Folks, we gotta move out the old before we can bring in the new - first come, first served! Remember, we value your patronage, thank you for chosing Star Maker Machine for your music needs.
PJ Harvey: Dress
Public Image Ltd.: The Suit
Marty Robbins: A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Green Shirt - Demo
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Richard Shindell: Che Guevara T-Shirt
A song of immigration and racial inequality from Richard Shindell, one of my favorite still-standing Fast Folk-era folksingers, who has a way with the words of the downtrodden and their confrontations with the trappings of so-called justice which in his best moments transcends even the crushed hopes and longing of Springsteen or Joan Baez on similar topics. Here, our titular shirt is worn by the narrator's young love, a girl for whom he has embarked upon a dangerous journey to the land of milk and honey, only to be stymied by terrorist-dream-driven border patrol assumptions about the iconic portrayal which she sports on her chest in the photograph he carries.
It's like I tell my media students: never forget the power of the iconographic to be misunderstood. What you wear speaks volumes, and though it may have a particular meaning to you, its message is hardly ever clear.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Standells - Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White [purchase]
"Good guys, bad guys
Which is which?
The white collar worker
Or the digger in the ditch?
And who's to say who's the better man?
Man, I've always done the best I can."
Like their breakthrough hit, "Dirty Water," The Standells' second charting single of 1966 tapped into Rolling Stones-esque angst, laying the groundwork for garage rock and punk rock. While I've linked above to a good Standells two-fer disc, you can also find "Good Guys" on Disc 3 of the beyond essential Nuggets box set. If you have even a shred of rock 'n' roll in your DNA, this 4-disc collection is no-brainer. 118 mostly great, almost uniformly obscure tracks and unbelievably thorough liner notes and photos adds up to Punk Rock 101.
Speaking of which, here's a couple bonus cover versions that further demonstrate the punk lineage:
Minor Threat - Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White [purchase]
Minor Threat included "Good Guys" on their swan song Salad Days EP, one of the few MT songs to feature an acoustic guitar. In fact, I'd say it's this close to being a pop song. Out of step, indeed.
Uncle Tupelo - Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White [live in '92; not available for purchase]
This comes from a March 1992 show at Lounge Ax in Chicago, about six weeks before original drummer, Mike Heidorn, quit the band. Capturing UT at the possible height of their powers, this gig also featured covers of "Love's Gonna Live Here Again" (Buck Owens), "Brand New Cadillac" (Clash), "Blue Eyes" (Gram Parsons/ISB), "The Concept" (they'd just finished a tour opening for Teenage Fanclub), and a medley of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Steppin' Stone." OK, so maybe sometimes good guys do wear white.
Chris Mills: Watch Chain
Chris Mills's album Kiss it Goodbye is, in my opinion, an unheralded classic of the turn-of-the-century alt-country boom. His lyrics can be decimating (though this song isn't the best example of that), and the musicianship on the record is great. I think some people are put off by his gravelly voice, if they give enough time to listen at all. What I like about a lot of the songs on this album, as opposed to some of his later records, is that he pairs his lead vocals with great backing singers. I think the secret weapon of this song is the guy singing harmonies. There is some quality to the tone of his voice that, for some reason, I really respond to. Perhaps it's simply the register and the smoothness of it, in contrast to Mills's smoker's rasp.
Jason Isbell - Dress Blues
Okay, I guess I lied yesterday when I said the Nelly tripe would be my last post on the clothes theme. I really did intend to be done yesterday but then last night this song came across the iPod while I was out for a road ride and it was an "I should've had a V8 moment" and I knew it had to be posted.
"Dress Blues" is about Jason's high school friend, Matthew Conley. Matthew joined the Marines out of high school and ended up being deployed to Iraq. He is survived by his wife Nicole and a daughter he never saw, Catherine.
This isn't a political song. You're pro-war or you're anti-war. This is a song about the human impact of the war. You can read more about Matthew's story here if you want. While the studio version of the song is moving enough, personally I think this live performance really drives the song home:
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The Biscuit Boys: White Habit
Here's a nun "chaser" for anyone who needs to cleanse the palate after the sexy clothes subtheme we seem to have evolved today. Step back a bit, and they look like a raft of penguins.
The accompanying crisp, pristine bluegrass instrumental comes courtesy of The Biscuit Boys, a short-lived band of young string wizards which broke up a year or two after after the millennium, just a little too early to take advantage of the whole next generation bluegrass revival which has been taking root over the past few years. And, as a relevant bonus, here's their great cover of John Hartford's You Don't have To Do That, which includes the lines Now why you gotta spend all that time in front of the mirror / And why you gotta spend all that time tryin' on clothes. It even has a kazoo in it, which is about as far from sexy as it gets.
The Biscuit Boys: You Don't Have To Do That
The New Pornographers: Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
I wasn't sure if I wanted to do this song for this week, since it's kind of a square peg for this week's theme. But then I found this image. And since the selections today seem to be more image-driven than anything else... why not. Also, it's a great song by one of my favorite bands.
Caviar: Tangerine Speedo
I had no intention of posting this song this week since it is not one of my favorites, but I feel I must do something to off set the glut of female body parts that have made their way into the blog this week by posting some male flesh as well. So ladies...this is for you.
Caviar is a Chicago-based rock band and this song got some airplay shortly after it was released. It also appeared in movies like the first Charlie's Angels, among others. At the very least, it's a really fun and catchy novelty-type song about a cute cabana boy that wears a tangerine-colored Speedo.
Nelly - Air Force Ones
[purchase, if you really must]
I figured I'd close this week out with a sample of everything that's wrong with hip-pop. Blatant consumerism and sellouts the likes of Nelly.
Yes it's a shitty song. Yes Nelly and his ilk are butt-fucking a proud genre of music while real hip-hop artist struggle but I felt no "clothes" week would be complete without at least one vapid radio friendly "go out to the mall and buy this" pop song.
My apologies and I'll try and make it up to you next week.
Fred Astaire: Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
This classic comes from the 1935 Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie Top Hat, which was their most successful collaboration and also Astaire's second-most successful film of his career (second only to Easter Parade). All the songs in the film, including this one and the even-more-famous "Cheek to Cheek," were written by Irving Berlin.
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
In an ironic twist, The Hollies' biggest hit was released after singer Allan Clarke, the last original member, left the band - it charted at #1 in both the US and Canada. What made it even a bit more odd: the group had just left their original record company, EMI/Parlophone, to sign with Polydor. In the meantime, EMI took a two year old track, Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress), and released it as a rival to The Hollies first Polydor single. Rock out to the tale of the 5'9", beautiful, tall beauty and FBI agent - sounds a bit like Twin Peaks!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The Mothers Of Invention: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
If clothes are good, I posit that the removal of clothes is even better.
For soundtrack to my opinion, I submit this go-go number from the under-rated 1968 version of The Mother Of Invention.
There will come a time when every evil
That we know will be an evil...
That we can rise above (rise above)
Esquivel: Mini Skirt
Not our usual fare, I'll admit. And there's always a risk that the "space age bachelor pad music" which arranger, composer, and bandleader Juan Garcia Esquivel defined in the fifties and sixties will come across as something not far from elevator music in the modern ear. But there's a surprisingly complex texture in the better works of the artist generally known simply as Esquivel. And what better tune for a midweek stretch than this lighthearted loungepop shorty, complete with wolf whistles, bouncy piano plunking, and the ubiquitous homophonic chorus?
ZZ Top - Blues Jeans Blues
Man. There is so much more to ZZ Top than their early '80's catalog. If I was making a list of the top 10 underrated bands out there I'm guessing ZZ Top would make my list. They recently made news by announcing that they're teaming up with Rick Rubin to record their next album.
"Blue Jeans Blues" comes from ZZ Top's 1975 release, Fandango!. It's the kind of blues song that needs to be listened to in a hot bar on a summer workday afternoon to fully appreciate.
Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat
The title track from Jenny Lewis' first solo album (the second is due out next week) is about a girl and her mother and their story of pride, revenge and redemption and how their fate was sealed all because of her mother's rabbit fur coat.
The song spans over a generation, from mother to daughter, and how their lives changed through the years, and how ultimately her mother's love for that coat led to her downfall.
Ana Egge: Wedding Dress
Songwriting challenge: tell a story without using any verbs. In Wedding Dress, Ana Egge sketches three characters, one in each verse. The chorus describes a wedding dress, which is used as a metaphor. Put it together and the listener knows exactly what happened. Amazing!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Spoon: The Fitted Shirt
This is one of my favorite Spoon songs. What I love about it—other than the way the rhythm throws you at the beginning—is that it's not a song about style. I mean, Spoon is a stylish band, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that. Britt Daniel's delivery oozes swagger, and the band never seems in a rush to rock you. They just do, as coolly as possible. But this song isn't about that. It's about fathers. It's about childhood and the mystery fathers can be to their kids. Dressing up each day and going away until dinner time, then mysteriously putting on a new set of clothes for the evening. It's about nostalgia. It's about growing up and solving the mystery. It's about preserving someone's modest legacy ("I'm gonna find buttons for my dad's old used shirt"). It's about love.
Randy Newman: You Can Leave Your Hat On
Apparently, there's a rich subset of headgear to be mined in this week's theme. But Randy Newman's classic isn't just about hats. Quite the opposite, in fact: it's about everything one could wear coming off sultry and slow, followed by a series of puppetmaster striptease chessmoves from a narrator obsessed with an unidentified, objectified stripper of some sort. I don't usually go for full-bore lyrics, but these read so perfectly like the mind of a dirty old man they just have to be shared:
Baby, take off your coat...(real slow)
Baby, take off your shoes...(here, I'll take your shoes)
Baby, take off your dress
Yes, yes, yes
You can leave your hat on...
Go on over there and turn on the light...no, all the lights
Now come back here and stand on this chair...that's right
Raise your arms up in to the air...shake 'em
You give me a reason to live
You give me a reason to live...
Suspicious minds are talking
Trying to tear us apart
They say that my love is wrong
They don't know what love is...
I know what love is
As a bonus, here's some great covers, from the slightly gawky adolescent fumbling of Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule to Marc Broussard's sexiest, funkiest Randy Newman cover ever. And, then, of course, there's Tom Jones, being Tom Jones. Not my bag, but apparently old ladies still throw their panties at him.
Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule: You Can Leave Your Hat On
[five free albums of covers]
Marc Broussard: You Can Leave Your Hat On
Tom Jones: You Can Leave Your Hat On
Mel McDaniel - Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On
Your girlfriend or wife probably has a pair. I know my wife does...That one pair of jeans that make you think about sexy time every time you see her in them.
Oklahoma native, Mel McDaniel wrote a song about it.
Rosie Thomas: Pretty Dress
I’m happy that Rosie Thomas has made a bit of a splash on the music blogosphere in recent years. She has a voice that falls somewhere between a young Joni Mitchell and Jane Siberry. (If you’ve never heard of Jane Siberry, stick around. I’ll be posting something by her as soon as an appropriate theme comes along. If you have heard of her, leave a comment.)
Getting back to Rosie Thomas, Pretty Dress is her take on the tale of The Ugly Duckling. Thomas tells the tale eloquently by keeping the lyrics simple; with repeated listenings, you come to realize just how well Thomas has told her tale, with not a word wasted
Monday, September 15, 2008
Peter Siegel: Polka Dot Bathing Suit
Western Massachusetts local hero Peter Siegel made it as far as nationally syndicated roots radio show etown a few years ago after winning first place in our local radio station's singer-songwriter contest, but he's still firmly under the radar as far as name recognition goes. Happily, in this part of the world, a versatile stringman with a good sense of humor and a radical bent towards the same seventies ideals that still linger in the post-Hippie environs of the Pioneer Valley can make a pretty good living hopping from contra dance to small old-timey coffehouse set, with bandmates and as a solo multi-instrumentalist, as long as he keeps his day job teaching music at an elementary school.
Peter's an old, dear friend, and our kids are great playmates, but despite my bias, I genuinely believe this is one of his best songs, a poppy, summery stand-out on his 2004 release The Show -- a solid album with newgrass, folk, psychedelic, and old-timey influences which he bills as a "political Vaudeville experience". For more samples, including a great old ragtime number and a few choice cuts from his newest album, head over to Peter's MySpace.
Leonard Cohen - Famous Blue Raincoat
In my opinion, Leonard Cohen is the very definition of cool. Any one else in this world who may be considered as cool is merely benefiting from the excess of cool falling from Mr. Cohen's coat tails.
Although Famous Blue Raincoat is one of Cohen's best-known songs, it is also one with which he remained dissatisfied. In an interview with Details magazine in 1993 he said:
"I never felt I really sealed that song; I never felt the carpentry was finished. That song and 'Bird on the Wire' were two songs I never successfully finished, but they were good enough to be used. Also, with the poverty of songs I have for each record, I can't afford to discard one as good as that. It's one of the better tunes I've written, but lyrically it's too mysterious, too unclear."Like many of Cohen's songs it is based on a true story.
Marvin Gaye: Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)
In Marvin Gaye's second solo album, he left behind his Jazz inclinations of his first record and brought some hard R&B with That Stubborn Kinda Fellow. The background vocals on Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home) come courtesy of Martha And The Vandellas. Enjoy some swingin' Marvin!
Prince: Raspberry Beret - 12"
Quite simply put - Raspberry Beret is one of my all-time favorite Pop songs. While the Paisley Underground was exploding in Los Angeles, Prince pulled yet another abrupt style change and delved into Psychedelia with more romance than his typical carnality. It's truly a lovely tune.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Nanci Griffith: Dress of Laces
The well-worn metaphor of a well-worn dress speaks to the weary heart of a girl desperate for love from an absentee father and a debauching mother; I won't give away the ending, but I will say that the moral here seems to be that laces let to wear too thin can snap -- revealing, too late, that which would have kept us from an inevitably rash and regretful end.
The song, written and originally recorded by relatively under-the-radar Texas singer-songwriter Saylor White, was given life on a national scale with the release of Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful), Nanci Griffith's second of two bestselling all-coversong tributes to her musical influences and peers. No less an authority than the oft-cited Oxford American Magazine included Griffith's gorgeous countryfolk ballad on their yearly Southern Sampler way back in 1998, and I think it bears repeating. With Lyle Lovett on harmony vocals for that perfect finishing touch.
Weezer: Pink Triangle
Well... I thought I'd go ahead and get the obligatory Weezer post out of the way and put up "Undone (The Sweater Song)." Then, I thought I'd go a different way.
"Pink Triangle" is from Weezer's oft-overlooked 1996 album Pinkerton... my favorite Weezer album. Pinkerton was Weezer's ambitious and extremely personal followup to their self-titled debut. Although the album has become a cult favorite, it generally got mixed reviews and was a bit of a commercial failure. "Pink Triangle," the third song released from the album, was actually the band's least successful single.
The story of the song is simple. Guy meets girl. Guy falls for girl. Guy envisions a future with girl involving marriage, children, and white picket fences. Guy sees pink triangle patch on girl's sleeve. Guy is broken-hearted. Her clothes gave her away.
Dolly Parton: Coat Of Many Colors
I've always admired Dolly Parton. This song in particular gets to the core of how great a songwriter she is, because it's beautiful, simple, and tells a story, and not just any story, but a very personal story that is also inspirational.
My mother always looks a bit misty-eyed when this song is on. Being a farmer's daughter herself, and being the girl wearing the flour sack dress to school and never feeling like she fit in because of it, and now looking back on it she remembers how hard her parents worked to feed and clothe her and her many siblings, she feels sad she never appreciated when she had it. Now she appreciates the difference, the homemade cookies in her lunchbox instead of the store bought ones, the time in the kitchen with her mother, the cherry picking with her sisters, they are all now experiences that she cherishes and feels blessed to have had instead of feeling like she wishes she were like the other girls as she did back then. Dolly puts her feelings into words and we see just how important and proud an article of clothing can make us.
Slaid Cleaves: Flowered Dresses
Slaid Cleaves. If it’s folk music you like… he’s your one-stop source. A man well versed in the art of storytelling, Slaid Cleaves evokes that dust-bowl, depression era ambiance as good as anyone. He’s the guy that put music a set of Woody Guthrie lyrics that became the namesake for my blog: This Mornin’ I Am Born Again.
Flowered Dresses was part of Slaid’s most recent (although released in 2006) album, Unsung. It’s a creative concept album in which Slaid worked to compile a group of songs from his peers – artists that opened for him, long time musical friends, etc. – and created an album that sounds as cohesive as any of his own material. Slaid re-tells other people’s songs like they were his own bed-time stories. Flowered Dresses is a song by fellow Austinite Karen Poston – who also penned one of Slaid’s most poignant tunes, Lydia. The two have collaborated often throughout the last decade.
Slaid Cleaves is currently on a West Coast tour and will be back making the rounds in Austin starting with a Halloween gig at the famous Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus. He says he’s got another batch of songs ready for a (partially underway) album tentatively named 'Hard To Believe.' Check out a full Slaid Cleaves artist spotlight here.
Donovan: I Love My Shirt
Do you have a shirt that you really love? Donovan does, with a tune guaranteed to generate earworms world-wide. You can try hating on this song, but it's not going to chase that melody out of your noggin.