Posts Tagged ‘Paisley Underground’

The best music reflects the audience as much as the artist; we hear and feel our own life’s highs and lows in the lyrics and melodies. Hardship and happiness are singular yet communal experiences, in other words. Everyone encounters each along the way, though the where and when may differ. Life unfolds like a maze, after all. Though no two journeys are the same, at some point everyone treads down a rocky path that turns into a dead end – just as everyone eventually, at least for a time, finds their way. We do it again and again, over and over, until, at last, the maze comes to an end.

Years end, too. 

Which leads to this: On New Year’s Eve of 1978, the year when the music bug bit me, I scrawled “Wings – London Town” on a piece of looseleaf paper I titled “Best Album of the Year” (or words to that effect) that I then slipped into one of the drawers of my desk – the same desk, in fact, that I’m writing on now. With every passing year, another album or albums were added to said paper. In time, I transferred the burgeoning list to typing paper, then entered it into our first computer, then saved it to a floppy disc and, in the late 2000s, moved it lock, stock and barrel to an external hard drive. I now have it stored in the Cloud. 

(Heirs beware: There’s a lot of digital junk in my digital drawers.) 

The selection process, then and now, remains the same. As I explained in a Facebook post way back in 2010 that I’ve since moved to this blog: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.” (I’d amend that ever-so-slightly now. The explosion of streaming music has caused the need to spend money moot, but time is the new currency. And few of us have a lot of that to spend.)

Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars bowled me over upon its June release. It marries an art form I adore – the “adult pop” sound of the 1960s – with Bruce’s well-honed songcraft, which this time out features a slew of recognizable characters finding their way through life. As I wrote in my review, it “spins tales of life’s casualties who invariably take two steps back for every one step up. Springsteen’s sympathy and empathy for them ring clear, perhaps because he sees himself in them – as should we all. (‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ in other words.)”

It’s such a tremendous album that, honestly, I’ve assumed it would be my Album of the Year since I first heard it.

But it’s not. It’s my No. 2.

No, my top album of the year is Allison Moorer’s Blood, the companion album to her poetic (and highly recommended) memoir of the same name. As I concluded in my review, it’s “a soulful treatise that resonates like few albums I’ve heard this year, let alone this decade. It’s a personal journey through pain and darkness that shares universal truths about life, love and forgiveness. Don’t miss experiencing it.”

Not all of the year was given over to darkness, however. The 3×4 compilation, which found the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate tripping back to the mid-‘80s and the Paisley Underground via vibrant renditions of each other’s songs, was and is pure joy set to vinyl. As I said in my review, “the music was utterly of its time – and, I’d argue, timeless.” It’s my No. 3.

Coming in at No. 4: Kelsey Waldon’s White Noise/White Lines. To cop a few lines from my review, it “mines the earthen strains of country music that mainstream Nashville, too often these days, ignores. It’s not the country-pop played on the radio, but the country-punk once played in the honky-tonks. It’s raw and ragged, real. Black soot courses through its veins.”

And, finally, my fifth favorite album of the year is Leslie Stevens’ Sinner, a set that both conjures and transcends the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons. To borrow from my review, “[i]t’s the kind of album you play once, and wind up playing again and again, each time hearing something new. Her vocals are a thing of ever-shifting beauty, soulful and sweet and pure, and the songs are strong and sure.”

(There were many other albums that caught my ear throughout the year and, I’m sure, in the weeks and months to come I’ll regret not singling a few out here. Feel free to peruse my First Impressions of them.)

For those scoring at home, over the past few weeks I’ve deemed not one, not two, but three Neil Young albums as “essential.” As I noted a while back, at a certain point over the summer my listening habits retrenched to the tried-and-true, aka the music of my youth and college years. It’s not a new phenomenon – this blog is a testament to that. Some days, weeks and months I reconnect with past masters to the detriment of today’s pet sounds.

Much of music is what the listener makes of it, after all, and the connections I have with that old music were forged long ago. The Beatles together and apart, Neil, Linda, Springsteen, Seger, Weller, Maria McKee, and the Paisley Underground, among other acts and scenes, are just part of my musical DNA. In the decades since, of course, a slew of newer acts have attached themselves to my nucleotides, too, but – youth is youth. Certain sounds stick with us.

Which leads to this: A new song by an act I “liked” on Facebook (and featured in a Top 5) a few years back, and then promptly forgot about, leapt out and struck a chord with me yesterday when it appeared in my newsfeed. The group in question: The Sundowners. According to their FB page, the Liverpool-based band’s influences include, among others, the Velvet Underground, Byrds and Bangles. I gave the song a listen and – as I’m apt to say – “wow, just wow.”

They sound like they stepped out of a time capsule from 1966 or 1985, when the Paisley Underground was in full swing. Echoes of the Beatles (circa Revolver), Byrds (circa “Eight Miles High”) and Bangles (circa All Over the Place) are discernible in the grooves, yet the music sounds fresh and new.

Whether you’re young or old, or somewhere in-between, give them a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been tripping the past fantastic since the release of 3×4 a few weeks back. The compelling Paisley Underground collection from the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate engulfs the soul like the ocean does the beach at high tide. The water is warm, in this metaphor, and free from the debris that sometimes washes ashore during the twice-daily deluge. 

Yes, for those unaware, there are two high tides each day, just as there are two low tides. They’re caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun in concert with Earth’s rotation, which is one spin per every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09053 seconds. A similar phenomenon is found on 3×4, though its power is linked to the gravitational pull of the melodies and rhythms in concert with the rotational rate of the record – 33 1/3 rpm, in this case.

To lift a passage from a poem I wrote, “33 1/3 r.p.m.,” in September ’85: 

Revolutions spin and spin.
They never last,
but they never end.
Revolutions begin again.

Anyway, the Bangles broke through to popular acclaim in 1986 thanks to the shimmering psychedelia of “Manic Monday” and addictive goofiness of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” but the others never attracted as wide an audience as they should have. It’s a fact that was and remains a shame, and I’d blame the transitional nature of the times, but the reality is that’s the nature of the music business – quality bands and artists from every era fail to break through. 

And, with that said, here’s today’s Top 5: The Paisley Underground.

1) Rain Parade – “You Are My Friend.” At some point in late ’85 or early ’86, I picked up Rain Parade’s 1983 debut, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, at City Lights records in State College, Pa. (aka the home of Penn State). I’d love to say that I played it to death, but the reality is I played it, enjoyed it from time to time, and moved on. On 3×4, the Dream Syndicate’s rendition of this song is one of the album’s highlights.

Here’s some trivia: Rain Parade was founded by Matt Piucci and David Roeback. David had previously been in a band – alongside his brother (and fellow Rain Parade bandmate) Steven – with Susanna Hoffs. Roeback left Rain Parade and formed one of the greatest of the unheralded ‘80s bands, Opal, with former Dream Syndicate moll Kendra Smith (whose 1995 Five Ways of Disappearing album is a lost treasure of the ‘90s).  

2) The Dream Syndicate – “Tell Me When It’s Over.” As with the other three bands, by 1985 I was aware of the Dream Syndicate – but even with my at-times expansive music budget, I didn’t take the plunge and buy anything by them until the decade’s end, when I oversaw the CD departments in a couple of video stores. The Three O’Clock’s rendition of this tune may well be my favorite track on 3×4

3) Rain Parade – “Talking in My Sleep.” Another 3×4 highlight is the Bangles’ rendition of this track, also from Rain Parade’s debut. And like the remake, the original version is far from a drowsy affair.

4) The Three O’Clock – “Jet Fighter.” The Bangles scorch the stratosphere with their turbo-charged cover of the Three O’Clock song; Debbi Peterson, who sings lead, even sounds like Michael Quercio. The initial rendition, found on the Three O’Clock’s classic Sixteen Tambourines album, rides the sky at a slightly slower Mach speed, but soars at a higher altitude.

5) The Bangles – “The Real World.” Rain Parade turns in a revelatory rendition of this track on 3×4, which the band formerly known as the Bangs first released on a five-song EP way back in 1982 (reviews for it can be found in the April 1983 editions of Musician and Record). Those early tunes appeared here and there in the following years, but it wasn’t until 2014 and the Ladies and Gentlemen…the Bangles! compilation that they became widely available. (That set is well worth seeking out, by the way.)