Left of the Dial: “Don’t Annoy The Soundguy”
Written by Chris-R on April 15, 2019
What do early Pink Floyd, Dolly Parton, and Marvin Gaye have in common? They’re all on this episode of Left of the Dial! Welcome back to the show. As always, your radio host Chris-R is taking you through the classic age of vinyl and beyond, playing all the great deep cuts that is sure to excite any music fan. Less talk, more rock, as they say.
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*NOTE: Quick technical problem. KPSU is still having issues recording the broadcasted stream, so there isn’t a way to hear the live audio of when this episode aired.
“Twenty Five Miles”
25 Miles -1969
Starting off our session this week is 1960’s RnB titan Edwin Starr and the exciting tale told in “25 Miles”. A Hammond organ kicks the track off, echoing that of a steam whistle blowing off and signifying to the audience that this is the story of an on-foot pursuit for Edwin Starr’s lover.
You see, Edwin is a Soul troubadour of sorts in this song, he’s been walking for three days and two lonely nights –all because he’s got a woman back home to make this voyage worthwhile. Our bard’s tale is told through his singing and he makes sure to project a great display of personality and playfulness that mirrors that of James Brown.
For those in need of a refresher, Edwin Starr is a famed “War” hero if you’d like to call it that. Well, it’s just semantics really, as Starr’s signature song is the legendary Motown smash “War”. And well, what is “War” good for? It’s good for being an absolutely iconic protest song and it’s rightfully earned its place on a fairly high pedestal for 60’s music at large. We still get his signature huffs and grunts on “25 Miles”, as any ad lib he does is bound to sound like a hearty “HUHHN” or a “GOOD GOD!”
“25 Miles” is also very fine addition to the small but devoted subgenre of music I like to call “Musicians Counting Down Numbers” songs. A mighty and distinguished genre of course, it’s the type of genre where you can find the likes of Johnny Cash’s “Twenty Five Minutes to Go”, “Ten Seconds to Midnight”, The Stray Cats“Blast Off”, most recently Billie Eilish had a track that used this trick, and if counting in the opposite direction is fair game then let’s throw The Beatles “All Together Now” and 60’s Bubblegum Pop ditty/David Lynch terror machine “Sixteen Reasons (I Love You)” into the mix. Heck, maybe this is a playlist waiting for another day . . .
This knack for counting down on “25 Miles” does rob the song of a traditional chorus in a sense, but it supplements this with extra personality instead. Maybe others would beg to differ, but I’d expected a little more fanfare for when he actually DOES reach her door at the end of the song, we aren’t treated to much more than just a quick embrace between the two lovers and a stereotypically rushed 1960’s fade-out. But still, the journey is the part worth mentioning and the music is full of fervor as well.
I saw someone raise a fun point as well, he begins his 25 mile trek at exactly 0:25 in the song. Now how’s that for a conceptual continuity?______________________________________________________________________________
“Let There Be More Light”
A Saucerful of Secrets -1968
The early workings of Pink Floyd tell a very different story than what’s delivered on any of their golden streak of albums. Yes, even if the Floyd machine as we know it never got to make a DSotM, the inventive magic found in their early records would still give them a greatly favorable place in the history of rock music.
The rise and fall of Syd Barrett is one of the most legendary tales in music history, one that’s told out over real time in the music made by the group and further perpetrated by many many other stories and hearsay. The mythos is further backed up by the sheer brilliance of his work on Pink Floyd’s debut Psychedelic milestone album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, in which he was the primary creative force behind the band. Even in the music from his songwriting, it’s clear that this music comes from a wonderfully warped mind and brings to mind the brilliant sensibilities of Brian Wilson’s music. Of course as the story goes, Barrett rapidly unraveled and left his bandmates high and dry for album #2. Left to their own devices, the leaderless band went off to write the album that would become A Saucerful of Secrets.
Right from the get-go, the band sinks their teeth into this music from the eerie opening passage led by Roger Waters’ plucked hammer-offs on his bass, surely him testing out with his potential role as bandleader here. After all, he’d been the only band member besides Syd to snag a solo songwriting credit on the predecessor The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn with his kaleidoscopic “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”, and would continue to flex his songwriting muscles on this album’s eccentric “Corporal Clegg”. Of course, the rest of the Pink Floyd Experience (as they were briefly named) brings their own to this song’s intro, from Richard Wright’s exotic keyboard layering and Nick Mason’s ever famous tom-tom rolls, giving that signature dynamism that the band does so well.
Leading into the first verse is an even quieter affair, led in by a then-clever studio splice. The melody is simple and plain, with each of the instruments following it in band unison. “Let There Be More Light” also features the incredibly rare lead vocals from keyboard guru Richard Wright. It’s funny how people never really notice his vocal contributions, d’you ever realize how there’s very few Golden Era songs from Pink Floyd that have a similar sounding vocal to “Time”? That’s Richard on “Time”, that’s why. A shame that he never had much more, but you gotta take what you can get.
This era of the band was where the budding talent of each member began to show itself, they were clearly unable to strike with any real precision yet so everything is scattershot and thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Throw in an off the cuff reference to “Lucy in the sky” in the lyrics, and you’re gonna have a good time with this one.
Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone -1997
For many people, the band Harvey Danger is probably so much more than just a one-hit-wonder. Well, that’s a common sentiment for many bands that were swept up in the Alternative boom of 90’s MTV. For these newer times, it was common for what is ostensibly a “real” band to have a fluke song cross over into the public consciousness. Just because the masses en large never wanted another song by said act doesn’t necessarily mean too much, it’s not an indicator of quality for them. Any of these bands could still realistically be some teenager’s unhealthy obsession.
We can throw Harvey Danger onto the pile as well. It’s funny, they have an iconic song that EVERYONE is guaranteed to know, but the name never rings a bell for your average person. Maybe that could be attributed to a general lack of “star power” which led to the band’s mainstream fizzling out. If you aren’t familiar with their hit song “Flagpole Sitta” by name, then surely the chorus will bring it to memory. It’s the one that goes
I’m not sick but I’m not well
And I’m so hot cause I’m in Hell”
Okay, so now that we are all on the same page, “Flagpole Sitta” has only grown in stature in years since… becoming an indicator of quality for many melodically driven Alternative bands that border on the Pop-Punk movement. Yes, through and through, “Flagpole Sitta” is a quality song. That being said, I chose to spin a different track from the album instead that I prefer: “Private Helicopter”.
Little things mean a lot. That’s sorta the way the lyrics are presented: in a kind of unreliable narrator fashion. The singing takes some Pop-Punk tropes lyrically, and makes them just bizarre enough to suggest that something else is going on beneath the surface. The elevator pitch for this song is “being on a private helicopter in a foreign country with an ex-girlfriend that you may or may not still have some residual feelings for”. Ok, sure. Harvey Danger’s singer utilizes some recursive storytelling that veers backwards into teenage nothings; but almost in an elevated literary sense like he was trying to channel his inner J.D. Salinger.
The year was ’97, and it was still a novel enough concept to have bass guitar introduce the song and let the guitar take more of a supplemental backseat approach. This was a technique used in “Flagpole Sitta” as well, so the band had a bit of identity it seems. The guitars are crunchy and provide some nice heaviness to the song as well, making it a textured feeling song.
If anybody is interested to find the missing link between Green Day’s “Longview” and Good Charlotte’s “The Anthem” then this just might be your answer.
John Popper is the rightful king of the Blues Harp and we should all bow down to his mightiness. Blues Traveller is a band that your average listener still holds in decently high esteem despite their interactions with the Billboard charts being so brief; they didn’t stick around for long in the public eye but the charisma found in their hits is enough for people to still remember them in good favor.
The band gets to flex a little harder on their other songs, and “Fallible” is a fine example of the unique musicianship that went into this group. The chords are menacing and pack a real punch, and serves as a catchy rock song as well. The real hero of the band is undoubtedly the harmonica virtuosity that John Popper brings to the table. It is rare to hear someone with such an unadulterated passion for an instrument like the harmonica, and John makes a stellar argument for how it can carry a rock band. Just listen to him absolutely SHRED on this songs intro, not many other bands can claim a sound like that.
I actually had the opportunity to see Blues Traveller live recently at the Innings Festival. They’d actually been on my concert bucket list for a while, not even that I’m a massive fan or anything but they had really just struck me as a unique band that’d be worth seeing in person some day. The band veered more into Jam-Band territory in their live set than I’d anticipated, which was actually a welcomed surprise.
Funny enough, it was at this show where John played his harmonica too hard and his entire harmonica amp exploded onstage; a first for the band. Yes, after a brief hiatus while the band noodled on a bit of Tom Petty, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” to be exact: John emerged from the shadows again to give everyone the deets on what had just happened. He’s had the same harmonica amp for upwards of 20 years and this is the first time that it’d ever broken down, so I guess I was there to experience a bit of Blues Traveller history.
Pretty telling that he could play harmonica so hard that it just gave up and died. Consider it the equivalent of Hendrix setting his guitar aflame after some radical soloing.
“Early Morning Breeze”
Coat of Many Colors -1971
Coat of Many Colors may be my favorite Dolly record, but there are still plenty of hidden wonders beneath the surface. There’s many unusual and compelling elements that constitute “Earl Morning Breeze” which are all pretty incomparable, working in Dolly’s favor and making a solid case for why her music is such a unique listening experience.
There is some stunning bass work of course, reminiscent of a knockout James Jamerson line. The bass guitars’ stylings are very outside the box, playing chords on the bass in a way that is so dang weird but the rest of the band approaches it completely straight and stone faced only further adding to the allure of “Early Morning Breeze”. And jeez, what is up with that chord progression? It keeps the listener on their toes while still hitting the typical Country beats, entirely on its own terms. Dolly adds her flavor to the song of course, tackling the unusual harmonic nature of the chord progression and wrangling in a much appreciated melody to help anchor the entire song down.
Maybe it’s the production that puts the song in a different light, but along with the strangely felt drums in the chorus, it almost reminds me of a classic Genesis song in its feel. We could almost say this is a progressive country song similar to a Sturgill Simpson type. Descriptions aside, the track is memorable on its own right and stands strong in the summer light.
“All I Know”
Screaming Trees are among the most unfairly overlooked acts of the Grunge era, and that’s a real shame. They may be known as a C-listers’ Alternative act whose track “Nearly Lost You” still garners some reliable radio play in the right places. Still though, you can’t help but wonder what factors made it so they couldn’t etch a more memorable spot in the 90’s rock canon.
While Sweet Oblivion was a fairly solid studio album and amassed the most commercial success for the group, it seems that the jigsaw puzzle finally came together on their subsequent effort Dust (no relation to Alice In Chains’ Dirt.) There is more consistency at the core of each song, they are sharp and effective this time around –much more likely to reach out to the listener and leave an impact. Mark Lanegan is one of the most talented singers of the entire Grunge movement, his snarled vocals are emotive, personable, and idiosyncratic. Some listeners might recollect that he’d provided the knockout vocals on the seminal Queens of the Stone Age album Songs For The Deaf, in which his contributions sound like an escaped demon from Hell on the microphone. Purely visceral stuff.
Their previous album may have sold more copies but this is where the band truly and absolutely came into their own. And hello, is that an electric piano on my Grunge song? This track in particular is hooky and comes equipped with a distinct personality. When Lanegan sinks into his crooner mode he really sells some of the more interesting vocal passages. Specifically, the bit about “disconnect the telephone wire” strikes me as a standout moment for the song.
Jorge Ben Jor
África Brasil -1976
“Taj Mahal” is the sound of a Brazilian take on a groovy disco track. Yes, the instrumental is funky fresh and full of heavy percussion to get dancers moving. And it is mighty effective at doing so, the melody is infectious and is overall a very unique take on what is often considered to be a tired genre.
And oftentimes, “Taj Majal” makes for a very entertaining footnote on the career of every mom’s favorite singer: Rod Stewart. Anybody know where I’m going with this? Well, that vocal line that drives this song is identical to the chorus of Rod Stewarts multiplatinum disco smash “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” (ugh, even just typing the song’s title makes me shudder. Was that really an acceptable song title in the 70’s?? Let alone from a guy who looks like a leather muppet…) Despite every impulse in my body wanting to, the actual song itself of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” does not make me want to hurl my innards, Rod actually came through with a very pleasing song and I hold it in pretty good stature. But yeah . . . as for these songs similarities, people aren’t pulling these comparisons totally out of nowhere. After threats of legal action, Rod gave the proceeds of the song to UNICEF so it all worked out it seems as Jorge Ben Jor dropped the suit.
And if it sounds like I’m being too harsh on Rod Stewart, then I don’t really know what to tell you. In fairness though, I’ve already planned to feature one of his solo songs on next weeks broadcast so let’s call it even stevens by then.
But let’s bring it back to “Taj Mahal”, as the song is magnificent on its own accord. I would most certainly recommend this to anyone who wants to further expand their palette and throw a wildcard into the mix.
“Time To Get It Together”
Here My Dear -1978
Here My Dear is far and away my favorite album that Marvin Gaye ever made, but man is it a tricky album to talk about. Not even in the fact that it’s near-impossible to do justice to it in discussion –but it’s because its artistry comes in such a deranged and unsure manner that even Marvin wasn’t fully “in” on it.
“Time To Get It Together” doesn’t work in the way that the highest points of the album do from a lyrical standpoint, but that’s also why I can excerpt this from its larger work and let it stand alone outside the concept of it’s parent body. Marvin was capitalizing on the new RnB grounds of the Quiet Storm genre established prior by Smokey Robinson. This new sound was the futuristic Soul music of tomorrow, deliberately open-ended and jammy home to keyboards whizzing around. This was yet another step forward in Soul’s gradual incorporation of Funk textures that were all the rage at the time.
With such a loose format Marvin is free to sing at will, showcasing his magnificent voice and exposing his better artistic tendencies in the process. There is no definitive structure to this piece, it revolves around a tasty vamp instead that the band is able to go crazy over. Every time I listen to it, I still pick out new bits that I hadn’t heard before.
You’ve got to give it up for this one, that’s for sure.
“Still In Love With You -Live”
Live and Dangerous -1978
Funny that this song has to follow up a track from Here My Dear, one of the least loving albums ever made; as I’d place this particular song very high on the list of GREAT love songs. I’ve even added this to my Valentine’s Day double-hour broadcast I did last year, you should stream that HERE https://kpsu.org/blog/left-dial-valentines-day-songs-swingin-lovers/
Whether or not you’re a fan of Thin Lizzy, it’s near impossible to argue that their mammoth Live and Dangerous is not one of the greatest live albums ever made. This was a true-blue rock band in their prime and firing on all cylinders. Personally, I don’t generally gravitate towards this live release as much as I would, say, Deep Purple’s Made In Japan or Cheap Trick Live at Budokon but it is very clear to see why this is such a beloved album. Such-so that many have claimed this to be the greatest live release of all time. Personally, I’d wager dollars-to-donuts for that title belonging to The Who Live At Leeds or Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison but I see where they’re coming from.
There is an inexplicable greatness found in “Still In Love With You” that I can’t seem to find anywhere else, the song operates on such a highly spiritual level that is guaranteed to move even the most stoic of listeners. The Eb tuning gives the song a rather morose feeling that you just can’t shake off, and the dynamics are tight as they come. The guitar soloing is purposeful thanks in part to the backing band playing some terrific chords behind our lead guitarist and by the time the dueling guitars come in, you’d suspect that the entire song had just been leading up to that very moment.
Yes, “Still In Love With You” is a beautiful song that absolutely stands the test of time; regardless if this style of music is usually your cup of tea or not.
Crazy Rhythms -1980
Much in the same way that Peter Buck’s shimmering guitar sounds in R.E.M. forever changed the Indie landscape, a very clear parallel can be connected to the magic many find in The Feelies (despite the terrible, TERRIBLE band name). Unlike most rock music in 1980, The Feelies placed an emphasis on rhythms which guided their songs into strange and unusual territories.
The songs had an almost Talking Heads™ approach to constructing rhythms, the band was using their individual studio space as a means of delicate separation: allowing for each part functions on its own, often seemingly in spite of each other. But yet, all these small pieces form a musical Rube Goldberg machine of sorts, stacking up juuuust right enough to convince you that it’s all on purpose.
It seems as though the band had this approach to capitalize on their music nerd cred, many years before even the most witless of bands would try to achieve the same effect. You see, this small and intricate approach to rock music had a certain allure to it, a je ne sais qois if you will. A little sophistication peppered in can go a long way. This can be found in the small decision of using a Romance language in your song title, or a bizarre choice to record a cover of a Beatles song: The Feelies included their take of The White Album’s astoundingly underrated “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey”, no doubt inspired by the angular guitar grooves and the iconic fireman’s bell rhythm played on the song.
And doesn’t that album cover look familiar? Does it remind you of four other nerdy boys turned Indie rockstars photographed in front of a blue background? Yeah, it’s been often mentioned as a source of inspiration for 90’s Geek-Rock superheroes Weezer, bringing to mind The Blue Album. Hmmm, no foolin’.
“Seven Is A Jolly Good Time”
Counting made easy! With your good odd-metered friends in the Prog band Egg. These English lads show what a good ole time those unusual time signatures can give, and they wrote an entire song about it. What, are you going to claim that most of your preferred Prog listening isn’t already too on the nose?
The song cycles through a bunch of different meters, all being tied back up to how 7/8 is a jolly good time, which I certainly can’t disagree with! You may ask “Does it still function as a song?” And well, kinda! This song very much is gimmick first and foremost, but I was surprised that I still get a couple parts of this song stuck in my head now and again.
Back when I taught music for a couple years, this actually proved to be a pretty effective learning tool as I’d have my students count along with the song. It’s silly as many other Prog songs from the Canterbury Scene were, and it gets the point across very well. And I also can’t help but reminisce on my brief time being in a Progressive Rock band myself, the keyboardist in my band was the one who showed me this tune actually. Without fail, anytime we’d workshop out a song with an odd-metered time signature, somebody would be compelled to sing this song. Naturally. Doesn’t really matter . . .
So enjoy this strange little slice of music history, a one-of-a-kind song that you won’t forget about any time soon.
Death Walks Behind You -1970
Playing some progressive rock in its purest form, the explosive work of Atomic Rooster is captivating and complicated. Atomic Rooster’s most significant claim to fame is often appearing as a stepping stone in the greater Emerson, Lake & Palmer story, as it was in this group that drummer Carl Palmer was cutting his teeth in the biz.
Yes, years before he joined the legendary supergroup and made Prog Rock history, he was the bombastic drummer to these oft-overlooked Prog gentlemen. A personal favorite of mine from the group is the instrumental “VUG” in which each member can truly have the chance to show off their musical prowess.
Unlike our last selection, this Prog tune is mostly in standard time signatures which may help to ground this song for some audiences. The song opens with a massive sounding passage that disintegrates and descends into mayhem quickly, before sprucing itself back up into a jammier affair. A real hero of the song is the juicy keyboard shredding, oftentimes stealing the entire song.
For any Prog fan whose already immersed themselves in the well-worn classics, I’d say it’s time to give Atomic Rooster a shot.
Malvina Reynolds Sings The Truth -1967
A mighty Folk standard if there was one. “Little Boxes” is a cautionary ditty about falling victim to suburban conformity.
Folk singer/songwriter Malvina Reynolds sings about battling the norms of society itself and forgoing a life amongst cookie-cutter people and cardboard neighborhoods.
“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”
She sings with a dry wit and has a plucky guitar line to supplement it, making it a real joy to listen to. Some prefer the rendition that was done by Pete Seegar just a year later and it has plenty of charm as well with its banjo led instrumental, but I went with the original for this episode. Sometimes you just can’t beat the original.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
That’s The Way It Is -1970
Here on Left of the Dial, we remember that Elvis is king.
Nobody covers ’em like Elvis, he can spin new life into even the most tired of songs. Of course “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is good as they come and it’s made obvious enough in Presley’s performance that he gets some real mileage out of the heart found in the original tune.
This live performance fits squarely in Elvis’ powerhouse, his singing is wonderfully overdramatic and every overwrought syllable belongs to nobody else but to the King. It’s interesting hearing him bring a new spin to something that could be reasonably called Blue-Eyed Soul, he really brings a dedicated passion to this song.
As the song nears its climax, the band soars into a sweeping glory for Elvis to perch atop this new vantage point. As far as anybody is concerned, by the time the last note is played Elvis has become the winner. He’s atop the highest mountain and the curtain can now drop to a stunned audience. The King has left the building.
Once again, here’s the playlist for today’s episode
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