Del Shannon – The House Where Nobody Lived / Gemini

Del_KscopeSticking with the theme of Baby Boomer icons jettisoning their squeaky clean images in order to get more traction with the burgeoning counter culture, we turn to Del Shannon and his mid-to-late sixties recording sessions.

In 1966 Del had gotten out of a dicey record contract and was free to continue chasing the dragon of his 1961 smash single “Runaway.” He eventually signed with album oriented label Liberty Records.

From 1966 to 1967 Liberty paired him up with various production teams to help him climb his way back the single charts.  Leon Russell and Tommy Garrett had first crack at him, before he was paired with in-house producer Dallas Smith.  These intermittent sessions were the usual mix of covers and originals, and ultimately made up the two 1966 albums This Is My Bag and Total Commitment. Neither album made a significant dent in the charts.

By the Fall of 1966, a dejected Shannon was able to arrange a recording session with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the hit-making team behind The Monkees.  They recorded three songs: “She,” “Stand Up,” and “The House Where Nobody Lives.”  “She,” got moderate airplay before being squelched by The Monkees’ version that was released soon after.

“The House Where Nobody Lives,” the planned follow-up to “She,” was shelved and remained unreleased for years, which is too bad. The song beautifully re-captures the magic Shannon’s breakthrough “Runaway.”  The jangly reverb of the opening chords, the vocal hooks, the fugitive tinged lyrics, and of course Max Crook’s signature musitron accompaniment.

1967 saw Shannon recording an unreleased full length album with famed Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham called Home and Away.  When that album was shelved, Shannon turned his attention to the trends of the time and by the Fall was putting the finishing touches on his “Psychedelic” leaning album The Further Adventures of Charles Westover.

Westover, Shannon’s birth name, was comprised entirely of original songs written or co-written by Shannon. Though relatively overlooked at the time, The Further Adventures of Charles Westover became a minor cult classic, and in the 90’s was re-mastered on CD with many bonus tracks, including the unreleased Boyce/Hart session and some of the Loog Oldham tracks.  

In 2014 the album was beautifully remastered on vinyl by the venerable Trouble In Mind Records, with artwork restoration by Chunklet’s Henry Owings.

The House Where Nobody Lives – Del Shannon

Gemini – Del Shannon

Would be some sort of bibliographical violation not to source: delshannon.com

Chubby Checker – Chequered! (1971)

Chubby_ChequeredChubby Checker’s Chequered! is a key artifact to understanding my fascination with esoteric pop culture moments that live on the fringe of the entertainment business.

Chequered! was Chubby Checker’s unreleased Psychedelic Album from the 70s.

The first time someone told me about it, they mine as well have been telling me about the legend of Robert Johnson.

The story I heard was that Checker was listening to a ton of Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee, and wanted to update his sound and image to reflect the changing times.  American record labels, however, did not agree with his proposed image makeover, and he was forced to take his ideas overseas. Checker then traveled to Norway, recruited a bunch of psychedelic studio musicians, and laid down his jams.

The thought of the clean cut Chubby Checker, who had spent the better part of a decade exploiting “The Twist,” finding himself exiled overseas and letting his freak flag fly was gold to me. The fact the record was never officially released in America made it a unicorn record.  The album has since been officially re-issued.

A more elegant and accurate account of Chequered! can be found here.

Check out two of the more catchy and endearing gems from the Chequered one.

Goodbye Victoria – Chubby Checker

Love Tunnel – Chubby Checker

Rabbit Hole: The Novelty Era Singles of The Fat Boys

FatBoys_Group

Before we revel in the imagery of the novelty hits of The Fat Boys, take a listen to this legit piece on the Fat Boys via npr.org and Oliver Wang of the esteemed Soul Sides.

 

Now behold this fine collection of imagery and choices that the trio made upon searching for that wider crossover audience.  They definitely went for it, complete with a cover of the Beatles “Baby, You’re A Rich Man,” from their 1987 comedy vehicle Disorderlies, with the great Ralph Bellamy.

FatBoys_TwistFatBoys_TwistBack

FatBoys-Jailhouse-RapFatBoys-jail-house-rap-colorFatBoys_WipeoutFatBoys_FreddyFatBoys_LouieLouieFatBoys_BabyYourARichMan

 

Krush Groove – Soundtrack (1985)

Krush_OSTI’m Sheila E and I want to say
that I’m a super high powered, cold-krushin’ lady
and I’m here to talk about this thing called rap
to all the party people at the party that’s packed

– Sheila E “Krush Groovin'”

The above lyrics from Sheila E pretty much sum up the entire problem with Krush Groove.  The movie is about a rap label, called Krush Groove Records, and yet here is one of the leads of the movie referring to the genre as “this thing called rap.” The stand-offish attitude towards rap is what made the movie so disingenuous.

The soundtrack reinforces how uncomfortable the studio was with is subject matter.  Here we are with a movie about the origins of Def Jam records, yet the soundtrack is on Warner Brothers records and consists mostly of R&B. Furthermore there are only two Def-Jam artists on the record.  The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” remains a classic.

“She’s On It,” is an early working blueprint for the multi-platinum License To Ill-era Beastie Boys (power chords, drum machine, sophomoric mysogyny, guitar solo,) but it’s clear that Rubin and the Beasties were still honing their craft. It’s a one trick pony that despite clocking in at only three and a half minutes, feels twice as long.

The track somewhat illustrates how pre-mature this movie was green-lit. Def Jam didn’t yet have the juice, or the goods, to warrant the spotlight.

The Beastie Boys – She’s On It

Krush Groove All Stars – Krush Groovin’

Krush Groove: A Failed Mission From God, and The Looming Spectre of Prince

Krush_cast-crop

Tricks are for kids he plays much gigs
He’s a big bad wolf and you’re the three pigs
He’s a big bad wolf in your neighborhood
Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good

– Run-DMC, “Peter Piper” (Raising Hell, 1986)

When Run-DMC were spitting out those couplets in 1986, life was good meaning good.

Their third LP, Raising Hell, had spawned two gigantic singles, they were arguably rap’s first bonafide crossover sensation, and more impressively, the duo had survived being two of the protagonists in the 1985 Warner Brothers film Krush Groove, which was a really bad film.  Bad meaning bad.

Naturally, when I saw that Krush Groove was on HBO-GO recently, not only did I watch it, but I also revisited the soundtrack, which I found in the dollar bin within the last year.

The fact that both the movie and the LP would enter my periphery roughly 30 years later had to be a sign. I like to think of it as God’s way of telling me to start a blog that no one will read, to revisit a movie that no one should revisit.

So it goes.

My initial direction for this very post, was to write a few paragraphs about how Warner Bros. Films attempted an extremely lukewarm entry point into the world of Hip Hop, and basically hedged their bets on making a movie about rap, just in case it was a passing fad.

Krush Groove is literally credited to be “loosely based on the life of Russell Simmons,” budding rap mogul, and yet only four of the ten songs featured on the Soundtrack can even be considered rap songs.  Chaka Kahn, Shiela E, Debbie Harry, and Force MD’s get just as much real estate as The Fat Boys,The Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J.

That was my pre-conceived theme in a nutshell.

But as I re-watched the movie for the first time in decades, I got derailed by two things: The non-existent character development of Blair Underwood’s Russell Walker, and the looming spectre Prince.

ITEM ONE: The Awful Character Development of Russell Walker.

In the opening minutes of Krush Groove, we learn that Run-DMC has the hottest selling single in New York City.  It’s so hot that their manager, Run’s brother Russell, doesn’t have enough cash to keep the record in print.

What does Russell do? He goes to church to borrow money from his father, the Reverend, who is played by Simmon’s actual father.  Rather then lend Russell the money, the good Reverend tells Russell that he is being challenged by God to raise the money on his own.

THEME STATED: Russell is on a mission from God to to keep his fledgling label afloat.

You can watch for yourself in the edit below, but the movie pretty much defies the golden rule of screenwriting, in that you are suppose to see (and root for) your protagonist to transform for the better throughout the movie.

In Krush Groove, Russell doesn’t get money from his father, but he also doesn’t rise to the occasion to raise the money himself. Instead he borrows money from Jay B, a local crime lord.

As we enter the final act of the movie, Russell has been rejected by his father, he has lost Run-DMC to a rival label, and is in debt to Jay B and his jehri-curled thugs.  Certainly he is ready to prove his worth and earn his own keep, right?

Not really. Ultimately he just ends up borrowing money from Run to pay off his debt to Jay B.

Roll the credits. The same credits that spell MCA’s name as Adam Youck.





ITEM TWO: The Looming Spectre of Prince.

I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquity of Prince throughout the movie. This is a movie called Krush Groove, centering around a fictional rap label called Krush Groove Records, based on Def Jam Recordings, and yet rap music essentially gets second billing.

It’s as if the studio didn’t know how to fully market rap music yet, and figured anything centering around Prince’s Paisley Park scene would satiate the urban demographic for this film.  Krush Groove was released just a year out from Prince/Warner Bros. breakthrough Purple Rain.  The purple one was white hot, and this movie serves as a constant reminder that this was Prince’s world, and these rappers just lived in it.

Krush_Prince_Portrait

The first sign of Prince comes in the form of Sheila E, the anointed chanteuse of the movie.  Sheila E. was Prince’s protege at the time.

When we first visit Sheila at her apartment, it’s Prince’s portrait that we see in her living room.

When Run-DMC visit Run’s father, and explain that they have a big selling record. He dresses them down with a belittling comparison to Prince.

Then we have Force MD’s “Tender Love,” the love theme of Krush Groove, which was written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Two Minneapolis based producers and founding members of The Time.

The best Prince touchstone, by a long shot, comes in the form of Sheila E’s performance of “A Love Bizarre,” a song co-written by Prince, and featuring a healthy dose of Prince accompaniment.  The clip below sees Prince’s part as lip synched by New Wave Adrian Brody. Big ups to this guy for not shying away from the task.

 

 

Silver Jews – They saw B.B. King on General Hospital

Silver Jews_DallasAmerican Water is not a Pavement album, but could play one on TV,” opened a blurb I once read in a popular magazine in regards to the Silver Jews 1998 release. While the literary hook may seem like a lazy analogy for the initiated, I fully endorse the author’s clever attempt to hip some indie-minded readers to “a Pavement side project.”  Stephen Malkmus’s presence is strong on Water, after all.

For the initiated, however, The Silver Jews true breakout record was their sophomore LP, The Natural Bridge. This is a David Berman affair from start to finish. A stellar collection of ramshackle tunes with a well calibrated lyrical mix of sublime and wit.

The track Dallas, stands out with one of the best opening lines in the game.

I passed out on the fourteenth floor,
The CPR was so erotic.

We saw B.B.King on General Hospital
in the Oak Cliff dramhouse where we stayed
and when Clancy whipped her with his belt buckle
he cleaned her cuts and then we prayed

O Dallas you shine with an evil light
Don’t you know that God stays up all night?
And how did you turn a billion steers
into buildings made of mirrors,
and why am I drawn to you tonight?

The Natural Bridge showcases Berman’s lyrical gifts at length, but something about this song seems to be the perfect storm of Bermanisms. A fever dream meditation of a drug induced adventure, a civil war era character in Clancy, and a waxing on the bovine industrialization of a city.

“We saw B.B. King on General Hospital,” is classic line. How does Berman come up with this stuff?  Well, after only 19 years of listening to this song, it finally struck me that Berman probably actually saw B.B. King on General Hospital.

A simple YouTube search confirms. Dig that intro from the infamous Luke! He sees lots of Others. Nothing at all awkward here in this video of soap actors pretending to be into the blues.

 

Silver Jews – Dallas

 

Zachariah – or how the greatest jazz drummer of the modal era steals the first “electric western”

Zach_OST“Zachariah, The First Electric Western” bellows the deep baritone at the top of the trailer. 

This declaration is quickly followed by some meaty power chords and an aggressive edit full of saloons, flappers, shootouts, strobey type animations and heavily treated footage of The James Gang conducting what Josh Homme might even consider to be the Desert Sessions 1.0.

The film’s artwork depicts a photo of the titular character wearing Janis Joplins shades and space-age ear goggles tucked under his 10 gallon hat. A regular doob smoking steampunk.

Unfortunately the trailer and the poster art are about as psychedlic as the movie gets. The heavily saturated film effects, the headphones, the sunglasses, and the joint, literally do not exist in the movie.  In their place is a pretty tepid (and very campy) coming of age film with a western backdrop.

This excursion is not a total waste, however. What the movie lacks in the plot, performances, production value, and just about everything else, it makes up for in youtube wormholes.

zach_ramseyray_flyerThe screenplay was written by the forward thinking comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre, and was allegedly based on Hesse’s Siddhartha.

The soundtrack and film also featured a Banjo/Fiddle cousin duo known as White Lightnin’ who have a pretty interesting story in their own right.

The best surprise of this film is the inclusion of legendary jazz drummer Elvin Jones as Job Cain, the fastest gun in the west.

The great documentary Beware of Mr. Baker  draws a pretty organic connection between the jazz greats and psychedlic rockers.  Ginger Baker and Elvin Jones had a shoot out of their own sometime in the 1970s. Zachariah, however, is Elvin’s rodeo.

In the clip below, witness Elvin’s Job Cain win a duel and then proceed to commandeer Jim Fox’s drum set for a killer solo. Aerial shot to boot.



The soundtrack is a well sequenced mix of old guy rock (James Gang, New York Rock Ensemble,) Country & Western (Doug Kershaw, White Lightnin’,) and traditional film score.

The James Gang – Laguna Salada

White Lightnin’ – Shy Ann