Music/Popular Culture

Meanwhile, American Idol is sucking your brains out like a zombie apocalypse: 30-Day Song Challenge, the Sequel, day 21 – a song by a band or artist that has never achieved the level of fame they deserve

Here’s one I’ve been waiting on.

Few things reveal more about a society than its music. Plato explained that when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them. Argue chicken and egg on this if you like, but Jimmy Swaggart bitched about it and Pop Will Eat Itself sampled his rant in the intro to Cure for Sanity. Plato, Jimmy Swaggart and PWEI can’t all be wrong.

Whether music causes the widespread rot of the fabric of society or merely holds a mirror up to it, the disturbing truth is that we live in the Age of American Idol, the shallowest, most cynical and relentlessly vapid corporate put-up job in entertainment history. It’s not just that it’s escapist garbage – I actually understand the need for the occasional brain-dead wallow, believe it or don’t – it’s that watching AI exacts an opportunity cost. Every hour you watch it is an hour you’ll never get back, an hour you no longer have to devote to artists with actual talent. It makes you dumber, less critical. It sucks the brains out of your head as surely as the onset of a zombie apocalypse.

Yes, I take music seriously. And while I’m not saying you should take it as seriously as I do, I’m damned sure saying that the happy medium lies several miles this side of Ryan Seacrest, R-Dawg, Steven Motherfucking Tyler and that chick who starred in Gigli. I’m not calling for censorship or anything, but if the fascists were to take over and ban American Idol, well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing a fascist has ever done. Just saying.

Anyhow, the ostensible point of today’s entry wasn’t AI, it was the bands we should listening to more. Bands that deserved critical and popular acclaim and a wider audience and an elevated platform for their tragically underappreciated talents. Folks, this is a list that could go on for days, and I’m guessing that everybody reading this probably has five or ten acts of their own to add. Instead of trying to pick one, which would be criminal, or trying to mention every band I can think of, which would be impractical, I’m going to note a few that I know personally. I’ve been fortunate through the years to make the acquaintance of some gifted musicians, and while I can’t get them on prime time where they belong, I can at least get them on S&R.

Let’s start with Space Team Electra. Myshel, Bill, Greg and Kit were never going to be Top 40 darlings, nor would they want to be. But there was a dreamy intensity and a substance that sparkled from here to the end of the universe, and as remarkable as their CDs were, you really had to see them live to get it. Their Mercury Cafe Andy Warhol festival headliner was one of the five best shows I ever saw in my life.

Next, Jeffrey Dean Foster. Yeah, I’ve mentioned him a zillion times, I know. Expect that to continue. Million Star Hotel has been compared to Born to Run, and while I know it seems like hyperbole to hype an indie artist very few people know that way, the comparison is more than fair. Public profile and sales figures notwithstanding, the CD is that damned good. You know that “what ten CDs would you take if you knew you were going to be marooned on a desert island?” question? Right. This is on my list. (And Above Ground and Vertical by his previous band, The Pinetops, is close.)

Had Jeff only been born ten years earlier.

Here’s a live performance of my favorite song on the album.

A good friend of Jeff’s – and, I’m proud to say, mine as well – is Southern Jangle Pop/Blue-Eyed Soul legend Don Dixon. Don is pretty well known as a producer (REM, Smithereens,Guadalcanal Diary, Chris Stamey, The Connells, Moxy Fruvous, Hootie & the Blowfish, James McMurtry, The Pressure Boys, Matthew Sweet, X-Teens and more). In a harsh twist of fate, in fact, his agent hosed him out of the producer deal for a little CD you may have heard of: Nevermind.

Sadly, comparatively few people know what a marvelous songwriter and performer Don is in his own right. I guess all you can do is keep cranking out four and five-star CDs every year or two, huh? Here’s a live performance of one of his early ones.

Then there’s my buddy, Paul Lewis (formerly of YNOT?!). I honestly still don’t know how YNOT?! never hit it big. They had everything – good-looking guys who could play, incredible songwriting, and Paul is a riveting performer with one of the best voices you’ll ever hear from a rock frontman. Marco Riva leaving the band just as the first CD was about to be released probably didn’t help anything, I guess.

But Paul has soldiered on and continues to make great tuneage as a solo artist. And a bit of full disclosure – I’ve co-written a couple of songs with Paul, so my objectivity may be in question.

This is a live take on “Original Sin.”

Another band I’ve mentioned (and another one I have co-written with) is Fiction 8, fronted by my buddy Mike Smith (who turns up in the comment threads here from time to time). I understand that when you work a niche genre like industrial/darkpop you’re automatically limiting your commercial potential, but even within the bounds of the genre I’ve never fully understood why so many bands with so much less ability seem to be much more well-known.

Oh well. Love this video for “Let Go” from Blackberry Mafia. Please do one for “Winter Rain” next?

One more. Wendie Colter enjoyed some success fronting Box the Walls (“Ferris Wheel,” from Stuff, is still one of the most beautifully chilling songs I’ve ever heard), but after her solo debut, Payday, failed to garner the attention it deserved she hung up her mic and moved onto other pursuits in the entertainment industry (where she’s doing fine, thank you very much).

I shouldn’t begrudge people their success, I know, but every time I hear some autotuned fluffball on the radio (granted, I don’t listen to radio much anymore because, well, I can’t stand autotuned fluffballs) I feel cheated. I feel cheated for me, because I ought to be able to sit down with Wendie’s last five incredible solo records, but I can’t. And I feel cheated for her, and for every other artist like her, because in a society that isn’t as completely fucked as ours they’re getting the credit they deserve and the chick from Gigli is waiting tables.

Sorry if this makes me a bad person. Wendie is far nobler than I am about it, to tell the truth. Here’s “Peephole Queen.” Wendie, if you’re reading this, can you get one of your friends to do a vid for “Ferris Wheel” and stick it up on YouTube?

13 replies »

  1. Sam and I met, and S&R (closing in on 3 million hits) probably came to be, because of our mutual love of Space Team Electra. They were indeed a great band that never got their due.

    For me, though, the holy trinity of the unfamous are still King’s X, Los Lobos and Fates Warning. While Los Lobos has finally attained some of the respect they’re due because of the copycats in Los Lonely Boys, KX and FW continue to toil in obscurity.

    For FW, that’s partly their own fault: they’ve only released albums sporadically over the last decade or so. Fortunately, guitarist and songsmith Jim Matheos has stayed busy and is presently working on an album with FW’s original singer, the mind-blowingly talented John Arch.

    King’s X is the saddest case. I love these guys; in fact, only The Beatles have meant more to me in my life. They’re a musician’s band, sublimely gifted at their respective instruments and brilliant at vocal harmony. They tour incessantly, record frequently, and are involved in numerous side projects. Humble, charitable souls, they’re widely respected by their higher-charting peers. And, to me, their music has never aged. I don’t know why they’re ostracized by consumers, but the buying public has never impressed me when it comes to discerning greatness.

    KX have laid down countless magical moments over the years. Here’s a song (“Don’t Care”) from their album ‘Dogman.’ At the 1:50 mark, if Doug Pinnick’s throaty wail doesn’t move you, you’re not listening.

    Catch ’em if they ever come through your town. You’ll pay a pittance and be thoroughly entertained.

  2. I don’t know FW, but I can certainly second your comments on Los Lobos and King’s X. Both extremely talented bands that never came close to getting their due. Of course, LL did have a brief moment with La Bamba, I guess….

  3. I could literally name hundreds just by sifting through my iTunes for a few minutes, and I’ve said in the past that there may have never been a band that was better for longer with less to show for it. True, I could probably make the same argument about Dixon, but you get the idea.

    I just decided here, since I didn’t have three days to write the post, to limit myself to artists I know personally. I could have done it any number of ways, but I picked that one.

  4. Still amazed at how there is always one band you NEVER mention and you KNOW how good they are…..and they deserve more recognition than they are getting. Even if you don’t particularly like the style you have to admit that DOCO is a band to be reckoned with. Supreme lyrics, masterful guitar playing, great style that can’t be siloed, a tightness you rarely see in a band. And you know them pretty darn well. Can you explain why you never give them any recognition?

    • Well, I certainly could have mentioned Doco. And have, several times in the past. I didn’t include them here because they’re still up-and-coming. I regard them more as a band that hasn’t gotten its due YET as opposed to a band that never got its due, period.

      Still, I’ll not argue with you – they are incredibly talented and deserving of more acclaim than they have gotten to date.

  5. Did you know that when they played at the legendary P&G Bar and Grill in NYC and covered “I Want You/She’s So Heavy that the emcee stopped the show when they finished and told the audience it was the BEST cover that the venue had ever had?

  6. yeah….what I’ve seen when you mention them it’s a jumping off point to some other topic (supporting live music) or a review that, as eloquent as I know you can be, reads simply

    “DoCo: Snow Clone EP
    The Booth Brothers can by god play. As a rule, they tend to be fascinated by musical styles that I couldn’t care less about, but Snow Clone features what I think is the best song they’ve ever written. And, did I mention that they can by god play?”

  7. sorry to go on and on but it’s time someone called you on this and I appointed myself to do so…we both know no one else will.

  8. Catherine Wheel? Absolutely.

    Also, from the old days, Family. Roger Chapman still has some oft he best chops in rock history, and he and Charlie Whitney made a really good songwriting team. Like The Kinks, they are really more out of the English music hall tradition, which is why, like the Kinks, they were all over the place. Still have pride of place in my collection. But I’m just dating myself now.