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What a lover you wore me out

Rod Stewart's complete immersion in Elton John-like bathos and gloss from 1980 onward is made all the more depressing when you look at what he once was, and how far he has fallen.

I don't just mean his work with the Faces -- I love "Stay with Me" and "Three Button Handmedown," but most of my favorite Faces tracks are sung by Ron Wood or Ronnie Lane. I'm talking about his earliest solo work, around the time of Every Picture Tells a Story. Much of it has that same welding of bar band and honkytonk, not too dissimilar from what the Stones were doing on Exile, though a bit more straightahead.

My mother is coming into town from DC for a few days. I'm picking her up at LAX at 11 AM, so, naturally, I've been up since 7 cleaning up the apartment a bit. (And she's not even staying with me.) I was listening to his Mercury Anthology today, two discs of his best work from that period. And I know you have to separate yourself from "Lovetouch," from "Rhythm of My Heart," from his destruction of "Broken Arrow," "Downtown Train," "Have I Told You Lately," all of that, but once you're able to free yourself from Rod's later history, it's hard not to argue that "Maggie May" is one of the top 50 rock hits of all time.

It's a surprisingly gutsy and revealing lyric -- that line about the morning light showing her age, the line about all I needed was a friend to lend me a helping hand. (The only line that's a clunker is the one about "stealing my Daddy's cue and make a living playing pool" -- ugh.)

If you haven't listened to it in a while, give it a spin. I know it's a "classic rock staple." But I generally hate classic rock as a format, as it tends to ignore my favorite artists from the period in favor of the Supertramps and Kansases and Bostons and Rushs of the world.

"You stole my soul, and that's a pain I could live without," is one of the great understatements of rock and roll, and it's just one of the reasons why "Maggie May" is a wonderful song, especially for those of you recently going through a break-up. Or, like me, those of us who were stuck washing dishes at 8 AM this morning, for whom the song at least delivered some enduring images of affairs past.

And hopes for loves future.

posted by Anon. 8:39 AM
Elvis has left Korea

George W. Bush's inclusion of Korea in his whimsical "axis of evil" remarks has had some fascinating side-effects. Like this one: you can't sing American songs in North Korean karaoke bars anymore.

posted by Anon. 7:31 AM


Theme music, continued

Rob in Minneapolis provides this info about the Ed theme song:
The theme song to Ed is called "Moment in the Sun" by the band Clem Snide, I have heard that it is actually a rip on Jewel if you listen to the whole thing. Don't have the album but have heard they're quite good, smart-ass down-tempo alt-country stuff.
Excellent. I like the Ed theme enough that I'd look a little more into Clem Snide. Thanks, Rob.

posted by Anon. 7:08 AM
Theme music

What have been your favorite television theme songs over the years? Note: do not answer "I'll Be There For You" by the Rembrandts.

For me, the alltime greatest TV theme song has to be The Rockford Files theme by Mike Post. It is just one of the oddest sounding pieces of music I have ever heard, at once cheesy and jazzy and yet a little bit rocking. Face it, Rockford Files beats Jan Hammer's Miami Vice Theme out of the water. I'm also a big fan of the Macgyver theme, as well as the guitar-heavy theme music that opens up the Daily Show, which isn't too far from the old theme music for Kids in the Hall.

There have been hit songs that have come from TV shows, too, and not just the Friends theme. The BoDeans had been a low-rent roots rock band for years. Then Party of Five gave them one big hit, "Closer to Free." Joey Scarbury's "Believe It or Not" (also, I believe, written by Mike Post! The man was a genius, a Henry Mancini of his day!) was a huge hit, taken from the Greatest American Hero series starring William Katt, Bill Culp, and Michael Pare.

A current show whose theme song though I really dig, enough that I wish I had a copy of the entire song, is the theme from Ed. I don't know who does it. I guess I could look at the credits. I had always dismissed Ed as kinda a Northern Exposure wannabe, except instead of Alaska, it's set in quirky Ohio. But I've been watching it the last few weeks, and it's been surprisingly good.

An expressway to good times. When drunk, out of the blue start singing the Punky Brewster theme to a friend.

N.B. Do not do this if you have the intention/hope/dream of one day having sexual relations with that friend.

posted by Anon. 12:27 AM


Top 5: Elvis

1. Suspicious Minds
2. His Latest Flame
3. That's Alright Mama
4. Viva Las Vegas
5. Burning Love

Top 5: U2

1. One Tree Hill
2. Bad
3. Running to Stand Still
4. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
5. Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of

Top 5: The Stones

1. Shine a Light
2. Salt of the Earth
3. She's a Rainbow
4. Dead Flowers
5. Before They Make Me Run

Top 5: Prince

1. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
2. Starfish and Coffee
3. Blue Light
4. Raspberry Beret
5. Nothing Compares 2 U (live)

Yes, these are ridiculous lists. How can you limit yourself to just five songs of great artists? But that's part of the fun -- the fact that already, a few hours after I compiled these lists, they're no longer my current favorites.

posted by Anon. 11:39 PM

Somedays, I actually have another life apart from keeping the world safe from music blogless days. Had a Big Job Interview today at 11 A.M. Didn't talk about rock and roll, but we did discuss Willie McCovey, and any conversation involving the tall San Francisco Giant Hall of Fame first baseman known as Stretch is a good conversation in my book.

Have been corresponding with a new friend lately, another writer in Los Angeles. She's a huge music fan. We've been doing something that's pretty High Fidelity, exchanging each other's five favorite songs by prominent musicians. 5 favorite U2 songs, 5 favorite Elvis songs, 5 favorite -- well, you get the idea. I think I'll post a few of my lists that came from this correspondence, just because I feel guilty for not giving all my Palmermixers some content today. I don't want to be a negligent parent towards this, my precious child.

posted by Anon. 11:37 PM


McCabes redux

Loyal, long-term Palmermix readers may remember that last month I screwed up and told a friend I'd take care of getting Jayhawks tickets for a show at McCabes. Then I had to unsuccessfully try to use every string I had to get the tickets once the show sold out. Today I asked the same friend if she wanted to go see Tom Rush at McCabes on May 18. "Yes," she said, "If someone can actually get the tickets." Oh ye of little faith. I proceeded to call McCabes. Mission accomplished.

posted by Anon. 7:42 PM
Story of the day

It's bad enough that Tom Waits is filming a video featuring three emus. But then the shoot had to be postponed due to the large birds being eaten by coyotes. Am I making this up? No.

posted by Anon. 7:40 PM
Pile of UKrap

If you ever needed a reason to shed any anglophilic tendencies you might have, please, lookie here.

posted by Anon. 7:36 PM

Loyal Palmermixers know that if Wilco and Steve Earle are the most oft-posted artists on my little patch of Blogspot, Dave Alvin isn't far behind. Today, a music critic friend emailed me, telling me that Dave's next album is a live one. Even though Interstate City, another live record, was just two or three albums ago. He emailed me in the midst of the first listen, and said it was so-so. Then he emailed again, and took it back. The reason?
Dave Alvin's live album ends with a rendition of Free Bird. Just as cracked and crazy as Ronnie'd like.

This one will take time to process.

posted by Anon. 7:32 PM
50 States of Rock and Roll
South Dakota

50 states! 50 musicians! 50 songs!

Yes, a return to our exploration in geographic musicology. A hatemail from long-time Palmermix reader Phil in Los Angeles set me right:
Palmermix, what the hell do you think you're doing? You can't abandon the 50 states project like it was some kind of bad taco! You need to follow through! For the love of God, Palmermix, get your f*&%$ing act together!
Phil's harsh words are right. We must continue onward!

So here we go, with South Dakota. What a fantastic state! Home of the Badlands! The Black Hills! Wall Drug! And Mount Rushmore, where a mountain was dynamited up to represent the likenesses of four dead white dudes and to later provide an exciting climax to an Alfred Hitchcock film!

Let's do this quick. Let's roll.

You've got "Rocky Racoon." Rocky, after all, lived "somewhere up in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota." I've always hated this song. Well, not always. But McCartney's faux corn-pone voice just always completely bothered me. Felt like he was making fun of Middle Americans.

You've got "Badlands." Only, is Bruce Springsteen really singing about the Dakota Badlands? Or is he talking about a metaphoric badlands?

No, my choice is Bob Dylan's fantastic and often overlooked "Day of the Locusts," where Dylan describes:
I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

If you've never heard this song, off of Dylan's fine, though not fantastic, New Morning, please listen to it. I recognize that this choice will prevent my choosing Dylan's "Santa Fe" as my New Mexico choice. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it!

Alaska: "Anchorage," Michelle Shocked
California: "California Stars," Billy Bragg and Wilco
Indiana: "Goin' Back to Indiana," Jackson Five
Kentucky: "Paradise," John Prine
Massachusetts: "Dirty Water," The Standells
Nevada: "Viva Las Vegas," Elvis Presley
North Dakota: "North Dakota," Lyle Lovett
Oregon: "Alameda," Elliott Smith
South Dakota: "Day of the Locusts," Bob Dylan
Utah: "The Promised Land," Bruce Springsteen

posted by Anon. 12:32 PM
Uh oh

They found the pipe bomb suspect, in Nevada. As he was brought into custody, he was wearing a Kurt Cobain T-shirt. If I have to now read how rock and roll was somehow responsible for pipe bombs, I'm running into the hills.

posted by Anon. 7:33 AM



Whether in his poignant liner notes for Ted Hawkins' The Next Hundred Years or in his wonderful Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles of All Time -- I've always found that Dave Marsh is at his best as a rock writer when he celebrates something he loves, rather than denigrates or destructs an album that he hated.

His current column on Starpolish memorializes his friend, Karen Swymer Shanahan, who passed away last week after a long battle against cancer. I had met Karen at a concert at Boston's Orpheum theater, on Springsteen's Tom Joad tour. Everything that Dave says about her came across in the few hours I spent in her company. We all should be so lucky to be remembered by our friends in such a way.

posted by Anon. 7:44 PM

I'm listening to a CD I burned a couple months ago -- a mix of Richard Thompson songs, drawing from his years performing with his wife Linda and his solo years from 1982 on, as well as many live goodies I had taken off of Napster. Is there a single musician out there who is both fantastic at playing the guitar (both acoustic and electric) and writing such great songs?

And isn't it about time that he releases the follow-up to Mock Tudor?

posted by Anon. 6:43 PM

Otis Blackwell died Monday of a heart attack at the age of 70, in Nashville. That name might not mean a lot ot you, but these names might, songs that Blackwell wrote or co-wrote:

"Breathless," Jerry Lee Lewis
"Great Balls of Fire," Jerry Lee Lewis
"Fever," Peggy Lee, Little Willie John
"Don't Be Cruel," Elvis Presley (okay, and Cheap Trick)
"All Shook Up," Elvis Presley
"Return to Sender," Elvis Presley

For anyone, that'd be a career just in and of itself, but that was just the start for Blackwell (one of the few African-American songwriters in the Brill Building stable). Here's his AP obituary, and, for good measure, his Reuters obit.

posted by Anon. 4:03 PM
Como se llama phat?

International hip-hop? Robert Christgau weighs in, in this week's Voice.

posted by Anon. 2:56 PM
Tom Waits for no one

Jon Pareles is quickly becoming my favorite critic/music journalist of the post-Baby Boom generation. In Sunday's New York Times, he wrote a terrific piece on one of the most consistently interesting and amusing musicians out there, Tom Waits. Waits has two new records released today, Blood Money and Alice.

Waits has never shied from exploring some more avant garde textures in his albums. Yet, I'm probably a bit of a fuddy duddy in that my favorite work of his are those most traditional, either straight confessional singer/songwriter or a bar band kind of rock and roll. His two Early Years discs, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are heartbreaking (a very young Waits actually singing, yes singing!), and Closing Time and the Heart of Saturday Night are also very good. Rain Dogs is often acclaimed as his best album from the 80s, and though there are some strange grunting songs on there that I don't think work so well, the album does feature "Downtown Train" -- later destroyed by Rod Stewart when Rod was destroying songs by Waits, Robbie Robertson, and Van Morrison into gushy top 40 fodder -- and the wonderful "Blind Love," which features this unbeatable opening line: "Now you're gone, and it's hotels and whiskey and sad luck days." Hard to top that.

1999's Mule Variations was widely welcomed as a return to the Waits of old. I like it quite a bit. There are still some avant garde/atmospheric experiments on there, but they're alongside such strong, urgent material as "Hold On."

Here's a great quote from Waits in the Pareles piece. Kathleen is his wife and collaborator, Kathleen Brennan.
"I'm an old softie," Mr. Waits said. "Most songwriters are probably writing one or two songs over and over again in one way or another. Kathleen said that with me, it's either grand weepers or Grim Reapers. Yeah, I run hot and cold. I like melody, and I like dissonance. I guess maybe it's an alcoholic personality. I get mad, and I cry."
One thing you have to give Waits credit for: he's a complete original. There is no one out there who is even vaguely like him in sound, personality, and history.

posted by Anon. 2:51 PM
Over the hill?

Lauryn Hill's Unplugged Version 2.0 just arrived in stores today, and already it's receiving notices that it might be the strangest, most bizarre detour for a leading musician at her peak since Stevie Wonder did that album where he was trying to speak in the secret language of plants. Here's the skinny, courtesy of CNN.com. My favorite part is when one of Lauren's defenders tries to defend her through this faint praise:
People came back to Whitney Houston. People came back to Madonna. People came back to Cher. People will come back to her. We have give these people the space to be real artists and misstep sometime."
Yipes. The album apparently consists of Hill on acoustic guitar, a few songs, and a lot of spoken word rants.

posted by Anon. 2:31 PM


Pink telecasters

You always hear about girls finding guitar players hot. Well, boys can find guitar players hot, too. I saw a friend's guitar collection this weekend. She has three Martin acoustic guitars (including a 12 string), as well as an old semi-hollow body Gibson (though not a Les Paul).

But the best of all was her pink Fender Telecaster. (I of course made the bush league mistake of not looking at it close enough from across the room when I first saw it and instead exclaimed, "You have a pink Strat!?" Few things are more embarrassing for a music fan than accidentally mixing up your Telecasters and Stratocasters. Telecaster = Springsteen and Keith Richards. Stratocaster = Eric Clapton and 1,000 other rock guitarists.)

But yes, a pink Telecaster it was. I picked it up -- it was a little out of tune, but I played the opening riff of "Substitute" by the Who and all was right in the world. Or at least in my head. Today I regretted not picking up her 12 string Martin and playing the Byrds' "Feel a Whole Lot Better" or the Searchers' "Needles and Pins," but hey, all in good time, all in good time.

posted by Anon. 10:30 AM
New Greil Marcus column up on Salon. Topics covered include: Wilco (Marcus doesn't like the new record), the Blasters, Warren Zevon, Sheryl Crow, and more.

posted by Anon. 10:19 AM
The grass is blue

A friend gave me a couple CDs this weekend. One of them, the debut disc by the Be Good Tanyas, a bluegrass trio of women from British Columbia, has been especially getting a lot of airplay in my house. It's very sweet and lively -- if you like upbeat melodies, jangly acoustic instruments, and pretty voices, this would be a fine choice. If you're looking on Amazon to taste-test a couple songs (or test-drive, choose your metaphor), try "The Lakes of Ponchartrain" -- which takes the melody of the old Irish song "Lily of the West" and reworks it -- or the opener, the completely charming "The Littlest Birds." (The refrain of which is "The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs." There are people who will run away from a lyric like that, and there are people who are a sucker for it. Me, I'm a sucker.)

If you're at all a bluegrass fan, I'll bet a donut that you'll like this.

posted by Anon. 9:46 AM


Viva el amor

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a free concert at Santa Monica College in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The Mexican singer Lila Downs performed. She was wonderful -- wonderful in the styles she merged, from songs of an R&B chanteuse, to traditional Mexican folk, to something that almost sounded like Mexican bluegrass. Harp that sounded like glass, heavy percussions, and above all, her voice -- rich, full, and with a wide range. All this, and she did a lovely a cappella version of Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty."

This morning, my friend Barbara took me to a Catholic mass in the West Adams district, an older, predominantly African-American neighborhood of Los Angeles, not too far from USC. I've been lately getting back in and reading more and more about my Catholic faith, which admittedly right now seems a little like buying a lot of stock in Enron. But this mass was one of the most moving things I've attended in years -- warm people from all backgrounds, a wonderfully progressive homily, and, most of all, amazing music, featuring trumpet, organ, and a deep choir singing old gospel classics. When they did the "Amen" in song, it wasn't the traditional Catholic Amen but instead the Curtis Mayfield arrangement -- I turned to Barbara and I felt like embracing her and saying, "I've found my home!" It was a wonderful morning, and it reminded me again how intertwined music is with celebration -- not just the celebration of romance or friendship, but also the celebration of our faith, whatever form that faith might take, and whatever gods, spirits, or other holy entities that faith might worship. If you live in Los Angeles, or if you are coming through L.A., I actively recommend going to St. Agatha's, even if you're not Catholic but are just a fan of wonderful gospel music. It was a moving experience, and a snapshot of a Los Angeles that you don't see on the Universal Studios Tour.

posted by Anon. 8:42 PM
Feliz Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo. Appropriate music? Yes, if you're a literalist, you could listen to "Cinco de Mayo," off Liz Phair's Whipsmart record. But if you're actually interested in Mexican music? Yes, Los Lobos' Kiko, a fine record. Alejandro Escovedo, a fine Mexican-American songwriter from Texas. Actually, I'll post later on today about a fantastic Mexican singer I saw perform yesterday in a free concert in Santa Monica. More soon. (Sorry for light posting this weekend, I've been either over-worked or tired.)

posted by Anon. 5:19 PM