Category: Love Crypt: Old Music to Rediscover

The System That Started it All…

R-6788920-1426650870-5796.jpeg

I was working my very first summer job at the “One Hour Photo Lab” wearing a blue lab coat the first time I heard the System. Just doing my ordinary shift, mixing a huge vat of film developing chemicals (not fun), with the radio on when “Promises Can Break”, their new single off the X-Periment album came bursting out of the junky boombox we had there. The song was soul, yeah, but it was fueled by a fat synth, so it sounded kind of different, modern. It also featured a dizzying hook and downright swoon-worthy ascending vocal line. I was instantly in love. I went and bought the album from which it came, X-Periment, the very next day and discovered that track was the tip of the iceberg and that the whole thing was full of tunes with lush electronic heartbeats and every one sounded like a single.

The band itself consisted of David Frank and  Mic Murphy w/assistance from Paul Pesco and their singular, hard-earned moment in the sun came with their 4th album, Don’t Disturb This Groove whose title track was a mega-hit and is still justifiably beloved today (with over 2 million Spotify plays and counting, not bad). Now while that album is pretty fine, the bands charms and gifts shine the brightest on the aforementioned X-Periment, and it’s follow-up The Pleasure Seekers. Both feature plush, melodic, electro-soul pop of the highest order, all melodic, edgy, anxious and emotional, and are absolutely worth seeking out. And with that let’s raise a glass to these guys, the true pioneers of electro-soul, they still deserve a lotta love and all of our ears.

Have a listen/look at these sweet things:

And here are the X-Periment  and The Pleasure Seekers albums on Spotify if you wanna go deeper:

The Glorious Sorrow of Sade…

5c9a1d85f71de6b64b73a3cfd0594cca

Beyonce is not my queen. “Love Deluxe” is an actual cult. And this is no ordinary love…

As musical terms go,”baby-making music”, is a particularly execrable one. Okay, we all know that every situation in life, can be, let me see, “enhanced” or “benefit”, from a finely tuned playlist…but throwing Sade onto “The Ultimate Babymaking Playlist” is actually the height of laziness…because while there’s soft focus love in some of the songs in her canon, like say “By Your Side”,  the most common features of a typical Sade song are unadulterated pain, misery, and loss ( cumulatively known as “the good stuff”). Fact is apart from a handful of tracks spread over her 6 studio albums, she is the true embodiment of pop despair, the veritable Queen of Sad ( or as she once sang, and declared, the “King of Sorrow”). As emotionally distraught as Ian Curtis, Nico,or Kurt Cobain. Desperation, obsession, and complete mental unrest : those are the main features of the average Sade song. Not I’m so happy and in love, or do you take this man or woman. Nope. It’s don’t doubt me, I keep crying, the war is still raging inside of me. You can’t really put on the Love Deluxe album, and party. You can cry, drink too much, beg for another chance, or an actual chance, or contemplate earthly existence.That’s what Sade can provide the soundtrack for. She’s here to envelope you in glorious sadness, and you’re gonna like it.

One of the cooler things that’s happened over the past 10 years, is all the open faced praise and worship that’s been thrown at her emanating from the rock and indie universe…and for the contents of Love Deluxe in particular.  The Rosebuds went so far as to cover the whole damn thing in 2012, and Iron & Wine, Pink, and Deftones are among the artists, who have done cover versions of tracks from it . What is it about Love Deluxe that so perfectly encapsulates what she’s about? It’s the sparseness, the melodies, the infinite space of the whole thing. It’s the way the way the guitar leads into the chorus of “No Ordinary Love”, which itself is 7 minutes of the most beautiful despair. It’s that 7 of the 9 songs are not happy ones. Sade is here to hold your hand and share war stories. It’s gonna be okay.

And so a communal bow to the queen of sad, poet of the rain, and all that. Ain’t nobody like her.

Here’s a handpicked playlist of Sade’s deepest and darkest if you feel emotionally up to it. Go get the headphones.

And here’s Love Deluxe on the Spotify :

Rush’s “Subdivisions”: One band. One song.

graceunderpressure-4

Rush were, are and will always be loved. They’ve sold millions of records, are regarded as one of the finest live bands in musical history and in 2013 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They can also lay claim to having one of the greatest drummers of all-time, the late Neil Peart, in their ranks. The plus column is stuffed with powerful affirmations of their goodness yet I just, plain, can’t get into them. But lord oh lord, how I’ve tried.

I’d been particularly charmed by their 2010 bio documentary and career retrospective, Beyond the Lighted Stage, had found myself completely won over by the trio’s camaraderie, humor and self-awareness. I was so invested in maintaining these good feelings that I decided to read not one but two of Neil Peart’s acclaimed travel memoirs in quick succession. I actively tried make Rush happen in my heart.

Of course I recognized that the film and books were mere ephemera and a diversion from what really mattered. Yup, I knew that to truly understand and experience Rush in a meaningful way, I had to spend time listening to the actual music. And so I did, the whole discography. It didn’t work. Which is to say as I was listening, I felt nothing. Was not transported. Had no epiphany.

Wishful attempts like this to love, feel and understand Rush were actually nothing new to me. My approach to appreciating Rush was disturbingly similar to having a drivers license or passport renewed. Every few years like clockwork I would check in, usually after witnessing some extreme display of fandom and/or worship, then trawl through the discography. And the result was always the same. Several years prior to the documentary, I’d been similarly swayed to give them another chance after witnessing the unbridled Rush passion of Nick Andopolis on Freaks and Geeks ( a TV show so painfully, chronologically on point for me that I officially categorize it as a 19-part documentary). Seeing Nick’s complete and utter worship of the band, watching him clumsily, passionately thrash along to “Spirit of the Radio” on his 29 piece drum kit and later defend drummer Neil Peart’s genius to his ex-girlfriend’s Lindsay’s Dad, was downright inspiring. And with that I hopefully cued up their mega Moving Pictures album…and felt nothing as it played.

Nick-neil peart

“Neil Peart is the greatest drummer alive !”…say no more Nick, turn that shit up…

And so why continually try when these attempts have never worked ? Well, it’s all because of one song, 1983’s fatly synthesized anthem of teen alienation and ennui, “Subdivisions”. I loved it. That song was the singular source of this blind and apparently eternal optimism. Back in the day, it’d spoken to my young, angst-ridden ass as deeply as any of the songs my most beloved band at the time The Smiths had kicked out. It was my “Manchester, so much to answer for”. But my “Manchester” was the considerably less historic, austere, damaged and romantic patch of unbridled suburbia known as, uh, Long Island. And so The Smiths were only gonna get so far in terms of helping make sense of the world in which I lived out my teen-dom. “Subdivisions” on the other hand understood. It got me.

In the High School Halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out

Yes, Rush, yes, I would geekily think anytime I heard it. “Subdivisions” was released just as MTV was beginning to grow in popularity and the song’s video was on constantly. And since I watched MTV roughly 4-5 hours a day every day (sick), it was only a matter of time before it planted its flag into my oh so impressionable psyche. Of course, as was the trend in music videos of the time, the visuals were painfully literal. Faceless suburban streets, check. Lonely bespectacled nerd ignored by oblivious, happy popular kids, check. Rush themselves, check, check, check. Here it is, in all its glory:

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

If I’m being honest, as far as my teenage musical touchstones go, I’ve spent more time listening to “Subdivisions” over the past several decades than I have the entire Smiths discography. I know that sounds sacrilege but that’s the mysterious and insidious power of “Subdivisions”. Rush said everything I needed to hear to feel understood and seen in one song. That’s all it took. Just the one song. And as it turned out that’s all I needed from Rush. And maybe after all this longterm effort that’s the real epiphany I was meant to have. And I couldn’t have asked for more.

P.S. In 2007, singer-pianist Anita Athavale released an absolutely kick ass cover of “Subdivisions” which as of this writing is not available on any of the streaming services…but it is on YouTube albeit in the weirdest and most on the nose way imaginable. Anita’s version provides the poignant soundtrack for a resolutely grim, un-ironic video tribute to a deceased shopping mall in Cleveland (complete with a “1976-2009” graphic at the end). Seriously though, Anita strips it down to its bones and it’s ridiculously good. Here it is :

P.P.S. The Rush fanbase is overwhelmingly male. While this “boys love Rush” phenomenon is discussed with sweet and hilarious candor in the aforementioned Beyond the Lighted Stage, nothing beats the depiction offered in the 2009 buddy comedy I Love You Man. Come cringe along with Rashida Jones, playing Paul Rudd’s beleaguered girlfriend, as she experiences the effect Rush has on grown men in real time. It’s perfect.

Valerie Carter is worth remembering…

955620ad99c0f766125bb6d24d6a51fc

In the nascent days of cable tv in the ’70s, when it was known around these parts as “Cablevision,” acquiring content was a challenge. At least I assume it was, because to my kid eyes it seemed like they were showing the same cruddy movies every single day with little to no variation. As a result I thought this cable thing was overrated and just plain sucked. Then, out of the blue, something happened that radically altered my opinion. A movie came along that I loved so much that I wanted to see it all the time and their inability to fill the air with massive amounts of new stuff meant I could. The movie in question: the now bonafide cult classic of suburban teen ennui and Matt Dillon’s film debut, 1979’s Over the Edge. It felt like an epiphany. It was the very first time I’d seen “myself” in an actual movie. The kids were the same age as me and my friends, they looked like us, talked like us and and got up to the same stupid, semi-illegal stuff we did to kill time (although we never went through with the plans to burn the school down like the kids in the movie did because we were all talk). Anyway, I loved it.

Over the course of the film, tension between the kids and the adult authority figures grows until it ultimately explodes into a violent and deadly confrontation.The closing scene shows the aftermath with the kids who were caught and arrested for their part in the mayhem being taken away on a school bus heading to “The Hill”, some juvie-reform school type place. The sun is going down, streaming through the bus’s windows onto the faces of the kids, and though it’s by no means a happy ending, the scene is imbued with hope. And that’s solely down to the song soundtracking it, Valerie Carter‘s languid, gorgeous cover of The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” The scene and the song literally meld together as one and the whole thing is kinda perfect.

The Five Stairsteps were a family group featuring 5 of the 6 kids in the Burke family, and they enjoyed great success in the R & B charts. They only ever managed to land one song in the pop Top 10, but oh man, was it a good one. Released in 1970, “O-o-h Child” was and is an incontrovertible classic (hear it here). With its urgently sunny horns and hopeful core message, it remains the perfect listening salve for anyone having a hard time. Yet somehow, in 1977, Valerie Carter made this seemingly perfect song even better.

While most of Valerie’s career was spent singing back-up for people like James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Christopher Cross throughout the ’70s and ’80s, she did record two promising solo albums during that time. Her first and best, Just a Stone’s Throw Away, featured her version of “O-o-h Child” as its lead track. Unlike the original, the mood on Valerie’s is not one of horn-fueled urgency but of tentative consolation. The song unfolds slowly as her warm and soaring voice gradually ascends, its full power unleashed in the climactic last verse. The whole thing exudes a soulful ’70s Southern California sun going down vibe and features an especially handsome and breezy guitar solo in the bridge. I hate the word sublime, but you know what, the whole thing is utterly sublime. And, true confession, it is not only my favorite cover version ever but one of my straight up favorite songs of all-time.

The best way to describe her career is as one of those woulda/coulda/shouda situations. After the aforementioned releases ( in 1977 and 1978), it was literally crickets in terms of her solo output; she didn’t release another album until 1996. Her time in between was spent touring with James and Jackson and singing on other people’s records, her most famous vocal turn appearing within soft rock flamingo Christopher Cross’s self-titled debut album, which sold 5 million copies and was the Grammy Album of the Year in 1980. While a lot of people were exposed to her beautiful, soaring, full of longing voice on the album’s duet “Spinning” they didn’t necessarily register that it was her, Valerie Carter, masterfully lifting it off the ground ( and she totally does, listen below), they were just, you know, playing the Christopher Cross album and basking in its west coast sunset glow ( by the way, it’s a pretty nice glow and no one should be embarrassed for liking it, so go on then, bask).

Valerie Carter passed away on March 4th of 2017 at the too young age of 64. It appears the last years of her life were challenging as she battled substance abuse issues, got arrested twice as a result in 2009 and was ultimately sent to rehab.

She was an incredible singer, in possession of a truly transcendent voice, just a wondrous artist that never got the appropriate due in her lifetime, yup. Anyway, I wanted to acknowledge her upon her passing, to try and explain how f-ing awesome I think she was. Not sure if I’ve conveyed that convincingly or with the appropriate force. All I know is both “O-o-h Child” and “Wild Child”, the title track off her second album have acted as literal lighthouses in a storm for me during some absolute crap times. And when life feels like too much, I can’t think of another voice I’d rather hear.

Listen to “O-o-h Child” 

Listen to “Wild Child”

By the way, Jackson Browne wrote a song about Carter in 1980 which pretty much sums it up and says it all: it’s called “That Girl Could Sing.”

Bono loves Billy…

GL375941

I wonder sometimes how it feels for Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen seeing Coldplay soar to global domination using the Echo sound blueprint so flagrantly. Chris Martin has always openly acknowledged his worship and the two ultimately worked together, struck up a friendship and so on, but as Ian spoke so often back in the day of being the “greatest band in the world”, I’ve always wondered if it secretly irked him seeing Coldplay rise to such extreme heights, serving up their more palatable version of the Echo sound.

That scenario always brings to mind for me the creative connection between ’80s weirdo pop maestros, Associates and the universal behemoth that is U2. Billy MacKenzie was the eccentric, outrageously gifted singer in the aforementioned Associates and with the exception of the geekier music fans of a certain age, it’s pretty unlikely that the average U2 fan has heard of him or his band…yet there is a pretty distinct and clear influence of Billy onto Bono, which the latter has spoken about in the most reverential and loving terms, going so far as to provide the forward to Billy’s posthumous biography, “The Glamour Chase”by Tom Doyle from 1999.

No one sounded like Billy. It’s generally acknowledged that 1982’s Sulk, the third Associates album, was the peak of their artistic achievement and it is without a doubt their most consistently pleasing record. It’s plastic operatic pop, all over the top yearning, crooning and chorus’s.

Billy was a victim of his own gift. His voice was so otherworldly and transcendent that providing a suitable and ideal background for it to shine was a challenge. Fact is, once he began his solo career post-Associates, the quality of the songs on offer were not equal to the quality of the voice, making for some spotty releases. This is not to say there weren’t moments of genuine jaw-dropping beauty along the way, it’s just that the standard established with Associates proved impossible to maintain as his post-band career moved forward.

Check out the links below to hear Bono read his forward to Billy’s bio book aloud and listen to Billy himself do his thing with Associates and on his own. 

Oh and here is a hoary old U2 classic for comparison. I totally can totally hear that Billy Mackenzie spirit in this epic, stadium gargantuan monster thing…and I love it.

There’s a lot of love in what Bono is saying and no matter what you think of him (Self righteous ? Pompous? Insufferable?), his reverence for this glorious boy is pretty beautiful…and you can still hear it to this day, every time he opens his mouth to sing to the enormous crowds at these U2 shows, which is the coolest thing of all.

It’s I, Smiley Culture…

Lord, these two songs are so damn great. David Emmanuel was better known as Smiley Culture and  responsible for the pair of classics above; 1984’s “Police Officer” and 1985’s “Cockney Translation”. Both are brilliantly infectious and feature some truly clever and pointed social criticism in their colorful, candy-reggae wrappers. They respectively managed to hit #’s 12 and 71 in the UK charts, but falling short of # 1 is no reflection on their enduring wonderfulness: they are just pop, pop, pop, both of their time and timeless. Smiley died under mysterious circumstances in 2011 ( lots of info around regarding this so encourage you to search the web for more)…but right now, want to just look up and acknowledge these forever amazing confections.

Blessings from the Beach Boys…

04 beachboys1967HAV

Here’s a geeky question for you. Ready ?…because I’m telling you it’s really geeky. Okay, so what would your “dream band” sound like ? The one that would encapsulate everything you love in the musical universe in every way ? Vocals, sound, songs, everything. I love hearing people’s answers to this because they are often weird as hell, simultaneously awesome and distressing. I’ve spent (too) many waking hours pondering this question and know without question that my mythical band would involve ’70s era Chaka Khan or Gladys Knight fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973. It shouldn’t surprise that I’m still waiting for this unicorn to arrive. Okay, I had a false alarm a few years back when Laura Mvula first came onto the scene. She had the voice and there were some Brian Wilson-esque flourishes production-wise on her debut LP both of which were enough to raise my childish hopes for a second…but no, as sweet as it was in parts, it just wasn’t it. And so, in the interim, I’ve had to make do with other stuff . Maybe “make do” is a bad way to put it as there have been a whole lotta beautiful, singular songs that have surfaced over recent years by a new generation of artists that have been touched by that Wilson genius ( not just Brian’s but Dennis’s too). Songs that proudly wear their Pacific Ocean saturated hearts on their sleeves.

Here’s a playlist called, “Beach Boy-esque” and I ask that you forgive me on that title. It’s been in my iTunes with that name for ages because basically, that’s what every song in it is. It’s full of tracks that have that influence, that feel, that signature Wilson thing and is suitable for both extended driving excursions or solitary sessions of introspection in your room (where else). There are some truly beautiful things out there so have a listen and hey, if anyone out there has any recommendations, I wanna know a.s.a.p. !

The Beach Boy-esque Playlist:

p.s. The playlist doesn’t include Lewis Taylor’s The Lost Album which is basically the sound of a one man British-Soul-Beach Boys. This is because I insist you listen to the whole thing. It is ridiculously, mindblowing-ly gorgeous.

Curve “Coast is Clear” (1991)

Toni Halliday of Curve was not a warm, sweet girl next door. No. She was all mean and scary and beautiful like Fairuza Balk in “The Craft”. This persona was to me best exemplified during a show Curve played at Irving Plaza, in NYC, back in the ’90s. In between songs a guy predictably yelled out “marry me !” to her. Toni, the human embodiment of a raven, stood at the mike, totally deadpan, then said and I quote “In your fuckin’ dreams mate“. It was uttered with such hostility I still have nightmares about it. “Coast is Clear” is a chilly, cold, wondrous piece of alternative shoegazery, is basically the blueprint for most songs by Garbage and is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Curve is concerned. Definitely check out their first 2 studio albums ” Doppelgänger”, and ” Cuckoo”, as well as “Pubic Fruit”, a compilation of their early EP’s. It’s all scary good.

War “City Country City” (1973)

Here’s a show of love from Guest Rediscover-er, Andy Moreno, of the Brooklyn Food Monkey blog. Take it away Andy….

Even though War’s “The World is a Ghetto”, was the #1 selling album in 1973, I don’t feel they’ve received their deserved accolades: they were, and are, a treasure. Recently I’ve been revisiting key albums from my brother’s 70’s record collection, ones that moved me enough to ultimately include them in my own pile.   He’s 68 now, and battling liver cancer. This ritual helps me to feel close to him while examining that time from an older perspective.

Musically, the 70’s had so many faces, emotions, and ways of mirroring the world.  Wherever you were in your life, there were bands to perfectly portray that place.  War’s instrumental track “City Country City” is an excellent example of their moody variety of musicianship.  Like a song recalling better days, Lonnie Jordan’s organ gives a gorgeous sundowning feel, before he lights it all on fire. That pairs just right with Lee Oskar’s slightly somber, and hypnotic, genius harmonica chorus.  A sax solo was never so cool, with conga drums guiding you through it.  In this song, you hear all the energy of youth, as reality and struggles pour in. For me, this multi-cultural blend of Latin, funk and jazz especially in both this album, and “All Day Music” (1971), perfectly echo the bleakness, and grace of my Midwest factory hometown.

Colourbox “The Moon is Blue” ( 1985)

Colourbox were an unusual, esoteric pop band that were on the 4ad label, and put out a grand total of 1 full length album, in 1985. It was a absolutely a pop record, with proper songs, and ear candy, but it also had an electronic tinge, and featured some nascent sampling experiments. It was unquestionably different, and sounded nothing like the other stuff that was big at the time ( that being Duran Duran, Culture Club and the like). The band consisted of Martyn, and Steven Young, who later went onto to fame, as part of M/A/A/R/S, creators of the massive “Pump up the Volume”, and a vocalist by the name of Lorita Grahame.

I stumbled upon them after reading a review of this song back in the day, their new single from summer of ’85, and bought it solely based on the positive review, without hearing it. When I did, I just fell in love, and couldn’t stop playing it. It sounds like the Ronettes in outer space, a big lush, melodic, and desperate waltz. And so here’s to it, 32 years later, and still a gorgeous thing.