roses at Carter Hall since it’s part of her family’s property. “When up there came young Tam Lin says, ‘Lady, pull no more./And why come you to Carter Hall without command from me?’/‘I’ll come and go,’ young Janet said, ‘and ask no leave of thee.” Fairport Convention breaks up the narrative with energetic instrumental passages driven by electric guitar and fiddle. Although it’s not stated clearly, Janet’s encounter with Tam Lin includes him seducing her, and later there are consequences. “Well, up then spoke her father dear and he spoke meek and mild/‘Oh, and alas, Janet,’ he said, ‘I think you go with child.” By then, she’s fallen in love with the little guy. “For if my love were an earthly knight as he is an elfin grey/I’d not change my own true love for any knight you have.” Janet goes back to Carter Hall to see if Tam Lin wants to trade the woods for a family, castle and white picket fence. He’s game, especially since his only other option at that point is being offered up as a human sacrifice. “The Queen of Faeries caught me when from my horse I fell/And at the end of seven years she pays a tithe to hell/I so fair and full of flesh and feared it be myself.” The magic of Halloween night not only offers Tam Lin a means to escape, but through Janet’s love, it can also transform him back into the handsome knight he was before the Queen of Faeries cast a spell on him. Janet carries out the elaborate ritual Tam Lin prescribes, and wins his freedom. The Queen of Faeries is furious with the outcome. “‘Oh had I known, Tam Lin,’ she said, ‘what this knight I did see/I have looked him in the eyes and turned him to a tree.’” Tam Lin Balladry lists several more sinister variations on the original ballad than Fairport Convention’s version, but there is one that depicts The Queen Of Faeries expressing a grudging admiration for Janet’s pluck. On that note, we can also thank Fairport Convention for its well-executed take on this spooky legend.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 27th: “Hydrogenic”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

The 2007 film, You Weren’t There: A History Of Chicago Punk, which was recently released on DVD, showcases a thriving alternative music scene that was tragically overlooked by the rest of the country. Bohemia certainly qualifies as an act that deserved national exposure. Back in the early 1980s, the band’s high energy assault, led by charismatic lead vocalist/keyboards player Carla Evonne, prompted a Chicago daily newspaper critic to proclaim that Bohemia was every bit as good as X from Los Angeles. On a personal level, Carla Evonne and her mates were the inspiration for a novel I’m in the process of writing. Following the 1980 release of a self-titled, three-song 10 inch EP in 1980, Bohemia struck again a year later with their impressive debut LP, Deviations. The album’s title served to foreshadow an obsession with offbeat and disturbing subject matter on songs like “Plastic Doll,” “Standard Deviations,” “Empty Room,” and “Dr. Werner.” “Hydrogenic” was dark in its own fun, highly melodic way. A punk rock masterpiece that offers a girl meets mutant love story with an underlying jab at nuclear energy, “Hydrogenic” kicks off with Zirbel’s revved up bass playing and an extended instrumental intro. Carla Evonne sets the romantic tale in motion, singing, “Since I met you baby/I haven’t been the same/You hit me like an H-bomb and now I hardly know my name.” Her lover’s appearance has been drastically changed by exposure to massive doses of radiation. “Momma says you’re different/With your long green hair/You got webs between your fingers/But I don’t even care.” As the music zips along, Carla Evonne continues to sing the praises of her unique beau: “I can see you glowing in the dark/In my life you really caused a spark.” The satirical lyrics are punctuated by an overjoyed chorus of, “Ooh, our love is new/Our love is new . . . nuclear.” Sadly, none of Bohemia’s work is available on CD, but you can check out a few of its live performances on YouTube.

Monday, October 26, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween: October 26th: “Dig It Up”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

Australia’s The Hoodoo Gurus are not only one of the most talented garage bands around, they’re also one of the spookiest. This was evident on their rollicking 1984 debut, Stoneage Romeos, which comes across as the perfect soundtrack to a Halloween party. “Leilani” is about a tropical human sacrifice, “In The Echo Chamber” is based on a torture scene from Get Smart, and “Death Ship” describes a ghostly crew that lures other sailors to their doom. “Dig It Up” features a galloping backbeat, twanging guitars that raise the spirit of The Cramps, and opens with the line, “My girlfriend lives in the ground.” Head Guru Dave Faulkner sings of placing flowers on a grave each day and laments, “I want her back/Because I look so bad, so bad in black/Like a maniac.” Later, he concludes, “You can’t bury love, you gotta dig it up.” The band breaks into some wild jamming, along with Faulkner’s ear-piercing screams. The cause of the beloved’s death is never revealed, because it would be too painful. “My friends, you ask me why she’s six feet down/I can’t tell you why ‘cos if I even try/I’d fall flat down on my face.” Faulkner’s promise to paint his girlfriend’s room pink and blue doesn’t seem like much of an incentive to return from the dead, but then “Dig It Up,” like the best of The Hoodoo Gurus’ energetic garage rock, skillfully balances the macabre with the silly.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 25th: “Full Moon Turn My Head Around”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

Few objects have appeared in more scary movies, novels, music, and art than the full moon. It can transform a man into a werewolf, it provides the perfect backdrop for a witch flying on her broomstick, and as we learned in the Pink Floyd masterpiece, Dark Side Of The Moon, it will bring lunatics to your hallway. The Moody Blues called it a “cold hearted orb that rules the night.” Back in 1979, the Chicago power pop band Off Broadway reflected on lunar-related madness with “Full Moon Turn My Head Around,” from its flawless debut, On. The song captured the party atmosphere that had made Off Broadway’s live performances so much fun. After introducing his fellow musicians and their mission, “We got a band, we got good, good band, we got a good band/We got a beat, we got a U.S. beat, we got a good beat,” lead vocalist Cliff Johnson confesses that he’s feeling edgy and a little crazy. The cause can be found directly above him. “When the moon is full a boy like me can definitely lose his head.” His comic, maniacal laugh recalls Napoleon XIV on his novelty hit, “They’re Coming To Take Me Away.” Meanwhile the band charges through a frantic but highly melodic arrangement. It’s crazy that Off Broadway never achieved the mass success it deserved, but at least the band is still regarded as one of the finest examples of Midwestern power pop. Cliff Johnson is currently working on a solo project.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 24th: “Wolves, Lower”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

The lyrics for R.E.M.’s “Wolves, Lower” won’t send chills down your spine or put you in a festive, Halloween party mood. Kicking off with the odd command, “Suspicion yourself, suspicion yourself, don’t get caught,” these lyrics don’t do much of anything. There’s some talk of a corner garden, a house in order, and wilder lower wolves, but what it all means is anyone’s guess. It’s the way vocalist Michael Stipe invokes these cryptic images, and the jangling guitar-driven arrangement that make “Wolves, Lower,” from the 1982 Chronic Town EP, such a haunting experience. I still remember how the song grabbed my attention the first time I heard it on WXRT. Back then, everything R.E.M. did seemed shrouded in mystery, including their dimly lit live performances that evoked a campfire ambience. That elusive spirit carried over to the next release, Murmur, particularly on murky songs like “Pilgrimage” and “Perfect Circle.” It was like The Byrds had formed a cult and were conjuring music out in the kudzu-infested fields of Athens, Georgia. R.E.M. quickly became a college radio sensation by reinventing 1960s folk rock, and they would move on to world-wide acclaim and greatly influence countless new bands. So as we celebrate Halloween, here’s a tip of the witch hat to R.E.M. for all the years they’ve kept us in the dark.

Friday, October 23, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 23rd: “My Girlfriend Is A Witch”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

My Girlfriend Is A Witch” by October Country is just one of the many cool audio artifacts to be found on the new Rhino CD compilation, Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets: 1965-1968. Recorded in 1968 by a band that never found success beyond the West Coast, this is classic garage rock, with fun, spooky lyrics like, “Riding high/Leaving trails of smoke across the sky/On a broom/Glad that I am safe within my room.” In this case, having an other-worldly significant other doesn’t seem to have any ill effects, but it does inspire a bit of competition. “What a fate/A worshiper of magic for a day/But tonight I become a warlock just for spite.” The song was written by record producer Michael Lloyd, who also provided lead vocals and some high-powered psychedelic guitar strumming, along with Marty Arsenault. Almost half of this catchy song is taken up by the musicians’ spirited jamming, which creates a live performance at a 1960s go-go club ambience.There’s no indication that the band took its name from Ray Bradbury’s collection of creepy short stories, The October Country. Instead, “My Girlfriend Is A Witch” has more of a 1960s TV theme feel. In fact, according to the book that comes with Where The Action Is, Lloyd recorded a second version in 1969 for the Saturday morning hillbilly feline cartoon series, The Cattanooga Cats.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Every Picture Tells A Story

Logo from Rock Art Show's online store.

Rock Art Show, the website run by Scott Segelbaum that features music-related art, photos, and posters, has just announced the opening of its new online store.

I’ve had a chance to view Rock Art Show’s wares in person the past two years when its traveling exhibit came to the Arlington Park Racetrack. It’s a fascinating collection of art by musicians like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Entwistle, and Jimi Hendrix; as well as live performance and portrait photography, album cover art, and posters by artists like Bob Masse, Scotty C, and Karl Farris.

This year when I dropped by the Rock Art Show, I struck up a conversation with Segelbaum, who was happy to talk about the various works on display. He introduced me to Ron Campbell, the director and animator of The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon show. It was a thrill to watch Campbell working on an original Beatles portrait while we talked. A number of Campbell’s pieces are available through the online store.

Rock Art Show tends to focus on classic acts like Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, and Aerosmith, although some newer bands like U2 and The Police are represented as well. There was an interesting early poster advertising an upcoming gig by Bob Dylan, on which his last name is misspelled. Masse is particularly noteworthy for his eye-popping use of Art Nouveau and vibrant colors. His Women Of Rock poster was one of my favorites. Scotty C’s elaborate renditions of The Doors and John Lennon are also impressive.

In addition to the art, photography, and posters, the online store sells framed gold records, handwritten lyrics, and concert programs. It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully will be fully stocked in time for Christmas shopping. And if the Rock Art Show comes to your area, I highly recommend checking it out.

31 Songs For Halloween - October 22nd: “Planet Claire”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

This has been an especially busy time for discovering new planets. Last week, astronomers spotted a whole batch right outside Earth’s solar system, and just yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that one in particular has some of the essential elements to support life. According to writer Ryan Flinn, NASA has detected water, methane, and carbon dioxide on planet HD 209458b. It has pink air and all the trees are red. No one ever dies there. Wait a minute, those last two lines are about Planet Claire, the fictional orb concocted by The B-52’s on their self-titled debut album. Back in 1979, there had never been a group quite like this before. The B-52’s used oddball instrumentation, like a toy piano, a fire alarm, and a walkie talkie. And their lyrics were pure nonsense. Opening with a lengthy instrumental passage that features eerie keyboards, “Planet Claire” introduces us to an unnamed alien who came from the title planet via a Plymouth Satellite that she drives faster than the speed of light. Like all Clairelings, she doesn’t have a head, so it’s hard to imagine how she could see where she’s going. Then again, you could say the same thing about Earthlings who text while driving. Vocalist Fred Schneider affects an appropriately silly tone throughout the song, especially when he screams, “WELL SHE ISN’T” in response to speculation that the alien is “from Mars or one of the seven stars that shine after 3:30 in the morning.” Unlike other outer space invaders, this visitor from “Planet Claire” doesn’t appear to have any evil plans. She’s been partying here on Earth for three decades, and she might even be Paris Hilton’s BFF.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 21st: “Into The Night”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

Attractive young vampires are the hottest thing in popular cultures these days, but the seductive power of these creatures has been celebrated for years. Back in 1994, the Chicago-based four woman band Shelivade served up the captivating “Into The Night” on its debut CD, One More Than Ten. It’s an emotionally-charged hard rock duet between lead vocalist Jean Iversen and guest singer Jon Dobbs that simmers with sexual tension on lines like, “Darkness wakes my love/Lures me into the night/Haunts me with desire/My fate is your fire.” Iversen, who like myself, has written for the Illinois Entertainer, does a great job of belting out these lyrics ala Ann Wilson from Heart, and the way Dobbs weaves his vocals around hers is reminiscent of an opera. Vanessa Eichelberger’s guitar playing provides an energetic backdrop while the vampire’s modus operandi is rendered in short, poetic bursts. “Rapid pulse, empty veins/Feel my throat, blessed pain.” “Into The Night” ends with the line, “Vacant mirror, then I’m gone,” followed by one of the best evil laughs in rock since Vincent Price added his chuckle to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 20th: “Into The Maelstrom”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

Nothing is more frightening to a rock band than to find out their record company doesn’t love them anymore. Such was the case with the Midwestern power pop band The Redwalls back in 2007. Despite the critical success of the band’s Capitol debut De Nova, the record company lost interest in releasing a follow-up. The Redwalls quickly hopped to the indie label MAD Dragon and put out a new, eponymous CD. Listening to The Redwalls, you have to wonder if Capitol had decided the music was just too spooky. In addition to the punchy rock of “Hangman” and the Pink Floyd inspired “In The Time Of The Machine,” the CD offered the high speed tale of invading spacemen, “They Are Among Us,” with its panicked refrain of “Save your wives and your children now!” “Into The Maelstrom” was even more unsettling, opening with the lines, “As I went out into the night./I came upon the strangest sight./It was a path so dark and dim./As I got close it seemed to pull me in.” The Redwalls conjured an exotic, guitar-driven arrangement that also included strings, resembling Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” only more frantic. As the music swirls out of control, lyrics like “The fear was more than I could take” and “No one can help me out in here.” convey a growing sense of despair as the ground gives way and darkness closes in. Still, the growling vocals and energetic musicianship make “Into The Maelstrom” an exciting psychedelic adventure on an album that proved The Redwalls were still at the top of their game.

Monday, October 19, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 19th: “Everyday Is Halloween”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

With its playful “bop bop bop bop” scat singing and dance club-ready synthesized beats, it’s easy to think of Ministry’s “Everyday Is Halloween” as a happy party song. Even the opening lines, “Well I live with snakes and lizards/And other things that go bump in the night” seem to promise dark fun in a Danny Elfman/Tim Burton kind of way. But lead vocalist/founding member Al Jourgensen has actually fashioned a defiant anthem for individuals who are rejected by society for looking or acting differently from everyone else. “People seem to stop and stare they say/Why are you dressed like it’s Halloween/You look so absurd, you look so obscene.” The lyrics later ask, “Why can’t I live a life for me?/Why should I take the abuse that’s served?” The song acts as a sort of mist-shrouded bridge from Ministry’s early Cold Life and With Sympathy techno days to its later incarnation as an aggressive death metal band. “Everyday Is Halloween” keeps people moving on the dance floor with over six minutes of melodic keyboards and dj scratching, but it would be nice if they also absorbed Jourgensen’s plea to be more tolerant.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 18th: “Rhiannon”

Stevie Nicks Photo by Herbert Worthington, from The Nicks Fix - The Official Stevie Nicks Website.

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

Back in 1975, no one could have predicted that the arrival of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham would transform Fleetwood Mac into the world’s hottest rock band. Perhaps some of that success came from divine intervention. Nicks explained that her melodic composition “Rhiannon,” which became one of the Top 40 hits from the LP, Fleetwood Mac, was about a Welsh witch, but Rhiannon was also a goddess in Welsh mythology who wore a gold dress and rode a white horse. Wikipedia states that Nicks based her “Rhiannon” on a much more recent work, Triad, a supernatural novel penned by Mary Leader, and discovered the mythological connection later. Actually, the song’s mysterious lyrics like, “Would you stay if she promised you heaven” and “She is like a cat in the dark/And then she is the darkness,” could refer to either the deity or the sorceress. Fleetwood Mac, having already recorded scary songs like “Hypnotized” and “Black Magic Woman,” knew how to bring “Rhiannon” to life with a classic rock arrangement. Incidentally, states that in some medieval tales, Rhiannon became Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake. Or in Monty Python’s words, the watery tart who lobbed a scimitar at King Arthur.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 17th: “Darkness”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

George Harrison once warned us to “Beware Of Darkness,” but in 1981, The Human League created a song in which a mere flick of a light switch resulted in a terrifying, mind-altering experience. Like everything else on the band’s ground breaking and platinum record, Dare, the melodic “Darkness” was driven by synthesizers, but they’re used here to establish a spooky ambience as well as to get people dancing. The lyrics describe darkness as a place “filled with sounds of fear” where the imagination runs wild. “I see shadows (don’t turn out the light)/Moving, changing shape.” Even the senses become a confusing mishmash. “I hear colours black and red/I see sounds that fill my head.” This was the only song on Dare that founding member/lead vocalist Philip Oakey didn’t have a hand in writing (other than the instrumental snippet, “Get Carter”) but his chilling delivery goes a long way toward conveying its emotional power. “And the clock stops as darkness closes in./I hesitate but it’s too late, I scream and scream again.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

I’m Going To A Masquerade. Would You Care To Join Me?

Photo from Phil Angotti's website.

One of the more interesting options for Halloween entertainment this year is the two-day tribute band showcase coming up at The Abbey Pub on Chicago’s northwest side. Several local acts will be performing as famous bands on Friday, October 30th and Saturday, October 31st.

Some of the local acts will be familiar to anyone who has been at The Abbey for International Pop Overthrow. Singer-guitarist Phil Angotti, who formed the power pop band The Idea several years ago and has worked on solo projects, will be performing as Squeeze on the 30th. As a member of The Beatle Brothers, Angotti is an old hand at these tribute things, and he’s also performed shows as The Zombies and other British Invasion bands. Also on 30th, the melodic punk band Penthouse Sweets will be covering the Sex Pistols. The Penthouse Sweets’ two song CD, with “We Were High” and “Dark Eyes,” suggests they should be up to the task.

Tomorrow The Moon, a new side project from The Bad Examples guitarist-vocalist Steve Gerlach, will offer their take on The Psychedelic Furs on the 31st. The energetic songs on Tomorrow The Moon’s debut, He Saw Red mix guitars and synthesizers, so this looks to be an entertaining set. Tiny Speakers, a new trio fronted by former The Its! vocalist-guitarist Eric Quinlan, will perform as The Everly Brothers on the 31st. It should help that all three members of Tiny Speakers sing. The Webstirs, who have several strong power pop albums to their credit, will be doing Fleetwood Mac on Saturday, along with roots rock band The Delafields, who will be playing The B-52’s. The Delafields cite R.E.M. and Johnny Cash as major influences, and the well-crafted songs on their MySpace page support that claim. Maybe The Delafields would rather have covered R.E.M., but Chris Dorf and Friends will be doing that on the 30th.

I must confess to not being able to find any info on Mr. Dorf, or Pleezer, who will be performing on the 30th as Weezer. Ditto for Benge & Short, who will be covering Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on the 30th: Androgynous Mustache, who’ll tackle The J. Geils Band on the 31st; and The Shaking Hand, who’ll be rocking out as AC/DC on Halloween. The only thing I know about Broken China, who will be performing as The Bangles on Friday, is that the name might be a reference to a solo album by Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright. It’s possible some of these acts have come together just for these tribute shows. If anyone has info on them, I'd be glad to post it. Even with the various unknowns, the tribute band weekend at The Abbey looks like a great time. And besides, what’s Halloween without a little mystery? See the Abbey Pub online for information.

31 Songs For Halloween - October 16th: “Ghost On The Beach”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

The Insiders were one of those Chicago area bands like Off Broadway, Bohemia, The Elvis Brothers, and Shoes, that never achieved the lasting success they deserved. Things certainly looked promising back in 1987 when The Insiders released their impressive debut, Ghost On The Beach, on Epic. The title track, written by John Siegle and Gary Yerkins, was not only a perfect blast of power pop with muscular guitar playing and an indelible melody, it also offered sure-fire elements like a summer romance and a hint of the supernatural. The sexy video went into heavy rotation on MTV, and helped The Insiders land a beer commercial. The well honed lyrics describe a one night stand beside a romantic campfire as the waves crash in. “Making love almost the moment we met./A soggy Romeo, a soakin’ wet Juliet.” Later, it’s almost as if the encounter never took place. “The sand is smooth like no woman ever walked there./The wind silent like no man ever spoke.” All of which leads the guy to an eerie conclusion. “As I stand under the moon/And I’ll see you, washed up, some ghost inside a bottle/Out on the beach.” Guess that means he didn’t get her number.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 15th: “Death Boy”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

Not to be confused with the Jem and the Holograms TV show that ran from 1985 to 1988, the all-woman band The Holograms released its debut, Night Of 1,000 Ex-boyfriends in 2005. The first I heard of The Holograms was when Little Steven started playing the relentlessly peppy “Are You Ready For It” on his Underground Garage radio program. That song doesn’t prepare a listener for the nasty streak that runs through the rest of the CD, where the band performs songs like “Drunk Dial,” and “Your Ex Is Turning Tricks Again.” Similar to The Buzzcocks, The Holograms mix revved-up punk with infectious melodies, while vocalist-guitarist Tammy mimics the 1960s girl group sound in a way that recalls Julie Brown’s “Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun.” On “Death Boy,” a song with a frantic, guitar-driven arrangement, Tammy purrs, “Death boy, you’re so cute in such a creepy way.” She goes on to lament his passion for gals who are no longer living. “I know you’ll never be true./You only wish I was Code Blue.” Another downside to the relationship is that he brings her funeral wreaths instead of flowers.

I couldn’t mention "Death Boy" without giving a shout out to Desiree Burcum, who wrote a similar song called, “Dead Guy” back when I was performing with her in the Famous In The Future comedy group. In her version, a woman falls in love with the victim she accidentally ran over with her car, noting that he doesn’t have all those obnoxious habits of the living guys she dated in the past. Desiree also came up with the line, “Does he have a dead brother?” before it was used in Corpse Bride.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 14th: “Don’t Fear The Reaper”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

Hair-raising scenarios come naturally to hard rock and heavy metal bands, but Blue Oyster Cult’s variety of approaches is impressive. “Nosferatu” was a majestic and brooding meditation on the original vampire tale, while the lumbering “Godzilla,” with lines like, “Oh no, there goes Tokyo! Go, Go, Godzilla!” was unabashed fun. The band literally struck gold with “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” The opening guitar riff and progressive arrangement are pure classic rock, but the song spread across genres and became a huge hit. Which is strange, because the lyrics appear to advocate suicide as the ultimate expression of love. “Seasons don’t fear the reaper/Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain... we can be like they are.” They also promise “We’ll be able to fly” and point out, “Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity.” Blue Oyster Cult effectively sells these sentiments through a strong melody and intricate harmony vocals. There’s even a “La la la la la la” and “Come on, baby.” It’s almost like The Beach Boys inviting a girl to the sock hop. The last verse describes a despondent woman whose lover has already died. “And it was clear she couldn’t go on.” The final image is of the reunited couple looking back and saying goodbye to the living. Or is she checking out with the Reaper himself? Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely “Don’t Fear The Reaper” will be played at many wedding receptions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 13th: “Vampires”

Photo of Scott Windsor taken from Amplifier Magazine’s online site.

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

Back in 2005, vocalist-guitarist Scott Windsor gathered a secretive collection of musicians together under the name The Umbrellas. The band’s self-titled CD offered gorgeous shoegazer music with an occasional dash of energetic techno rock. “Vampires” is an impossibly catchy tune with a shuffling drumbeat amidst a hypnotic swirl of keyboards and guitars. Windsor’s androgynous vocals ooze sophistication as he sets the scene of his arrival at a high-society bash. “Last night we went to a party./There were a bunch of big names there.” The protagonist immediately senses danger. “So I’ve got one hand on my neck to keep all the vampires out./I’m gonna finish this stiff drink and I’ll be on my way.” Windsor shifts to a more poetic tone as he describes the car ride back to his home. “I think the entire existence is asleep it’s so quiet./My headlights dance pictures on the treeline./The song floats out the window into the fog-filled night.” Although it’s not explicitly described in the song, somehow this guy gives in the vampires’ lure. “Now they’re back at my neck and they’re thirsty.” Alone in his bedroom, he reflects on what he has done. “This apple in my hand, I just took one bite.” Of course, it’s possible Windsor intended all this as a metaphor aimed at the blood-sucking entertainment industry, but taken literally, it’s a fun and seductive Halloween treat.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paperback Writer

Author Stephanie Kuehnert will be reading from her latest Young Adult novel, Ballads of Suburbia, at 2:00PM this coming Saturday, October 17th at the Borders Bookstore on 1144 Lake Street in Oak Park, and at 7:30PM on October 20th at HopLeaf on 5148 North Clark in Chicago. Ballads Of Suburbia is the follow-up to Kuehnert’s critically acclaimed first novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

I just finished reading I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. It’s a gritty, well-written account of a young girl named Emily Black, who initially buys her father’s explanation that her mother abandoned them shortly after Emily’s birth to pursue her passion for rock and roll. It helps that Emily’s Dad is an understanding parent who passes his musical talent on to his daughter and nurtures her guitar playing ability. As Emily grows into her teens and finds success with She Laughs, the punk band she formed with her best friend Regan, she discovers some disturbing details about her mother and becomes obsessed with finding her. Emily also battles drug and alcohol abuse, and starts an ill-fated relationship with the aptly-named musician Johnny Threat.

When Emily moves from a rural town in Wisconsin to Chicago, Kuehnert captures the thriving big city music scene with references to record company reps, critics, the Metro, Fireside Bowl, the Logan Square neighborhood, and Q101’s Twisted Christmas concert. The descriptions of Emily’s love of rock music, as well as the emotionally charged scenes with her family, bandmates, and boyfriends all ring true. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is a fascinating backstage look at a complex individual from her childhood to her emergence as world famous rock star. It’s a safe bet that Ballads Of Suburbia is another compelling work.

31 Songs For Halloween - October 12th: "Magic Man"

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate to the season.

When Heart released its debut, Dreamboat Annie back in 1976, Ann and Nancy Wilson often dressed like they’d borrowed their wardrobe from a medieval sorceress. Maybe it was all those nights of covering Led Zeppelin during their bar band days. Their instant FM radio classic, “Magic Man,” describes a young woman’s dream-like encounter on a “cold gray night so long ago” with the blue-eyed mysterious title character, who promises to whisk her off to exotic adventures. Although apprehensive, she feels like she already knows him, and when he offers to “cast my spell of love on you,” she’s hooked. The song, which includes an extended guitar and synthesizer jam, as well as Ann’s impressive vocals, doesn’t mention any tragic consequences. Contrary to her mother's warning, this woman may have found a Magic Man who actually lived up to his promises.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 11th: “I Eat Cannibals”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

People, people who eat people, are the luckiest people - - - Back in 1983, the U.K. band Toto Coelo became a one-hit wonder with the guilty pleasure single, “I Eat Cannibals.” Using a playful vocal arrangement backed by a big, loud tribal beat and exotic sounding keyboards, the five-woman band served up provocative lines like, “All I wanna do is make is make a meal of you” and the sweeter “You’re the icing on the cake.” Part of the song’s success was no doubt due to its rock video, which showed the attractive band members wearing trash bags while cavorting around neon lit grass huts. Wax Trax still had a record store on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago at the time, and its staff often added comments to the plastic dividers used to identify 45 records. Under the title, “I Eat Cannibals,” someone had written, “Who doesn’t?” The band eventually changed its name to Total Coelo as an unnecessary precaution that these five gals would be confused with the American band, Toto.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 10th: “Werewolves Of London”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

Although Warren Zevon had been an active singer-songwriter for several years before Excitable Boy dropped in 1978, it was his first album to achieve major commercial success. It also established his dark and ironic sense of humor, particularly on the title track and “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner.” On “Werewolves Of London,” Zevon’s jubilant piano playing and boisterous howl celebrated the violent antics and fashion choices of a homicidal beast. He was joined by veteran session guitarist Waddy Wachtel (who along with singer-guitarist LeRoy Marinell helped Zevon write the song) and the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section of bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. The lyrics ranged from the graphic “He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim” and “Little old lady got mutilated late last night” to the classic understatement, “Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair.” Zevon conjures a trendy werewolf cruising Soho for beef chow mein and sipping a tropical drink at Trader Vic’s. Later, Lon Chaney appears with his son and the Queen, making this a full-fledged Halloween party.

Friday, October 9, 2009

31 Songs For Halloween - October 9th: “Alison Gross”

Each day this month, I’ll be spotlighting a song that seems particularly appropriate for the season.

Steeleye Span is known for updating centuries-old ballads with electric guitar and drum arrangements. Such is the case with “Alison Gross” from the band’s 1973 release, Parcel Of Rogues. It spins the tale of a witch who believes the way to a man’s heart is through bribery. She tries to woo a potential lover by offering him a series of riches, but he’s so repulsed by her appearance, he screams, “Away, away, you ugly witch/Go far away and let me be/I never would kiss your ugly mouth/For all of the gifts that you give to me.” Infuriated, Alison Gross waves a magic wand and turns him into a worm. According to Wikipedia, Steeleye Span added its own chorus and left off the original ballad’s happy ending, which had the man being restored to his proper shape on Halloween by a passing fairy. Also, he may not have been transformed to an earthworm, since the original lyrics used the word wyrm, which meant dragon. Unlike some of the ancient ballads, which can be slow and gloomy, “Alison Gross” feels like a rowdy party song villagers might have sung while swinging their steins of mead.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Picture This

Click to see larger image.

When Chicago Comic-Con was held last August in Rosemont, it enticed sci-fi and pop culture fans with aisles of merchandise and numerous celebrity guests. Another highlight was Artist Alley, a sprawling marketplace where creators of printed as well as online comic books hawked their work. It was interesting to chat with them, but hard not to feel a twinge of guilt whenever I walked away without buying something.

One of the artists who caught my eye was Chicago native Steve Guzelis, who along with Tom Wachowski, founded Strange Fun Comics in 1999. They added other artists over the years, publishing titles like Legends of Tarot, Cali Enti, and The Party, as well as Strange Fun.

Guzelis also creates posters that feature his comic style renditions of rock stars like The Yardbirds and Pink Floyd. I was disappointed that Bands Of The Psychedelic ‘60s, a colorful montage that featured The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, didn’t include The Hollies. When I asked if he had ever done a poster of them, Guzelis explained that while he was aware of the band, he didn’t think a Hollies poster would be a big seller.

As if reading my mind, Guzelis offered to make one for me. His asking price was reasonable so I took his card and promised to think it over. Shortly afterward, the concept of a history of The Hollies came to me. A poster that would chart the band from the early 1960s up to the post 2000 line-up that featured Carl Wayne as lead singer. I sent an e-mail to Guzelis, detailing my ambitious idea, and adding that I understood it would cost more than the price we had originally discussed. Guzelis wrote back that the history poster would indeed cost more, but he was up to the challenge.

A few weeks later, the poster arrived, and I’m extremely happy with it. Guzelis tied the various incarnations of The Hollies together with a 60s style swirling backdrop and added assorted icons like a carousel horse and a sprig of holly. Once I have it framed, it will take a place of honor in my already crowded media room. For anyone interested in commissioning a portrait of a favorite band, or checking out some imaginative and humorous comic books, visit the Strange Fun Comics website.

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