kim's blog

Scram #5

Scram #5, featuring: Peter Bagge, Rodent Rock, The Zombies, the sex and bubblegum that was the basis for The Bubblegum Book, The Pebbles, Disney's planned community, mortuary cosmetics, Spy Jazz, Divine Comedy (early Neil Hannon interview). Shipping is higher for this heavy issue, the longest we ever did. Postpaid price below is for US or Canadian customers only. If you live elsewhere, cost is higher, please email to arrange payment.

Toni Basil - Hollywood Hipster by David Smay

So you want to crown Toni Basil as Queen of the One-Hit Wonders? Not so quick, my friend; Antonia Basilotta's career can't be edited down to four minutes of video tape. You wouldn't label Frank Sinatra as "The star of the Tony Rome movies" now would you? It's not Toni's fault her fame dangles off a single hit. Prick up your ears, pop-scholars, and let me school you in the ways of the Hollywood hipster.

Imagine you've got the hippest satellite TV hookup in the world. Eagerly you flit past the channels, catching hot glimmers of glam decadence, new wave bubblegum, art film nudity, the gaping pores of seventies cinema. Your satellite feeds you Toni Basil 24-7.

On Toni TV you watch Ms. Basil tear through the two-dimensional plot of Pajama Party with a dance so ferocious and arch it should be sealed in a capsule (nuzzled snugly between the second New York Dolls album and Bo Diddley's greatest hits) and shot into space with a post-it note saying simply: This is rock and roll. What a sense of humor her body has! She's grinning from hip to hip.

Flip to: Bruce Conner's film Breakaway (1966)—the avant-garde as go-go metaphysics. Toni sings the title track and dances right out of her body, dissolving into silver nitrate then looping back into flesh. She flickers in and out of clothes and poses. She mocks, she rocks. Her eyes are knowing, unashamed, bold, limned in kohl. There can be no doubt that Toni Basil was the greatest lay in the history of the sixties.

Flip to: The Talking Heads video for "Once in a Lifetime." David Byrne's making with the oblique mime-like gestures and spastic jolts of big-suited "Whoa!" It's Artastic! Directed by…

Flip to: Easy Rider. Look at that gorgeous brunette touring the French Quarter on Peter Fonda's arm. It's…

Flip to: Pee Wee's Playhouse. No, she never guested, but there's Pee Wee jumping into the frame with the dancers from the Youthquake classic, The Cool Ones. And who taught those kids how to do The Bug, and other mondo fab dance steps in clashing colors? Toni Basil.

Flip to: The T.A.M.I. Show and Toni's doing The Pony with her best friend Terri Garr.

Flip to: Saturday Night Live in 1976, Buck Henry hosting, where The Lockers oscillate wildly, hop, pop and drop. They do The Electric Boogaloo. They do The Robot. They do The Shy Tuna. Six black teenagers from Watts and that little Chicano kid. Wait a minute! That's no kid—that's Toni Basil in a floppy newsboy hat, knickers and rainbow sox.

Flip to: Shindig where the Shindogs perform The Jerk in neat chorus line formations courtesy of TB.

Flip to: Super-8 footage taken at San Francisco's Mabuhay in 1978. There's Toni, "stoned and skinny" (Emily Marcus), in front of the stage. Who's playing? The Avengers? Crime? Negative Trend? The Screamers?

Flip to: Head, the Monkees cult flick. There's Davy Jones in a tux waltzing across the set with none other than…

Flip to: Rockula, 1990. Internet All-Reviews says: "Hilarious trashy movie about a vampire trying to defeat a curse and save his beloved girlfriend Ramona from an evil pirate (?) who every twenty-two years comes back to kill her… All this plus absurd dialogues, ‘80s pop music and singers Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby and—er—Bo Diddley (!?!?!??). So kitsch and terrible that it's funny. "

Flip to: Sweet Charity, Bob Fosse's psychedelic Fellini remake. Who's that girl doing the "Rich Man's Frug?" I think that's…

Flip to: Viva Las Vegas. Watch Ann-Margret and Elvis burn a hole in the celluloid. Dig Ann's beatnik dance. Dig the King's shimmy on a giant roulette wheel. And who synchronized their hips? Choreography by…

Flip to: A clip from David Bowie's Diamond Dogs tour (1974) on Broadway. The thin white art student plays out his theatrical ambitions, bending Weill and Orwell to his song stylings. Feral dancey boys bind Bowie with ropes of Sinister Homoerotic Purpose. Staged and choreographed by…

Flip to: Village of the Giants—Beau Bridges, little Ronny Howard and H.G. Wells set to a Beau Brummels jangle. Who is that girl playing Red? Toni Basil, ‘natch.

Let's put all this in context.

Toni's listed birthday of 1948 (in Philadelphia) undoubtedly fudges, since that would make her about 16 when The T.A.M.I. Show was shot. I'd venture that she was born sometime during WWII, which means that she was bumping on forty when "Mickey" hit.

A trained dancer, she credits her Las Vegas adolescence as the premier source of her creativity. "I was a cheerleader!" she exclaims. "During those years doing those homecomings and football games I learned all my choreography and musical staging… I was David Winter's assistant on Shindig and The T.A.M.I. Show, a rock-concert film which was shot in a process called Electronovision," Basil rapidly continues. "When David came to New York to stage Hullaballoo, I started getting calls to choreograph. Rock had finally begun to be used on television. All of the choreographers were older people who hated the improvisational nature of rock-music dancing. I loved rock; I was disciplined; I could stage numbers too. David was the first rock choreographer. I was now the second. I began to stage dances for films. I did Viva Las Vegas with Elvis Presley and Ann Margret. By standing in for Ann-Margret for a week, I learned the feeling of being a star in a musical number. That has to be a professional highlight." (After Dark, September 1974)

Simultaneous with her mod exploitation film career, Toni fell in with a scruffy crowd of studio contract drop-outs (Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell), Roger Corman alumni (Jack Nicholson), art provocateurs (Bruce Conner), pop savvy media hustlers (Bob Rafaelson, Bert Schneider) and kooky actor/dancers (Teri Garr)—all the talented fuck-ups tucked in the canyons and sprawled across a post-Beat Venice.

Toni's there at the blinding bang of seventies cinema, kicking it off with Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Greaser's Palace and The Last Movie. Her self-possession and sensuality quickly typed her for hookers and sluts. Not much of a challenge for a woman whose drive makes Madonna look like a mouse-brown temp. She kept her hand in by staging the dance scenes in American Graffiti, and tossed off a single in 1968 ("28"—a rare Graham Gouldman tune).

Toni caught new inspiration in the Compton dance clubs she trolled with her beau, Dean Stockwell. They happened upon a group of Soul Train dancers with mind-blowing moves.

"Around that time a known TV choreographer named Toni Basil… discovered Don Campbell and his Lockers and helped bring them to international fame. She was an incredible dancer herself and soon learned to lock. She became a member of The Lockers, helped develop their dance act, and got them on TV shows like Saturday Night Live and commercials such as Schlitz Malt Liquor Beer…. I remember seeing her and Don Campbell dance live at a nightclub called Crenshaw Flats in Los Angeles. I was blown away. She was actually better than he was!" (Dancer's Delight website, Kozo Okumura) 

Long before the Sugar Hill Gang broke "Rapper's Delight," The Lockers were Hip Hop's first blip in the national consciousness. The Lockers spun off Shabadoo Quinones (Breakin'), Fred Barry (Rerun on What's Happening), and the legendary Don Campbell, inventor of locking and popping. Their act caught the eye of Francis Albert.

"We were working across the street from Sinatra in Las Vegas, and he came to see us …[H]e hired us to open the bill for him. There we were on the Carnegie Hall stage preparing the audience for a … living legend." (Toni Basil, After Dark, September 1974) 

The Lockers kept Toni busy through the seventies, but she still found time to choreograph Bowie's Diamond Dogs tour.

"From the Diamond Dogs/ abortive 1984 thing, which did produce one excellent tour, I brought everything I ever wanted to see on the rock-n-roll stage. Needless to say, it was a huge financial disaster. But it was a terrific bit of stuff to have done. It was on that tour that I met Toni Basil… Toni worked hard in the early seventies to make street dancing something people would know about…. I won't say we waved any banners for street dancing, but it certainly was evidence of what was to come." (David Bowie) 

Towards the end of the decade Bruce Conner pulled her into the nascent punk scene. Devo recruited Conner to film "Mongoloid," and through that connection Toni and the spuds collaborated. Word of Mouth qualifies as entirely competent Nuevo Wavo. If it wasn't evident from "Mickey," she can sing. Devo backed her on their songs "Space Girls," "You Gotta Problem" and "Be Stiff," then did a robot ream job on "My Little Red Book."

For the single, Toni rifled through the back pages of the Chinn/Chapman songbook and turned up an obscure number titled "Kitty." Some guy named Racey originally recorded "Kitty" wherein he begs his reluctant girlfriend for some hand-job relief ("you take me by the heart when you take me by the hand"). Toni's gender switch shifts the lyrical emphasis into an invitation to sodomy ("So come on and give it to me any way you can / Any way you want to do it I'll take it like a man"). She added the jack hammer cheerleading chorus, a walloping drum beat and rode it to the top.

It was the "Mickey" video, of course, which drove her to #1: Crumbian-thighed, French braided cheerleaders bouncing through their routine while Toni pouts and puckers and tosses off some subtle lockin' and poppin' moves. But don't mistake the video's wide-eyed, chirpy, ass-offering Kewpie doll character for Toni Basil herself. She's not Dale Bozzio, she just plays one on MTV. A one-woman Freed Unit, Toni staged, choreographed, sang, danced and directed an entire video album. And aren't you sorry now that you've never seen her video for "Space Girls"?

I can hear the Punk Rock Police tut-tutting right now. Get over it Gilman Street. I can cite 99 reasons why New Wave was more dangerous than Punk Rock. Oh, punk rock this and hardcore that. I'm all for slavishly worshipping Iggy's dick and Johnny Ramone's Mosrite, but frankly most of the stuff that gets a free ride on its Punker Than Thou credentials has less subversive content than a Jamba Juice in strip-mall. Taking a song to number one about taking it up the ass, and getting a generation of yuppies to sing along on their 24-Hour Fitness treadmills… now that's subversive.

Her second album tanked and Toni went back to the movies, staging dance scenes for That Thing You Do, shooting Gap Commercials and starring in straight to video horror. After they declared "Mickey" the ultimate one hit wonder, Toni brought VH-1 up to date on her recent business. She looked bemused with a recent face-lift taut across her cheekbones. Toni Basil survived Hopper's insane, drug-fueled direction in Easy Rider, locked and popped in Crenshaw in the seventies, made both underground film and beach movie epics in the sixties, acted with Harvey Keitel, Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch (all in the same movie—Mother Jugs & Speed), worked for George Lucas, staged Bette Midler, directed David Byrne, choreographed David Bowie, Elvis and Ann Margaret, danced for Bob Fosse, recorded with Devo, posed for Bruce Conner, and opened for Sinatra. And they want to know Where Is She Now like she's Limahl from Kajagoogoo?

(c) David Smay, not to be reproduced without permission. This article originally appeared in Scram issue #12.

Raiding Hannah's Stash: An Appreciation of late '90s Bubblegum Music by Peter Bagge

Raiding Hannah's Stash: An Appreciation of late '90s Bubblegum Music
by Peter Bagge

Back in Early 1997 I was in negotiating a "development deal" with MTV, the goal of which was to turn convert my comic book. HATE. into an animated TV show. Seeing how I hadn't watched MTV in ages (I was pushing 40 by then, so what do you expect?) I decided it might be a good idea to do some marathon viewing, in order to re-familiarize myself with who I was dealing with. What torture. Never mind their non-music vid programming (all of which was unbearable, with the exception of Beavis and Butthead), but the videos had me squirming in pain as well. I recall three distinct varieties of "musical entertainment" that were dominating the airwaves at the time:

"Rap": Which had become almost exclusively of the "gangsta" variety, in which both the male and female rappers would wave a threatening finger at me and talk about what bad ass muthafuckuhs they are and totally trash the opposite sex in a way that most people outgrow when they’re 12 while sporting hideous, ill-fitting jogging outfits;

"Alternative": Always white, usually male, always wearing throwaway t-shirts and pants, always WHINING WHINING WHINING about who knows what and WHO CARES? And always sung with that same harsh, nasal "I don't take anything seriously so fuck everyone anyway" attitude as the band pogos up and down and bangs out their Ramones riffs (or else they'd be doing that Nirvana/Who routine of quiet, achy-voiced verse followed by loud, anthemic chorus. Yawn);

Followed by the worst "genre" of all:

"Chick Singers": self-obsessed, overly-dramatic Divas, regardless of whether they can skyrocket up and down the scales like Mariah and Whitney, whisper and mince like an affected child (i.e.: Jewel), or dish out yet more punk "attitude," only combined with lots of hammy, theatrical gestures and body hugging (Alanis Morrisette, Hole). I'm sure that 1997 -- along with every year of the past decade -- was being proclaimed "The Year of the Woman" by some music industry trade mag, only based on what I was witnessing this was not good news.

Then I saw The Spice Girls.

That's when I realized it wasn't just "me" that was the problem. It wasn't that I was "too old" to appreciate or "get into" pop music anymore. No, the problem was that all these other, more critically acclaimed "serious" acts all SUCKED. They were BORING, on top of being unoriginal. Plus they reeked of self-importance. They all needed to go away. They and their admirers needed to be punished.

And OH! how the Spice Girls tortured and vexed these people! By the time I was actually working at MTV that summer, people were routinely shocked and repulsed by my Love For The Spice Girls. "There are some things you ought to keep to yourself," one co-worker and close friend whispered to me once, with only my own best interests in mind. An allegedly "hip" and intelligent young "development gal" almost hit the ceiling when I told her I'd much rather listen to "Wannabe" than the godawful Radiohead video she was forcing me to watch. "Peter," she said, patiently filling me in on the Sad Facts, " I SAW the Spice Girls perform LIVE at the MTV Awards Show, and they were TERRIBLE: They can't sing, they can't dance -- and they're all FAT!"

Six months later all of these people each owned the complete line of Spice Girl dolls. I guess "fat" was "in" all of the sudden.

I like that the Spice Girls are "fat" (actually, not only are they all built very differently from each other, they're also built like women are NATURALLY built -- as opposed to gym-rats like Madonna, who spends hours of each day of her life trying to make her body resemble a MAN'S). I also like that their personalities have been simplified and boiled down to five easily recognizable cartoon characters (although I HATE the way Geri "Ginger" Haliwell now publicly resents this totally practical marketing ploy in the same way that that hypocritical crybaby John Lennon spent the rest of his ex-Beatle life complaining about). I like that they're wacky and funny and run up and down the street punching at the air and each other like The Beatles and The Monkees used to do. I like that the only thing they care about when they're on stage is to ENTERTAIN THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THE AUDIENCE for 90 solid minutes. And I especially like their music. I LOVE their Music!

The first time I heard the song "Wannabe" I immediately wanted to hear it again. And again and again and again. This is a reaction I experienced quite often when I myself was a "teeny-bopper" in the late '60s, my ears constantly glued to a tiny transistor radio listening to "Cousin Brucie" introduce the latest release by Steppenwolf or The Cowsills (I loved 'em both!) on WABC. I still would occasionally react that way to new recordings I'd hear all throughout the '70s and '80s, though with less and less frequency. By the '90s I had forgotten what this sensation even felt like, and simply chalked it up to an AGE thing -- that "shock of the New" that we all become immune to as time goes by. The Spice Girls made me realize that this isn't entirely the case: that there IS a certain type of music that, when performed with the right kind of moxie and spirit, still thrills me to my bones and probably always will.

What's always been somewhat embarrassing for me is that the TYPE of music that routinely gets to me in this fashion is of stuff that's usually made for and marketed TO pre-teens. Specifically Girls. EIGHT YEAR OLD girls, like my daughter Hannah. This has created a what might seem like a weird "bond" or shared interest between me and my daughter (although I know of many other dads who enjoy a similar "bond" with their daughters!). Everyone always makes the same joke when they see little girls with their dads watching Spice Girls videos together: That the kids are into it for the music, while the dads are enjoying a little "T and A." The truth is that both the girls and the dads are enjoying BOTH -- the girls are totally fascinated by the S Girls (or Britney Spears’ or Monica's) sex appeal in the same way that boys their age are fascinated by Superman's strength; while if all we "dirty old men" cared about were bouncing boobies we would just lock the channel onto the USA Network and then pretend the remote was busted.

This Unity in Taste also served a pragmatic purpose: that I could march right into Tower Records and tell the clerk that the Cleopatra cassette I was buying "isn't for ME -- it's for my daughter!" Just in case they asked, that is. Which they never do. Still, it was comforting to have that info at the ready, just as I was always prepared to tell the liquor store clerk that that bottle of Bacardi 151 I was buying was "for the Old Man" back when I was still underage. As if they cared (although one time I DID share this false information with the clerk, who nearly died laughing as he rung up my illegal purchase). And as soon as Hannah expressed interest in The Spice Girls herself (all I had of the SGs up until then was a tape that a friend had made and mailed to me) I zoomed off to buy the latest release by latest '90s bubblegum teen sensation that I -- er, I mean my DAUGHTER -- was interested in.

Not that all of these new recordings hold up too well, by the way. In fact, that's the main purpose of this article: to single out the Good Stuff from the mediocre for the "uninitiated" (i.e.: the childless) amongst you who are dying to know "Who's better: The Backstreet Boys or 'NSync?" (Answer: They're both pretty lame). Allow me to work my way through my daughter's CD collection and pull out the ones that are at least worth your time and consideration.

Aqua, "Aquarium" (MCA, 1997)

This Danish foursome (two keyboardist/programmers and two singers) are responsible for that big hit "Barbie Girl" from two summers ago. Yeah, those people. And this entire CD bubbles and percolates exactly like that one does -- it's just a boom-boom-boom Eurodisco beat with Barbie Girl (Lene Grawford Nystrom) playing call and response with Rene "Ken" Dif from the first cut to the last.

I love this record. It drives most people crazy, though -- it even drives ME crazy when I'm not in the mood for it! But when I AM in an Aqua Mood I get locked into its beat and ride it on home in the same way that you could be listening to The Ramones' "Rocket to Russia" and thinking this is the best record ever made ever ever ever, while at other times it sounds like just another stupid Ramones record. I'm not even into techno or disco as a rule. I just like this record. It's got lots of great hooks and can be very funny at times as well.

Buy this at your own risk. I refuse to be held responsible.

B*witched, "B*witched" (Epic/Sony, 1998)

B*witched are "Ireland's answer to the Spice Girls": Four perky, VERY young (18-20 years old) fame-school graduates who can dance their scrawny little Gaelic hineys off, and who sing well to boot (one of the Lynch twins, Edele, sings the lead on every song, and while she has a very nice voice I find it odd that not even her sister Keavy gets to sing lead on occasion. I mean, wouldn't an identical twin have an identical singing voice?). Their dance routines, as well as their music, are a cross between the Jackson Five and Riverdance -- an unlikely and seemingly distasteful combination that actually works quite well (as anyone who's watched them perform their adorable act on that oft-repeated Disney Channel special a dozen times like I have can attest to).

Like the Spice Girls, they share songwriting credits with their producers (presumably both groups are mainly responsible for the bulk of their own super happy, cliché-ridden lyrics -- though the SGs songs are far more obsessed with sex and EGO than their more innocent Irish progeny are). Also like the SGs, their management landed one hell of a producer in Ray "Madman" Hughes, who along with arranger Martin Brannigan put together one hell of a CD. This giddy masterpiece is simply BURSTING with energy and zing from beginning to end (save for the prerequisite ballads, some of which are also wonderful -- like the ELO/Wings-ish "Oh Mr. Postman" -- and some of which just take up space). The producers of most all these '90s bubblegum records are keyboardists who "play" or "program" almost all the rhythm instruments themselves on their digital midi/DAT/AVID sampling gizmo contraptions, which are little more than $50,000 Casio players. You would think that the end result would be soulless dreck -- and it usually is, although it sure is amazing what some of the more imaginative producers can pull off working this way. "Never Giving Up," "Rollercoaster" and their big hit "C'est La Vie" all crackle and pop like nobody's business, and the way Hughes seemlessly works traditional folk instruments like fiddles and tin whistles into the mix without making them sound gimmicky is nothing short of a marvel. "Madman" Hughes is a genius!

B*witched have been monster huge in the UK and Europe for about a year now, though as of this writing they've barely cracked the top 10 over here, despite the Disney Channel's best efforts. The only logical explanation I can come up for this is their regrettable WARDROBE: they all dress in elaborately designed costumes that are always made of DENIM! It reminds me of the same dilemma the Bay City Rollers experienced 25 years ago, when they were the biggest thing going over seas but never more than an after thought in the States: maybe those silly honky Europeans have no problem with plaid tartans and Kilts, but over here that "look" implies that you might as well be performing on the Lawrence Welk show. Not that I'm repulsed by B*witched's look myself, but I'm sure "the kids" are all thinkin' that it's totally L7.

Anyhow, and in case I haven't made this plain enough already, I love this CD. Two thumbs up. Buy it.

Billie, "Honey to the B" (Virgin, 1998)

16-year-old Billie Piper is the Limey version of Britney Spears, except that she's not as cute and doesn't sing as well, which suggests a VERY aggressive management team is at work here (She does have a nice, straight-forward though nondistinctive singing voice, however). She's had four straight top ten hits in the UK since last summer, though this CD wasn't released in the US until May of this year (1999).

I was pretty disappointed in this CD when I first heard it, after much excited word of mouth by my fellow dirty old men from across the pond -- it's much more Mainstream/MOR/R&B sounding than, say, the youthful, poppy exuberance of B*witched. Kinda reminds me of Brandy's music, though thankfully without any of that I-Wanna-Be-Whitney show-off-y crap that Brandy indulges in. But after a few listens this thing has grown on me quite a bit. As far as MOR R&B goes, it's pretty dang good! Billie's producing/arranging/songwriting team of Jim Marr and Wendy Page don't have an original bone in their body, but they sure know a good groove when they steal one. This thing kind of reminds me of The Spice Girls first CD, with it's nonstop dance floor feel, though without any of the SG's in-your-face insanity. She actually sounds a lot more mellow and MATURE than the Spices, which might make her a lot more palatable to all you Spice Haters out there.

The closest thing to immaturity you'll hear on this CD is her biggest hit/ adolescent anthem "Because We Want To," which is all about doing whatever you want to exert your independence and all that claptrap. I wonder if that would include shooting up all your classmates? Don't expect this song to get much airplay in the States any time soon.

This is a good record. Nothing remarkable, but if you find it on sale you shan't feel ripped off.

Cleopatra, "Comin' Atcha" (Maverick/WB, 1998)

Cleopatra are three black teenage sisters from the UK: Cleopatra, Zainaim and Yonah Higgins. The oldest, Cleo, does almost all of the lead singing and sounds a lot like a young Michael Jackson (they even do a cover of "I Want You Back" on this CD, and it's hard to believe it's NOT Michael Jackson singing it). They also write all their own lyrics and share the songwriting credits with their various producers. In other words, these gals are bona fide talents with a long-term career in the music biz ahead of them (as far as anyone is able to predict such things, that is).

Watching these girls perform on stage is quite an other-worldly visual experience: they're all very short and wear baggy, candy-colored clothes and big floppy hats. They also have super long braided hair that twirls like helicopter blades as they spin, turn and waddle about in unison. Last year they did their outer space dancing on some Nickelodeon special, after which me and my daughter made a bee-line to the nearest record store to buy their product. Guess what? It turned out their CD "wasn't ready" for US release yet. It took MONTHS to get over here! Somebody really missed the boat on that one -- LITERALLY!

As for the music itself, it's pretty generic '90s R&B, only on the light, sweet side so the kids can swallow it. Nice enough stuff, but nothing too memorable -- save for one cut, "Thinking About You," which is quite a thing of beauty that never stops growing on me. I say buy this CD for that song alone. You at least won't be offended by the rest of the material.

BTW: Why do black R&B acts ALWAYS thank "God" on their liner notes? They always start off by thanking Him for "making it all happen" for them before they eventually get around to thanking their Jewish lawyers and Sicilian managers who really DID make it all happen. Cleopatra thank The Great God Almighty at least a half dozen times for "blessing" them with the miraculous ability to mimic Michael Jackson and twirl like Martian dervishes. It's so obnoxious -- like when some pro athlete thanks God for a big win, as if The Lord was rooting against the other team. Does God HATE all the acts that DIDN'T land a major label record deal? Apparently so! Acts that put out records on penniless Indie labels should start CURSING God on their record sleeves for "NOT blessing them" and for "NOT making it all happen." Or they could just thank Satan, though I suppose hundreds of heavy metal bands have probably done that already.

Hanson, "Middle of Nowhere" (Mercury, 1997)

This is the debut CD by the band that everyone was making fun of when they weren't busy making fun of the Spice Girls. This CD is an awfully polished and professional product for three teenage brothers fresh out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, due to the fact that they had plenty of time, money and help devoted to them in the form of top-rate producers and musicians backing them up. One thing that those well-paid "pros" cannot provide, however, is the hyper, unbridled teen-boy mania that comes through on here in spite of the slick production. In fact, sometimes it seems like the producers were indulging them in this regard, like with the wahwah-laden guitar solo in "Where's the Love" or the totally goofball synthesizer solo in "Madeline." I'm sure they were like kids being set loose in a candy store when they entered the recording studio ("Whoa, dude, check it out -- a BIG MUFF!"), but then, only a 15-year-old should be allowed to use those gizmos to begin with, before they attempt to do something "tasteful" with them!

Hanson Rocks. I saw them perform live, and let me tell you something, folks: They rocked like a motherfucker. Laugh all you want, but it's true. They also sing great, and in a way that only a sibling group can pull off. Theirs was the best live harmonizing I've heard since the time I saw the Beach Boys in 1973. Most of this CD is just shout-out-loud, drivin,' rockin' pop music at it's best. It also is the only CD that really IS "rock" (The rest are all various mixtures of Disco, techno and hip hop), with real guitars and drums on it -- most of which is played by the band itself. Go Hanson!

On the down side, however, is that it also has a real midwestern, John Cougar Mellancamp flavor to it -- especially when the oldest, Isaac, sings, since he's the only one whose voice had changed at the time this record was recorded. Not that there's inherently anything wrong with this, but it is cause for concern re: where they're heading musically in the future, since they do have very Middle-American cornfed sensibilities (again, not unlike Mellancamp). The ballads on this CD, while perfectly harmless, suggest that there won't be much to recommend of them once they outgrow their hyper adolescence. In fact, they could wind up looking and sounding indistinguishable from the likes of Michael Bolton!

It's been quite a while since they released anything new as well, so I'm filled with apprehension once something new by them DOES come out! Oh well, we shall see. But no matter what happens to them down the road this CD will remain a rock and roll classic forever. Buy it and give it a listen if you don't believe me.

Their only other releases besides this one are a Christmas CD entitled "Snowed In" and a collection of early demo tapes called "Three Car Garage." "Snowed" is one of the most enjoyable Xmas albums ever made, and I heartily recommend it for some sure-fire rockin' holiday good cheer. "Three Car" is a must to avoid, however. Sure, it's a pretty impressive demo from a group that features a 10-year-old drummer, but it's still a DEMO. Demos should be BURNED before some dipshit "fan" decides to make a bootleg out of them, or a greedy label decides to use it to rip off their gullible public (i.e.: me).

"NOW" Compilation (EMI, 1998)

This is a "This Year's Biggest Hits All On One CD!"-type compilation that you can only order by phone via it's relentless TV commercials. My daughter wrote down the 1-800 number and handed it to her mom, instructing her to dial it a.s.a.p. She wanted Today's Biggest Hits and she wanted them NOW, Goddammit! Who were we to argue?

Anyone who's listened to a day's worth of top 10 radio in the last couple of years knows half of these songs already: Hanson's "Mmm Bop," The Spice Girls' "Say You'll Be there," etc. Some of these hits I like just fine, such as Janet's retro-'70s disco tune "Together Again," and the Backstreet Boys' "As Long As You Love Me" (which is pretty much the ONLY BSB song I like). Unfortunately, there's an awful lot of "alternative" gunk on here as well, which grates even more than usual when pressed up against songs like the ones mentioned above. The only tolerable ones are "alterna-beatle"-type bands like Fastball and Harvey Danger (think John Lennon at his most nasally and cynical). The latter band features a guy who used to work in the production department for my publisher here in Seattle. One day he's attaching page numbers to my comic book for minimum wage, and the next day my kid is ordering his record off of Nickelodeon. What a wacky world.

This comp also has one gem I've never heard before: "Never Ever," by a British all-girl singing group called All Saints. This slow, gospel-ly tune has a real early-'60s-Shadow Morton girl group feel to it. I didn't think much of it at first, but MAN has it grown on me since then. It just sucks you right in like a vacuum cleaner. I don't even know if you can still buy this CD anymore, but if you ever come across it used and cheap then pick it up for this song alone.

"Sabrina The Teenage Witch -- The Album!" (Geffen, 1998)

This compilation has contributions by all the latest hot teen sensations (inc. an otherwise unavailable track by the Spice Girls, which made it a must-have item in the Bagge household). The only connection that it has to the TV show are the photos of Melissa Joan Hart's smirky face all over the sleeve, as well as her own uninspired rendition of Blondie's "One Way Or Another."

Aside from that and a few other note-for-note covers of '70s classics (Matthew Sweet does a why-bother remake of "Magnet and Steel," while current hit-miesters Sugar Ray give Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" the kereoke treatment), this CD has a few real doozies on it: good cuts by Aqua, Britney Spears, the Murmurs, the Cardigans, and The Spice Girls (of course!). Plus the otherwise annoying Ben Folds Five turn in their best song by far with the rousing "Kate" --though Mr. Folds still comes close to ruining even this song with that smarmy "look at me, I'm being clever ovah heah!" singing style of his, to go along with that bangy Billy Joel (another long-time sufferer of cleveritis)-style piano playing that I hate. This is a classic example of ruining a perfectly pretty song in order to hang on to your "indy cred" -- something I thing a lot of indy rockers are bound to regret someday, if they don't already.

Black-sounding blondie girl Robyn is also featured with "Show Me Love," her slinky smash from a few summers ago. This song was co-written and produced by the Swedish hit-making team of Max Martin and the recently departed Denniz Pop. These two Scandihoovians are also responsible for just about every major hit by all the "O-Town" acts (Britney, Backstreet Boys, 'NSync). These guys are probably the most successful songwriters of the '90s by far, in spite of the fact that no one's ever heard of them. While I enjoy a lot of their tunes (like this one), it's hard for me to think of myself as a "fan" of theirs, since they hit the mark with a little TOO much ease. In other words, their sensibilities are just too middle-of-the-road and mainstream for me. I like at least a LITTLE bit of personality and quirkiness to go with my pop schmaltz!

The low points on this CD for me are all the New Kids-clone boy groups, who's contributions here show them all doing what they do worst: macho-posturing rap and hip-hop. I simply can't buy into these obvious nancy-boys trying to make like they're street toughs. "Ruff Tuff Cream Puffs," I calls 'em! They should stick to the ballads, in my opinion, though my wife thinks these songs are adorable, especially the UK outfit Five's laughable theme song "Slam Dunk Da Funk" (also written by those high-fivin' homeboys from Stockholm, Martin and Pop. Can you imagine those two Squareheads sitting at home "composing" this thing in their Swedish country kitchen, while they're gettin' jiggy wit' their lutafisk?).

Adults seem to do a flip flop from the sexual identifying of our youth -- My daughter has little interest in male singers and acts, just as I rarely bought anything that was sung by a female when I was a kid. Now it's the opposite, with my wife cranking up any tune that's sung by some hunky 18-year-old (one of the members of Five even goes by the name of "Abs"), while I sit there jealously calling the singer a "sissy" and a "faggot," even when I'm secretly enjoying the record myself.

Anyhow, "Sabrina" is a surprisingly good sampler, and Tower sells it at some super low price. Check it out if it's still in stock.

Savage Garden, "Savage Garden" (Sony, 1997)

These two Aussies wear mascara, and the singer, Darren Hayes, sings in this real affected '80s-style voice. Plus they're called "Savage Garden." Talk about your sissy faggots! I would love to run them over in my Subaru if I ever got the chance, only some of their songs are brilliant; real nice beat ballads like the hit "Madly Truly Deeply" (they're love songs, yet they have a steady, toe-tapping beat to 'em, so I call them "beat ballads." What am I supposed to call 'em?). "Universe" is an especially pretty tune, very Smokey Robinson, with great harmonizing on the chorus by Mr. FruityPants Hayes. Their attempts at noisy, upbeat disco numbers are annoying, however, so this gets only half a rousing thumbs up.

Buy it used.

Britney Spears, "Britney Spears" (Jive/Zomba, 1999)

Britney Spears is literally the new Annette Funichello, since not only is she a sexy sweetheart whom all of America is in love with, but she also was a Mousekateer on the "NEW Mickey Mouse Club" show! Unlike the monotoned Annette, however, she has an incredible singing voice. She goes from peeping like a tweetie bird to growling like a grizzly bear all in the same verse! This could a bad sign, however, since once she outgrows her teenybobber status I'll bet you dollars to donuts she's gonna be tempted to give Celine, Mariah and Whitney a run for their money in the show-off-y diva drama queen sweepstakes.

Another problem for Miss Spears is that she has no stage presence whatsoever. She's not a natural dancer either, which makes me wonder why she's obliged to perform dance steps at all. Just let her stand there and sing! Actually she always looks like she just wants to go home or run into the bathroom to throw up whenever she performs on TV -- all the more perverse that she recently got these insane looking breast implants to complete her "look." Just imagine Dolly Parton's boobies on a twelve year old girl and you'll get the picture. What was her management THINKING?!?

And that brings us to yet another bad sign: she's managed by the Orlando-based hit-making machine called "O-Town," who also assembled and controls the Backstreet Boys and their interchangeable clones 'NSync (along with many other "future stars" who are currently being groomed at their "finishing school"). All of these acts are super huge at the moment, which led one of O-Town's odd-couple founders (fatso billionaire and Chippendales Dancers mogul Lou "Call Me Big Poppa" Pearlman) to start promoting himself as the Berry Gordy/Don Kirshner/Neil Bogart of the '90s -- much to the chagrin of his partner, the black "jesus freak" and former Maurice Starr gopher Johnny Wright. Ever since then these two egomaniacs have been suing the daylights out of each other, much to the delight of the rest of the music industry.

The thing is, at least Gordy and even Kirshner had a certain style and sensibility that permeated everything they touched. They could lay claim to a certain style or innovation that was all their own, while the O-Towners have savvy and street hustle going for them and nothing more. While originality has never ruled supreme in teeneybopperland, literally EVERYTHING their charges do is completely by-the-book. Their boy groups in particular are TOTALLY generic from head to toe: looking and moving EXACTLY like The New Kids On The Block (whom Wright used to chauffeur), while harmonizing EXACTLY like Boyz 2 Men (or trying to). And while this song or that may be tolerable, the music is WAY too bland and generic. It just sits there, like your Aunt Edna's meatloaf. Sure it's edible, but it's nothing to drive miles out of your way for.

The same goes for most of the material on Britney's debut CD, sadly. Pretty bland stuff. There are a few exceptions, like the megahit "Baby One More Time" and it's carbon copy follow up "(You Drive Me) Crazy;" as well as the super bouncy "Soda Pop," with a great Jamaican-style back-up vocal by some guy named Mikey Bassie. Some of the other tracks she's able to save with her amazing double and triple track vocalizing, but not always. I say buy this if you find it on sale in the cut out bin (which it will be filling up in a year or two, believe me), but don't pay full price for it.

BTW: There are a few incredibly crass things about this CD that I have to make mention of: one is that it ends with an infomercial for the new Backstreet Boys CD, narrated by Britney herself! It also has an order form for all sorts of Britney merchandise, even though this is her debut album (although I can't blame her handlers for their optimism, greedy slobs though they may be). Finally, the back cover has all this small print, technical-type info explaining what "plug-ins" you'll need to play it on either a PC or an Apple CD Rom disk drive! I suppose this is to be expected on a CD that features a ballad called "E-Mail My Heart," but it even has all these tiny logos and copyright marks for said plug-ins next to the text (at first I thought "Quick Time" was the name of the subsidiary label this record was on!). In fact, this CD cover and booklet is LOUSY with logos and trademarks. Everyone wants a piece of Britney, apparently. Perverts!

Spice Girls, "Spice" (Virgin, 1996)

This debut CD sold half a billion copies worldwide, so chances are you're already familiar with half of it without even knowing it (then again, maybe not, since most of you SCRAM readers can do a damn good job of cloistering yourself away from "mainstream society" when you want to, myself included).

The anthemic megahit "Wannabe" kicks things off with a bang, and this cut pretty much sums up the Girls' whole shtick in a nutshell: high energy; sexually liberated; be true to your galpals; etc. My kid and her galpals all played this song five hundred thousand times in a row when they first brought it home, so it obviously had the same impact on them that "Hound Dog," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "God Save The Queen" had on previous generations of impressionable youth.

None of the rest of the songs on this CD have the same impact or immediacy as "Wannabe," but it's all enjoyable, goes-down-easy fare nonetheless. In fact, most of it has a very '70s R&B feel to it: "Something Kinda Funny" sounds a lot like Chic, "Love Thing" is Emotion doing Earth, Wind and Fire (Melanie "Sporty" Chisolm even opens it with a very Maurice White-type "OWW!"), and "Say You'll Be There" is pure Stevie Wonder, complete with harmonica solo. All five Spices must have been weaned on a steady diet of American R&B, since even lily-white Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton can dish up some surprisingly soulful ad lib warblings.

Throw in a couple of slutty ballads, along with the embarrassingly sentimental-yet-highly hummable piece of Euro-drivel "Mama," and there you have it: A multi-platinum MONSTER. I'd recommend this CD to anyone who's inclined towards liking the SG's shtick in general. If not, then skip it. I don't want to here about it later.

Spice Girls: "SpiceWorld" (Virgin, 1997)

This is one of the most amazing album/CDs I've ever heard. Every song has a completely different groove or "feel" to it, yet they all have that high-fructose effervescence that you'd expect from a "teenybopper" outfit like the SGs. The same goes for its uber-positive, egocentric lyrics and themes, which could be summed up by their titles alone ("Spice Up Your Life," "Do It", "Never Give Up on The Good Times").

The production on this CD is awe-inspiring, with the dueling producing/songwriting teams of Stannard and Rowe vs. Watkins and Wilson (AKA "Absolute") trying to outdo each other on each successive cut. At the risk of sounding like the teenaged pothead that I once was, this record is also the most mind-blowing HEADPHONE LISTENING experience I've heard since the Beach Boys' "Surf's Up" or 10cc's "Sheet Music," due to the layered intricacies of the music and the treatment given to the vocals. This CD is a MUST HAVE ITEM for anyone who appreciates lush harmonies as much as I do. I think the Girls' own self-effacing humor is primarily responsible for this permanently accepted notion that "the Spice Girls can't sing," (though God bless 'em for never wasting their time bickering with their own critics). Ginger even claims that she can barely sing on key, though she herself has a very endearing raspy, lisping singing voice. While the state-of-the-art production facilities employed here (and which every major label singing act ALSO uses) certainly didn't hurt, nothing can take away from the fact that this record has GREAT singing on it! Vicki "Posh" Adam's and Mel "Scary" Brown both have very deep voices (Mel B's low growl even gets down into BARITONE range at times), so while Emma's voice is riding on top with her flowery flutterings along with the amazing Mel C's ear-piercing punctuation marks, the rest of them fill out their harmonies with a rich, earthy fullness that sounds more like Spice WOMEN than Spice "girls."

Bunton and Chisolm also have two of the most distinctive, radio-friendly voices I've ever heard: as soon as either of them utters a line over the air you know you're hearing a new SGs song. (Though it surprises me how reluctant US radio stations STILL are about playing the Spice Girls. Their success over here is due almost entirely to TV and word-of-mouth -- Radio has rendered itself irrelevant strictly out of spite). Believe me, it takes a lot more than clever marketing to sell a zillion records -- just think of all the countless "pretty faces" in the history of the music business who've tried and FAILED. Most of my all-time favorite singing groups have had two lead singers with voices that contrast yet compliment each other: John and Paul, Brian and Mike, Roger and Pete, Maurice and Philip of Earth Wind and Fire, Allan Clark and Graham Nash of the Hollies, etc. The Spice Girls have Emma and Mel C.

I recommend this CD to everyone. If you buy it and still don't like it then I'd suggest you crawl into your sad little cubbyhole and listen to your wretched Bob Dylan (or Lou Reed or Nick Cave) records one last time before putting a bullet through your miserable fucking head.

Other SG items: Their CD singles are hit or miss. The "Stop" single includes a bunch of extended dance mixes of the same song that all suck.... The "Goodbye" single (their only release as of this writing sans Geri) has a great cover of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," but it also includes live versions of "We are Family" and "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." Good versions, mind you, but GOD do those songs suck. "Goodbye" itself (an insincere sounding "farewell" to Geri) is pretty insipid, though it does feature nice harmonies.

"Spiceworld" is a super entertaining movie that holds up to repeated viewing. Unfortunately, a lot of people who enter that film preparing to hate it exit hating it as well. Go fucking figure...

The "Live in Istanbul" Video is a MUST. This the greatest concert film EVER! And what makes it better by leaps and bounds over the more recent "Live at Wembley" concert video is that the latter doesn't have Ginger Spice. The Spice Universe has been thrown irrevocably out of whack since her departure, sadly. Ginger may have been the worst singer and dancer of the bunch, but she also was the best "Spice Girl" by far. I defy anyone to watch this Istanbul tape and then tell me to my face that she isn't completely BONKERS. She truly was (is?) a mad, inspired, and dangerous woman. 10 times more "punk" than Johnny Rotten. A zillion times sexier than stupid ol' Madonna. Geri Haliwell may be a big bore now, but "Ginger Spice" was the most unlikeliest -- and therefore the GREATEST-- "rock star" that ever lived.

Side by Side 75: A 7-Eleven Musical reviewed by Kim Cooper

There are those who look askance at people who buy records from the Salvation Army quarter bin. These are the same folks who buy Primus CDs new, so I don't really feel any need to be embarrassed over my grubby vinyl rooting fingers. They can look down their noses all they like, because they're stupid and would never understand.

But you do. You know that the best records are the most fucked up records. That Black Oak Arkansas says more to you than Guns ‘N Roses ever could. That Word Records of Waco, Texas (feature story forthcoming) outshines Dischord for sheer consistence of creative vision. And that Andy Williams' version of "God Only Knows" carries a cringe factor so high that root canal would almost be preferable to a second listen.

But these are common discoveries; delightful, but not rare. There are also records so incredible that when you find one it's like you've unearthed a ruby in a dung-hill. One such album was bought by Mister Grady Runyan in the Pacific Northwest. The name of that record is "Side by Side 75."

The year was indeed 1975, and the Southland Corporation had just had the best year in its history. President Jere W. Thompson called his managers together for a gigantic blow-out convention. He wanted to thank them, and their families, for the fine jobs they were doing upholding the 7-Eleven standard of quality. As an extra special treat, Thompson commissioned The Stanford Agency to compose a live musical as the climax of the convention. The Stanford Agency gave Larry Muhoberac, a genius, the task of writing this musical.

Even if you've never crawled naked down Sunset Blvd. for a Coca-Cola Slurpee, this record will touch you in a special place. It elegantly spells out the unique attributes of America's favorite convenience store with an insider's perception that is probably new to you. So not only is the music great, but the record is also a learning experience. Admit it: you never gave much thought to what it was like behind the counter of a mini-mart. Or even if you did pull the midnight-to-six shift a few times in high school, you failed to get into the head-space of the store's owner-manager. But maybe you should have, because to judge by the frantic overcompensation on "Side By Side 75," the owner-managers--at least at this stage in Southland's development--were ready to go on a mass killing spree at the corporate headquarters. The convention and musical were clearly meant to unruffle some seriously disordered tail feathers and to spread a corporate message of love and togetherness.

Did it work? Let's examine the evidence. "Oh Thank Heaven," the first number, is described in the liner notes as "a musical happening!" (Remember, this is 1975, not 1966.) And it really is a happening of sorts, with its oscillating electronic waves and inspired chants of "Everybody's doing it," "Save on everything," "If it's not around the house it's just around the corner," "Hot to go,","Oh thank heaven for 7-Eleven," and the ever popular "Drink cups, drink cups." Sort of a nightmarish melange of all the advertising slogans you thought you'd forgotten, as performed by K-Tel's version of Kraftwerk. If I had a reel-to-reel player I'd examine this song for subliminal messages: "You will sit quietly in your seat and not launch yourself at Jere's throat..."

"What Would We Do Without You/Side By Side" purports to be "an exciting medley of two great musical numbers [that] sets the pace of the show as well as the theme for our 1975 Convention. The two song titles along with the lyrics really do say what we all feel... that we're all in this together. What would we do without each other?" Probably have much lower blood pressure. A terrible, off-key male voice intones, "If we have a dis-a-GREE-ment/ You bring the CEE-ment/ I'll bring the glue." Because while "we're gonna gripe/ And maybe complain/ Believing in each other/ That is our aim." There follows a spoken litany of managerial complaints: "You know, sometimes these corporate guys do have some pretty nifty ideas... some times;" "For years I thought our merchandizing manager knew what he was doing." "Where'd you get that idea?" "Beats me."; "Talk about corporate ideas--the only thing good about Hot To Go is the name... but who's gonna eat the name?" And yet all gripes are just so much dryer lint in the wind as a cheery chorus pipes in with Southland's credo: "Togetherness is what we're after/ From now on we'll just hear laughter/ Side by side by side." The tap dance percussion is an especially welcome touch. Snork...yeah, this number always breaks me up.

"Ring Them Bells" is, simply, "a story about a guy who looked all over the world for his niche, a place to do his thing. And after all that searching he found it in the form of a little 7-Eleven store right back in his home town." The young man's adventures are rattled off at breakneck speed, with my favorite being the quite incomprehensible statement (with appropriate sound effects) that, "then he ran a cafe up in Washington state/ But then the blue plate special broke and so he broke the blue plate." After failing in Washington he tries Alaska, and it's there that he has a near epiphany upon seeing a bright red and green 7-Eleven sign looming over the tundra. Touching, ain't it?

If there's a hit single on "Side By Side 75," it must be "I'm Not Getting Married." Imagine, if you dare, the most shrill, irritating female voice you've ever heard. Something like Kate Smith's bellow mixed with Phyllis Diller's "wacky" enunciation and Charles Nelson Reilly's staccato phrasing. Can you hear it? Is your spine twitching? Good. Now multiply that feeling tenfold and you have the effect of the singer of "I'm Not Getting Married," who is either Lette Rehnolds or Nancy Meyers. The song alternates between saccharine sweet evocations of the holy bond between an owner-manageress and her store, and the cold-footed bride's frantic attempts to talk herself out of the "marriage." The male counterpoint effuses, "Bless this day woman joins the store/ Benefits galore." But Lette-Nancy is having none of it, and spouts her distaste in no uncertain way. Since she doesn't want to open a 7-Eleven, she is of course just another hysterical female, "Bless this girl totally insane/ Slipping down the drain/ And bless this swain in whose heart/ She has caused such pain." Lette-Nancy spits back, "Go, won't you go? Look you know I adore you all but why must I try for a wholesale ratio?... I don't like ice cream, I hate cottage cheese, I don't like kids, I hate green peas. Thank you all for the training school, thanks a lot but I'm no fool... I'M NOT GONNA DO IT!" But when the wedding bells chime in Lette-Nancy's sentiment gets the best of her, "Well, I guess I'm gonna do it." And a heavenly choir looks up from their chili dogs to bless the union..."Amen."

Of course "SBS 75" wouldn't be complete without an interminable rock opera. "Another Hundred People Just Came into the Store" is "a ‘today' statement about our stores and our company's history." It is also funky as an old pair of shorts, and sung to the tune of "Ode to Billy Joe." The chain's history is spelled out in verse: from Jody Thompson's Texas ice dock of 1927 through the mass birth of identical 7-Eleven stores along the East coast and all across America. The best lyrics are in the "interesting business" section; let me share some with you. "A half a dozen kids who collected the cups/ They just happened by/ So they moseyed around/ Making that Slurpee sound/ Really slurping it down." "It's an interesting business/ Some come to leave some to stay/ And everyday/ The ones who stay are frolicking (?!) in the split pea soup and the dairy vault/ Selling hot to go with a pretty smile/ ‘Hey lady, where's the salt?'/ The slurp machine's broken and the bread's not here/ It's not my fault!" And, "I'm coming and going when I change the shift we meet at the door/ Then I hired a guy who was born to drift, left with half the store... /But I love the business anyway, now isn't that great?"

The last two numbers are pretty disposable. An exceptionally irritating song called "It's You" ("It's not Judy Garland or Spanky McFarland/ It's you!") sounds like the kind of music they play in Farrell's ice cream parlors, and the performance closes with that old campfire favorite "We've (?) Got the Whole World in Our Hands."

It doesn't matter. The first five songs are enough to earn "SBS 75" the title of thrift store find of the decade. "Side By Side 75" is insidiously catchy. If you ever hear it you'll soon be singing its verses to the horror of anyone unfortunate enough to be near you. And yet, as connoisseurs of bad taste we feel compelled to make this offer: if you really want to hear this unbelievable artifact, send us a blank cassette (a C60 is fine) and return postage and we'll make you a copy. But don't say we didn't warn you about the brain damage that will result. If you've ever needed Tampax and a cream soda at 3 a.m., this record speaks to you. Indeed, it speaks to us all. (this appreciation originally appeared in Scram #1, Summer 1992. Free tape offer no longer available-- god knows where the damn thing is today!)

Love Stories: Kevin Delaney interviewed by Kim Cooper and Margaret Griffis

Arthur Lee’s Love was one of finest bands of the sixties, but for a variety of reasons they’ve been neglected by the oldies/ nostalgia industry. The rock section of your local book emporium holds a half-dozen tomes celebrating the dubious poetics of Jim Morrison, but so far there’s no book on the far-superior Love. That seemed about to change some months back, when news reports began circulating about a young journalist named Kevin Delaney who’d moved to L.A. to track down Love and their associates. I was curious to learn what he’d found, so I wrote to ask for an interview. Kevin replied that he’d be happy to sit down and talk, but that a Love book was no longer in the works. The institutional racism that hobbled Love in their lifetime seems still to be at work: no major publisher is willing to give Kevin an advance to complete his research. Margaret Griffis and I met Kevin for bagels and juice in Hollywood’s Fairfax District one Sunday in April. This is a story of obsession and thirty-year-old mysteries. Free Arthur Lee.

Scram: So, how did you get into Love?
Kevin Delaney: (Opening a folder and showing us a color xerox) I got into it through this illustration, the cover of Forever Changes. I saw it in a book when I was around seventeen, when I was just getting into rock and roll. This was around 1990, so my experience prior to that was the eighties; eighties Top 40 radio. I had no interest in pop music at all! But once I started to find this sort of stuff, it was like a whole new world was opened to me. They had polled a bunch of rock critics on the best albums. There was Sgt. Pepper and Revolver, and even I knew those. And then there was this. I think it was #17.

Scram: A lot of critics pick it.
Kevin Delaney: But I’d never heard of it before. Love. And just to see the logo, it just looked so weird and trippy, and this illustration I just thought was out of this world. It was reproduced real small and black and white, and I wanted to get the record so I could have the illustration. I found it on CD, which I couldn’t believe. It was actually really neat, because they still had the cardboard longboxes at the time, and this image was right on the longbox. It was kind of a bonus that the music was pretty good, too. So I got really interested in this mysterious band that nobody knew about, and yet they put out such great music.

Scram: So after Forever Changes you picked up the other records.
Kevin Delaney: Yeah, I just fell in love with this album, and obviously then I wanted to get the others. I didn’t know that anybody else even knew of this group. It was totally my own little thing. At that time I don’t think many people cared about them. In the years since then there’s been a resurgence of interest, with the box set, and Bryan’s solo CD that came out. So I was just a little fan, basically.
Scram: And at some point you decided you wanted to be more than that, you wanted to document the group.
Kevin Delaney: I said (overly dramatic voice) “I want to be more than a fan! I wanna have a real relationship!” (laughter)

Scram: So what did you do?
Kevin Delaney: I was sitting on my futon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I’m from, and — well, two things really made me wanna do more with the group. I wanted to do something. I’m the kind of person, I’m not content to just observe things, I always wanna be a part of it. That’s gotten me into a lot of trouble, I might add. Actually, it was Bryan’s CD — have you heard If You Believe In?

Scram: Yeah.
Kevin Delaney: That really intrigued me, because again it was this person who I only knew through a few songs on the records, and then to hear all of this other stuff that he had done that had been hidden away for so many years! That really fascinated me. I love that these tapes were found in his mother’s garage. Then what actually started me working on this book project was, Arthur did an album in 1974 called Reel to Real, which is a very funky, kinda soul-influenced record. There were some songs on there that had an amazing bass player. I thought, “Who is this guy? He’s incredible!” I looked at the credits, and the songs that I really liked — he used two different bass players, but the songs I really liked used this guy Robert Rozelle on bass. So I started checking on the internet. I’m a researcher; I love to find obscure things. I’d never heard of this guy before, and as far as I could tell he never played on anything of any real note. It’s not like he went on to something great, or I should say he didn’t go on to be really famous. But lo and behold, I found someone with that name on the internet. I emailed him and asked “Are you the guy who played bass on this album?” And he wrote me back and said “Yeah, that’s me. How’d you find me?!” Because I had found him, I thought I’d like to do something with him, I didn’t know what. Maybe I can write an article and interview him. And he was very agreeable to it. There’s a Love fanzine called The Castle, and I said I’d like to do an interview for it with him. So we did that, and again I was in Pittsburgh at the time. I had no intention of moving out here, but Robert and I had several phone conversations—

Scram: He lives out here?
Kevin Delaney: Yeah. And we were talking about a lot of stuff. He was surprised at how knowledgeable I was about this record. He’d played with Arthur Lee for a long time, but as far as that record was concerned it was just one thing that he did, and he was really surprised that I knew so much about it. Robert really started telling me a lot of stories. There was some amazing stuff — and remember this is all from the seventies, this wasn’t even the sixties!

Scram: I don’t think Arthur ever slowed down, though. The stories go all the way up until he went to jail.
Kevin Delaney: Oh god, the seventies got really crazy! Libel lawsuit material crazy. (laughter)

Scram: But you’re gonna tell us all those stories later, right?
Kevin Delaney: Maybe...

Scram: As long as you say “allegedly,” it’s all right.
Kevin Delaney: Right, “he allegedly—”

Scram: “I’ve heard rumors...”
Kevin Delaney: “Supposedly, I don’t know this is true—” (laughter) Robert knew some people, and he was saying, “You gotta call this woman, because she was a part of the whole thing too, you gotta call this guy, you gotta call Melvin, who played guitar on the album. And so as with a lot of things — and I’ve since learned how to keep this in check — I’ll think “Oh, I wanna do an article for a little fanzine—” and next thing I know I’m working on the screenplay, I’m doin’ the novel—

Scram: You were sucked in! It’s like you opened the tap, with these people who haven’t talked about this in years.
Kevin Delaney: That was what was so exciting about it! So I decided to move to L.A. for a couple different reasons. Some people have made it seem like I only came here to do the book, which was a big part of it, but mostly I just wanted a change. I wanted to get out of Pittsburgh and live somewhere else. I really like L.A. I’d been here before.
Scram: Listening to all that Love couldn’t have hurt. It’s a very seductive image.
Kevin Delaney: Yeah, it was somewhat. So I came out here, and I didn’t know anybody.

Scram: When did you come?
Kevin Delaney: I came in December of ‘97, a few days before Christmas. I mean, I didn’t have any friends here, but I knew Robert. And I just started working like a maniac on finding these people. I guess the big one was Bryan MacLean. I got to know him. I spent a lot of time working on it, and it was really neat, as a fan, to get to know him.

Scram: Were you basically doing this full-time, or were you doing other things?
Kevin Delaney: Well, I was an actor in Pittsburgh, and I worked it out that I did some TV commercials that would be running after I moved, so I had residuals! (laughter) I was like the alcoholic on welfare, with just no responsibilities at all! And the only problem with residuals is that they eventually run out, and then you’re kind of left, like, “Oh my god, what am I gonna do? I have no job, I have nothing!”

Scram: But you have a lot of tapes, of the people you’d talked to, right?
Kevin Delaney: Right, I have a lot of tapes and a whole bunch of friends, but not too much money in the pocket. It was an interesting learning experience. It was one of the most rewarding ways to get yourself totally financially devastated! Some other people blow it all on the lottery, or drinking or drugs — I got to meet all my heroes! That was good enough for me.

Scram: How did you meet Bryan MacLean?
Kevin Delaney: I got in touch with a writer who had interviewed him, Matthew Greenwald, because he was doing what little bit of press Sundazed was arranging for the If You Believe In CD. Matthew gave me Bryan’s phone number. So I called Bryan on the phone. This was not long after I had arrived. I was living in this little dump of an apartment up on Laurel Canyon Blvd. in North Hollywood, and I didn’t even have a sheet on my bed, and I thought “I don’t believe this; I’m talking to Bryan MacLean on the phone!” How much better could my trip to L.A. be? This guy I totally admire and and love and never thought I’d ever be talking with. The thing with all of these people is that they’ve been so out of the spotlight for years, there’s something almost unreal about it, like these are characters from a novel or something. You don’t think these people exist today. And here I was talking to Bryan on the phone, and he was totally, completely against any kind of book!

Scram: Why is that?
Kevin Delaney: Well, I don’t know, really. And I don’t even know if he really was totally against it. He was acting that way, but I can say now, now that I know he’ll never read this, that he was totally obnoxious. (laughter) And I just kept on. He was trying to convince me that nobody cared about Love. Why would he talk about this? He had no interest in opening up this old part of his life.

Scram: But he had just allowed his old tapes to be released.
Kevin Delaney: Right, but I think that was different, because that was his music, his songs. He was against the idea of going into the whole story.

Scram: Do you think that was his religious convictions, just being offended by the decadence of Love?
Kevin Delaney: No, I think he was testing me, basically. Because about eight months later, after a lot of hounding and begging and crying— (laughter)

Scram: You just wouldn’t give up!
Kevin Delaney: He finally just said, “Man, I gotta get this kid off my case!” (laughter) “This kid’s gonna kill me!” He wanted to make sure it was gonna be really good. And we also became friends, and I think he wanted me to get to know him. Maybe it had to do with him doing the press for If You Believe In, when everyone was asking him all about the sixties. It’s like, “Hello — I’m a human being — I’m alive now.” And yet all anybody cared about was the Bryan MacLean from Love in the sixties. So we became friends, and that gave me the opportunity to get to know him as a person, which is what I think he really wanted. He made it clear that he didn’t want to delve into this right away. He always kind of left the door open, that was it. When I say he was against it, he was seemingly against it but he let me know that there was maybe a possibility of it happening. (laughs)

Scram: If you really wanted it. Do you think if he had been totally opposed, without suggesting that there was an opening, that you would have backed off and left him alone?
Kevin Delaney: Oh yeah. I wouldn’t pressure anyone into doing something they didn’t want to do. He was more trying to convince me that this was ridiculous and I was wasting my time, and most of the other guys were probably dead anyway. One time, after we’d started doing the interviews, he called me up. I’d been talking about Johnny Echols, the guitar player, who has not been heard from in years. I mean the guy has vanished! All kinds of writers have been trying to find him. And Bryan calls me up for some reason, and he says, “I think Echols is dead.” I said, “Why?” “I dunno, I just think he is.” I said, “Well, that’s not that much to go by, y’know?!”

Scram: You can check the social security index—
Kevin Delaney: Well, actually we did! That’s a whole ‘nother story. I hired a private investigator. It was the only time I’ve ever done that. For everybody else, I just busted my behind to find them. Echols was a guy I just could not find. I didn’t know if he was dead; I didn’t know anything about him. I did get his social security number, though, off a session sheet. (Laughing) And I hired this private investigator.

Scram: How’d you find a P.I.? The phone book?
Kevin Delaney: Oh yeah, you know, it’s a fairly routine thing. They find people, deadbeat dads who don’t pay their child support and whatnot. And this guy is saying to me — it was comical! — he was saying, “I’ve been in business for thirty years, I have never failed once. I will guarantee—” I said, “But what if you don’t find him? Do I get my money back?” “Don’t worry about that. I will find him. I have never failed once in thirty years!” I said, “All right, fine, whatever.” He said, “What information do you have?” I have a social security number—” “That’s all I need! If we have a social security number, we’re in!” So I gave him the social security number, and he calls me back about a half hour later, and he says, “Uh... do you have any more information on this guy.” “Why?” He says, “Well, uh, I checked a couple databases here—” “What, wasn’t the social security number good?” “The social security number is good, but he’s not using it! The last time it’s been used is 1978.” So I gave him some more information, and he called me back and forth, and he ended up trying to convince me that Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols were the same person! (Laughter) I said, “You gotta be out of your mind. Are you kidding me?’’ He asked me “Well what can you tell me about this guy?” I said, “All I really know is he was a guitar player in a band called Love, and he was in Los Angeles in the sixties. I don’t know where he is today.” “Who else was in this band?” “Well, the leader was a guy named Arthur Lee.” He asks “Is Johnny Echols white?” I said, “No, he’s bi-racial, he’s part black and part white.” “Uh huh. And is Arthur Lee white?” “Arthur Lee is also mulatto.” And he goes, “Ah ha!” (Laughter) I said, “No no no no no!” He goes, “What instrument did Arthur Lee play?’’ “He played guitar.” “And what instrument did Johnny Echols play?” I was like, I don’t believe this, he’s trying to convince me that they’re the same person. He’s like, “But how do you know?!” I said, “Oh my god!” Needless to say, he was not able to find Johnny Echols!

Scram: Did you get your money back?
Kevin Delaney: I didn’t pay him anything. When he delivers the information you send him a check. But the story has a happy ending. About three weeks ago, real early one Sunday morning, I’m lying in bed, the phone rings, and I think, “Oh, I’ll just let it go.” And I got up a little bit later, checked my phone messages — and Johnny Echols called me up! He had read in Rolling Stone about Bryan MacLean’s death, wanted to find out about it, saw my name in there and just looked me up in the phone book.

Scram: Where is he?
Kevin Delaney: [gives an off-the-record response; sorry fans. But at least we now know that Johnny Echols has not yet joined the choir invisible.] He seemed to really trust me, I think maybe because of the relationship I had with Bryan, and he was interested, too, in doing an interview, which I’m really excited about. We haven’t done that yet. Even though I’m not doing the book anymore, I thought—

Scram: Oh, you might as well.
Kevin Delaney: Oh, yeah! Why not? Just as a fan. After we’d talked about Bryan, I said “Johnny, I got to tell you, there’s a million questions I’ve got to ask you!” He’s really been kind of like the mystery man. It was neat to have heard from him. So actually, I’ve talked to all the guys — except for Ken Forssi, who died — from the original band now.

Scram: How did you talk to Arthur?
Kevin Delaney: He called me up, too.

Scram: Collect?
Kevin Delaney: Yeah, of course. From prison. And it’s a total hassle, because there’s a beep going throughout, and he’s in a room where there’s fifteen other guys waiting to use the phone. And we can only talk fifteen minutes at a time, and every two minutes this voice breaks in (mock officious): “This is a collect call from the California State Correctional Facility.” It’s not exactly prime interviewing atmosphere...

Scram: Can you go up to talk to him?
Kevin Delaney: He doesn’t want visitors. He was another one that had no interest in it at all until maybe about two months ago, and all of a sudden he was totally gung ho, and wanted to be part of it. What he wanted to do was to write out his parts. The book was an oral history, so it’s stories from people, arranged in chronological order, and he wanted to write out all his stuff himself. I thought that was great. I was thrilled to have him be a part of it. Of course I had no way of calling him, so it was mostly whenever he decided to call me that we’d talk.

Scram: Does he still want to write that out for you, now that the book’s on hold?
Kevin Delaney: I don’t know. I’d been in touch with a former girlfriend of his, and I’d made the decision that I wasn’t gonna do the book anymore. I mean, I can’t, I physically can’t do this book anymore, and I told her and she told him about it. It was impossible to talk, so he says “Just write me a letter and tell me what’s going on.” So I wrote that I’m not doing the book anymore, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Scram: When’s he due out? Was it an eight year sentence?
Kevin Delaney: Who knows? He was sentenced to twelve years; he’s already done two or three. They said he has to serve at least 80% of that, but who knows? Killers get out after a ride on a merry-go-round. I don’t know.

Scram: Do you anticipate holding on to your material and doing the book at some future date?
Kevin Delaney: Oh yeah. Oh, it’ll get done, don’t worry.

Scram: Great!
Kevin Delaney: The main thing was, I wanted to get the word out about the book being on hold. A lot of people were really excited about it, waiting for it. Although this is probably gonna piss a lot of fans off, I’m really intrigued by the idea of holding onto this stuff for twenty or thirty years, and locking it away. It’s the untouched stuff. I mean, I’ve got all kinds of information nobody else has!

Scram: So you have to interview everybody who wants to be interviewed for the book now, because they might die.
Kevin Delaney: Well, I’ve pretty much already done that! I’ve interviewed over fifty people, everyone from band members to fans to groupies. My rule for interviewing was you either had to have seen the original band live or you had to know one of the members. If you fit either of those criteria I wanted to interview you. And I really got hooked up big time with the internet — still, I’ve got eyes and ears all over the world. I got some amazing interviews with peripheral people who had great stories to tell.

Scram: What are some of the more interesting interviews that you did?
Kevin Delaney: Well, I’d have to respond on a totally personal level. Definitely all the guys in the band. Finally, after eight months of getting to know Bryan MacLean, when he finally said that he wanted to be part of it. And then to come to the realization — wow! this is Bryan MacLean from Love, I totally forgot! (laughter) This guy has a million amazing stories to tell! He told me things he’d never told anybody before, new insights, new perspectives on things. And one thing I was really shocked at was how many times he would mention Arthur and his current situation. He would wonder what he did to contribute to it. In other words, Arthur being the kind of person who would do things to get himself in trouble, things that are so anti-social, things that are just not right. And Bryan, I think, was really kind of tormented by how he had very abruptly left the band, and maybe he thought that Arthur felt abandoned. And so that was incredible. Actually, they were all — I was just amazed at how even people who said they had nothing to tell me had amazing things to contribute. There was one woman — this was really weird — I was looking through a book of photography from the sixties, by a guy named Baron Wolman. Great photos. There was a section in there of groupies, and there was a picture of a woman named Catherine James, a picture of her and her little baby. And I don’t know why, but I looked at this picture and I just thought, “That woman has a story to tell me!” I had no idea who she was, even if she was alive, but I said, “That woman has a story to tell me.” And I thought, well, I’ll put her on my list of people to find. So, Pamela Des Barres called me up one night — I’d interviewed Pamela for the book — and she says, “I want you to come over for dinner at my house. Just a little thing, me, someone else, and my friend Catherine.” And I said, “What’s Catherine’s last name?” She said, “James.” I said, “I’ll be right over!” (laughs) Catherine came late, we were in the middle of eating dinner, but sure enough, it’s her. And when she walked in I almost fell out of my chair! After dinner everyone was clearing plates, and I just scooched up next to her, and said, “So, Catherine, y’know I’m doing this book about Love and the guys in the band; did you have any involvement with them?” She says, “No. I lived in L.A. for a while, but I moved to New York in ‘66, so I wasn’t even in town by the time the band was together.” And I thought, “Oh, well, that’s pretty weird. Those cosmic forces, what the hell?” “You didn’t have any involvement with the band at all?” She says, “No... I mean, other than Bryan, before he was in the band. He was just a little kid then, playing at this coffee house.” I said, “Tell me more!” Turns out, she knew Bryan when he was just starting out. So, needless to say, the tape recorder was whipped out, the interview was had on the spot, and I got about fifteen minutes of stuff I’d never heard of before, and it was pretty amazing! So that was a neat one. And Bob Pepper was incredible — and again, this is all personal for me, because I love his work so much. I was collecting his artwork. And he was one of those people, too, everyone was saying he was dead! I accepted that, I never questioned it, until one day I was walking along and thought “What if he’s alive?” And I found him in New York. I was so thrilled when I got him on the phone, it was like logic went out the window! I literally hung up the phone and started packing my bag. [holds up the Forever Changes art] I just was fascinated, because he told me how he did this, how they sent him photos of the band members and he blew them up on a Lucite machine and was arranging them, and he was torn between making it a white or a black background — and I love that kind of stuff, because I think, “Wow, what if it was a black background?” The album would have such a different look to it. And also David Angel, who did all the horn arrangements, was another really rewarding interview. He had never been interviewed, and yet his name is on the albums. He orchestrated this album, which is one of the first records with strings and horns on it, and I’m thinking why hasn’t anyone talked to this guy before?! It’s a totally revolutionary thing that he did.

Scram: Did you find that anyone had ever been to see most of these people before?
Kevin Delaney: No! I was shocked at talking to writers who couldn’t believe how many people I had found. They’d say, “You talked to that guy? I’ve been looking for him for years!” Well, I did put a lot of effort into finding these people, but—

Scram: The internet makes a huge difference, if people tried to find them in the early nineties and gave up—
Kevin Delaney: It wasn’t even so much through the internet. A lot of people did not want to be found, which was an interesting situation I’d be in, because after I’d found them I’d have to convince them to be part of this. It was mostly through personal contacts, finding a lot of these peripheral people, and then those people helped me get in touch with the people who were in the band.

Scram: You must find it hard to let go, after this being the center of your life for years.
Kevin Delaney: (laughs) No, I’m thrilled to get rid of it, really! It was like this 8000 pound spider that was weaving a web around me! I got totally sucked into it. This started out with some guy — I liked his bass playing — I’ll do a little article, right? Next thing I know I’m—

Scram: It’s because you’re an enthusiast! You have to watch out what you like.
Kevin Delaney: Well, I’m not as enthusiastic as I used to be! (laughter) I’m finally at the point where I can listen to the music again, it’s not a traumatic experience. (laughter) I’d listen to the records and I’d just see these credit card bills!

Scram: And that’s the story of the Love biography up to the present. So, Kevin, what’s next for you?
Kevin Delaney: Hyping myself as an actor, voice-over artist — basically whoring myself in any way I possibly can.

Scram: You’re in the right town.
Kevin Delaney: Oh, yeah. It’s Whoresville USA. I did a lot of really wacky shit back east, and so I’m giving it a go here. I do a lot of writing — I write for Rolling Stone Online, Launch Online — actually I’m trying to get out of the music aspect of things, because I’ve been totally branded as this sixties nut, and I’m not at all.

Scram: Is Love the only sixties band you like?
Kevin Delaney: No. I like good music, and I do like a lot of bands from the sixties, but I’m not a collector. Some people are really ridiculous about it. I just like the music. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t talk about the future anymore.

Steve Earle interviewed by Ron Garmon

Since 9/11, the real nature of “political correctness” in American media and culture has been on full, obscene display. This is not to say it isn’t still a term of abuse hurled by bigots at the tolerant. However, the guardians of mainstream political discourse have appropriated PC’s rancorous essence to serve the right-wing’s ancient purpose of determining who gets to speak and who is invited to shut the hell up. Artists, journalists, talk-show hosts and teachers have been fired, castigated, marginalized for inconvenient remarks or even showing less than the pre-measured amount grief and resolve. This is truly a new America.

That means, of course, examples are made of those determined to live in the old America. Roots-rock giant Steve Earle’s turn in the media meat-grinder came late last summer with release of his new album Jerusalem, and the song “John Walker’s Blues.” On his trip inside the head of an American misfit worthy of Randy Newman or Warren Zevon, Earle went well beyond either’s patented mischief-making shtick by refusing to undercut his subject with irony or distance. Like the wife-killers or half-repentant badasses that populate the blues, John Walker, the American Taliban soldier, gets the dignity of his monumental fuck-up. As if that weren’t bad enough, Earle filled the album with songs about migrant workers, class oppression, failed radicalism, the insanity of capital punishment and the Daniel-like vision of an American Empire dissolved to ash.

Scram editrix Kim Cooper and I met up with Mr. Earle at one of West Hollywood’s more fussy hotels. The interview was filmed by famed documentarian Amos Poe, and monitored by a clockwatching media rep. Earle was understandably a little wary of any political discussion, but we dove in regardless.

Scram: I spent much of yesterday with your music and the balance of the time with the controversy surrounding your new album, Jerusalem. “John Walker’s Blues” in particular.

Steve: Yeah, well, I mean, the only controversy on Jerusalem besides “John Walker’s Blues” is that I did get a one-star review in the New York Post, which will probably be the hallmark of my career, saying that the rest of the songs prove I have something else in common with John Walker Lindh, that I hated America.

Scram: They say that about everybody. They’re a right-wing paper.

Steve: It’s not really right-wing journalism. It’s just appealing to people’s worst instincts at a time when that’s really, really easy to do, because everybody’s really scared. The reason you see artists being slow to react to this, it isn’t because they’re afraid they’re not going to sell records. Not real artists. They’re genuinely afraid of offending the families of all those people who died, and that’s a very real thing. I deal with it around the death penalty all the time. You have to take victim’s family members’ feelings into consideration when you be working against the death penalty. I was absolutely ineffective as an activist against the death penalty until I realized that. The whole movement has started to realize that and it has finally started to get somewhere and I think that’s why. There’s been so many lost lives and everybody was scared by it and everybody was hurt by it. The way mourning is supposed to be anger as far as violent deaths are concerned, for a while. The question becomes ‘What are you going to do after that?’ And the whole system around the death penalty is whether institutionalized retribution, you know, helps people heal or does it make things worse. I think it makes things worse.

Scram: That dread word “closure.”…

Steve: Yeah, well, they sell the word “closure.” Prosecutors need for victim’s family members to get on the stand and cry or they’re not going to get a death penalty. They can get a conviction without that, but most people; we’re not really that willing to kill, and, because the capital process takes so long, and the appeals, well, there are less avenues for appeals than there ever have been, but there’s a lot that can’t be removed. When you’re dealing with somebody’s life, then they’re necessary. There’s not enough room Constitutionally, to shorten that process anymore. People have tried, but the wiggle room’s not there. So that means every single appeal, the family gets dragged back into it again, goes back on the stands. The prosecutor, who's supposed to be their friend and on their side, just sets them up to cry. Every single time. And we’re dealing with that around September 11th. But, there are groups of people who lost people on September 11th who are starting to speak out against the curtailment of civil liberties and a war with Iraq that this administration fully intended go through with before September 11th, and the racism inherent in making Al Queda, the Taliban and Iraq the same thing. Right there, you are fighting a war with Islam and that’s not a war we can win. Going to the entire Arab and Islamic world and drawing a line in the sand. That’s World War III. It’ll be jihad on a global basis. That won’t be go in, drop a couple of bombs, and come home. It will not be that type of war. I don’t know what they’re thinking about.

Scram: Well, obviously they’re thinking about gigantic defense budgets to infinity, about whipping up a panic so they can have Lockdown America.

Steve: Some people do, and some people want… trying to define this administration by any one agenda is, I think, a mistake. That’s one of the things… it makes them ineffective in some ways, but its also one of the reasons they’re kinda dangerous right now. I don’t think every faction of the administration knows what the other faction is doing, because they are the most fragmented administration we’ve probably ever had.

Scram: I’d like to set the next bit up with a few quotes I dug up from the barking spiders of the national press. You’ve been called “a tedious left-winger…”

Steve: Uh-huh.

Scram: “In the same category as Jane Fonda and others who hate America…"

Steve: Right.

Scram: “Politically insane…”

Yeah.

Scram: “A cocktail party rebel striking poses.”

Steve: I don’t drink and haven’t had a drink in over eight years.

Scram: The question is: what do you think of the American media these days?

Steve: A lot of those things came from definitely right-wing sources, one from a local radio talk-show host in Nashville. Those guys don’t even have a political agenda. They’re about ratings. The answer to stuff like that is “I’m not a liberal. I’m a real, live radical.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being liberal. I’m not morally opposed to somebody with really, really right-wing views that I don’t agree with. That’s what democracy is. There’s probably somebody on the right that balances me out and I’m comfortable with that process. It takes our Constitution a while to work sometimes, but it’s a pretty incredible document. I don’t think the people who wrote it knew how hip it was. I think it turned out to be something much hipper than they intended it to be. We’re not a nation that was formed by a revolution of people. We’re a nation formed by a revolution of rich farmers who didn’t want to pay taxes. We’re still basically a lot of rich farmers who don’t want to pay their taxes. That document is what will be remembered. We’re not going to be the richest, most powerful country in the world forever. History tells us that. We’re not going to even exist forever, and when they start shifting through our ashes, we’ll be remembered for, well, maybe rock 'n’ roll, maybe jazz, and our Constitution. The Constitution was brought to bear to end three separate witch-hunts centered around Communism. The Constitution was brought to bear to end slavery in the first place and it’ll be the Constitution which is brought to bear when—I believe the death penalty, left to its own devices, would die of natural causes like it did the first time if no activist anywhere in the country ever did another single thing. And this particular issue people don’t want to discuss, and we get more and more blood on our hands, which is what I object to with the death penalty. What I object to is, there’s no bad guy, it’s us. This is a democracy. I take responsibility for every death, because I have a voice in this democracy. So when they kill people, I’m killing people, and I object to what that does to my spirit. That’s what my poor objection to the death penalty is. And when the death penalty goes away again it will be the Constitution that’s actually brought to bear, and I firmly believe that.

Scram: Most people don’t know that Southerners had a strong role in writing the Constitution.

Steve: I think a lot differently than some people from the South do. I’m not a big state’s rights guy because if you don’t give Southern politicians the money, they’ll steal it. I don’t believe that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, I think that it was fought over slavery. Some people fought over state’s right but it was all about money. And some people fought it as a class war—I mean on a rank and file basis, people—there were thousands of them—Europeans, people from Ireland, people from France came—and fought in the Union Army because they saw what was going on in the South. It was the feudal system and the industrial revolution was in the North at that time. They saw it as a place where a tiny part of the population still owned all the land and poor people were going to be poor forever. But I do believe in the Constitution. My patriotism is centered around the Constitution. I think it’s the best part of America.

Scram: There’s not all that much difference between Islamic fundamentalism and that of the American Christian variety…

Steve: Exactly. I mean, Islamic fundamentalists strap a bomb on themselves, walk into a shopping area crowded with people and—and Christian fundamentalists have been known to sit in vehicles with high-powered rifles and shoot at doctors who provide abortions. You know? That’s terrorism any way you look at it.

Scram: Yeah.

Steve: I felt John Walker was already searching for something outside of his own culture when he was twelve and thirteen years old, and that is how he came to Islam. And that is how he saw Malcolm X. By the end of it, here was Malcolm’s revelation that there were blonde, blue-eyes Muslims and all of a sudden—bongo! He could relate to that. And he went to Yemen. And Yemen is for a lot of reasons—he went to Yemen because he heard that the Arabic that was spoken in Yemen was what the Koran was written in. And it’s true—but it’s also been a hotbed for fundamentalism for a long time and he was a very, very radical Muslim… I learned more about Islam than I learned about anything else this year. And I think everybody needs to know more before we go to war. I didn’t even know that Muslims worshipped the same God as Christians. It’s not a similar God. It’s the same God. And you know, our news media and our government don’t want to know all of that. CNN is CNN because of the Gulf War. They were the first people to say, “war” and the first people to say, “we are at war.” Just like they were the first people to say three different times who was president of the United States and then Fox News said something and all of a sudden we have a different winner! (Laughs) So we get on the bus, and now normally I get on the bus and I go to sleep because I’ve got a show to do the next night. But this time we were up all night because they just kept changing their minds! (Laughs) Now when I go to airports, I may be randomly chosen by the computer for an extra check at the gate. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that every single Islamic looking, or dark skinned person with an accent will be checked. They will be racially profiled. And the reason I have a problem with that is that I don’t think you can do a random check on some people and then profile others. Those people should be in there with everybody else. They don’t single the people out to protect us. They single them out because they believe them to be acceptable to single out and that particular screening in public, where we see the dark skin and hear the accent—and it’s to make light skinned Christians and light skinned Jewish people feel safer—it doesn’t really make anybody safer. It’s done for show.

Scram: Public relations.

Steve: Yeah! That’s it! Public relations. About making us feel safe in a world where we’ve become scared to walk to our cars. That’s what it’s all about.

Scram: Jerusalem will probably go down as the essential album of the past year. Why is it musicians don’t tell the news, like Woody Guthrie and the old folk troubadours?

Steve: Well, I think it’s too early to think that I’m the only one who’s gonna do this. There are other people with different viewpoints, and that’s okay. And you’re gonna see other people with my viewpoint. It’s just very early. I mean, I just think people are getting very worried about disarming all those people and to the point—and the administration wants to disarm Iraq and then the other part of the administration—John Ashcroft’s agenda doesn’t have anything to do with the “War on Terror,” it has to do with abortion, it has to do with Fundamental Christians and it has to do with his inhibitions. John Ashcroft is the same thing that Osama Bin Laden is. He’s a fundamentalist. And he’s dangerous. I don’t think he’s as dangerous as some other people in the administration because he’s kind of a clown, you know? I think Dick Cheney is much more dangerous. He’s the guy I think that’s probably really calling the shots. He’s a true hawk and right now, Bush for some reason started listening to Colin Powell and gave the reins to Colin Powell. But it’s still based on, “we need to get our ducks in line internationally.” They’re still gonna go. They were gonna go before and they’re still gonna go. I hate to say that, but right now I don’t see much hope. They don’t seem to care, you know? I mean Tony Blair had—a really substantial majority of the citizens in his country are opposed to Britain being involved in a war in Iraq and he doesn’t care, for whatever reason. The Bush administration has its own power over Tony Blair and I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something there and he’s absolutely ignoring the people of his country. And he’ll pay for it.

Scram: And he doesn’t care about being publicly humiliated either. I mean, he tried to get negotiations going in the UN for Bush.

Steve: Yeah! It’ll be interesting to see how they’re gonna—the way they treated the Labor Party is the way they treated the Democratic Party here. Liberal became a dirty word, the party shifted further and further toward what they consider the center and what I consider the right. But I am much more comfortable in England where I can pick up The Guardian and The Times of London and I can sort it out for myself than I am with news that has no other agenda than what goes snap, crackle and pop! And this is—I mean CNN and most of the networks—I think the only exception, and they’re not really an exception but they’re run more like the networks were run—ABC, still sort of hanging in. Ted Koppel and a few other people. They’ve actually done some really good work. But CNN—they’re looking for a “Showdown With Saddam.” It’s bumper stickers.

Scram: Robert Christgau affected surprise that you’d include Aaron Burr in your list of Revolutionary heroes. Why did you?

Steve: I like Aaron Burr because he was one of the first people that sort of came from that Revolutionary War pedigree. Boy, he shot Alexander Hamilton’s ass, boy. (Scram laughs) But Aaron Burr was a really fascinating character and I think he’s a really American character. I’m not looking for everyone to link their agenda with mine. I believe I’m a pretty hardcore liberal. I believe everything Karl Marx said about economics. All those two big books say is that capitalism depends on a surplus of work force in order to flourish. In other words, you have to have a work force over here that’s out of work and disenfranchised to replace the workforce over here that has too much power. It is fundamentally oppressive.

Scram: The threat of poverty.

Steve: Absolutely. And rather than an approach where just realizing that there is enough for everybody in this world. There’s no reason for anybody to go hungry or go without a roof over their heads or go without medical care. I believe this! I live in a country where people don’t believe that. I also don’t believe that our democracy is—I hate the fact that we teach our children that we practice the only true form of democracy. I consider our form of democracy to be really, fatally flawed by the two-party system. England has a two-party system as well. There’s nothing in the Constitution about a two-party system. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just the players wired it that way and they’ve kept it that way for long enough that they’re hoping nobody will notice that it’s not in the Constitution. (Scram laughs) I’m much more comfortable with a government like Sweden’s or France’s where there’s a lot of parties. They’re diverse. Even the European Parliament itself. And the European Union is becoming a force much earlier than people thought it would. That kind of globalization—the European Union is a product of corporate globalization because it’s the European Union dealing with the fact that all these individual countries on their own didn’t have a chance in that process. And already—they basically stood their ground on steel. They stopped the last attempt at a big entertainment conglomerate merger, you know? We have five major labels instead of only four now ‘cause the European Union’s setting up now, no matter what happens in the United States. So, they’ve become a force. And I’m more comfortable with democracy where we have diverse political parties and they all have a shot at gaining seats. And then the coalitions have seats. And that’s much more democratic to me. People in Europe think it’s funny that we think there’s a difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Scram: That joke’s beginning to catch on here too.

Steve: Yeah. But some of that is Europeans not understanding this whole deal of American politics. There is a difference. Bobby Muller, the President of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, came up with this great definition of the difference between Democrats and Republicans. I couldn’t ever put my finger on it especially in the last few years. (Laughs) Then he said something: the Republican Party runs on ideology and the Democratic Party runs on the issues. It sorta hatches a much bigger, messier party and much more diverse. So you have to try to find some sort of consensus to build a platform based on the individual relations. The friends of the Republican Party for instance, will hold a dinner. They’re pretty consistent and they have been for a long time. And because of that they’re much more organized. They move much faster and much more effectively. And so they’ve been dominant for a long time. It took that long for the New Deal to wear off. We had socialism born of necessity in this country beginning with the Depression and World War II. Even though World War II yanked us out of the Depression, it took a long time for the idea—for one thing, we still have a Federal Income Tax, which was an emergency measure to help pay for World War II. It was supposed to temporary but it’s still there. Now I don’t have a problem with paying taxes, as long as somebody does something with the money—I’m perfectly willing to pay taxes to get medical care and—you know, people will hear—if you hold up Sweden as an example. Sweden is a very conservative country by current-day standards. They are. The joke in Denmark is that Swedes are Germans without the umlauts. And they are much more conservative than the Danes are. The Norwegians are just kinda rednecks. They’re not in the European Union for one reason. They got all that oil and they didn’t need to be so they just kinda said fuck you and they’ll pay for it. Oil doesn’t last forever as we’re finding out. But if you hold the Swedes up as an example to people in this country, the propaganda that they’ve absorbed is: “Well, they pay over half their income in taxes.” Sure. But their kids go to school for free, including a university education if they qualify for it. And if they don’t pass those tests, they can get vocational credits. For free. And in certain areas, very, very low cost loans. Now, they also get all their medical care for free. I’ve got kids and I promise you, most of my income goes for either educating my kids or paying for healthcare. That’s what most of us are gonna spend. That’s what the big expenditures in our life are gonna be. You know, what difference does it make? But people who don’t want to have that discussion have done a very good job over a long period of time of convincing Americans that they’re going to be taxed into non-existence if they try to just provide the basic medical care for people.

Scram: Of course, Americans are told Sweden is this socialist hell where the inhabitants all commit suicide…

Steve: For one thing it’s a myth. Norwegians earn a lot more than the Swedish do. When I play—I do really well in Scandinavia and the reason is that music is about language. So my strongest markets in Europe are where people can understand what I’m saying. So, obviously England and Ireland, but I do great in Holland, I do great in Sweden, I do great in Denmark and I do great in Norway. I can play Malmö in Sweden, which is right across the spit there from Copenhagen in Denmark. If a bunch of people misbehave at the gig or are rowdy, I’ll come off the stage and they say, “Oh, it’s the Danes. They came over on the boat.” (Scram laughs) The next night it’s Copenhagen and it’s, “Oh, it’s the Swedes.” (both laugh)

Scram: “Ashes to Ashes” is almost like biblical prophecy. A little like Dr. King’s final sermons.

Steve: It’s biblical language. It certainly is.

Scram: Using scripture to warn America that it can be pulled down.

Steve: Well it’s using pseudo scripture. It’s Old Testament language. And it’s poetic language that I don’t think I ever would have tackled if I hadn’t written outside of songwriting for a few years, you know? It never would have occurred to me to write that way if I hadn’t written some fiction and written some poetry. But, it’s about that. We’re not going to be the richest and the most powerful country in the world forever. And everybody else who’s been top dog has gone around acting like they’re gonna be top dog forever too. But we certainly don’t have any reason to think that. It’s just like oil. You know, oil is so important, and people are getting killed over oil—and this is in a time when people are—admittedly, oil companies are just one step behind the tobacco companies for continuing to provide a product and we continue to use a product—every machine that we use, directly or indirectly—is linked to oil. You know?

Scram: Yeah.

Steve: We’re so dependent on it. And it’s not because there isn’t technology available to replace it. It’s because there are very powerful people who have made a lot of money, which makes them even more powerful, who sell oil. And they know how to sell oil. And a lot of other things are dependent on oil. I mean this whole economy is based on oil. So they’re not gonna let it go. They’re not gonna worry about any sort of hydrogen or any other form of energy, until there’s no fucking oil left in the ground. It is strictly greed. (Scram laughs) Why would we go and develop that and spend all this money on research and development? That would make all this oil—and we know where it is—worthless. And the very powerful people spend the money in Washington, and this administration is the most unashamedly completely and totally bought and sold. It’s pretty scary.

Scram: So you meant the album as…

Steve: I meant it as—I didn’t even want to make the record. I was gonna try to take the year off. But I found myself making it. And then, making a record this year created deadlines. Some of them just had to do with where I sit in the hierarchy. I can’t release a record in November or December because I don’t sell enough records to complete with the record stores for space. September is the latest I can release them. And some of this is real perishable. I want it to be heard now. So I did rush it trying to get it out so I could make that deadline.

Scram: Of the response so far, is there anything that offends you?

Steve: No. I don’t really have it in me to regret. It’s not that I don’t think about what I did. I’ve fucked up some stuff in my life. It wasn’t like I wasn’t being careful. I’m also not too careful. I think the other danger is being too careful. It’s just the way I reacted to September 11th. It’s sad to think that there might be somebody else out there that has something else to contribute to this discussion and who has been hanging back and now they’ll see that it’s okay to talk about this. It’s okay and it’s important.

Scram: At this point, is there any way for America to wash away the blood from its hands?

Steve: Sure, but—it’s gonna take a long time. And we’re gonna really want to change. We can do anything. But we have to decide that—we’re a long way away from it. We’ve got to admit there’s a problem first. And we’re not there yet. But there are some of us that are there, and this is a democracy. And I think anybody really can—if they bother to do it—be heard. I’m very respectful of my audience and most of my audience doesn’t agree with everything I do—even about the death penalty. But they do respect how I feel and they realize that it’s a discussion and they want to be involved in it. And as long as it’s like that I feel pretty much all right.

The Turtles' Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Strawberry Shortcake Recipe revealed by Kelly Kuvo

Many moons ago I found the courage to go public with my Strawberry Shortcake & Friends record collection and knick-knack fetish. Once I was out, flocks of secret Strawberry fans came out of their own closets to share rare specks of information about the series. I was thrilled to learn that Flo & Eddie (AKA Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, late of the Turtles) were responsible for my favorite Strawberry Shortcake albums.

It was an honor to get the chance to speak with Mark Volman about his experiences producing the Strawberry Shortcake & Friends records between 1980-83, and how he and Howard got involved in writing music for children.

Scram: Hello Mr. Volman. Thanks for talking with me! Just a few questions for you, if you don’t mind? Who started Kid Stuff Records? How did you and Howard get involved with them to make music for Strawberry Shortcake & Friends records? And where are the Kid Stuff record people now?

Mark Volman: The animators for the Frank Zappa film 200 Motels that we were involved with were doing the animation for the television shows The World of Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City. They asked us to audition for the job of creating the soundtrack music via the company creating the Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, which was American Greetings. A production company out of Florida called Those Characters From Cleveland was producing records on the Kid Stuff Records label at the time. We pitched them our ideas and they bought them. We have no idea what is up with the label now. You know, you should make a good CD copy of all of those Strawberry Shortcake vinyl records you have, because who knows where the master tapes are?! We don’t own any of that stuff.

Scram: Your Strawberry Shortcake records are far superior to the other Strawberry Shortcake record productions. I want to know... why?

MV: Howard and I took on the Strawberry Shortcake & Friends job because our career has never been about inroads or about just one project, but about a series of various accomplishments. We wanted to go deeper than with just “ Happy Together,” and that’s why we used our real names on the credits of each Strawberry Shortcake record we made. Back then, children’s records weren’t really a respected medium and companies weren’t used to paying people for producing something slick for kids. We wanted to do something different with children’s records and provide positive messages. At the same time, we didn’t try to save money in our TV Show soundtrack recordings. We brought in the original voice of Strawberry Shortcake from the TV show and tried to keep all the other actors, and we charged Kid Stuff a lot of money to do that. Strawberry Shortcake was so popular in 1980-81 that a huge balloon of her led the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And they used our song on the float, the Strawberry Shortcake theme song from the TV show that goes “Who sleeps all night in a cake made of strawberry?” all the way down 5th Avenue! Making those records wasn’t easy; it was a challenge. We were confined by what the TV Shows had to give us. However, it opened up other opportunities. We sold five or six million copies of those Strawberry Shortcake records, and at a time when children’s music wasn’t fashionable! We wanted to try to make songs that kids would recognize, rhythms that would be familiar to kids even listening to them for the first time. We wanted to make songs that also just plain stood alone as good songs, regardless of if they were for kids or not—songs that a Turtles fan would love, yet always dealing with the age group we were creating for. Oh, and everyone has got to understand that nothing would have gotten accomplished on those Strawberry Shortcake records without John Hoier. He was our partner that owned Sun Swept Studios in Studio City, CA. That was the studio where we made all of our Strawberry Shortcake records. Everything was written, played, and sung by John, Howard and myself on those records.

Scram: I'm interested in your involvement with the cartoon TV show Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City. Did you guys write the soundtrack and the script for that?

MV: We had nothing to do with the scripts. They were all pre-written and we wrote songs to accompany the story. Howard acted as the voice of the Purple Pie Man on the records, but not on the TV show. We all acted as the Care Bears characters on the Care Bears records we produced, too.

Scram: Do you remember a particularly favorite song from any of the Strawberry Shortcake recordings? I really love the heavy Pink Floyd-ish "Big Apple City" song when Strawberry Shortcake is flying on the butterfly from Strawberryland to the city for the first time!

MV: All of the songs and records were fun to do, but I would have to say that “I Was Born To Disco” on Let’s Dance With Strawberry Shortcake is one of my favorites. Howard sang on that as the Purple Pie Man. That was a fun novelty disco record to do.

Scram: I thought the theremin you all used as the sound effect for the butterfly on The World Of Strawberry Shortcake soundtrack record was very innovative and cool! Was there a Strawberryland character that you took a shine to? The Southern belle Lemon Meringue? The little cat friend, Custard?

MV: Lemon Meringue, now, she was a cutie. But I really appreciated Strawberry Shortcake’s leadership skills. She is a real Pollyanna who sees the best through the worst of things. She’s like John Lennon. Strawberry Shortcake saw goodness in the Purple Pie Man. She’s a religious figure who understands the importance of Love Thy Neighbor. You either love that kind of person, or you hate them. Like John Denver. It’s all about positivity. Strawberryland couldn’t have existed without her. She was the center of the universe, a very enduring person to write music for. The Purple Pie Man was a real cad. Not bad, just unloved. He was misunderstood and raised badly. Strawberry Shortcake and The Purple Pie Man are the Yin/ Yang of their universe. Strawberry Shortcake music is very Rubber Soul for kids.

Scram: Okay, so what is your favorite flavor anyway? If you lived in Strawberryland, what flavor would you be? How about Howard?

MV: Anything having to do with lemons, that would be me. I’m “lemon flavored.” Howard is the Purple Pie Man. That’s who he is. The flavor of Purple Pie Man. You should know that we also made about four or five 7-inch G.I. Joe records for Kid Stuff. On those we wrote the story and script and came up with the characters. Deep war stories. The Sergeant Pepper of the genre out of all those Kid Stuff records was the G.I. Joe 7-inches. They were all full feature story-type records, not song based. John, Howard and I played all the characters.

Scram: Oh, man, I’m gonna comb the thrifts for GI Joe stuff now! Thanks for the tip. And thanks for your time. Good-bye!

MV: You can call me anytime. Bye!

Discography of Flo & Eddie Strawberry Shortcake Productions on Kid Stuff Records

… 1980 – The World Of Strawberry Shortcake
… 1981 – Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City
… 1982 – Strawberry Shortcake's Pet Parade
… 1983 – Let's Dance With Strawberry Shortcake

Postscript: I thought I had stockpiled every important Strawberry Shortcake recording when I wrote about the series for Roctober #24, but it seems there are always new treats to be found. Here’s the scoop on a couple of Flo and Eddie soundtrack gems that I’ve recently discovered. You can find these in any ol’ video store with a large children’s section. If you get the bug and need to acquire other Strawberry Shortcake products, look for those that star Russi Taylor as Strawberry Shortcake. Russi is the berry best, so you’ll be glad you did. All other Shortcakes are inferior hacks who pale by comparison. You have been warned!

Strawberry Shortcake’s Pet Parade
note: Flo and Eddie wrote and performed the music, and sang the songs, but did not write the lyrics for this show.

The story of this animated TV show is not as cool as Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City, but Pet Parade has its shining moments—for all Purple Pie Man fans, that is! The evil Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak, and his nemesis, the luscious madam Sour Grapes, steal the show… literally!

The story begins with Mr. Sun’s announcement that the 2nd Annual Grand Old Pettable Pet Show and Parade is about to begin. First Prize is a brand new tricycle with a special seat for pets. For some bizarro reason the prize bike is at Strawberry Shortcake’s house, and since Strawberry Shortcake and her cat Custard are going to be judges in the Pet Show, she rides the bike on a dirt trail all the way through Strawberryland to the contest. By then, the bike is used and worthless as a prize, as far as I’m concerned. Phooey!

Strawberry sings a cute Nilsson-esque song along the way that goes, “The world’s a four-leaf clover, a rainbow built for two, I’d love to give today to you. Yesterday is gone and done for, tomorrow’s still a pack of dreams. Now is the time to have some fun, for it’s later than it seems!”

Hearing this jive-talk ringing through the land, the Purple Pie Man freaks out and decides to enter his pet crow, Captain Cackle, into the pet show just to be a pest. Then, Sour Grapes and her pet snake Drags arrive in town on a trolley, and they almost run over the Pie Man. Sour Grapes and the Pie Man start to argue over which one of them is the baddest baddie in town. The fight turns into a great duet: “I’m much lower than you are. You can’t get lower than I. In a low down show down, your lawns I’d mow down. To me you’re always a pie! For I’m despicably evil. No, I’m as bad as they come. Oooh, I’m not perky when I play dirty! But, I’m the crummiest crumb. We’re both deplorable stinkers, but who is lower than whom?” All the while, Sour Grapes emits a banshee yodel that is amazing! The music is really heavy, and there's even a free jazz clarinet solo. Imagine if Alice Cooper and Ornette Coleman wrote a song together for an Addams Family episode, and you'll be close. Cool, huh? Okay, back to the story… The Purple Pie Man and Sour Grapes decide to join their evil forces to try to win the Pet Show contest together. They come up with a plan to “destroy Strawberry Shortcake with her own phonograph!” (So symbolic from a time when the CD was about to knock vinyl off the charts).

A marching tune introduces all of the characters and their pets as they file up and off the stage: Huckleberry Pie and his dog Pupcake, etc. Not too impressive. But then the bad guys sneak the phonograph under the stage. Their pets, Drags and Captain Cackle, sing a really crazy duet that impresses the audience so much that she calls for an encore. (See, the audience consists of one character, Angel Cake. She’s the only kid in town without a pet. A sub-plot explains all that and I’ll spare you the details). Drags sings in a high operatic voice, “Oh sweet strawberry of life at last I’ve found you!” and the tune immediately changes to a marching song that Cackles belts out, “Give me ten grapes to a sour hearted grape!” Then Drags sings, “I’ll be calling you, berry blue, berry blue!" And together they both sing, “I love you!” But before Angel Cake can crown the winners the record starts to skip, revealing that a Milli Vanilli-style hoax was in the works! Marvelous! Five strawberry red stars.

Let’s Dance With Strawberry Shortcake original soundtrack LP

"It’s a berry special wonderful day in Strawberryland. The day of the big dance. They’ve put up a big stage right in the town square for the big show and the star of the show is our berry own Strawberry Shortcake. Strawberryland has never been a more wonderful place to be. Everybody’s dancing as Strawberry Shortcake herself leads you through ten berry wonderful new dances. Just like Strawberry Shortcake says, “Let’s Dance.”

That’s the claim on the cover of the LP. Are you convinced? Got on your boogie shoes? Well, you’re in for a treat, because this record lives up to the hype. The first two songs, "Let’s Dance" and "The Strawberry Twist" build up momentum, but the highlight comes with "One, Two, Cha-Cha-Cha." To put it mildly, this song is genius! Strawberry Shortcake and the Cha-Cha-Cha beat even seduce and hypnotize the Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak. Spin this song at a party and it’ll turn your guests into dancing fools; I've seen it happen with my own eyes! As you shimmy through "The Limbo Dance," "Do The Strawberry Stomp," "The Strawberry Waltz," and "Huckleberry’s Polka," the dance floor is slowing thinning. But by the last song on Side 2, the Pie Man has become a regular Saturday Night Samurai. Like a slave to the techno siren, he makes his declaration of devotion in "I Was Born To Disco." He’s all alone on the dance floor with this one. The club has closed and everyone has gone home, but him… and Disco. Stellar.

Scramarama - November 2-3, 2001

It started with a traffic jam. Young literary ladies of leisure like your editrix are rarely trapped by these workaday traumas, but in this case an afternoon visit with the grandfolks in Ventura County left me pointed back to L.A. during the worst of the afternoon commute. Trying to amuse myself through the stop 'n' go tedium, I opened my mind up to various fancies, and among them found this one:

Scram is almost ten years old. I should really throw a party.

Palace Theatre marquee, Scramarama Festival, November 2001

From that humble impulse came the Scramarama, two nights of ridiculously ambitious rock and roll, light projections, found educational films, psychic cats, hauntings, and assorted magic. Before it was done I'd enlisted dozens of lovely folks to share my delusions, secured the use of a 90-year-old theatre and its delightful 22-year-old manageress, obtained a temporary liquor license, lured several heroes out of retirement, and even got the L.A. Times to play along. Wish you coulda been there.

The acts presented were chosen for their association with the magazine, their nearness to my heart, or both. Just as the magazine is a slice of culture filtered through the kaleidoscope of my passions and biases, Scramarama too was a manifestation of things that I think matter. Booking ten moderately obscure performers into a huge theatre in downtown Los Angeles was a risk, but once I saw the final line up, I realized that it was insignificant how many tickets were sold. It was going to be a great show, whether 50 or 500 people came.

We kicked off the festivities on Friday night with a set from Bangers & Mash, those Gallbladderpuddlian mocktops led by the irrepressible Mash Letchingsworth III. The band's American debut was at the release party for Scram #11, and their tour diary enlivened issue #14. This early set time had nothing at all to do with Mash's supposed resemblance to his American cousin Edwin Letcher, who ably managed the stage over the course of the festival. No, the band simply needed to go on first because they were jetlagged. Bangers & Mash made an especially big hit with the under-twelves, my brothers among them.

 

Red Planet

Then came Red Planet (interviewed in Scram #13), who drove down from San Francisco to delight the assembly with an absurdly energetic set of tunes catchier than the industrial rat traps tucked discretely throughout the venue. Scads of fun was had onstage and off.

Scott Miller

Convincing Scott Miller (contributor, Scram #9) to appear was one of those hopeless tasks that I just kept picking away at. I'd ask and he'd remind me that he'd retired from music. I'd put it out of my mind for a while and then wake up thinking "How can we possibly do this show without Scott?!" Then I'd ask again, he'd say no, etc. Finally must have worn him down or caught him in a generous mood, because he surprised me by saying okay. We couldn't afford the expense of a Loud Family reunion, but no one was complaining that the alternative was Scott playing solo with electric guitar. And he was exquisite, sending those brilliant shards of song out into the wings like some stagebound angel to a room gone utterly silent. Scott's set was a highlight of the weekend, with many people coming up to tell me how moved they'd been by it.

The Loons

Next up were the Loons, those mysterious psychedelic shamen from points south. They were interviewed for Scram #6, when their line-up was very different and their sound more Q65 than Love. For them we lowered the house lights and fired up the Secret Weapon. A band this atmospheric deserved a something unusual. Perched up in the first balcony before a frighteningly complex bank of digital, analog and gelatinous technology were Mari Kono, Lisa Sutton and Andy Zax, collaborating on live projections for the latter part of both evenings. Mari had prepared a series of geometric patterned slides that faded in and out like an op art daydream. Andy brought a box of weird 16mm educational films that he'd been running between bands, and now overlaid silently where appropriate. Lisa was up to her elbows in glycerin and food coloring, creating hallucinogenic washes of pulsating goo. With this backdrop, the Loons looked and sounded amazing, as they set the stage for the most anticipated performance of the festival.

The Music Machine

The Music Machine have never been covered in Scram, because Loons frontman Mike Stax had already done such excellent work on them in Ugly Things. Sean Bonniwell's brilliant lyrics and innovative arrangements have captivated me since I stumbled onto "Talk Talk" and (especially) "Masculine Intuition" as a teenybopper. A solo appearance in San Diego last summer indicated that Sean might be ready to return to performing, and indeed he immediately expressed enthusiasm when asked to play Scramarama. He assembled a passionate group of talented San Diegans, who learned Sean's songs in his absence, gearing up for an intensive set of October rehearsals. It was quietly suggested that it might also be possible to lure Music Machine drummer Ron Edgar out to join Sean, and delightfully, this happened. If you weren't there I can't possibly convey in mere words the power and beauty of hearing those songs played at full-bore by Sean, Ron and their new Music Machine 2000. It was simply astonishing, and there was nothing at all that could have followed them, so we called it a night.

Saturday

Harvey Sid Fisher

Harvey Sid Fisher (interviewed in Scram #12) turned up with his full band and charming background singers to transform his celebrated Astrology Songs into a folk-rock extravaganza. I've never heard him sound as in command as he did tonight. It made for a perfect introduction to the evening's proceedings. 

Lovely Leo, keeper of the psychic cats, with Cassandra

As Harvey left the stage, Leo Vaisman was setting up his booth in the lobby, where his well-trained psychic cats Nostradamus and Cassandra offered fortune telling and atmosphere for a small donation. Are the cats really psychic? You tell me. Here are the partial contents of the scroll Nostradamus selected for me: "You'll have a delightful time with good friends at mutually liked amusements." Eerie, eh?

Brute Force

Brute Force (celebrated in Scram #3 and again in this issue) was the most unlikely Scramarama performer, more so than even the Music Machine. Who would believe it would be possible to lure this mysterious sixties auteur out to California, or that when we did he would deliver a performance powerful enough to captivate every soul in attendance? I tracked down Stephen Friedland early in the planning stages of the fest, meeting with him and daughter Lilah in a NYC jazz bar. My pal Keith Bearden came along for moral support, because I was frankly intimidated and somewhat starstruck by Brute! He quickly put us at ease with his charming conversation, and demonstrated his people skills when a drunken East Indian joined our party and shared a lifetime of pain and resentment. Brute patiently drew this troubled person out, calmed his outbursts, and sent him on his way. A couple days later I met again with Brute and journalist Dawn Eden, and tentatively asked if he'd be interested in playing Scramarama. To my delight, he immediately agreed. While financial concerns and the events of September 11 inserted some snags in the works, this was one artist that I didn't want to let get away. Special thanks go out to Andy Zax, for all his encouragement when it seemed least likely to fly. I knew it was all worth it from the moment Brute sat down at the electric piano and started playing those weird and wonderful songs. His performance, encompassing music, prop comedy and audience participation, was incredibly moving and hilarious. We didn’t want him to leave, and now we all want him to come back.

Nikki Corvette with the Pinkz

Nikki Corvette (interviewed in Scram #14) had recently made a triumphant return to performing at the Bubblegum Ball, a wild evening of roller skating and rock and roll that doubled as the release party for David Smay's and my Feral House book Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. Once again backed up by the fabulous Pinkz, Highland Park's favorite girl band, Nikki showed that she remains the undisputed queen of teenage pop. Britney and Christina wish they had an eighth of her sass.

Deniz Tek

Deniz Tek--contributor to Scram #12 and #14, and subject of the first interview I ever conducted--should need no introduction to readers of this magazine. The one-time Radio Birdman leader remains a vital performer who continues to tour and record while maintaining his career as an emergency physician. Tonight he appeared with the West Coast Deniz Tek Group, featuring twins Art and Steve Godoy. They immediately settled into a glorious groove, enhanced by the inspired imagery projected from the balconies. This set was another highlight in a weekend of astonishingly good music. Deniz was also one of two artists harassed by the theatre ghosts, when he tried to take a nap in the spooky understage area (Brute Force claims to have seen a spectral child near the gents).

The Cynics

The Cynics have never appeared in Scram, in part because their long hiatus has kept them off the road during most of the magazine's existence. (They did play on my college radio show in 1990, though.) The times I've seen them have been almost unbearably exciting, and I was thrilled to secure the band for the festival's closing slot. It was really late by the time they went on, but from their performance you'd think the night was just beginning. Singer Michael Kastelic, who'd been dancing up a storm all weekend, somehow managed to summon even more energy as he led the band through a blistering set of savage nuggets. Although I was nearly comatose by this point, they sent a jolt of pure adrenaline into my veins that had me dancing like a goon up in the balcony. The Cynics sent Scramarama out with a beautiful bang, and then suddenly it was time to go home. Sniff.

Heartfelt thanks go out to all the swell folks who helped, especially MC Michael Lucas and the rest of the San Francisco contingent, who paid their own way south only to work like little doggies all weekend long. It really meant a lot to have my founding co-editor Steve Watson in attendance. My dad, stepmother and grandparents tirelessly looked after the box office and merch table, and charmed everyone. P. Edwin Letcher kept things moving on stage. Dawn Garcia from the Palace was always available to fix problems and fire up the scarily antiquated lights. Doug Miller not only tended bar, he negotiated the whole set-up with the surprisingly nice folks from Ace Beverage. Paul du Gré's sympathetic sound mix made the best of the peculiarities of a Vaudeville-era theatre. 

Chinta Cooper takes tickets, father Jan assists, at Scramarama

It was great to have old Scramsters, family and friends together for this celebration. I know there's no way this could ever have happened without all the amazingly generous people who contributed their time, energies and expertise in helping me realize a dream. In my exhausted state around 4 o'clock on Sunday morning I found myself saying, "I am the luckiest girl in the world!"--thank you to everyone who helped me form such a notion.

I'm going to try get stuck in traffic more often. And yeah, I'm pretty sure this won’t be the last Scramarama. See you next time?

--Kim Cooper

For more Scramarama photos, see this link.

 

Neil Hamburger Live in Los Angeles (September 15-16, 2000)

{CLICK HERE for Neil Hamburger - The Best!}

The news of comic Neil Hamburger’s recent national tour caused a wave of excitement to sweep the states. It’s been a long time since he left the Motel 6 circuit to play larger clubs in big cities, and his fans have missed him. Strangely, in Los Angeles Neil was not appearing at the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory or Igby’s, but at the rock club Spaceland and at Over Hear, some kind of avant garde gallery space in Echo Park.

Neil’s fans didn’t let the offbeat locations keep them from seeing their fave funnyman, and the room was filled to capacity for the first performance at Spaceland. In fact, there wasn’t a parking place to be found within eight blocks, and your editrix had to avail herself of the valet if she was to make it inside before the show began. Apparently some people were there to see a rock group called Trans Am, but the front couple of rows were all Neil-o-maniacs—including movie star and comedian Jack Black, taking mental notes to improve his own act.

The excitement in the air was palpable, as people craned their necks looking for the man who had brought them so many laughs (and tears) with his recorded works. Because Neil has never sat for a proper photo session, no one was quite sure what he looked like. Had he grown haggard since his recent divorce? Would we find him at the bar?

Finally, the stage door opened and Neil himself was standing, drink in hand, surveying his crowd. He was smaller than I expected, with greasy hair in what might have been a comb-over, big thick glasses like my English uncle Dennis wears, and a mismatched dark suit with dusty loafers. Any doubts as to his identity were dispelled as soon as he opened his mouth, and that whining delivery wafted like sour magnolias over the mic.

Coughing sporadically (Neil explained “I have cancer”), he began a series of new and familiar jokes and stories that soon had the audience reacting quite violently. A blonde woman off to the right interjected regularly with comments and catcalls (more about her later), and two young men right in front of Neil yelled something that sounded like “my choice!” repeatedly. Some people were laughing, others wincing, as Neil ran through a relaxed set that touched on such subjects as Teletubby penis grafts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ love of heroin, Mormons and anal sex, and of course Princess Diana.

At one point Neil refused to finish a joke as a punishment for one heckler—”I’m not going to tell you the punchline, loudmouth!”—and he didn’t. When the audience pelted him with dimes, he pocketed them happily. The “my choice!” guys were getting more and more rowdy, and one of them finally moved to climb onto to short stage and accost Neil. With an athlete’s grace, Neil emptied his drink in the kid’s face and called for a refill, and his antagonist immediately backed down.

The night ended on a high note with the celebrated Zipper Shtick, leaving at least one audience member red-faced yet proud at being singled out for Neil’s unique brand of comic humiliation. Then Trans Am came out, and they didn’t have any jokes, so I didn’t see any reason to hang around. Besides, I needed my rest if I was going to be fresh for the second night of Neil Magic!

The Spaceland show was fun, but Neil was in looser form the following night at Over Hear, and of the two this show was my favorite. Apparently his appearance was preceded by a mariachi band (who I missed) and some young rappers who jumped around in the manner of gibbons. The place was an art gallery, all righty—you could tell by the white walls, concrete floor, and all the pretty kids from Art Center milling around in their polyester finery. Professor Mayo Thompson was also spotted (with some difficulty, since he was all in white and blended into the room), as was comedy fan Don Bolles. The show ran late, and by the time Neil stepped onto the stage from the small door leading back to the beer garden, there were at least a hundred people who had that “make me laugh, goddamit” look on their faces.

Maybe Neil underestimated his own popularity, because quite a bit of his set was repeated from the night before. Unfortunately, the blonde blabbermouth from Spaceland had come to the second show—with his act memorized! As soon as the repeat jokes started coming, she began yelling out the punchlines during Neil’s pauses. He tried to ignore her for as long as he could, then finally snarled “Why don’t you come up and introduce yourself, you little bitch?” Rumor was that she was a friend of Neil’s wife. It is conceivable that the Culver City resident might have sent a friend to interfere with her ex-husband’s local performances. Neil was onto her, though, and started changing his punchlines to make her look dumb. While this did make the jokes less amusing, it successfully shut up his heckler.

When the audience yelled “How’s your wife?” Neil admitted he had agreed not to talk about her in exchange for all his Raw Hamburger royalties and a guarantee that she wouldn’t sue him for slander—but since Jesus hasn’t sued him yet, he could say anything he liked about that guy. I wouldn’t want to repeat any of the foul things Neil said about some folks’ Lord and Savior, so let’s just say that true believers might want to think twice before attending one of his performances.

An effort to make a joke at Elian Gonzalez’ expense fell flat when Neil, who’s spent most of the last year in Australia, mispronounced the kid’s name. He quickly reclaimed the room by intoning his celebrated “That’s my life!” catchphrase a few times, and riffing on Princess Diana. Who doesn’t love a good Diana joke?

Neil wrapped things up with a long, relatively hilarious story about Anthony Kiedis’ repeated visits to a local bar in search of heroin. The punchline when it finally came had the audience clutching their sides, which were aching with convulsive laughter. Neil Hamburger slipped out the door before anyone realized he was gone, and we all returned to our workaday lives, each one a little changed from having spent some special time in the company of America’s Funnyman, Neeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiillllll Haaaaaammmmmmmburger! (Kim Cooper)
{CLICK HERE for Neil Hamburger - The Best!}

Shocking Blue by Brian Green

It's been said about so many of rock's giants that they were “ahead of their time” that the expression has ceased to mean much. So how about a great band that was behind their time? That would be Shocking Blue.

It was 1969 when the best version of this Dutch act gelled, and while most of the bands the Blue emulated were by then turning away from groovy and towards heavy—prog rock, early metal and pre-punk taking over the scene—Shocking Blue still sounded like they might have come out of London or San Francisco, circa ‘66/‘67.

Shocking Blue

Jefferson Airplane is be the band that Shocking Blue mostly invites comparisons to, and it was the Airplane that veteran Dutch rocker Robbie van Leeuwen had in mind when he decided he wanted a female vocalist for his group. But while van Leeuwen may have started out emulating the Jefferson Airplane, his band quickly and permanently outclassed their predecessors. Where the Airplane's lyrics were usually cliché-addled and verging on ridiculous, van Leeuwen offered fresh and innocent boy/girl tales and existential laments; while JA’s music often had that messy, jazzy, “let me do a solo” element weighing it down, Shocking Blue stuck to stripped-down, energy-packed Beat Club grooves; and Mariska Veres was simply a better singer than Grace Slick, more genuinely soulful, more naturally melodious.

Veres was actually not Shocking Blue’s original singer. When guitarist van Leeuwen dropped out of local hitmakers the Motions to form his own band in ‘67, he did so with another Dutch scenester, Fred de Wilde, at the mic. The all-boy Blue recorded one album and some singles (a few of these minor hits in Holland, most notably the decidedly West Coast-influenced “Lucy Brown is Back in Town”). But before things could go too far for this version of the act, and just when van Leeuwen was thinking that he wanted a chick to sing his songs, de Wilde was called off to do military service. Robbie wasted no time in finding Veres, who looked like a model and sang like a soul sister. De Wilde managed to get out of his military duty after just a few months, but by that time the new Blue had already scored hits with “Send Me a Postcard” and “Long and Lonesome Road.” Fred had to understand.

Shocking Blue

With musical acts things tend to either never quite happen or to happen very quickly, but they rarely happen as fast as they did for the new Shocking Blue. Before the end of their first year together, they had a number one hit in the U.S. “Venus,” their third single and the one and only song everybody remembers them for now, topped the American charts in December of ‘69.

But it's one of the great injustices of rock history that Shocking Blue should be thought of (by the few who even recognize their name) as a one-hit wonder. “Venus” is only one of several classic tracks on the Blue's At Home LP, a collection that should be near the top of critics' All-Time-Best polls, instead of remaining in the basement of super-obscurity where it currently exists. “California Here I Come” and the already-mentioned “Long and Lonesome Road” are just as catchy, just as cool, just as memorable as “Venus,” as is a song called “Love Buzz,” which Nirvana eventually covered (not too well, but they get points for having the cool to pay the tribute) on Bleach. There’s also a raga-rock instrumental, a couple more upbeat tunes just barely lagging behind “Venus” and the others, and “Boll Weevil,” the R&B-fueled album opener, which sounds like the Dead with more real spirit.

The next two Shocking Blue albums, while not as strong or consistent as At Home, were still as good as anything being put out in the first years of the ‘70s, and both contained standout tracks. Scorpio’s Dance has “Sally was a Good Old Girl,” a rockin’ version of a C&W standard, plus “Little Cooling Planet” and “Seven is a Number in Magic,” two more swanky, riff-heavy grooves that sound like California ‘67. Next was 3rd Album, which has an overall folksy feel that was new for the band. “I Saw Your Face,” the lead vocal taken by van Leeuwen, is like the Mamas & the Papas with a banjo, and “Serenade” is one of SB’s many slow-tempo'd, melancholic tracks, it being one of their prettiest ballads. But the two strongest songs on this album are both rockers: the ‘60s dance party-sounding “Bird of Paradise,” and the autobiographical anthem “Shocking You,” on which the Blue seemed to be heading to Glamsville.

Shocking Blue

Throughout these years the band, while touring over great distances at break-neck speed, also found time to record a few non-album singles, and one of these, “Never Marry a Railroad Man,” may be their best song altogether. A number one in Holland and a gold record in Germany and Japan, this mid-tempo track, with its staccato guitar riff and stays-in-your-head vocal melody, somehow didn't make any noise in America, where the best the Blue had done since “Venus” was hit the lower reaches of the Top 100, or England, where they were, amazingly, never terribly popular.

Records kept coming. A live-in-Japan set appeared shortly after 3rd Album, and in the year 1972 Shocking Blue released three long-players: Inkpot, Attila and Dream on Dreamer. Sadly, the quality-level was diminishing slightly with each new LP; but with van Leeuwen continuing to write all the original material, there was still the occasional stellar track, and nothing as embarrassing as, say, Jefferson Starship (that would come later, after Robbie left). While the albums contained too much filler to be considered even minor classics, they all had excellent singles, the best of these “Inkpot,” “Rock in the Sea,” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.”

Things fell apart starting in ‘73. First, the band suffered their first flop single—“Let Me Carry Your Bag” went nowhere at home or abroad, and didn't deserve to. Van Leeuwen was tired from five years of worldwide touring, non-stop recording, and songwriting responsibility, and his fatigue showed on this weak record. Things were not going well with their label Pink Elephant, and soon enough they lost a member, original bassist Klassje Van Der Wal. The band's creator, mastermind and sole songwriter to that point, Robbie van Leeuwen, gave it up shortly after that.

This should have been the end of Shocking Blue, but people need to have things to do, and in doing them often threaten to permanently tarnish something that was once precious. The absence of van Leeuwen's pen was all too apparent on the ‘74 Shocking Blue singles “This America” and “Gonna Sing My Song” and the album Good Times. While the new players were competent musicians, and while Veres' voice sounded strong as ever, the riffs weren't quite there and the lyrics were atrocious (particularly in the case of “This America,” a song on which Veres foolishly sings the praises of the country that had only recently pulled out of Vietnam).

Mercifully, the band went on hiatus after those singles failed to bust the charts. But this was still not to be the last of Shocking Blue. In 1986, the same year that Bananarama trivialized them (although thickening van Leeuwen's royalty checks) with their hit version of “Venus,” a new—and newly-schlocky—SB came out with “The Jury and the Judge,” on which they went back and proved that, yes, they actually could be as tacky and dinosaur-sounding as the Starship. This piece of soulless, formulaic glitz could've easily been the B-side of “We Built This City.”

And that ain't all. There was another single, equally bad, in ‘94, and word is that a band called Shocking Blue, with fronted by Mariska Veres, is still haunting European concert halls. Van Leeuwen is quoted as saying that this new SB “sounds good for sure,” but one has to wonder what time has done to the ears of this once classic songwriter and unsung hero of rock; Robbie hasn't played his guitar for quite some time, apparently having become more interested in the art world than that of contemporary pop music.

Shocking Blue

Recommended Listening: Singles A’s & B’s, the 2-CD collection of Shocking Blue's 45's, front and back, ‘67-‘94, contains some of SB’s best songs, and can serve as an excellent introduction to all those who think “Venus” was the only thing the band ever did. But true enthusiasts should use this only as a starting point, and go to the same label (Repertoire of Germany) that put this out for their reissues of the first three SB albums with Mariska Veres. Those totally hooked can then go on and get the three ‘72 albums, also carried by Repertoire.

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