Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pet Sounds at 50 and reflections on talking to Brian Wilson

It was 50 years ago this week that The Beach Boys' released their celebrated "Pet Sounds," which featured signature hits like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows."
(C) Capitol Photo Archives

A magnum opus from Brian Wilson, Wilson and a band featuring Beach Boys alumni Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin are on a world tour performing the ambitiously creative album in its entirety.
While you're waiting for the September tour dates in southeastern Pennsylvania, a special four-disc "Pet Sounds" anniversary edition is set for release on June 10. It includes mono, stereo and alternate mixes, vocal harmony tracks in isolation, and insight into Wilson's Phil Spector-esque use of full-on live takes, with flutes, saxophones, xylophone/marimba, and even bits from the dog barking session that graced the outro to "Caroline, No."
During the studio chatter on that track, Wilson can be heard saying: "Hey Chuck, is it possible we could bring a horse in here, if we don't screw anything up?"
Then someone chimes in: "Brian, my horse would be so bitchin' in here."
Brian Wilson signs an autograph in a photo from the "Pet Sounds" 50th Anniversary booklet.
(C) Capitol Photo Archives

Other neat outtakes are work-in-progress versions of "Good Vibrations," various live performances through the decades, the unused backing track "Trombone Dixie" and humorous custom introductions for radio stations for "Caroline, No."
As sweet as that tweet comes across, Wilson himself is friendly enough, but frustratingly tight-lipped and disengaged when talking one-on-one about the tour, "Pet Sounds," "Love and Mercy" ... anything.
"Ticket" writer Dutch Godshalk and I were astounded that a phone interview we did with the famously tortured genius took maybe 14 minutes. Here's a couple different theories I have about that:
  1. Brian Wilson is one of these cats that plays mind games with the press. Bob Dylan took it to a horrifying extreme in the 1967 documenatary "Don't Look Back."
  2. Wilson justifiably has trust issues and doesn't open up to very many people.  
  3. A catastrophic combination of past drug use and mental illness may be contributing factors to him staying within an invisible insular bubble, in the name of self-preservation. When I asked for his thoughts on the opiod problem in America, he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about. When asked how his daughter, Carnie, and her husband -- musician and 1985 Souderton grad Rob Bonfiglio -- were doing, he said he hadn't talked to them in some time.  
In sad conclusion, this world is an extremely cruel place for purely original and vulnerably sensitive people like Brian Wilson. It just grinds them up and spits them out. "I Just Wasn't made for These Times," indeed!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bookmark this link now!

While researching for an interview with Peter Murphy, who is back on the road for the first time in a long ol' time, I made the mind-blowing discovery that someone had managed to archive the playlists of just about every episode of "120 Minutes."
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tyler C., whoever you are!

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Sunday night MTV music video program was a direct pipeline from risk-taking college radio to the mainstream. How else could "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Under the Bridge," or "So Alive" by Love and Rockets have broken through in the era of ridiculous big-hair metal, Paula Abdul, Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block?
Speaking of Nirvana, I made a discovery from the "120 Minutes" archive that they stole the riff from "Come As You Are" from Killing Joke.

And who remembers a Philly band called The Wishniaks?


Then there were moments of unadulterated, you-had-to-be-there weirdness like this!!!

As you move through the years, from VJs "Downtown" Julie Brown ("wubba, wubba, wubba") to Carolyne Heldman to Kevin Seal to Dave Kendall to Lewis Largent, etc., it's fascinating to review the transition from the tail end of '80s new wave to the '90s alternative rock boom, and eventually to the re-branded 2000s show, "Subterranean."
That so many volunteers spent time VCR-ing shows, and writing down the songs, at home back in the pre-internet time is a testament to the awesomeness of  "120 Minutes."
It's a walk down memory lane with one colossal and blissful fall down the rabbit hole!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Local live music highlights

I posted reminders to TicketToEntertainment.com about some home-grown talent performing this weekend.

There's No Good Sister, with a show at Steel City Coffee House Friday night, the 11th.

And at World Cafe Live on Sunday the 13th, youngster Ben Kessler plays his 100th show ever

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What you'll see at the 2016 Philadelphia Auto Show

It's Auto Show time again. It runs through Feb. 7 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
In case you missed it, I was live tweeting from the Media Preview Day Jan. 29.
A rep from Volkswagen told me over lunch that Detroit is the one and only A-level auto show. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are B-level shows, and Philadelphia is considered a C-level show. Now doesn't that just give you an inferiority complex? Philly's auto show is a fun time, and we should be proud of it. 700,000 square feet, 250,000 people and influencing $3 billion in sales doesn't sound C-level to me.
Somehow I doubt New York's going to have the Fiat Pope Francis rode in during the 2015 World Meeting of Families, like we have!  
The pope could've had a limousine, but instead chose a compact. The car was auctioned off during the Auto Show's Black Tie Tailgate preview event to benefit Catholic Social Services, Casa Del Carmen, Mercy Hospice and the Philly archdiocesan schools of special education.

One tweet that really got people's attention was of this Kia.
This year, I finally got around to doing a Camp Jeep Test Track ride. That camera wobble was due to the rough terrain of the off road simulation.
The Wrangler's 285 horsepower is sexy, but it only gets 21 mpg highway ... as opposed to the new Honda Civics that get 42. That's the truly great thing about the Philadelphia Auto Show -- you get to see what all the noteworthy manufacturers have to offer (some are even offering test drives) under one roof.
For example, you probably wouldn't think about Rolls Royce if it was out of your price range, but it doesn't hurt to look while you're here.
Dr. Fred Simeone of the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia was on hand at media day to highlight the 50th anniversary of the first American victory in the World Sportscar Championship races, and the cars from the museum's collection that won it all for the U.S. in 1966-1969. The motivation for trying to make a name for the U.S. in world racing, Simeone said, was that Caroll Shelby and Henry Ford Jr. had a mutual dislike for Enzo Ferrari, whose namesake race cars typically dominated the circuit. "Was it a big deal? Was it expensive? You're damn right," Simeone said. The rare 1965 Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ford GT 40 Mark II and Ford GT Mark IV are part of the museum's eye-catching display at the Auto Show.

Besides the new Auto Show eKEY, here are just a few of the other fun interactives at the show.

As the old Exxon ad used to say: "Happy motoring."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Brian Bingaman meets Ryan Bingham

Ever since WXPN started championing the music of Americana singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham in 2007-2008, it's given me fits of existential angst: Maybe if my name was a few syllables shorter, and had I been in Texas, I coulda been a contender!
Bingham's song, "The Weary Kind," was the main theme of the movie "Crazy Heart," and won an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe. Now that's a rare hat trick!!! Here's "Crazy Heart"'s star, Jeff "The Dude" Bridges, performing it.

I recently fulfilled a professional goal, that I used to joke about ("Who's that guy running around out there imitating my name?!"),  by interviewing Bingham. Here's a link to that story for you. When I asked him what songs he'd like to hear in a Ryan Bingham tribute show -- because you know my next step is to create a "Brian Bingaman Sings the Songs of Ryan Bingham" concert -- he left it wide open. "I just hope that whoever was doing it would play the songs that inspired them," he said.  This would be one of them.

Now how the heck do I get that gravelly, raspy Tom-Waits-meets-Steve-Earle sound? The guy is 34 years old and sounds like that.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Random thoughts on Christmas music

Johnny Mathis wrote on the back cover of one of his Christmas records that every home needs to have some of those seasonal songs. With Philly's 98.1 WOGL sort of joining the early all-Christmas format flip this year, there's just no getting away from it.
*It's a shame that with the all-Christmas terrestrial radio stations in the area -- including More 101 in Philadelphia, 100.7 WLEV in Bethlehem and 99.5 WJBR in Wilmington -- they only actually play a small sample of the wealth of holiday musical offerings out there.
*"Linus and Lucy" by the Vine Guaraldi Trio is NOT a Christmas song, just because it was in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Please stop treating it like one.

*Despite the passing reference to it snowing Christmas Eve in the opening verse, "Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg is more of a New Year's song. When it was originally released in 1980, it entered the top 40 singles chart on Dec. 27.
*This time of year is so weird because it is the only time ever you will hear Wham! (with a double dose of George Michael in "Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid), The Carpenters, Amy Grant and Jose Feliciano on the radio. Does no one remember Jose's top 5 Doors cover from 1968?!

*Walmart Radio is playing some re-makes of Christmas classics that are so terribly done that I want to tune in terrestrial radio to cleanse the bad taste out of my ears. Make that nonsense go away.
*It's the mooost stress-ful time/of the year. Or it's the most wonderful time to drink beer. I also have my own rude, obscene alternate lyrics for the wretchedly campy song "Happy Holidays."
*There's a howler of a bad lyric in "There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays:" "From Atlantic to Pacific/Gee, the traffic is terrific." Traffic is never terrific. Horrific would be more accurate.
*Is Dean Martin really as drunk as he sounds on his records, or is that just an act?

*I break into The Beach Boys every time "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" comes on, thanks to Paul Rudd's character in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marhsall."

*I do my Vince Vaughn impression every time "Here Comes Santa Claus" comes on, thanks to the movie "Fred Claus."
*What's with the threatening tone of the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town?" What happened to peace on earth, and good will to all?
*Someone in particular who gets into the season is Neil Diamond -- a Jew who's recorded at least three Christmas albums. His cover of Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" is fun.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thanksgiving music

There's no Thanksgiving songs, you say.
With assists last year from "Paste" magazine and WXPN, I found that's not necessarily so. I'll start your Turkey Day soundtrack off with something that didn't turn up on Spotify, "Thanksgiving Prayer" by Johnny Cash. Would love to know how the Man in Black ended up on an episode of, according to the YouTube poster, "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman."

When I was growing up, and without fail traveling to be with my paternal grandmother's side of the family every Thanksgiving, my mom had me convinced that the song that begins "Over the river, and through the woods/to grandmother's house we go" was about Thanksgiving. That was until I recently found "Over the River" by Danny Kaye & The Andrews Sisters, which has lyrics about Christmas. I refuse to believe "Over the River" is a Christmas song! And since I'm a holiday purist -- believing in breathing space for holidays, instead of the overlapping Hallo-Kwanz-ukkah-mas mess advertisers and stores have forced on us -- I can't bring myself to pollute my Thanksgiving playlist with a Christmas song. We'll all be bludgeoned to death by Christmas music soon enough.
Luckily, my wife knows I'm not insane (nor is my mom), and agrees that not only is "Over the River" a Thanksgiving song, but said there is a verse of "Over the River" that ends "Hooray for Thanksgiving Day." So who can tell me where a recording of that variation can be found?
I was also dismayed to find that The Beatles B-side "Thank You Girl" is not on Spotify. Come on, Macca! The world didn't end when The Beatles music was made available on iTunes. Gimme a break! The good news is the cover by The Smithereens is brilliant, and I will reward that band by sharing this interview I did with Pat DiNizio.
So fire up your Spotify and sing along with Arlo Guthrie (I get a kick out of his $14.27 reference from Roger Miller's "Dang Me" in the now-50-year-old "Alice's Restaurant"), through all the thank-you songs I could think of, to Dan Bern's modern-day-Desolation-Row "Thanksgiving Day Parade." Any suggestions you have for additions are encouraged!