In the spirit of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, let alone the Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon, here are six songs connected in different ways. The bonds may be tenuous, but they exist, and they illustrate the interconnectedness of music across different eras.
Download 6-song playlist as zip file (44 MB, all MP3)
Total Time = 24:11
“I love that kind of pub jazz. That’s why I was keen for (The Mike Cotton Sound) to play on the album. It reminded me of when families used to get together and have a knees-up, and out would come the old comb and paper, to make a trumpet sound. That’s jazz in its most basic form — family-type jazz, jazz in the back room.”
It’s ironic The Kinks incorporate British trad jazz on two songs from Muswell Hillbillies (“Alcohol” being the other), since it was that sound they made culturally irrelevant with the release of “You Really Got Me” in August 1964. In fact, in early 1963, Ray Davies was cutting his guitar chops in Dave Hunt’s Rhythm & Blues Band, who played mainstream and traditional jazz, along with a few blues numbers.
The brass in “Acute Schizo” adds a swaying, boozy element to a kneeling drunkard’s plea for sanity. I’m of the opinion that Muswell basically chronicles a nervous breakdown and this song one of several addressing mental health issues (“20th Century Man,” “Alcohol,” “Here Come The People In Grey,” “Complicated Life”). I also like the live “Acute” from Everybody’s In Show-Biz, Muswell‘s slightly underrated follow-up released the following year.
Van Halen‘s first single of course was their cover of “You Really Got Me.” But, with their next single, “Runnin’ With The Devil,” the VH legend began in earnest. In fact, they’re generally known for 3 things: Eddie Van Halen‘s erupting fretboard tappage, David Lee Roth‘s heroic stage banter (Henry Rollins calls him “the peroxided Mark Twain“), and “giving voice to a million little guy erections” (see Nicolai, Mike).
“Magic” was one of the band’s atypical forays into country-blues and showed they could rock the heavy metal parking lot with acoustic guitars as they surely could with Marshall stacks and a Jim Beam bass. Better save the women and children first.
“Under hip-hops and Seattles
On and on they soldiered
Under hip-hops and Seattles
On and on they soldiered
With less than rockin’ results.”
Mike Nicolai is one of my favorite singers and songwriters because his songs play so hard to get. The hooks aren’t where you expect them to be, the lyrics take awhile to reveal themselves, and his vocal phrasing is weird. Totally memorable, but weird. He can be a tough get, especially if you’re impatient, but once you get him, Nicolai rewards you twentyfold.
I celebrate Mike’s entire catalog, which combines elements of Paul Simon and Roger Miller with wounded narratives and clever wordplay (“I just washed the TV off my face, neuropath wasn’t busy”; “And bimonthly he’d betray her with Jennifer St. John”). “Mammoth” is Nicolai’s hilariously spot-on overview of the Halen legacy — Mammoth being the Halen’s original name — and is notable for introducing “less than rockin’ results” into the critical lexicon. Well, my lexicon, at least.
“I’ll die and go to heaven
But you’re alive and well
You’ll be the Alex Chilton to my Chris Bell.”
Grand Champeen has occasionally served as Nicolai’s backing band, allowing Mike to tap into his inner David Lee. On their own, Champeen remains one of the country’s best rock bands, despite slowing down considerably in output. With regard to Van Halen, I’ve seen them cover “Little Guitars” and have it on good authority that the members once dressed as VH for Halloween. That said, for those of you who cut your teeth on classic Soul Asylum, Replacements, and Superchunk, and Prescott Curlywolf, Champeen is either already one of your favorite bands, or waiting to be.
“One And Only” brilliantly uses the Big Star principals as a relationship metaphor, though whether that relationship is romantic or band-like in nature is deliberately vague. Drummer Ned Stewart owns this song with four-wheel drive and acres of fills, which is probably why his low-fi tom-foolery is tacked onto the outro — though part of me suspects its a clever homage to the end of Superchunk’s “Hyper Enough” video. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to link to that video, who can say?
Big Star – O My Soul (1974)
Speaking of drummers owning songs, how about this gem from Big Star’s 1974 masterpiece, Radio City. Jody Stephens shows off monster chops, but in fairness, the whole band brings their A game. Bassist Andy Hummel dances around the pocket with Stephens, while Alex Chilton‘s guitar work, especially from about 3:30-4:15, is stunning. A little known fact is that former guitarist and songwriter, Chris Bell, co-wrote this tune with Chilton, but sadly, went uncredited. One of the great tunes in the Big Star catalog. Incidentally, when Big Star is invoked by power-pop acolytes, an inordinate amount of discussion is focused on the pop part of that equation. “O My Soul” demonstrates that the Chilton-Hummel-Stephens power trio was a wonderful luxury for Alex Chilton the songwriter.
FYI: I originally uploaded the “O My Soul” mp3, but the lawyerbots that troll websites defenestrated it. The lesson here: When in doubt, go with video.
Glossary – Don’t Lie To Me
Glossary – Don’t Lie To Me
We switch Tennessee coasts to revisit the Glossary compound. “Don’t Lie” was recorded at The Grand Palace in their hometown of Murfreesboro and is an incendiary, guitar-lover’s wet dream. This and 12 other covers are on a Big Star tribute disc released by Almost There Records, a label started by Ty Chandler of Gleeson. The rest of the album are studio cuts and include contributions from Grand Champeen (“Daisy Glaze”), Mike Nicolai (“Nightime”), Archibalds (“O Dana”), and Gleeson themselves (“Blue Moon”). Worth tracking down, for sure.