Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top 5 of 2010

As 2010 comes to an end I like to look back on all the CD's that came out throughout the year. This year I fell behind. I really focused on filling in a lot of gaps in my collection that I didn't buy a lot of new albums. The new discs I did buy, though, are incredible.

Here's my Top 5 of 2010:

5. Bigger Thomas- Steal My Sound

Bigger Thomas formed back in 1988 in New Brunswick, NJ. They started as Panic! and then changed their name to Bigger Thomas and in 1989 put out their first album. 21 years later they are still playing and still recording. This, their 5th album, contains some of their best songs yet: "Matinee Idol", "Permanent Error", and "Pure". They are keeping that 1980's sound alive and doing it well. In keeping with that theme they even got John "Teflon" Simms, the artist behind much of the 2 Tone artwork, to design the cover. I've known these guys for about 6 years and I've never been disappointed with a show or an album and they've certainly kept the streak alive with this one.

4. Budos Band- III

Budos Band exploded onto the scene back in 2005 with the release of their debut full length. It is now 5 years later and they have released their 3rd album on Daptone Records. This might be their best one yet (I haven't spent enough time with it yet to say for sure). Budos Band are one of the best instrumental bands out there. The rhythm section never falters and they have the best sounding horn section I've heard in a long time. I bought this album as soon as I saw it and I was blown away. The production is far superior to their first two albums and the grooves are darker and scarier but just as funky.

3. Mondo Drag- New Rituals

I got turned onto this band pretty soon after this album was released and I bought it immediately after hearing it. I hadn't been so excited about a new band in a very long time. This album is a hard one to write about because it doesn't really fit under any umbrella terms other than "modern psychedelia" but that doesn't really tell you anything about what it sounds like. It is as bluesy as it is spacey. The guitar goes from heavy to soft from song to song and the bass player takes a page out of Geezer Butler's book and doubles the guitar melody/riff a lot throughout the album. Start to finish it's an amazing album but it was one specific song that made me buy the CD as soon as I did after my first listen. The song is "Serpent Snake" and it's equal parts early Queens of the Stone Age and Hawkwind.

2. King Hammond- The King and I

I went to England in June/July of '05 and bought tons and tons of records and CD's. It was like a trip to Mecca for me. I was finally able to get the Madness CD Box Set with all of the studio albums, a ton of 2 Tone singles, some Dave Clark 5, etc. One specific CD I found was a comp called Ska Crazy. It's focus is post 2 Tone British ska. This CD is soley responsible for getting me to look at the fact that there was a gap between 2 Tone and the so called "3rd Wave" which has now become something of an obsession of mine. It had songs by Bad Manners, The Loafers, The Hotknives, Maroon Town, Judge Dread, and King Hammond. I always loved the King Hammond song from this comp, "Skaville UK", and I noticed Bad Manners did this song too but I always preferred the King Hammond version. I always tried to find out more about this King Hammond guy but there never seemed to be any information about him on the internet other than a few other compilations he was on. It wasn't until recently that I found out the history of King Hammond thanks to The Duff Guide to Ska breaking the news that King Hammond was putting out a new album. Turns out King Hammond is the alter ego of Nick Welsh (late 80's Bad Manners and Skaville UK). He put out two albums back in the day and returned after many many years to put out The King and I. It's a fantastic album filled with great, danceable skinhead reggae like only King Hammond can do.

1. Danzig- Deth Red Sabaoth

This one should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or read my Danzig/Misfits/Samhain article from last Halloween. I fuckin love Danzig and this is his best album since Danzig IV. His last album, 2004's Circle of Snakes was decent but not nearly as exciting as this one. For this album, as on Circle of Snakes, Tommy Victor(Lead singer/guitarist for Prong) plays guitar and adds a really interesting new sound to the band. The pinch harmonics mixed with the vintage, 1970's bass amps Danzig decided to record a lot of the guitar tracks through give it a really classic heavy metal sound. This album has Danzig's best songwriting since the early 1990's and the package features lots of busty undead women. Classic Danzig.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Songs

It's Christmas Eve and as I laid in bed this morning watching the Dr. Who marathon I began working on a list of my all time favorite Christmas songs. Here are the 15 songs I came up with:

15. Jona Lewie- Stop the Cavalry (1980)
Jona Lewie was an interesting character. He had a few singles on Stiff Records and this one was his biggest hit.

14. Vandals- Oi to the World (1996)
Who doesn't love this song? The No Doubt cover doesn't even compare to the original.

13. Run DMC- Christmas in Hollis (1987)
I always loved this song. It's a great beat (sampled from Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa") and some great rhymes.

12. Crucial Youth- X-Mastime for the Skins (1988)
This song, from the Crucial Yule single is a punk rock Christmas classic. These guys had a sense of humor and this song's pretty funny.

11. Fishbone- Slick Nick, You Devil You (1987)
This one's from the It's A Wonderful Life vinyl only EP but you can get all 4 tracks from that on the Fishbone 101 CD. It's a funny song about a drunk, unruly Santa Claus.

10. James White and the Blacks- Christmas with Satan (1984)
10 minutes of James Chance singing a song about hanging out with Satan on Christmas while squeaking his way through holiday classics in between the verses.

9. Kinks- Father Christmas (1977)
This is a Christmas classic. Only the Kinks would write a Christmas song about a bunch of kids beating up a mall Santa. It is more of a criticism of the British economy at the time disguised as a Christmas song.

8. Bad Manners- Christmas Time Again (1989)
This is a re-recorded version of "Skinhead Love Affair" with some lyrics about Christmas.

7. Weezer- Christmas Song (2000)
6. Weezer- Christmas Celebration (2000)
Both of these Weezer songs come from a 2 song promo release simply titled The Christmas E.P. Both songs are great Green Album era tunes.

5. Waitresses- Christmas Wrapping (1981)
This one is from the first Ze Records Christmas album. This has been a Christmas favorite since I was young. The Waitresses were an amazing band and should be known better than just by this and "I Know What Boys Like".

4. Fear- Fuck Christmas (1982)
Do I even have to explain why I love this song?

3. Sonics- Don't Believe in Christmas (1965)
2. Sonics- Santa Clause (1965)
These two are from the Merry Christmas album on Etiquette Records and were added to the CD reissue of Here are the Sonics!!! along with a third Christmas tune that didn't make the list called "The Village Idiot". "Don't Believe In Christmas" was also released as a split single with the Wailers' "Christmas Spirit" on the flip. Both of these songs are classic fuzz rock at its finest.

1. Pogues- Fairytale of New York (1987)
It doesn't get much better than this song. This has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard the album it comes from, If I Should Fall From Grace With God. It's a beautiful duet between Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl (fellow Stiff Records recording artist and daughter of Ewan MacColl who penned "Dirty Old Town" which the Pogues covered on Rum, Sodomy and the Lash).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Long Songs

In revisiting the blog I decided I want to start getting a little more editorial and a little more personal. I love exploring the discographies of bands and labels I find to be criminally underrated but I want to start to branch out. I decided to start by posting some lists. I love making lists of favorites because of the challenge. It's hard to pick favorites but it's also fun and I think you can learn a lot about someone by what they love enough to call their favorite.

I also thought that this would be a good way to get some discussion going (if anyone is actually reading this).

So, for the first list I have compiled a list of my ten favorite long songs. There are two criteria for this list: the song has to be over 15 minutes long and it has to be a studio track. I've always loved long, epic songs. It takes a lot of talent to record a song this long and keep it interesting the whole way through.

The list is laid out like this:

Band- Song Title [Album Title, Year, Length]

10. Kyuss- Odyssey/Conan Troutman/N.O./Whitewater [Welcome to Sky Valley, 1994, 18:19]

9. The Cure- Carnage Visor: The Soundtrack [Faith, 1981, 27:51]

8. Hawkwind- You Shouldn't Do That [In Search of Space, 1971, 15:42]

7. Yes- Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil) [Tales from Topographic Oceans, 1973, 21:34]

6. Pink Floyd- Atom Heart Mother Suite [Atom Heart Mother, 1970, 23:44]

5. Frank Zappa- Big Swifty [Waka/Jawaka, 1972, 17:22]

4. Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari- Grounation [Grounation, 1973, 29:50]

3. The Velvet Underground- Sister Ray [White Light/White Heat, 1968, 17:31]

2. Rush- 2112 [2112, 1976, 20:33]

1. Monster Magnet- Tab... [25......Tab, 1991, 32:15]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moon Records Vol. 2

So, It's been almost a year since my last post. I don't know what happened but time really got away from me. I have recently resurrected the blog, though, and have been going through an updating old posts and preparing some new articles for the near future. First up is the next volume of my trek through the Moon Records catalog.

Dieter Osten- East of Eden (Toast 11/ Toast 12)

This is another weird one from the early Moon catalog. This is a full length album released in 1986 by Dieter Runge, the man who brought you the East of Eden 7" single 2 years earlier, both songs from which can be found on this full length LP. There are only two reggae/ska songs on the album, one being "Sea of Happiness" from the single. The rest of the album is just really good rock and roll. Some of it almost borders on having a Mod influence.

Toasters/Beat Brigade split 7" (Toast 13/ Toast 14)

This 7", released in 1987, contains one song each from The Toasters and Beat Brigade. The Toasters song is "Talk Is Cheap" and is the same version of the song found on their album. The real gem is the Beat Brigade song, "Try and Try Again." Last time we heard from Beat Brigade it was "Armageddon Beat" from N.Y. Beat. That song was a catchy, fun calypso number. This time around it's completely different. "Try and Try Again" is a fast and incredibly catchy ska tune. It might be the fastest song they ever wrote and it's definitely my favorite. From that infectious guitar hook, to the horn lines, to the vocal melody that will have you singing the chorus in your head for weeks after hearing it, it's just about the perfect modern ska song.

Legal Gender/ The Scene split 7" (Toast 15/ Toast 16)

This split 7" between two very cool bands also came out in 1987. Legal Gender only released this one song before going through a slight personnel change and becoming the NY Citizens (more on them later). Their contribution to this split, "Overcast," sounds nothing like the fast, fun, danceable ska the Citizens would become known for over the next couple of years. Instead, it is more of a midtempo, dark, moody ska song with a punk chorus reminiscent musically of what The Scene and The Press were doing at the time. The Scene were a NY punk band who alligned themselves with the NYC ska scene. They had their song "Walking" on NY Beat a year earlier. This time they give us an even better song, "Bruise In Me." It has traces of the Oi the Press were doing at the time, while channeling the mod/punk of early Jam (circa In The City/This Is The Modern World). Where "Walking" was fast and fun in the spirit of '77 punk, "Bruise In Me" shows how they'd grown musically in just one year with a slowed down song that showed off much better and more intricate songwriting while maintaining the catchy, sing-a-long feel of "Walking."

Second Step- Do You Know This Man? b/w 2 Men In Suits (Toast 17/ Toast 18)

Another 7" was planned for release in 1987 but it, unfortunately, never saw the light of day. It's a real shame because Second Step were fantastic and apparently unstoppable and unmatched in a live setting from what I've heard from people who were lucky enough to have been there. There are obvious parallels to be made between Second Step and The Selecteras both had charismatic front women with the occasional male vocal. Neither bands had large horn sections either. The Selecter sometimes used Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell on recordings for trombone and trumpet respectively and Second Step had a permanent sax player and, at least for part of their career, a trombone player. All similarities aside, Second Step did their own thing and did it well. They generally went for a slower reggae sound as opposed to the uptempo ska happening all around them though they indulged in the Manhattan funk/rock sound which permeated through the scene in the late 80's with the song "Friction" (See Urban Blight and the Skinnerbox's Tales of the Red). It's really a shame this single never came to be because both songs are amazing. I have an interrupted live version of "Do You Know This Man?" and a demo of "2 Men in Suits." "Do You Know This Man?" is a very fun song with an incredibly catchy horn line. The verses border on early reggae and ska and is the fastest and most upbeat song I've heard by the band while the chorus goes into a darker reggae before the horns come back in and speed it up. "2 Men in Suits" is a slower reggae with a hypnotic sax riff and a very mod/soul chorus. I recently had the opportunity to see Remi (Second Step's lead singer) perform "2 Men in Suits" with the Beat Brigade at B.B. King's. I'm sure it was the closest I'll ever get to seeing Second Step.

*thanks to Marco on the Bass and Dave Barry for hipping me to more Second Step music than just the one track on the New York Beat LP. They were always one of my favorite bands on the comp and finding out there was more and actually being able to hear it was a great surprise.

Learn more about the Moon Records catalog by reading my previous article on the label here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Moon Records Vol. 1

The Music

Toasters- The Beat b/w Brixton Beat (Toast 1/Toast 2)

This was the single that started it all. It was released in 1983 and technically wasn't even released on Moon Records, the label on the record says Ice Bear Records. This single is incredibly rare, however, the two songs are available on the out of print Thrill Me Up CD Reissue on Moon Ska (which is WAY easier to find). If I had to compare the A-side, "The Beat," to anything I would compare it to The English Beat. The English Beat (or just The Beat in the UK) were a big influence on Bucket and I hear that in this song. It has that great mod guitar and is only barely a ska song (the keyboard and the drummer are the only instruments that maintain a typical ska beat, and the keyboard cuts in and out throughout the song) however, that doesn't make it any less of a ska masterpiece. "Brixton Beat" is the first version of what would eventually turn into the Toasters' classic "East Side Beat" on their debut LP, Skaboom!. It starts out as a slow dirge and then turns into a mid-tempo, dark ska song with very prominent bass. There's also some chilling female vocals harmonizing with Buck at points but mostly singing Ooooooooh's during the verses. The only thing similar to the more well known version found on Skaboom! is that the horn line on that one is played by the guitar once or twice on this original version.

East of Eden- Mystic Mood b/w Sea of Happiness (Toast 3/ Toast 4)

This single was released in 1984 and was the first release with a proper Moon Records imprint. My info on this is a bit hazy, but from what I understand the main musician is Dieter Runge, and he used a revolving cast of characters for this and the full length he put out a few years later. What I know for sure is he is German and was in a punk band called Rotzkotz from 1977-1981 before moving out to New York and recording this. (I've tried to find some Rotzkotz singles on the internet and the few times over the years they've popped up, they go for far too much money for me to afford.) His East of Eden material is very interesting. "Mystic Mood" is a cool mod-rocker. "Sea of Happiness" is a simple yet incredibly catchy ska song. The chorus will have you singing along immediately and you'll have the melody stuck in your head all day.

Toasters- Recriminations (Toast 5/Toast 6)

It's now 1985, and the Toasters are back with a 4-song 12" EP. This is the beginning of my favorite period of the band's music. These 4 songs are where they begin finding that classic late 80's sound they would perfect on the Skaboom LP. The first side is "Recriminations" and "Razor Cut," two of my favorite Toasters tracks. The flip side is "Run Rudy Run" and "Radiation Skank." This record is their most new-wavey, and since the band still hadn't added any horns to the lineup it's heavy on the guitar and keyboards and "Run Rudy Run" features the melodica work of Joe Jackson, of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" fame. Bucket knew Joe Jackson through working at Forbidden Planet in London. One day after Buck moved to New York City to work in Forbidden Planet's Manhattan location, Joe Jackson walked into the comic shop and the two caught up. The two British expatriats became friends and drinking buddies. Joe Jackson ended up producing this EP under a pseudonym, due to contractual obligations, and would play melodica with them live whenever he was in town. This EP was re-released twice in 1988 with a new cover on Unicorn Records in the UK and also on Moon Records. It was also added to Skaboom! on both CD reisssues (Moon Ska and Megalith).

Kill Me- s/t (Toast 7/ Toast 8)

This is a funk rock LP released in 1985. I haven't heard it yet (but I did just find a copy which should get to me in the mal in a week or two) but apparently the band consisted of a couple members of the Toasters and Bucket's friends from Forbidden Planet, a comic shop he used to work at.

Various- N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run (Toast 9/ Toast 10)

This comp came out in 1986 and is a landmark album in American ska history in that it was the first American ska compilation. It also means a lot to me as an album because this album is what got me into '80s American ska. Unless you really look deeper, not much is said about American ska music from the 1980's. The Toasters, Fishbone and Bim Skala Bim are the only bands that really get any credit. While those bands are/were great, they were not the only ska bands in town. N.Y. Beat opened my eyes to the fact that there was a coherent ska scene in New York City in the mid-eighties. There was more than just The Toasters, and some of the songs on this LP are arguably better than the 2 Toasters tracks. The bands on this comp are: The Toasters, Beat Brigade, The A Kings, Cryin Out Loud, City Beat, The Daybreakers, The Scene, The Press, Urban Blight, Second Step, The Boilers, Too True, and Floor Kiss. Every song is amazing and every band should have gotten the fame they deserved. My personal favorites are "Armageddon Beat" by Beat Brigade, "Escape from Reality" by Urban Blight, "Oppurtunity" by Second Step, "Brighter Days" by the Boilers, and "Why is the Boat so Small?" by Floor Kiss.

For more info on N.Y. Beat, you can check out the Marcoonthebass blog here and join this Facebook Group to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the album and read up on all of the bands that were featured on it.

Also, for those of you who love scene comps as much as I do, there is a NY Beat-esque comp devoted to what was going on in Boston called Mash It Up that you should definitely check out if given the chance. The LP is pretty hard to come by, but like NY Beat it was released on CD by Ska Records under the title Skaville USA Volume 2.

****As will be the case in all of these posts dedicated to the early days of Moon Records, The Duff Guide to Ska and Marco On The Bass provided invaluable information. I couldn't have written it without them, and EVERYONE should read those two blogs!*****