Had a cool shindig with some old friends here in the District over the weekend, a small get-together with about 20 of us in a sort-of Halloween Party theme, although I can’t recall anyone wearing costumes (I went over after work, so I was dressed as a restaurant manager…)
Anyway, I get there, and I’m met with far more of a warm welcome than I’m ever really due. “You bring tunes?”
“I said I would.” My friends know me well enough to know that if one of them requested a mix CD for changing cat litter, I’d make one.
So here’s the scene: we’re in a fairly cool part of DC (Georgetown), we’re in a cool townhouse, we’ve got a bunch of cool, hip folks drinking beer, wine, and assorted scotches and bourbons….
….and for some reason a bunch of really crappy music is playing. I’m pretty sure we were listening to Cradle Of Filth, but I can’t be sure. What I am sure of is that it didn’t work for Halloween music for a party. Apparently they’d started off playing it fairly loud, but that was met with protests of “turn this shit down”.
And so we add another person to the large group of folks who have no concept at all of how to make a Halloween mix CD. Scary is good–but scary is relative, and should be good creepy fun, too. Let me try to give you an example.
Way, way back in the college daze, Marc, Dan-O, Grant, and I came up with the brilliant idea of going on a camping trip where we’d be as far away from civilization as possible. I guess the other three guys had done a similar camping trip a few months before, and it was a good time, so we ended up giving it another shot.
Sadly, we were unable to procure the intoxicants of our choice, and we were left with having to “settle” for beer. Lots of beer. We found this isolated thick Ozarks woodland, managed to get Dan’s ’86 Ford Tempo to do some serious off-roading, and found ourselves completely removed from civilization. We set up tents, got beer in the cooler, and started a fire. The other three guys had made the brilliant decision to bring a huge boombox along, (with extra batteries!), and that weekend was the first time I can remember hearing the Beach Boys presented as something else besides the fat pop hacks doing “Kokomo” on the National Mall on holidays. No, Marc played “Sail On Sailor” for me, and I thought it was brilliant. Another moment of musical discovery that day: Marc also had Superchunk’s “Cool” and “Fishing” on a tape, and it ruled.
We’d all brought other music too. As the fire filled the black, inky night, the music led to some pretty funny discussions. Who’d be the best band to go camping with? (We decided that Teenage Fanclub would be the most fun, but Uncle Tupelo would really rule….and then someone mentioned that Neil Young would rule even harder, and that was that.) What REM song would be the perfect cover for another artist? (Consensus: Dwight Yoakam should’ve covered “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”)
Marc had brought a ton of CD’s. Seems he’d won a bet with a Sony promotions rep, and as part of it was allowed to pick a bunch of stuff from Sony’s music catalog. One of the things he’d picked was the then-recently released “Roots N Blues” series box of Robert Johnson. The fire started to go to embers, the sky a blanket of stars, and the woods were filled with Mr. Johnson wailing into the Ozark night about hellhounds on his tale, and deals with Ol’ Scratch himself at The Crossroads. Someone (I think it was Dan, but it could’ve been Marc) wondered aloud: “What would you do if Robert Johnson just strolled into our campsite right now?”
Someone else (Dan, maybe?) said “He’d probably say ‘Howdy boys! I been dead nigh-on fifty years right now, and I’m fixin’ to take y’all to hell with me!’” Perfect answer. We cracked up, drank more beer, and listened to Robert wail into the pre-dawn hours.
What does that have to do with Halloween Mix CD’s? Well, the perfect Halloween mix should sound like something you’d play on a dark, star-spattered night in the middle of nowhere; it should be music that not only chills, but thrills, music that is more than anything: fun. If you’ve seen the crappy Twilight Zone movie, there’s a scene at the end where poor John Lithgow is loaded into an ambulance, and a smiling, demonic Dan Aykroyd is revealed as the driver. He’s playing “Midnight Special” on the cassette deck, and as Lithgow says “I love Creedence!”, Aykroyd asks him if he wants to see something really scary.
A good Halloween mix should sound like the rest of the cassette tape Aykroyd would play for Lithgow as he took him down the night road to hell.
So. I brought a couple of Halloween mixes, they went over well, good times were had by all, and that’s how we do that.
Except I figured that since you read this far, I’d better share with the whole class. So here it is, Chris’s 2007 Halloween Mix for your ghoulish enjoyment (or, enjoyment of your goulash for dinner.) It always works best if you don’t peek at the tracklist ’til after you’ve given it a listen once…..
2. “How Far Can Too Far Go” -The Cramps
3. “Sympathetic Noose” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
4. “She’s Not There” The Zombies
5. “Pentagram Ring” Chavez
6. “That Ol’ Black Magic” Sinatra
7. “Mr Greaves” The Pixies
8. “Modified Frankenstein” Cobra Verde
9. “Slow Hearse” Son Volt
10. “Grave Architecture” Pavement
11. “Little Ghost” The White Stripes
12. “Monkey Man” The Rolling Stones
13. “Voodoo Train” The Bellrays
14. “Vampire” The Blakes
15. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” REM
16. “Black Cat Bone” House Of Freaks
17. “Spooky” The Classics IV
18. “Black Heart” Calexico
19. “You Passed” Neutral Milk Hotel
20. “Charlotte’s Remains” The Fuzztones
21. “Halloween” The Dream Syndicate
22. “Highway To Hell” AC/DC
23. “Go ‘Way Devil” Blue Mountain
(BTW, it’s all in one ginormous mp3 file because this mix ain’t here to condone snagging the hard work of the musicians involved as freebies. Everything’s crossfaded, so even if you really did go to the trouble of trying to split the mp3 to get a certain song, you’d still have the intro and fadeout borked by the songs in front of and behind it. If you’re an artist with a song in the mix, thanks in advance for the enjoyment of your hard work, and rest assured this file will be pulled in a few days.)
To celebrate being once again able to access my own website (damn DNS servers and whatnot, first time I’ve been able to pull it up in a week, and we all know how painful that can be….) I’ll post a couple of sweet, sweet videos that have found their way to Youtube.
First off, if you know me, you know I love me them dB’s. I can still remember driving home from the old location of Vintage Vinyl in U-City back in 1985 with a cassette copy of Stands For Decibels, which I’d bought because I’d read in a magazine that there was some tangental connection to REM there (not really, other than geography…until dB’s guitarist Peter Holsapple became a member of REM during the early 1990′s at least). I can still remember hearing “Black And White” come blasting out of my speakers in that awful/beautiful mono production. Oh man, it was beautiful. I was hooked (enough to pay $25.00 in 1985 money for a white-vinyl copy of Repercussion that has a completely different track order than any other version I’ve seen….yeah, still have it, and no, it ain’t for sale) and became a fan for life.
Now, as good as The dB’s songs are (and Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple are the best of their generation as songwriters), what makes ‘em enduring landmarks of pop is the rhythm section of Gene Holder and Will Rigby (give a listen to “Cycles Per Second” if you doubt.) Rigby was just a force–playing manic rolls, weird cymbal crashes and fills, throwing in odd beats everywhere–and still keeping the whole thing danceable and appealing. Listening to those first two dB’s albums, anyway, it sounded as if the band had recruited Gene Krupa to sit in on half their songs.
So anyway, here’s some documentation of the band at the height of their powers, from Swedish TV. First up, the brilliant “Happenstance”, maybe my favorite dB’s song other than “Ask For Jill”. I’d always thought this song would be impossible to pull off live, but they (and especially Rigby) nail it:
Then how about “Bad Reputation”, a song in every way superior to every other song with that title ever recorded. (“New girl in school/She looks cool/Cool enough to cool you down like a summer vacation”):
And finally, what could’ve been the band’s breakthrough song, “Amplifier”, a video banned by MTV because….well I don’t know if teenagers still have to deal with this (I guess after Colombine they do, though) but even the slightest amount of gallows humor about teen angst was off-limits back then. Ah, well, funny video at any rate:
And sonic documentation of the greatness of the Holder/Rigby rhythm section:
“Cycles Per Second” (I think I drove my roommates nuts back in the day trying to figure out how to play this on bass; I never could get it right.)
Finally, the most majestic 2:30 of pop music ever recorded, the sublime “Ask For Jill”, which is actually about calling a girl named Jill at Masterdisk to scam onto a Bush Tetras guest list.
So, what’d you get for your birthday this year? In addition to some other cool stuff (yeah, this is gonna cause me trouble later today….) the day before I turned 29 again (12 years running now!)the recording industry gifted me with 3 amazing new records.
First up is The Blakes.
For this reissue for the masses, the band added 2 songs, “Magoo” and “Run”. Rather than just tack them to the end of the disc, they sequenced them into the original running order of the songs, so “Magoo” is the third cut and “Run” the fifth, and it works wonderfully, giving the whole disc a new feel and new rush. I feel pretty confident in saying that no band on the planet this year has managed a run of gritty rock godheadness for 7 songs to match the opening 7 tracks of The Blakes self-titled album. Record of the year? Yep.
Next up, Richard Hawley.
Last year, Hawley’s staggeringly beautiful album Coles Corner was in my top 5 records of the year. Imagine my surprise when (so far anyway) his new disc Lady’s Bridge might be even better! For one thing, Hawley has dispatched with his sound culled from influences past, and instead embraced a pulsing electrobeat with hints of metal and punk. Not. (Just seeing who’s paying attention; it’s noon and yeah, I’ve had a beer already.) Actually, Hawley sound is what we’re used to, a mix of Orbison, with echo-drenched Duane Eddy guitars and Sinatra-esque orchestral overtones. Topping them off is the most heart-rending baritone voice since Scott Walker went weird, a glorious expressive instrument that renders it truly curious that until he started a solo career, Hawley hadn’t sung in previous bands he’d been in. What makes Lady’s Bridge Hawley’s best yet isn’t that it’s different. A more critical critic would instead say that it’s more of the same, in fact. No, what makes this whole thing his best disc yet is that the Sheffield guitar whiz has written an even stronger roster of songs than those appearing on Coles Corner, which is no mean feat. This is out in the States now, with a bonus DVD. Grab it.
Even though they’ve been kicking around Murfreesboro Tennessee for 10 years now, I will confess that until about March of this year, I had never heard of these folks. I’d have missed them completely except for the guys in Grand Champeen who were touring with Glossary. I love me the Champeen, and reading some blog posts from the guys in that band, they kept going on and on about how awesome Glossary was. I checked out these folks’ 2006 album, For What I Don’t Become, and was blown away. Everything I love about twangy, country-influenced rock was there in spades. For one of the few times in my experience with post-1994 “No Depression” rock, Glossary took me back to the wonderful discovery of chilling at a cookout in college, eating Dan-O’s chili and drinking cheap beer and listening to Uncle Tupelo; I’d go so far as to say these two things: if I’d heard For What I Don’t Become in 2006 it woulda been my #2 disc of that year, and that that disc is possibly the best country-influenced rock record since Anodyne or Hollywood Town Hall. So let’s talk about the new disc a sec. First off, that album cover kicks ass. Second of all, your eyes aren’t lying–Glossary has made their new disc, The Better Angels Of Our Nature available for free download from their website at http://www.glossary.us. They’ve even been kind enough to give you options–you can grab individual songs or just snag the whole thing as a .zip file in either .mp3 or AAC (ipod) formats. I really, really recommend you grab the full disc, because the songs are sequenced the way they are for a reason, and when the band gets to the anthemic “Blood On The Knobs”, it’s almost like the climax to a great, emotionally invested movie (a whole lot of that emotion comes from the incredible “Gasoline Soaked Heart”). The final verse of “Knobs” is why I love bands like Glossary, and why grouchy old fart like me still can’t get enough of that Devil’s Music.
“Maybe I’ve wasted all my time like a fool
But I’ve heard pain tear itself out of a piece of wood
So wake me up when we get to where we’re playing tonight
So i can call my family and tell them I’m still alive
We’ll walk on that stage and play like it’s the last time
‘Cause it might be
It might be
Turn the amps on and count it out
Close your eyes
Take a breath
This is what it’s like to live without doubt”