One doesn’t have to be especially a fan of the noise underground to have heard of Wolf Eyes. The Michigan band leveled up in the mid oughts from cassette culture to Sub Pop, and the group continues today. Their classic early lineup featured the gifted sound manipulator Aaron Dilloway, who left in 2005, but remains an active solo artist based in Oberlin, OH, where he runs the store Hanson Records, which is also the name of the long-running label on which he’s released cassettes by the likes of Emeralds, Andrew WK, and of course Wolf Eyes.
According to the Detroit Metro Times, Dilloway has ties to Nepal via his wife, who did PhD fieldwork there, and he’s been raising money through the sales of his own field recordings to help the victims of the devastating recent earthquakes.
As soon as news broke of the devastating earthquake in Nepal two weeks ago, Dilloway offered his epic box set of field recordings for sale online, with all the proceeds benefiting quake relief. As of yesterday, he posted that he’s raised over $5,000 towards relief, just from sales of this one set.
The set is titled Sounds Of Nepal Volumes 1—3, and the digital download is yours for a $15 donation. Proceeds go to the America Nepal Medical Foundation, who have a direct fundraising link on their web site if you’d like to donate but “Buddhist Cremation Music” and “Cow Drinking From Public Water Tap” aren’t your bag.
There’s no shortage of candidates, but my vote for the worst song in Neil Diamond’s catalog goes to “The Pot Smoker’s Song” from 1968’s Velvet Gloves and Spit. While it’s possible to write a decent anti-pot song—Jonathan Richman’s “I’m Straight” comes to mind—it seems Diamond’s ruthless songwriting instincts, so adroit with other kinds of subject matter, led him to adopt the most hysterical position on cannabis: smoking grass leads directly to shooting scag. (As readers of the stoner bible Newsweek know, it does not.)
In ‘68, says Laura Jackson’s Neil Diamond: His Life, His Music, His Passion, the Jazz Singer’s visits to an NYC rehab called Phoenix House inspired him to start an anti-drug group called Musicians Against Drugs (MAD). The organization soon changed its name to Performers Against Drugs (PAD), though I’m not sure it’s a better acronym for an anti-drug group—doesn’t it make you think “crash pad”? Anyway, the crystallization of that late-60s drug activism is “The Pot Smoker’s Song,” an album track which combines grim field recordings with a jolly chorus. During the verses, actual junkies from Phoenix House talk about how grass made drug fiends of them and ruined their lives, accompanied by merry instrumentation and backing vocals. (I think this is how Neil Diamond does sardonic?) See if you can come up with a melody for the first verse:
I started when I was thirteen, and, uh, I had saw some people smoking pot, and I bought myself a nickel bag, and I went behind my building and sat on a bench all by myself, and I smoked that bag—y’know, until I finally got high. Uh, I started with pot ‘cause I was curious, and at that time I was having problems with my family. I remember on one trip, I was at a party, and, uh, I got very sick from, uh, from speed, from meth. And, uh, I used to shoot it in my spine. I also used to shoot acid in my spine. And, uh, I had too much, I was building a big thing up over a week, and I got sick, and I tried to commit suicide.
Jackson’s bio reports the song was subject to such derision that it was omitted from later pressings of Velvet Gloves and Spit. I see no evidence of this on Discogs, but the song was left off of one UK pressing. Never mind: “The Pot Smoker’s Song” was lame. Neil said:
“The Pot Smoker’s Song” almost cost me my career. People just laughed at it.
But in the fullness of time, the scales fell from Diamond’s eyes and he repented of his error. Ben Fong-Torres’ classic piece “The Importance of Being Neil Diamond,” from the September 23, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone, opens with a 50-man squad from LAPD and the LA Sheriff’s Department raiding Diamond’s house on a cocaine tip. The Man didn’t find any coke at Neil’s place, but the search did turn up a little herb. Fong-Torres knew Velvet Gloves and Spit, and he nailed Diamond:
There is a track on a 1970 [sic] Neil Diamond album called “The Pot Smoker’s Song.” It begins, “Pot, pot, gimme some pot, forget what you are, you can be what you’re not, high, high, I wanna get high, never give it up if you give it a try.” And between the bouncy choruses are spoken testimonials from kids connecting grass to speed, acid, suicide and worse.
Today, Diamond says “The Pot Smoker’s Song” was “essentially misdirected”; that he learned the real villain is heroin after “The Pot Smoker’s Song” came out. He started smoking dope – “mostly out of boredom,” usually on long road trips.
“Fortunately, when I went through this stage,” he adds, “I was old enough to discern between marijuana and heroin.” Diamond is 35.
Fortunately? I, for one, would really have enjoyed hearing the results of a scag habit on Diamond’s later work, but I guess my loss is his gain. It’s never too late to start, Neil…
The atmosphere was intense. An event put together with the best of intentions in real time. Real time meaning no set list, no rehashes of Pistols numbers, potential audience participation, no real idea of how the event would pan out and certainly no idea it was going to turn into a hybrid of an old school R&R riot.
There was no plan, that was the plan. The potential was immense. There was no MTV and I was using one of largest video displays in existence at the time. There was one other similar screen this size in Tokyo. We had a fantastic control room that was capable of being a TV channel.
Cable was the big buzz of the time and this! Live video just seemed so exciting and yet to me, so obvious. When I agreed to do this with the powers that be at the Ritz the question was “Can we use and integrate all the video equipment and the screen into the show? Stanley London, and Jerry Brandt, the club’s owners, as I remember said “Sure.”
I said “We’ll have to bill this as something special, a video event with Public Image Ltd. Its key we do this for a myriad of reasons.” They agreed. The guys at the Ritz were fantastically helpful and enthusiastic. Jerry Brandt as I remember was involved in The Electric Circus in the 60s and had a good idea of what was going on and therefore had a special eye on what I was doing as this was coming together. (He definitely thought he’d seen this before in the 60s. I could feel that.)
I had such high hopes for what was coming together. I’d envisioned a live video event with audience participation or an interactive event on a personal level which to my mind would have been quite innovative and quite interesting for those days. This might not seem like such a big deal in these advanced technological times but back then it was. Plus even then “interactive only really meant an electronic experience, nothing this close up and personal.
In May 1981 there was no World Wide Web, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, no instant global communication anywhere, anytime at the touch of a button. People didn’t have access to personal computers, cell phones, or the Internet except under really geeky circumstances. MTV didn’t exist as of yet though it was on the table. Cable was the biggest and most interesting or exciting thing happening.
In those days PiL would get lots of offers many of which were turned down. I happened to be in Manhattan and was getting a good deal of attention when an offer from the Ritz came up. They’d had an unexpected cancellation from none other than Malcolm’s Bow Wow Wow and they needed something with proper impact to fill the gap. Impromptu? Whatever.
The Ritz was a Victorian place that was used for pretty damn classy gigs. A fantastic venue with balconies, an old school wooden ballroom floor and the perfect size for name bands to do their stuff. A great stage and crew. I imagine the likes of Madness, Squeeze or Talking Heads and bands of that ilk would’ve used this as a prefered prestige place in New York.
The Ritz had recently acquired one of just two (in the entire world) massive video screens for the venue with a General Electric video projection system. The highest resolution imagery anyone was going to get for those times. The projection certainly wasn’t “Hi Def” as we know it these days but no one knew the difference then and essentially it looked like a giant movie screen and was very clear (The only other screen like the one there was in Tokyo. HD was a dream concept at the time only Sony were working on). This all really knocked my socks off and fired my imagination like a Gatling machine gun on speed. Suffice to say the Ritz was well interesting due to the toys inside.
In 1973, Sweet were the subject of a documentary All That Glitters for BBC Schools series Scene. Being intended for “educational purposes,” the program had to pose a relevant topic for debate among its teenage audience—in this case, “Is the music business really that glamorous?” Over a period of two to three days, Scene followed the band members Brian Connolly (vocals), Steve Priest (bass/coals), Andy Scott (guitar) and Mick Tucker (drums) as they rehearsed for a Top of the Pops appearance (which led to an outcry over Priest’s Nazi outfit) and their (now hailed as “legendary”) Christmas show at London’s Rainbow Theater.
It had certainly been a good year for the band—probably their best: three hit singles (“Blockbuster,” “Hellraiser,” “Ballroom Blitz”) adding to their chart-topping back catalog and tipping their record sales to 14 million sold; sell-out gigs the length and breadth of the UK; and plans to record their first proper studio album—for which they would write most of the material and play all of the instruments. Yes, it had been a long hard graft, and it wasn’t always glamorous, but it seemed as if things could and should only get better.
But fame is fickle and pop careers are measured by the durability of three-minute songs. Sweet’s pop hits had been penned by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who had originally cast the band as sub-Archies bubblegum pop supplying them with such jolly toe-tappers as “Co-Co,” “Little Willy” and “Wig Wam Bam.” However, Sweet were always rockers and had a desire to write and play their own songs. As if signalling their gradual move away from Chinn and Chapman, the band dropped the definite article from their name—changing from The Sweet to Sweet.
Sweet’s audience were still mainly teenyboppers who liked their playground pop and the pretty boy make-up, though there were always some (including music journalist Paul Morley) who preferred the band’s self-penned hard-rocking B-sides. When Sweet started concentrating on their own kind of heavy glam music with the albums Sweet Fanny Adams (1974) and Desolation Boulevard (1975), they lost a chunk of their fan base who were now swooning over the Bay City Rollers while a younger generation were about to replace glam with punk.
Yet the music Sweet produced influenced artists such as Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Joan Jett and Poison.
Though half the band is sadly now dead (Connolly died in 1997, Tucker in 2002) the world is divided between Andy Scott’s Sweet, which covers Europe and Australia, and Steve Priest’s Sweet, which takes in the US, Canada and South America.
R&B singer, Joe Tex, best known for his hits “Skinny Legs And All” and “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” had a bitter rivalry with James Brown that went beyond simple diss tracks. At one point the feud became so heated that James Brown attempted to murder Tex with a shotgun, reportedly wounding six or seven people in the process.
The rivalry dates back to the early days of their careers, according to Joe Tex’s Wikipedia page:
The feud between Tex and fellow labelmate James Brown took its origins allegedly sometime in the mid-1950s when both artists were signed to associated imprints of King Records when Brown allegedly called out on Tex for a “battle” during a dance at a local juke joint. In 1960, Tex left King and recorded a few songs for Detroit-based Anna Records, one of the songs he recorded was the ballad “Baby, You’re Right”. A year later, Brown recorded the song and released it in 1961, changing up the lyrics and the musical composition, earning Brown co-songwriting credits along with Tex.
It had to have stung having your song usurped, with a songwriting credit added, and watching it become a bigger hit than your single.
Brown fueled the fire by hooking up and recording with Tex’s ex-wife. James Brown was kind of a dick:
By then, Brown had recruited singer Bea Ford, who had been married to Tex prior, but had divorced in 1959. In 1960, Brown and Ford recorded the song, “You’ve Got the Power”. Shortly afterwards, Tex got a personal letter from Brown telling him that he was through with Ford and if Tex wanted her back, he could have her. Tex responded by recording the diss record, “You Keep Her”, where he called Brown’s name out.
“James I got your letter, it came to me today. You said I could have my baby back, but I don’t want her that way.”
Things soon came to a head at a 1963 gig in Macon, Georgia when Joe Tex aped Brown’s cape act.
By about a thousand lengths, Black Sabbath’s best song is “Supernaut” from Black Sabbath Vol.4. You’re free to argue the point, but you won’t change my mind. Yeah, “Paranoid” and “Iron Man” are obviously among metal’s greatest works, and the MONSTER riffs from “N.I.B.” and “Into the Void” are indelible. But “Supernaut?” BEST. PERIOD. The hefty physicality of Tony Iommi’s performance of the main guitar riff melts me down into a puddle every time I hear it, and when Ozzy wails “I wanna reach out and touch the sky / I wanna touch the sun but I don’t need to fly” I goddamn believe HE CAN, with or without mountains of drugs. It’s absolutely perfect.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” a song that, arguably more so than ANY other, even “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” has served as a badge for British Invasion-era rock, was recorded by the Rolling Stones 50 years ago today, on May 12, 1965. But had things worked out differently, we might be accustomed to hearing a very different song. A version of the song was recorded two days prior, at Chess Studios in Chicago, reportedly with Brian Jones on Harmonica. (I have no idea if that recording has ever emerged anywhere, and if a better Stones maven than myself could point me in the right direction, I’d sure like to hear it.) But that version was jettisoned, and the version we all know very, very well was recorded later that week in Los Angeles, at RCA Studios. From Stanley Booth’s The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones:
The Stones tried but failed to record “Satisfaction,” flew the next day to Los Angeles, went the day after to RCA Studios, started working at 10:00 A.M. and by 2:15 A.M., more than sixteen hours later, had recorded six new songs, one of them “Satisfaction.” They went back to their hotel, slept a few hours, then [Stones manager] Andrew [Loog Oldham] and RCA engineer Dave Hassinger returned to the studio and began mixing the tracks. At 1:00 P.M. the Stones showed up to re-record certain parts, Bill, Charlie and Brian leaving at 9:00 P.M., Mick and Keith staying at the studio adding vocals till nine o’clock the next morning. They had a new album and a single that would be the most popular they had ever done.
During the Chess sessions, the Stones make their first attempt at recording a song written by Mick and Keith a few days earlier in Clearwater, Florida… Keith: “A week later we recorded (‘Satisfaction’, again, at the RCA Studios) In Los Angeles. This time everything went right. Charlie put down a different tempo and, with the addition of a fuzz box on my guitar which took off all the treble, we achieved a very interesting sound.” Mick: “We cut ‘Satisfaction’ in Los Angeles when we were working there. We cut quite a lot of things and that was just one—contrary to some newspaper reports, it only took us just half an hour to make it. We like it, but didn’t think of it as a single. Then London said they had to have a single immediately because “The Last Time” was long gone and we had a Shindig TV date and had to have something to plug. So they released ‘Satisfaction’ as a single.”
“We like it, but didn’t think of it as a single.” Does that not sound like EVERY story about a world-changing record? That song that the Stones didn’t think of as a single would become their first US #1 record, and be the band’s definitive work for fifty years and counting. Since you’ve heard the canonical single a million times, here’s a neat stereo mix that was released on the German edition of Hot Rocks (this is why I gave up the hunt for the Chess version—trying to run down session details for EVERY release of this song is way more spelunking than a 24-hour day allows for). I love how the acoustic guitars take prominence in this mix.
The first televised performance of ‘Satisfaction’ after the jump…
I have a big weakness for injudiciously liking and joining extremely narrow-purpose Facebook pages and groups, and as such I’m a proud member of “Staring At This Picture Of Dave Navarro Until It Gives Me An Acid Flashback,” at least a dozen groups that consist of nothing but vinyl enthusiasts posting the covers of whatever they’re listening to at the moment, and OF COURSE “The Same Photo of Glenn Danzig Every Day,” which DM told you about last week. But the thing that’s been tickling me this week is “Poorly Drawn Album Covers,” which is exactly what you think. The page’s unnamed admin draws (presumably by him or herself, no artist credits are given), shoddily, in what must be MS Paint or worse, album covers ranging from iconic, instantly recognizable classics (amusingly, their Screamadelica and Songs About Fucking don’t actually look super different from the originals at first glance) to recent indie stuff—and they have quite good taste in indie, IMO. But even if you can’t name the record (they’re not identified for the reader, which I like), it’s still always a giggle. Here are a few samples. There’s plenty more where this came from, and if that’s still not enough for you, these folks have competition on Tumblr.
First Third Books, the London and Paris-based publisher of deluxe coffee table books devoted to counterculture (like Sheila Rock’s Punk +) and extremely in-depth celebrations of particular groups and performers (Felt, Saint Etienne, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge) are coming out with another of their beautiful monographs in June—this volume concentrating on the life and career of the great Marc Almond.
Marc Almond will be limited to 1300 copies worldwide, hand numbered and bound in purple fabric. There will be 300 copies of the standard edition priced at £40 and 1000 copies of a limited special edition for £60 that includes unreleased songs on a 7” single. The first 500 copies sold of the limited edition will also be signed by Marc.
Back in March, when the book was first announced, Almond remarked:
“Putting a book like this together is very difficult because it brings up all kind of emotions. But it’s important to me to paint an honest picture, which means that as well as the many wonderful memories, working on the book has also forced me to resurrect certain things I’d rather hoped had been consigned to history. But that’s great. It would be too easy to fall into the comfort zone of nostalgia. The book goes much further than that. The whole process has been bittersweet and yet cathartic. I’ve really enjoyed working on it and it looks fantastic.”
As longtime readers of this blog know, I am a massive Marc Almond fan—I have been since I saw my father fuming mad after Soft Cell ruined his Saturday night by performing “Tainted Love” on the Solid Gold TV show—so I’m thrilled to be able to offer a selection of photos from this amazing book, along with Marc’s own captions, and some related videos.
Youth: In 1964, I was seven. The world was still in black-and-white, still very much post-war, still austere, with poor street lighting and simple foods. But much of my world revolved around television pop shows like Ready, Steady, Go!, Thank Your Lucky Stars and Juke Box Jury. One of my first pop memories was seeing Sandie Shaw barefoot on RSG! singing ‘(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me’. I was always singing that song. I loved pop from a very early age.
Photo: Peter Ashworth
Non-Stop Subversion: This was our preferred cover for Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret but the record company thought it too menacing and subversive. Dave looks quite convincing in the role of switchblade-carrying psychotic!
Synesthesia is a fascinating condition experienced by 2% to 4% of the population, wherein a stimulus of one sense (taste, say) is processed and perceived within the framework of another sense (hearing, say). A person with the condition might say “That spaghetti tastes loud,” or “That song is purple.” Some minor crossing of wires that leads to a harmless yet stimulating state of affairs for those who have it. Notable synesthetes include Nikola Tesla, David Hockney, Vladimir Nabokov, Duke Ellington, and Wassily Kandinsky. Nabokov famously felt that each letter had a very specific color, which is a relatively common manifestation of synesthesia.
Erin Kelly at All That Is Interesting has posted the, well, interesting “song portraits” of a Missouri artist named Melissa McCracken. As Kelly writes,
Each of McCracken’s paintings is based on a certain song, and incorporates the song’s notes, tempo, and chord progression through textures, hues and shapes. It is not imperative that one understands the condition’s neurological underpinnings to appreciate the work being done here, but those with a taste for abstract art will perhaps extract the most enjoyment from these pieces.
Check them out, they’re quite wonderful. I woulda said the Prince song would have a lot more purple to it, but I suppose McCracken knows best.
(Clicking on a song title will bring you to a YouTube version of that song. Highly recommended to refresh your memory! Hearing the music makes the pictures pop a lot more.)