Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mott the Hoople - Brain Capers

Mott the Hoople achieved its greatest commmercial success after David Bowie "discovered" them, gave them the song "All the Young Dudes," and produced the album on which that song was included. But I believe Mott was at its best on the four albums prior to that, culminating in Brain Capers, released in 1972, an album that is, in my opinion, a hard rock classic. (Hard rock was a genre, not a casino hotel in Vegas, in those days. I don't remember exactly how it was defined, except that hard rock meant good rock, and plain rock could mean anything from America to the Grateful Dead. I don't think the term soft rock had been invented.)
Mott was never a band that could be easily classified. Their first album, called Mott the Hoople, came out in 1969 on Atlantic Records, and I suspect that the record company thought they were getting the next Humble Pie or Spooky Tooth. However, one could see that Mott was anything but the standard issue English blues rock band ( even if they did do an instrumental version of "You Really Got Me"). Their albums were chaotic and messy, with instruments and vocals flying all over the place, sometimes out of tune, sometimes buried in the mix. Their frontman, Ian Hunter, was a sunglass-wearing keyboard-playing Bob Dylan wannabe with a punk sneer. Their choice of covers reflected a post modern sensibility years before anyone but Lou Reed had the right to lay claim to that term: Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me!" Doug Sahm's "Crossroads!" Melanie's "Lay Down!" Plus, their bass player's name was Overend Watts!
(I saw Mott at the Boston in the summer of 1970 at the Boston concert venue, The Ark, opening for Ten Years After. Of course, Mott blew them away. I remember I had to dodge Hunter's piano, which fell off the small stage during "You Really Got Me.")
Brain Capers captured all the joyous chaos of their previous albums, and yet rocked even harder. The vocals were more intense, the guitars shrieked with more urgency, and the rhythm section pounded away with more fire and assurance.
More importantly, Brain Capers also marked the maturing of Hunter as a songwriter. The obvious Dylan references were there, but they were clothed in truly great pre-punk rock music.
Brain Capers, like the previous three Mott albums, was produced by Guy Stevens (who appropriately enough produced the first three Clash albums). His ability to communicate the sense that the music was this close to flying completely out of control, and yet never allowing that to happen, was one of the reasons the Brain Capers may be one of the hardest rocking albums of all time, unmatched except by a few classics like Raw Power and The Clash.
"The Journey" is the centerpiece of Brain Capers. It is over nine minutes long and is, in some ways, a classic power ballad, with a long intro, slow build-up and several big crescendos. But one of Ian Humter's songwriting gifts, clearly evident in this song, was his ability to stay very personal even when the power chords were flying. That's why the song still sounds fresh.
Mott the Hoople - The Journey

Brain Capers is available from Itunes and

Story of a Band Chapter 2

A few months ago I posted a note about my nephew Robby Miller's band, Mister Loveless. Mister Loveless just recorded a new song called "Good Story," and posted it on their MySpace site. As good as their first album was, I think this song shows amazing growth in Robby's singing and songwriting. It's also a great showcase for the maturing of the band as a whole.
I feel like Mister Loveless exists for all the right reasons. It is made up of people who got together to play music because music is the only thing that makes sense to them. It is the only thing worth being passionate about. I believe they would walk through fire to be heard, and yet at the same time, they would shut it down overnight if they didn't feel like they were growing both as individual artists and as a group.
It is fascinating to watch this band grow; I can't wait for the next chapter.
Mister Loveless - Good Story

Mister Loveless' MySpace site

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Flavor of the Moment

In the space of five minutes, I saw two commercials featuring songs by Donovan. One was for Fruity Cheerios ("with a touch of real fruit flavor") and used the song "Happiness Runs." I switched channels and came upon a GE commercial that used "Catch the Wind." There was nothing terribly original about either choice, but they both worked well in context. Is it time for a Donovan revival?
Donovan - Happiness Runs
Donovan - Catch the Wind

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Feist and A Girl Called Eddy

It's hard not to like Leslie Feist, dba Feist. The most prominent member of Broken Social Scene, she released a great record two years ago called Let It Die that was post modern pop at its most assured and sophisticated, featuring covers as disparate as the BeeGees' "Inside and Out" and "Tout Doucement," a song best known (at least to me) for the version by Blossom Dearie. Before that, she collaborated with Peaches, Gonzales and Kings of Convenience.
Lately she seems to be focussing more and more on the blues. I recently heard her kick-ass live version of the Nina Simone arrangement of "See Line Woman," and the download she has made available from her soon-to-be-released album, The Reminder, is very bluesy as well.
As cool as Feist is, and as much as I like her, I need to remind you of A Girl Called Eddy, who shares many traits with Feist, and released an absolutely brilliant self-titled album a year or so earlier than Let It Die came out, an album I would describe as "Dusty Springfield Sings Truly Sad Songs by Burt Bacharach, Produced by Scott Walker." (In fact, it was produced by the great English singer-songwriter, Richard Hawley.) There is a deceptively languid sadness to her songs that draws you in and then spits you out, leaving you emotionally spent. (That's what music should do, right?)
Perhaps because I feel like A Girl Called Eddy hasn't received the recognition that Feist has, I have a deeper appreciation of her music.
Feist - My Man, My Mountain
A Girl Called Eddy - Tears All Over Town
(Check out the little lift from Prefab Sprout in the middle of "Tears All Over Town," it's awesome.)

Purchase cd's by Feist and A Girl Called Eddy at

Another Excuse to Mention Asobi Seksu

Asobi Seksu, Brooklyn's 21st Century answer to the Ronettes, and the only band whose t-shirt I own, are on tour and playing Bowery Ballroom tonight (2/21) at 8:00 PM. Their album, Citrus was one of my favorites last year.
They are offering a live cd at their website.
Asobi Seksu - Then He Kissed Me

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jonathan Lethem's Article in Harper's Magazine

Jonathan Lethem, author of the very fine novel, Fortress of Solitude, has a fascinating piece in this month's Harper's, called Ecstacy of Influence. In it, he explores the nature and morality of appropriation of artist's work by other artists.
I think we are all inherently appalled by the idea of plagiarism, in any form. Yet, as Lethem says, there are many acts of plagiarism that are, in fact, works of art themselves, and that (in his words) ultimately "make the world larger."
As Lethem points out, many art movements of the 20th and 21st centuries embraced plagiarism in one form or another. Surrealism, Dada and pop art all borrowed freely from the real world, in ways that could easily be interpreted as stealing.
Writers like William Burroughs (and, up in the ivory tower) Pound and Elliott championed the lifting of quotes from other sources to make double points, contextual and symbolic.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of appropriation in both classical and popular music. As Lethem says in his article, blues and jazz are part of an "open source" culture, in which new ideas develop directly out of old.
Pop music is, by its very nature, plagiaristic. There is undoubtedly a totally original chord sequence out there, but it is rare. "Sweet Jane" is an amazing song, one of the greatest songs ever written, in my opinion. Yet it's basic chord structure can be found in hundreds of other songs. And that does not detract in any way from the beauty of "Sweet Jane." If anything, it magnifies it.
In the early '70's, I was living in Albany, New York, working in a record store. I became acquainted with a group of SUNY Albany music students, and one day I went with them to a music lab on the campus. Someone there was painstakingly splicing audio tape together, and when he played it back, I heard a wonderful collage of drones, sound effects, voices and, buried deep in the mix (although it wasn't called that at the time) a snippet of Tommy James' "Mony, Mony." I had never heard anything like that before, but it instantly made sense to me. The idea that you could put together a bunch of already existing sounds, including a piece of a pop song that was, certainly at that time, something barely worth listening to, to create a totally new piece of music, was exhilarating as hell. It was simultaneously high art and pop culture, composition and commentary.
A year later, after I had moved to New York City and started a rock band called Jack Ruby with one of those Albany music students, my principle contribution to the group's first magnus opus, "Bored Stiff," was the line "I couldn't hit it sideways," which I lifted whole from the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray." I didn't (and don't) see that as plagiarism at all, because I felt that by singing that line, I was sending a message to people who would hear the song: those who recognized the origins of the line got Jack Ruby (and Jack Ruby got them), and those who didn't weren't worth our time.
Today, technology has made it possible to create entire songs (whole albums, actually) out of samples and splices of other music. (Listen the The Avalanches, posted below.) There is no question in my mind that the composers and musicians employing this methodology are expanding the definition of art.
Lethem's article explores all this, and many other things. It's thought provoking and provocative, entertaining and educational.
(My only objection is to his unnecessary epilogue, which is a Rick Moody-esque list of footnotes in which he proudly demonstrates that much of the article was written by lifting sentences and paragraphs from other writers.)
The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatry
Jack Ruby - Bored Stiff (1974)
(Please note: I appropriated the "ivory tower" reference from Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row.")

Oh Sweet Nuthin'

A friend of mine told me recently that he thought I was posting too many medium tempo songs on Be Hear Be Now, that it was getting all "Morning Becomes Eclectic." This post is not going to change his mind, since it is based on Sweet Nothings - Love Is a Mixtape, a sweet, medium-tempo Valentine's Day mix of love songs from artists on the Nettwerk label.
There is some stuff that's a little iffy (Barenaked Ladies) but there is also the Submarines, the Weepies and Great Lake Swimmers, a Canadien band with a new, already heavily-blogged album coming out in May called Ongiara.
I'm posting "Your Rocky Spine" by Great Lake Swimmers, partly because it's a great song, but also because Great Lake Swimmers recorded a song last year called "I'll See You on the Moon" for a an anthology of kid's music by indie bands (called I'll See You on the Moon), and it is one of my family's favorite car songs - it's the place where my taste meets my son's taste.
Great Lake Swimmers - "Your Rocky Spine"

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I am posting this song in honor Johan Agebjorn, the producer of Sally Shapiro's sparkling Italian-Swedish disco pop records, who just had a baby girl, my friends Lew and Ina, who are now in China adopting a two-year old boy, and my wife Sara and our little Nemo, due in June.
Lovin' Spoonful - Younger Generation

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lily Allen

Lily Allen's album, Alright Still, was finally released in the US this week. (It was released last summer in England, and quickly went to the top of the charts.) As many people know, Lily Allen was one of the first MySpace success stories. She dropped a couple of demos on her site and very quickly started collecting friends and hits at a rate that freaked out the mainstream record business, leading to major label envy and then major label success. (Whether she can duplicate that success in the US remains to be scene. So far, her fan base here seems to consist mainly of a few lonely bloggers and and some hipster girls.)
Whatever. Lily Allen has everything going for her: she is smart, pretty, genuinely funny (in an English Sarah Silverman way) and she writes very witty pop songs. Whether she makes it in America is beside the point.
Since everything on her album has been posted and reposted several times over, I'm attaching a mixtape she posted on her own website last year. It contains bits and pieces of her own songs, as well as a lot of her obvious influences.
Lily Allen - Mixtape #2
(Warning: This file is almost 60 mg. That's pretty big.)
It's been interesting to observe the Lily Allen phenomenon at my office. I work at a company that edits television commercials. Last summer I started pushing Lily Allen songs on the editors, trying to get them to use her music as needle drop. Initially, I met a lot of resistance. Most people weren't familiar with her and didn't listen that closely; the people who had heard of her thought she was an English Britney. As time went on, an awareness of her began to seep through. All of a sudden editors are using her music in rough cuts. You can hear her music being played behind closed Avid suite doors. If you took a poll of the editors and their assistants (who are younger and maybe more aware of whatr's going on in the world of music), she has gone from a "Who's that?" to "She's awesome."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hot Air Balloonists

I came across this band on MySpace months ago, listened to their posted songs, loved them. Also loved their name and their logo (pictured). Periodically, I've tried to find out more about the band, via Google and Hype Machine. No luck. And very few clues on the MySpace site. No band members listed. No other website listed. Once in a while they would post an announcement of a concert. I emailed them via their MySpace email address and asked for more info. No response.The best I could do was listen their songs (and only on their MySpace site, since there is no cd and no other place to find the songs.) Finally, they made "Cosmos" available for download. I love this song. I listen to it a couple of times a day, and still haven't gotten sick of it. It is great dream pop, with a perfect melody and an arrangement that make you feel like you are indeed floating over a small mountain range in Europe in a hot air balloon as the sun comes up.
Hot Air Balloonists - Cosmos
Visit the Hot Air Balloonists MySpace site.