Song of the day: “I Should Have Known Better” by The Beatles (1964)

This song never fails to make me stupidly happy.

He’s wearing his lucky rings.


Desert Island Discs: “Above The Blue” by Vegas With Randolph (2011)

Image from vegaswithrandolph.bandcamp.com

Serendipity? Synchronicity? The gods of rock’n’roll smiling upon me? I’m not sure what caused this fortuitous sequence of events. All I know is I’m listening to one of the best CDs I’ve heard in a year: “Above The Blue” by Washington DC band Vegas With Randolph.

I may not know why it happened, but I do know how. I first heard Vegas With Randolph while rockin’ out to “Drink A Toast To Innocence.” Their take on “Cool Change” by Little River Band was one of the highlights on a CD packed full of highlights. This led to an Facebook chat with Eric Kern, and his generous offer of a promotional CD for radio airplay. Naturally I jumped at it, and I’m glad I did.

This, folks, is one hell of a fun CD. It includes a love song to Marisa Tomei that Fountains Of Wayne would give their eyeteeth for, a celebration of fine single-malt Scotch at Christmastime, lovers becoming trees and growing old and strong together, a suite of songs that will remind you of side two of “Abbey Road,” and the coolest little-kid-singalong this side of They Might Be Giants.

VWR’s awesome, inventive instrumentation, tight ensemble playing, and clever lyrics have gained comparisons to Fountains Of Wayne, Squeeze, Sloan, and Fastball (all favorites of mine). I’ll add Teenage Fanclub, Marshall Crenshaw, and Big Star to that list.

Reviewer Mike Lidskin from Twirl Radio put it this way:

These songs are written by regular guys, but they’re not regular songs. Incredibly articulate, poetic wordplay informs each line. Not one thought or sentiment is wasted. But these tunes weren’t meant to be dissected in your college literature class. They were designed to blast out of rolled down car windows, as you cruise around your town. Play them on your boombox at the beach. Make sure they’re the soundtrack to your backyard barbeque and swim party. Ladies and gentlemen, this is pure, fuel-injected American rock’n’roll, straight from our nation’s capital. Muscular, but sensitive. The songs celebrate, but never swagger. It’s thinking man’s party music.

And not just the lyrics are clever: there’s inventiveness to the music as well. Songs start and build and end in ways that keep you on your toes. Opening track “The Better Part” breaks in the middle to a guitar solo that would do Beatle George proud, driven by masterful drumming that echoes Keith Moon. The title track starts out with a baroque flourish reminiscent of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” then kicks into high gear with a vengeance. “She Does It For Me” builds in a way that makes you think it’ll resolve to another verse or chorus, then ends abruptly with an echoing guitar chord. VWR tweak the conventions of “pop craft” and make it sound fresh, yet familiar.

Sometimes you hear a song you need to hear at just the right time. The track that, ironically, jarred me out of my morning commute was “Some Time To Live,” an anthem to not letting life pass you by.



We spend our time on many things
We don’t care about
God help us with all these little things
And what gets left out

It might be making music
It might be climbing mountains
It might be dancing barefoot
In the palace water fountains
So go fishing in Alaska
Look for Incas in Peru
It doesn’t matter what it is
You’ve gotta find a way to do it

‘Cause you and I will blink
And we will all be dead or eighty
And nobody ever says
“I wish I’d only worked my whole life away”

“A Lesser Fool” features a letter-perfect vocal turn by fellow Facebook friend Maxi Dunn.

A lesser fool than I is loving you
And I hope you’re very happy too
With a lesser fool

A lesser fool is living my dream
And he isn’t as dumb as he seems
You’re the first thing he sees in the morning
And the last voice he hears at night

A lesser fool stays by your side
And he doesn’t over-analyze
A lesser fool would know a good thing
From the log that’s in his eye

A lesser fool than I was overdue
So I wish the very best for you
And a lesser fool

The later part of the disc features a “song suite” entitled “Double Play,” songs distinct from one another but that meld together like the extended sequences at the end of “Abbey Road.” Again from Mike Lidskin: “If you want to have the full Vegas With Randolph experience, but only have 11 minutes of spare time, this represents it well.” Indeed.

And the little-kid-singalong song? That’s “The Sippy Cup Song.” I defy you to not sing along.

You can turn it upside down
You can roll it on the floor
You can lose it in the couch
And you can throw it out the door
You’ve really got to love it
For its clever plastic top
And mom and dad are happy
‘Cause it never spills a drop

It’s a sippy sippy cup
You’re drinking up
Drink it all day long
It’s a sippy sippy cup
You’re drinking up
Drink until it’s gone

If you want to hear a CD with music that’s fun and inventive, that’ll remind you what you dig about rock’n’roll, and that’ll rekindle your life-threatening crush on Marisa Tomei (assuming it even needed rekindling), you would do well to pick up “Above The Blue.” A Desert Island Disc, for sure.


Desert Island Discs: “Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock” (2013)

Image from kickstarter.com

If you’ve read this blog very long, you’ve seen that I work in radio. I help my sister Colleen run the small-market radio station she owns.  It’s the thing that gives me the most joy in life. She and her late husband John first went on the air right about this time of year back in 1995, eighteen years ago. John was not only my brother-in-law and my boss, but also my oldest friend – – since grade seven, when Lyndon Johnson was President. Yeah, we go back a ways.

John was a man of convictions. One of his most consistent was that his radio station should never, ever play cover versions of songs. Only originals. John and I butted heads about this many times over the years: he said he had heard too many awful, misguided, washed-out covers through the years, and wanted none of it. He appreciated good production values in music, so couldn’t stand it when an artist covered one of his favorite songs and mangled it beyond enjoyability. (He nearly suffered apoplexy over Patti LaBelle and The Blue Belles’ R and B cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”)

He had a moment of cognitive dissonance when I observed that the chart singles by his all-time favorite band, Herman’s Hermits, were virtually all covers. But he stood firm, and through skulduggery and time I snuck some well-crafted covers onto the playlist.

So why bring this up? Because, despite his no-covers pronouncements, John would have loved this album: “Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock.” Bill Sammons in his excellent blog “Kool Kovers” writes something my friend would have endorsed heartily: “The best cover versions are, as my wife says, different enough so it’s fresh but the same enough to where you can sing along if you want.”

Executive producer Andrew Curry drew inspiration from a Facebook thread that nominated the greatest lite rock songs of all time: the soundtrack of his youth, as he put it. The idea of a tribute album began to germinate, under the umbrella name “Monsters Of Lite Rock,” and Andrew successfully pitched the project on the fund-raising website Kickstarter.

Mad props also to the lovely and talented Elizabeth Racz (“Miss Klaatu”), who served ably as Associate Producer. Nobody could have done better.

A while back I wrote about the project, and was gratified to see Andrew achieve his funding goal in just a few weeks. There was a definite buzz around this project, especially in the power pop community. Thanks to Andrew, by the way, for the go-ahead to stream a few of the songs on this blog. Trust me, I’m confident that you’ll want the whole album. Go to Bandcamp.

In different hands this album might have become an exercise in campy excess and parody. Andrew avoids that, as everyone’s genuine affection for these songs comes through from the very first track. To quote reviewer Jaimie Vernon: “This is not a joke, folks. The recreations are done with love and devotion. The result is top notch! Highly recommended.”

Image from thetimemachineradioshow.blogspot.com

Long-time Facebook pal and KBEK-FM favorite Eytan Mirsky conjures up a cinematic rendition of one of the quintessential lite rock hits, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. Eytan brings the right element of wry humor to this chronicle of… well, thwarted two-timing. (A shout-out to fellow FB pal, producer Jon Gordon.)

 

 

 

Image from powerpop.blogspot.com

One of the many stellar tracks on this album comes from Vegas With Randolph, with their take on Little River Band’s “Cool Change.” Once again, from Bill Sammons’ “Kool Kovers”:

THIS, my friends, is how to do a cover! It completely respects the song, keeping all signature parts intact. Yet it sounds like the band who’s playing the song: putting their identity on it, but not in an overwhelming way.

 

Image from purevolume.com

Back in the day, lite rock bore the (occasionally deserved) mantle of being too saccharine. And let’s face it, some of the originals were a bit milquetoast and begged to get the wimpiness knocked out of them. The Davenports do just that – they bring drive and energy to Randy Vanwarmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most” that the original needed in the worst way.

 

 

Image from thetimemachineradioshow.blogspot.com

One of my most pleasant discoveries is Lisa Mychols’ turn on “Don’t Give Up On Us.” Lisa adds crunch and punch and multiple layers to the song, and you believe it in a way that David Soul never quite pulled off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like greatest-hits albums, tribute albums are a hit-or-miss affair. Many are bland, a few are innovative, and a very small handful approach excellence. “Drink A Toast To Innocence” is in that category. It’ll catapult you back to a happy time.

Bandcamp is the place to go for this album. Also check out the Monsters Of Lite Rock website.

And by the way: all these tracks are now in hot rotation on our station. I’m sure John concurs. Somewhere out there, he’s probably rockin’ out to “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” A cover, by the way.


Desert Island Singles: “Rendezvous” by The Hudson Brothers (1975)

Image from 8-track-shack.com

Image from newmusicunited.wordpress.com

The Hudson Brothers were The Monkees* in reverse: they were a real band that got turned into teenybopper idols. Not unlike Hanson. I don’t know what the music industry’s obsession is with chopping and channeling and modifying and rebranding brother acts. (Do they do the same with sister acts?)

* – Disclaimer: I’m a huge Monkees fan. It’s inexcusable that they’re not in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Another topic for another day.

Bill, Mark, and Brett Hudson started making records in the late ’60s. They recorded under various names and bounced from label to label until the mid ’70s, when they landed on Sir Elton John’s Rocket Records. Their onstage banter and shenanigans were hysterically funny, and they caught the attention of CBS television execs. An evening variety show followed, then a couple of Saturday morning kids’ shows. In the meantime, however, they kept on recording astonishingly good music.

Bill Hudson, the oldest brother, married and divorced Goldie Hawn and is the father of actress Kate Hudson. (Dude, Goldie Hawn, fer crissake.)  He still works as a session musician and actor. Middle brother Mark was the bandleader for Joan Rivers’ short-lived late night talk show on Fox, and eventually helped Ringo Starr put together the All-Starr Band. Kid brother Brett was groomed to be a teenybopper idol, which never quite worked out. Later he underwent treatment for throat cancer, and is now in remission and works as a movie producer.

“Rendezvous” is from their best album, Ba-Fa. Produced by Sir Elton’s longtime songwriting collaborator Bernie Taupin, this is about as perfect as a three-and-a-half-minute power pop song gets. Written by the Hudsons and Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, whose influence is easy to hear. More hooks than a tackle box. A great sing-able chorus with falsetto the first two times, and not the third time just to throw us off. A cheesy Farfisa organ and a Clarence Clemons-style sax break. An a capella break near the end that relaunches back to the chorus. And it builds nicely too: it opens with just a guitar riff, adds the Farfisa, and then kicks into high gear. This is sing-along-in-the-car music.

This song just makes me stupidly happy, like Shonen Knife and Mac & Katie Kissoon. Disappointingly, all the Hudsons’ records are out of print. A best-of compilation was released briefly on CD: used copies start at about $75 on Amazon. If any knowledgeable reader can hook me up with some mp3s, give me a shout. I’d be eternally grateful.


Song of the night: “She’s Gone” by Blue Cartoon (1999)

Heard this song for the first time on a compilation power pop CD called “International Pop Overthrow” (the first of about 14 volumes so far, I think). This is by far the standout song on the disc. Songwriter John McElhenny was lead singer with Blue Cartoon on their first two albums, then amicably parted company with the band. He’s since re-recorded this with his new band Buzzie. Blue Cartoon’s version is still the best.

She’s alone
Pretty face
And a smile left out for me
She looks up
Penetrates the darkness around me
Surrounding me…

She’s gone – now I’m sorry she was ever here
She’s gone – now I’m wishing she would reappear
She’s gone – I was hurting even less
When she was here

I can still feel her near
And the taste of her perfume
On my tongue
In my bed
And in summer’s golden hue

We move on through the days
She was captured for a while
She was here yesterday
I don’t know if she’ll come today
Come today…

She’s gone – now I’m sorry she was ever here
She’s gone – now I’m wishing she would reappear
She’s gone – I was hurting even less
When she was here

She moves on
I’m alone
But it feels like yesterday
She was here
In my arms
But there’s nothing left to say

She’s gone – now I’m sorry she was ever here
She’s gone – now I’m wishing she would reappear
She’s gone – I was hurting even less
When she was here


Song of the day: “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Michael Carpenter

Image from kickstarter.com

This is a “cover” version of a ’70s pop classic by Cliff Richard. It’s part of a new music project called “Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock.” The good folks at Kickstarter are helping to make it happen; I don’t have a stake in it, except that I dig the hell out of these songs and want this to succeed.

Check it out. It’ll bring back some good memories. Contribute if you can.

PS: I already got the green light from the station owner. All of these songs will be in hot rotation on the home of the hits, KBEK 95.5 FM.

PPS: A nice shout-out from Andrew Curry!


Song of the night: “When Losers Rule The World” by The Cicadas (1997)

A power-pop side project featuring two of my favorites: Rodney Crowell and Ben Vaughn. This has a definite Nick Lowe vibe to it.