Tag Archives: Warren Zevon

Music Blog – Songs That Don’t Fit

Welcome to my music blog. In these entries I will highlight a particular genre, time period, or artist and give you a week’s worth of listening as examples. You can go to Pandora, Spotify, or your favorite music site to listen to or download the music.

I wish I could say each list was the result of years of research, my own musical experience, and critical consensus  of critics, but they aren’t. They are just things I find interesting. I listen to many types of music, but I tend to love to find overlooked bands/songs or bands that were big but that history has kind of forgotten.

There will be glaring omissions, egregious inclusions, and outright mistakes. If you agree or disagree, want to clue me into other possibilities, or explain some odd point of music history, please leave a comment.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the music.

Nick Cave The Modern Lovers The Replacements

Songs That Don’t Fit

I have a warm spot in my heart for oddball bands and oddball songs. A lot like my love for strange cars and cult movies. Pieces of artistic expression that show a strong sense of the artist’s point of view, but that are completely out of step with the times. There is probably a personal life metaphor in there somewhere, but I’d really rather not think about it.

The songs on this list are ones that are really hard to classify, but one that also have touched me in some way (I’m not going to discuss that metaphor either). Some are spooky, some are silly, and others are just very tender and honest. I don’t know if they were made out of some deep desire on the part of the artist, or if they were a lark, or if they were drug fueled indulgences caught on tape for posterity. All I know is that I like them.

Nick Cave – Nick is from Australia and was part of a pioneering goth group called “The Birthday Party”. He formed a group of former punk artists called “Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds” and proceeded to blaze an experimental trail across the ‘80s. He has recorded with the band and solo since then and has continued to be experimental. The song “Red Right Hand” is one of the creepiest, and most cinematic songs I have ever heard.

The Bad Examples – A Chicago band popular in the ‘90s. They were strong regionally, playing somewhere constantly, but never managed to break into the national scene. They were fueled by Ralph Covert’s catchy tunes, and his twisted pop sensibilities. The band slowed down after the death of the lead guitarist (heart attack, odd for rock n roll), and Ralph launched into a very successful career in childrens music.

Little Feat – By all rights they should have been a southern band in the tradition of the Allman Brothers, or /38 Special, but their main creative force, Lowell George, was never content to write arena rock. They toured constantly, refining their sound and building an audience, but when Lowel died in ’79 the wheels fell off the bus. This song “Dixie Chicken” is one of my all time favorites.

The Modern Lovers – While they had their moment in the clouded sun during the punk years, it is hard to call them punk. They were much more of an underground or cult band in the vein of the Velvet Underground. Through the ‘70s they always seemed on the edge of semi-stardom, but never got there. The original band went through many changes, but the creative lead Jonathan Richman remained and the band ended up being his vehicle.

Billy Bragg – Folk music generally makes me want to pull a Belushi and smash the guitar, but I find that when folk artists sing about love, relationships, or just don’t get preachy I kind of like them. Bragg spent time doing work in the ‘80s for liberal causes like political rallies, strikes and benefits. Through this he built up an audience for his crisp guitar work and concise biting lyrics.

The Replacements – Prince cast a long shadow over the ‘80s music scene in Minneapolis. This frozen land isn’t known as a musical hotbed, but for a few years during the Regan administration it was on the map. The Replacements were kind of a post punk band, but tempered with Midwestern and pop sensibilities. They were supposed to be the next big thing, until a disasterous drunken performance on Saturday Night Live showed they were not ready for the limelight. Paul Westerburg went on to have a fairly successful solo career, but I will always mourn what could have been.

Monday – Nick Cave “Red Right Hand,  Warren Zevon “Werewolves of London”

Tuesday – The Bad Examples “Sammy the Dog”, “She Smiles like Richard Nixon”

Wednesday – Robert Palmer “Hey Julia”, Little Feat “Dixie Chicken”

Thrusday – The Modern Lovers “Pablo Picasso”, Billy Bragg “A New England”

Friday – Nora Jones “Man of the Hour”, The Replacements “Skyway”

Bonus – Devo “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” – Yes, I like it better than the original. Not even close.

Music Blog – Uh, what the hell is that?

Uh, what the hell is that?

They Might Be Giants Flood Warren Zevon Excitable Boy

I’ve always had a soft spot for original bands. Bands that just don’t sound like other bands. When the whole musical world was doing a Zig, these guys were way past Zag – more like Omphlslatz with Horshradish. Whether or not these bands are actually original is up for interpretation. One can argue that all musicians simply build on what came before, combining and recombining what has already happened into something that feels new. While that may be true, these bands did it in such a way that they stood out from the crowd.

They Might Be Giants – I like to think of these guys as “if Devo were born  as Gen X instead of Boomers”. Two childhood friends meet  back up in New York and form a band, combining their extra years of formal education with a drum machine and vaudeville humor to form a band. Not exactly textbook a Rock n Roll biography. They eventually landed a minor record deal by creating a dial-a-song line using their own answering machine to get their music heard. To call them quirky is a massive understatement. Through the years they’ve sung about Racists, The Alphabet, and even Turkish geography. Loads of Fun.

Cake – If the previous band had grown up with more sunshine, more pot, and attended class less, they might have become Cake. Cake is a thinking stoner’s band, unpretentious, clever, note wildly ambitious but still delivering a solid music and lyric combination.  They can be a bit detached, ironic and melancholy, like much of the ‘90s was, but they still sound like they’ve got a little hope. Yeah, I realized that all is really contradictory, but I’m sticking to it.

The Violent Femmes – If the previous band…no, um, if the Beatles had..no…if Dylan had a major brain trauma while huffing the powder from Pixie sticks…no, not even that describes them correctly. How about slow, emotionally damaged but fairly literate punks transcribe their therapy sessions and put it to music? That’s all I got. You have to hear it to believe it. Actually I do have something to say. Back in my college fraternity days (don’t laugh, it happened) we would have “socials” with the sororities. They would come over to our house and we would have a big party. This was the early ‘80s, so Prince and Michael Jackson were the order of the day. If we were not having a good party, we would put in their first album and the girls would be gone in less than 15 minutes. Then we could call up people we knew and re-start the party. Such is the power of the Vilolent Femmes. While I have trouble listening to Prince or Michael Jackson now, this band is still on my playlists

Warren Zevon – From the banality that was southern California in the mid ’70, rose up so many strong singer songwriters. My favorite is Warren Zevon. You’ve heard “Werewolves of London” many times, but you probably haven’t heard the rest of his oddball writing, combined with rock solid musicianship. He bounced around from  Chicago to NY, to SoCal, to Spain, and back to SoCal while rubbing elbows with Igor Stravinsky, Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks,  and the Everly Brothers. Yeah, read that list again and try to put it all together. Cynical, with a bit of heart and a lemon twist.

Harry Nilsson – Not sure it’s fair to list this guy here. Afterall, he had one of the biggest hits of the ‘70s when he sang “Everybody’s Talkin” from Midnight Cowboy (oddly enough, he didn’t write that song). He worked nights at a bank in the early days of electronic funds transfers. He actually supervised the transferring of millions of dollars each week. During the day he would write songs and try to get a record deal. He was mentioned by the Beatles as one of their favorite artists, and interest exploded. He wrote “One” for Three Dog Night, “Cuddly Toy” for the Monkees,  as well as most of his own songs. He never performed a concert or toured. He was one part LA, one part Tin Pan Alley, and two parts bad timing. He hit it big as the stars of the ‘60’s all hit their drug/alchohol years, and he hung around all of them. But he did leave some wonderful tunes.

Monday – They Might Be Giants “The Sun is a Ball of Incandescent Gas”, and  “Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Tuesday – Cake – “Rock n Roll Lifestyle”, “Sheep Go to Heaven”

Wednesday – The Violent Femmes – “Blister in the Sun”, “Add it Up”

Thursday – Warren Zevon –  “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”

Friday – Harry Nilsson – “Jump Into the Fire”, “Me and My Arrow”, “Moonbeam”

Friday Bonus Material – “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” – Warren Zevon

“Short Skirt, Long Jacket” – Cake

“Nightmares” – Violent Femmes