Left of the Dial: “Randomly Generated Title”
Written by Chris-R on February 8, 2019
A David Bowie triumph, the solo album commonly known as Pet Sounds ’88, and the stylings of Hot Sauce Johnson and his album Truck Stop Jug Hop. All of this COULD BE YOURS . . . if you listen to this week’s Left of the Dial.
Join radio host Chris-R as he ventures through the classic age of vinyl and beyond to find the best deep cuts that music has to offer.
This episode on Spotify:
Every song ever featured on the program below:
If you missed last weeks Left of the Dial, click below!
Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
Maybe the tightest group of musicians ever, this iteration of Steely Dan set their phasers to “stun” on this ridiculously complex cut. The Jazz-Rock giants who run Steely Dan, Walter Becker & Donald Fagan usually make an effort reel it back for their audiences, lest their ridiculous virtuosity on their instruments impair their Yacht floor danceability of boogie wonders like “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Hey Nineteen”.
But every now and then they’ll truly cut loose, and “Bodhisattva” is the best way to hear the group rocking out at their full potential. It’s tough to pick a favorite member on this track: whether it be Jim Hodder’s pushed drum swing felt on the song, or Becker’s insanely fast guitar-picking that sounds more in line with Hard-Bop than it does rock music. Or just maybe the insane it’s keyboard sweeps that call-and-response with those guitar bird calls.
For some reason, their second album Countdown To Ecstasy gets the cold shoulder from fans and critics alike. I’ll be that guy, and claim it’s my second favorite Steely Dan album they ever made, just behind Aja. A big thing that makes it so much more successful to me, is that this is the only album where the songs were written to match this exact lineup of the band. Seeing as how the group usually writes for their session guys, it’s nice they have an entire collection of songs written to help these talented lads show off their music chops best they can.
Every player is put on full display and the tune is one of their best. Whether you’re a fan of the Dan or not, this is an example of peak musicality and a greatly written song to back it up.
Rock On (1973)
Eat your heart out, Spiritualized. Some of the loosest Space-Rock comes in the form of “Rock On”, a strange and evocative song that somehow entered its’ way into the ears of traditional consumers.
Any fearer of 70’s Hard Rock machismo need not be turned away from the song title, it’s just a weird malapropism for the song to contrast its musical content with. It reminds me of the devastatingly gloomy music and album art for The Beach Boys deceptively titled Surf’s Up album from 1971. Although, if you do want a ridiculous Hair Rock take on this, Def Leppard made a tedious cover that you can feel free to check out at your own risk.
“Rock On” is a championed by its’ production, there is a very conscious decision to emphasize textures over standard tonality, and an enlarged focus on lesser utilized instruments in the genre. This record’s producer said
“David picked up a trashcan and started banging out this little rhythm, so there was no instruments. Because there was no instruments, the engineer put on this sort of repeat echo, and it gave an atmosphere to it, and that’s what I then went away to work on. I went away and thought about the song and the attractiveness was the hollows, the absences and the mood in the lyrics as well. And so I had this idea that there would nothing on it that played a chord, so that’s why there’s no keyboards, there’s no guitars, there’s nothing that plays a chord.”
Most of the movement held in the music is implied rather than stated, leading to a real sense of magic in this song. Famous session bassist Herbie Flowers did a rare double tracking of his bass part to give it extra roominess and a makeshift slap-back sound. He claimed to come up with the idea since the studio would be forced to pay him twice for two separate bass tracks, per studio musician mandate. Herbie pulled the same trick twice on the famously double tracked bass of Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wildside”.
“Rock On” is a moment in time that is fairly impenetrable. It exists in its own little world that nobody else really captures, and it’s fantastic all around.
Scary Monsters and Super Creeps (1980)
It’s about time we got to some proper Bowie action on this show. Some of you might recall the only time I’ve played music by David Bowie on Left of the Dial was back in February of last year: “Reelin’ and Rockin’ and Rockin’ and Reelin'” (a reference to this lil song) when I played “Crystal Japan”. But you see, even for someone chameleon-esueqe as Bowie, it’s not very representative of his larger oeuvre, if you will. Call it a “deep cut”, “Crystal Japan” was written for a Japanese sake commercial, and that’s about all Bowie seems to think of it. It fits more into step with Ambient music and feels like a logical extenuation of Low’s side 2.
Still, I guess a small dissection of this music shows where he was and where he was going in the year 1980. Without these stepping stones, you don’t get a “Fashion”; one of Bowie’s most perplexing forays back into mainstream music. There is a definite effort found on the rest of “Fashion”s parent album of reacting against Popular music of its’ time, unlike Bowie’s previous albums that operated entirely outside of modern music. This album was a manic halfway point between his transgressions into Avant-infused headiness, and his past commandeering of what makes the Pop world tick.
The music of “Fashion” is a mechanical funkiness, providing infectious groove while still being enigmatic as ever. If there was any chance of this 70’s inspired groove of the song coming across as pure & natural, it was stripped away when Bowie decided upon these certain instruments to play them. Everything sounds metallic and cold, a real calculated sleekness to it all makes it all so much more compelling. Robert Fripp plays those melting guitar yelps in the back, another fantastic contribution he brings to a Bowie record.
Bowie’s cool baritone is equally daunting, made more confusing by subject matter. In jest to the extremely uncommercial characteristics of the song, he dotes on what is and isn’t “fashionable” in the world. He’d always been a status icon, so his far removal from one world only placed him further into a different one.
The lyrics are also peppered in with strange allusions to the SS, yet another role reversal thrown into the song and the idea of “mainstream”
“There’s a brand new dance but I don’t know its name
That people from bad homes do again and again
It’s big and it’s bland full of tension and fear
They do it over there but we don’t do it here
Turn to the left
Turn to the right
We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town
Some of the more fun onomatopoeia in the non-Doo Wop world, he sings his own sound effects which is always a good time. Beep Beep indeed. For years, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps was heralded as Bowie’s last “Great” album . . . until he puts out a subsequent album that critics would now have to call “his best album since Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” every time, without fail. Still though, the hype does live up and we can peer into a unique vantage point for Bowie.
“Goin’ Out West”
Bone Machine (1993)
Tom Waits’ “Goin Out West” might be the most dangerous sounding song ever made. The pure sleaze of this one just melts out of your speakers, everything sounds so smarmy in this song; like you’re transported straight to some divey bar from the depths of Hell. The meanness found in the instrumental is further brought home by the demented performances found here (hi Tom).
Effortlessly blending genre tropes and unique instrument timbres as usual, the end result of Tom Waits’ mad science experiment is entirely its’ own. Ultra-distorted surf guitars are relegated to a hidey-hole in the songs mix, with the forefront being spared for an uncharacteristically played stand-up bass, and a strange tom-tom drum part that sounds as if it was recorded four rooms over.
Still, this experimentation works to its favor and is not nearly distracting as it oughta be. It should be well known that Tom Waits is an absolute beastly nature on this song, his whiskey plugged vocal cords scrap out some ridiculously entertaining lines. Making comparisons to Tom’s voice is old hat at this point, how couldn’t it be? But still, his singing is like a midway between the Cookie Monster and a garbage disposal with a fork caught in the blades. Point is, he can sell the imagery he brings to the table on these songs and strikes fear in the hearts of Top-40 listening folk.
There is nothing cooler than yelling that you can “do what I want and I’m gonna get paid”, and with this ridiculously unstable song playing behind him, you’d believe he’s telling the truth.
“Cut Your Hair”
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1992)
What fan of Indie rock could honestly say they can’t get down with Pavement?
Trailblazers for sure, everything the band touched from 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted onwards has left a colossal footprint on the genre and revolutionized how your common man can write a song. My personal favorite release from the group is Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, their destructive Indie schtick was supplemented by more traditional song structuring ideas that gives extra merit to their sound, at least to my ears. One of the most surefire songs on the record is the Summery daze of “Cut Your Hair” a punchy rock tune played with glee and enough snarky bite to undercut through.
After a brief chatter opens the song, we’re introduced to bright guitars that shimmer alongside particularly energetic backing vocals. The instruments may lean towards sloppiness at times, but it’s all reigned in just enough for this song. To near any other band this would have been a hopeful chart-topper, but to Pavement it was just another song in the can.
Despite any traditional songwriting success the band gains on the song, the group was still fully transparent about their absolute disdain for all things mainstream. The song echoes the symbolic loss of innocence that many rock bands love so much; the act of cutting your hair. This trope is a long staple of Rock music and general counterculture, with artists like Leonard Cohen, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, The Who, The Mothers of Invention, and The Beach Boys all using haircuts as a symbol of lost liberation.
Lead singer Stephen Malkmus undoubtedly echoes what he must’ve been told by record company bigwigs in the past.
“Advertising looks and chops a must
No BIG HAIR!
Songs mean a lot
when songs are bought.
No BIG HAIR!”
The band would only further venture down this road of “sticking it to the man” on each subsequent release, but it can be fun to sit back and imagine what would happen if the industry really caught on to what they were after.
“Saturday Night Special”
Nuthin’ Fancy (1975)
Nobody knows how to stir up trouble more than Southern n’er-do-wells, and that leaves bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd with stories for days.
“Saturday Night Special” is light on its’ feet and full of toothy bite, really showing that you don’t want to mess with this motley crew. That’s not to deny that this song still feels prime Skynyrd, the guitars still play with Southern twang and all, but now their usual “Gimme Three Streps” double stopped guitars feel much weightier than usual, giving a real sense of menace that lingers round.
Lynyrd Skynyrd tells the bards tale again, about unlucky bar patrons who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Tale as old as time, but refurbished into a new Coyote Ugly style of story. The guitar tone is mean as you’ll ever hear from the instrument, and our drummer gives some tight tight TIGHT drumming to supplement it.
I think that “Saturday Night Special” has slowly but surely been creeping its way into radio friendly territory, similar in the way that fellow Southerners in The Allman Brothers Band had “Midnight Rider” achieve its own little pedestal of radio play after all these years. Just another great song for a band who already has countless great songs.
Corinne Bailey Rae
“Put Your Records On”
Corrine Bailey Rae (2006)
A delightful excerpt from the sunny attitude of “blasé” that was dominating the music world in the mid-2000’s. It may be generally agreed upon that the 90’s didn’t really end until 2001 when nothing could really have a chance at staying the same afterwards. Maybe another contribution to this nationwide mood-shift was the 90’s Angsty bands effectively running out of steam by the end of it’s decade, and after the devastating blow to our nation’s psyche in 2001, it makes sense that the general public wanted the art we consume to adopt a more upbeat tone.
That is sort of how I’d frame the joyfulness in “Turn Your Records On”, an Indie-Pop song infused with wry Soul feel. The mood isn’t an overly exuberant one, but more located in the happiness of whatever small pieces of salvation we may find in this life. Worries are miles away and definitely aren’t present in the recording studio with Corrine Bailey Rae. She urges the listener to appreciate the little things that keep us going through the day. And for herself, it’s the records she fawns over that makes it all worthwhile. Definitely a nice sentiment for a song like this, the results come across as very pleasant: singing “Girl, put your records on/tell me your favorite song”.
The production also presents the tasteful instrumentation as a sort of matte painting behind Corrine. The acoustic guitar sounds like it was mic’d from afar, giving a more au natural sound to the otherwise close and personal noises on the track. Bubbly horns join the song later on in a very welcomed fashion, just really sealing the deal.
Funny enough, there’s a chance that a song that centers around putting your favorite records on may very well be somebody’s favorite song! So throw on “Turn Your Records On” and sing along to a favorite song.
Hot Sauce Johnson
Truck Stop Jug Hop (1999)
This was a wonderful little “find” I’ve had the pleasure of discovering recently. Enter: Hot Sauce Johnson and his sole album Truck Stop Jug Hop, an obvious force of personality who presents a unique music identity to call his own.
When describing this music to a friend, I believe I described Hot Sauce Johnson as “if Beck actually made music that was interesting” and I mostly stand by it, as mean and possibly unjustified as it may be. Still, take the Odelay approach of tossing all music sampled or otherwise into a blender just to gawk whatever new fusion comes out of it. It also sounds like if Sublime was influenced by that of Outlaw Country instead of Reggae Dub, a style that works a lot better in practice than you may want to admit.
Hot Sauce Johnson seems to favor the turntable as instrument of choice, making a genuine case for its musicality and usefulness in rock music. Who else makes a real case for a turntable actually fitting into a rock band as a full time instrument beyond just fancifully sampling other people’s work? Incubus? Linkin Park? Slipknot? Definitely not P.O.D. That’s what I’d thought, Hot Sauce Johnson transforms unusual sounds into perfectly understandable sound bites. Who would have thought that the chopped up yodeling sample on here could be effectively used in a College Rock style of song? Or take for instance, the rubbery bassline and muted trumpets used on “Jack Kerouac” which is interestingly about uh, cruising in your Cadillac, bluesing and reading Jack Kerouac.
Overall, Truck Stop Jug Hop just makes for interesting, well executed music that doesn’t need to reach big heights in order to shine bright.
Runaway with Del Shannon (1961)
On “Runaway”, we’re given a 1960’s songwriting triumph and one of the best recorded uses of the Farfisa keyboard.
The music is jumpy but very clearly organized, each section is distinct and clearly connected to each that follows. The music has a tightened up bounce to it, at times sounding like a Scooby-Doo chase sequence. Del Shannon’s singing comes from a bygone era, Del’s buttery falsetto is just a delight to hear each time he slips into it. Teenage heartbreak has rarely sounded better and that is largely due to his delivery.
Maybe to some, the song is best remembered as a footnote to when Tom Petty was speeding down the highway to in “Runnin’ Down A Dream” thirty years later;
“I had the radio on, I was drivin’
The trees went by, me and Del were singin’
Little runaway, I was flyin'”
Tom Petty wears his influences very clearly on his sleeve, but it was fitting that he’d namecheck Del on a song of his that is so utterly COOL sounding. Despite any of the fun cheesiness found on the original, it does have a pepped up suaveness to it that you wouldn’t find in many other places at the time.
Escalated above being just a quaint reminder of Diner Jukebox affair, the music of “Runaway” stands strong on it’s own merit 50+ years later.
“Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long”
Brian Wilson (1988)
The beachiest of the Beach Boys is back! Colloquially known as Pet Sounds ’88, the long-awaited Brian Wilson debut record was not without its due hype behind it. Brian Wilson had seen ridiculous pressures from fans, publications, and band members in the past of course: there was an entire campaign literally called “Brian Wilson Is A Genius” ran by his publicist in 1966, along with another media campaign a decade later of “Brian’s Back!”, surely poisonous to a noted recluse like Brian Wilson.
On this solo album, Brian Wilson composed in his distinct style he used from 1965-1967, emphasizing his “pocket symphony” approach as he calls it, and it is easy to hear the complete artistic freedom he had in the studio. Producer of Brian Wilson ’88 Lenny Waronker heavily encouraged him to embrace his most artistically explosive tendencies, he begged Wilson to try his hand at writing another “Cool Cool Water”. This style of songwriting manifested in many shapes and forms on the record, most notably the seven minute multi-suite “Rio Grande” which closes the album out.
The 80’s production is undeniably obtuse and continues to turn many listeners off. And you know what, I’ll take a stance here. Despite my ever-present disdain for 80’s production, I think Wilson makes fantastic use of the technology here and can even escalate these sounds into something that works for fulfilling his musical vision. Yes, much like how he’d rolled his excessive Phil Spector fascinations into Pet Sounds, Brian made a new album equally representative of its’ decade’s maximalism. This soiree of keyboard sounds make for not only a very expressive symphonic feel, but helps drive home the inherent feeling of this being one man’s vision.
Compare this to the 70’s The Beach Boys Love You, another frustrating entry in the BB canon. So listen up, originally it was THIS that was going to be Brian Wilson’s first ever solo album; originally titled Brian Loves You. The other members caught wind of this, and the label pushed to classify it as a “Beach Boys” release and move on. Much like Brian Wilson ’88, nearly all of the music is made from keyboards: but this time it’s the inescapable clunkiness of 70’s analog synths and without any support from an outside producer this time. To me, it made for a much more grating album that doesn’t do much in justifying its “new album sound” with any type of concept or redeeming musical ingenuity to make it worth doing. Some claim it’s an underrated gem and an early progenitor of Synth-Pop, but I can’t hear much in the way of actually good songs on it.
There must have been a fun sense of danger felt when working on this project, they all knew what past heights Brian’s music has reached and Brian was actively changing his own rulebook. This can also be explored on “Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long”‘s lyrics, mostly tame by the standards of today and even the 80’s but Brian was convinced it was a purely sex song, which can possibly explain the heavier rock feel found on it. A prime line is delivered through electric guitar, mainly as window-dressing as the miscellaneous synths lead the way.
It’s tough to say, but I would call Brian Wilson ’88 a success on most counts. Definitely worth a listen for anyone with more than a passing interest in The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s larger influence.
Bob Dylan and The Band
“Long Distance Operator”
The Basement Tapes (1975)
Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes is the stuff of legends, famously a “lost album” eventually found.
These early collaborations from Bob Dylan with eventual Roots heroes The Band (at the time known as The Hawks) was originally shelved after Dylan’s infamous motorcycle crash, leaving these songs alone for nearly a decade. Bob is usually seen as a songwriters’ songwriter, with many people being the first to claim their preference of other artists covers of his songs. But I think that neglects a crucial detail of what makes his music still so iconic: the performances he wrangles together on these songs are incomparable. He had a real knack for finding the right session guys to truly bring a song full circle and tap into that natural energy lying beneath the surface of all his songs.
In a time where the public consciousness was now focused on studio-experimentation in a post-Sgt. Peppers’ world, Bob Dylan was sticking true to his guns and creating music with warm, earthy tones. This would eventually culminate in the release of The Bands debut album Music From Big Pink, a landmark moment for bands operating as bands, fully taking influence from Folk music of yesteryear and becoming the new faces (and beards) of Roots Rock. Speaking on Music From Big Pink, Pink Floyd‘s Roger Waters would go on to say:
“That one record changed everything for me. After Sgt. Pepper, it’s the most influential record in the history of rock and roll. It affected Pink Floyd deeply, deeply, deeply. Philosophically, other albums may have been more important, like Lennon’s first solo album. But sonically, the way the record’s constructed, I think Music from Big Pink is fundamental to everything that happened after it.”
But there is still a different story presented on The Basement Tapes, these songs weren’t really made with any dead-set intention and are played as such. Just a bunch of goofballs screwing around on guitars, jammin’ the night away. It’s no surprise why these tapes were some of the most highly sought after bootleg collectors. The energy found in these performances are so natural that you really feel as though you’re in the room with them as they play.
“Cogs In Cogs”
The Power and The Glory (1974)
And now here’s something we hope you’ll really like.
TERRIFYING PROGRESSIVE ROCK.
“Cogs In Cogs” is not setting out to make any new friends, or to convert Prog-haters into believers. No, Gentle Giant whip up some tried and true English Prog, the real fun kind that feels like ten different songs all wrapped together in a three minute long package.
Gentle Giant is no stranger to time signature changes, and near every other measure flip-flops on here, with the Bridge going overkill with their backing vocalist singing a 5/4 polyrhythm over this new Waltz time the band plays. Somehow, it all coheres in as much a way as this kind of track can. This musical Frankenstein monstrosity works because the band says it will work, and they put all their effort into making some sense out of all these odds and ends.
The actual “song” parts of the song are compelling as well, vocalist Derek Shulman has a neat gravelly voice in his upper register and does a good job of holding down the song despite the unusual time changes he’s vocalizing over.
It’s the song for all occasions. Need an insane song to impress music geeks? Cogs, bro. Want to annoy your elitist Punk Rock friends? Bro, COGS. It’s always there when ya need it.
After four albums of commercial evasion, Peter Gabriel met (closer to) halfway with his label, and gave the world the evocatively titled “So”. After his dismissal from Prog-Rock leviathans Genesis, Gabriel took to his own accord and made some very interesting music using his own name. When I say his label was dissatisfied with his intentional commercial sabotage, it’s obvious what they mean. In order of release, Peter Gabriel’s first four solo albums are titled: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, and Peter Gabriel. Fans had to make their own monikers for them, such as “Peter Gabriel I” or simply “Car”. Atco records had enough, and seeing a massive amount of promise in his new 5th album, demanded he call it literally anything else besides Peter Gabriel. What’s the bare minimum title for an album? How about just So. Two letters is all ya need.
Opening the record up is the ginormous sound of “Red Rain”, a towering wall of synths dominate the track and the guitars and bass follow suit. Drum hero Stewart Copeland is famously featured on this song in an unusually discrete manner. Stewart Copeland is playing the drum’s hi-hat and nothing else, in a strange deconstruction of a drum sound on record. This proved to be the right move, as nearly all his most complex work in The Police is him babysitting the hi-hat, listen and he barely even touches his snare.
Somehow the musicality of this ultra-seperation of musical parts remind me of early works on the Synclavier, a famous piece of 80’s tech that allows music to be made from programming sheet music into a keyboard and it spits it back out as functioning music.
These large sounds come together to make a big sounding song, one that registers emotional response from Gabriel’s pained vocals. So of course proved to be a massive commercial success and we partially need to thank “Red Rain” for starting it off right.
Sky Blue Sky (2007)
“Impossible Germany” is the holy grail of Indie guitar playing, courtesy of guitar wizard Nels Cline. The tweeness usually found in Indie is transformed into a delicately arranged masterpiece with the help of Wilco chief songwriter Jeff Tweedy. Lead guitarist Nels Cline was a relatively late addition to the band, but his technical prowess proved to open many new doors for the band.
The strength in “Impossible Germany” stems from the mood and atmosphere it builds. From the first chord, there is already an impeccable way of arranging these instruments and harmonic devices into what we have here. Despite the chords airiness, there feels like a lot of weight inside this song, taking form as a very curious energy. Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics are difficult to decipher on this one but it’s not much of a problem, this lack of transparency on his front is an enjoyable aspect to the song.
Of course, where the song really comes to life is in the guitar solo. The arrangement of the band behind Nels leads to the perfect building blocks to let Nels Cline’s guitar soar. His solo takes up more than half the runtime of the song, but you’d barely even notice. He plays with impeccable taste, starting with very minimal phrasing a la David Gilmour before eventually stretching his wings and really attacking his instrument as the band rises and falls with him behind the wheel.
Wilco proves yet again why so many devout music fans hold them to such a high caliber.
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.
Feel free to follow me on Instagram if that’s your thing.