Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Boil It First 003: What's So Wrong With A Stupid Happy Song?

Wow, it's sure been quiet around these parts, hasn't it? The post-holiday months are pretty barren when it comes to productivity, but it does seem strange that no one's posted here in over a month. Well, I'm not gonna let this humble blog go without makin' some noise! So, here I present a mixtape I made a few weeks back, entitled "What's So Wrong With A Stupid Happy Song?" If you listened to the last episode of Random Old Records Podcast, I went through a nice period of winter malaise, so what better way to deal with it but a bunch of super-catchy, silly, mindlessly entertaining rock n' roll? PERFECT! OK, so let's begin.

1. Spanky and Our Gang - "Swingin' Gate"
People scoff when I say that Spanky and Our Gang is one of my favorite bands of all time. Weren't they that bunch of '60s sapsters that came up with "Like To Get To Know You" and "Sunday Will Never Be The Same"? Well yeah, they did. One person's trash is another's treasure, and I happen to think that those slices of vintage cheese are absolutely perfect. They released a couple of brilliant singles, but the last two albums they did are pure pop bliss. I don't really give a shit that they were created by a bunch of PROFESSIONAL songwriter dudes in suits and by-the-hour session musicians. The sheer force of the vocal harmonies honed in shady late night East Village dives and high-rise studio bathrooms are too powerful to ignore. This song sounds like nothing else I've ever heard. It packs weird backwards guitar riffs and incredible criss-cross vocals that explode all over the stereo spectrum. "Swingin' Gate" is a visual hallucination of sound waves jousting and fighting in front of my eyes, rising and falling, engaging and retreating. It's all dueling vocals and trippy '60s production tricks. My, but your hair's so long!

2. The Lemon Pipers - "Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade)"
I've been blabbing about NEW Cincinnati bands from right now for what seems like an eon now, but what about the pioneers from yesteryear? Sure, everyone knows about King Records and James Brown and Live At The Apollo 1962, right?! Everyone seems to forget about the Lemon Pipers. Before we were going to bingo, shaking our asses, and listening to bands like the Lions Rampant, the Guitars, and the Harlequins, bands like the Lemon Pipers were making music in this yellow ball of butter, where clouds are as fluffy as a parachute sail. Crusty old folks will claim that the band who did "Green Tambourine" was an astounding gaggle of tough-minded kids who kicked out a ton of bluesy jams, then totally sold out and made silly bubblegum once the big time record company men came calling. I don't care what was going on underneath or above the table, so "Jelly Jungle" sounds amazing. It has a pogo-stick rhythm and wicked stereo panning effects and it's over right quick, so who really cares?! Just turn your brain off and enjoy. The Lemon Pipers might have bowed before the man, but there are still tangerine dreams waiting for you in orange marmalade, along with what I can only assume is some really filthy hidden sexual innuendo.

3. Sunforest - "Lighthouse Keeper"
Once upon a time, I was a snot-nosed teenage punk rocker. I believed in socialist politics, self-sustaining co-ops, printed zines, and rock n' roll records pressed on cheap vinyl. I'm not too proud to admit that I smashed my original copy of Electric Light Orchestra's Out Of The Blue on my bedpost when Screeching Weasel and The Queers came calling. At the time, I thought that gesture was punk as fuck! Then a few years later I heard a Buzzcocks song on a car commercial and my mind was blown. I paid $16.98 plus tax for my copy of Singles Going Steady at Borders, and who knows how much of that money actually went to Shelley, Diggle, Garvey, and Maher. The more I thought about it, I suddenly realized my appreciation for capitalism and commerce. Those dudes made more money from that commercial than they ever made as a band. I couldn't even imagine how much the songs of the Buzzcocks were worth to me internally. I've lived and died by those songs thanks to that $16.98. Sunforest sold out almost immediately. On the surface, they were a trio of fruity hippies hanging out on the King's Road in 1968, but really they were dedicated capitalists who sold this silly song about being a lighthouse keeper to Marks and Spencer. Let's hope they made a mint.

4. Eric & the Happy Thoughts - "Indiana Girls"
The title of this mix is "What's so wrong with a stupid happy song?" That's a line from a Jawbreaker song called "Indictment," which wasn't all that fun, stupid, silly, or happy. It's been 41 years since Buddy Holly's plane crashed in a lonely Iowa corn field. Now it's 2010 and I'm still writing about music, so really music didn't really die on that day, no matter what Don McLean said. If music died, a band like Eric & The Happy Thoughts wouldn't be kicking around a garage in Nowhere, Indiana. They just don't give a shit, and they still nail the nervous awkward Buddy Holly tic perfectly. They've got curves and they've got curls, but it's a lot more fun with Indiana girls. I've spent a lot of time in Indiana diners late at night half-drunk, awkwardly leering at the waitress bringing me coffee at 1:42 AM. Once upon a time, I dated a real live Indiana girl, and it really wasn't that much fun, stupid, or silly! Just dig these handclaps, tambourines, and awkward harmonies and chord changes. All the band left behind are a bunch of demos that are floating around the internet, and Eric himself is in a new band called Cave Weddings, which is more of the same perfect 50's influenced sugary, punky pop. You really do need to get it all!

5. High School Sweethearts - "Cherry Hi-Way"
I really don't know shit about the High School Sweethearts, except that they come from New Jersey and rock like a mother on this song. When the album this song came from was released I was going through a seriously lazy music drought, where all I did was pick up the latest issue of The Big Takeover every six months, downloading every album in the reviews section that sounded promising. I came across a bunch of losers, but somehow this song stuck with me all this time. It starts off with a shit-kicking guitar riff and an insistent tambourine, and if you've been reading, you know how much I like tambourines! "Cherry Hi-Way" straight up kills me, and I think the "oh oh awwws" in the chorus kinda gets me there, but it's the nervous, unsure "I can't decide which ego to blame" line that frontlady Cynthia Santiglia pops off near the end that gets me all hot and bothered. Deep down, I'm very shallow and you know this much is true. It's so brilliant, full of nervous energy and blatant sexuality. I don't know what the High School Sweethearts did before or since, and I don't really care. This song rules.

6. The Makes Nice - "Waves Of Summer"
7. Len Price 3 - "Chinese Burn"
2006-2008 might go down as one of the worst periods in the history of recorded music. The mainstream was clogged up with gaudy, paper-thin, auto-tuned synth-rap-pop garbage, and the NPR-sanctioned wave of boring indie wuss-rock led by the Decemberists and Death Cab For Cutie wasn't much better. During those dark days, all I did was listen to classic punk rock, the early '90s Brit-pop I cut my teeth on, and dozens of compilations of rare '60s rock and pop music. Oh, and I also tuned into Little Steven's Underground Garage from time to time. It makes me so happy that young kids all over the world were discovering the music of the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Who, and Ramones for the first time and losing their mind. Underground Garage documented that shit during those lean, dire years, and now it's exploding all over. The Makes Nice are from California and the Len Price 3 are from the suburbs of London, but both of them put out albums in 2007 and rip off the Who like it's their job. Every frantic snare fill and power chord is perfect and in the right place. These songs make me smile and I hope they make you smile, too.

8. Three O'Clock - "I Go Wild"
Ripping off the sounds of the mid '60s isn't such an original idea, obviously. Back in the early '80s, post-punkers in LA had that concept mastered! Ever heard of the Paisley Underground? Not many folks have. All the punk bands from the suburbs filled the city with rage, but there's just too much sunshine and light in the city of angels to be angry for too long. Bands like the Rain Parade and the Three O'Clock brought pop music back from the foul clutches of beefy, bald-headed tattooed ruffians for a brief moment, even if it was ignored by rock historians eager to draw the straight line from punk rock to hair metal. This tune mixes clean-tone Byrds-style guitar and blissful drugged-out vocals with the unfortunate glossy sheen that most early '80s recordings suffer from. Prince signed this band to his Paisley Park label, but nothing really happened. Oh well. "I Go Wild" kinda does sound like a bunch of confused dudes laughing in the purple rain. Go play in the sunshine.

9. The Interpreters - "Glorious"
10. 60 Ft. Dolls - "Stay"
Back when I was a teenager, the internet was like a barely spoken about gift tucked away in the closet, not the ubiquitous pleasure center of today. I actually had to travel from used bin to used bin like a fucking creep to find weird, obscure music. Maybe that's why songs from back then are so much more important now, since it was hard work finding them! Who else would remember the mod revival that happened for a few months back in 1997? Keep in mind, the explosion of indie rock and Brit-pop from the early '90s was dying a slow, cruel death, record companies were merging and being bought by ginormous corporations, and Shania Twain and the Spice Girls were the best selling artists. Things were getting super confusing and depressing, OK?! Hundreds of great bands released albums on big-time labels and didn't get a single bit of attention. One of these days, I'm going to compile a "Nuggets of the '90s" box set full of exhilarating one-shots like these two. "Glorious" has lots of woah-oh's and go-go-go's, which instantly make any song a classic, and "Stay" has a heart-stopping opening and an absolutely brilliant breakdown at the 1:45 mark. Both bands put out one album and disappeared into the ether, and the mod revival fell with a thud. I bet dudes who love smart suits and big sunglasses were pissed!

11. The Red Button - "Gonna Make You Mine"
12. The Sails - "Let's Get Started"
Here are two more rays of sunshine from the cultural dead zone of 2006-2008. Music was so lame during those three years that I ended up becoming obsessed with celebrity gossip and terrible basic cable reality shows. I read Star Magazine religiously, and could tell you who Lindsay Lohan was sleeping with at a moment's notice. For a brief moment, I knew more about Sienna Miller, Jude Law, and horny nannies with bad teeth than I did about power chords and fuck yeah choruses. I had satellite TV and no internet, so I had to get my kicks where I could find 'em, right?! By hook or crook, I still discovered killer songs whenever I could find them. First, I found Seth Swirsky, who can pull perfect pop songs out of his ass, literally. He made a mint writing big-time radio hits for Taylor Dayne and Celine Dion before making an album of total early Beatles worship as The Red Button called She's About To Cross My Mind in 2007. "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" is the hit, and the only thing missing is a chorus of screaming girls. Yeah, it's that perfect! The Sails don't have that impressive pedigree, but they make up for it with a driving rush of pure bubblegum sweetness, tempered with Motown drums and slightly rude blasts of Jesus & Mary Chain-type noise. Both of these songs are like jolts of instant happy.

13. Zumpano - "Rosecrans Boulevard"
If you read my last Boil It First mixtape blog, you'd know that I like to end mixes on a confounding WTF moment. Since this mix is all silly, happy songs, why not leave you off with a crushing bummer from Jimmy Webb? That guy is one of the most confusing and cryptic sons of bitches out there. I didn't have much else to do when I was a kid but plumb the depths of the Sub Pop catalogue and nervously pick over the dusty books at the big, bad Cincinnati downtown library. Yeah, I picked up a few sillly books about the worst songs ever written, and Jimmy Webb was in there, for sure. He wrote a song called "Macarthur Park" and threw in a line about leaving a cake in the rain that still leaves me baffled. Right around the time my fetish for Zumpano and Jimmy Webb and library books coincided, this song appeared. This A.C. Newman fella made a bunch of great records in the last fifteen years, but disowned the two Zumpano albums on Sub Pop like the high-school yearbook photos I grapple with to this day. I only wish my high school yearbook photos were as fully formed and immaculate as this. It just goes to show ya. Take a perfect song and do whatever you want with it, wrap it up in a spartan arrangement with textbook reverence or whatever, and it still sounds amazing. Still, there was that smile. It was really what made all the airlines go, she was a stewardess, y'know?! I've never driven my car down Rosecrans Boulevard, and I STILL wonder how I deal with it. That's the mark of a perfect song, and it's left a mark on me, without question.


  1. Just last afternoon, a friend was telling me a plan to re-create some "buzz" about the Interpreters by buying a dead-stock lot of their LP, then sending out some copies to various blogs (like this one). Hopefully it'll work!

  2. Sadly I admit I have perused the gossip mags once or 45 times in my life. Cool blog.