Because it’s Wednesday, and because it would simply be tasteless to engage in a detailed discussion of the Rule of Threes, I am presenting the FIRST edition of Tim Sommer’s Five Great Songs Just Because list. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Now, the theme today is, uh, guitars, with a sub-theme of SONGS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIANT HITS THAT YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T HEARD BEFORE (there are two of these here). Let’s begin, shall we?
“BLUE BOY” by Orange Juice
Orange Juice were Scottish (which is obvious from the first few bars here), the flag-bearers for the extraordinary Postcard label, and the prime exponent of a kind of vaguely tennis-racket-strummy thinking man’s guitar pop that quite significantly influenced the work of Aztec Camera, the exquisite Go Betweens, (very notably) the Smiths, and probably at a later date Arcade Fire. In fact, it surprises me a bit that more people haven’t picked up on the Orange Juice influence in Arcade Fire, since Arcade Fire kind of sound like Orange Juice + Pere Ubu multiplied by the Feelies (have I ever mentioned that I think most bands can be effectively reduced to an equation? But that’s another story). I wonder if Layne agrees with me about the depth of Orange Juice’s influence. I must ask him. Anyway, this is from 1980 and has the most wonderful and difficult blend of grace and clumsiness, vulnerability and cave-stomp, and I LOVE how the opening vamp-up chord subtly moves up a half-step.
The Rule of Threes in regard to Celebrity Deaths, that is. Of course you already knew that. You’re a smart reader and it did cross your mind that, oh, Mary Tyler Moore just might be looking over her shoulder.
“JUST ANOTHER DREAM” by The Professionals
Shortly, perhaps, I will write about the enormous tragedy of the Sex Pistols; by that, I mean that thanks to the presence of three world-class songwriters and distinct musical talents (Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, and John Lydon), each evolving fast circa 1977 and growing in a direction that could have been harmonious to the whole, the Pistols need NOT have been a one-album band; with three people like THAT in a group, each capable of leading yet each clearly able to collaborate, they could have been The Who. But that AWFUL, AWFUL MAN, Malcolm McLaren, had a different plan; in one of the most TRULY MORONIC band management moves of all-time, he replaced one of the band’s primary writers (and best musician) with a guy who couldn’t play or write, JUST BECAUSE HE LOOKED BETTER AND WAS EASIER TO MANIPLUATE. Imagine if Chris Stamp had replaced Pete Townshend after “My Generation” with some dumb, good looking mod who couldn’t play, but “looked” right; that’s what McLaren did when he engineered the ouster of Matlock in February 1977, and the Pistols were dead in the water from that moment on. Evidence of the universal brilliance and talent of Jones, Matlock, and Lydon would come very shortly, via the Rich Kids, Public Image Limited, and the Professionals; imagine if all that talent could have gone into one band. Often overlooked when telling the post-Pistols story is this track, the first single released by Jones and drummer Paul Cook as the Professionals (it also features a different line-up than the later Professionals recordings). Although the Professionals went on to do some very damn good work, it never got better than this, perhaps the only Professionals song that can stand up to the best of the Pistols.
Is Nancy Reagan still alive?
“HEADS ARE GONNA ROLL” by The Stunning
I was an A&R person for a little while, during which time, to be honestly immodest, I had enough success to indicate that I vaguely knew what I was doing. Sometimes, both in and out of that context, I would hear a song and go ‘WOW. THAT IS A HIT RECORD.” For reasons that may be simple to explain or might be very complex indeed, perhaps that song doesn’t become a hit record (and in the cases noted here and immediately below, I did not sign nor was involved in the release of the record in question). The Stunning were Irish, and when I first heard this song about 20 years ago I thought it was a certain hit, and when I hear it now, I feel the same. Hell, it still could be, if someone wants to cover it. I don’t fully recall WHY I didn’t make an attempt to sign the Stunning, and I know few details of their career, so any effort to stretch this into an amusing or tragic anecdote is not realizable. So just enjoy. Oh, please note the gorgeous, melancholy, and ridiculously hummable single-trumpet melody line; British bands seem to do these kind of parts very well, and I have a theory why: I suspect it has something to do with classic English TV Themes – seriously, follow me on this – which have long contained just these kinds of melancholy but melodically compelling solo melody lines, usually played on horn or harmonica (as heard in the theme tunes to Coronation Street or Last of the Summer Wine, to name just two).
I’m going to put some “outside” money on Al Molinaro.
“REMOTE CONTROL” by The Age of Electric
As noted above, every now and again a song that you’ve never heard before stuns you, inciting a desire to hear that damn thing over and over again, and share it with as many people as possible, friends and strangers alike. I was strolling through a field of happy Molson-guzzling foreigners under a blue Canadian sky sometime in the 1990s, at some incomprehensibly large rock festival, when somewhere way off in the distance I heard this song; I think it was actually being played live. I turned to my companion and said, “THAT is a HIT record.” My friend explained to me that the tune was “Remote Control” by Age of Electric. SOMEONE COVER THIS FUCKING SONG, OKAY? By the way, Age of Electric was led by the amazing Todd Kearns, who has played bass with Slash for quite a few years now; I will also go on the record and state that I have met very, very few people who deserved to be a rock star as much as dear Todd. Seriously. When you Google “rock star,” a picture of Todd Kearns should come up. In the annals of all-time great up-beat furiously fulsome heavy guitar pop songs, “Remote Control” should be RIGHT UP THERE at the top, alongside the best work by Undertones, Buzzcocks, and Cheap Trick.
Now, I just peeked at a site that sets odds on such things, and the name at the TOP of the list was Wilko Johnson. Seriously. And that just pisses me off.
“GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS” by Blue Oyster Cult
There’s a lot one can say about Blue Öyster Cult, the band who sought to bridge the gap between the Doors and the MC5 with a little bit of Floyd and a lot of biker acid mixed in. They kind of succeeded at that mission, too. In general, they are a vastly underrated band, from the twisting Motor City-esque boogie of “Hot Rails to Hell” and “ME 262” to the proto-Stoner rock mega-sludge of “Cities on Flame With Rock’n’Roll” and “Godzilla” to the Classic Rock treasure of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You.” Goddamn good band, and, in fact, if you don’t have Secret Treaties or On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, you probably need to remedy that problem somewhat immediately. Anyway, when the genius of BÖC is discussed, this song is often not included in the conversation, which is terribly unfortunate; that’s possibly because “Going Through the Motions” (from 1977’s erratic but still essential Spectres album) sounds like one of those instances when a band records a song that sounds very little like them just to get a hit; but rarely does such a mercenary endeavor lead to such happy results. There were other times, before and after this track, when BÖC aspired to pure contemporary pop, and with many varying and sometimes comic results: but on this occasion they knocked it OUT OF THE PARK, very likely due to the presence of co-writer Ian Hunter. An insanely atypical BÖC song, but a toothy and sugary and utterly memorable delight, and I love how at the 2:00 mark they throw in three BIG FAT GUITAR CHORDS just to say “Fuck you, we are Blue Öyster Cult, in case you might have forgotten, which, uh, you probably did.”
I’m just going to put a fin on Garrison Keeler and be done with it.