Before we begin let’s get a couple things straight. First, the profusion of year in review lists that pop up around this time each year like so many awkward, unwanted boners during a speech class final presentation are more often than not colossal wastes of time. Compiling an arbitrarily ranked list and then attempting to confer significance upon its contents via authoritative sounding titles like “The Absolute Ten Best Titty Bar Bathrooms to Rub One Out In Of 2011” makes for easy copy for journalists but dull reading for readers. I love when people confess they “had a real hard time narrowing the field down to just ten” or actually go into the dark nights of the soul they spent tossing and turning under their pleated quilt protectors, beads of sweat flowing down their jelly roll jowls like a cascading river of high fructose corn syrup and mayonnaise, as though anyone who has gotten laid in the past year cares that they ranked the shitter at the Double Deuce one spot above that of Beansnappers.* Well, I’m proud to report that I did get laid this year - barely - and as a result I’m above all of this nonsense redolent of that episode of The Wonder Years where Kevin goes on a double date with Winnie and her date is this dork whose idea of snappy conversation consists entirely of questions like, “What are your three favorite albums? What are your three favorite foods? Who are your three favorite bands?” repeated ad nauseum like a junior Greg Shaw with Asperger’s or something.** Which brings me to the second point I need to make before we get onto the year in review proper: my brain isn’t set up to classify and rank aesthetic objects in numerical order like most collector dudes’ noggins seem to be, so don’t expect me to try. I’m the type of effusive fanboy who raves that a given record is the greatest thing ever recorded when it flips my lid for the first time. Rational analysis and all that jazz even more boring than actually listening to jazz goes out the window when I truly get into a record. Which isn’t an experience new records engender in me all that often to tell the truth. I’m still an obsessive music fanatic, but like a lot of people my age, I don’t feel the need to stay on top of every new band operating today. I figure that if something is good I’ll end up hearing it eventually. As long as I have a stack of records to flip through and can experience the bliss of getting wrapped up in a great song then the dates on the back of the sleeves are of little consequence to me. Or to put it more simply, much like Gene Clark’s fantasy girlfriend immortalized in song in 1965 and still breaking hearts today, I don’t care about time. What follows is a list of records and other sundry musical experiences that I loved dearly at some point during the year 2011, but only one of the records listed was actually released last year (and it was a reissue at that!).*** To write about anything else would not only be a lie, it would be as dull as every other paint by numbers year in review column for both me, the author, and you, the reader. While I can’t guarantee you will have fun with this, I know I certainly intend to.
Grudge “When Christine Comes Around” b/w “I’m Gonna Smash Your Face In” 45 (Mighty Mouth)
The first time I listened to this record I played “When Christine Comes Around” like eight times in a row. It’s exceedingly rare for a song to make that kind of immediate impression on me but it’s one of my favorite feelings in the world. Before I knew what I was doing a solo dance party broke out in front of my turntable as I boogied back and forth like a fourteen year old girl rocking out to Grudge while they performed live on Disco or Old Grey Whistle Test. That my awkward, age-inappropriate sashaying would be the subject of swift and brutal scorn were it observed by anyone never entered my mind, and if I had been in a crowd of dozens of strangers I would have still cut a rug like a three year old learning about scissors for the first time upon hearing such exuberantly infectious bubblegum! And then those lyrics! Did that dude really just say “Christine was a beautiful girl/Christine had my heart in a whirl/Her eyeball was sitting nicely in it’s socket/I think I’ll rip it out and put it in my pocket?!?!?” Not to put too fine a point on it, but holy fucking shit! Following that line with the campy spoken protest of “you wouldn’t do that” was just icing on the broken glass laden cake. The overall effect was not unlike that of a Joey Levine composition penned in honor of The 120 Days of Sodom. After listening to “Christine” over and over again for nearly fifteen minutes I decided to check out the flip and see if it was decent.**** What followed was honest to Yod one of the best goddamn songs I’ve ever heard in my life. “I’m Gonna Smash Your Face In” takes everything I love about music and distills it into a little over three and a half minutes of pop so perfect it’s like having the angelic form of Ellie Greenwich cooing “Da Doo Ron Ron” in one ear while in the other Stiv Bators’ ghoulish spectre spews out lyrics left on the cutting room floor when composing “I Need Lunch” because they were too deemed too crude by Jimmy Zero. The insidiously catchy sing song melody of bubblegum, the humor and aggression of punk, the seemingly tossed off trashiness of glam - it’s all wrapped up in this tune like a perfectly rock ‘n’ rolled crepe filled to the bursting point with sugary goodness. Best of all, it’s all-caps, double spaced F U N!!! I could listen to this song a thousand times and it would still bring a smile to my face when I gave it the one thousand and first go around. THIS is the high I’m chasing when I buy records. When I finally catch it in the form of songs like “I’m Gonna Smash Your Face In” the pure pop bliss is worth all the money I’ve wasted over the years on records I barely listen to.
Powerpops “Forever” Live at Shimokitazawa Cave Be 11/12/2011
I wasn’t lucky enough to be at this show as my sentence isn’t quite up in Prison USA, but I’ve watched the videos. And watched them again. And again. And again once more for good measure. Powerpops is my best buddy in Japan Atsushi’s first ever band along with Ogawa from a group called the Cokes and some dude named Fifi on drums (I think he’s like, been in some bands or something but I’m not sure). Ogawa handles guitar duties and writes most of the songs. All of his compositions are superior, imminently hummable powerpop that I dig quite a bit, but Atsushi’s lone contribution, a song titled simply “Forever”, is top of the (power)pops. It’s a driving, catchy pop ‘n’ roll tune that has taken up permanent residence in my brain for the past month and a half. If you, like most people who have never met Atsushi, don’t know what pop ‘n’ roll is I’m going to have hard time explaining it for you. It’s one of those things where I know it when I hear it but can’t really verbalize it, other than perhaps by saying, “it sounds like something Atsushi would like” (considering this is a guy with the best powerpop record collection of anyone I know, that alone says a lot). What makes Atsushi and his love of pop ‘n’ roll so great is that it’s grounded in a pure, 100% from the heart, unfiltered passion for pop music. I think that comes though in spades in this performance which has me awaiting his further musical compositions in giddy anticipation.
Ohio Express "Mercy" LP (Buddah)
Sometimes the simplest pleasures in life are also the best. According to my mathematically challenged reckoning I think I spent around $2500 on records in the past year, but I’m on pace to play this $3 LP I picked up in early December more than any of them. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit I bought something as fundamental as this just a few weeks ago, but I’ve never come across it cheap “in the wild” and always figured I would someday. I was also under the mistaken impression that the singles are all you really need with the Ohio Express after being let down by their dull second LP where Kasenetz and Katz committed the cardinal bubblegum sin of letting the no-talent grunts in the band write their own material. Luckily by the time this, their fourth, album rolled around the boys from the Buckeye state were resigned to life as hired hands and knew their role was to smile and lip sync while Joey Levine laid the golden eggs that lined Kasentz, Katz, and Neil Bogart’s no doubt flamboyantly designed coffers.***** And what golden eggs he laid on this record!!! Mercy is a veritable hit machine; every single song is catchy as mononucleosis at an eighth grade girl’s spin the bottle party. If I’ve listened to this record once over the past month I’ve listened to it fifty times. At this point its taken up residence in my Hippocampus a couple doors down from albums like 'Blonde on Blonde' and 'The Who Sings My Generation', which is only natural I suppose because it is every bit as great as either of those. Which brings me to an important point: if you want to dance with me then you’d best concede that good time music beats chin scratching “art” six ways to Sunday, all day, everyday. Joey Levine’s name might not be canonized along with your Dylans, Mick and Keefs, John and Pauls, Sad Sack Brian Wilsons, Ray Davies, and Pete Townshends in the sixties rock pantheon but in a just world it would be. Maybe I’m betraying my lack of maturity here, but I have more fun listening to “Peanuts” and chuckling at the background vocals that sound like they are singing “penis” more than I do listening to the entirety of 'Pet Sounds' with its maudlin introspection masquerading as pop art. People love to slob on the Kinks’ metaphorical knob - and they were a great band no doubt - but these days I’m seriously questioning whether or not Ray Davies ever wrote a song better than “Sweeter Than Sugar” post 1966.****** I mean sure, “Some Mother’s Son” is brilliant, but does it make you feel good inside? “Lucky” sure does, and isn’t that what really matters? Play “Come On Down Maryann” back to back with anything off of 'Village Green Preservation Society' and tell me which makes you want to dance; which makes you happier to be alive? Look, life is short, and I just want to have fun with what’s left of mine. And right now I can’t think of many records more fun than 'Mercy'.
Rockies "Punch In" LP (Express)
This, the first and only album by Japan’s would be-teen idols cum AOR powerpoppers the Rockies, kicks off with a song called “Honeymoon Paradise” and only gets wimpier from there. That unabashed sentimentality so characteristic of the Japanese is what makes the album for me. Were it possible for American ears to understand the Japanese lyrics here but still remain ignorant of the differences in how emotions are expressed in those two languages, then it might seem rather cheesy when the singer pleads with his gal pal, “Omae no namida de, boku no karada ni nurashitai” (“I want to soak in your tears”) after singing a line like “omae ni moratta itami, ai ni surikawaru” (“The hurt you gave me will turn to love”) but after dating Japanese women almost exclusively for the past nine years and spending nearly every night for the better part of 2011 watching Japanese television dramas online to keep my language ability up these kind of melodramatic proclamations are starting to carry more emotional resonance with me than equivalent sentiments in my native language. Take it from me, there’s no better soundtrack for sublimating one’s Godzilla-sized sexual frustration born from living in a state devoid of the only nationality of chicks one deems attractive into motivation for studying a difficult language than the Rockies! The increasing resemblance of the pigmentation in the author’s balls to that of a blue whale aside, whenever I listen to this album it wraps me up in its spell and waves of understated sentimentality swirl around me while I try and remember why it is I’m so miserable all the time. Then I remember the loves lost, opportunities squandered, and the lack of palatable options on the horizon and it all comes back to me. But somehow it doesn’t seem quite as bleak while basking in the gentle glow of my memories; when the common thread between the past and present reunites itself in my mind I can take solace in the thought that good times gone by must one day repeat themselves in different temporal forms somewhere in the bound horizon we call the future. Listening to the Rockies makes me remember that this vale of tears is really an illusory veil serving to hide the bliss that underlies all existence from our waking consciousness. It also totally makes me want to get back to Japan ASAP, not only so I can finally bone home with a J-babe, but also so I can rustle up a gang of obachans in their mid-fifties and go sing some Rockies karaoke with them!!!
Luv' "Lots of Luv'" LP (Philips)
To the best of my knowledge Luv' were retroactively brought into the bubblegum pantheon via an article Metal Mike wrote about them for the book Bubblegum is the Naked Truth where he dubbed them the “Uber Abba.” They were introduced to yours truly via a DVD full of bubblegum tunes ex-Tuff Banana Adam K made for me around the time that band was first getting together, but I didn’t actually get around to listening to this album until late last year due to my old laptop’s disc drive shitting the bed. It’s probably for the best I didn’t hear them at that time either because in my younger and dumber days I would have written Luv' off as “disco crap” after a cursory thirty second preview of each song. Luckily in the ensuing four years or so since first receiving this fateful disc I discovered the peerless pop majesty of Abba via a $1 greatest hits LP I was given for free at a record shop in Vancouver and was thus ready for Luv when I finally did get around to hearing them. The uninitiated amongst you may have gathered by now that Luv are a Dutch disco pop group in the mold of Abba, but as near as I can tell from a couple hours of intensive Youtube digging they are the only such group with songs that can scale the Olympian heights reached by their Swedish role models. What’s more, Abba never made an album as start to finish fun as Lots of Luv'. There’s a tossed off playfulness pervading these songs that I find really endearing - obviously nobody involved was thinking about anything more “relevant” than partying down, having a good time, and of course making a lot of money when putting this together - and there’s also a certain subversive thrill that comes with getting down to some campy Dutch disco far more than one listens to, say, that admittedly great Panic LP that Sing Sing put out this year. Maybe a better way to put that is to say going ga-ga over Luv' in the winter of 2011 was emblematic of me finally coming to terms with the fact that I buy records for my enjoyment and my enjoyment alone and what is or isn’t considered “acceptable” has absolutely no relevance to me. More importantly, tunes like “Dandy” and “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe” are monster jams that never fail to turn my all too frequently present frown upside down. Before I wrap this up I must take umbrage to Metal Mike describing these gals as poorly dressed. Perhaps those tacky blue and white jumpsuits they rocked on the cover to 'With Luv' may have been slightly ill advised, but the cowgirl and Indian get ups sported on the front of this album are cool as anything Abba ever wore outside of Bjorn’s space cape in the “Ring Ring” video. What’s more, the back cover with them dolled up in campy nautical outfits truly needs to be seen to be believed. It’s so over the top that just looking at it makes me feel like I’m arm wrestling Sylvester Stallone while he takes a pit stop from riding a big rig across American in an attempt to bond with his estranged son. If anyone out there knows of more disco with the pop chops of Luv', I’m all ears.
The Fun and Games “The Grooviest Girl in the World” and “Elephant Candy” 45s (UNI)
In which former Beach Boy hanger-on turned hired (pop) gun pens a bouncing bubblegum classic extolling the virtues of the “family portrait of grace” known as the “grooviest girl in the world” only to follow it up with a should have been gargantuan hit about giving another man a blowjob for the first time. One bite in the moonlight and I’m loving the Fun and Games forevermore.
Rip Offs and Dukes of Hamburg live @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco 10/21 and 10/22
For those of you keeping track at home this marks six entries in my year in review before getting to some actual punk rock, and that via two bands who made their names over a decade ago. The Rip Offs, along with Teengenerate and the Registrators, were huge for me back in my high school days. It’s not an exaggeration for literary effect to say that the message “REMEMBER: TALENT = BORING” on the label of the Rip Offs’ Got a Record LP along with the legend “MUSICIANS SUCK” on the “Now I Know” 45 did more to inform my then-emerging musical sensibility than the work of any single band.******* At the time I was an awkward, sixteen year old dork fumbling around with a purple Kramer Striker that had a very metal headstock resembling a hockey stick in hopes of learning to “play guitar” properly. When I heard the Rip Offs, and then later Supercharger, I put down the guitar and started picking up more records. I realized then and there that not only was learning to play guitar proficiently of little consequence when trying to write great songs - it was actually more often than not a hindrance. The Rip Offs, along with Teengenerate, were one of the coolest bands on the Earth at the time but they would all have been laughed out of the first day of class at the Guitar Institute of Technology. To me this was the essence punk rock: being in a better band than all the “talented” metal and alternative rock douchebags in the world just by dint of the fact that you were way cooler than them. It was an in-group mentality this perennial outsider found very attractive.
Despite the huge impact the Rip Offs had on me growing up I had never gotten a chance to see them live. So it when I read they were doing a reunion show at the final Budget Rock it was a no brainer that I would be there. Even if I had to sign up for a Delta Sky Miles American Express card in order to use the miles I had accrued over the years going to Japan there was no way I was going to miss the Rip Offs for anything. When I got in to San Francisco I was immediately disheartened to learn that Jon Von wasn’t able to make the show due to unavoidable extenuating circumstances. I had come expecting the real Rip Offs - well as real as any band can get fifteen years after the fact - and wouldn’t have made the trip if I had known in advance that they weren’t going to be there. Luckily I did. Not only did I have a total blast time hanging out with my excellent host and new buddy Jason Patrone, but the Rip Offs were fucking great! It was everything I expected a Rip Offs show would be and more: audience baiting, flubbed chords, bottles broken over heads, false starts, put downs hurled like fastballs upside the head between Greg and Shane, dudes falling down, sour notes, and some of the best fucking songs I’ve ever heard played with all the drunken abandon and comedic vitriol I had always imagined. It was a chaotic, beautiful mess.
With all that in mind, the Dukes Of Hamburg might have been even better. To tell the truth I wasn’t very familiar with them going in, but I became a believer in a big way thirty seconds or so into the first song. If the Rip Offs were like a pair of pugilists having a knock down drag out war until neither could stand, the Dukes were like two stumble drunks fighting it out in a back alley who were so messed up on Old Overholt they could barely stand before the dumb idea to start fighting even made its way into their alcohol addled brains. They were fucked. They were also fucking awesome. Russel Quan gets a lot of much deserved praise for his drumming, but he was really born to be a frontman. He spent nearly every song beating himself in the head with a tambourine like his life’s ambition was to donate his brain to science so they could study the effect of multiple concussive blows upon it (Verdict: evidently all those whacks upside the head lead to a form of mild retardation that causes you to say “donkey shit” repeatedly for years on end). At times it seemed like the band were all playing parts of different songs but they performed with such unhinged bravado that it sounded perfect. More than any set I’ve witnessed since the Sleaze stopped playing regularly, the Dukes of Hamburg at Budget Rock exemplified how fine the line truly is between retardation and genius. Which, if you think about it, was what this punk rock business was originally all about in the first place.
* For the record, the shitter at the Deuce is pretty great because it’s literally an inch or two from the wooden chair where fifty year old virgins in Minnesota Vikings sweat pants get lap dances from cellulite riddled strippers who have been around the block a time or two-hundred. I’ve not been to to Appleton, Wisconsin’s most excellently named Beansnappers so I can’t comment on their facilities. I’m sure RFA or Trickknee can give the lowdown to any interested parties though.
** The forecast is not looking so favorable for next year on the tuna taco front however, which has me afraid that next December I’m going to turn in a year in review consisting of such topics as “The Thirteen and a Half Most Majestic Gyros I Chomped of 2012” and “The Ten Best Female Fronted Disco Records I Bought off Discogs Between the Months of March and August 2012 And How They Relate to This Sad Life of Born Again Virginity Thrust Upon Me By a Cruel and Unfeeling Fate.”
*** Both the Sleaze “Weird Truck” and Real Numbers “Tear It In Two” 45s would be on this list where it not for the fact that me and Eli’s label put out the Sleaze record and I used to be in Real Numbers years ago and am thus too close to the parties involved to write about these records with even a smidgen of objectivity. Suffice to say both singles completely and utterly rule and if you are foolish enough to not already own them then I suggest you remedy that quickly. “Tear It In Two” in particular is such a great song I can’t tell you enough how much I wish I had written it.
**** As you all know, in the case of most bubblegum and glam singles usually there is only one good song on the record.
***** Hey, mongooses in a box don’t come cheap! If you don’t believe me just ask Cyril Jordan.
****** OK, “Ducks on a Wall” off of 'Soap Opera' is better than “Sweeter than Sugar,” as are a few tunes off 'Schoolboys in Disgrace'.
******* Of course the hastily scrawled indictment, “If you don’t like this record, go listen to fuckin’ jazz” on the back of the Registrators' “Monkey” single was also life changing stuff for me.