Category Archives: Chris’ Record Collection

Stuck in a Corner With… Christopher Arnott

I was reading through some old New Haven Advocates for a research project, and was happily distracted by my friend Kathleen Cei’s local band interview column Stuck in a Corner With…
It was a questionnaire format for profile of area musicians. (I had done a similar column for the Advocate years earlier, called Band This Week.)
On a whim, I decided to fill out the questionnaire myself. The answers are true to today.

Age: 54
Music style: jazz-punk on uke.
Plays: a green Flea ukulele.
Other roles: Host, Get to the Point!; arts journalist and critic.
Armed With: a pocketful of black gel pens.
First album bought: The Archies. I owned Beatles, Lovin’ Spoonful, Chipmunks and other albums before that, but the first Archies album was bought (at a supermarket) with my own money.
First concert: The Supremes, March 9, 1968 at The Fieldhouse, Iowa City, Iowa.
In the CD player at home: The Kinks, Everybody’s in Show Biz; Marisa Monte, A Great Noise; Elf Power, Sunlight on the Moon; The Funky 16 Corners; The Shazam, Tomorrow The World; Teenage Fan Club, Shadows; Daddy-O Daddy—Rare Family Songs of Woody Guthrie; 10cc (first album); Adam Ant, B-Side Babies; Elvis Costello Live with the Metropole Orkest, My Flame Turns Blue; The Montgomery Cliffs, Millennium—A Pop Opera; Dave Douglas, Keystone.
CDs in the car: Nilsson box set (RCA Albums Collection); three Fountains of Wayne albums; several Tom Waits bootlegs; The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles; The Beatles, Meet The Beatles; Weezer (Blue Album); Matilda, Original Broadway Soundtrack.
Currently reading: Joe Perry, Rocks; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned; Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning; W.E. Aytoun, Stories and Verse; Larry Kramer, The American People Vol. 1; and the entire DC Convergence saga.
Album that changed my life: Live at the Rat, 1976. Introduced me to several of my favorite bands of all time—Willie Loco Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, The Real Kids, DMZ, Marc Thor—and showed me what a robust local music scene could mean.
Game I always win: Most word games.
Game I always lose: All card games.
Buy me a drink: Before the spring of 2001, a dry gin martini. Since then, O’Doul’s.
What’s hiding under his bed: A field mouse.
Join another local band for a day: Jellyshirts.
Most memorable local shows: The impromptu Miracle Legion reunion at the Meriden Daffodil Festival; The Gravel Pit opening for Cheap Trick at Toad’s Place; The Swansons at Poco Loco; Groove Fiction Sex Ceremony at Urban Jungle; Mocking Birds at Cafe Nine; etc. etc.
Lyrics I’m most proud of: I used to parody hymns when I was in the church choir in grade school. A parody I wrote with my sister Catherine of “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” began “I sing along with the saints of God/ Because they can’t sing too well…”
Fun fact about Christopher Arnott: In my heyday as New Haven Advocate arts writer, I used to get Christmas cards from Teller (of Penn & Teller), Robert Goulet and Maureen Tucker.
If I was a pizza, what would the toppings be? Mushrooms.
Question I wish I’d asked: Why do so many people in the scene mispronounce my last name?

R.I.P. Michael Brown: Fifteen Best “Walk Away Renee” Covers

• Willie Loco Alexander and the Baboon Band. From the Boston Incest Album released by Sounds Interesting Records in 1980. Alexander was a keyboardist who dabbled in baroque pop himself with The Bagatelle back in the ‘60s.
• Billy Bragg. A story-song, using the “Walk Away” melody as the soundtrack. Stunning.
• The Four Tops. A genuine hit for the group, which they were still doing when I saw the last Levi Stubbs Tops tour in 1999.
• Arrows. Mid-‘70s British band who had the original hit with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” in 1975. Their “Walk Away Renee” is very close to the Left Banke version, just a touch rockier. Heavier drum sound.
• Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. Lush in ways Michael Brown did not consider: bluesy lead vocals, female backing vocals, melodic bass lines…
• Linda Ronstadt. Folksy, with prominent acoustic guitar and, I guess, cello.
• Vonda Shepard. If Nina Simone had covered this song, it might have gone like this. Rangy vocals and all piano.
• Gabor Szabo. Mournful instrumental classical-guitar rendition.
• Somerdale. Wondrous stadium-rock-anthem style version. Hard to know what to make of this; it’s just overwhelming.
• Les Fradkin. By changing a few inflections and scansions, Fradkin shows you how regimented the lyrics to this tune are. Then the guitar breaks free too.
• Terry Reid. Takes the whole thing apart and puts it back together as a Brit-blues exhibition.
Dummy. Loud and fast and gnarly. Kind of wrong.
• Alvin Stardust. Horribly dated—not in a baroque pop kind of way; in a ‘70s studio-pop tricks way.
• Willie Bobo. Hipster jazz rendition. Nothing baroque about this one.
• Karla DeVito and The Roches. Overblown production with soaring vocals and obtrusive horns.
Carol Noonan. Lyrical and sweet and slow.
• Jive Bunny and the Mixmasters. One of those “Stars on 45”-style medleys matched to a steady propulsive dancefloor beat. This one’s made up of Four Tops hits, including “Walk Away Renee.”

It should be noted that there’s a Louisiana band called Renee and The Walkaways, and a 2011 documentary titled Walk Away Renee, about a road trip the filmmaker Jonathan Caouette takes with his mother Renee.
Interesting that most, though hardly all, covers of “Walk Away Renee” choose to retain the violins. Yes, the original coined the whole concept of baroque pop, but the song itself is rather straightforward and could be taken in a number of directions.

Another Five or Ten (More singles from the Christopher Arnott record collection)

Found a bunch more splits in the basement—ten bands for the price of five.

Exit, “Turn Me On, Dead Man”/ 30 Amp, “Punk Virtuoso.” A very impressive West Coast punk split seven-inch, with all the packaging clichés associated with the era: doodles, superhero images, parodies of little ads in the backs of comic books… The sides could scarcely be more dissimilar. Exit’s “Punk Virtuso” is a well-written screed about poseurs, while 30 Amp’s “Turn Me On, Dead Man” uses the famous “Paul is Dead” audio clue as the title for a relentless drone (literally, one long burst of feedback) so rich and scary and well-recorded that it terrified my pet dogs.

Gone Daddy Finch, “Anything Done Tomorrow”/Gravelbed, “Driving High”. Speedy Midwestern indie pop with tinges of rockabilly. Int he ‘90s, it seemed that every other band touring through the poorer clubs in town had this sound. Did the Clinton administration cause it? (Nope. Never had saxophones.)

Eugene Chadbourne with Jello Biafra, “Overpopulation and Art”/ Eugene Chadbourne with Jimmy Carl Black, “Night of the Living Dead”/”Jicarillo Fence Dispute”. Chadbourne was a god to many musicians I respected. This 33 1/3 rpm seven-inch from 1994 is not his finest few minutes, but it certainly demonstrates his diversity, and the range of other artists who stood in awe in him. The Biafra collaboration is a sound collage which begins with a ‘phone message from a nurse telling Chadbourne his semen sample had no sperm in it. Largely spoken-art, with a prevailing theme of misunderstood artists, it ignores Chadbourne’s natural gifts as a musical improviser. That’s what the Jimmy Carl Black side is for—lots of experimental banjo, and not much getting in the way, led off with a variation of Black Uhuru’s anthemic “I am the living dread.”

Black Pig Liberation Front. “The Revolution of Everyday Life, Part Two”/ DOS with Denis Mahoney, The Revolution of Everyday Life, Part One.” Elegantly pressed on mottled vinyl inside a slick art-photo sleeve, this is a souvenir of an adorably pretentious era in sea-coast Connecticut rock. (The two-part, two-band opus is subtitled “a poprocket record of the literary renaissance.”) Gradual, moody, calming yet strident (when the lecturing vocals come in and out), the DOS side is the higher-concept issue-laden soundscape. It’s neatly teamed with Black Pig Liberation Front’s friendlier theory-jam, which sounds like it’s taking place around a hazy bong.

Robin Williams, “I Yam What I Yam”/Shelley Duvall, “He Needs Me.” Harry Nilsson’s songs for Robert Altman’s Popeye movie are so bizarre, you’d think he’d never scored a movie before, let alone written The Point. Having Nilsson’s atypically simple melodies overorchestrated by the brilliant Van Dyke Parks is a multi-styled mindfuck as colossal as was wrought by Thimble Theater, the absurb comic strip melodrama which unleashed Popeye back in 1929. The volatile Williams is actually cowed into submission by the swelling accompaniment, while Duvall shrill wail rises comically above it.