Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Alley Cats

“Puddin' 'n Tain” was The Alley Cats' only hit. Produced by Phil Spector in 1963 as a favor to future Mamas and Papas manager Lou Adler, the name's origin seemingly comes from an 1896 story “The King of Boyville,” by William Alan White:

When a new boy, who didn't belong to the school, came up at recess to play, Piggy shuffled over to him and asked him gruffly: "What's your name?" "Puddin' 'n' tame, ast me agin an' I'll tell you the same," said the new boy, and then there was a fight.

I have no idea what the hell that's supposed to mean, but I don't let that get in the way of my enjoyment of this song. Some of the best music can make you nostalgic for an era that you weren't even around for, and great doo-wop always makes me want to put on my flat cap and play stickball.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell

Release Date: April 29, 2003

★★★★★ Tracks:


Date with the Night

Black Tongue

If I'm listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it's usually when my wife is singing her favorite song included on Rock Band, "Maps," while I'm rocking the drums. I've always liked the song, and purchased the record soon after I heard the single in 2004. The album was also good but fell out of my rotation quickly, and as the years passed and the YYYs released more albums, I became increasingly uninterested. Everyone seems much more concerned with Karen O and her stage antics and what she's wearing than the band or the music. Instead of hearing their newest songs, I'm seeing Karen O on the latest cover of magazines like Spin or Nylon when passing the corner store. In short, I've always believed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to be more style than substance. This along with what little I have heard from the latest album has made me all but give up on them. But the thing is, in revisiting their first album I realize all of that over-exposure has clouded my judgement.

Fever to Tell had me at Karen O's first bloodcurdling scream 45 seconds in to the first track, "Rich." I'll always have a soft spot for loud and abrasive vocals; being as I could never sing very well it became my primary role alongside guitar in all the bands I played in growing up -- the token screamer. Karen's got a helluva scream, and this shit rocks hard. "Rich" is followed by three more fast-paced tracks that rock no less before they finally tone it down a bit on "Black Tongue," where Karen trades guttural screams in for playfully, and even sexually, squealed "Uh-huhs." It's a lot of fun to hear Karen O's range, alternating from some of the more virile rock'n'roll tracks like "Date With the Night" and "Pin" to the softer "Maps" and feminine "Black Tongue."

After listening to Fever to Tell many times over the past couple of weeks I realize Karen O has always been the main attraction; the songs are built to showcase her persona. The groundwork was laid from the beginning for her to be the center of attention, but as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have gained popularity and Karen O's status as a cultural icon has continued to increased, the quality of their music has continued to diminish. If you're like me and think the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have gotten worse with each passing album, do yourself a favor and go back and listen to their first; it will make you remember how much fun they were just a few years ago.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Alkaline Trio

I literally, literally cringe when I hear emo music these days. Now that I'm in my thirties, it's downright embarrassing to admit I used to listen to it as much as I did, exactly the same way I'm embarrassed to admit I liked Milli Vanilli when I was in fifth grade. Alkaline Trio was one of my favorite emo bands, along with the Get-up Kids, Jimmy Eat World and Braid, and “San Francisco” is easily my favorite song of theirs. Some may argue they're more of a pop-punk band and maybe that's accurate, but only an emo song would compare one's plane seat to an electric chair. This is the only song of theirs I've kept and I can't believe I've played this 11 times, especially since my emo phase doesn't coincide with the ipod era. I'm also using this project as an excuse to go through my ipod and remove things I no longer listen to, so I think I'll play this once more before I delete it forever.

And I was drinking you good-byeeeeeeeeee
My heart floats in the bay!
From sour home Chicagoooooooo
I hear it beating far awaaaaaaaaaaay
There's no telling what I'll doooooooooo
If I don't return to you.

Fuck it. I'll keep it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Self-Titled EP

Release Date: July 9, 2001

Stand-out tracks:

Art Star

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, alongside bands like the Strokes, the Walkmen, and Interpol, were leading an important rock'n'roll revival in New York City when their self-titled EP was released in 2001. These artists are heavily influenced by garage rock, new wave and punk rock from the 70's, and in turn they are strongly influential to a majority of the indie rock being produced today. I hadn't been introduced to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs until most others probably were, when "Maps" was released as a single in early 2004. Picking up the self-titled EP a few years later, I heard the blueprint for their first full-length, Fever to Tell, which included that great single that would put them on the map. The EP isn't something I often listen to, but there is one song worth mentioning; "Art Star." If you want to hear the YYYs do their best impersonation of speed metal, with Karen O effortlessly mixing bludgeoning screams and do-do-do-do-dos within a moment's notice of each other, just click below.

Alicia Keys

Speaking of Phil Spector knock-offs, Alicia Key's "You Don't Know My Name" just could be Kayne West's finest hour as a producer. This song ruled the airwaves for a week or two, when I lived in the suburbs after I graduated from college. I remember being taken in while driving around in my parents' car and not even realizing at first that I wasn't listening to the oldies station that played a lot of Motown. Thirteen layers of strings underneath the “baby-baby-babys” and “whoo-hoos” is downright Spectoresque, right up my alley, and I bought The Diary of Alicia Keys hoping for 14 more “You Don't Know My Names.” I was disappointed with the album as a whole and eventually resold the CD, but a great song is still a great song, and the ipod playcount stands at 18.

To be sure, the song is too long by half, and I could certainly do without the spoken word interlude. But for the first three minutes, it's as great a pop song as any.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alder Ray

I am an absolute sucker for girl group and if I continue with this project and you continue to read, you'll see just how much. One Kiss Can Lead to Another is a box set crammed with 120 tracks of Phil Spector knock-offs, each of which are in my ipod and will be reviewed as their place in the alphabet warrants. Alder Ray's "Cause I Love Him" is far from the best of the lot, but that's only relative to all the great material stuffed in the collection. By itself, it's a perfectly pleasing piece of pop that they just don't make anymore, complete with the do-do-do-dos that always hook me in.

We really don't know who Alder Ray is; that's how deep this collection digs. There's nothing on allmusic or wikipedia about her, google is of little help and lastfm has nothing but an unflattering picture of her. I imagine she was some small-time record label honcho's flavor-of-the-week, forever to remain in obscurity until the ambitious crate-diggers at Rhino Records saved this song and deemed it worthy enough for the box set. And it's certainly worthy; I could listen to this sort of shit all day, and I sometimes do.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yo La Tengo - Partial Discography

Release Dates: '93 - '06

★★★★★ Tracks:


Tom Courtenay


Sometime during the mid-90's, when Yo La Tengo was gaining popularity, I was growing out of most of the fast, loud, up-tempo, and juvenile punk rock I was listening to, and in to a lot of what was considered indie rock. During this transitional period the band Yo La Tengo would come up often; whether it be when I was browsing the record store, looking at the upcoming show schedule at my local venue, reading reviews, or overhearing friends discuss them. And all through that time I never sat myself down to listen to YLT. I never found what I knew of the band to be all that appealing. Looking back, it probably had a lot to do with what I read and heard; words like "Shoe gaze," "Noise pop," "Minimal," and "Long instrumental jams" often come up. Since then, I've gotten older, my tastes have expanded, and I can enjoy music that clocks in slower than 140 beats per minute. But in collecting every full-length album over the past few years from '93's Painful to '06's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, and listening to all of them several times through, I can say that my lack of interest has not wavered...much.

Starting with the positive, my favorite album of the bunch I've collected is Electr-O-Pura, released in 1995. The album begins with the great "Decora," a song driven by bass and drums and layered with hypnotic chorus-like guitar effects. It sounds like something Sonic Youth might have written a few years earlier. The album also contains my favorite Yo La Tengo song, "Tom Courtenay," a melancholy pop track with an obscure Beatles reference and quote from the film, Help!:

"I spent so much time dreaming about Eleanor Bron.
In my room with the curtains drawn.
See her in the arms of Paul.
Saying, 'I can say no more.'"

The song takes on the first-person narrative of a drug addict wasting away, watching old movies. It's a great song, with lyrics adding to the mystique of possible sobriety issues by the songwriter, Ira Kaplan. There are a couple more good songs on Electr-O-Pura but as is common with most of YLT's albums, I lose interest by the second half.

The other two albums released during the 90's of which I own also have some positive moments. Painful's highlight is "From a Motel 6," with its blaring, distorted bass guitar and lyrics focusing on a troubled relationship. I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One, the album considered to be their best by most, contains the roaring, fast-paced "Sugarcube" and the clever "Autumn Sweater." Unfortunately there isn't much I'll be keeping from anything they've released since the turn of the century. Since then, Yo La Tengo has softened their approach, increased their production budget, and tightened up their songwriting, but in the process they have lost some of the edge and experimentalism that makes me like some of their earlier songs.

In total, I'll be keeping about an album's worth of songs from all the Yo La Tengo I've compiled. I'm glad I found the tracks I like, but being as it took six albums to find 10 total songs, I can't say I'm a converted fan. Yo La Tengo is similar to a well-made, but slow-moving film from a genre I don't fully appreciate; it has moments of greatness and I respect the work, but I'd rather be watching something else.

Similar Artists: Sebadoh, Pavement, Nirvana, Pixies Dinosaur Jr., Smashing Pumpkins
Followers: Yuck, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Broken Social Scene

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Albert Hammond Jr.

The Strokes were the first great rock-n-roll band of our young century. While there may have been nothing wholly original about them, they encompassed the spirit of nearly all the great rock-n-roll bands before them and put out two albums' worth of mostly perfect songs before the mediocrity of their third put a damper in their legacy. As Albert Hammond Jr. and Julian Casablancas drift further away from each other musically, much of their solo work only serves to demonstrate the difference between the two. I wanted very much to really like Hammond's first solo effort, Yours to Keep, but of the three songs I test-drove, only "Bright Young Things" comes close to being an excellent song, and the guitar parts of "101" and "Everyone Gets a Star" aren't quite appealing enough to save Hammond's otherwise shoddy songwriting. Casablancas's solo album (which is better than you may think) suffers from a similarly opposite problem; he's got enough songwriting ideas for another great Strokes record but Hammond's guitar is no longer around to tie those ideas together.

Of course, the guitarist of the first great rock-n-roll band of our young century will continue to get chances and I downloaded "Gfc," the first single from his second album. It starts off well enough but about 30 seconds in, Hammond just starts to sound like an imitation of his imitators. It takes more than that to grab my ear in the ipod era, and these songs hadn't been played more than a half-dozen times until I revisited them today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Al Green

I bought this CD in a thrift store in my neighborhood, purple jewel case spine and all. Mostly I bought it because my collection was lacking Al Green and it was only a couple of bucks but I was thinking of an old girlfriend, if only fleetingly, because we once spent a day walking around Manhattan sharing an apple and when we got to Central Park, she told me of how she bought tickets to see Al Green play in the park for her father as a birthday surprise. She had no idea if her father even liked Al Green but to her, that was part of the fun. She told me how they drank (she had never seen her father drink) and danced (she had never danced with her father) and from the way she talked about it, I knew she would remember it as one of the better days of her life.

Al Green isn't one of my favorite soul singers, but maybe he should be. I've been too busy spending my years listening to Sam, Otis, Marvin, Nina and Solomon whenever the urge to listen to soul struck me, and I still haven't delved into Barry, Isaac, and Curtis yet, either. I'm Still in Love With You is a relatively new addition to my ipod and the songs have only been played 2-4 times. I admit I haven't paid much attention to it but now that I am, this is the track I keep repeating:

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Zombies - Greatest Hits

Release Date: March 25, 2003 (CD only)

★★★★★ Tracks:

She's Not There

Tell Her No

I Love You

There are some old songs you will hear initially as you’re surfing the radio, stop the station, and listen through to entirety. With some of these songs you might never know who it is that you are listening to, but you know the melodies, and even some of the words; “She’s Not There,” track 1 on The Zombies’ Greatest Hits was, for me, one of those songs. I continued to hear that memorable track periodically while growing up. Taking many long car rides with my mother, she would most often turn on the oldies channel and on the occasion when “She’s Not There” came on, she would hum the melody and sing the few lyrics she knew, sometimes correctly or incorrectly, as she endearingly did. The song caught my ear as well, but I did not know who it was I was listening to until much later, when revisiting the group, and that great song, in college.

“She’s Not There” was a groundbreaking track for its time. While most of the top artists such as Roy Orbison and the Beatles we’re using the “major key / three chord” outline for writing the majority of their singles, the Zombies implemented a catchy, minor key, jazz-style composition, also adding an uncommon instrument for pop artists in 1964; an electric piano. This style of song and the use of an electric piano would catch on quickly with groups like the Box Tops and the Doors, and not only was “She’s Not There” a trend-setter, but it’s a timeless song and a reason in and of itself worth checking out The Zombies’ Greatest Hits.

There are of course other reasons to listen to Zombies' Greatest Hits, but none so compelling as the first track on the album. Other stand-out songs include “Tell Her No” and “I Love You,” both singles making the Billboard charts during their respective release dates; and while I enjoy most of the tracks here, the Zombies have so many compilation albums filled with nearly identical track listings that this album isn’t entirely essential. The most often heard/read criticism is that Greatest Hits doesn’t contain any tracks from Odyssey and Oracle other than “Time of the Season,” a rather glaring omission I would agree with, especially for those newcomers looking for a primer and never hearing O&O. However for those of us who already have a copy of O&O and need a somewhat extensive, but not complete, catalogue of pre-1968 Zombies material, Greatest Hits is a great album to own.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Afghan Whigs

The Afghan Whigs were one of my first lessons in rock-n-roll; liking what you want to like without any regard for what other people think. Post-Nirvana and pre-Pavement, I still hadn't learned to articulate what I liked musically; I just knew I was tired of pretending I actually enjoyed bands like Sponge, Candlebox and Stone Temple Pilots. In these early years when I was first discovering rock-n-roll, I relied on a friend as a barometer of whatever definition of cool I was trying to form at the time. In 1993, Gentleman dropped and the single of the same name got buzz bin attention. "Gentleman" had what few bands had since Nirvana; soul. But when I first saw the video, probably on 120 Minutes on MTV after midnight, I knew I liked it, but I didn't know why. It had a different song structure than what I was used to but to me, the single stood out in the post-grunge wave of singles that, in retrospect, I can't believe were more popular, mostly because frontman Greg Dulli could actually sing. I wish I could find the original video I saw past midnight more than 15 years ago but this is the best I can do: a very very young Jon Stewart introducing the band on his MTV show so long ago.

I remember asking said friend what he thought of the Afghan Whigs. Being the same friend who championed Seven Mary Three and Silverchair and all the other post-grunge crap, he merely shrugged his shoulders. But before he could even finish shrugging, the tall, black, basketball-playing jock in our class had overheard and his eyes lit up. "Gentle men!" he said, and I still remember how he said each syllable as if they were three separate words. "You like them?" I asked, and instead of replying, he started singing.

Your attention please
Now turn off the lights!

Your infection please
I haven't got all night!

He sang with a certain sneer and snapped his fingers and I discovered a beat in the song I hadn't noticed before. "Dude can sing," he said. When my friend changed his tune and admitted that he did like them, I knew I was onto something. I bought the CD and while I only occasionally listened to it (man, "Fountain and Fairfax" still kills me), I found myself coming back to it enough to buy Black Love when it dropped in 1996. While Gentlemen was placed very high on many best-of-decade lists, it was Black Love that made me a lifelong fan, a soundtrack to dark romance noir film that was never made. I don't know why I've never heard "Going to Town" on the dance floor:

I admit I am not very intimate with 1965, the last Whigs album, nor am I as acquainted with the Twilight Singers as well as a self-professed Dulli fan should be, and my venture to the Gutter Twins was unmemorable. As far as his other musical ventures, I'm much more fond of his work imitating John Lennon fronting the alt-rock supergroup on The Backbeats soundtrack, and the Afghan Whig's choice in covers is unparalleled. Any rock band worth its salt can cover The Clash or The Smiths (which the Whigs have done, practically in their sleep) but it takes a special band to cover Barry White, Martha and the Vandellas, New Order, The Supremes, Hole, Al Green, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Billie Holiday and, my favorite, "Creep," which throws an added curve ball when you realize they're not covering Radiohead, but TLC.

Top 5 Most-Played songs by the Afghan Whigs on my ipod:

"Creep" (TLC) - (24 plays)
"Going to Town" - (22 plays)
"Crime Scene Part 1" - (20 plays)
"Fountain and Fairfax" - (17 plays)
"Come See About Me" (The Supremes) - (16 plays)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why I started this blog.

I am behind my cousin and blogmate in introducing myself and posting, but my ipod is dying. As I figure out ways to conserve the music and information on it, I thought it would be fun to go through my ipod and revisit everything I've placed on it over the past three years. While my colleague will be working backwards from Z to A, I will be starting at the beginning and I'll attempt to document every artist I've uploaded, whether I love them, dislike them or am almost completely unfamiliar (hence the blog's title). Since I prefer singles to albums, there are plenty of artists and records on my ipod where I have probably not given the attention they deserve. This should be a fun ride. At least, I'll have fun.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Zombies - Odyssey and Oracle

Release Date: April 19, 1968

★★★★★ Tracks:

Care of Cell 44

Beechwood Park

This Will Be Our Year

In my last year of college, slowly climbing out of my descent in to the emo and post-hardcore dark ages, I decided to revisit pop and rock from the 60's. And in listening through the entire catalogues of The Beatles, Dylan, the Velvet Underground, and many others, I came across a relatively lesser known pop band; the Zombies.

The Zombies' only proper full-length album, Odyssey and Oracle, is one of the many albums produced in the late 60's to blend pop with psychedelia, however unlike a lot of artists following in the psych-pop trend; the Zombies didn't let experimentation get in the way of writing some great pop songs. In fact O&O has a lot in common with one of the group's biggest influences, and arguably the best album of its genre, The Beatles' Revolver; both albums were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, each album has its own implementation of kaleidoscope-style trippy cover-art work, and they both blend similar influences of rock'n'roll, girl-group pop, Beach Boys harmonies, and psychedelia. Even the way in which the tracks are organized is similar. "Care of Cell 44," track 1 on O&O, has an immediately catchy pop-hook full of great harmonies and upbeat melodies, very similar to "Taxman," which is immediately followed by the quieter "A Rose For Emily," a melancholy character study absent of percussion -- does Eleanor Rigby come to mind? And a personal favorite, "Beechwood Park," is definitely the trippiest track of the bunch, just like most would probably say of "Love You To," on Revolver, each at track 4 on their respective albums.

With all these similarities you might ask what the point is in listening to O&O when you could get the same thing out of Revolver. It's a valid argument. Nevertheless the Zombies add some uniqueness to keep the album sounding fresh and original. The inclusion of an organ in many of the tracks really gives the Zombies their defining sound; you can hear the Doors gathering ideas in songs like "Beachwood Park" and "Time of the Season," a song everyone's probably heard while surfing the oldies channels on your ancient FM radios. This nuance in and of itself is enough to give the album a listen. But if you need another reason, the Zombies are excellent musicians and songwriters, very intricately crafting beautiful "Top 40" pop songs but never sacrificing instrumentation for hooks. It's a skill that's rarely mastered, to tight-rope the line between radio-friendly tunes and experimental songwriting, but the Zombies do it with ease.

Odyssey & Oracle has become a mainstay on my mp3 player. My wife and I even included a song within the thirty minutes that led up to our wedding ceremony, "This Will Be Our Year" was played while guests arrived. I hope to purchase O&O on LP someday but with the recent surge in the band's popularity, the damned thing has shot up in price on eBay, upwards of $75 for a 1st Press. Good for them that their records continue to sell. They were never fully appreciated during their time but Odyssey and Oracle continues to age well -- its followers continue to listen and newcomers are jumping on board. Maybe you should too.

Similar records: The Beatles - Revolver, The Kinks - The Village Green Preservation Society
Followers: Dr. Dog, Field Music, Elliott Smith

Friday, January 1, 2010


A lot of my time is spent listening to music. Not only do I enjoy continually discovering new music, I also love to delve in to its history, particularly the history of pop & rock. I'll listen to a band like Dismemberment Plan and hear the influences of the Talking Heads, and in listening to the Talking Heads I hear influences of The Velvet Underground; this part of listening to music is one of its most exciting aspects - the history never ceases. However my favorite artists not only pay homage to their influences, they shape the sounds of the present, and influence future artists to come. And this is how I most enjoy music, through not only its musicianship and songwriting but its representation of time and influences.

Very recently, my computer and mp3 player broke within 24 hours of each other. Being as I did not back up my files, I had to upload my entire music library all over again. All the information stored in a media player like play counts and ratings was lost, and all you OCD music-listeners know this can be damn near heartbreaking. I tried to spin it as positively as possible. I am using this personal tragedy as an opportunity to revisit and listen to each album in my music collection in its entirety, and being the meticulous person I am, I am doing so in reverse alphabetical order according to artist name. And so we come to the purpose of my writing:

I will share a few thoughts and critiques with the reader (if there are any of you) on each album I visit; why I like it, why I don't like it, what it reminds me of, what it means to me, etc. I also hope to include the occasional video or audio snippet as well. Now, why do you care? Well, I'm not sure you do. However, music has always been one of my primary passions in life and I will very much enjoy documenting my own personal evolution through music, all the while sharing it with you.