Left of the Dial “Buggin’ Out!”
Written by Chris-R on February 13, 2018
This week’s installment of Left of the Dial is a trip, it’s got a funky beat and you can really bug out to it! Chris-R is back at it again, playing rockin’ tunes and breakin’ hearts left right and center, as he is joined by a new cohost, who is quite the saucerful of secrets indeed. We got spiffy rockers, strange sonic oddities, and explosions of HAMMOND ORGAN SOLOS TO MELT YOUR EARS. So yeah, just the fun stuff.
Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…) -Queen
Campiness is much appreciated in the art world, by both the creator and the consuming public. At the true heart of what makes camp value so compelling, is that is driven by an internal energy that the artist creates and unleashes to the world through their art medium. It should not be a stretch of the imagination for to call Queen a campy band, even the members of the band admit it, but it should be known that it is this schmaltz factor that gives their works undercurrents of energy that makes these songs such a joy to listen to. But make no mistake, Queen is not always sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, they can take all their energetic forces and direct it to a fine tuned razor blade of a song, which is what “Death on Two Legs” works as. The band is hunting for blood on this track, which serves as a scathing death letter that is “dedicated” to the higher-ups in the music biz, the same higher-ups that had wronged Queen in the past. It’s hard not to shake your fist along with the group when hearing the fire and fury that the band lays down in a shocking and borderline depraved manner that very few else would dare attempt.
Roadrunner -The Modern Lovers
ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX! *BAM-BUM* is how this stunningly effective track begins, which is a perfect way to introduce your sound to the msusic consuming world. A daring forerunner to the Art-Punk scene, Roadrunner is a staggeringly brilliant song despite (or perhaps due to) its apprent simplicity. Built only around two chords, songwriter Johnathan Richman knows not to waste anybody’s time and gets down to the nitty-gritty right off the bat. Described by critic Greil Marcus as “The most obvious song in the world, and the strangest”, Roadrunner defies standard musical logic and gave us a high-octane Rock n’ Roller that inspired a whole generation of listeners who love to leave their radio on and drive a little bit much too fast.
Incense and Peppermints -Strawberry Alarm Clock
Far out, man! This minty slice of 60’s Psychedelia is nothing but good vibes and hook after hook after hook, clearly made with a group with a knack for Pop music precision. If you had to imagine what the stereotypical post-Summer of Love hippie jammers would be, “Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock would probably be right on the money, in both titles and sound.”Incense and Peppermints” is an undeniably goofy song, but the group never quite gives a nudge and a wink to imply that they’re in on the joke, they create this illusion for the rest of us to either make sense of, or just enjoy the grooviness of a song guaranteed to leave the listener with a goofy mile-wide smile. Can ya dig?
Chest Fever –The Band
Any band that jams with a Hammond organ is my musical kryptonite, it immediately becomes my favorite part of any song it is featured in. I suppose that I just couldn’t help myself this week, as this and the past two songs prominently utilize organ solos. It is hard to deny that “Chest Fever” is the granddaddy of all others who gaze upon it. Famously sporting an Americana aesthetic and bringing a renewed interest in Roots music, The Band knows just how to find out what makes a song tick. The playing by all musicians on this track and the rest of their discography is just impeccable and features what may be the strongest rhythm section of the era, as this songs backbone is unbreakable.
Mexican Radio -Wall of Voodoo
Through the power of early MTV programming, an eccentric oddball of a song like this could become a radio staple. I mean, of course! Quite literally a No-Mans-Land at the time, MTV’s earliest videos were not the big corporate productions that became synonymous with the channel, but instead initially drew the interest of many experimental musicians who were intrigued by utilizing this new format. I mean, how else would that “roly-poly fish heads” song garner any mainstream attention, or the herky-jerky “Once In A Lifetime” But don’t think that Wall of Voodoo were granted a hit just out of luck, described as a “Cowpunk Devo”, Mexican Radio shows no restraint in its’ strange nature as it simulates the disorentations of changing through the strangest of radio stations to a fine degree. On a serious note though, I know they probably just needed a word to rhyme with Tijuana but has anybody ever actually tried barbecued iguana? Food for thought.
How Long Do I Have to Wait for You? -Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
There is an unspoken art of what would be known as the “torch song” as they get called. A torch song is a singer lamenting of an unrequited love and is completely dependent on how well the vocalist can sell the emotion and severity of the scenario which makes these songs a staple of the Soul music genre. Sharon Jones here is no exception, and don’t let the mid-2000’s release date let you be fooled either. Her work absolutely stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the classic heavyweights of the Motown/Stax era that she is so clearly inspired by. Her backing band; the Dap-Kings, are also a real treat to listen to. It almost feels as though they are constantly try to out-do one another in new and inventive ways, which provides a party-esque atmosphere and perfectly lays the groundwork for Ms. Jones to properly take reign.
Third Uncle -Eno
Before he was the monolithic tour de force that he is known as today, Brian Eno at one point did have to work his way to the top of the hill. After leaving Roxy Music after their sophomore effort, Brian wanted full control over his artistic vision but had the great sense of knowing when collaboration is more effective than simply doing it all yourself. The dead giveaway is that his first solo records were credited to a new group “Eno” rather than just his full name, which he would eventually adopt for when he starting making ambient works which is more possible to be self-sufficient in. The band Eno was just the artists signature at the bottom of the piece, he channelled his music through other musicians of his own choosing and took delight in playing a “mad scientist” of sorts in the studio, mixing and matching sounds, styles, and musicians that would make any traditionalist balk at. “Third Uncle” is an underappreciated cut that boasts its fair share of unique choices, featuring echoed bass guitar suspiciously similar to Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days”, stereo panned rototoms, fuzzed-out Frippisms that weave in and out of focus, and some particularly Velvet Underground inspired rhythm guitars, all culminating together into a sound that could only belong to the mind of one man: Brian Eno.
Fascination Street -The Cure
Four albums prior, Robert Smith and the crew set a goal to produce an album that “sounds like Phil Spector in Hell” and while the sonic ingenuity was most definitely present during that outing, it wasn’t until The Cure crafted together what would become their magnum opus Disintegration that every hint of promise they had ever garnered paid off in spades. Claustrophobic and yet vastly spacious, Disintegration is the sound of musicians who are in their creative prime, firing off on all cylinders. Not only could Smith pen down wonderfully catchy tunes, but now he delivers the proper structure and timbre that packs a mighty punch. “Fascination Street” may be the most intriguing of the bunch, centered around a fuzzy bassline and complemented by singular notes from keys and guitar to add to the overall flavor of the track, little by little. Desolation is the name of the game for this cut, but it still possesses a magical quality to it that never ceases to amaze and is best enjoyed with a nice pair of speakers.
You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks -Funkadelic
Yeah? Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The funkiness of a song is a delicate ratio to how many times somebody shouts yeah into the microphone, whether warranted or not. Don’t get me wrong, “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks” is absolutely funky enough from the instrumental along, which Funkadelic expertly crafted by some of the leading pioneers of funk (Is that a gated snare on this track? that’s a strange thing for this era). But c’mon, groove is an innately social feeling which is best displayed with large groups that inspire you to sing along with them. And what easier thing to sing than English’s favorite vocable: “YEAH”. Just for kicks I made a tally of how many times this wonderful word crept into the track and it’s a staggering amount for a 3:38 track (because they knew to trust the ratio! Any other yeah-less band is only rocking you HALF THE TIME!) Drum roll please, there are one hundred and twenty eight “yeahs” in this song? Is that too many times to say “yeah”? Nope.
Voices Inside (Everything is Everything) -Donny Hathaway
Criminally underrated by the masses but well revered in certain circles, Donny Hathaway‘s legacy is tough to quite pin down. Admired by artists varied as Stevie Wonder, to Pop juggernaut Justin Timberlake calling him “the greatest singer of all time”, his influence knows no bounds. Tragedy coursed through himself and his catalog of songs which eventually culminated in a life cut too short at 33, his songs were still so undeniably upbeat most of the time that you can’t really feel too down when listening to it. And if there was any doubt to this testament, his title track from his debut record Everything is Everything clearly shows off his chops and wonderful chemistry with any artists working around him.
Summer Madness -Kool & the Gang
How about this one for a head-scratcher. Disco moguls and (unfortunate) modern musical punchline Kool & the Gang really made a particularly strange performance for this son, which is unlike anything I’d heard from the band before. Almost predicting the dusky electronic instrumentals on the 90’s Trip-Hop movement, Summer Madness taps into a sense of paranoia but in a vague enough way to fully comprehend it’s effect. I suppose this isn’t the first time that the group had me floored with a left-turn artistic decision. Quite some time ago, I actually saw the band perform a set when they opened up for friggin Van Halen of all bands. I love both group but I certainly don’t see the common rapport there. It may also be worth mentioning that there were obviously several members of the group who had been replaced which gave me the bizarre realization that Kool had left the band, so I was only watching the Gang! Anyway, “Summer Madness” is an ethereal easter egg that may leave you California Dreamin’ but those California dreams may become a nightmare.
Poor Rush had never been strangers to criticism. To anyone who may think their undying fanbases loyalty to the band is unwarranted clearly don’t know the trials and tribulations the band had to endure in early years to stay afloat. Off their first record with mainstay drummer Neil Peart, the group is fresh to the scene and full of piss and vinegar as they hope to knock anybody who comes across their record out of their seat. Rush had gained further controversey over this tracks lyrical matter, which was clearly influenced by the Ayn Rand novella of the same name. So as this new band is in dire straits, they made a decision to shoot the moon and double down for their record released the next year; 2112 whcih is the kind of record that legends are made of. In a stunning reversal of the expected commercial suicide that record execs would expect from a sci-fi themed concept record with a song that takes up the entirety of Side A, they instead found that it didn’t flop at all but instead gave them a new audience that trusted their bold and artistic decisions.
West End Riot -The Living End
Psychobilly is the epitome of a genre that sounds too strange to work. Take the formula for 1950’s dittys for teenagers to bop to, and blend it with the hardcore Punk scene. But somehow, genius is met in the middle with an incredibly infections style of music that denies classification. “West End Riot” in particular is a bolstering track that practically sweats through the headphones they’re played on as the energy starts at MAX and doesn’t let up. It is obvious that The Living End is a true band that knows how to get the point across and have a fun time while doing it, creating an infectious atmosphere that will make anybody feel like getting up and slam-dancing at any given moment.
Zomby Woof –Frank Zappa
Hold on tight for this one, because it’s a wild and bumpy ride. Throwing any semblence of convention out the window, Frank Zappa‘s name has always been synonymous with idiosynchronicity, refusing to repeat the same step twice. Recorded with a wild arsenal of instruments and musicians, which infamously features Tina Turner and the Ikettes performing the impossibly complex melodic leaps on this track and Montana, only earning $25 for the work at Ike Turner’s request. But still, the manic nature of the song doesn’t get in the way of a good time, as it only opens up the possibility of having more song structures, and more catchy hooks that’ll be sure to get you humming along. While the poodle bites, this zomby woofs, perhaps a modified dog of sorts.
I hope that some of you all ejoyed this broadcast and some of these write-ups as they are a blast to do. Stay tuned for this Wednesday where I am determined to find out how blue can you get? Blues and elsemore galore