Issue number 145 of the legendary London underground newspaper International Times was the first published in 1973, and it’s a wonder to behold.
For starters, on the cover is an interesting creation by an artist named George Snow, a self-referential image highlighting the means of production involved in ... creating a cover for IT. The image is craftily “pixelated” in a way that suggests (of all things) desktop publishing of the late 1980s, and a font card for 42-point Aachen is also featured as a design element.
The issue also included a two-page installment of “Fritz the Cat” by R. Crumb, and there’s an additional bit of Crumb art tucked elsewhere in the issue. There’s a wonderful advertisement for “Climax Books” (a Danish publisher of smut), and an incredible subscription offer—anyone willing to shell out £4.80 for a year’s worth of IT would also receive Hawkwind’s new album Doremi Fasol Latido.
The cover blandly promises a look at “How Melody Maker Hit Rock Bottom,” which is scant preparation for the savage four-page parody of the UK music rag to be discovered in the pages within. They call it “Monotony Maker”.....
It would take someone with a clear memory of the Melody Maker of the 1970s to unpack the myriad of now-forgotten references. On Twitter, Syd Barrett biographer Rob Chapman refers to the parody as “libellous,” which we’ll get to in a minute. The cover featured a fanciful tale of David Bowie becoming the first male rock star to give birth, while also reporting on a forthcoming Moscow production of the Who’s Tommy in which “guest soloists are believed to include everyone in the Soviet Union.”
In a tweet I can no longer find, Chapman also draws attention to the wicked wit involved in the otherwise innocuous-seeming cover headline “Beatles to Split?” which in 1973 addressed the deep-seated denial in the UK music press. On the parody’s second page there is a scurrilous gossip column called “The Raver” that is surely the item IT’s attorneys would have scrutinized most carefully, seeing as how it contains references to an Ian Anderson tax exile in Switzerland, cocaine shenanigans with Jimmy Page, and Marc Bolan’s likely stint in a looney bin.
The “Payolagraph” item affords an opportunity to engage in some takedowns of Ono/Lennon, Neil Young, and the people trying to wring the last quid out of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy.
By purloining their band name from a pulp crime novel, The Damnation of Adam Blessing sealed their fate. DJs’ reluctance to announce their name on-air in 1970 basically kept them off the radio despite the high quality of their output (Damn Yankees could exist on stage and in cinemas because the FCC couldn’t levy indecency fines on theaters), and that their name led to their frequent misidentification as an occult-themed band a la Coven didn’t help them find their audience, either.
But The Damnation of Adam Blessing’s output holds up against any other hard rock band circa 1970—they’d fit comfortably into a playlist with Cream, Sir Lord Baltimore, Humble Pie, or Atomic Rooster—and their first two albums (the second, in particular) are lost psych-rock treasures. Emerging in the late ‘60s from the same Cleveland, OH cover-band scene that produced members of The James Gang and The Raspberries, Damnation set themselves apart with powerful, groove-oriented playing and a compelling vocalist (Bill Constable, credited as “Adam Blessing” because why not just run with that) who could channel Mark Lindsay and Leslie West with equal aplomb. Though their originals were the main attraction, their 1969 self-titled debut album betrayed their cover-band roots with its inclusion of transformative versions of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” and The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.”
Per Damnations guitarist Jim Quinn:
Originally Adam and I were in a band called The Society, basically a cover band. I was 19, just got out of the service and was working at a gas station. The owner was dating a woman who said her son was in a band that was looking for a guitar player. I went and auditioned, and Adam Blessing was in the band—he was still going by his real name, Bill Constable—and we played around maybe for a year, battles of the bands. But Adam and I wanted to do our own music, we’d written several songs together, so he went out looking for a band, and he found a band called Dust. They were a four-piece band, guitar, bass, drums, and a lead singer, and we talked the band into leaving the singer and coming over to us. We had management and original material, so we went in to the basement for six months, and came out to get a gig as the house band at a place called D’Poos.
Memorabilia from Jim Quinn’s stash, much gratitude for its provision. Clicking spawns a more readable enlargement
Though the band’s albums came out on the major label United Artists and were promoted pretty heavily, distro just plain sucked; though the band was wowing crowds on tour, those audiences were often unable to find Damnation records in shops. So when they broke up in 1973, both the band and its legacy vanished but good. Their post-mortem cult never really developed until 1999, when they were exhumed for an incredibly lengthy and detailed article in Ugly Things #17, which led to a suite of CD re-releases on the Italian reissue label Akarma, which in their turn created a mini-renaissance of interest in the band among deep psych-heads—Decibel called them “one of the greatest U.S. rock bands that hardly anyone has heard.” A hometown reunion concert took place after their bass player was released from prison—another story altogether, one best told by the man himself.
Those Italian reissues were sourced from surviving vinyl, and so sonically they were no great shakes, but the crucial first two albums are being reissued again, with superior sound. (Seriously, never mind the second two, they were not up to the standards the band had set, and the last came out after they’d been dropped by UA, under the band name “Glory.”) The Brooklyn-based label Exit Stencil secured the licensing to The Damnation of Adam Blessing and The Second Damnation, and remastered the albums from the original tapes, which turned up in Universal’s vaults along with all the original album art. These are as pristine as reissues get, and we’re excited to have been granted permission to share some of the newly remastered tracks with you today. We’ve got the debut album’s “Cookbook,” which was the b-side to their “Morning Dew” single, and the second album’s excellent “Back to the River.” We got some background on both tracks while we had Jim Quinn on the phone:
“Cookbook” was the very first song we wrote together. We’d watched a movie called I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, and they made marijuana brownies in it, and that’s what the song started to develop from, the idea there would be a cookbook with that recipe. We really thought that should have been our first single instead of the b-side, it would have been a hit—so many bands have covered it and had success with it. But it was a fun song to write.
“Back to the River,” we wrote when we didn’t have a place to rehearse. We were hanging out with a woman we met through our manager, and she was pretty much into the witchcraft thing, Beelzebub statues in her house and so forth. We started writing that song in her living room one night. It started with our bass player coming up with his part, and it was a protest song about the war. We all took that pretty seriously. “Take Me Back to the River” was about the idea of bringing these soldiers back home. In fact it was in a Vietnam documentary that Bill Paxton narrated, called Sky Soldier.
Of all the acts that are featured regularly on Dangerous Minds, Sparks might be the one for whom the term “wags” is the most appropriate. For the brothers Russell and Ron Mael are nothing if not clever. For their project with Franz Ferdinand, the name they chose, “FFS,” is already clever, in that the letters usually mean “for fuck’s sake.” One of the tracks on that album is called “Collaborations Don’t Work.” Sparks’ idea of a Christmas song is called “Thank God It’s Not Christmas.”
Also quite clever is the title of their 2013 career-spanning box set, which is New Music for Amnesiacs. (Told you.) Sparks released two flavors of that title in 2013, a generous 2-CD compilation with 40 tracks called the “The Essential Collection,” but that worthy product is hardly anything next to “The Ultimate Collection,” a brain-melting box set with many extras, including 4 CDs, a hardbound 64-page “coffee table book,” “never-before-seen proof-sheet photo outtakes of the Big Beat photo session shot by renowned photographer Richard Avedon,” a laminated AAA pass, a lanyard, a sticker. a “badge,” and who knows what all.
Chandra Oppenheim was just twelve years old when her debut album, Transportation, was released. Until recently, I wasn’t familiar with Chandra, but when I did hear Transportation for the first time, I was immediately taken with it. The music is great, for sure, but what’s truly astonishing is the depth of talent displayed by the young singer/lyricist.
Chandra was a highly creative young person; encouraged by her father, artist Dennis Oppenheim, she was writing songs by age nine. In the late 1970s, members of the New York band Model Citizens were looking to start another group and approached Chandra’s father—who they knew through the art community—to ask if his daughter could join them. Rehearsals began when Chandra was just ten. In addition to singing, she was writing the lyrics and melodies for the group’s catchy songs. Four of their tunes would make up the Chandra band’s Transportation EP, released via the group’s own label, ON / GO GO Records.
Chandra proves herself to be a charismatic vocalist and a compelling lyricist on Transportation. Over a danceable post-punk/no wave backing, Chandra sings with confidence, her lyrics exhibiting a sophistication that is striking.
Writing for the group was like journaling for Chandra, a way to work through her thoughts. One song was about a classmate named Kate, who she had complicated relationship with. “We were kind of friends, but distant. I was envious of her, obviously,” Chandra told me recently. But she had sympathy for Kate, too, recognizing “the burden of getting that kind of attention (for being pretty).” Chandra’s empathy isn’t solely for her, but “for all of us (girls).” There are lyrically twists in “Kate” that would be impressive coming from any songwriter, but it’s also quite something that Chandra could express these complex feelings at such a young age.
The Chandra band began performing in clubs around this time, and it wouldn’t be long before the now twelve-year-old was well-known in the underground New York scene.
Is I Love Lucy the real Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, the Vault of the Adepti, the Island Beneath the Sea? Robert Anton Wilson used to talk about “the sect of Fred Mertz, Bodhisattva,” and its adherents’ simple creed:
They believe that if you look at enough I Love Lucy re-runs when you’re really wasted, eventually you’ll hear Fred reveal the most esoteric Zen teachings. . . .
If that sounds far-fetched, consider this: Ricky Ricardo’s signature song was addressed to a fearsome deity in the Yoruba pantheon. For practitioners of Santería, Babalú-Ayé is the orisha who controls health and prosperity. You want to be very cool around Babalú-Ayé because he can cover you with boils or give you the Ebola. The next time a conga drum tempts you to do your impression of Ricky Ricardo singing “Babalú,” remember that you might be mocking the god who decides whether you catch leprosy. Ixnay on the abalúbay!
After the jump, Ricky puts on voodoo drag for a big number at the Tropicana, and the Ricardos and the Mertzes fly to Cuba…
Because parts of Brooklyn, NYC have culturally exploded to serve as an East Coast counterpoint to Portland, OR as the USA’s epicenter and incubator of all that is gratingly and ephemerally hip, it might be hard to remember that this phenomenon (and the shockingly rapid gentrification that followed quickly behind it) is a very recent development, and that it really wasn’t so long ago that the Brooklyn scene was not only nonexistent, but the very idea that there could be such a thing seemed unrealistic. Before 2000-2001ish, when bands like The Rapture, Radio 4, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Liars made Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood synonymous with a jagged and exciting post-punk revival, there was basically only Oneida.
Drummer Kid Millions and organist Bobby Matador moved to Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill area in 1996, and with guitarists Hanoi Jane and Papa Crazee, they began, in relative isolation, to explore a “psychedelic” music that was pretty much free of typical psych rock tropes—as Millions put it in a generously in-depth conversation, “We want to make something damaged, like an actual psychedelic trip. What does ‘psychedelic’ in music even mean, tape echo on a tambourine?”
We had a bunch of different interests musically, like Krautrock, the Nuggets comps. We were into experimental punk like Pere Ubu because Bobby went to Oberlin and did a thesis on Cleveland punk, so he was aware of everything below the Pere Ubu tip of the iceberg. We were into glam, which was VERY uncool at the time, and we were coming across crates of electro records that were just left on the street in our neighborhood, like all these 12”s of Afrika Bambaataa and that kind of thing. And all that kind of—it wasn’t until the Brooklyn thing exploded that we realized that other people were into this stuff, and a lot of it, you’re not necessarily going to hear in what we do, but it’s all there.
Williamsburg, in terms of being hip, it was just a block near the Bedford train stop. There was a good Thai restaurant, there was EarWax records, which has moved since. There weren’t any venues except for the Charleston, which was a shitty gig, but it was the only game in town, so we did a lot of DIY shows, we played these parties at a few spots. Wolfy [pseudonym of poster artist Jef Scharf] introduced us to the people at Good/Bad, an art collective in Williamsburg closer to the Lorimer stop, but there was really nothing else there. A few years after we started to play around doing DIY shows, this made me laugh—the first time I came out of the L stop and saw somebody busking, it seemed like the dumbest thing I’d ever seen and I thought “wow, we’re fucked!” And then the other thing was when Northsix [now known as Music Hall of Williamsburg] first opened we refused to play there because we just did DIY shows, we didn’t want to play clubs. They got really upset and accused us of not supporting the scene, but if you walked towards the river from Bedford towards Kent, as soon as you stepped off of Bedford, it was desolation! Nobody was walking around, nobody was there, it was completely empty of people. When we were doing some of our earliest press photos the photographers said “we need to figure out a really dramatic photo” so we said well fuck, we could just burn a couch in the middle of the street, that’s what it was like!
When we started, there was no rock scene in New York City. There were no good rock bands, there was just sort of a hangover scene of what was left after New York bands like Girls Against Boys and Skeleton Key were being signed to major labels. New Jersey had Yo La Tengo, but, and I’ve said this before, but when we’d say, onstage, that we were from Brooklyn, people would laugh, it was so uncool to admit that you lived in Brooklyn. And by the time the post-punk thing started happening in Brooklyn, with bands like Liars, we were on our fifth album.
That album, Each One Teach One, not only crested with the Williamsburg wave, it made the band notorious. It opened with two songs, “Sheets of Easter” and “Antibiotics,” both of which surpass 14 minutes in length, and which use repetition to defiant levels. “Easter,” for almost its entire duration, is a one-note riff and a one-word lyric (“You’ve got to look into the light light light light light light light…”), and it would have probably come off like they were just fucking with people if the song weren’t so goddamn glorious. To this day it still feels like a treat when they bust it out in concert.
You don’t HAVE to listen to the whole thing. We understand it’s not for everybody.
Oneida were, for a long time, ferociously prolific. Though they lost Papa Crazee to the folk-rock band Oakley Hall, they gained, for a time, Trans Am/Golden/Fucking Champs guitarist Phil Manley, and they’re now a five-piece with synthesist Barry London and former Ex-Models guitarist Shahin Motia. Through all these transitions, they managed to release an album of consistently high quality every year or two from 1997 to 2012. Millions became a promiscuous moonlighter, in his own percussion project Man Forever (their last album, Play What They Want features contributions from Laurie Anderson), with Ex-Models, with London in the wonderful Jäh Division which is exactly what you’re thinking, and with Matador in a duo called People of the North. On top of all that, the band curated the Brah Records label for Jagjaguwar, releasing excellent albums by Pterodactyl, Parts & Labor, and Sightings. But since 2012, save for a collaborative album with seminal No-Wave figure Rhys Chatham, there’ve been a few Oneida singles and that’s that. That finally changes this year, when the band releases Romance.
Back before the intricacies of the thoroughly made-up ancient language of Dothraki in Game of Thrones entranced the more dorkish among us, that same sort of person spent his/her time immersed in Simlish, a language that was created for the world of the Sims, a popular franchise created by Maxis that was first released by Electronic Arts in 2000 in which users, in the act of ensuring that their anonymized suburb dwellers took out the trash on time, often ended up ...... neglecting to take out their own trash on time (that’s how I processed the experience of playing the game, anyway).
The Sims was enough of a sensation that it spawned some sequels, such as The Sims 2 in 2004 and The Sims 3 in 2009. By the time those franchises got going, the concept of Simlish had gotten embedded in enough people’s minds that someone, most likely Maxis audio director Robi Kauker or EA music marketing honcho Steve Schnur, had the idea of enlisting some top music acts to record some of their songs in the language. (Noted spud Mark Mothersbaugh was also hired to compose the music for The Sims 2, but there was no Simlish component to his contributions.)
The expansion pack The Sims 2: Open for Business, released in 2006, featured songs by several well-known acts, all of which shared the trait of having their most fruitful period occurring well before the year 2000. Depeche Mode released a Simlish version of “Suffer Well,” off of 2005’s Playing the Angel. At least that was a new song at the time—joining them on the The Sims 2: Open for Business soundtrack were Kajagoogoo, with “Too Shy” and Howard Jones, with “Things Can Only Get Better.”
To get an idea of what a Simlish song would sound like, here’s a bit of “Na Na Na” in English and then the same portion in Simlish:
Drugs, gimme drugs
Gimme drugs, I don’t need it
But I’ll sell what you got
Take the cash and I’ll keep it
Eight legs to the wall
Hit the gas, kill em’ all
And we crawl, and we crawl, and we crawl
You be my detonator
Trubs nibby trubs nibby trubs
Weys a neeba
Westu nell anzu bar will enash and za weeba
Da megs eeba za
Mental ras gibba na
Ebwee ga ebwee ga ebwee ga
Du bas an doobie sa
In a press release, you can find the rather anodyne quotation from David Gahan, which runs, “Depeche Mode has always been open to new ways of sharing our music, but re-recording a Simlish-language version of ‘Suffer Well’ just sounded completely bizarre. Of course, that’s why couldn’t resist doing it.”
Here are some of the primary highlights from the Simlish songbook:
I’m sure that many readers of this blog are familiar with the legendary Plaster Casters, the Chicago groupies who made Plaster of Paris molds of rock star cocks, starting in the late 60s with Jimi Hendrix and later the likes of Jello Biafra and Ariel Pink. There’s even a KISS song about them. But did you know that Cynthia Plaster Caster and her friend Dianne (“the designated giver of blowjobs”) also had an album?
Well they did. Kinda. Sort of. Well not really… Apparently only their name is on it, not their actual voices. I doubt they even got paid for it. It’s a groupie-themed novelty record where unsurprisingly the actual music (a competent group of session players jamming on some highly enjoyable blues-rock) takes a backseat to the album cover and the nudge-nudge-wink-wink song titles which tend to promise a whole lot more than they actually deliver on.
For instance there’s “Lanoola Goes Limp” (referencing, apparently, an in-joke among the members of Paul Revere & The Raiders) or “Seven Foot Drummer From Fleetwood Mac.” And who wouldn’t want to listen to “Joint Venture” or “You Didn’t Try To Ball Me (For Frank Zappa)”? What about the intriguingly titled “Diane’s Blue Plate Special” (“plating” = “fluffing” in the Plaster Caster vernacular) or “Blues For Big Jimi”?
By the way, it’s almost entirely instrumental. Don’t get me wrong, it’s actually pretty good! If you like “groovy” sounds, I don’t want to scare you off, this might be for you.
The album was produced by music business veteran Bob Thiele and released on his newly launched New York-based Flying Dutchman record label, which mostly released jazz and blues, including important albums by Gil Scott-Heron, Gato Barbieri, Oliver Nelson, Lonnie Liston Smith and Thiele’s wife, pop singer Teresa Brewer. Flying Dutchman also released albums of speeches by Black radicals H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis and cultural critic Stanley Crouch, but nothing else that I am aware of quite like The Plaster Casters Blue Band.
The Girls Together Outrageously this is not. And who would have retailed something like this in 1969? Dirty bookstores? How anyone thought they would make a buck on such a product—I remind you that these are not songs with “dirty” lyrics, but instrumentals—is mystifying, but I applaud this misguided, weirdo effort.
Around 1974, Alice Cooper fully morphed from a group’s name to that of a solo artist. While Cooper’s fellow bandmates moved on to various solo ventures—guitarist Michael Bruce working on the album In My Own Way and drummer Neal Smith recording Platinum Gods—Cooper planned his own solo extravaganza Welcome to My Nightmare set for release in 1975. He was drinking heavily and getting a “buzz on” with the likes Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz, Keith Moon, John Lennon, and lyricist Bernie Taupin. This little group of legendary drinkers was known as the “Hollywood Vampires” due to their nocturnal drinking habits at bars and clubs along Sunset Strip in L.A. Being slightly inebriated might explain how Cooper became involved with a space-age rock opera called Flash Fearless and the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6.
The title alone should have been fair warning that this might be a tad sub-par compared to his own classic work but something or someone—if only Cooper could remember exactly what or who?—led the singer to sign-up for the starring role as Flash Fearless. Perhaps it was the host of big name artists who were also happily roped into the project like the Who’s John Entwistle, who played bass on every track; or maybe boozing buddy Keith Moon who had a minimal speaking role as pirate Long John Silver; or perhaps Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues who played guitar; or maybe Elkie Brooks formerly of Vinegar Joe who (rather confusingly) sang vocals as both Flash’s crew member/girlfriend Dulla and head of the evil Zorg Women; or maybe Eddie Jobson of Roxy Music, or Jim Dandy, or Frankie Miller (who didn’t appear on the US album version), or Bill Bruford, or Kenney Jones, or Maddy Prior, or any of the highly respected talents who gave their name and time to the album.
Flash Fearless and the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6 was the brainchild of Canadian songwriters/musicians Steve Hammond and Dave Pierce with contributions from Bonnie Pierce, Rick Jones, and Terence Hillyer. The musical was a parody of those 1930-style film serials like Flash Gordon. Pierce had been toying with the idea of a space-rock musical since around 1970 when he was writing songs in Canada with Rick Jones. Described as a “nostalgic musical of the 24th-century,” Flash Fearless “follows the soft-porn adventures of a spoof 1940s sci-fi superhero, Flash Fearless, on a planet inhabited by a race of Amazons, the Zorg Women’ who keep men enslaved and milked them for their seminal fluid. The story seemed a neat fit to the mood of the time with the hit musical The Rocky Horror Show, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Glam Rock, the spoof sex movie Flesh Gordon, and even the Who’s star-studded misfire production of Tommy with the likes of Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart in the cast.
Flash Fearless and the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6 was recorded in London and Los Angeles (Cooper’s tracks) in 1974 and released to much fanfare in 1975. This included a full-color comic strip published in the NME. Entwistle described the album to Melody Maker as “a breath of fresh air in rock music.” Fuck knows what the Ox was breathing in before but this wasn’t fresh air. It was great talent and production in search of good material. The album bombed.
More of Alice Cooper, John Entwistle and ‘Flash Fearless,’ after the jump…
Resonant pop songs have a way of making a direct appeal to our hearts and emotions in a way little else can. It’s for this very reason that so many movies, and especially movie trailers, use pop songs so aggressively; they’re looking to forge a fast connection and only a song like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” can do that to a wide audience of purchasing Boomers or slackers.
But that power has a double edge. That very potency, when placed in a desolate or otherwise off-kilter setting, can be doubly or triply off-putting, precisely because the stated mode is so explicitly one of uplift and/or pleasure.
This is the insight that a clever YouTuber named Cecil seems to have figured out sometime in the last year. He has put together a brilliant run of videos that simply present the songs as they would sound in certain depopulated settings.
Cecil’s videos come in a few different forms. The main ones, and the best ones, play a song in a public setting that has been abandoned or is otherwise empty. So you’ve got “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears playing forlornly to an empty shopping mall, A-ha’s “Take On Me” to a different depopulated shopping mall, the Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” playing to—guess what—an empty supermarket aisle, and so forth.
Others present songs as heard “playing from another room.” These variants make use of a bit of disembodied footage on a loop, and also are pretty good but the mall ones are better.
I want Cecil to try the trick at empty airports. That’s the move.
The videos have been making the rounds over the weekend, because human beings respond to poignancy. We’ve selected a few for you below but it’s just a portion of the whole. Enjoy.
Echo & the Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon” (playing in an empty shopping centre):
Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure” (playing in an empty shopping centre)