POP IN THE SHADOWS (Segue of the Day: 5/1/15)

Heavy listening this week and a lot catching up and careening around. Various avenues leading to various places (some of which I do intend to write about): early Conway Twitty, Swamp Dogg, more Fleetwood Mac, the 5 Royales, War, Hot Rocks, Al Green, Sheryl Crow, Roots of Funk, Staple Singers.

The usual mix, more or less, just a little...intensified.

And in that busy week nothing stuck quite as deeo as a couple of gorgeously off-hand little items from unexpected places, the first from the Bear Family’s new release celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Herman’s Hermits (which literally got here day before yesterday)…


and the second from 2007’s box set of the Stiff label, imaginatively titled The Big Stiff Box Set, which has been sitting around my house for at least a year, waiting on my not-very-persistent New Wave mood to strike…


I picked up the Hermits’ set in lieu of some generic greatest hits package or waiting until I could afford the complete Mickie Most sessions, which I wasn’t even sure I needed. I’m still not sure I need it, but the 66-track Bear Family treatment certainly has its deep pleasures, including a new shine on the few tracks I already considered essential (“I’m Into Something Good,” “A Must to Avoid,” “No Milk Today”) and a new level of intimacy made available by the gods of re-mastering that allowed me to hear qualities I’d missed in say, “End of the World,” and “This Door Swings Both Ways” that strengthened my abiding sense that Peter Noone was really a girl-group singer in disguise and gave me an entirely new sneaking suspicion that he might have been a first-rate one.

Better than I expected, in other words, and I can also say the same for the Stiff box, which yielded Devo’s re-imagination of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Dave Stewart’s re-imagination of “It’s My Party” among a slew of fine originals (plus re-visits with old friends like Rachel Sweet and Tracey Ullman…if I’m relying a tad heavily on “re-” it’s probably because listening to a lot of New Wave all at once always re-reminds me of its limitations as well as its joys).

And, emerging from the haze, two keepers that sound like lost soul-mates speaking to each other across a pop generation.

Neither was a hit.

In a better world, both would have been a whole lot bigger than “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” or “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”.

Here’s the once-famous Hermits, from 1966:

And the never-famous Jane Aire and the Belvederes, from 1978:

For now…another reminder that rock and roll is bottomless.


The “5” Royales” The Slummer, The Slum” (studio)

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a great museum and a necessary institution. I’m all for its existence (which a lot of people oppose on principle) and all I can say about the museum itself is that I’ve been there three times (the last in 2000) and was basically overwhelmed each time.

The nominating and selection process for actual inductees still leaves something to be desired, however–a fact a lot of pundits point out every year.

Just last year, for the first time, I saw a small raft of media complaints about the Hall’s long-dubious habit of ignoring blacks and women for the sake of continuing to define “rock and roll” as principally consisting of white boys with guitars (and who still comprise the vast majority of the “why aren’t they in there?” complaints, of course).

I’m not going to dig up the actual columns because, like all campaigns undertaken by the crit-illuminati–especially those mounted in the name of worthy causes–this one was rife with factual errors and general ignorance concerning the very points that were supposedly being made.

So, instead of complaining about what the usual suspects didn’t do, I’ll offer my own two cents.

Over the next few months, as this year’s nominating/electing process unwinds, I’ll weigh in occasionally with a few thoughts on who’s really been shafted by the process and why….beginning with the chips that are still left in the foundation stone.

Incidentally, my criterion is pretty simple: I ask myself what sort of hole there would be in the world if these acts never existed.

If I can see China…and China can see me….I advocate plugging the hole.

The 1950s:

The “5″ Royales: Hearing their guitar player, Loman Pauling, permanently changed the lives of Steve Cropper, Eric Clapton and James Brown amongst many, many others. Next to that, saying they were one of the greatest vocal groups in rock and roll history and that Pauling was writing songs like “The Slummer, The Slum” before anybody heard of Bob Dylan is actually superfluous. Nominated several times but never approved by the voters. Put them in already. (Tried It Can’t Deny It: “Something Moves Within My Heart”)

Richard Berry: Let’s put it this way. He would deserve to be in the Hall even if he wasn’t the auteur of “Louie, Louie.” And he would deserve to be in the Hall even if that’s all he was. Yes, Gram Parsons, who fulfilled a similarly undefinable role in the rock and roll cosmos later on, should be in. But Berry should be in first. (Tried It Can’t Deny It: “Take The Key”)

The Rock and Roll Trio (a.k.a. Johnny Burnette’s Rock and Roll Trio): Take the basic modern forms of crit- or fan-boy approved extremism (punk, metal, grunge and every other idea of rock and roll as a fistfight in the alley) and these, er, gentleman, pretty much invented all of them. If you think this was merely a question of happy accident (like, something getting knocked loose in Paul Burlison’s amplifier at the “Train Kept A Rollin’” session maybe) I suggest a close listen to the way Johnny Burnette sings “Don’t make me nervous, I’m holding a baseball bat,” in their version of “Honey Hush,” That’s the one where they made Joe Turner–the song’s originator who had been around the world seven thousand times and seen everything but a nuclear war–sound like a librarian from Hoboken. (Tried It Can’t Deny It: “Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track)”)

The Chantels: The alpha of the ethos which eventually came (however clumsily and falsely) to be called “girl group”–an ethos which, by any name, did not exist before them and has turned out to have no omega. (Tried It Can’t Deny It: “If You Try”)

(NOTE: There are certainly other artists and behind-the-scenes folks who still deserve consideration. This being my first crack at this, however, I’m only going to focus on what I think are the most obvious misunderstandings.)