In mid-December 1977 The Sex Pistols were scheduled to be on Saturday Night Live, but they broke up instead and Elvis Costello got the gig. Johnny Rotten and Elvis Costello both later were guests on Tom Snyder’s The Tomorrow Show. Public Image Ltd. was on American Bandstand, sure, and The Dickies were on a Don Rickles sitcom, but late night TV was where you found your punk bands.
Decades later, that’s still the case—with the same generation of bands. Buzzcocks! On Seth Meyer! Doing a new song, “Keep on Believing,” from their new album! With an online bonus of “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have).
“Keep on Believing,” indeed. Though I do not like the beard.
Sweet power pop that wouldn’t be out of place on a Yellow Pills or International Pop Overthrow comp, though it would stand out there for its deviation from pop form. Lyrics and guitars wind weirdly around each other, creating underrhythms and unpredictabilities. Catchy and quirky and low-key all at once. Love the laid-back poppers.
Avril Lavigne, “Fly.” The once-snarky girl who dissed the Sk8er Boi does an empowering anthem for the Special Olympics. Reminds me of when I met Debbie Gibson at the Special Olympics in New Haven in 1995. It’s where former teen idols go to help. Lavigne still has that yelpy voice and hardly seems to have aged a day.
While in Indiana last week, I spent some time at the state History Center and Library. Randomly searched its catalog for one of my favorite Indiana-born songwriters, Hoagy Carmichael, and turned up this political curiosity: a campaign song of sorts for Senator James E. Watson. who served from 1916-1933. (Watson had previously been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from two separate districts: the 4th district from 1895-97 and the 6th district from 1899-1909.)
Watson was a controversial and powerful Republican. He’d been a lobby in between serving in the House and Senate, had seats on important committees, was Majority Leader for his last two terms, and was a must-have endorsement in Indiana. He was suspected of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and got in a royal pissing match with Knute Rockne about tensions between the Klan and Notre Dame University. But outwardly his reputation apparently was of being immensely likeable and even tolerant.
There are no such complications, contradictions or nuances in Hoagy Carmichael’s song “Our Jim,” which is distinctive mainly for its obsequious nonsense in search of familiarizing and deformalizing the imperious Senator Watson.
“Our Jim” was published in late 1932, four years after Carmichael’s still-massive hit “Stardust” first debuted and just a year after its major recording by Bing Crosby. Carmichael hadn’t hooked up with lyricist Johnny Mercer just yet, but he was a well-known composer and of course, to Sen. Watson, a fellow Hoosier and Republican.
Words and music by Hoagy Carmichael
Senators come from everywhere
To give the country what is fair
Some of them grow to be famous men
But some don’t even care
Senator James E. Watson came
To lead us up a rocky hill
So he proposed a tariff bill
We’ll ride along with him
We call him Senator Jim
And ev’ry heart is with him
Hail! To the years he gave his Hoosier State
He’s only sixty-eight
We’re mighty proud to have “Our Jim.”
A finer man couldn’t be.
There’s none as handsome as he.
You can bank on the Wabash
and Senator Watson
We all love Jim.
Senators are a funny crew.
They argue till they’re black and blue.
Some of them gain their points, it’s true.
But others seldom do.
Senator James E. Watson is a fiery man
With lots of vim
He never fails to gain his point
We’ll ride along with him
Carry Illinois, Alabaster. This is pop-folk as Linda Rondstadt used to do it before she fomented the heinous L.A. soft-rock movement. Strong, clear female vocals (Lizzy Lehman) are carried along some fervent playing that’s close to R&B in its energy and synchronicity. This soulful guitarry rock stuff is not generally my cup of tea, but I certainly admire when it’s done well, and I had to hear this album all the way through at once.
Liturgy, “Reign Array.” I was impressed with this band’s song “Quetzalcoatl,” and this one is even more confident in its sacred/pop crossover style. Transcendent, even, in a sensory-overload manner I associate with the religious works of Mozart or Byrd. Yet noisy and sloppy, which makes it even more intriguing—and spiritual—for me. “Reign Array” is an 11-minute opus that has no intelligible vocals for its first third. It’s too loose to feel like an overture or symphony. It feels genuinely like underground church music. Masterful, intoxicating and a little scary, like any good organized religion. “Reign Array” is from the album The Ark Work, due out March 24 on Thrill Jockey.
I’ve been feeling snowbound for months out here in the Connecticut countryside. Suddenly summer has started, now I’ve heard The Cool Whips album “Goodies.” I’ve been around for all the golden ages of bubblegum and power pop, and despair that the modern bands that dip into the genre now “just don’t get it.” Most of them are derivated of the already several-steps-removed Apples of Stereo. But the Cool Whips get it. They have the sound and the style, and they downplay the irony or nonconformity, playing songs like “Pink Lemonade” and “Tickle Me With a Featherduster” with straightforward chipper earnestness. They acknowledge their pop forbears with titles such as “Boom Shang-a-Lang” and “Move Over, Aphrodite.” But they also sound like their own band.