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Tired of fighting for a lost cause

A rainy Saturday, my last full day in Los Angeles for a while. I ran errands to the post office and the bank, and then met Alex for a quick scone and coffee at Newsroom.

Then headed over to Ammo, on Highland, to meet Matt M. for lunch. Had never been there, though its proximity to my apartment and its proximity to another frequent breakfast stop in the 'hood, Highland Grounds, makes it strange that I hadn't been.

Tasty food, in a stripped down smallish room that reminded me of all those little hip places in Chelsea and the West Village; paying $11 for a turkey burger is always a little dubious, but a little less so when it's a good turkey burger: it was. The food was good, and the conversation with Matt M. -- who has had "Me and Mrs. Jones" on his mind, it seems, and who is one of the true forces for good in a morally neutral universe -- was fun, enough that I could forgive the place for having a few too many former stars of WB shows eating there at once.

But the best part was that Ammo is right across the street from Aron's Records, which had long been everyone's favorite record store in the 323, until, of course, Amoeba showed up in its warehouse-sized glory. I hadn't been to Aron's in a while, and was curious to see if Amoeba had sapped it of its mojo. It still had quite a crowd, and it certainly received some sustenance today from yours truly.

Here's what I picked up. A lot of filling out my 2002 albums, in preparation for the making of the year in review compilation.

Beck, Sea Change
Aimee Mann, Lost in Space
Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men, Out in California
George Harrison, Brainwashed
A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector
Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
The Rolling Stones, It's Only Rock and Roll

I'm listening to the Beck right now, and it's lovely, though some of it hits home for any who have recently exited a relationship. So caveat emptor.

Bringing It All Back Home I have never actually owned -- I know, I know, some Dylan fan I am -- but I've been loving "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" so much on the Live 1975 record -- and have always loved "She Belongs to Me." It's Only Rock and Roll I used to own on cassette, but like all of my cassettes, I have no idea what glove compartment or old sailor's trunk it ended up. I have to confess, I've always loved the Stones' version of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and "Luxury," their white man's reggae, might actually be in my top 10 favorite Stones songs, period. It's irresistable.

posted by Anon. 5:29 PM


It's not funny anymore

Given how delicately and exquisitely produced Bob Mould's Workbook was, and how layered and massaged the instruments of his band Sugar's Copper Blue were, it's strange that in looking back on the old Husker Du records, one of their chief flaws is a lack of production. They often fall a little flat, despite the energy of the guitars and intensity of Mould and Grant Hart's vocals. There are certainly great tracks here and there -- and Warehouse is a very good album -- but for my money, the best thing with the Husker Du name on it is also probably one of the best albums of its kind: the live record, The Living End.

Rather than being an actual recording of one concert from beginning to end, it instead compiles performances from several performances on the tour supporting Warehouse. I usually prefer a live record to be an actual document of one particular concert, flaws and all. But even so, Living End was produced in such a way that it flows from track to track, capturing the intensity and fervor of the smartest punk band of the post-Clash era.

While Mould thunders through Husker classics like "Standing in the Rain," "Friend You've Got to Fall," and their cover of the Ramones' "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" -- sadly they didn't include the beloved Husker cover of the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme -- the best moments belong to drummer and co-singer Hart, especially his "Now That You Know Me," where the merger of punk guitar and power pop melody comes together.

Sunday morning, I picked a friend up to go to mass. She hadn't been to St. Agatha's, and wanted to see what all the fuss I'd made was about. It had rained the night before, and so it was one of those LA winter mornings with Magritte clouds, wet pavement, and clear, vivid views, no smog or haze.

We put Living End on as we drove. Somehow, it fit.

posted by Anon. 11:06 AM


Redemption songs

A great story in the New York Times that offers a snapshot of Bob Marley, the early years.

posted by Anon. 4:30 PM
Great one-hit wonders

"Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," by Edison Lighthouse. This, like the aforementioned, "Build Me Up Buttercup," has been used by the Brothers Farrelly to close a movie (in this case, Shallow Hal). Freedy Johnston recently covered this on an otherwise lousy record. The original is a hard song not to like. And not that much easier not to love.

posted by Anon. 1:34 PM
Things I wish I had watched, chapter forty-eight

Mariah Carey on Larry King Live tonight. This is a quote from the CNN.com article:

"I'm not wacko. But my point is already made. I mean, we're all a little wacko sometimes, and if we think we're not, maybe we are more than we know.... But my point was, these things are personal sort of messages to my fans, and they understand it. I don't expect, you know, whatever talk show host to understand my little lingo with my fans, you know what I mean?

Uh, yeah. We know what you mean.

posted by Anon. 12:21 PM
Not so angry mail department

Jon writes in some more rain song suggestions.

Rain by Patty Griffin off of 1000 Kisses is a GREAT Rain song, shocked
to see you missed it.

I also love the cover that Greg Allman did of the Beatles' Rain, which,
as far as I can tell, only shows up on the Allman Bros. box set,

It may be a stretch, but how bout the Who's Love Reign O'er Me, its even
got the sound effects.

I thought the Allman box set was called Dreams, but I might be wrong. Love Reign O'er Me is a great omission; can't believe I forgot that one. Good catches, Jon.

posted by Anon. 12:14 PM
Angry mail department

I'm getting angry mail from passionate Randy Newman supporters:

Mr. Palmer,
I stumbled across your site today because, as it happens, I am looking for
advice on CD purchases, from those in the know. But I'm afraid I just can't
trust the advice of someone who doesn't appear to have heard any of Randy
Newman's studio albums, and only seems to know "Short People." And anyone
who thinks the wonderfully devious "Time of Your Life" from "Bug's Life"
(how he got that one past Hollywood I'll never know) and "When She Loved Me"
from "Toy Story 2" sound "exactly the same" just isn't listening carefully!
Ah, well. Best of luck!
Susan McTigue


I don't recall ever suggesting that I only knew Randy Newman from "Short People." "Louisiana" from Good Old Boys is a great song, and I like most of that record. But yes, I do think that Newman has written the same song for all these Disney movies to such a point that it's on the verge of self-parody.

posted by Anon. 12:12 PM



The percussion in "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" has always reminded me of galloping horses.

That is all.

posted by Anon. 2:01 PM
Now listening to...

Yesterday, my fellow staff writer David Handelman, a reformed music journalist himself, lent me the Allison Krauss and Union Station Live two disc set, released just a month ago.

Dan Seltz, a law student friend in New York and a good source for folk recommendations, had recommended this to me a month ago, but I was skeptical -- Krauss' recorded work has never done much for me. But the live record so far is quite good: Krauss has much more presence here than on her studio albums, and the instrumentation -- lots of acoustic guitars and mandolins -- is lovely.

But on it, she covers, "Baby, Now That I Found You." I have heard this song a thousand times on oldies radio, but, like Badfinger's "Day After Day," it's a song I probably heard a thousand times without ever knowing who recorded it.

You don't know the song? Sure, you do. Ahem.

"Baby... now that I found you I love you so... I built my world around you, I need you so... baby even though, you don't need me."

Okay, you know it, right?

It was recorded by the Foundations, who, according to my handy Joel Whitburn book of Billboard Top 40 Songs, had a hit with it back in 1968 -- it hit #11. A one hit wonder?

Nah. A two hit wonder! See, the Foundations had one other song. "Build Me Up Buttercup," which took the British group to #3 on the American charts in 1969. You might remember "Build Me Up Buttercup," for, among other reasons, the fact that the end credits to the Farrelly Brothers' There's Something About Mary were set to this track.

Handelman and I were talking about that song, and he asked me if I ever heard the David Johansen Group's live record from 1978, that was finally released to the public in 1992 or 1993, which featured a cover of "Buttercup." I hadn't.

I also hadn't heard David Johansen's first solo album, recorded around the same time, which David then described as one of his favorite records of all time.

Since I like the New York Dolls -- who, really, along with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, kinda invented punk seven or eight years before punk was invented -- and think "Personality Crisis" is one of the all-time great sloppy guitar songs, I said bring it on, baby, bring it on. So I'm now listening to the David Johansen Group's live record, recorded at the Bottom Line. And it's pretty damn good -- lots of piano and sloppy crunchy guitars, and covers of "Buttercup," Wilson Pickett's "I Found a Love," the Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," and the Supremes' "Love Child," as well as songs from the Dolls heyday and the first solo record. But all in a loose punkish style.

Johansen now leads a group called the Harry Smiths, who play folkish Americana. In the eighties, of course, he found success as the nightclub lounge singer Buster Poindexter. (He also starred in a few movies, including the cinematic version of Car 54 Where Are You, but we'll let that slide.)

There are few musicians who have been able to evolve and recreate themselves as many times as Johansen over the course of thirty years, especially with as little commercial success as he has enjoyed. This live record that's heating up my G4 this very second shows why he's never quit at it -- in its eclectic covers, it's brimming with love for the game.

posted by Anon. 11:27 AM

From Josh in Brooklyn comes this find: apparently Nick Hornby is publishing, through McSweenys, a book of essays on his favorite songs. The list of songs:
Teenage Fanclub, "Your Love Is The Place That I Come From"
Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"
Nelly Furtado, "I’m Like A Bird"
Led Zeppelin, "Heartbreaker"
Rufus Wainwright, "One Man Guy"
Santana, "Samba Pa Ti"
Rod Stewart, Mama, "You Been On My Mind"
Bob Dylan, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"
The Beatles, "Rain"
Ani DiFranco, "You Had Time"
Aimee Mann, "I’ve Had It"
Paul Westerberg, "Born For Me"
Suicide, "Frankie Teardrop"
Teenage Fanclub, "Ain’t That Enough"
J. Geils Band, "First I Look At The Purse"
Ben Folds Five, "Smoke"
Badly Drawn Boy, "A Minor Incident"
The Bible, "Glorybound"
Van Morrison, "Caravan"
Butch Hancock and Marce LaCouture, "So I’ll Run"
Gregory Isaacs, "Puff The Magic Dragon"
Ian Dury, "Reasons To Be Cheerful"
Richard and Linda Thompson, "Calvary Cross"
Jackson Browne, "Late For The Sky"
Mark Mulcahy, "Hey Self-Defeater"
The Velvelettes, "Needle In A Haystack"
O.V. Wright, "Let’s Straighten It Out"
Royksopp, "Royksopp’s Night Out"
The Avalanches, "Frontier Psychiatrist"
Soulwax, "No Fun / Push It"
Patti Smith, "Pissing In A River"

Interesting list. Teenage Fanclub's "Ain't That Enough" is one of my favorite cheery power pop songs of the last ten or twelve years -- chimey guitars, great chorus. The album it comes from, Songs from Northern Britain, is probably my favorite record of theirs -- that's a band that I felt never quite delivered a great album, but did have a good sound. Matthew Sweet fans would probably enjoy 'em.

I'm also sensing that we could soon see/feel a renaissance of the J. Geils Band. And I'm not talking about "Centerfold"-era, either. A critic friend once told me that he felt a case could be made that the J. Geils Band was the greatest American band there ever was, and certainly the greatest live American band. They're certainly deserving of the two disc anthology treatment, at any rate.

"Cavalry Cross?" I'm a huge fan of Richard and Linda Thompson, as has been well documented here, but that's an offbeat choice. As is Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window."

And O.V. Wright as the one classic soul entry... and just a day after we posted about him here. Hmmm.

posted by Anon. 11:11 AM


Box set and match

If you're still doing the Christmas gift purchasing thing (I'm not -- I managed to throw myself into it and get it all done before December 1, woo woo), then let me recommend a set that I'm listening to as I type, and that still stands, several years after its purchase, as my favorite box set of 'em all:

Aretha, Queen of Soul: the Atlantic Recordings. Aside from the fact that the liner notes won Grammies for two rock writer Davids that I count as my pals (Ritz and Marsh -- THUD -- sorry, that was the sound of my dropping names), it's also four discs of some of the best, stripped down soul singing you're going to find this side of the Big O. (Gotta pay my respects, eternal respects, to Otis, who was the best of 'em. God bless you, Otis.)

All the hits are here -- "Baby I Love You," "Respect," "Chain of Fools," etc -- but what really stands out is how Aretha so radically and successfully was able to reinterpret other songs that were so the original artists' domain that she was able to make them her own. Her versions of "Dark End of the Street," "Son of a Preacher Man," even "You Are My Sunshine" -- they deconstruct the originals (and our conceptions of the songs), turning them into something new altogether. That takes more than a singer. That's the work of an artist.

My favorites from the set? "Young, Gifted, and Black" and her version of Marvin and Tammi's "You're All I Need to Get By" -- just beautiful. But almost all of it is good, from "I Never Loved a Man" to "Something He Can Feel." If you don't own this already -- even if you own one of the single disc or two disc anthologies -- well, that's just embarrassing. Remedy that shame. Now.

posted by Anon. 3:19 PM
We can't work it out

This news on the wire today, which continues my theory that Paul isn't dead, just a jerk.

McCartney Switches Beatles Writing Credit
The Associated Press
Dec 17 2002 5:27PM
NEW YORK (AP) - Paul McCartney believes the last shall be first.

McCartney, after 40 years of second billing to his late partner John Lennon, has turned the tables on his Beatles collaborator by reversing the order of the famous Lennon-McCartney songwriting credit.

On Paul's last project, a two-CD live album, the cute Beatle is now top dog.

``Back in the U.S. Live 2002'' includes 19 classic Beatles songs billed as written by ``Paul McCartney and John Lennon.''

The back-and-forth continues a nasty feud between McCartney and Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, who in the past accused the Beatles bassist of ``opening a Pandora's box'' by changing the credits.

``This is not a divisive thing,'' insisted McCartney spokesman Geoff Baker in London. ``It's not Lennon or McCartney. Even if Paul did 95 percent or more on these songs, he's not asking that John's name be taken off.

``He just doesn't think it should be first.''

This particular intra-Beatles spat - one of many since the megaband dissolved in 1970 - dates back seven years, although it started with ``Yesterday.''

When the surviving members of the Fab Four began releasing their acclaimed ``Anthology'' series in 1995, McCartney approached Ono about flipping the Lennon-McCartney credit for the hit single.

Ono, the guardian of the Lennon legacy since her husband's 1980 murder by a deranged fan, turned him down. She and her attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

``It actually is one of the reasons we're not the best of friends,'' McCartney confessed in an interview with Reader's Digest last year.

No one disputes that McCartney wrote ``Yesterday'' by himself, or that he was the only Beatle in the studio for its recording. The tale of McCartney's waking up one morning with the tune in his head is part of Beatles' lore, as is its working title: ``Scrambled Eggs.''

Music historians suggest McCartney, now 60, has become worried about his place in history - as if half-ownership of rock 'n' roll's most-revered writing credit was nothing.

It's also a strange thing for McCartney to focus on: songwriting pairs such as Jagger and Richards, Leiber and Stoller, and Rodgers and Hammerstein have lived with their respective slots and the resulting music.

Yet this is not the first time there's been a posthumous feud between the one-time bandmates. When the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, McCartney boycotted over financial disputes.

``I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion,'' McCartney said at the time.

George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John's two sons, Julian and Sean, and Ono wound up accepting for the band.

And though he's a multimillionaire many times over - a spring tour of the United States grossed $53 million - it still irks McCartney that part of his songwriting profits go to Ono.

``At one point, Yoko earned more from `Yesterday' than I did,'' McCartney complained in a May 2001 interview. ``It doesn't compute, especially when it's the only song that none of the Beatles had anything to do with.''

I think this speaks for itself. If the pairing was always in an order, alphabetical, which could be accepted as not implying a superiority of one songwriting partner or the other, then why change it? Earlier this year, there was a story about McCartney wanting to change the order on only one song -- "Yesterday" -- since, as he claimed, he was the principal writer on that song. Well, I haven't seen Paul turning away the royalties for the songs that John was the principal writer on -- the "Strawberry Fields Forevers," and the like. Fooey.

posted by Anon. 2:52 PM
One more rain song for the road

Jason writes in:
Not sure if you're still looking for submissions to the rain song list, but R.E.M.'s "South Central Rain" came to mind almost immediately. A great song, but I'll admit that I always thought the song was called Sorry until a couple of years ago. Reckoning is probably my favorite REM album (although Document runs a close second); funny that I never knew the correct title of one of their classics.

Good catch, Jason. On that topic, my favorite REM albums:

1. Automatic for the People
2. Life's Rich Pageant
3. Murmur
4. Dead Letter Office
5. (tie) Document/New Adventures in Hi/Fi

posted by Anon. 12:36 PM
Now listening to...

"I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled, and Crazy," by O.V. Wright, one of the great (well, very good) Memphis soul singers, whose main heights were in the late 60s and early 70s. Peter Wolf recently covered this song on his excellent Fool's Parade.

Taken from The Soul of O.V. Wright, a single-disc anthology MCA put together in 1992.

posted by Anon. 10:03 AM
Mr. Blue Sky...

A commentary on the drone-like, routine-powered lifestyle of a young man in corporate America, and an ELO soundtrack. Gentlemen, I think we have the ad of the year.

posted by Anon. 8:07 AM


Stormy weather

It's raining hard, hard, hard outside my office window. Perfect time for favorite rain songs!

"It's Rainin'," Irma Thomas
"Red Rain," Peter Gabriel
"A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan
"Rain," The Beatles
"November Rain," Guns N Roses
"Have You Ever Seen the Rain," CCR
"Who'll Stop the Rain," CCR
"I Love a Rainy Night," Eddie Rabbit
"I Wish It Would Rain," The Temptations
"I Can't Stand the Rain," Ann Peebles, then Tina Turner
"Rainy Days and Mondays," The Carpenters
"Rain," Madonna
"Let It Rain," Eric Clapton
"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," B.J. Thomas
"It's Rainin' (4 AM)," The Bicycle Thief
"Southern Rain," Cowboy Junkies
"Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again," The Fortunes
"She's Like a Rainbow," The Rolling Stones
"Raining in My Heart," Buddy Holly
"Louisiana Rain," Tom Petty
"Fire and Rain," James Taylor
"Purple Rain," Prince
"Why Does It Always Rain on Me," Travis
"Buckets of Rain," Bob Dylan
"Box of Rain," Grateful Dead
"Here Comes the Rain Again," Eurythmics
"Rainy Night in Georgia," Brook Benton
"The Rain Song," Led Zeppelin
"Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Willie Nelson
"I Hope It Rains at My Funeral," Tom T. Hall
"Great Rain," John Prine
"Mandolin Rain," Bruce Hornsby and the Range
"Dreams," Fleetwood Mac ("thunder only happens when it's raining...")
"Take This Rain," Jackson Browne
"Surrender the Rain," Lindsey Buckingham
"The Rain Came Down," Steve Earle
"Rain Kings," Counting Crows
"Standing in the Rain," Husker Du

That's a start. Other ideas?

Email me, I'll keep adding to this list throughout the day. Or at least as long as it's raining outside.

posted by Anon. 1:15 PM
Department of Hmmm

The New York Times is doing a series about people breaking the Ten Commandments. Fair enough.

But for the second commandment, "thou shall not worship false idols," they decided to do a story about ... a super fan of the band Phish.

(Via LS)

posted by Anon. 1:05 PM
More from the New York Times...

Kelefa Sanneh takes apart Tom Petty today. Some pretty good points, in describing problems that have kept Petty from hitting that upper eschelon of Springsteen and Dylan levels.

But like any good conservative he knows there are limits to the power of love: he treats his fans with respect, but he declines to satiate their appetite for intimacy. "You don't know how it feels to be me," he sang, and one got the sense he liked it that way.

I think that's one of Petty's chief problems. While his music often boasts terrific melodies and his band boasts Mike Campbell on guitar and Benmont Tench on organ -- the former has one of the more easily identifiable guitar sounds around, the latter should be named a national treasure -- Petty's lyrics too often are superficial in trying to be deep. They don't feel like the songs coming from a guy hitting 50; he's still writing songs that look at love from a teenage standpoint. And in that way, he denies his audience an authentic intimacy with him as a songwriter. Keeps them at a distance. Which stands in sharp contrast not just to Springsteen and Dylan, but artists like Richard Thompson, Steve Earle, and John Hiatt, who haven't been afraid to act their age -- and also know that acting their age and acting like a rocker aren't irreconcilable.

posted by Anon. 9:51 AM
The Twain shall meet

I don't normally write about musicals here in Palmermix. There's a reason for that: nine times out of ten, I don't enjoy them.

But occasionally there's an exception (Singin' in the Rain, Sondheim's Assasins, some others) and yesterday I saw another one. "Big River," the 1985 adaptation of Huck Finn by Roger Miller, the same Roger Miller of "King of the Road" fame.

The music was good. And the story -- hey, it's Huck Finn, so it's fun. But the production itself, at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum, was amazing, and not just because of a beautiful set where characters walked in and out of pages of Twain's book. The production, by Deaf West Theatre, was made up of roughly half deaf actors and half speaking actors.

A musical with deaf actors? How does that work? It works, and works well, as every actor, speaking or deaf, signed their lines and their songs. And in the cases where a deaf actor had a song, such as Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, another actor would sing while they signed the lyrics. Sounds strange and ridiculous, ripe for parody? Amazingly, it worked, such that the signing kinda just became an extension of the already exaggerated movements of musical theatre, and added a new fluidity to the stage.

The speaking actor playing Mark Twain, in addition to his own lines and songs, also spoke the lines of his character's creation, Huck Finn. The result was an interconnectedness on stage, the ultimate demonstration of one of the best things theater can create: a community before your eyes. When in the final reprise of "Looking for My Light to Shine," the music and singing suddenly cut out -- silence -- and all there was were the actors signing the final verse -- letting those of us who could hear see for a second or two how the deaf people in the audience were watching the musical -- it left me with much more than the usual musical.

It's only playing in Los Angeles for another week, but I hope it goes to other cities after this. It certainly deserves to.

posted by Anon. 7:57 AM



This year's best box sets, courtesy of the New York Times.

And a so-so list of the five best indie albums of the year, courtesy of Slate. Wow, edgy and new! Oh, wait, Richard Buckner and Guided by Voices are being saluted, five years after both acts departed from the verge of relevance.

posted by Anon. 9:06 PM