Lex on Pat DiNizio (The Smithereens, solo)

•October 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Especially For You.

It was the 1980s, and I hated most of the then “uber-hip” Top 40 crap that I heard on the radio.  There were only a few bands that I thought were worth their weight and gold: R.E.M., the Police, U2, the Replacements, the Clash, and a few others.  It was a short, lonely list.  Aside from these bands, I didn’t hear too much of anything that could be called music.

And then I heard the Smithereens.

I don’t remember much about the first time I heard a song by the Smithereens.  Maybe it was the video for “Blood and Roses,” which appeared on MTV (when it was still “all music, all the time”).  It was enough for me to borrow a copy of their first full-length album, Especially For You, from Clover Club Larry.  At the time, Larry was known for his distaste for what he called “modern pop crap.”  He was ahead of the times and looked towards “alternative” music to feed his musical hunger.  So I borrowed his copy of the Smithereens’ album, took it home, and dropped the record player needle on the vinyl.

And I was hooked.

From the opening song “Strangers When We Met” to the end song “Alone After Midnight,” I heard something that was both simultaneously new and familiar.  There was something in the band’s collective soul that saluted the heroes that I admired from the 60s (the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks), but re-tooled for the modern musical world.  When I heard Pat sing “Crazy Mixed-Up Kid,” I thought that these guys were the musical saviors of my generation.  With other stand-out songs, like “Groovy Tuesday” and “Last Cigarette,” they made me believe that truly great songwriting and performance was not a thing of the past; it was still very much alive and breathing through their own music.

And Pat’s writing pushed me further into exploring the world of songwriting.

I learned most of the songs from Especially For You by ear.  I got to know the songs inside and out, and started copying Pat’s choice of guitar chords, his vocal style, and his knack for writing short, sharp, accessible power-pop tunes until I could find my own voice.  When I started working with kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood, I would bring in my guitar and play “Crazy Mixed-Up Kid” or “Behind The Wall of Sleep” for the children who’d dare me to pick up my acoustic and “play something.”

And I have to say, that “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” hooked me instantly.  I was forever falling in love with bass players who happened to be girls (a quick nod to Kathy Valentine of the GoGos – I still love you, girl!).  I understood.  I got it. And those lyrics hit me hard!

I continue to buy music by the Smithereens, and Pat’s solo stuff.  There is a craftsmanship in his writing that I cannot describe.  I can say that there is something in his voice, words and melodies that seem so effortless and direct.  Pat is one of the guys from my “awkward teen experience” that still resonates as clear as a bell.  Thank you Pat, for 25 plus years of amazing music and for the inspiration that ultimately culminated in me having the balls to find my own power-pop muse.  I love you, 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 1986.

Currently listening:
Especially for You
By The Smithereens

Lex on Paul Simon

•October 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Lex on Paul Simon
Current mood:  artistic
Category: Music

“Mrs. Robinson.”

It was ’79 or ‘early 80.  I was watching a rerun of the television show “One Day At A Time.”  A couple of the characters starting singing “Mrs. Robinson.”  I can’t explain the sensation I got when I heard the opening lyrics, “And here’s to you . . . ”  Somehow, I knew the words.  We didn’t have any Simon and Garfunkel in the family music library, so the song must have been in the banks of my memory.

On a weekend trip to Record Retreat, I scoured the 45 RPM single section and found a re-issue of the Simon and Garfunkel tune.  I paid a dollar and took it home.  I played it, and it was like I knew the song backwards and forwards.  After playing the song, I flipped it over and played the re-issue’s B-side.  It was a song called “Old Friends / Bookends.”  The sombre tone of the song, along with its really great orchestral backing, held me spellbound.

Turned out that Paul Simon had not only written these songs, but was also resposible for a couple of songs from my not-so-distant AM radio past.  I had heard “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” “Slip Sliding Away,” “Kodachrome,” and “Mother and Child Reunion,” but didn’t make any kind of connection between his solo material and the songs written while Paul was one half of what would become my favorite singing duo of all time.

The single of “Mrs. Robinson” prompted me to purchase other Simon and Garfunkel single re-issues, such as “The Sound of Silence” backed with “I Am A Rock;” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” backed with “Cecilia;” and “Fakin’ It” backed with an esquisite piece of rock poetry called “The Dangling Conversation.”  I was convinced – I had to have their albums.  I bought them one by one, starting with a greatest hits collection.  I played the vinyl until the surface of the record started to fade.  My tune, for the longest time, was one that Paul claims not to like very much, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”  It was short, poetic, and made me want to really learn how to play the acoustic guitar.

Such was my love of Paul’s music that I coaxed my friend (and school choir mate) Jason into learning the entire “Greatest Hits” album so we could sing the songs until I properly learned to play them on piano or guitar (whichever came first).  I must say that I really enjoyed singing with Jason.  He had a lovely high tenor that reminded me of Art Garfunkel’s own voice.

Around this time, Paul Simon had yet another solo hit with “Late In The Evening.”  Its funky, infectious rhythm and Latin horns had me dancing.  Paul was my guy, and for the first few years of learning to play the acoustic guitar, he was my inspiration.  I purchased the “Evening” single, plus his Greatest Hits, Etc. album.  Although I was probably too young for a lot of the mature themes in his songs, I was bowled over by the emotion conveyed in them.

Album after album, song after song, Paul made me want to learn to write music.  A lot of the songs I wrote in my early teens were based on Paul Simon’s songs.  Most of these “lost gems” were overly poetic, made little sense, and sounded a lot like the songs you’d find on those Simon and Garfunkel albums.  They were terrible, if you want to know the truth; but it was Paul’s songs that gave me the inspiration to write.  His words touched me, like those of Lennon and McCartney and Dylan.

The years have flown by, but I never lost the love that I found for Paul’s work.  Musically wonderful and lyrically brilliant, his work (both solo and with Garfunkel) has been a huge inspiration and influence on my life and my own work.  For me, he is the voice of “everyman;” his words and music a still life water color of a now late afternoon of my life, dreams, and wishes.  Thank you, Paul.

(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/).

Please note: Original release date of this album was April 3, 1968.

Currently listening:
Bookends

Lex on Bruce Springsteen

•September 28, 2009 • 2 Comments

“Thunder Road.”

That is the title of the first Bruce Springsteen song I ever heard.  Back in the day, the Los Angeles airwaves were a live with the sound of artists that were not only creating the soundtracks of life, but inspiring legions of young musicians to get serious about their craft.  Radio was all-transforming.

I’ve written before about 94.7 KMET, aka “the mighty Met of southern California.”  On the immediate right on the radio dial was 95.5 KLOS.  KLOS’s format was a more rigid than KMET’s, but they had great deejays.  And the station had a bitchin’ commercial – a thirty second spot composed of 2 second film clips of great rock bands, framed by the stations racing track logo.

The last clip in the commercial is of Bruce Springsteen, who is seen giving it his all at the lyrical end of “Thunder Road.” He screams into the microphone, as if his life depended on it:

It’s a town for losers
We’re pulling out of here to win!

When I finally saw the clip in its entirety a year or so down the road, the entire clip hit me hard.  I wanted to be Bruce.  I wanted to pick up a guitar and sound like that.  I wanted a band to make my music sound big and great, like his.  If you ever see this clip, you will “lose it” . . . completely!

My first Springsteen record was “Hungry Heart.”  I heard it on Top 40 when it was new.  I thought it was an “oldie” that might have slipped through the waves.  I only had to hear it once to want it; to own it for myself.  When I hustled over to Record Retreat, I asked the resident “music guru and hippie” Marshall if he heard of the song.  “Heard it?  Heck, I’ve been playing it all day.  Would you like that copy with or without the picture sleeve?”

I took that record home and played it so much that the vinyl started turning gray!

Weeks later, Bruce was in town playing the L.A. Sports Arena.  Like a bad television rerun, I once again asked my mom if I could go to a concert.  Very much like the requests to see Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, my request was shot down.  But in the following allowance I found extra cash that my mom gave me – to buy Bruce Springsteen’s then-current album, The River.

Bruce-mania was in full effect in Los Angeles, and I had my souvenir album, which I played . . . well, until the vinyl turned gray!

I would finally get to see Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band during the fall of ’85, when Bruce was winding up his Born In The USA tour.  And for this great occasion, I was lucky enough to have fellow Bruce “head” Curt with me; he won tickets from KLOS, and invited me along.  What a long show!  Three and a half hours of relentless rock from “the Boss.”  Only one complaint – the band didn’t play “Rosalita” that night.  They played it the following night, for which Curt won another pair of tickets.  To be fair, he took his then-girlfriend.  Was I jealous? You bet I was!

Over the years, Bruce has turned out extraordinary music.  And like all of the greats before him, he followed his artistic muse.  Sometimes the music wasn’t that “commercial.”  Sometimes it was the sound of a man growing up, growing older, and taking his fans down musical paths where very few artists are willing to go.  Happy birthday, Bruce.  You still mean the world to me.

(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/).

Lex on Barry Gibb (The Bee Gees)

•September 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment
I used to make fun of the Bee Gees.

In the late 70s, it was easy to imitate and poke fun of Barry Gibb’s high falsetto.  It didn’t care that I pissed off my aunt Angie, who was (and still is) a devoted Bee Gees fan.  They were, after all, not the Beatles.  Angie played the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever with absolute fervor.  While she danced and sang along, I imitated Barry and Robin, and scorned Maurice (the one that looked “funny”).  I hated disco, and that’s what they represented to me.

At some point during their heyday, they issued a double live album.  Alongside their more contemporary hits, they performed some older material that struck my brain in a funny way.  These songs included “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “Gotta Get a Message to You,” “Run to Me,” and “Massachusetts.”  All of a sudden, I wasn’t imitating them anymore.  The songs got me right in the heart, as if I’d heard them before.

Suddenly, there was an album in Angie’s collection called Gold, which covered 60s Bee Gees’ pop song brilliance.  Songs like “Words” and “World” oozed from the speakers, and I couldn’t get enough.  The song that floored me then (and still does to this day) is “To Love Somebody.”  Barry wrote this after meeting with one of his idols, Otis Redding.  The Bee Gees’ manager told Barry to write a song for Otis to perform, and Barry’s response was this classic pop tune.  I still get goosebumps thinking about the first time I heard this song in its entirely.

So, for a while, I could tolerate 60s Bee Gees, and the soundtrack they provided for the Alan Parker film Melody.  There is something heartbreaking about Barry’s “First of May” that makes you want to cry.  His “Give Your Best” is one of the most fun songs to listen to; it reminds me of old friends and the folly of being young.

But that didn’t stop me from loathing the whole disco era Bee Gees phenomena – until Clover Club Paul showed me the light.

On a trip to his house to get more gear for a Clover Club jam session, Paul played “How Deep Is Your Love” in his car.  I groaned aloud, something to the effect of “Man, not this.  Why this?”  While waiting for our red light to go green, he said, “Listen to that clean, simple production.  The melody stays in your head when you’re not thinking about it.  The vocal harmonies are inventive and crisp.  How can you not like this song?  When you get a chance, listen to it as a piece of music, not as disco.”

Paul, of course, was right.  I bought the sheet music and discovered that it was inventive, and a complete bitch to learn (it took me weeks to figure it out).  Once I did, I couldn’t stop playing it because it was fun.  I played it on acoustic guitar at some shindig my ex-girlfriend dragged me to, and the girls at the party could not get enough of that song.  Seems that girls really dig love songs for some odd reason.

Not long ago, I purchased a DVD called This Is Where I Came In, which documents the Bee Gees’s history from the late 50s onward, just before Maurice’s untimely death.  I guess the old saying is correct; it’s never too late to learn new lessons.  I learned that making fun of my aunt Angie’s beloved Bee Gees was just ignorance on my part.  I also learned that Barry Gibb and his brothers provided a soundtrack for millions of people for decades.  Not many artists can claim this, but it holds true for the brothers Gibb.  I learned that there are road maps to greatness buried in their songs.  Every songwriter should study the writing of Barry Gibb.

Thanks, Angie!  I will still send you original 60s and 70s Bee Gees vinyl when I locate them.

Happy birthday, Barry.  It finally came into focus for me, but it took 30-plus years to realize that you’ve been a part of the soundtrack of my life all of this time.  Your songs are awe-inspiring and classic.  How would you like to work together on a song sometime?

(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/).Readers:  Be advised that Best of Bee Gees was originally released in June 1969

Currently listening:
Best of Bee Gees
By The Bee Gees

Lex on Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)

•August 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I was 16 years old, and could replicate familiar guitar lines by Hendrix, Page, Clapton, and Van Halen with pretty good accuracy.  I was always practicing, and watching as much footage “classic rock footage” that I could get my hand and eyes on.

Via FM-TV, one of the hipper, early video shows, I saw a vintage ’72 German TV performance of the Grateful Dead performing “One More Saturday Night.”  I was riveted.  The band’s inter-connected rhythm really hit my musical heart in the right way.  When Jerry started his solo, I thought, “I gotta learn to play like that dude.”

Jerry didn’t sound like any other player I’d ever heard before.  Jerry’s tone was like a lonesome wolf’s howl in the middle of rhythmic grace.  I thought that he looked like an evil Svengali-figure with a heavy beard.  Through the clip, I wrongfully got the impression that he was “just the Dead’s guitar player.”

When I started to study the Dead, one of my first starting points was, fittingly enough, a German vinyl pressing of Skeletons From The Closet, the first Dead “greatest hits” compilation that belong to a friend.  One song that quickly became a favorite was their version of “Turn On Your Lovelight,” the Bobby “Blue” Bland song.  When Garcia hits that first solo in the song, I felt the hair on my arms tingle.  It had the steam and weight of a freight train, and it rambled on in an organized chaos of sound.  For a long time after, it was “my” song to tackle.

When I picked up my guitar to attempt to follow Jerry’s solos, I instantly found myself bum-fumbling all over my fret board.  My automatic assumption was that “since they’re a rock band, they’re based in blues, too.”  To my surprise, only a fair amount of what Jerry was playing was blues.  His style was cut with other types of music, such as country, bluegrass and folk.  The combination created a weird musical “psychotic reaction” in my head.

(Sidebar:  Note to Tex:  I know you don’t like the sonic ambiance of the recording, but get past that.  It’s all about the fun, camaraderie, and music in “Love Light.”  And how can you resist two drummers? Hmm?)

As a young player, this lead me down musical paths that I hadn’t thought of exploring.  I also found that trying to replicate Jerry Garcia’s skills as a soloist really put blisters on my young fingers.  But that’s okay.  He was all about “making it up as you go along.”  His telepathy between his musical soul and his fingers is still a wonder to behold to this day.

I’ve recommended a lot of Dead albums in other blogs, but check out Skeletons From The Closet.  It’s a fun introduction to Garcia and company.  It’s got just enough of the first 6 or so albums to get you hooked.  It’s even got that smokin’ live version of “Love Light” that contains the solo that was a real, live musical lesson:

Don’t be afraid to attempt to play any genre of music.  If you really love music, it will come to 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 Skeletons From The Closet album is February 1974.

Lex on Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones)

•July 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Although I knew about the Rolling Stones from my uncle Will (who blasted “Miss You” on his car stereo system during the latter half of ’78) and the film Apocalypse Now (17-year-old Laurence Fishburn dances on a gun boat to “Satisfaction”), it was Casey Kasem who truly flipped the switch for me around 1980.

Kasem showcased the top musical acts of all time on a special edition of his “America’s Top Ten” television show.  At number two sat the Stones.  He presented a clip of the Stones, circa ’64, live in concert belting out a version of the Chuck Berry classic “Around and Around.”  There, I saw a youthful Mick Jagger holding court.  He belted out the lyrics to the song in a zombie-like state, staring down the screaming girls in attendance.  When the musical break in the song came around, it happened.

Jagger started jumping around like a mad man, dancing around and clapping his hands, while the band kept the rollicking rhythm of the song in check.  I was glued to the television, and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  Young Jagger was what I wanted to be – even at this early point in his career, he was a star.

For me, he was the first “real” authentic English rock and roll star.

I had to see him up close.  With a little luck, some lying, and a $13 ticket, I conned my way into seeing the Stones up close and personal when their ’81 concert tour brought them to L.A. to play at the Coliseum.  I sat through the Clash, Santana, and Prince (who had bottles hurled at him during his performance).  The Stones were fashionably late, played for 2 hours, and took off via helicopter during the fireworks display at the end of the show.  Not wanting to go home afterwards, I hopped the fence of my old elementary school and slept on the outside lunch tables until it was “safe” to go back home.  I had a new band, and I was in musical nirvana.

Besides the more recent “Emotional Rescue” and “Start Me Up,” I spent the rest of that year buying as many singles as Record Retreat held in their bin of classic 45 RPM records.  “Paint It Black,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Happy,” “Get Off My Cloud,” and “Jumping Jack Flash” all seemed fresh and new to me, even though the songs were written and recorded shortly before my birth.  I moved on to the albums, one by one.

It was inspiring, collecting the albums one by one.  The band’s early output was mostly covers of music written and made famous by black rock and blues legends.  By the time ’66 rolled around, they were a great pop band on the same level as the Beatles (check out Aftermath and Between The Buttons for proof).  By the time they hit their classic period (’68 – ’72), they were a rock band in every sense of the word.

Proof that they just might be “the greatest rock band in the world” hit me in the ear with their classic album Let It Bleed.  If you want to hear what sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll was all about, you have to hear this particular album.  It sounded more dangerous than a band of gangster hoodlums coming at you brandishing stilettos and guns.  You’ve probably heard the most well-known tunes off the album (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Midnight Rambler”).  But if you explore further, you get such rock gems as “Live With Me,” and “Monkey Man.”  You even get to take a little trip up the country with great tunes such as “You Got The Silver,” and “Country Honk,” a country-fried version of their classic single “Honky Tonk Woman.”

The momentum kept up with Sticky Fingers (“Brown Sugar,” “Bitch,” and “Can You Hear Me Knocking”) and Exile On Main Street (“Tumbling Dice,” “Rocks Off,” and “Happy”).  They’d reach another peak in ’78 with Some Girls (when I first became aware of how good they were), and yet another peak with Tattoo You, which turned me into a Stones fanatic (“Start Me Up,” and “Little T & A”).

I got to see a lot of Stones footage, thanks to the advent of home video systems.  Jagger’s voice and mannerisms would always be a source of inspiration when I was a teen musician and songwriter.  In interviews, he would always compare himself to a “stripper, just dancing around and taking off bits of clothing.”  It was always much more than that to me.  He expressed raw intensity and emotion in his vocals and his dancing.  He and his band introduced me to the music of my own culture.

Mick Jagger and company made “rock and roll” dangerous.  They made it glamorous.  They made it druggy.  They made the dream of performing every night to screaming fans the dream of millions of young kids, including me.  Jagger is the consummate front man.  His performances pulled you in, and made you think, I want to do that.  His lyrics were the voice of every kid in the street who needed to express himself through wild gyrations, keen and sharp lyrics, and memorable riffs.

For visual reference on this great rock frontman, check out the films Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones (1974), The Rolling Stones: 25 x 5 (1989), and the great documentary of the infamous free concert at Altamont called Gimme Shelter (1970).

On July 26, Jagger celebrates another birthday.  I just want to say that I love the man, and his work.  You can look at all facets of contemporary rock and pop music, and there is NO ONE who comes close to being his equal.  At 40, I look with a jaundiced eye at what Jagger has accomplished and wonder, “Who could do better that that now?”  Thanks, Mick.  Thanks for a thousand dreams and inspirational moments.  Thanks for making me take charge of my teenage life, and contemplate growing up, and growing older.  You are truly a “one off,” and I just love you.

And just for the record, Rolling Stone magazine often sites “Satisfaction” as the number one single of all time – I disagree and go with “Get Off My Cloud.”

(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 November 28, 1969.

Currently listening:
Let It Bleed
By The Rolling Stones
Release date: 2002-08-27

Lex on Michael Jackson

•July 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Had to cry today.

During the special services celebrating Michael’s life, there was a small clip shown of the Jackson Five on the Ed Sullivan show.  At only ten years old, Michael is belting out a Smokey Robinson tune called “Who’s Loving You.”  I remember that clip being the very first time I remember Michael in my consciousness.

He was a young black kid, in a purple felt hat and matching fringed vest.  His voice was high pitched and squeaky, like a cartoon character.  He was the first young black singer that I ever saw on television , and the best indication of what I wanted to do when I grew up.  I saw him on American Bandstand singing “ABC,” and on Soul Train when he introduced “The Robot” while he and his brothers sang “Dancing Machine.”

I remember being a small child when my mom dragged me, repeatedly, to our local record shop to buy the latest Jackson Five records.  He was the first positive role model for kids and aspiring entertainers of my generation, and those records were a part of my everyday early formative years.  I cannot tell you how many copies of “Mama’s Pearl” I wore out.  That was MY song.

Another song that was mine came as the B-side of “Blame It On The Boogie.”  “That’s What You Get (For Being Polite)” was an album cut that didn’t get much airtime back in the day.  I remember playing that song more than the popular A-side, and being moved by the vocal that delivered the message of the song.  One night, I played it for almost 3 hours in a row, writing out the lyrics, learning the melody for piano, and wanting so very bad to be able to “do that thing” that Michael did so well.  The song still brings me to tears when I hear it.

I was in the fifth grade when Off The Wall was being played on the black stations across town.  I’m reminded of my friend Terrell’s impression of Michael Jackson at the age of 80, an old man trying to wheeze his way through “Don’t Stop (Til You Get Enough).”  In the impression, Michael had to stop quite a few times to take his medicine to get through the song.  I had to laugh.

By the time Thriller became the phenomenon that it is today, I was in STRICTLY rock territory, and thought that the album wasn’t as good as Off The Wall was.  Whatever.  Didn’t matter.  When my mom and I saw him Moonwalk for the first time on a tv special commemorating Motown, she said “What in the world was THAT?”  I couldn’t take my eyes off the television screen.

It’s my day off, and like millions of people around this crazy world I am at home watching the special services taking place in Los Angeles (my hometown).  The sound of Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five filled my house as a child.  Listening to the music he and his brothers created in those early years touched me then, and almost 40 years later, it still strikes a big chord in my musical heart.

So, tomorrow I go back to work and deal with all of the stupid, inane jokes made about Michael’s behavior during the last years of his life.  I don’t give a damn about all of the things that made him “Wacko Jacko.”  I don’t care about the controversy that surrounded him and his Neverland Ranch.  There is a generation out there who remember how much his music touched their lives.

I am one of them.  Although I still claim The Beatles as my inspiration for being a musician and songwriter, Michael Jackson was the one who reflected that young black people could shoot for the stars and walk on the moon.  1970 seems like a million years ago, but it was just the beginning for my generation.  Michael’s music said that.

Thanks, Michael.

Currently listening:
ABC
By Jackson 5

Lex on Noel Gallagher (Oasis)

•May 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I used to have a recurring dream in which I am running down a dark alley at full speed, consumed with anger and intent on clubbing and head-butting the first thing that gets in my way.  And coming from the opposite direction?  Noel Gallagher, who pretty much has the same idea.

The dream ends with what I can only describe as a “broken-bottle back-alley brawl” of major proportion.

My very first taste of Oasis came sometime during the summer of ’94 when my Aunt Ava stopped by my place for a few minutes one day with a videotape of her “latest musical discovery.”  She said, “I found this band last night on MTV.  They’re great!  I automatically thought you might like them.  They’re called Oasis.  The lead singer and his brother are cute, and they sound like ‘grunge plus Beatles.’  I’m going out to find their album.  See you later.”

She’d been taping MTV’s more alternative music shows, and came across 5 geezers on a rooftop singing what appeared to be lyrical nonsense sewn to a rhythmic sound that was smooth and sharp as a scalpel.  The song was called “Supersonic,” and it is still a wonderful piece of songwriting, arranging, and production.

(Sidebar: Ava has an uncanny knack for picking “the next hot band.”  Her percentage is so high that it even scares me.  Ava has predicted the success of the Police, the Pretenders, U2, Duran Duran, most of the popular 80s new wave bands you’ve actually heard of, Culture Club, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Pearl Jam.)

I placed Ava’s tape into the machine.  The video for “Supersonic” was already cued and ready to go.  The sound of the song had an immediate impact on my musical brain.  It was sound that was brutally genteel, and arrogant.  It had a Stones-y swagger that made me bop up and down for the duration of the song.  I watched the video several times and repeatedly took in the impact of “Supersonic.”

Eventually, I heard their debut, Definitely Maybe.  My cassette copy stayed in my car’s tape player for almost an entire year. I found song after song uplifting and inspiring.  I was in awe of the sound, the production, and Oasis’ songwriter, Noel Gallagher.

I was jealous as hell.  I mean, here was this guy just one year older than me, writing the material I wanted to write, saying the things I wanted to say, and playing in the best band in the world.  It drove me absolutely buggy.  And the bugginess repeated itself when Ava loaned me a fresh copy of their second album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.  The music was at once heavenly and cocksure.  “Roll With It,” “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and “Champagne Supernova” shifted my musical confidence to a new high.

Be Here Now.  I bought it the day it came out, and played it a few times.  The album, as it turned out, was the result of a gigantic cocaine rave up and was marginal.  I should have known something was afoot with the band; I found it hard to remember song titles, melodies, and was kinda put off by the monstrous length of some of the songs.

I really began taking apart Noel’s writing after I purchased an album of B-sides called The Masterplan.  I found songs not previously issued in the States (“Acquiesce,” “The Masterplan,” and a smokin’ version of “I Am The Walrus”) that were equal to, or even better than, some of their most famous songs.  I also found a bunch of songs with Noel’s vocals that just sent me “right back to school.”

(Sidebar:  My favorite “Noel” song is called “It’s Better People.”  Originally the B-side to the British single “Roll With It,” it’s still the best acoustic song of the 90s.  Period.  Seek it out – you will not be disappointed.)

Noel’s songwriting catalog is a treasure trove of songs, musical ideas, and inspiration.  Dig the opening track from Standing On The Shoulder of Giants called “F–king In The Bushes.”  It’s an uncompromising “sound collage” of Noel’s hypnotic music and dialogue from the film of the 1970 Isle of Wight concert.  Awesome, and awe inspiring.

Oasis continues to put out an album of songs every couple of years.  I still buy their music, mainly to see what Noel has been writing and playing.  I am still a big fan of the band, but I am a bigger fan of Noel Gallagher’s amazing talents as a songwriter, musician and vocalist.

(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).

Please note: The Masterplan was originally released November 3, 1998.

Lex on Donovan

•May 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“I Love My Shirt” was the title of the very first song I heard by Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan.  It was September 1974, and I was into my first experience away from home – kindergarten.  My teacher, Mrs. Ganoux, was a music fan, and a bit of a hippie (she even encouraged me to paint a white rabbit during art-time).

She must have figured out that music tends to soothe savage 4-year-olds.  During class sing-along-time, she’d play Donovan records.  She’d teach us the chorus (so that everyone could sing together at the appropriate time), play the record, and we’d all sing.  It was fun and “I Love My Shirt” was my favorite song to sing.

(Sidebar: “I Love My Shirt” can be found on Donovan’s Barabajagal album from 1969, along side other greats like “Atlantis,” “To Susan, On The West Coast Waiting,” and the rockin’ title track, co-starring the Jeff Beck Group!)

“Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” one of Donovan’s biggest hits, was another favorite of mine.  The sound of that song still takes me back to the smell of paint, glue, and paste.  I wouldn’t hear this great Donovan track again until years later on my local L.A. “oldies” station KRTH, 101.1 FM (aka “K-Earth”).

K-Earth had something called a “Super Set 60s Weekend,” and played a 30-minute block of Donovan’s music.  I heard a song called “Epistle to Dippy,” and went absolutely bananas.  I had to have THAT song in my collection.  I quickly visited Record Retreat (my local record shop, as well as the BEST record store ever).  Along with a copy of The Hollies’ Greatest Hits, I purchased Donovan’s Greatest Hits album from 1969.

The album would stay on my turntable for about a month, and I would listen to it as I dressed for junior high school.

Besides “Epistle To Dippy,” there was “Mellow Yellow,” “Jennifer Juniper,” “Season Of The Witch,” “Sunshine Superman,” and a lot of other songs I heard on the radio.  There were also some “updated” versions of earlier songs like “Colours” and “Catch The Wind,” that were more lengthy and “jammy” that I thought were just as good as the originals.

(Sidebar: The later versions of “Colours” and “Catch The Wind” are no longer available on the expanded CD version of Donovan’s Greatest Hits album.  The originals take their place, which is kinda sad to my music mind – the later versions fit the overall album better.)

It was at this time that I turned into a record junkie.

I started making lists of 60’s records to find during my weekend record shop hunts.  I left one of these lists in a school folder, and left the folder in my 9th grade World History class.  These lists were found by my teacher, Ms. Beck (aka Harriet, aka Hara, aka Momma B).  She asked if the lists were part of a project for my English class.  I told her that I was searching for Donovan records.

She looked at the list (written with horrible teenage scrawl) and said, “Well, I have this one, this one, that one, and I should still have this one if I didn’t lose it during the divorce.” She also offered to loan me her out-of-print Donovan discs so I could transfer them to cassette.

Harriet had original copies of albums like What It Is (a compilation of early Donovan on the old Hickory label) Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow, which featured the pop hits, plus album tracks that were innovative, ingenious, and meticulously textured blending of disparate genres such as jazz and folk and rock (not to mention medieval, Indian, and Caribbean music).

And he’s even the co-vocalist on “Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper.  How cool is that?  Very!

May 10th finds Donovan celebrating another year of life.  Happy birthday, Donovan!  Thanks for giving me some of the music from which I sprang; thanks for the drive to discover more about the decade from which I sprang; and thanks for my connection to Momma B, from which a fairly large chunk of my “musical self” sprang.

Yet again, another sidebar: I have a wall that is dedicated to album cover art.  Within the display’s checkerboard pattern, you will find Harriet’s original copy of Mellow Yellow.  If you haven’t seen the cool pop art on the front of the cover (or that cool shot of young Donovan sporting his white Edwardian double-breasted jacket), check it out sometime.  It inspires!

Please note: the original release date of Mellow Yellow is March, 1967.

(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:
Mellow Yellow
By Donovan