Friday, July 20, 2007

Staying after Girlschool...

Last weekend's passing of former Girlschool guitarist Kelly Johnson made me realize that I'm way overdue to give tribute to one of my all-time favorite heavy metal bands, so as the late Janis Joplin once said, "I must make a-mends."

G-School was formed circa. 1975 as Painted Lady, an all-girl London cover band, by original bassist Enid Williams (not pictured here) and rhythm guitarist Kim McAuliffe (far left in pic).  The band also at one time included future Go-Go's bassist Kathy Valentine, and by 1978, they adopted the name "Girlschool" as drummer Denise Dufort and lead guitarist Kelly Johnson (3rd and 4th from left in pic, respectively) joined, and the band toured with the mighty Motorhead in 1979, subsequently landing on the Bronze Record label shortly afterwards.  Their first album, Demolition, was released in 1980, and their hybrid collaboration with Lemmy and the boys, dubbed "Headgirl" produced the EP St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the hit single (in England) "Please Don't Touch", a cover of the early '60s Johnny Kidd & The Pirates hit.

Several of the tracks from Demolition later resurfaced on Girlschool's 1981 LP Hit And Run, thus resulting in one of the finest heavy metal albums my 43-year-old ears have ever heard. H&R is a killer record from start-to-finish, and there ain't a bad track on it!  It features a balls-to-the-wall cover of Adrian Gurvitz' "Race With The Devil", as well as some very agressive guitar work from Kelly Johnson throughout and outstanding drumming from Denise Dufort—her double-bass drum work actually made Alex Van Halen sound like a pussy! Not too shabby for a bunch of girls, eh?

Shortly after the Hit And Run album and subsequent tour, Enid Williams left the band to be a mom, and was replaced by bassist Gil Weston-Jones (second from left in photo).  The group underwent numerous lineup (and sonic) changes during the rest of the '80s (even operating as a five-piece for a time), and adopted a more polished commercial sound that rankled some hardcore fans, but wasn't totally wretched.  Kim, Enid and Denise continue to record and tour to this day with guitarist Jackie Chambers, who replaced founding member Kelly Johnson, who retired in 2000 and soon after was afflicted with spinal cancer, which she inevitably succumbed to last week.  A sad loss for Heavy Metal, indeed...

My All-Time Girlschool Top 10:
10) "Do You Love Me?" (1985)  Yes, the beloved Kiss tune, and a mighty fine remake of it, to boot.
9) "Take It All Away" (1978)  G-School's first single, which later wound up on Hit And Run.
8) "Please Don't Touch" (1981)  A lovely romantic ballad featuring Brother Lemmy teaming up with the Goyl-School girls...
7) "Can't You See?" (1985)  A song from the "slick" period that most hardcore fans hated, but I really liked the power chords here.
6) "Yeah Right!" (1981)  Rebellious fucking Rock 'N' Roll—again, played by a bunch of fucking girls!
5) "Kick It Down (1981)  Ditto.
4) "C'Mon, Let's Go" (1981)  Ditto again.  Not to be confused with the Ritchie Valens' tune of a similar spelling.
3) "Watch Your Step" (1981)  Ditto one more time...
2) "Hit And Run" (1981)  Title track and excellent lead-off hitter for both an album and a concert.
1) "Race With The Devil" (1981)  The very Girlschool song that first caught my attention at the old Village Records shop in Raytown, as recommended by lost-but-not-forgotten fellow Rock 'N' Roll traveler Bob Mora.  I was already familiar with this tune via the 1977 Black Oak (Arkansas) version, but Denise's stellar drumming and Kim 'n' Kelly's outstanding guitar work took this fucker into the Stratosphere here.  Mr. Mora, wherever the heck you are now, I heartily thank you for clue-ing me in to this outstanding slab of vinyl!

Rod The (Not-So) Mod

Not lately, anyway.  There was a time when Rod Stewart was at least moderately mod, but that was many moons ago.  Listening to his box set Storyteller makes one long for the good ol’ days when Rod was a true Rocker instead of the aging Rocker who now relies on warbling old standards like "What A Wonderful World" (Satchmo's song, not Sam Cooke's) to sell records.  A recent concert review indicates that Stewart still rocks out on tour most of the time, but sadly he’s joined the long list of singers and groups who can’t (or are just too damn lazy to) come up with any new material.  Nothing wrong with honoring the past now and then, but between Stewart and Michael McDonald, do we really need any more remakes of the same tired old Motown songs?  I mean honestly, has Rock ‘N’ Roll truly run out of things to say?  It’s like everyone’s creativity went out the window with the Reagan Administration, and now everybody just recycles the same old stuff.  Thank goodness I’ve been able to discover and delve into more obscure old stuff like Stax Records and Sun Records, et al, that is new to me, or I’d be a very sad audiophile.

I don’t mean bash Stewart altogether here, as this former grave-digger/English soccer star wanna-be has certainly had a fairly prolific career, beginning in the late ‘60s.  His high-water mark for me was 1977’s Foot Loose & Fancy Free, which track-for-track is probably his best overall album.  After that, he lost focus and dabbled in the disco thing with the infamous "Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?" and then became tabloid fodder about the same time over his affair with Alana Hamilton (wife of actor George Hamilton).  Rod’s Jet-Setter/Studio 54-denizen image rubbed me the wrong way, but he did manage to come back with decent albums now and again during the '80s like Tonight I’m Yours and Out of Order, and a couple of his cover songs during that time actually were pretty darn good, namely The Impressions’ "People Get Ready" (with Jeff Beck) and Bob Dylan’s "Forever Young".

There is one Rod Stewart hit that I will never need to hear again as long as I live.  For reasons unknown, back in 7th grade I made the mistake of attending this really dopey Junior High dance.  For other reasons unknown, the organizers of said dopey Junior High dance didn’t have the forethought to actually bring any music, but someone happened to have a copy of "Tonight’s The Night" on hand, and I swear we had to endure that damn song at least ten times that night!  Worse yet, we had to endure it being played on one of those crappy government-issue single-speaker school record players they used for music class (with a microphone in front of it to pipe it through the equally-crappy gymnasium P.A.), thus it had all the fidelity of a C.B. radio.  Great song, but I can’t hear it without thinking of that night.

My All-Time Rod Stewart Top 10:
10) "Stay With Me" (1972-with The Faces)  Love the line "With a face like that, you got nothing to laugh about…"  This band had a pretty formidable lineup at the time too—Stewart on vocals, future Stone Ron Wood on guitar, the late Ronnie Lane on bass, Ian McLagan on keys and future Who drummer Kenney Jones on the skins.
9) "Gasoline Alley" (1968)  Very underrated early Rod classic.
8) "The Killing of Georgie, Parts I & II" (1976)  One of those unorthodox songs that tells a tragic story, but the tune sounds real happy and upbeat, yet it worked anyway.
7) "Tonight I’m Yours" (1981)  This song always makes me think of the ‘80s, and I love the creative use of the bells during the choruses.  I could’ve done without that faggy-sounding "Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me" crap, though…
6) "Tora! Tora! Tora! (Out With The Boys)" (1981)  Sounded like they actually WERE partying while recording this one...
5) "Hot Legs" (1977)  Probably the raunchiest song Rod ever did, and it’s a classic.  Nice lead guitar work from the underrated Billy Peek too.
4) "Blondes Have More Fun" (1978)  On the whole, I hated this album, but loved the title track, which also features guitarist Billy Peek (stealing a few Chuck Berry riffs).
3) "Maggie May" (1971)  Classic Rock staple that I grew up with on WHB during my halcyon Top 40 radio days as a kid.
2) "I Was Only Joking" (1977)  Stewart’s image as a hot-shot carefree Rock star makes it easy to forget that he can write really good songs now and then, and the closing track on Foot Loose & Fancy Free might well be his best lyrical work ever.
1) "Born Loose" (1977)  Another track from FL&FF, this one sounds very Stones-like in places and has always been my favorite Rod song.  It contains the word "piss" in the lyrics, but why it never got any radio airplay baffles me.

Rant City, here we come...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Be forewarned that my first item below is bound to offend certain people, especially sycophant fans of Tammy Faye Bakker. Reader discretion advised...]

PLEASE MAKE IT GO AWAY!I normally don’t root for another person to die, nor is it usually my nature to revel in someone having cancer, but I make an exception when it comes to human feces like Tammy Faye Bakker Messner (or whatever her fucking name is now).  She appeared on "Larry King Live" last night for the eleventy-millionth time, this time with the caption "Tammy Faye Gravely Ill".  The interview apparently was TF’s idea and not Larry’s, and if you truly want to see death warmed over, check it out, but be forewarned--she ain't a pretty sight (not that she ever was to begin with).  Looking like an elderly drag queen, TFBM bore a rather eerie resemblance to late ventriloquist Wayland Flowers’ former partner depicted here, and her voice sounded like that of a lifetime two-pack-a-day smoker during this waste of perfectly good CNN airtime.  Leave it to this shameless self-promoter to exploit even her own inevitable demise and seize the opportunity to have one last pity party on Larry’s show for all her adoring fans.  Coincidentally, The Kansas City Star also published a little blurb yesterday about Tammy Faye becoming "Kansas City’s newest resident celebrity", having recently moved to one of our Ritzier southern suburbs.  Do they really think we give a rat’s gonad?!?  It’s all academic anyway—it don’t appear she’ll be a KC resident very long, given that she has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

Pardon me if I don’t shed any tears for this ugly bitch—has everyone besides me forgotten how Tammy Faye became rich and famous in the first place?  She used to shed crocodile tears and beg for money along with her asshat ex-husband Rev. Jim Bakker and bilked millions of dollars out of emotionally crippled and/or simple-minded check-writing viewers of their "P.T.L. (‘Pass The Loot’) Club" show, all the while hiding behind righteousness and The Bible.  Sorry gang, but I have NO respect whatsoever for money-grubbing TV evangelists who lead extravagant lives of luxury, and I’m especially tired of the way the media—Larry King, in particular—fawns over this shallow-as-shit publicity hound and gives her so much face time on TV and in the papers.  Hell, this Messner guy she married is a convicted felon too—these are people I'm supposed to look up to?  And now we’re ‘spose to all feel sorry for Tammy Faye because she’s got the Big C?  Well, what goes around comes around, sweetheart—just do us all a big favor and fucking die already, you worthless mascara-laden lump of shit!

As for Larry "I Have A Face Made For Radio" King, I actually used to like him back when he had his latenight radio show in the late ‘70s.  This was back when talk radio was more free-form and King would just take calls all night about any subject during his "Open Phone America" segments.  One minute, he’d be talking politics, the next he’d talk baseball or movies or something, and it was quite enjoyable.  Anymore though, I’ve lost all respect for King because of the way he slobbers (figuratively) all over his celebrity guests during interviews, especially Tammy Faye.  I nearly hurled when he made the gratuitous remark last night "she’s been so brave in the face of all this…"  Then again, anyone who’s been married and divorced as often as Lawrence Harvey Zeiger has (seven and counting!) with the balls to change his surname to King is probably a total douche, anyway...

…that’s what this whole Michael Vick thing is going to be for the next few months.  Yes, I know—innocent until proven guilty, and all—but I have to say that he looks pretty darn guilty to me, based on what I’ve read and heard.  He should at least do Atlanta and the NFL a big favor by stepping aside and taking a paid leave of absence until all this gets sorted out because he’s no good to the team at this point.  The players and coaches will constantly have to deal with all the media distractions, and how could he possibly focus on leading the Falcons to a Super Bowl and handle all this legal stuff at the same time?  More power to Vick if he can prove his innocence, but I sure don’t foresee any kind of positive outcome for him in all this.

"Honky Cat"—ELTON JOHN (1972)
"Boy, you gotta tend a farm…"  I originally interpreted this as "Boy, you got a telephone..."!

[Click pic to enlarge it]  I swear, this Derf guy channels my mind sometimes!  By the way, a tip for all you potential car thieves out there:  I highly suggest you pay a visit to Raytown, MO sometime and just hang out in front of any convenience store for any length of time—you’re bound to hit paydirt here.  I always lock my car up even to just stop in for beer or whatever, but I constantly see these fools pull up to QuikTrip, et al, and enter the store with their motor still running, windows wide open and stereo blaring.  The damn car might as well have a neon sign attached to it that flashes "MY OWNER'S AN IDIOT—STEAL ME, PLEASE!"  It just astounds me how careless some people are with their vehicles.

A little TV alert for you:  In a piece of perfect timing for me as I nearly finish reading my Stax Records book, PBS will be airing a documentary on Stax as part of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the legendary Memphis soul record company that gave us the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MGs, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, The Dramatics, et al.  The show airs on or around August 1st on PBS as part of their "Great Performances" series, so check your local listings, as they say in T.V. circles…

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Boss Man Cometh

Today was Bruce Springsteen day on my CD player at work.  Have to admit I didn’t much care for "The Boss" at first—I was highly resistant to his stuff in the late ‘70s mostly because the critics went apeshit over him, and at that time I was leery of anyone that Rolling Stone, Creem, et al, went apeshit over.  This was also the period when the Royals played the Yankees in the playoffs every year, and even though Bruce is from Jersey, I pretty much despised anything or anyone even remotely connected to New York City (except for Kiss and "Saturday Night Live"), so I childishly ignored Springsteen for a long time.  I finally made peace with him during the ‘80s and grew to respect him, although I still think he’s a tad overrated ("Streets Of Philadelphia", for instance) at times.

One of these fine days, I’m going to finally sit down and write my book What Were They Smoking When They Wrote That?, and when I do, I plan to devote an entire chapter to "Blinded By The Light"—ol’ Brucie had to be on something when he wrote that song!  As for the rest of his music, I made it a point to "rediscover" his CD catalog about five years ago, and found some pretty good music there.  Overall, I’m more partial to his ‘80s stuff as opposed to his ‘70s albums, apart from the classic Born To RunThe River is a much better record than I originally gave Bruce credit for, both the Tunnel of Love and Human Touch albums have their moments, and of course Born In The USA is mighty fine.  Judging by the old video footage I’ve seen, Bruce and the E Street Band were something to behold live in concert back in the day and they gave people their money’s worth too, often playing for three hours or more.

My All-Time Bruce Springsteen Top 10:
10) [Tie] "Born In The USA" (1984)/"Pink Cadillac" (1984)  Bruce’s 2nd-best songs with "Born" or "Cadillac" in their title, respectively.
9) "Working On The Highway" (1984)  One of the few off Born In The USA that wasn’t a big hit, but I always liked it.  Nice irony of "The Boss" to always side with the working man, too.
8) "Born To Run" (1975)  Mighty hard to leave this one off the list, being it’s Bruce’s signature song.
7) "War" (1985)  Excellent remake of the 1970 Edwin Starr classic.  Now might be a good time to remake it again…
6) "Rosalita" (Live-1978)  Love the live concert video of this one that they show on VH-1 Classic all the time.  Bruce’s band introductions were almost as entertaining as the song itself.
5) "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" (Dave Edmunds) (1982)  Bruce wrote this one specifically for Dave and never actually recorded it himself, but it counts all the same—great song, too.
4) "Glory Days" (1984)  Love the hook melody during the choruses.  Great song, but lame video.
3) "Cadillac Ranch" (1980)  Car songs never go out of style...
2) "Tunnel Of Love" (1987)  Very ‘80s-sounding, and I love the guitar solo here by Nils Lofgren that Bruce yodels over.
1) "Human Touch" (1992)  Song that had some very special meaning to me during a 1999 weekend trip to Colorado.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A girl named Dusty

Time to salute a lady who has become one of my all-time favorite singers in a relatively short period of time, one Mary Catherine Isabel Bernadette O'Brien, better known to the world as Dusty Springfield.  To some, she is merely an icon of '60s fashion excess, and there's little doubt that Dusty single-handedly kept the folks at Revlon in business via her near-obsessive overuse of eyeliner and mascara (she was pretty enough without all that, IMO), but trust me folks, there's a whole lot more to this girl than just big hair, "Wishin' And Hopin'" and "Son of A Preacher Man".

I've only gotten to know Dusty's body of work—beyond just the big oldies station hits, anyway—within the past five years or so after buying her Rhino Records best-of compilation CD, and I was instantly hooked by her soulful voice and underrated songs.  Much like with Journey, Cheap Trick, The Police, et al, I actually prefer Dusty's "B-stuff" over her "A-stuff", but then again, just about all her stuff is on the A-level anyway.  Dusty Springfield had a very acute ear for superior songs to interpret (or re-interpret), and an innate ability to add her own personal touch to songs that were written for her by others.  She particularly excelled on songs written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David, as well as Carole King/Gerry Goffin, and her 1969 album Dusty In Memphis was critically acclaimed (and for once, the bleedin' critics were right!).

Sadly, Dusty's personal life was very checkered, at best.  Her dysfunctional family upbringing, as well as her sexual confusion/lesbianism, left her with scars that never quite healed, thus leading to a lifetime of self-inflicted torment and abuse (chemical and otherwise), and I don't think she ever fully realized how truly beloved—let alone how truly gifted—she was.  In an even more cruel twist of fate, she succumbed to breast cancer at age 59 in 1999 just days before she was inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame (where fellow ├╝ber-Dusty fan Sir Elton John did the honors).  There has been talk in recent years of a biopic film on Dusty's life (with Charlize Theron in the lead role and Ang Lee directing), but nothing has materialized as of yet.  Could be very interesting, if given the proper cinematic treatment...

Next up in my alphabetical sojourn thru my CDs is Rick Springfield.  What the fuck's he doing in my collection?!?  Oy vey...

My All-Time Mary Catherine Isabel Bernadette O'Brien Top 10:
10) "Just A Little Lovin'" (1969)  Lead-off track from Dusty In Memphis composed by the legendary Mann-Weil songwriting team.
9) "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" (w/The Pet Shop Boys) (1987)  Song that led to a major resurgence in Dusty's popularity and renewed interest worldwide in her music.
8) "I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten" (1968)  Later covered quite nicely by Blondie and Tracey Ullman in the '80s.
7) "Stay Awhile" (1964)  Convincing enough that Miss Dusty wouldn't have had to twist my arm to hang around after singing this one...
6) "I'll Try Anything" (1967)  Song that never even charted in the US, but should've.  It hit #13 in merry ol' England.
5) "In The Middle Of Nowhere" (1966)  Song chuck-full of sassiness that the likes of Queen Latifah and that talent-less Pink bitch can only dream about...
4) "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" (1966)  Of all her "drama queen" hits, this one may well have been her most drama-queeniest!
3) "I Only Want To Be With You" (1964)  Dusty's first big hit in the States, and it's been covered by a zillion people, including the Bay City Rollers, and my personal favorite, Samantha Fox.  Then again, I think Sam's video might've influenced my opinion...
2) "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" (1969)  Dusty's favorite track off Dusty In Memphis, and mine too.  Very atmospheric, and perfect for the time it came out.  Composed by Randy "Short People" Newman, of all songwriters...
1) [Tie] "Goin' Back" (1966)/"Little By Little" (1966)  Why neither of these weren't bigger hits on the U.S. charts is beyond me.  The former is a very touching Goffin-King song about growing older and aging gracefully that was played at Dusty's funeral.  The latter is a sassy piece of attitude that made Aretha Franklin look pretty wimpy by comparison...

Kelly Johnson, 1958-2007

I am very bummed to learn of the passing of Girlschool guitarist Kelly Johnson, who died yesterday of cancer of the spine at age 49.

Girlschool was heavy metal's answer to The Go-Go's back in the early '80s, and these girls—yes, they actually played their own instruments—made contemporary bands like Judas Priest and Van Halen sound like The Archies at times, and had far more balls than Vinnie Vincent of Kiss ever did.  Their collaborations with Uncle Lemmy and Motorhead are also fairly legendary and 1981's Hit And Run is absolutely one of my favorite metal albums of all-fucking-time.

I never actually met Kelly Johnson (second from left in this photo), but I do have her autograph.  Rather ironically, Girlschool made an in-store appearance 25 years ago this week on July 10, 1982 at my favorite record haunt, the long-defunct Village Records in Raytown.  It was a Saturday afternoon, and I had to work that morning at my much-despised bus boy gig at Waid's Restaurant, and got off work at 2:00.  Back then I was a night owl, so going to bed early the night before working day shift was a foreign concept to me, thus as per my usual, all I wanted to do when I got home from work was crash on the sofa in my basement bedroom for a few hours.  Meantime, my good friend Tom was frantically trying to call me from the record shop to alert me of the goings-on there, but I was comatose by that time and didn't hear the phone ringing upstairs, and no one else was home at the time to answer it, thus I majorly missed out on an opportunity at a brush with greatness.  However, each band member was kind enough to sign a copy of Hit And Run for me.  Why on earth we didn't go to their concert that night at Memorial Hall mystifies me to this day.  Girlschool is another band I deeply regret not seeing live in concert back in the day, as I've heard they put on a great show and rocked out just as much as the boys did.

A long-belated "Cheers, you lot" for the autograph, Kelly, and may you rest in peace...

These guys are good...

Man, I wish I had the time, patience and money to do serious Lego-ing like some folks do!

These are not quite to scale, but here be the mighty Ohio Stadium in Columbus...

...and the real McCoy...

...and the Baltimore Ravens' stadium (or whatever it's called this week)...

...and currently under construction, the House that (Baby) Ruth is building...

...and just for shits and hoots, Springfield's leading citizen...