The Mourning Sun were a band from Texas who in 1967 recorded a single called “Let’s Take A Walk In The Woods”. That song is clocks in at a brisk 1:57. The band had access to a good studio and a talented producer (and one band member would go on to work in the music production biz as a career, so there was plenty of inspiration and talent from within the band as well). A little label called National General put it out on a 45 rpm single. There was a B-side called “Dark Hair” but that was apparently recorded in California with session musicians under the same name or something; in any event, it wasn’t nearly as good as the A-side.
“Let’s Take A Walk In The Woods” got some airplay in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia in 1967. National General heard that there were more songs from that same recording session and asked the band to tour. The Mourning Sun probably would have liked to have done just that, but the band were all enrolled in college. There was a war in Vietnam on. They valued their student deferments. They told the label “We’d love to, but…no.” The label decided they couldn’t release an album from a band who couldn’t promote it, and so that was that. The band broke up, the guys went their separate ways, and such is life.
The Mourning Sun’s music career is all on that single 45 rpm record. 2 minutes.
Did the fellows in the band know this was going to be it for them when they went into the studio to record? They were clearly a very tight and creative group of musicians. Did they know at the outset that outside circumstances would conspire to give them a grand total of 2 minutes to document what they were all about? I don’t know. I sort of like to hope they had an inkling. “Let’s Take A Walk In The Woods” has verses that start off nice and explode into melodic full bloom. It has a fully-realized middle bridge. Coming out of the final verse they bring it home with a coda that all but demands continuous repeat listening.
With what time they had, The Mourning Sun did more in 2 minutes than entire bands who’ve piked around for decades have done across the span of dozens of albums. Kudos to them.
(That is not a picture of Midlake in that youtube clip.)
(Addendum: a little while back the intrepid music miners at Numero Group went through all of the studio tapes of the various bands in Beaumont, Texas that recorded around the same time as this recording and put them into a neat compilation which you can find here. There’s one other song by The Mourning Sun, but also a couple by other band members that are very similar. Worth checking out.)
Debated for a day or two about how to actually post this up. The last thing I want PopNarcotic to turn into is an obituary blog, for gosh sakes. Sadly though, a pretty amazing and singular artist passed away from cancer on Monday. His name was Jackie Leven. There’s a pretty solid chance you’ve never heard of him. Had I not been blessed to work at Euclid Records and as a result be able to count the fellows there as friends, I sure wouldn’t know anything about him. I thought that instead of talking about the sadness of his passing, though, I’d instead talk about why he was great, and hopefully pay forward the joy of discovery I got when I heard about this fellow and the music he made.
Leven was apparently kicking around the UK for a while in the 1970′s in a few different bands before his signature group came together in the wake of the mid-70′s punk explosion overseas. The band was called Doll By Doll, and Jackie Leven sang lead, played guitar, and wrote the material. I would like to describe what they sounded like, but I realize that in doing so I’d just be winding through a laundry list of bands who don’t sound like Doll By Doll except in fleeting bits. So first, listen to this:
Now. Marvel at what’s going on here. You get this amazing post-punk intro that sounds like it could be from something like the Swell Maps or early Joy Division. Then the vocals come in, and there’s a lilt to the harmony there that almost places it as a relic of the psychedelic era. At various times, you’ve got bits of punk, of heavy metal, of prog rock, post-rock, art rock, noise rock, and improbably, soul and even Springsteen going on there. You’ve got evocative, imagistic and frankly beautiful lyrics happening. None of it should work. Those things don’t go together….except here, where they do.
“Palace Of Love” was from Doll By Doll’s debut, Remember (odd title for a debut), a record that can be as confounding as it is wonderful. It was on the second DbD album where Leven hit his stride. Gypsy Blood is an all-timer, a record that belongs in any record collection. There are moments of excess on Remember to be sure…but Leven wasn’t interested in reining them in. Instead, Doll By Doll stepped on the accelerator. On a song like “Strip Show”, he delivers a careening vocal that goes from baritone to falsetto in the blink of an eye over a melody that Springsteen would’ve been proud to claim for his own, with lyrics that are about as close to poetry as you’re gonna get in rock music.
Doll By Doll managed a self-titled album after Gypsy Blood that was nearly as good…but there were problems getting it recorded, and problems with distribution, and so on. Doll By Doll by then was just Leven plus whomever he was able to enlist to record and tour with, apparently. The band had never found any sort of widespread commercial success, either. They were too punk, new wave, or arty for radio or what would become classic rock stations a few years later. They were too rock and too real and intimidating for the punks and new wave kids. They were an anachronism, not at all unlike the more-heralded Soft Boys. The worst came when Leven was mugged and beaten, his larynx damaged to the point where it would be a year or so before he could talk properly, much less sing. During that time he apparently got hooked on heroin, and struggled for years to overcome that addiction. He beat it through a combination of various “holistic” methods, and ended up founding a group called CORE to help other heroin addicts. Apparently CORE was successful enough at what it did to attract the attention of Princess Di, who became a patron. It was the mischievous Princess who suggessted to Leven at a benefit that he start singing again, and so in the 1990′s Leven embarked on a solo career that was nearly as prolific as Robert Pollard’s.
There won’t be any more Jackie Leven solo albums. That’s a shame. But there’s also an incredible and incredibly diverse body of work out there to discover, too, and for that there should be celebration.
Still remember making a trip from St. Louis to Columbia in Missouri back around 1994 or so and stopping off at one of my favorite record haunts of that day, a place called Whizz Records. My old college buddy Jeff Breeze was working there, and was always good for hepping me on musics I was missing out on (I should mention that from about 1992 to 1993 I went completely “dark” on music by dint of no longer having much access to anything but some freelance promotion I was working with at the time; if we weren’t working it, I didn’t know it, musically.)
Jeff practically slapped me upside the head with a CD by a band called Cardinal, which I bought, and which turned out to be two dudes named Eric Matthews and Richard Davies. Cardinal was great–a dazzling disc of orchestrated chamber pop that was a year or two before that subgenre would really take off again.
Sadly, messrs Matthews and Davies stopped getting along shortly after the CD came out and both went solo. Matthews may have had the more celebrated solo career, but it was always the music of Davies that I preferred (the Telegraph album is particularly great.) I still listen to that only Cardinal album a bunch to this day, as it really holds up brilliantly.
And so tonight comes the news (hat tip to my good friend Roberta Moore Patterson) that these two fellows have put differences aside and there’ll be a new Cardinal album coming out in January of 2012 on UK label Fire. Even better–there’s a new song you can listen to right now. Those who have heard the record (I haven’t yet) call it a seamless return to where these guys were back in 1994. I certainly hope so. Really digging this first taste.
Really enjoyed my first spin through High Flying Birds….but I’d be lying if I said that part of my mind’s ear didn’t hear a whole lot of Our Kid’s voice singing. Just saying.
Here, have some video:
I’ve always been vaguely aware that Gary Numan–yes, the fellow who had a gigantic worldwide hit with the song “Cars”–had a valued and worthwhile career beyond that single song. As an example, in the late Nicholas Schaffner’s book The British Invasion–First Wave To The New Wave which came out in 1982, the author devotes almost as much space to Numan’s career as he does to The Clash to tell you how highly Numan’s catalog was valued at his peak. Still, at some point in the late 1980′s I decided synth-based music wasn’t going to be my thing, and I fairly well turned my back on Numan’s career.
At some point here, I think I’ll have to do a post talking about Turntable.fm. For now, I’ll just say that the site is an excellent resource for retconning music outside a personal comfort zone, a great place to hear music in a different context and discover pieces of music history you might have otherwise missed. As the result of having heard two Gary Numan/Tubeway Army songs that weren’t “Cars” over the last few days in assorted TT rooms, I spent a lot of time over the last day or so listening to a lot of that classic output of his, and I’ve been rather gobsmacked by how worthwhile and downright excellent it really is….like that’s news to a lot of you, right, he asked sarcastically…
At any rate let’s not bemoan my lateness to the party, and instead applaud the fact that I showed up at all. Here’s a terrific clip of Numan doing “Down In The Park” from the wonderful new wave/punk documentary Urgh A Music War. (As a side note I would observe that if Sheldon from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory” was a pop singer, he’d be Gary Numan.)
A week to the day of one of the greatest celebrations in St. Louis Cardinals history–the improbable comebacks of the Game 6 win, Bob Forsch–the fellow I wrote about last Friday and the gent who threw out the first pitch of Game 7 of the World Series–died suddenly at his home last night of a heart aneurysm.
So very sad, and feeling a bit too old right now.
A quick story, if you will, to illustrate why Bob Forsch is revered and greatly mourned today. In 1987, The Cardinals averted a late-season collapse (brought on by an ankle injury to slugger Jack Clark that left a team that was cruising through July fighting for their postseason in September) and were in the NLCS, facing the then-hated Giants. Early on in the season, Giants outfielder Candy Maldonado had criticized St. Louis and its fans as being part of a “cowtown” (when the NLCS returned to St. Louis for game 6, Cardinals fans turned up with what seemed like 50,000 cowbells, banging them incessantly; that whole “best fans in baseball thing” wasn’t bestowed, it was earned.) Meanwhile, Maldonado’s teammate Jeffrey Leonard had sniffed about the Cards not even being the equals of the Giants. Leonard crushed a couple of long home runs early in that series, and when Jeffrey rounded the bases he did it at a pace would have had him losing a footrace to some glaciers out there. He did this “one flap down” thing, and generally just acted like an ass out there. Leonard lived to show up other players, and as far as I can tell was then and remains now one of the most-hated players in St. Louis sports history. Think Brandon Phillips only without the sly humor that lets you know he’s putting everyone on, or Nyjer Morgan with actual talent.
And so it’s Game 3 of the NLCS, and the series is in San Francisco. With rookie pitcher Joe Magrane on the hill, Jeffrey Leonard has already hit his 3rd HR in as many games in the series, and the Cardinals trail 4-0. Whitey Herzog brings in Bob Forsch to pitch the 4th inning. Forsch, by then, was in the twilight of his career, an aging vet who only survived on guile and pitch location. With 1 out in the fifth, the hated Jeffrey Leonard came up to bat…and Forsch promptly absolutely drilled the guy in the ribs. Pasted him. Leonard took his base like a pro, but after Forsch wriggled out of the bases-loaded jam the HBP (and then some awful infield play) got him into, the Cardinals stormed back to win that game 6-5, and eventually won the NL pennant in 7 games (with the Giants shut out without scoring in games 6 and 7 amid a cacophany of cowbells when the series came back to St. Louis.) At any rate, even as an aging long-reliever past his prime, Forschie still was the heart and soul of the Redbird pitching staff, a guy the team rallied around. I don’t think that team wins the 1987 pennant without Bob sticking an 88-mph fastball in Penitentiary Face’s side.