Left of the Dial: “New Year, Same Old Mistakes”
Written by Chris-R on January 11, 2019
Welcome to the first Left of the Dial of the new year! We explore Rock deep cuts this week that range from Old School Punk homages, French sung Go-Go music, and Surf songs about Santa Claus. Left of the Dial really does have it all, donnit?
Taking you through the classic age of vinyl and beyond, here’s hoping that you enjoy this week’s installment. Ciao!
Click below for this week’s playlist:
Click below for a list of every song ever featured on the program:
If you missed last weeks episode, click below!
Mouse and the Traps
“Hit The Bricks”
Lost Sessions -??
Starting off with a romp of a track by Mouse and the Traps, the song leaps around with swagger and grit. Propelled forward with a four on the floor beat and some nasty Southern Rock guitars, “Hit The Bricks” showcases an immediate attitude that you just can’t ignore. The music of “Hit The Bricks” is all meat n’ potatoes, the stuff we love rock music for, only driven further home by the vocalist’s sung drawl on the track. It only increases in its groove, kicking into overdrive when the slide guitar enters the scene. Very catchy and infectious, “Hit The Bricks” is a real shoe-shuffler of a rock song.
Wide Awake! -2018
(There’s no video w/ audio for “Violence since it is so new, instead here’s a live performance they did of the starting song on Wide Awake!, which also cracked the top twenty for my favorite songs of 2018)
New York punk rockers Parquet Courts are some of the most oppurtunistic rock musicians that we have in this day and age, effortlessly recalling a time when iconoclast acts like The Clash and Dead Kennedys captured the public’s imagination and set the world on fire.
On their new record Wide Awake!, the band mingles with classic guitar fare and the current happenings of the world, blending it all up into something they can call their own. On “Violence”, the instruments are bright and punchy and the mix plays to these qualities by separating them into a sparse and ultra-coordinated way. Each musical piece acts as a cog to a greater groove, functioning on a similar level a Betty Davis song would run. The bright sonic flourishments are met with an incredibly impassioned vocal track from guitarist/singer A. Savage who speeds along the song and gives the entirety of “Violence” a real ticking clock element. Lyrics are poignant and pull no punches about living in a post-Trump America, a lyrical task that shockingly few Punk bands have been able to pull off, mimicking the hardest hitting moments from the “Rock Against Bush” and the “Rock Against Reagan” tidal waves felt in the world of music.
“When the radio wakes me up with the words ‘suspected gunman’
My name is a warning for the acts you are about to witness
Which contain images that some viewers may find disturbing
It is a word to use to delegitimize your unrest
And to make your resistance into an overreaction
Violence is daily life”
Produced by Danger Mouse, the track still runs with flashy analog keyboards and flat sounds painted on to the rest of the band for embellishment. It is clear that Parquet Courts has plenty message to get across and it looks like they had finally found their right soapbox to stand upon to shout it.
The Top -1984
Released on the woefully overlooked record The Top, “Birdmad Girl” is The Cure at their most playfully creative. The band works in tacking together a few novel ideas in music, all while making sure these sounds still feel like they have purpose together. The first thing you may notice about this song is the introduction of nylon strung guitar, giving a hint of a Latin sound to their usual Goth-Rock offering. Played in the menacing key of C# does many favors for the song, providing a dark undercurrent for the song to rest upon.
Robert Smith does his usual Robert Smithing on the song, and if you’re not sick of him singing with his usual mopey schtick by now, then “Birdmad Girl” will be just as much a delightfully overwrought caricature from him. Just Robert doing what he does best. And what he does best on this song is lamenting how he wishes he was a uh, polar bear. But it’s impossible, he claims and we all feel sad for his Polar Bear-lessness.
Released just before their eventual commercial reemergence, after the Post-Punk Boys Don’t Cry and the hit-laden Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, The Top often stays out of conversation and I think that should be subject to change.
“Laisse Tomber Les Filles”
Sacré Charlemagne -1964
This French sung ditty is upbeat and full of sly seductiveness, all lovingly crafted by Miss France Gall. She sings on “Laisse Tomber Les Filles” with a coy presence, all while full of life and personality in each note she sings. The syllables get drawn out when necessary to allow phrasing to reach maximum levels of cool. Guitars recall the stingy glory of James Bond and horn sections stab in and out between France’s voice to really add an extra layer to it all.
It is also apparent that international legend Serge Gainsbourg had a hand in crafting this song, his attention to detail can be felt all over the track. It is still our lovely singer who steals the show however, France plays the bleating heroine that you can’t help but completely adore on this song.
In The Fishtank 12 -2005
Like many other lovers of music, there are a handful of song that I’d consider to be holy cows, if you will. Some songs are just too sacred of ground where it can be inexcusable for the wrong artist to touch them. For instance, the excruciating emotion found in Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” makes it stand on a high, high pedestal, and how dare anybody try to do anything less than full justice to it. I balked when the songs most harrowing moments near its climax was gutted and sampled. Even worse was when some artistically debunk lackey at SEAT Ateca ripped the song straight for a car commercial, clearly ignoring all of it’s emotionality just to sell you a product which is abhorrently inexcusable.
For many people, the haunting Jazz standard “Strange Fruit” fits the bill for untouchable masterworks, one that you shouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole unless you plan on doing it right. That’s why it was unusual for me to come to terms with this cover performed by Karate in a College Rock style. The band brings their personal background in music as a different standpoint to the song and goes about it like the standard it is, choosing the leave the correct elements in tact while scrounging around the rest of the song finding things to contribute. The song is still delicately played and the jazzy guitar shimmer sets the mood properly.
This compilation would prove to be the last material that Karate would release, and even then it was already a finicky effort, seeing as the EP consisted entirely of covers: three of which were from revolutionary Hardcore Punk act The Minutemen. “Strange Fruit” still stands as a well-practiced band playing together again with greatest of ease and comfort, clearly just happy to be playing the song they are doing.
“Low Life In High Places”
Laughing On Judgement Day
The hit Hair Metal song that never was, “Low Life In High Places” had all the makings of a perfect song for the genre but has seemingly been lost to the sands of time. And it is something of a travesty that a song this well crafted directly to its genres’ strengths could be ignored by the general public even to this day, but here we are. While not necessarily reinventing the wheel, it operates to the best level of any songs by 80’s radio superstars Tesla or Great White would be pumping out.
Let’s chalk it up to wrong place; wrong time. This sucker came out in 1992, well after the Nirvana atom bomb decimated all chance of Hair Metal carrying to the next decade over. What was the last real Hair Metal hit? Mr. Big? Jeez, friggin Nelson? The slate had been wiped clean and Thunder was yesterday’s mistake, despite loads of quality in the music-making.
The song structure of “High Life In Low Places” is dynamic and leaves the music with a wide handful of directions to go. The playing is less forceful and obnoxious than many other bands cut from the same cloth which makes it a much easier listen in this age of hindsight. Thunder rolls on this song and you should do both them and yourself a favor and give it a whirl
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks
Original Recordings -1969
A semi-ode to the schlock that goes straight from the radio to your dinner table, turn up that dial and listen to that sweet ole canned music indeed. The band plays with dazed sentimentality, gently gliding along the song with nary a care.
There isn’t much to base off the rest of the lyrics by themselves, but they aid the song in its lackadaisically played instrumental; making some more of that wonderful noise that pollutes our oxygen.
“Black And White”
Stands For Decibels -1981
The dB’s unite the twee sound of early 80’s Alternative with a higher respect for Pop songwriting. giving the world some of the best Power Pop that the genre has to offer. Tempo is rushed and nary a second is wasted without delivering some new variation of a hook, melodies coming out in full effect. The vocals have the snotty nosed Old School Punk timbre, but our singer here may be too rosy cheeked to fully commit so he just borrows from Punk instead. Of course we know that Power Pop was an early stepping stone for the eventual Pop-Punk genre and it’s clear this band had a fun time walking the line between both worlds.
The dB’s named their album “Stands For Decibels” as a certain reminder; this music is supposed to be played loud. Any other band that’d have this name would crank their amps but The dB’s construct such joyful songs that you’d almost forget how rambunctious the song actually is.
“Sue Me, Sue You Blues”
Living In The Material World -1973
Who would have thought that The Beatles “Quiet One” could sound so angry? George Harrison rips Apple Corps a new one, along with his past bandmates on the venomous “Sue Me, Sue You Blues”, an obvious attack on record company manhandling of his work and some deep-seated resentment for the newly disbanded Fab Four.
1970; just three years prior the release of this music, had been a fantastic year for each members solo endeavors, each Beatle released their first true solo effort in this year. Lennon reinvented himself with the raw nerve music of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Ringo had further dabbled into schmaltzy Pop Standards, camouflaging his lack of newly written songs and deepening his way into the hearts of music buyers with Sentimental Journey, and McCartney drew the shortest straw on his much maligned solo effort simply entitled McCartney. But George had much bigger things planned and became the absolute victor of the four 1970 solo releases, making the sprawling and ambitious triple LP All Things Must Pass, comprised of all the unrealized masterpieces he tried using during his tenure in The Beatles, and the pent up anger and resolution from finally releasing it to the world. The dark horse reigns supreme, as All Things Must Pass proved to be the moat successful and best selling release by any solo Beatle.
But tomorrow is always just another day away, and after he made his grand entrance, where was left for him to go? Harrison had kind of overplayed his hand by featuring virtually every GREAT song he’d amassed through the years and releasing it all at once, it didn’t seem that he kept many in his back pocket for album #2. So he made a good move by taking it a little easy on his sophomore release Living In The Material World, playing folkier songs almost entirely about faith, definitely stuff that puts him right in his wheelhouse.
“Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is one of the only secular songs on the album and Harrison is steaming mad. As far as Beatles diss tracks go, this has got to be one of the best, even if it is unfairly overlooked (a small history of Beatles diss tracks can be found in Paul McCartney beefing with John on “3 Legs” and John firing back with the despicably mean “How Do You Sleep?”, along with “Sexy Sadie” back when it was called “Maharishi” if you want to get technical). Each verse is rife with gutpunching lines, the real stuff that’d make you squirm if written about you.
And I’ll bring mine
Get together, and we could have a bad time
Sign it on the dotted line
Hold your Bible in your hand
Now all that’s left is to
Find yourself a new band
We’re gonna play the sue me, sue
The music, of course, is spot on as well, making this one of the most explosive deep cuts that solo Beatles can offer.
“Dancing In The Moonlight”
Dancing In The Moonlight -1972
A symphony of pleasantries, King Harvest has surely come through with this everlasting classic. A delightful Wurlitzer lights the way of “Dancing In The Moonlight”, the unveiling of drapes for the light to shine inward. The keys plink along while the band joins the picture, giving a slight rootsy quality to this song and not being afraid to lean into some traditional Pop melodies.
“The Nile Song”
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack From The Film “More” -1969
Do you know a fan of the Floyd who pretty much just sticks to their classic run of albums from Dark Side to The Wall? Drop this song in their unsuspecting lap, they would never in a million years guess who was playing on it.
Pink Floyd gives a one of a kind performance on this song, the group blasts volume to unmatched extremes for the band and truly go for broke in the adrenaline department. The recently Syd Barrett-less outfit was faced with the task of starting a career reinvention for themselves as their lead songwriter had now gone kaput. The More soundtrack remains a criminally overlooked chapter for the band as they test out all these new ideas and really flex their songwriting muscles for all they’re worth. Whether it be on the serenely psychedelic “Cirrus Minor”, momentary flamenco indulgence on “A Spanish Piece” or an early Roger Waters working by the name of “Cymbaline”, there is plenty of growth and reward found in this album.
It is still tough to tell just where “The Nile Song” is from though, it is so unashamedly humongous that it can’t have just apparated out of thin air. David Gilmour sacrifices his usual choir boy vocals for a rare yelled approach, one that’d later be adopted by Waters (hint hint: “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”). Key changes are aplenty as well, it is rare to find any stretch longer than 15 seconds on this song that doesn’t modulate again. One of the band’s most intriguing journeys, along with sister song on More “Ibiza Bar”, Pink Floyd shows why they are a vital part of Psychedelia’s most important years.
“Dancing Madly Backwards (On A Sea Of Air)”
Captain Beyond -1972
Nothing like a cup of Prog to get your day started. “Dancing Madly Backwards (On A Sea Of Air)” contains most of the best liked elements of the genre without dipping into unwanted territory, the song proves to be a fun exercise in 12 bar blues debauchery while elevated with A+ musicianship and the players giving the track a personality. This Captain Beyond song is less Yes style prog and more the work of Kansas “Carry On Wayward Son” (Yes, that is totally a Prog song. And yes, Prog used to get legitimate radio play in this country). The extended middle section also adds plenty flair to the song.
“Santa and the Sidewalk Surfer”
Out Of Control -1964
How’s about we dig up a quaint novelty from the vaults? Recorded in the midst of the Surf/Skate counterculture of the time, “Santa and the Sidewalk Surfer” makes for a decently entertaining slice of culture that couldn’t have really existed at any other time in Surf music’s history, really.
The Crossfires apparently were the working blueprint for eventual Hippie-Dippie drifters The Turtles, although I am unsure how much time exactly passed between the two acts were differentiated between. I do believe that this iteration of The Crossfires still has Turtles leaders Flo and Eddie who made an alternate footprint in music history as the singers for Frank Zappa‘s first solo group. Huh, how about that? Their parodical stylings for that era of Zappa can still be heard in effect on this early cut here.
The track still has it’s good ol humorous moments but it’s more of a novel listen in the days of 2019, just a good observation on what the 1960’s youth was like at that particular point in time.
“Black Skin Blue-Eyed Boys”
Gotta start your song with a bang and yell it out, God forbid anybody tune out after the first five seconds. The Equals engage in a Stomp-Clap led Funk song with guitars that scratch their way to the front of the mix amidst energetic gang vocals. The dancey accessibility of the song is not without brash political message though, echoing similar themes of Black Excellence that The Wailers had done on their Lee “Scratch” Perry produced album onwards.
And hey, while doing a lil bit of extra research for this song I found out that the gentleman yelling throughout this song is no other than Eddie Grant. You remember him, dont’cha? That’s right, Mr. Electric Avenue himself found his footing in The Equals with his recognizable rasp coming in full force even this early on. But unlike the fiery charged politicism of Electric Avenue (which manages to shock people even today that “Electric Avenue” is a racial charged political allegory), there is no way or how to misinterpret the message of “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”. It grooves for days on end and is sure to get ya moving your feet.
Safe In The Hands Of Love -2018
I’d previously discussed this particular song on my Year-End list from last year, but I don’t know how much I properly displayed the power that this song has. Like previously stated, musician Yves Tumor constantly rewrites his own rulebook like many great experimental artists are prone to do. “Noid” fits into the story very differently though, as experimental artists are already expected to be reinventing their own works anyway as the lid had already been blown off, leaving only upward room to explore. No, “Noid” steps back down to the regular songwriting stratosphere and brings all of Yves Tumor’s otherworldly findings from the other side into a sensible song format.
His work is usually of the more ethereal soundscape variety, it’s apparent that he combs through found sounds and cobbles them together in an Ambient manner, styling each song to float and drift from part to part. This song however is made from such a different mentality that I can’t help but assess that the entire album was made to culminate in the finishing of this song. Album title “Safe In The Hands Of Love” is extracted from this song, part of a larger study of Police brutality and discrimination of the “other” to them.
In a decidedly not preachy fashion, Yves gives his often unused voice to offer a personal viewpoint of authority around him.
Have you, have you looked outside?
I’m scared for my life
They don’t trust us
I’m not part of the killing spree
A symptom, born loser, statistic
Safe in the hands of love
That’s where I feel the pressure of
911, 911, 911
Can’t trust them”
The writer of this song has to live in a constant state of paranoia, staying “noided” as it is, a slang word invented by experimental Hip-Hop group Death Grips for living life in this digital age. Always look over your shoulder, just because you’re noided don’t mean they’re not after you.
“Good things come to those who wait” speaks the Portishead fan every time a new album comes out. Third is Portishead’s third album (duh) and was released with a whopping eleven years between album 2 and 3, but the wait was worth it entirely as it stands head and shoulders with the bands best material ever. Analog synths color the entire album and give a dark shading to Beth Gibbons wry voice that strains itself in its’ twisted contritions. The album culminates with “Threads”, arguably the tensest and most desolate song on the entire album, which is saying a lot given the nature of the album.
The guitar work is rubbery and feels cold metallic against the icier backdrop laid down by the electronics department. Each chorus turns volume up and strips rhythms down to most banal and pounding (save for some excellently inventive drum-fills from Clive Dreamer, who also doubles as a live second drummer for the band Radiohead). Beth taps into a surprisingly relatable vein of terror, saying “I’m always so unsure”, a simple statement that doesn’t say that she has lost the war but is instead perpetually left in the dark.
Our playlist ends with “Threads” fading out to a siren call from Hell, rising and lowering just above this song’s preferred key and driving onwards, again and again, testing the brink of your music listening sanity.
Enjoy the episode? Listen to Chris-R’s other hosted show “Thoroughly Modern Mondays”, where the grab bag grabs back! Newest episode can be streamed below
I also wrote a biiiig article on THE TOP 100 SONGS OF 2018: meticulously ranked and no stone was left unturned. All streaming in a Spotify playlist and written about/reviewed in a KPSU article, both are linked.
And if you’d like to read about Chris-R and his trip to Desert Daze 2018: America’s best Psych-Rock festival, click below.
One more time, here’s the playlist that has every song ever featured on the program.