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Sparks fly: A brief trip through Ron & Russell Mael’s appearances on German TV over the years

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You know you’re getting old when your love for a band hits middle age. Yikes. It’s forty-two years since I was first heard Sparks’ single “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us” on the radio. A couple of weeks later I caught them on Top of the Pops—the bottom-wiggling Bolanesque lead singer Russell Mael and the stern, strange, Hitler-mustachiod pianist Ron Mael. The differences of the brothers’ iconic images very much suited the joyous one-upmanship of their performance—the battle between Russell’s impressively soaring vocals and Ron’s cleverly structured music.

Sparks evolved out of another band called Halfnelson (which was the Mael brothers and guitarist Earle Mankey,  bassist Jim Mankey and drummer Harley Feinstein) formed in 1968. They were mainly popular with the brothers’ relatives and friends, though they did attract the attention of musician Todd Rundgren who produced their brilliant eponymous debut album. It didn’t sell well. A problem of perhaps having too small an extended family or a limited number of friends. But still there was enough interest to give the brothers a new record deal.

The record company suggested the band rename themselves the Sparx Brothers—in reference to the zany comedy troupe the Marx Brothers. Ron and Russell agreed to to keeping the “Sparks” but dropping the brother bits. It was obvious enough anyway.

A second album (the rather superb A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing), a move to England, a new band line-up (Martin Gordon on bass, Adrian Fisher on guitar and Norman “Dinky” Diamond” on drums) led to the the superlative album Kimono My House and a legendary career began.
 
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With age comes maturity and sometimes good sense. I’ve stopped evangelizing about the utter genius of Ron and Russell Mael sometime ago. Well, about an hour ago—to be exact. As sadly there comes a point when attempting to convince other people to listen to something you like becomes a bit like the well-meaning Hare Krishna pestering a passersby to shout “Gouranga!”

Sparks don’t need a plug. They’re too good, too brilliant, to need anyone shouting their genius from the rooftops. If you are a fan (or have been paying attention) then you’ll know what I mean. Sparks have kept evolving, developing and progressing—their music today is as great, if not greater than the work they produced forty-five years ago.

Most bands after their fifth decade together just hash out the greatest hits for the stadium audience. Not Sparks—they are still writing, producing and performing new, audacious and original material. Last year the Brothers Mael collaborated with Franz Ferdinand to form the supergroup FFS—one of the best (if not the best in this reviewer’s opinion) albums of the year. Their show was certainly the best gig I saw in 2015.  I know you’re busy but if you could just say “Gouranga..!”

This little selection of Sparks’ live appearances on Musikladen show the big shift in the brothers progress from classic Kimono My House and Propaganda-era art-rock-pop to the minimalist-experimental-electronica of the Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins album—that eventually led to their masterpieces of Lil’ Beethoven and The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. As a band Sparks are tight—something they never quite got the credit for—and as a way of life—hell, there’s nothing to beat ‘em.

Track Listing: “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both Of Us,” “Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil,” “Something for the Girl with Everything,” “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’,” “Frankly, Scarlett, I Don’t Give a Damn,” “BC,” “(When I Kiss You” I Hear Charlie Parker Playing” and “Senseless Violins.”
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Motörhead, The Cure, The Jam (+ a bizarre Adam Ant comic) from the pages of cool 80s mag Flexipop!

Motörhead on the cover of Flexipop! magazine, June, 1981
Motörhead on the cover of Flexipop! magazine, June, 1981.
 
UK music magazine Flexipop! was only around from 1980 to1983, but in that time it managed to put out some pretty cool content within its pages, such as the sweet 7” colored flexi discs that featured music from bands featured in the mag like Motörhead, The Cure and The Jam. One flexi-disc from the February 1981 issue was a recording of Adam and the Ants riffing on the Village People anthem “Y.M.C.A.” called “A.N.T.S,” which you can listen to in all its early 80s glory (as I can’t embed it), here.
 
Adam Ant on the cover of Flexipop! #4
Adam Ant on the cover of Flexipop! #4.
 
Adam and the Ants Flexipop! flexidisc from Flexipop! #4
Adam and the Ants Flexipop! flexi disc from Flexipop! #4.
 
Another thing that Flexipop! featured were cool “live-action” storyboards as well illustrated strips that detailed the the fictional exploits of various bands and musicians. Starting with the September 1981 issue, there was a three-part-series about the career to date of Adam Ant drawn by Mark Manning. Manning—who would go on to assume the cool-as-fuck moniker “Zodiac Mindwarp” and form the biker sleaze band Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction in the mid-80s—was Flexipop!‘s acid-dropping art editor at the time. I’ve included Manning’s “Adam and the Ants” comic strip in its entirety, as well as some scans from the magazine’s inner-pages.

Surprisingly, given its short existence, you can find lots of issues of Flexipop! out there as well as flexi discs from the magazine’s colorful discography on auction sites like eBay and Etsy. Cooler still is the fact that you can look through even more pages from Flexipop! that have been scanned and uploaded at the blog Music Mags 1970s-1980s.
 
Flexipop! March, 1983
Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie (The Creatures) on the cover of Flexipop! March, 1983.
 
Much, much more after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Toys for boys: Tech Hifi catalogs of vintage stereo equipment are bizarre fun
05.03.2016
11:48 am

Topics:
Advertising
Pop Culture
Science/Tech

Tags:
stereo
Tech Hifi


This 1981 system, featuring components from Cerwin Vega, Hitachi, Philips, and Audio-Technica, cost $829 at the time.
 
Only the staunchest of old-school stereo dorks remember it today, but from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, Tech Hifi was one of the best-known retailers of audio equipment on the East Coast.

The chain was founded by two MIT academics, mathematician Sandy Ruby and engineer John Strohbeen. According to the New York Times, Tech Hifi’s franchises were known for their “knowledgeable salespeople who could satisfy the comparison-shopping stereo connoisseur”—a type so gorgeously satirized by Don Cheadle’s Buck Swope in Boogie Nights.

Another of the hallmarks of Tech Hifi was apparently its expensive and imaginative catalogs, which presented elaborate tableaux of the store’s stereophonic offerings being used in fanciful and even borderline bizarre situations.

Seizing on a ripe market of affluent audiophiles, Tech Hifi grew rapidly, and by the 1970s it had become one of the nation’s largest sources for consumer electronics, with upwards of 80 stores, mostly in the Northeast, including more than a dozen in and around New York City.

Nobody knew it when these catalogs were being produced, but Tech Hifi’s days were numbered. Unanticipated competition from discount retailers and a wobbly economy forced it out of business in the mid-1980s.

Note that inflation has increased the prices of equivalent goods by roughly 289%, so you have to triple the prices listed here in order to get an accurate assessment of the pricing at that time. All of the photos in the 1979 catalog were taken by Al Rubin, and all of the photos in the 1981 catalog were taken by Clint Clemens. You can enlarge all photos by clicking on them.
 

The cover of the 1979 catalog.
 

This 1979 system featuring components from Crown, Nikko, Infinity, Micro Seiki, Ortofon, Micro-Acoustics, Tandberg, and Phase Linear, cost $10,000 at the time.
 
More goodness from vintage Tech Hifi catalogs after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Anarchy!’ Malcolm McLaren, punk rock’s Molotov cocktail


 
Phil Strongman’s new documentary Anarchy! McLaren Westwood Gang is a politically-fueled, fashion-conscious deeper look at how the English punk explosion was ignited—how the bomb was built and under what circumstances, in other words.

Coming in at almost two and a half hours with an incredible cast of characters, Anarchy! McLaren Westwood Gang traces Malcolm McClaren back to his birth with loads of never before seen films and photos, personal information and interviews with family members, friends and others, taking us into the all important mid-sixties where the real nucleus of the Sex Pistols concept begins to form within the Situationist movement, King Mob (the UK equivilent), art school and observing the tribal customs and costumes of rock ‘n roll fanaticism.

The 1968 the French student riots had a huge influence on McLaren, who travelled to Paris at the time, and there were key players from that era who played recurring roles in his life. Much of the concepts and ideas—art, slogans, everything really—originated there and then. The interviews with the people from this period were what I wanted to see most and there was no disappointment. The interviews with Malcolm himself indicate that he still was speaking in slogans right up to the very end.
 

 
If you’re looking for yet another love letter to punk rock (yawn) with the same old crap stories, then keep on pogoing as this is a very interesting (for the most part) tale of politics, sex, drugs, bombs, rock ‘n roll, and the all important fashion accessories to wear whilst bombing and rocking and rolling and fucking on drugs. If punk never really happened and this was just a wild tale of a bunch of crazed young people that tried to accomplish what punk wrought and failed, it would still be just as interesting. The fact that first an entire country and then the entire world sat up, noticed, listened and actually feared this tiny group of absurd-looking lunatics (some leading, most following) on their search and destroy mission is incredible to contemplate. Today they’d just be given their own reality TV show.

It’s a bit of a revelation for those who think a few drunk idiots formed a band and yelled and jumped around a lot while desperately trying to learn how to play their instruments. (Even at this late date it is still being said that these guys could not play or sing, which is ridiculous as is easily proven by any Sex Pistols live performance video from any period.) However, someone could have done enough homework to know to leave out Ben Westwood’s totally wrong assumption (stated as fact, of course) that Sid’s mom and girlfriend gave him heroin that he overdosed on (I personally was there that night and I and enough other people have done countless interviews stating what really happened). He even calls Methadone, Methadrone (good name for a band actually). Other than these two minor problems, and the rather large objection that for a film titled Anarchy! McLaren Westwood Gang it’s quite light on the Westwood side of things, this very long film goes by very quickly, and is really well made. Director Strongman was good friends with McLaren, having worked in the Glitterbest offices (the Sex Pistols management company) and was an actual eyewitness to much of what he is discussing here.
 

 
There lots of great interviews with everyone from Adam Ant to Don Letts to Tracey Emin to Boy George (who tells a great story about when he sang for Bow Wow Wow) to Sex Pistol Paul Cook (with amazing black and white footage of the Pistols hanging around at the Berlin wall). The music is honestly the least of the subjects focused on. In fact much of the film is framed with scenes of girls modeling Dame Westwood’s fashions (partially topless) to a modern soundtrack with an operatic vocal sung onscreen. (And thank god for that. I’m sick of these formulaic punk rock docs, aren’t you?)

There’s a lot to get out of this film, historically speaking. It’s intelligent and everything a documentary should be. It just may not be about what you thought it was going to be about. This is the history of European Anarchism as it helps beget the birth of the Sex Pistols. It’s also the story of a man who broke all the rules before that was fashionable, who ran blindly into the fire more than once and always came out the other side… many times with the prize. Or at least some money. I’ve already watched Anarchy! McLaren Westwood Gang three times and I’m not the type to really ever watch anything even twice, certainly not in the same day.

All Malcolm McLaren ever wanted was to be something akin to the “next Andy Warhol.” It’s an idiosyncratic aspiration to be sure, but one category that he (and perhaps he alone) truly belonged in.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Howie Pyro | Leave a comment
Meet The Liverbirds: The all-girl Beatles who once toured with the Kinks and Rolling Stones

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“Girls with guitars? That won’t work,” quipped John Lennon as he watched four girls take the stage of the Cavern Club, Liverpool in 1963. The band was The Liverbirds and Lennon’s attitude was the kind of dumb prejudice these four faced every time they picked up their guitars and blasted an audience with their hard rockin’  R’n'B.

The Liverbirds were formed in Liverpool 1963. The original line-up was Valerie Gell (guitar), Mary McGlory (bass), Sylvia Saunders (drums), together with Mary’s sister, Sheila McGlory (guitar) and Irene Green (vocals). The band’s name was lifted from the liver bird—the mythical bird (most probably a cormorant) that symbolises the city of Liverpool and they were all girls (“birds” in the youthful parlance of the time). The group practiced every day until they were better than most of the local boy bands who were merely copycatting local heroes The Beatles.

The Liverbirds were apparently so good (if a bit rough around the edges) they were snapped up to tour with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Rockin’ Berries. However, it was soon apparent that the girls—unlike the boys—were were being cheated out of a big part of their fees by booking agents—a crushing disappointment that led to the loss of their lead singer and guitarist to other bands.
 
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It was beginning to look as if Lennon was right, but the girls refused to give up and continued touring with The Kinks. Unlike their northern counterparts, London’s all male bands The Kinks and The Stones were supportive of The Liverbirds—as Mary McGlory recalled in a letter to the Liverpool Beat in 2014:

The Kinks took us down to London to meet their manager, even booked us into a hotel, and told us to come to the studio tomorrow and bring our guitars with us (maybe there might be time to play a song for their manager). When we arrived there, the roadie came in and told The Kinks that their guitars had been stolen out of the van – so this was how The Kinks played our guitars on their hit recording of “You really got me“.

This isn’t exactly how it happened as the legendary Dave Davies of The Kinks points out regarding Mary’s claim over the stolen instruments:

Absolute nonsense- they were a cool band but this DID not happen.

On YRGM I use my Harmony meteor thru the elpico green amp and ray used his tele and pete used his blue fender bass…what a load of bollocks.

However, The Kinks did help save The Liverbirds from splitting-up by suggesting they bring Pamela Birch in as vocalist. Birch was a big blonde bee-hived singer/guitarist. She had a deep bluesy voice which harmonized beautifully with Valeri Gell’s vocals. Birch was a perfect fit for the band.

They were a hit at the Cavern Club. They were a hit across the country. They were a hit on tour. But the band hailed as the all-girl Beatles at the height of Beatlemania couldn’t even get a record deal in England. However, things soon started to shift.
 
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First Kinks’ manager Larry Page and then Beatles manager Brian Epstein wanted to sign The Liverbirds. But the girls were off to Hamburg to play the Star Club. The band was an instant hit in Germany as Mary McGlory recalls:

We arrived in Hamburg on the 28th May, 1964 and played the same night. The crowd was great and loved us right away. The Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder became our one and only MANAGER.

A few days later he sent us to Berlin to play at a big concert with Chuck Berry, shortly before we went on stage we were told that it was forbidden to play any Chuck Berry songs. Well that was impossible for us, so when Val went to the mike and announced “Roll over Beethoven”, Berry’s manager ran on stage and tried to stop us playing, Val pushed him away and told him to “F. Off”.(She had probably had a shandy). Back in Hamburg, Manfred called us to his office, we thought he was going to tell us off, but no such thing, Chuck Berry’s manager wanted to take us to America. Manfred said he would leave the decision up to us, but then he added – he will probably take you to Las Vegas, and there you will have to play topless! Well of course that was his way of putting us off. After all, the club was still crowded every night.

The band had hits with the songs “Peanut Butter,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Loop-de-Loop,” and “Diddley Daddy.” Although in performance they played the very same Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry covers favored by the Stones and other boys, Birch also started writing original numbers, producing such favorites as “Why Do You Hang Around Me?” and “It’s Got To be You.” Though pioneering and incredibly popular, the girls (now in their late teens-early twenties) still faced the everyday sexism from record industry supremos who thought young girls should be on the scene, but not heard. Not unless they were in the audience screaming. These men wanted girls who dressed to please—not girls who played instruments better than the boys. Girls with guitars? That won’t work. Except for that, of course, it did. Splendidly!
 
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In 1968, on the cusp of a Japanese tour the band split:

Until 1967, we played nearly all over Europe, recorded two albums and four singles for the Star-Club label and appeared on many television shows. Our drummer Sylvia married her boyfriend John Wiggins from The Bobby Patrick Big Six and left the band. Shortly after Val married her German boyfriend Stephan, who had a car accident on his way to visit her and was since paralyzed. So when we got an offer from Yamaha to do a tour of Japan at the beginning of 1968, Pam and I had to find two German girls to replace them. Japan was great, and the Japanese people really liked us, but Pam and I did not enjoy it anymore, we missed the other two, the fun had gone out of it. We thought this is the right time to finish, even though we were still only 22 and 23.

Today McGlory, Gell and Saunders continue with their post-Liverbirds lives. Sadly, Pamela Birch died in 2009. However, this all-girl guitar band should be given credit for pioneering rock and roll, R ‘n’ B and being right up there for a time with The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.
 

The Liverbirds perform on ‘Beat Club’ 1965.

More from the female Fab Four after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Meet Hitler the Hells Angel and Steve the stay-at-home Skinhead: Gang culture documentary from 1969

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Hitler the Hells Angel.
 
A gang of British Hells Angels ride into town. They gather at their favored bar in Birmingham, England, the aptly named Oddfellows’ Arms. The bar is the last remnant of a once-thriving working class area. Inside, the Angels drink, chat, and carouse. At one of the crowded tables a young biker has “Mum + Dad” tattooed on his soft white arm.

A film crew documents these activities. When asked, the Hells Angels talk of their rejection of society’s values, their independence, their freedom. They relish their dirty appearance, long hair, and their uniformity of dress. One biker has a jacket covered with the Nazi insignia. He says his parents’ generation fought the Nazis—“The only good German was a dead German,” they said—but he’s never met a bad German. He wears the badges and pins to shock, to disgust, to rebel—to show his “outlaw” status.

Though these Hells Angels consider themselves free of society’s rules, they do have their own codes and rituals by which they live their lives. Outside the bar, a young couple named Sylvia and Hitler get married. They want their relationship to be recognized by the other Angels. The marriage is a genuine ritual. To the rest of society Hitler and Sylvia are “living in sin.” Like any other newlyweds, the couple will have to get a job, some “bread” and somewhere to live.

When Hitler is asked about his name, he explains he was called “Hitler” by the other Angels because he has “proved himself.”

Interviewer: How do you prove yourself?

Hitler: There’s quite a few ways you can prove like. I mean, beat a skinhead up—that’s great. That’s class. I mean, if it was legal we’d go around hanging skinheads.

 
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Four skins…
 
The kids were out of control. Or so it seemed. The rise in births after the Second World War saw a massive number of youngsters reach their teens and twenties during the 1960s. There was a fear the country was being swamped by gangs of youths. There was no longer any National Service to dissipate their energy on military maneuvers or war. There was more money. More leisure time. More entertainment. Pop music and television were the new gods. For an older generation, the hysteria of Beatlemania—with its “out of control” mobs of teen girls—was as much a portent to the breakdown in British society as the gangs terrorizing the inner cities. Teddy Boys. Razor gangs. Rockers. Mods. Tribes defined as much by their violence as by their tastes in music, their clothes, their modes of transport, or their goddamn hairstyles.

In the 1950s, poet Thom Gunn wrote a highly preceptive poem called “On the Move” about the rise of rebelious youth and their chaotic, unfocussed energy. The poem describes a biker gang roaming across America “reaching no absolute, in which to rest” always moving “toward, toward.” Gunn was inspired by The Wild One, the Marlon Brando movie, where his character Johnny was asked “What you rebeling against, Johnny?” To which Brando’s character replies, “Whatcha got?” Though Gunn’s admiration for the bikers’ rebellious attitude is obvious, he sees their actions as wasted and inadequate to provoke any real change.

By the late 1960s, skinheads were considered a bigger threat to the British public than bikers. Hell’s Angels kept their business amongst themselves. Skinheads attacked anyone—though primarily anyones of a different ethnicity to their own “pure blood” white skin. Skinheads were thuggishly unrepentant “bovver boys” who’d give you a kicking as much a look at you.
 
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Skinhead Steve with his parents.
 
The documentary shifts to a group of young skinheads from London. They brag about “Paki bashing.” They crow about their racism and violence. The film focuses on one young skinhead called Steve. The camera follows him home where he watches TV with his mom and dad. His father had been a Teddy Boy. He understands the appeal of being in a gang. Steve tells him about the thrill of marching through South End a thousand strong. The feeling of being part of something says Steve, would bring “tears to your eyes.”

Steve: It makes you feel proud. It will last for a little while. Then something new will come along. But till then you’ve got us. It’s just the way it goes.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Holiday photos of John Lennon as a child in 1951 on a school trip to the seaside

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A ten-year-old John Lennon is instantly recognizable in these photographs taken during a school trip to the Isle of Man—a popular holiday destination off the west coast of England. Our eyes are drawn to his figure, standing left of frame, leaning slightly forward, arms out, knee-deep in waves. Lennon is surrounded by his classmates from Dovedale Junior School. To one side is the future BBC news journalist Peter Sissons. To the other fists clenched ready to rumble is comedian Jimmy Tarbuck.

Tarbuck has since recalled in an interview how Lennon “had a strong personality” even though he was “like any other kid in those days, having a few scraps in the playground.” That strength of personality is apparent from these photos where Lennon is either at the center of things or in the front row.

Six years later, in the summer of 1957, Lennon was playing with his band The Quarrymen at a garden fete of St Peter’s Church, Woolton, Liverpool. That was the day he met another young musician called Paul McCartney.
 
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The young John Lennon left of center next to Jimmy Tarbuck with fists up to right. Peter Sissons is on left edge of frame behind Lennon.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
No regrets: Vintage shots of people with massive hangovers
04.19.2016
02:22 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:
hangover


 
Ah the hangover! A state that needs no introduction. C’mon on, we’ve all been there at least once in our lives, right? Laugh all you want at these poor folks. You know you’ve have done the exact same thing… at least once.


 

 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Super-strange 1978 PSA film might give you an acid flashback
04.12.2016
09:16 am

Topics:
Amusing
Pop Culture

Tags:
PSA
1970s
aliens
safety tips


“Safety Woman” from the school safety video “Safety: In Danger out of Doors” from 1978.
 
This late 70s school safety video is full of so much weirdness that it’s hard not to feel like you’re suddenly having an unplanned acid trip while watching it.

In this short film from 1978 menacingly entitled Safety: In Danger out of Doors, we meet the fictional character Miss Karen Kingsley, who the narrator describes as “a youthful, gifted, attractive, successful, freelance architect” who spends her free time volunteering as a school crossing guard. The fourteen-minute PSA plays out much like a lost B-movie when the multi-talented Miss Kingsley somehow becomes “Safety Woman,” a shiny-jumpsuit-wearing superhero (who came to be thanks to some sort of sketchy divine alien “interaction”), that shows up just in time to save her accident prone school-age pals from certain death. If this video had been made in the 80s, that jumpsuit would have reeked of Enjoli perfume for sure. Check out all the possible scenarios that put children of the 70s in peril, like skateboarding or swimming—which we (or at least most of us, I suppose) somehow miraculously survived—after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Dude, you will get SO LAID at the mall arcade wearing this Pac-Man suit
04.12.2016
09:05 am

Topics:
Fashion
Games
Pop Culture

Tags:
Suits
Pac-Man


 
Opposuits, the company that brought you the “Cannaboss” pot-leaf suit, is back at it again with the ultimate in retro tacky-chic.

For the stylish young man stricken with Pac-Man Fever, Opposuits offers this sharp-cut jacket with matching pants and tie covered in Pac-Man graphics. The iconic maze, dots, power-pellets, Inky, Pinky, Blinky, Clyde, and Pakku-Man himself are all represented. The full suit runs $109.99. That seems rather inexpensive to me, but then again I’m not so sure how much use one would get out of a full Pac-Man suit… But maybe you’re that guy who likes to look GQ at the arcade on weekends—you just know that when the gamer-babes see you in this, you’re guaranteed to get SO LAID.
 

 
May we recommend that the gentleman set it off with a pair of custom high-top Pac-Man sneakers?
 

Shoes available at Amazon.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
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