Sunday, September 04, 2011

As the summer season slowly but surely creeps to a grinding halt and the nights begin to get longer 'n chillier, all I gotta say is has this been one of the most nondescript, dullsville summers to have plagued us in recent years or what!!!  I'm not just talkin' the overall weather situation (notice how it hadda get boiling hot right around the time the kiddies got sent back to school?---well, serves them bastards right!), but the major music listening jamz which have been rather snoozaroonie, at least to the point where even I've been having trouble filling out a Forced Exposure order to break this boredom spell that's upon me, that's how tiresome (and lacking in hotcha releases) these past few months have been! So, in keeping with the tradition set throughout the aforementioned months here's yet another rather toned down and certainly unworthy of your time post detailing a few items which have graced my ears withing the past 192 hours. Nothing much to sneeze at true, but at least I'm keeping up a hallowed tradition of subpar blogposts that dish out stuff you've known about for ages which can be easily enough found via other sources...not by me mind you but I figure if other "bloggers" can rehash old Dave Marsh sputum and present it as new and innovative maybe I can jump on their bandwagon anyday and maybe even get away with it!
FELLINI'S BASEMENT CD (the group's own label)

Yeah, I know that these Velvet-alikes just haven't been sustaining the proper amt. of consciousness ever since the dweebs amongst us (myself included!) were introduced to their wonders, but despite all of those precocious and altruistic indie singles and "Sweet Jane" covers that have made up a hefty part of indiedom's entire oeuvre these past twentysome years there have been a few acts inspired by their godliness that actually live up to the legend! Well, at least they live up to the legend that followed the VU in the likes of acts ranging from the Modern Lovers to Electric Eels which is more'n I can say about a good portion of the "Velvet Underground" "inspired" acts that seem to be hawking their wares on CD Baby these days..

There naturally are many exceptions...Fadensonnen being one that really knows how to take the better aspects of the early-Velvets and shape them into an especially New York-ish gutter image that will continue to last. I also remember one group called Bela who released a pair of rather digestible even if standard Velvet Underground-inspired disques back during the cusp of the last century. And today's act in question, Fellini's Basement, did a pretty snazz job of refashioning the Velvet swerve themselves to the point where they even sounded good enough to have been one of those mid-seventies knockoffs that used to get rock crits rushin' to their thesauruses to find words even more daunting and dignified than the ones they were using to describe Joni Mitchell's various mental breakdowns!

Fellini's Basement had quite a lot goin' for 'em as well as some solid supporters. Peter Crowley was but one of 'em which is why the group were often seen playing at the short-lived revival of Max's Kansas City, not to mention appearing at one of those Crowley nights at CBGB (Christmas '99 I believe) opening for none other'n Von Lmo. The list of admirers and associates listed on the insert includes such familiar monikers as Leee Black Childers and Billy Name,  and none other than former Pere Ubu/DNA/Eclectic Eels bassist Tim Wright produced the shebang!  It all seems like one of those glorious last gasps of seventies kultur run amok, and in many ways it probably was at least until the arrival of the Ruby and the Rednecks Cee-Dee a few years later.

But all seventies-fixations aside, FELLINI'S BASEMENT is one of those more recent under-the-counterculture platters that won't have you thinking all sugarplums and sweetness like a good portion of the nausea-inducing post-VU drek that's graced my ears many a time o'er the past few decades. Hard-edged and powerful, with a dedication to the big drone that always sounded thin when placed into the hands of the usual batch of superficial pretenders who always claim total Velvet devotion yet never could deliver on the group's more feral dimensions. "New York City", like its subject matter, is a tough thumper that conjures up memories of the better seventies VU adherers from Hackamore Brick to the Real Kids to the Styrene Money Band and really shows what this act coulda aspired to had they lasted a li'l longer on the club circuit. Whatever  did happen to 'em anyway?

I have the feeling that this 'un's probably being stored away in some box in some warehouse somewhere and is rather inexpensive at that. Maybe Peter Crowley can tip us off as to where we can get hold of it...I'm sure whoever put this 'un out has more'n a few to unload, if you know what I mean.
Magic Muscle-LAUGHS AND THRILLS CD (World Wide Records, EEC)

Since my cassette of this has been emitting a hefty squeal throughout
play I figured that it was time for an upgrade. And as far as upgrades go it's pretty snazz; not that the sound is particularly any better (as if that mattered to you) but at least there ain't that squeal that for the life of me I can't get rid of nohow!

Magic Muscle ain't exactly your typical "punk before punk" band given that the only one who could classify himself as being a punk in the remotest sense here's lead guitarist Huw Gower, and the only thing he's known for is the Records! Hardly like Jesse Hector playing in all of those great plow through groups he was in before the Hammersmith Gorillas! But still Magic Muscle were a relatively boss "people's band" type of act who had their early-seventies chops down well enough that they were even the opening act for the Hawkwind SPACE RITUAL tour, so let's just say that if you like that early-seventies form of English hard-scrape gnarl the kind that could be plentifully found on the DO WHAT THOU WILT collection you...uh, might like this.

There's none of the swirling oscillation that was part and parcel to the early-seventies Hawkwind swerve here, but Magic Muscle's still a great Ladbroke Grove feelinge right down to the cover of "Waiting For My Man" even if vocalist/guitarist/leader Rod Goodway mixed up the second and third verses. But  so what because this is all really hefty rock et roll that does tend to satisfy ya even if at times the momentum seems to be fiddling around trying to find that certain groove to get into. And true, you could say that there were probably thousands of bands like this in ol' Blighty that were sorta wallowing in the murk somewhere in between psychedelia and punk, but hay ain't that the entire fun and joy of it all? Especially seekin' 'em out in order to give 'em a li'l listen!

Kinda wonder how the old PENETRATION fanzine missed out on this one (maybe they did write about 'em only it ended up on one of their many faded pages), but it's a good example of what some of the more obscure acts in England were up to during the earlier part of the seventies. And once you get down to it, it only makes a hardcore rocker like yerself just wanna hear more, in fact EVERYTHING that was passing for the hard-edged seventies underground rock not only in England but in New York, El Lay, Paris, Tokyo and hey, maybe even in your own backyard so if you know where them tapes are, press 'em up and shoot 'em out!
Rodd Keith-SAUCERS IN THE SKY CD-R BURN (sorry, don't know the label but it's available on download somewhere out there in the great unknown!)

Leave it to Bill Shute to send me a Cee-Dee-Are of this eventually infamous singer of songs set to poetry, the kind you'd send along with a tidy sum to have it set to music and become about as famous as the previous doof who sent HIS hard won dough in! But it's not that I really don't cozy up to Rodd Keith and his various aliases' nerkball popisms at all---actually I cringe at the way all of those INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC/RE-SEARCH types wallowed in alla this mid-Amerigan gunk in order to feel superior to us proles who supposedly bolstered up the coffers of the likes of Keith thinkin' they were gonna be really rich 'n famous within a good fortnight at the latest!

As far as I can tell this ain't Keith during his set your poetry to music days (though I do think that's him playing an early Chamberlain on at least a few of these tracks) but hey, I can't really complain about Keith's gosharootie deliveries on a bevy of popsters spaning the entire sixties spectrum from 1961 gunch to '69 AM bangs 'n beads Bobby Sherman imitation. True it's nothing I'd want to make a steady diet of but sheesh, I can sure get my kicks listening to the ham belting it out on some pseudo-gospel quap or doing his best to cash in on that whole '62/'66-era tough male solo singer genre complete with wooh-woohing femme backing. There's even a li'l bitta surf music that rival's Lou Reed's excellent proto-Velvets warble on "Johnny Won't Surf No More" as well as an anti-drug schpiel which I guess was about as honest as Bill Cosby's considering Keith's legendary imbibing and ultimate self-snuff while tightrope walking a guardrail on a highway overpass.

Actually this is the perfect aural counterpart (at least in spirit) to those mid-sixties "adults only" crankout films that sure promised a whole lot but gave ya more cheezoidisms tossed back at ya (oh but what tasty curds they may have been!), and maybe if you too spent your summer days on the back porch playing pop-o-matic games by yourself while the neighbor's transistor blared the hits you might find at least a li'l bit of satisfaction in this.

I never used to cozy up to the Bearsville-period Sparks the way I did their early Island-era material. After thirtysome years I finally realize just why...although Sparks were certainly trying to sound English on those early releases, the El Lay atmosphere was still permeating their sound and style causing for some mighty contradictory storm fronts to form. Talk about a clash of kulturs! It wasn't until the Mael Brothers dumped the Mankeys and Harley Feinstein and headed over to old Blighty that they got their English group as well as the proper limey influx that was needed to hone their sound into that full fruity flavor that made the group so popular with import-bin shoppers back in those all-too-much-fun mid-seventies.

But that's no reason to slag the original group, who obviously put up a strong showing on this second platter for the Bearsville organization. There's a nice aura of pseudo-decadent snat that makes the otherwise iffy material stand out a li'l bit more than you would have given it credit for, and even with Russell's castrati vocalese there still seems to be enough of a underlying grit that has me thinking that these guys coulda been on the same wavelength as a number of early-seventies pre-punk washed-under-the-tide-of-a-ton-of-Chicago-albums wonders as the Sidewinders or even the Magic Tramps!

Yeah, I know that the entire Sparks demeanor has been misused and abused over the years, but if I do recall even some of the brighter rockscribes of the day (Alan Betrock comes to mind) had heavy hopes for Sparks as a major voice in seventies rock vocabularianism (Betrock enough that he had Russ Mael pose with Cherry Vanilla on the cover of the fifth issue of THE NEW YORK ROCKER) and I do recall reading somewhere that when Sparks played Max's Kansas City in '72  (see snap on right showing 'em receiving an award for selling twenty-five copies of their "Wonder Girl" single in Philadelphia Mississippi) about half of the local groups were front and center studying Earle Mankey's various guitar poses, if not guitar prowess. And although I really upped my chuck upon hearing these original recordings oh so many eons ago I now find them to be just the right mix of early/mid-seventies sophisto and punk musing! True, such a description might seem rather alien to the standard alien amongst us, but I've found that sneakin' this 'un in between my Elliot Murphy and New York Dolls albums might just be the best statement I could make about what those years had to offer us, in the most undiluted, suburban teenage pimplefarm rock fan way possible! And who knows, you might too!!!
Like you were expecting more??? Lucky you got these boogers, chum!


planckzoo said...

I dig the Magic Muscle, somewhere I have the 100 Miles Below LP, I recall digging it. Hu Grower also played with David Johansen for awhile.

Robert Cook said...

I have the opposite opinion about Sparks: I first discovered them by reading an article about them in CIRCUS magazine that was published to promote their new release at the time, A TWEETER IN WOOFER'S CLOTHING. I found it at the record store, bought it, brought it home, played it, and...HATED IT. But something about it got under my skin and I had to keep going back to it until, in quick time, I came to LOVE it! I special ordered their first lp, SPARKS, and, whaddaya know? The record store got in the first edition of their first lp, namely, HALFNELSON. I took it home and quickly learned to love it, too. I continued to buy and enjoy Sparks records through four or five of their Island brit-band iterations, but finally lost interest, for the most part, about the time of INTRODUCING SPARKS. (Punk had come along in the meantime and offered many other diversions.)

I still think the two Bearsville lps with the Mankey Brothers and Harley Feinstein are Sparks' finest hour. These albums include songs in a variety of styles and tempos, while their Brit-band records sound less varied, more rigid, sort of like Gilbert and Sullivan set to a drumbeat!

I also love the Earle Mankey produced album by L.A.'s The Quick, MONDO DECO, featuring great songs and harkening back to the Mankey-era Sparks, (natch!).

Shortly after I discovered Sparks, I found and quickly came to love a one-off album by Christopher Milk, SOME PEOPLE WILL DRINK ANYTHING, produced by Chris Thomas a few years before he produced the Sex Pistols. C.Milk included rock critic John Mendelsohnn on songwriting and vocals, and who, coincidentally, had played drums in the pre-Mankey Brothers version of Sparks.

Back in those days, when so much of popular rock seemed so lame or overblown or both, one had to find eccentric music through luck and diligence.