THE GROOVE MUSIC LIFE

Rock

INCOMING REISSUE: LITTLE RICHARD “Here’s Little Richard”

Concord Music Group has a new reissue of Little Richard’s first album, Here’s Little Richard, remastered, expanded with two demos and (pending the proper rights clearances) an interview with Specialty Records head Art Rupe, and enhanced with two videos he did for a screen test for the movie The Girl Can’t Help It, and ready for release on April 17th. I’ve already heard an advance CDR of the reissue, and it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard on these classic tracks – but the review won’t be up until the day the CD is released, and then over at our sister site Music Is Like Oxygen. In the meantime, here’s the man himself with the song that started it all:

REVIEW: VAN HALEN “Tattoo” single

VAN HALEN
“Tattoo” (single)

(Interscope)
Available on iTunes
Rating: ★★★★★

It takes a special band to be able to just pick up where they left off. The Stooges did it with The Weirdness (despite “meh” production from Steve Albini). Mission of Burma did it with ONoffON and kept it up for two albums straight since then. The New York Dolls did it with One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (and then blew it with Dancing Backwards In High Heels). From the sounds of this first single, Van Halen may very well be doing the same trick next month on their new album A Different Kind of Truth – their first album since David Lee Roth made his long-overdue return to the band.

If you felt like you were left hanging after the reconstituted original lineup did “Me Wise Magic” on the Best of Van Halen album in 1996 and then left Diamond Dave behind in favor of “Gary Jabroni”, hang no more. Dave is in fine – no, excellent – voice, and Eddie is completely sober, cancer-free, and grinning from ear to ear. There’s some keyboards in the mix, but the two components important to truly classic Van Halen – David Lee Roth’s vocals and lyrics and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar – are upfront and in sync.

The proof is in the pudding. Go put in your iTunes pre-order now and tide yourself over with the single. Need more convincing, or just another glance at the video? Here you go:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WfQ-hV3WtA[/youtube]

REVIEW: SHONEN KNIFE “Osaka Ramones”

SHONEN KNIFE
Osaka Ramones: Tribute to The Ramones
(Good Charamel)
Available on CD, iTunes, AmazonMP3 and eMusic
Rating: ★★★★★

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This review was originally intended for what I have referred to at TGML's Facebook page as "The Secret Project", but since there's going to be an unavoidable delay in that project's debut, I've moved it here because I didn't want it to sit any longer. Shonen Knife deserves it.]

Naoko Yamano, Shonen Knife’s front woman, guitarist, chief songwriter, and only consistent member of the veteran Japanese trio (as well as a MILF to both the punk rock and J-pop fan bases), learned how to play guitar by listening to the Ramones. In that aspect, she already has one thing in common with millions of people around the world, this writer included. On top of the obvious Ramones influences that have been part and parcel of Shonen Knife’s music from the beginning of their storied career, the band has also been known to encore with Ramones songs and even do occasional gigs consisting of all Ramones covers under an assumed name, and their 2008 album Fun Fun Fun also contains a tribute song, “Ramones Forever”, that includes autobiographic details on how Naoko first heard the band and how Shonen Knife got to open for the Ramones on their last tour of Japan.

With their own 30th anniversary occurring this year, Naoko and her bandmates decided commemorate the occasion by cutting a full album of Ramones covers, using the name of their occasional Ramones tribute act side project, Osaka Ramones, as the album’s title. About half the album was recorded in their hometown, while the other half was recorded in America with Good Charamel founder (and GooGoo Dolls member) Robby Takac co-producing.

Outside of transposing the key signatures of some of the songs to make them more friendly to their normal female vocal ranges, Shonen Knife remained otherwise faithful to the original recordings, even trying to reproduce as accurately as possible the production styles of the original Ramones recordings (save for “Blitzkrieg Bop”, where the band and Takac wisely avoid emulating the extreme Meet the Beatles-style panning of the guitar and bass tracks in favor of a more contemporary mix). Also remaining unchanged are the gender viewpoints of the original songs, giving some of the covers an unintended faux-lesbian subtext.

The song selection isn’t as completely predictable. A few obvious choices – “Rock n’ Roll High School”, the aforementioned “Blitzkrieg Bop”, “Sheenah Is a Punk Rocker”, “Psycho Therapy” (thankfully, no “I Wanna Be Sedated”, which every bar band in America tends to play very badly) also share space with a couple of not-so-obvious choices, particularly “Scattergun” from the final Ramones studio album Adios Amigos! and “Chinese Rock” from End of the Century.

Given that Shonen Knife’s original songs often cover more kawaii (Japanese for “cute”) topics – food (“BBQ Party”, “I Wanna Eat Chocobars”, “Ice Cream City”), animals (“I Am A Cat”, “Deer Biscuits”), rock and roll (“Golden Years of Rock n’ Roll”, “Rock Society”, “Your Guitar”), campy sci-fi (“Riding on the Rocket”, “Giant Kitty”), with the rare weighty topic (“S*P*A*M”, “Economic Crisis”) – it is quite the shock to hear Naoko and the others (bassist Ritsuko Taneda and new drummer Emi Morimoto sing one song apiece) take on some of the Ramones’s darker lyrical moments, particularly with “Chinese Rocks”, “We’re A Happy Family”, and “Psychotherapy”. This doesn’t distract from or lower the quality of the album, just makes it stand out from the rest of the Shonen Knife catalog.

Beyond that, Osaka Ramones does exactly what Shonen Knife intended the album to do – pay tribute to their heroes and commemorate their own milestone anniversary, one made possible one way or another by the Ramones themselves. Fans of both the Ramones and Shonen Knife will love this, and if one is a fan of one band but not the other, hopefully the album will inspire explorations into the other’s back catalog.

An article I wish I’d written…

While I get the next blog post ready (hopefully by the end of tonight), here’s a little bonus reading material: an article from Alternative Press on the current financial struggles of most bands. Think before you do that illegal download or choose not to buy merch at a show, people…

Thanks to Christopher Fuentes-Woods for the link.

Dear Whiners: Stop Bitching About The Rock Hall of Fame Already!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees’ list for 2011 officially came out yesterday, although it started to leak the night before (Handsome Dick Manitoba had caught wind of Darlene Love being one of the inductees and proudly announced it on his Facebook page).

No beef with any of the nominees here. Tom Waits? Interesting left field choice – most people probably know Tom from songs that he’s written that other people have covered (“Downtown Train” as done by Rod Stewart, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” via The Ramones, “Ol’ 55” on the Eagles’ first album) than for some of his eclectic (but never out of print) solo albums like Small Change and Swordfishtrombones. Neil Diamond? I’ve heard a few whines from people who can’t get the image of him in the remake of The Jazz Singer, his 70’s adult-contempoary-leaning material or his regular, Vegas/revue-like concert performances out of their mind, but he’s a stellar songwriter with an undeniable track record – and his Bang Records material definitely qualifies as rock, as it did when it was first released in the mid-60’s. Alice Cooper? Not just Al himself, but the entire original band? Influential to both metal and punk, a real no brainer.

As usual when the nominees and inductees are announced, of course, there’s going to be a serious amount of whiners over who got picked and who got passed over. And nobody is whining more than fans of Kiss and Rush.

Let’s get Rush out of the way first. Their time will come – but it can wait. King Crimson and Yes, both of whom blazed trails that Rush were barely starting to copy when they recorded their first record, haven’t been inducted yet, and both bands are long overdue to get in. Hell, King Crimson still blaze trails every time they put a fucking CD out! Rush shouldn’t get in until the two bands that INVENTED progressive rock get in first. Simple as that.

Kiss, on the other hand… a few years ago, I would have agreed with the complaints about their being left out of the Rock Hall. Now, I couldn’t care less.

Quite frankly, Kiss and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame do not deserve each other.

Yes, I first picked up a guitar (as did hundreds of thousands of other kids, many of whom have become guitar heroes themselves) because of Ace Frehley. I owe him that. His 1978 solo album and his most recent album Anomaly are both pure genius, and the man’s talent as a guitarist and songwriter is both underrated and impeccable. And Paul Stanley is a blueprint for rock frontmen and quite a good songwriter himself.

Beyond that… forget it.

Kiss started out as a band, but once their glory days stated to peak around 1977-78 with all manner of merchandising, that’s when things started to crumble. Gene Simmons started paying less attention to his songwriting and bass playing and more attention to the topic of what can he slap the band’s (or in recent years, his own) name on to make a buck?

Yesterday, when the RHOF inductees were announced, Gene Simmons made an announcement of his own: He announced the release of… a new Kiss Kasket. One with the “scab” members of the band, space deuce Tommy Thayer and kitten Eric Singer, plastered on it along with Paul and Gene.

A lot of Kiss fans were pissed off at that development… until they heard that Kiss didn’t make the cut for the RHOF again.

Admittedly, the first Kiss Kasket was a punchline that fans were more than ready to forgive Gene Simmons for. Shameless as it was (and still is), Gene’s tongue-in-cheek remarks about the product seemed to have lightened the levity of the situation… at least until Dimebag Darrell was assassinated on 12.8.04, which led Simmons, in a rare show of generosity, to donate a Kiss Kasket to the Abbott family for Dime to be buried in. (Of course, Gene had to get a bit revisionist a few years down the line and boast that the band’s faces were tattooed on Dime’s chest – even though it is public knowledge that only Ace’s face is there!)

I would sooner argue that Ace Frehley should be inducted – as a solo artist. He’s been eligible since 2003, 25 years after his first solo album came out. He was the most influential and most talented member of the band, and his solo albums have been cause for celebration amongst rock fans every time he puts a new album out.

The new Kiss Kasket is an insult, though – and now, so is any idea that Kiss should be in the Rock Hall. The Marketing Hall of Fame would be more fitting. Gene Simmons and the Kiss Army should take a Kiss Kasket and bury the idea of Kiss getting into the Rock Hall for good.

And speaking of those armchair quarterbacks who complain about who’s ever been inducted or nominated… “Rock and Roll” is a very broad musical term, but from the complaints of most of these self-appointed experts, you would think there had to be a minimum amount of distortion on the electric guitars before something could qualify as rock, or that using horns, keyboards, or a different style of lead vocal were disqualifications. None of this is true. Look at many of the early, almost obligatory inductees to the Rock Hall: Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf… none of these artists were plugging solid-body electric guitars into Marshall stacks. Shit, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis played piano, not guitar, and they still rocked.

One should also be reminded that Rock and Roll, as wide of a genre is, is still part of a wider genre called pop music. Many writers of the day considered the likes of Elvis and the Beatles, and their contemporaries, to be pop artists (same thing with Frank Sinatra years before Elvis) – rock was still an almost verboten term to most people. Yet, who are the first three legendary artists your average rock icon will give props to? Right.

Rap music came out of rock and roll – so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC have been inducted in recent years, or that the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J have been nominated. Yet some people will run to their computers and whine about their inclusion, Whether they admit it or not, it’s often for closeted racist reasons – I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these same idiots buy into the “birther” conspiracies that have been thrown at President Obama since day one.

“If I had a say in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…” the typical rant goes every time a nomination or inductee list is announced. And then said ranter proceeds to reveal why they should never have a say! That, my friends, says it all.

This Next Year Is Going To Be Crazy…

2010 is barely two days old, and already there’s new music to look forward to. Nothing on the Western music front yet, as far as I know. But by the time this post is less than a week old, a new Shonen Knife album will be on my desk. A new Koda Kumi album and new Buono! album will follow next month, followed by a new Morning Musume album the month after that – the latter just in time to define the final months of my bachelorhood. And there’s also singles from MoMusu, AKB48, Buono! and SCANDAL to deal with during that time period as well. The last time I recall looking forward to a new non-J-pop release at the beginning of the year, it was The Stooges’ The Weirdness album, which was scheduled within days of Morning Musume dropping Sexy 8 Beat – and those two albums dropping within weeks of each other early in 2007 made the rest of that year quite the anti-climax. By the end of the year, while I was trying to sum up the year in albums at MotokoAoyama.com, I was also planning to propose to my girlfriend.

Oh yeah, there’s that little interruption.

Truth be told, I’m already planning ahead, and not just for that. I’ve already anticipated that there’s going to be a short break in blogging action around the last week of June and going on for at least another week. Which only means one thing: I intend to stay as busy as possible, trying to post as much as possible here and at So Hot She Shits Fire (and whenever I can at My Sweet Meetan), while also going into final preparations for the wedding, getting the last scenes folded into Here Is The Wonderland in the immediate weeks to come, thus finishing that long-in-the-making first draft before plunging into the second, which should only take a minuscule fraction of the time it took to complete the first draft. And also upping my guitar skills.

What?

Yeah, I got a new electric guitar over the Christmas holidays. I don’t think I will be discussing it much here – this blog is meant for serious music discussion, and personal ramblings about trying to re-master the pentatonic scale or getting a better handle on sweep picking don’t really belong here, so there may be a little place somewhere where I’ll let those out of my system. (Updates about my personal life don’t belong here either, of course. I might refer to them in vague here or in “conversation” at SHSSF, but that’s another story, and I already have places for that.)

This, in a nutshell, is as personal as I intend to get, and I’m keeping it in topic: 2010 is going to see a lot more activity here. Beyond that, I’m not hard to find, as the list of “personal” links that has always existed here and at this blog’s predecessor will attest. With one of the series that I hinted at back in November (the Best Albums of 2009 series) out of the way, the other one will be starting next week to formally kick off blogging activity here at TGML for 2010. For now, I’m going to spend the rest of the weekend decompressing from New Year’s Eve/Day.

Other than that (and my wedding), I don’t know what’s going to take place in 2010. Hell, I didn’t know when 2009 started that Morning Musume were getting ready to announce their American debut and that Ron Asheton was going to be transferred from the Stooges to Rock N’Roll Heaven’s Helluva Band either.

Stay tuned. Things are only going to get insane here. But in a good way, of course.