Lex On Todd Rundgren

•June 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment


Something / Anything.

During independent study time in my junior high school World History class, Momma B. would play music via cassette tapes. Sometimes it was music that I was totally familiar with (like Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles). Sometimes, it was something that my 14-year old brain just couldn’t comprehend, like “world music.”

One day, she played side two the then-current album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect by Todd Rundgren. That second side started with a version of “Tin Soldier” by Small Faces (who I learned about during the previous summer). Then something happened – the song that followed sounded like a page out of Gilbert and Sullivan called “Emperor of the Highway.”


I am the emperor of the highway,
This time I think you are out-classed
For my uncle is the Duke of the state police
And he will place his royal boot upon your ass


After class, I asked her to play “Emperor” again and again, as well as the hit from that particular album, “Bang On The Drum.” After school, I hauled ass to Record Retreat (still the best record store ever). I bought a copy of Effect, plus a couple of 45 RPM singles, to get familiar with Todd’s work. At the time, I barely knew Todd Rundgren’s name but he would become one of my biggest musical inspirations.

“I Saw The Light” and “Hello It’s Me” were songs that I had heard on the radio while growing up. They were great pop songs, but went unnoticed by my young “AM radio ears” until the early 80s. I played those singles over and over again. Both songs were on a double album called Something / Anything.

(Sidebar – At age 14, a double album was a MAJOR investment for me – I had a small allowance that let me buy 1 album every two weeks. There was no choice of “cherry picking” the songs that moved you, like today. When one invested in a double album, one HAD to put aside the time to listen to ALL of it. I have to admit, I was gun-shy about buying a double album by someone whose work I had only discovered days before.)

Momma B. loaned me her cassette copy of Something / Anything during a trip to the Getty Museum. I took it home to dub, and to study. Before side one was finished, I knew that I had to have my own copy. I ran to Record Retreat, bought a vinyl copy and spent the rest of the weekend playing the hell out of that double album. It was AM pop, FM rock, power pop, operetta, ballads, torch songs, studio chatter and absolutely musical. It was fun, it was serious, it was “something / anything.” It turned into one of my favorite albums.

With the exception of side four (the studio side that included “Hello It’s Me,”), every note that was played and sung on that record was performed by Todd. At 14, I knew that it was possible to record and play everything (both McCartney and Stevie Wonder did this), but those first 3 sides of Something / Anything changed my musical brain overnight. The music wasn’t about virtuosity (although there was plenty). It was all about “the song.” So many varieties of songs on 2 discs – all of them musical.

So, I stopped my dreams of becoming a “junior Eric Clapton.” Being fluid and flashy on the guitar didn’t mean as much to me as songs and structure. Then, it happened – I had the desire to play EVERYTHING. I wanted to produce a sound from any instrument that I got my hands on, like Todd. I wanted to do “that.” So after a long hiatus from the piano, I got back on the bench. I started playing the bass. We had a few drums laying around, so I gathered them and banged the absolute hell out of them (sometimes, all day). I started breaking down vocal harmonies I found on Something / Anything.

My motto at the time? “In Todd I trust.”

I started buying everything that had Todd’s name on it. Started buying his solo records, the music he created with his band Utopia, and seeking out garage sales and record conventions for his out-of-print work with the Nazz. I wanted to study and dissect everything I could find. At 14, he was my new musical hero.

Some of the music was easy for my brain to access (“Can We Still Be Friends,” “Real Man,” “Golden Goose,” and “Love Is The Answer”). Some was just too dense and “musical” for my young mind to follow at the time (his album A Wizard, A True Star wouldn’t penetrate my musical mind until I was in my 30s). All of it had a passion that I wanted for myself. I just couldn’t verbalize it at that time

There is a LOT of Todd’s music that quality as text book examples of being yourself and following that passion. There are some albums, like Utopia’s earlier prog-rock moments, that demand that virtuosity and musicianship be the key elements within the song structure. There are some albums, like Utopia’s Deface The Music, that make you think “How did they write songs that sound EXACTLY like pages from the Beatles’ magical mystery back catalog).

All of the albums show passion for the “song” form itself.

Last July, I had the opportunity to see Todd and company live in concert for the first time. I sang along with every song. Footage taken of me that night shows that I could not take my eyes off the stage. There he was, and there I stood like all the other devoted fans taking in the old and new. By the time the show was over, I was without much of a voice – I sounded like Lucille Ball (the later years). But I had seen him – I saw the guy who changed my musical outlook. Yes, indeed – I had seen the light.

And all because Momma B. fed my interest in music during a World History class. Thanks, Mom!

Happy birthday, Todd! I’m glad you’re still here. I’m glad that I get to study, enjoy, dance, and sing to your music. Because of you, I became more than just a “junior Eric Clapton.” I became a true musician – a true “wizard” and “star.” I wish you many more birthdays, and please keep teaching me about the passion. Cheers! ūüôā


Lex on Barry Manilow

•June 17, 2017 • 2 Comments


Mad About You – Season 4, episode 1.

Scene:¬† Helen Hunt’s character, Jamie, is in the bathroom quietly singing Barry Manilow’s song,¬† “Copacabana” to herself.¬† Her husband Paul (played by Paul Reiser) walks in and catches her singing.¬† She spots him, and there’s a “dramatic” pause; after a few seconds, she continues singing the Manilow hit unabashedly, directly to him. Audience laughs, cue opening credits.

For days afterward, I sang “Copacabana” out loud to see if I could remember the lyrics.¬† As I tried to recall the story and words of the song, memories were triggered that I hadn’t thought about in years.¬† Some of these musical Manilow memories included the following:

–¬† Watching American Bandstand on Saturday afternoons, and hearing Barry Manilow sing the show’s theme, “Bandstand Boogie,” every week.

–¬† The first two Barry Manilow television specials in the pre-MTV 1970s.¬† He sang the hits, and I finally had a face to go with the voice behind “Mandy,” “I Write The Songs,” and “Bandstand Boogie.”

Watching Bill Murray and Chevy Chase butcher “I Write The Songs” in a medley of pop songs on Saturday Night Live.

–¬† Being a 9-year old music geek at a new elementary school, and being devastated that aside from a few of teachers, none of the kids liked the same kinds of music I liked. I started to invest in “Top 40 Dance music” singles, so I could control and operate the phonograph record player during our 4th grade parties.¬† I totally got away with playing “Copacabana.” “Can’t Smile Without You,” not so much.

–¬† How “Copacabana” owned the airwaves during those first months of 4th grade.¬† It was catchy, kitschy, and you couldn’t get away from it.¬† The popularity of the song triggered an avalanche of Manilow songs played over the Los Angeles pop radio airwaves.¬† I heard popular Manilow songs that I had previously fluffed off as “mushy girl music,” like “Mandy,” “Weekend In New England,” and “Could It Be Magic.”¬† My opinion changed, of course.

–¬† Winning a copy of Manilow’s then-current Even Now album, courtesy of a 16 Magazine contest.¬† I liked the album and bought each single issued from it, including “Copacabana (At The Copa),” and the “icky-sticky” overly poppy “Can’t Smile Without You” (my favorite from that album).

–¬†¬† Learning that life isn’t fair, and Mom decides what’s “fair,” period.¬† I finally turned 10 years old, but Mom still wouldn’t let me attend music concerts.¬† At the time, Manilow was performing at the Greek Theatre in my hometown of Los Angeles.¬† I hadn’t seen that kind of media and fan fervor since Elton John played Dodger Stadium a few years earlier.¬† It was Manilow “mania” and no one could escape his image or his songs including me.

–¬† Getting a little “extra” in my allowance so I could get the then-new Barry Manilow Greatest Hits double album.¬† It was “hush” money; I wisely “hushed” and got the 2-LP set.¬† It was there I discovered the song “Beautiful Music.” It was the first song that really reflected my deep love of the song’s topic.

–¬† Reconnecting to Manilow at age 48, and the re-discovery of the song, “Beautiful Music.”¬† 40 years after his songs found my ears, I can relate to the architecture of his work; he mirrors the things he likes about his favorite musical arrangers such as Henry Mancini, Don Costa, and Nelson Riddle.¬† Guess what – so do I.

Happy Birthday, Barry!¬† Thanks for the “beautiful, beautiful music,” from one music geek to another.¬† Cheers!

Lex on Harry Nilsson

•June 14, 2012 • 2 Comments

My childhood was peppered with Nilsson songs, but I wasn’t aware of it until much later.¬† The first song that I ever learned the words to was his theme from “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”¬† You must remember it – “people, let me tell you ’bout my bes’ friend.”¬† So bouncy and memorable, I thought everyone knew it.¬†

And this was before the Monkees introduced me to Harry’s music via “Cuddly Toy.”¬† And “One” by the Three Dog Night wasn’t part of my musical vocabulary at this point, either.

In the early 70’s, tunes from Harry’s Nilsson Schmilsson played from my red, orb-shaped AM radio.¬† My youngest aunts, my younger sister and I would run around the backyard singing the lyrics from “Coconut” (you put de lime in de coconut an’ drink ’em all up), and I would do my best Harry from the top of our lemon tree.¬† I think I was in the middle of “Without You” when I fell from the tree and bit off a quarter of my tongue.¬† Painful memory, actually.

Later, through the advent of what was then known as “subscription television” (aka SelecTV), I got to view the movie “Popeye.”¬† I watched it several times, and yes.¬† The movie wasn’t that great.¬† But the songs were catchy and singable, especially my fave, “Sweet Peas’s Lullaby.”¬† This, along with others in the film, were written by Harry.¬† I also got to see “Midnight Cowboy” for the first time, and of course, there’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” being sung by Nilsson.¬† Plus, there was a racy teen movie that used “You’re Breaking My Heart” as the opening song!¬†

At some point, I bought a compilation called Television’s Greatest Hits so I could have “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”¬† After repeated listens, I bought a “best of” Nilsson.¬† The tunes flooded my brain and suddenly I was back in the early 70s, running around in the backyard.¬† I fell in love with the original tunes on the CD, and went off in search of more Nilsson.

Enter Clover Club Larry, one of the most devoted students of music and vinyl ever.¬† Larry loaned me Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Schmilsson, and Aerial Ballet, which changed the way I heard “pop” music.¬† With great orchestrations by George Tipton, Aerial Ballet¬† totally went against the grain of what one might have heard in 1968.¬† It was far from “heavy.”¬† There were no wild guitar solos here.¬† The magic of each song was carried by Harry’s vocal and songwriting abilities, as well as those arrangements.¬† “Daddy’s Song,” “Mr, Richland’s Favorite Song,” “Bath,” and “Don’t Leave Me” sent me on a writing jag, hellbent to write something with meaning.¬† Ultimately, I ended up writing “Down,” which I consider to be my first “real” piece of writing.

“Nilsson Schmilsson” was pure pop.¬† Sure, it had “Without You” and “Coconut.”¬† It even contained “Jump In The Fire.”¬† What really got my ear were songs like “Gotta Get Up,” and my personal fave “Driving Along.”¬† Each seemed so musically simple, and the words were simply genius.¬† My musical heart was in love this Nilsson music.¬†

Then, it happened – on January 17, 1994, my part of southern California was rocked by a devastating 6.7 magnitude earthquake.¬† I remember being shaken awake and thinking, “another one?¬† Jeez.”¬† Seconds later, I was wide awake and watching 20 years of collecting records come to an abrupt end – 80 percent of my musical history was gone.¬† After the shaking stopped, my family gathered to make sure all was safe.¬† Just before the dawn, I hopped on my 12-speed to ride the neighborhoods to make sure everyone we cared about was fine.¬† Of course, I had my trusty Walkman and a homemade cassette featuring Harry.¬†

I clicked over to the radio for any news I could get on the quake.¬† And that’s when I heard it.¬† It was announced that Harry had suffered a major heart attack and had passed away.¬† Heartbroken I rode my bike as hard as I could, until I could no longer see through the tears.¬† Once I stopped, I hopped off the 12-speed and paced the cracked pavement.¬† People were running and screaming, but I didn’t see or hear any of it.¬† I was wrapped up in my own major disaster.¬† I didn’t believe it – “we lost Harry?”

It was hard for days after – the structural damage to the family house, the loss of my record collection, work and school being cancelled for days after.¬† None of it mattered.¬† My only thought was “he’s gone.¬† He lived right here in L.A., and I never got the chance to find him and tell him how much he meant to me.”¬† When you’re young, you have all the time in the world to think about the dreams you want to reach.¬† When the time comes and goes, it’s gone.¬† And to this day, I still kick myself for not trying to find the man.

But while I have air in my lungs, and thoughts in my head, I just want to say this.¬† Thank you, Harry – for the soundtrack of my youthful folly; for¬† the music that made dealing with my “father issues” a lot easier; for the simple melodies and words that made music so much fun from the beginning.¬† Your music allowed me to stretch and learn.¬† Your songs made me fell that I could express myself verbally as well as musically.¬† If not for you, music just wouldn’t be as fun as it has been for me.

So much more Nilsson music has entered my vocabulary in the years since his death, and more than every once in a while I’ll listen and think, “how in the hell did you DO that, Harry?”¬† His influence in Poppermost music is vast – whenever you hear “Isabella Vina” and “Momma B.” you can bet that I was doing “my best Harry” . . .¬† except I’ve stopped falling out of trees.

Cheers and a toast to you, Harry.

Lex on Revolver (The Beatles)

•August 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A memory of Lex’s favorite Beatles album

Somewhere back in time it’s summer 1977, and I’m getting the hell scared out of me by a strange noise entitled “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Although at that point in my life I was familiar with a lot of Beatles songs, nothing prepared me for the aural assault that was Revolver.

It sounded different from all of the previous Beatles records I had acquired. The sound had a different texture, and not every song dealt with romantic love. Where my previous Beatles records were charming and innocent, Revolver painted a psychedelic rainbow all over their earlier work. It was at once harmonic and dissonant, whimsical and melancholy, wry and acerbic. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was destined to be my favorite Beatles record of all time.

It took years to be able to sit and listen to the vinyl without lifting the needle to skip a track. Granted, most 8 year old kids probably wouldn’t sit through George Harrison’s Indian-flavored “Love You To.” Maybe Paul’s “Eleanor Rigby” was a bit too arty and poetic. And “Yellow Submarine?” Come on; that’s a kid’s song. I may have been 8, but I was way past singing to the cartoon. I would learn to love these songs in time, but I fell in love with the obvious songs first. George’s “Taxman” was my first favorite, followed by Paul’s “Good Day Sunshine,” “For No One” and “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and John Lennon’s “She Said She Said.”

Somewhere back in time it’s summer 1987, and the entire Beatles catalog is now available on these new-fangled compact discs. I buy them all, one at a time. Revolver is now in it’s original British format, with songs I originally found on another Capitol “money-making” compilation called Yesterday . . . and Today. Suddenly, everything came into focus. The sound textures all collided and it made sense. The Beatles experienced a giant growth spurt, and it is most evident on Revolver.

At 18, I could sit still for George’s Indian-flavored song, along with his wonderfully dissonant “I Want To Tell You.” John’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” far out-stripped any of the “psychedelic” pop that I’d been collecting up till that point. Add his “Dr. Robert” and “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and you get an album that is not only entertaining, but educational. Released in 1966, it was further evidence that rock music was heading past the point of being “disposable noise.” Revolver, along with Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Stones’ Aftermath, proved that pop music was now maturing past “bubblegum.” It graduated to “rock music.”

It’s summer 2008, and at 39 I’m up (after working a miserable swing-into-graveyard shift) thinking and writing about my favorite band and my favorite album by that band. I won’t bore you with talk about a time when every track on an album had to be an honest reflection of an artist. Time has changed that. Maybe it will change again before I’m gone. One thing that doesn’t change is the fact that somewhere, out there, some band is playing Revolver and creating their own masterpiece.

If music is indeed the greatest part of the human spirit, then Revolver will survive the test of time. It has survived 42 years this August. Now, if you will excuse me while I turn off my “mind, relax and float downstream . . . ”

Lex on Andy Partridge (XTC)

•November 12, 2009 • 4 Comments
“Jason and the Argonauts.”

It was Clover Club Larry that introduced me to XTC.¬† We had heard “Mayor Of Simpleton” on one of the hipper radio stations while driving around in his car.¬† It was then he started going on about how XTC had better songs than “Simpleton,” and how they were now “catering to the masses.”

All I knew was that I had to own a copy of “Simpleton.”¬† Soon afterward, I was at Record Retreat and purchasing a copy of their then-current album, Oranges and Lemons.¬† Song after song, I was hypnotized by the power of the songwriting.¬† Turned out, Andy Partridge was doing most of the writing.

After borrowing 4 of Larry’s XTC albums, Andy’s writing became a constant source of inspiration and study.¬† Of the earlier albums, I was first drawn to Drums and Wires.¬† The sound was unlike anything that came out of the UK during the “New Wave” period.¬† Songs like “Life Begins At The Hop” and “Making Plans For Nigel” were the British hits, but the band’s quirky underpinnings were apparent in Andy’s songs like “Scissor Man” and the great “Complicated Game.”

XTC’s Black Sea album contained some of my favorite slices of Andy’s take on English life.¬† Dig “Respectable Street.”¬† They could have been talking about the weird neighbors I had growing up in South Central Los Angeles.¬† The guitar riff is sharp, simple, dissonant, and menacing.¬† “Living Through Another Cuba,” “No Language In Our Lungs,” and “Towers Of London” are also excellent examples of Andy’s powerful wordplay and melodic sense working well in the realm of studio experimentation.

English Settlement became my favorite XTC album because of its playful and dense sound.¬† The way that the band plays with rhythms and melodies on this album really tickled my musical ears.¬† You may remember Andy’s songs such as the classic pop gem “Senses Working Overtime,” the rock ’em-sock ’em “No Thugs In Our House,” and the almost ethereal “All Of A Sudden (It’s Too Late).”¬† My favorite of Andy’s songs, “Jason And The Argonauts,” appears on this album.¬† The sound contains so much magic, juxtaposed with Andy’s lyrics about the dire side of the human condition.

Oh, my head is spinning like the world and its filled with beasts I’ve seen,
Let me put my bag down and Ill tell you it all right from the start,
Like the scarlet woman who would pick on the boys she thought were green,
And the two faced man who made a hobby of breaking his wifes heart.

Seems the more I travel,
From the foam to gravel,
As the nets unravel,
All exotic fish I find like Jason and the argonauts

Every time I hear “Jason and The Argonauts,” I’m reminded all over again of Andy’s writing, and I think I’m fortunate enough to have experienced a lot of what he has brought to music and songwriting.¬† I could go on and on about the plethora of great songs to be discovered in albums such as Skylarking, White Noise, or Chips From The Chocolate Fireball, XTC’s take on late 60s English pop psychedelia via their alter-egos, the Dukes of Stratosphear.

(Sidebar:¬† Wanna hear Andy’s spot-on impressions of ’67-period Brian Wilson and John Lennon?¬† Check out “Pale and Precious” and “Collideascope” by the Dukes of Stratosphear.¬† Absolutely righteous music.)

I can go on and on about Andy Partridge and my love of his music, but chances are you’ll get a better taste by seeking out these recordings.¬† If you are a student of music, Andy’s songs are great study material.¬† If you are a lover of music, than you probably already know.¬† XTC is one major reason why I decided to stop touring and gigging and concentrate of what I wanted to say musically.

Andy is a true inspiration to me and Poppermost.  Happy birthday, AP!

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.¬† Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).

Note: Original release date of the ‘currently listening’ album below is listed as February 12, 1982.

Currently listening:
English Settlement

Lex on Neil Young

•November 12, 2009 • 1 Comment
Part of being a teenager was the quest for the soundtrack to your life. Watching MTV (when it was still about music) and rock films shown on PBS or subscription television was part of the quest. And then, there was radio.Did you ever hear a great song on the radio, but the jockey never announced the title?

My station of choice was KRTH, 101.1 FM. They had “Super Sixites Weekends” and would play music from ’60-’69, and not just “the hits.” During the height of the Summer Olympic Games of 1984, I heard a song that sent me on a quest! My only bit of information was that it was a song by Buffalo Springfield. So, on with the chase.

So, I start buying the Springfield albums one by one, in search of that mystery song. Along the way, I learned that one of the principle songwriters in the band was Neil Young. I only marginally knew of Neil (I had a copy of “Cinammon Girl” on a 45 RPM ). Then I heard “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” and “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” written by Neil Young, from the first Springfield record. I didn’t find the mystery song, but found a new favorite band.

More Springfield records followed, and so did Neil Young songs. “Mr. Soul,” “Broken Arrow,” and “Expecting to Fly” became part my summer soundtrack. I saved money from allowances and lunches for Young’s triple album set, Decade. Then came the solo albums, the Crazy Horse records, and anything I could get my hands on. I was hooked. But where in the hell was that mystery song?

I searched for that Buffalo Springfield song, to no avail. Jump ahead 6 years to college.

During my hazy college career, my bandmate Larry and I saw Young and Crazy Horse during their Ragged Glory tour at the L.A. Sports Arena in ’91. It was poetic, brutal, and beautiful. Ever hear his version of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind?” Mind blowing, man. After the show, Larry and I stopped at “the corner” and did cartwheels in the wet grass outside the school campus because we’d seen THE MAN.

Jump ahead 16 years to a slightly more current and sober time.

A few months ago, I heard a recently released live CD by Young and Crazy Horse recorded at the Fillmore in 1970. I had goosebumps for the entire duration of the CD. One listen to “Down By The River,” and you can tell that these guys were willing to bleed for their art in front of a live audience. See him in concert or check out a classic Neil album and you’ll understand.

Why in the hell can’t more new artists “bleed” like that for their art? Screw you, Britney!

Oh, the song that started me on this mad quest in the first place? It’s called “On The Way Home.” It was written by Neil, but sung by his Springfield bandmate Richie Furay. Turns out I was chasing Neil all along! Who knew?

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.¬† Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).
Currently listening:
Live at the Fillmore East
By Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Release date: 14 November, 2006

Lex on Chris Difford (Squeeze, solo)

•November 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Argybargy and East Side Story.

In the late 80’s I spent a lot my time in Law class at Los Angeles City College.¬† I had no idea what I wanted to study, and I assumed that Law would somehow grow on me.¬† I didn’t really give it a chance because I was too busy writing out lyrics penned by Chris Difford on giant, yellow legal pads.

I first heard Squeeze sometime in the early 1980s, but didn’t really pay close attention to the Top 40 hit they had called “Tempted.”¬† It was one of my sister Annette’s favorite Top 40 radio hits at the time, and I didn’t want to be bothered with her listening choices.¬† At the time, I was really into the music of the 60s and paid little attention to anything else.

Clover Club Larry really introduced me to Squeeze during the summer of ’89.¬† I had just joined his band, Optional View, and we were just starting to know each other musically.¬† He loaned me a Squeeze album called Argybargy, which came out in ’80.¬† I took it home; his copy of the album stayed on my turntable for months.

It was the most brilliant pop rock album that I had heard in a long time.¬† Pieces like “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” and “She’s At The Top” contained memorable hooks, riffs and melodies that were thoughtful, descriptive, and English.¬† It was right up my alley!¬† Of the songs from Argybargy, the song that got constant play on my turntable was “Another Nail In My Heart.”¬† Sure, it made me think of my own pathetic attempts at romance at the time.¬† It also made me aware that if I stood a chance at writing songs in a band context, the test would be creating a song as infectious and bouncy as “Another Nail.”

And then Clover Club Larry loaned me an album called East Side Story.

Along with Argybargy, East Side Story would be the “Squeeze” faction of my songwriting education.¬† Some of my first attempts at writing for a band were based on Squeeze’s sense of melody, hooks, and smart lyrics. I would study Chris’s phrases, using them as a jumping-off point to create my own lyrics. There was something about the imagery in songs like “In Quintessence,” “F-Hole,” and “Mumbo Jumbo” reveled a sophisticated use of words, like a novel.

“Messed Around” and “Laboured With Love” really changed the way that I looked at lyrical content.¬† As a young writer, I tended to concentrate more on the musical rather than the lyrical.¬† It’s because of Chris’s gift for creating such strong visual images in a playful manner that made me consider making my own lyrics try to do the same.

Sidebar: Clover Club Larry and I used to so a pretty good acoustic version of “Messed Around.”¬† I’d sing Glenn Tilbrook’s vocal part, with Larry adding harmonies that were a composite of 3rds and 5ths.¬† It sounded great.¬† Performing the song with Larry is one of my most treasured musical memories.¬† Sadly no tape exists.

There were lyrical ideas that I found on other albums, and those songs can be found on a couple of different Squeeze compilations.¬† I highly recommend the greatest hits album called 45s And Under.¬† You can find some really great songs with Chris’s lyrics.¬† Dig “Take Me, I’m Yours,” and “Cool For Cats.”¬† For a really great short story in a single song form, try “Up The Junction.”¬† It’s very telling, very honest, and has great sense of character development.¬† Awesome words, awesome storytelling.

I can just blather on about Chris Difford all day, but I just want to say that Chris’s work caught me at a time when I was just starting to write.¬† He inspired me to use words not only for conveying my own emotions, but also to create other worlds with words.¬† Chris’s work also gave me the guts to face facts – I was not cut out for law!¬† Thanks, Chris! Happy Birthday, man!

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.¬† Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).

Note: Original release date of the ‘currently listening’ album below is listed as May 15, 1981.

Currently listening:
East Side Story
By Squeeze

Lex on Adam Ant (Adam and the Ants, solo)

•November 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Kings Of The Wild Frontier.

It must have been late ’80 or early ’81 when I first saw the video for “Antmusic” by Adam and the Ants.¬† I was up on a Friday night watching video show with my aunt Ava when we saw it.¬† I remember being really taken by the percussion and the great guitar sound.¬† Adam’s persona at this point was that of a English-pirate-come-native-American-Indian, with a voice that contained a dramatic yowl like a classic Hollywood movie injun.

Of course, Ava fell in love with Adam Ant.¬† She spent the next year and a half collecting English imports of “antmusic.”¬† After purchasing a single of “Antmusic,” she decided to invest the 7 bucks to own a copy of the US pressing of Kings Of The Wild Frontier.¬† What a great album!¬† Once Ava had the music from the album engraved in her song vocabulary, I spent a few weeks listening to it.¬† It was some of the first “then” current modern music that I really liked.¬† It wasn’t the boring Top 40 stuff, and it was more recent than the soon-to-be-labeled “classic rock.”

Kings of the Wild Frontier made me realize just how important drums are to a really rockin’ song.¬† Dig the title track, as well as the album’s kick-ass opening track, “Dog Eat Dog.”¬† It was musical, different, and propelled by this a really rockin’ Burundi drum rhythm that sounded like “Native American big band.”¬† His co-writer and lead guitarist Marco Pirroni had a sound that was at once both snarlin’ and twangy like 50s¬† guitar guru Duane Eddy.¬† The sound of songs like “Press Darlings” and “Feed Me To The Lions” were just right for my young ears.

Sidebar:¬† My favorite from the album was a pirate-themed tune called “Jolly Roger.”¬† This song is like a New Wave sea chantey, and I love the lyrical interplay, as well as the vocals.

Okay, so I didn’t dig the second album, Prince Charming, as much as anyone did.¬† But I did love the track “Stand and Deliver.”¬† There was something that sounded playfully sinister.¬† In the role of an English highwayman, Adam does a “roadside jack” and sings about how the experience will stay on the minds of his victims.¬† The accompanying video was also fun to watch.¬† The costumes and pistols were just too cool.

Another sidebar РYes, there were some hot girls with inconsequential roles in the video, but whatever.  They were good to look at, too.

I remember waiting with my mom outside the Greek Theater in L.A., waiting for Aunts Ava and Angie (who, by now was another Ant person).  They had purchased tickets to see Adam and the Ants tour the Prince Charming album.  I stood there and heard the last strains of an encore, then the shrieks and screams of hundreds of teenage girls.  I have to admit, that experience changed me.  It made me want to be a rock star.

So, Adam releases his first solo album.¬† Friend Or Foe, in my opinion, ties with Kings as one of the defining musical moments of the 1980s.¬† With Friend Or Foe, the creative tiger is released and it’s smart.¬† Adam sounded like he was pissed off, but playful.¬† He comments about the paparazzi in “Goody Two Shoes” and “Desperate, But Not Serious.”¬† In the title track, Adam tells his fans and the world that they could love him, or leave him; he was gonna keep being himself. If you didn’t like it, tough.

Yet another sidebar – At the end of the day, my fave solo Ant track is “Friend Or Foe.”¬† It’s got all of the ingredients that make Adam an interesting musical study.¬† It’s got a hypnotic beat, a great guitar line that links the trumpet lines to the rhythm track, and a great message of strength through adversity.

November 3 marks the birthday of Adam Ant.¬† Thanks for some really great rock moments Adam.¬† I’ll never forget the cool videos, anticipating your albums, and collecting the English singles for the B-sides.¬† Hope it won’t be long until you release an new album . . . it’s been too long, man. Cheers.

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.¬† Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).

Note: Original release date of the ‘currently listening’ album below is listed as 1980.

Currently listening:
Kings of the Wild Frontier
By Adam and the Ants


Lex on Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane)

•October 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“Somebody To Love.”

The song raced through my head as I reached out to shake her hand.¬† Royal and I had gone to an art gallery to see Grace Slick’s artwork, and to meet the woman in person.¬† Her eyes looked just like the hundreds of pictures and interviews that I’ve seen over the years.¬† At 69, Grace still had the beauty.¬† As I stood in the line of people wanting to talk briefly with her, I was nervous.

What would I say?

Back in the late 70s, documentaries on rock music were just starting to become the norm.¬† Invariably, the subject of the late 1960s rock scene was the topic, and “Somebody To Love” by the Jefferson Airplane would pop up in the soundtrack.¬† I don’t remember the first time I heard the song – it’s like it was embedded into my DNA.¬† I bought the re-issued single 12 years after it first appeared in early ’67.¬† Backed with “White Rabbit,” Grace’s signature song, I thought that I knew all there was to know about the woman and the band.

Not so.

As I got older and the music of the 80s grew more artificial with synths and electronic gadgets, I headed back to the music of the 60s and started collecting Airplane records.¬† After the “Somebody To Love” single, I purchased my first copy of the Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow. I was blown away by the material that appeared on that album.¬† Grace’s vocals were a large part of the sound that captured my ears.¬† Hers was the voice of a siren that shone brightly through the instruments and the two male vocalists.¬† Besides her soaring lead vocals on “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit,” check out her counter melody vocal lines on “D.B.C.A. 25,” and “She Has Funny Cars.”¬† And she sings wonderfully, and plays the recorder, on the beautiful and folky “How Do You Feel,” as well as the beautiful “Coming Back To Me.”

How cool is that? Only very, that’s all.

Grace was partially responsible for the experimental sound on the band’s next album, After Bathing At Baxter’s.¬† The album took some time to grow on me; it was a big departure from their first 2 albums, and was a purely psychedelic experience from the opening guitar wails.¬† I found Grace’s tunes “Two Heads” and “Rejoyce” were the perfect portals for me to go through to arrive at the heart of this album.¬† The following album, Crown of Creation, contained Grace’s wistful “Lather,” as well as my favorite Grace song of all, “Greasy Heart.”¬† Filled with her clever wordplay and a great vibe provided by the band, it struck a chord in my young musical mind.¬† I just could not stop playing it.

You are your own best toy to play with
Remote control hands
Made for each other
Made in Japan

Woman with a greasy heart
Automatic man
Don’t ever change, people
Your face will hit the fan

I am standing in front of Grace Slick!!!

After hemming and hawing, I said hello and stated out loud, “This is just too surreal for me.”¬† I told her that I wasn’t rich enough to afford any of her wonderful artwork yet.¬† I just wanted to tell her thanks for her inspiring work.¬† I told her that she inspired me to write, to sing, and to draw.¬† I stuck my hand out to shake hers, and was struck by the warm in her grip.¬† She smiled at me.

I walked away as giddy as a 14-year-old girl who just met an idol.¬† I grinned from ear to ear as I turned to Royal and whispered loudly “Wow, Grace Slick.”¬† And I do mean “WOW!”

Grace, if you should ever read this one day I just want to say that I’m getting closer to buying my favorite pictures from the night my friend and I met you at your art show in Vegas.¬† The full impact of the distinction between idol and friend registered when I viewed your painting and drawings.¬† I realized then that some of your art subjects are not just my musical idols; they are your friends and your history.¬† Please keep being creative as long as you can.¬† You may not want to sing anymore; that’s fine.¬† You inspire in more ways than one.¬† Thank you.

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.¬† Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).

Note: Original release date of the ‘currently listening’ album below is listed as September, 1968.

Currently listening:
Crown of Creation

Lex on Tom Petty (The Heartbreakers / Solo)

•October 20, 2009 • 3 Comments

“American Girl.”

Some of my fondest memories as a kid was getting out of bed on Saturday late nights, sneaking into the family room and catching a music show called The Midnight Special.¬† There, I could see the acts I heard on the radio, and maybe see a new artist or band.¬† In 1978, I saw a performance by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.¬† The song was “American Girl,” and I went crazy.¬† When I crawled back into bed at 1:30 am, I could not get the song out of my head.

The following year, after discovering songs like “Breakdown” and “Listen To Her Heart,” I saw a promo clip (later known as the “video”) of a cool tune called “Refugee” on the Merv Griffin Show.¬† I was galvanized by the power of the song.¬† It was nothing like the songs that permeated the musical landscape at that time.¬† It was so not disco, that it made me dance and feel alive. It became the first record I ever purchased by Tom Petty.

I remember Tom’s sold-out performances during his week-long stint at the L.A. music club that mattered most, the Whiskey Au Go-Go.¬† Of course, I asked my mom if I could go and see him.¬† Her stock answer I already knew by heart: “So you can be surrounded by long haired, pot smoking weirdos? No.”

It was around this time that I decided not to return to AM radio.¬† Didn’t matter.¬† Petty and his crew crossed over to FM in a big way.¬† His band and music became a main focal point for me.¬† They looked like they were always having fun on stage.¬† Petty would jump around, like he was trying his best to levitate off the stage and into the air.¬† He brought humor back to music.¬† His songs were instantly memorable, and full of life.¬† And when the “age of the video” came around when I was a teen, his videos were the ones that I didn’t mind seeing a million times (so much more interesting musically and visually than A Flock of Seagulls or Duran Duran).

As I have stated before, there were very few artists from the 80s that I really cared for.¬† Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers could always rely on me to pick up a copy of their latest work.¬† And their work usually had me inside of my bedroom, learning how to play their latest songs on my acoustic guitar.¬† I remember their live performance at Live-Aid during the summer of ’85.¬† I was having my first phone conversation with a girl (Julie . . . wow).¬† As soon as Petty and crew came on my t.v. screen, I cut the conversation short with the words, “I have to go now. Petty’s on. Can I call you back?”¬† I grabbed a videotape, threw it in and captured the performance.

And I never called the girl back.¬† I was “too busy” studying the performance.¬† She got mad, and found another guy to like.¬† I got my allowance and bought a copy of Tom’s then-current album, Southern Accents.

One of the best concerts I ever attended was a show on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Great Wide Open Tour.¬† I sat with my friend, Clover Club Larry, and enjoyed a wonderful night of music.¬† I’ll never forget the long encores.¬† Tom Petty invited a few of his friends to share the stage.¬† These friends? Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Ringo Starr.¬† I felt special to witness such a gathering of some of my heroes.¬† I still get goosebumps thinking about that night.¬† Wonderful.

The music that really captured a moment in time for me was his second solo album, Wildflowers.¬† At that time in my life, my mom was dying from ovarian cancer.¬† I would spend my time driving back and forth to the hospital, listening to a cassette copy in my car, crying.¬† Tom’s music gave me the strength to hold myself in check.¬† Emotionally, I was a wreck.¬† I knew that things weren’t going to be the same again, and I was scared.¬† My mom was my rock, and I was losing her.¬† Tom’s music reminded me that we must all keep moving, no matter what events shape your life.

Tom still makes great music, and I never miss a chance to hear his latest.¬† He is inspiring, and hero in every sense of the word.¬† Remember the public fights with his record company?¬† He took on the “big dogs” to restructure a horrible contract, as well as fighting them over the 9 dollar price tag for the band’s Hard Promises album at the beginning of the 80s?¬† That just wasn’t the norm in those days.¬† He’s championed musicians and music fans alike, and for that he deserves nothing but respect.

Tom, if you should read this someday, thanks for thinking about the fans.  Thanks for the great music, and thanks for showing us musicians who came later about ethics, integrity, and caring.  Damn the torpedoes!

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.¬† Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).

Note: Original release date of the ‘currently listening’ album below is October 19, 1979.

Currently listening:
Damn the Torpedoes
By Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers