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Monthly Archives: March 2014

From the Valley: “The 4 Walls,” The 4 Walls.

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Another in an occasional series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley performers.

I haven’t written many From the Valley posts lately. In part, that’s because I just haven’t crossed paths with much new music that floated my boat.

There’s loads of lo-fi punky folk, and grindcore and metalcore, and experimental noise. It’s not all bad, but I’ve been feeling lately like I’ve heard it before and didn’t have much new to say.

It took The 4 Walls to break me out of the four walls of writer’s block, with a swaggering five-song EP released online earlier this month.

The 4 Walls — they’re three guys from Bethlehem — play simple, chunky, rootsy punk with a bite.

Not punk as in hard, loud, fast blow-you-over stuff, but punk as in blues-tinged post-Stooges crunch that makes up in attitude what it lacks in speed.

Guitarist, pianist and vocalist John Sears has a voice that lands somewhere between Iggy Pop and Billy Idol, particularly on the low end. It’s pretty much the perfect instrument to deliver lyrics like, “Sex and drugs and rock and roll / I’ll be a dead man before it takes its toll.”

(I’m still trying to figure out if “Eat Me Alive”‘s lyrical couplet “If I had a dime for every time I ran out of gas / I’d have money for gas” is simple no-sweat tossed-off genius, or just stoopid. You could ask that question of a lot of great punk lyrics.)

The 4 Walls sing about the usual subjects — predatory women, paying dues, that kind of thing — over familiar grungy riffs. There’s also an instrumental, “Time Bomb,” that sounds like it’s still waiting for some words.

It appears that the band did the recording itself, and it sounds quite good for a self-production — nice and crisp.

I note that the band has shows in New York City and Philadelphia coming up, which suggests that it’s a little more serious than your average Lehigh Valley knockabouts.

And finally, I see that the band quotes Bon Scott on its Facebook page, which maybe also gives you some idea where its loyalties lie in terms of no-frills prowly rock n’ roll.

I could stand a little more variation in some of their songs, but by and large, The 4 Walls provide a nice rock n’ roll jolt. I suggest bolting down a couple cups of coffee (maybe a cigarette, too, if your tastes run that way) and checking them out. They make it just a little harder to go back to the basement folk-punk and grindcore.

The 4 Walls’ self-titled EP is available as a $5 download here.

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You had to be there, Part Deux.

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Maybe a week or so ago, I wrote about the central role a Beach Boys-Chicago concert played in the life of a high school graduating class in Massachusetts.

While I wait for dinner to digest so I can go running, I’m gonna toss out a couple other tidbits related to that particular concert.

– The set lists for the show are posted online. It looks like the crowd got 12 songs by the Beach Boys; seven songs by Chicago; and six songs with the groups performing together.

The absolute final song of the night? “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I wonder who sang lead on that one; Terry Kath was about the only guy in either band I could imagine doing it justice.

I’ve always been surprised at the number of artists who covered “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” within a decade of its release — Johnny Winter, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell and a young Billy Joel, to name a couple more.

It’s not one of those Joe South or Jimmy Webb songwriter-for-hire songs that people can easily put their own stamp on. It’s pretty heavily freighted with the tone and attitude of the guys who wrote it, not to mention the increasing social and political tensions of its time.

In short, I have trouble imagining it sounded convincing being played by two soft-pop bands on a school’s-out night in Foxboro in ’75.

But, the kids of Norwood High would probably disagree with me.

– The Beach Boys-Chicago collaborations of the ’70s were made possible, in part, through donations from viewers like you. (I’m sorry; once I started to write that sentence I couldn’t steer it away from the obvious ending.)

They were made possible, in part, because both groups were briefly under the wing of manager-producer James William Guercio.

Guercio was a former professional musician himself, with a stint in Frank Zappa’s early Mothers of Invention on his resume.

And on the big summer tour of ’75, he got into the act, serving as the Beach Boys’ onstage bass player. (The Boys’ nominal bass player was hors de combat that summer, and his once and future replacement, Bruce Johnston, was on several years’ leave.)

I don’t know what that experience was really like; it could be Guercio had two separate headaches every day.

From afar, it seems like a rare simultaneous triumph on the business and artistic sides of music. By day, Guercio was a doer of million-dollar deals; by night, he was sweating under the footlights in front of tens of thousands of fans.

I can’t imagine too many people doing that. Jay-Z, maybe, but not most of your well-known ’70s and ’80s rock types.

Encore Performances: Between the ears.

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I went for a good long walk tonight. The crisp air and the long late light made it feel like October.

I missed having a working iPod along. I don’t listen to anything when I run, but I do enjoy it when I walk.

The best thing I ever had on my old white iPod (remember those? they’re already starting to seem antiquated) was a 10-minute clip of Alan Freed. With a few pushes of the dial, I could force my magic 21st-century sound machine back into 1956.

Some songs I associate with specific places. But that soundcheck I associate with a general away-from-homeness. I remember listening to it as I waited to board a plane in southern California, and as I walked through neighborhoods five minutes from my house.

Anyway, here’s a piece about night-walking that ran on my old blog in May 2010. Alan Freed’s not in it, but some other stuff is.

This might have been one of the last walks I took with my old companion. It sits mute on my basement desk now; someday I’ll find an electronics recycling day and retire it for good.

So …

# # #

Out for a walk tonight with my balky old friend providing a soundtrack of old radio airchecks again.

Walking down one of the main drags and I hear a rattle and bark from the other side.
“I am the Unafraid, the one who walks alone at night,” I tell myself.
“I am the Unafraid, the one who walks alone at night, and that dog is about to hurdle his hedgerow and come rip my fucking tendons out.”

He doesn’t.

The DJ my iPod deigns to play is working the overnight shift on an oldies station in New York City, July 1972.
He is just this side of comatose; apparently this was during the Great Words Shortage of ’72 and he’s using as few as possible.

“1957,” he intones reverently. “The Charts.”

As I hear the first few notes of a classic ’50s-style greasy kids’ stuff musical intro, I walk past the laundromat and get assaulted — thwack. — by an olfactory wave of sweet, sweet fabric softener.
It makes me think of the mustiest walk-up apartment in Brooklyn, and of the scent the old lady inside sprays a few times each year to make the place more habitable when the priest comes to visit.

Mr. Mellow gives way to a news broadcast. The lead story is a solar eclipse that will be visible to New Yorkers later that day.
The newsman helpfully notes that two people were permanently blinded by looking directly at the previous solar eclipse, in 1970.
I wonder for a moment where those people are now, and how many years they had to regret their one really stupid decision.

The newsman cuts to an expert who is about to explain the correct way to observe an eclipse.
The recording ends.
Righty-ho, then.

Then we’re into the dimly lit backstreets, in time for a melange (medley?) of various New York stations from 1974.
Barely time to think coherently as the aircheck jumps from DJ to DJ, contest to contest, local-town namedrop to local-town namedrop, promotion to promotion.
It’s Labor Day and one channel is running six hours of previously unheard Beatles interviews.
“I always liked singles,” John Lennon says in his owlish Scouse. “I never collected albums. I collected singles.”
Fair enough.

Barking dog somewhere to my right; climbing rosebush on the fence to my left.
In defiance I stop and smell the roses, confident that the dog, wherever he is, is constrained.
Yup.

Walking back toward the main street to the smell of woodsmoke.
Who on this godblessed evening could possibly be having a fire?
Last time I walked down this road it was a Saturday night, and someone was burning leaves and stems, not logs and branches.
I don’t smell that smell very often any more.
Last time it was like smelling beer-soaked carpet.

Back on the main street. My playlist of airchecks is done.
Let’s see. Will it play some selections from Nuggets for me?
No, it won’t.
Crickets.

I am desperate, heading up the hill, so I abandon pop entirely and try Selling England By The Pound instead.
I try to rustle up “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” but the unifaun and his true love have decamped elsewhere.
Oh, wait, there they are — Peter Gabriel’s voice arrives in my stilled eardrums so suddenly I almost trade in my prize.

You know what the word for these guys is? Stentorian.
I don’t think any other band was ever quite so stentorian.
Especially not when Tony Banks fires up the Hammond organ with one hand and the Mellotron choir sound with the other.

Top of the hill. Will the iPod let me hear “The Cinema Show”?
Nope.

Entrance to my development. Will the iPod let me hear “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)”?
Nope … it is still shuffling around amidst the columnated ruins of Their Satanic Majesties Request when I get to my front door.

I think I need a new walking companion.

 

Published: The answers.

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Finally got a few people to bite on the other day’s music trivia quiz about rock performers and their publishing companies.

So, now, the answers.

(If you still want to take the quiz, click the link above. I’ll give you a second to do that, if you want.)

 

 

 

 

OK, then. Here goes:

1. James Osterberg Music – The publishing company of James J. Osterberg, a.k.a. Iggy Pop.

2. Jones Music – Iggy’s old friend David Bowie, born David Jones, also tapped his government name for the name of his publishing company.

3. Cram Renraff – Still surprised nobody guessed this one, which belonged to former Grand Funk Railroad singer-guitarist Mark Farner. (G’wan, spell it backward.)

4. Fram-Dee Music – Peter Frampton. I’d imagine the “Dee” in Fram-Dee is Frampton’s Seventies manager, Dee Anthony.

5. Daksel Music – Used in the Seventies by Aerosmith. Fairly sure Aero, like Frampton, used a publishing company named for its managers, David A. Krebs (DAK) and Steven E. Leber (SEL).

6. Ram’s Horn Music – A ram’s horn, or shofar,  is used in religious services during the Jewish high holidays. Rock’s greatest songwriter of Jewish descent (or most any descent), Bob Dylan, chose the name for his publishing company.

7. Wilojarston Music – Used at one point by the Beach Boys. The word is a portmanteau of the band members’ last names – WIlson, LOve, JARdine and JohnSTON.

8. Ceros Music – Along the same lines, Ceros Music belongs to CEsar ROSas of Los Lobos.

9. Boo-fant Tunes – When you think of bouffant hairdos and rock n’ roll, what do you think of? The B-52s, hopefully.

10. Polish Prince Music – As pointed out in the comments, this one was used by former schoolboy accordionist Peter Cetera.

11. Flames of Albion Music – Sounds like a name that might be used by musicians all up into Celtic-Anglo history. Kinda like the members of … Led Zeppelin.

12. Lipstick Killers Pub. Inc. — This could have been used by any number of bitchy L.A. hair-metal bands. Too bad: The New York Dolls beat them to it.

13. Casserole Music — Not sure what led Jack Bruce and Pete Brown to choose this mundane name for the publishing company that handled, among other things, their Songs For A Tailor.

14. Vindaloo Productions – Also used on Aerosmith albums of the Seventies. Guitarist Joe Perry is a noted fan of spicy food — he has his own line of hot sauces — so I suspect he might have been behind this one.

15. Ackee Music — Ackee is a fruit common in Caribbean cuisine. Perhaps Traffic chose the name through the inspiration of Chris Blackwell, the Jamaican-born head of their record label, Island Records.

16. Stay High Music — Gotta be hippies, right? Sure enough, this was the publishing company used by legendary San Francisco cult heroes the Sons of Champlin on their Loosen Up Naturally album.

17. Ice Nine Publishing — Hippies again, only cerebral ones. Specifically, the Grateful Dead.

18. Earmark Music — Todd Rundgren‘s publishing company around the time of Something/Anything?

19. Plangent Visions Music – Elvis Costello (or, maybe more correctly, Napoleon Dynamite) around the time of Blood and Chocolate.

20. Yessup Music — Used by Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen, presumably because Deep Purple got to Pussy Music first.

21. Easy Money Music – Rickie Lee Jones. Named for the song of the same name on her first album, I’d assume.

22. Man-Ken Music — 10cc. I’d guess “Man” might be a reference to the band’s hometown of Manchester, England; no idea what “Ken” means.

23. Fifth Floor Music — Rickie Lee’s old flame Tom Waits.

24. Found Farm Ballads — Van Dyke Parks, around the time of Song Cycle.

25. Canaan Music — Robbie Robertson and the other members of the Band.

Spring at last.

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Still holding out for at least one more comment on my latest music trivia quiz before I publish the answers. Anybody?

My three regular readers know I thirst for the annual start of college baseball.

Even in the most clement of years, the arrival of live baseball pretty much signals the start of spring.

And this past winter has hardly been clement. I’ve waited an extra fortnight for the first local college ball: Two weeks’ worth of local games have been cancelled because the fields were in such poor shape. (Moravian College posted photos online of its players shoveling snow off the infield, trying in vain to get their field ready for play.)

I love college baseball because it’s so frill-free. Only within the past two or three years have the biggest colleges in my area started playing walk-up music for batters, for example.

The ceaseless, breathless promotions that drive me nuts at the local minor-league ballpark are nowhere to be found at Lehigh or Lafayette or Moravian or Muhlenberg. There’s just … baseball. People warming up in bullpens and turning double plays and dropping fly balls.

It’s a tonic for the soul.

And, as of today, it’s back.

I dragged the rest of my family to Lehigh University’s humble ball field this afternoon for the first game of a doubleheader against Mount St. Mary’s University.

The home team had apparently been saving some hits for the occasion: Lehigh put up five runs in the first and last innings, beating Mount St. Mary’s 14-1 in a seven-inning game.

(I don’t think it was a mercy-rule thing — I think the first game of college doubleheaders is usually seven innings. Though I think Lehigh wasn’t trying all that hard to put up any more runs after it got to 10 or 11.)

Of course I brought my camera. And of course I’m going to inflict some pix on you. Click to make ’em larger if you want.

Lehigh's shortstop up with the grounder and throws to first.

Lehigh’s shortstop up with the warmup grounder and throws to first. Note the striped stirrups: Very, very stylish. Now that’s what ballplayers look like.

When your school name (Mount St. Mary's) and your team name (Mountaineers) are both too long to fit across a jersey, what do you put on it? "Mount," apparently.

When your school name (Mount St. Mary’s) and your team name (Mountaineers) are both too long to fit across a jersey, what do you put on it? “Mount,” apparently.

The lads in the Mount St. Mary's bullpen -- shown here in a rare moment of repose -- don't much seem to like getting their picture taken.

The yeggs in the Mount St. Mary’s bullpen — shown here in a rare moment of repose — don’t much seem to like getting their picture taken.

Not sure Lehigh's Joe Abeln agreed with the umpire's call on this one.

Not sure Lehigh’s Joe Abeln agreed with the umpire’s call on this one.

 

I love how close the players and fans are at college games. Not to mention the players and animals.

I love how close the players and fans are at college games. Not to mention the players and animals.

Pretty sure Lehigh's starter went the distance. He didn't have much trouble.

Pretty sure Lehigh’s starter went the distance. He didn’t have much trouble.

No. 13 seemed to get an especially heartfelt congrats after reaching base. He's not on the online roster, and I'm kinda hoping he was a walk-on who just got his first hit. But I don't know for sure.

No. 13 seemed to get an especially heartfelt congrats after reaching base. He’s not on the online roster, and I’m kinda hoping he was a walk-on who just got his first hit. But I don’t know for sure.

No. 49, whose replacement is just steps away from arrival, is either remarkably happy or totally incredulous at being yanked.

No. 49, whose replacement is just steps away from arrival, is either remarkably happy or totally incredulous at being yanked.

I will always take pictures of a sidearmer. Always. It's a rule.

I will always take pictures of a sidearmer. Always. It’s a rule.

Spring may be here, but the scars of winter linger.

Spring may be here, but the scars of winter linger.

 

 

You had to be there.

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Another tease for the previous post before we begin this one. You like anal-retentive quizzes about the kinds of details you can only learn by staring for hours at album covers? Well, we have just the thing for you, Bunky. Go check it out.

I get hung up on music trivia sometimes — like a certain lick on a record, or a cryptic liner note. The post mentioned above will attest to my flights into detail.

But what really gets me going about pop music is the role it plays in people’s lives … the way it sets a backdrop for personal events, and sometimes even seems to comment on them.

By and large, it’s more interesting to imagine the real-life interactions that took place to the tune of “#9 Dream” than it is to imagine Klaus Voorman in the studio laying down the bass track.

(I spent some time on that very exploration once; the results can be found here.)

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I spent some time surfing a scanned-in high school yearbook from the 1970s — specifically, the Norwood (Mass.) High School Tiot, 1976 edition (incorrectly labeled as 1978 online.)

To answer two questions that will inevitably arise: I lived in Norwood about 20 years ago, and a random Google search for my old address led me to the yearbook. And no, I don’t know what a Tiot is.

Anyway, the members of the Class of ’76 were allotted a few lines of commentary along with their senior portraits.

And damned if it didn’t seem like one out of every six seniors had been to the Beach Boys-Chicago concert at the old Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro on June 29, 1975.

References to the show came up time and time again, even from people who left only one or two other notes behind.

It must have been the social event, not just of that year, but of the full four-year enlistment of the Class of ’76. I read the entire senior section of that yearbook, and no other inside joke, reference or event had the shared staying power of the Beach Boys-Chicago concert.

A concert at the end of June would have been a marvelous beginning, not just to the summer, but also to the senior year of the Class of ’76. It must have seemed like a party set up just for them.

Chicago and the Beach Boys were both very successful and in good fighting trim in the summer of ’75, too. So the actual performance was probably pretty solid as well.

As I read the yearbook, my imagination was populated by the kids of Norwood High meeting, greeting, getting together, hanging out, breaking up, hooking up, snogging, arguing, pondering philosophy, scoring mood-enhancers and drinking beers — all set against the backdrop of a summer night’s musical party with 55,000 other people.

And of course, my mind also ran to the unfortunates — those seniors who couldn’t get tickets, or who were otherwise occupied that night.

In particular, I’m imagining some sad-sack senior committed to work that night at a pizza place, putting in time to pay for his gas and grass … and at 11:30, about a dozen of his classmates come waltzing in, ripped to the gunwales, telling him about everything he missed.

I might be over-romanticizing things, but this concert reminds me of one I went to myself, 13 years later.

It was June 10, 1989, and the Steve Miller Band was playing the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, N.Y.

The venue’s management had apparently expected a middling crowd of aged hippies, since Miller hadn’t had a chart hit in six or seven years. But Miller’s ’70s greatest hits album was hugely popular among teens in those days, and the hill of the amphitheater was crawling with kids, like a pre-graduation party for dozens of high schools.

You could probably open a 1990 yearbook from any high school in a five-county range and find at least one or two senior wills with references to the Steve Miller Band at Canandaigua.

The Beach Boys-Chicago show sounds like it was one of Those Shows, only even bigger and more epic.

I wonder if there are members of the Norwood High Class of ’76 who can still close their eyes and go back there … smell the smoke, see their friends and hear the horn section.

I imagine so.

Published.

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Still sucking wind as far as good post ideas go, but it’s nothing a trivia quiz won’t cure.

What do lawyers and liner-note obsessives have in common? An interest in music publishing companies, among other things.

If you’ve read album covers or CD booklets, you’ve seen the names of at least a few music publishing companies, usually suffixed with ASCAP or BMI. These companies hold the copyright on an artist’s songs, and collect royalties based on the public use of those songs.

Some artists keep the names of their publishing companies basic, saving their imagination for the music.

“The Hustle,” for instance, was published by Van McCoy Music, while the artist who created Dirty Mind had his songs published by Ecnirp Music.

Other performers choose names with personal resonance, or make references to their music, or opt for something whimsical.

(At least one performer immortalized the company that published his music in a particularly listless and cynical song, dragging publishing companies forever out of obscurity.)

Here’s a list of 25 publishing companies used by (mostly) well-known rock performers. See if you can figure out — or, if you’re a liner-note junkie, remember — the artists behind the names.

We’ll start more or less easy, and get more or less harder. No prizes for guessing right, but feel free to leave your guesses in the comments. You know where they are. I’ll be back in a couple of days with the answers.

Oh, and no extra credit for knowing whether these are ASCAP or BMI:

1. James Osterberg Music

2. Jones Music

3. Cram Renraff

4. Fram-Dee Music

5. Daksel Music

6. Ram’s Horn Music

7. Wilojarston Music

8. Ceros Music

9. Boo-fant Tunes

10. Polish Prince Music

11. Flames of Albion Music

12. Lipstick Killers Pub. Inc.

13. Casserole Music

14. Vindaloo Productions

15. Ackee Music

16. Stay High Music

17. Ice Nine Publishing

18. Earmark Music

19. Plangent Visions Music

20. Yessup Music

21. Easy Money Music

22. Man-Ken Music

23. Fifth Floor Music

24. Found Farm Ballads

25. Canaan Music