Saturday, August 23, 2014

Radio Misfits Or Where Are They Now

I make no secret how much I hate Corporate Radio and the same 200 songs played day after day after day after day etc etc etc.  The love of such overplayed classic like Centerfold or Sweet Home Alabama or Dream On or Boston's first album have long gone, especially suffering in a department that the radio can only pick up classic rot (The Fox) shitty top forty (Z102.9) bro country (98.1 K Hack) or shitty 'real rock' (KRNA) for music.  I rather have my ears picked out with a stick than have to deal with Back In Black selections or the three Guns and Roses numbers off their first which can be very annoying when dealing with a machine that breaks down while W Axl Rose screams over and over again.  The nadir of classic rock radio or "real" rock shows a lack of variety that there is much more to Nirvana or Pearl Jam of music 20 years ago.  Figure that Dookie and Smash are 20 years old now, nobody has any loving for the 16 million selling album Cracked Rear View from Hootie and The Blowfish which REAL ROCK KRNA used to have in their playlist before somebody watching Beavis and Butthead decided that KRNA needed to add death metal or grunge to the equation.  Too bad you can't fire bomb Cumulus or Clear Channel radio, which dominates the FM field.  If you want country classics you have to sort through five watt 1360 but knowing you can't that up, you're stuck with the latest horse hockey from Rascal Flatts on K Hack or bad heavy metal disguised as country radio.

In the age of the internet, time flies as faster than ever since we're on the computer 20 hours at a time it seems and 15 years ago, life got this fast as I got my first used computer and fought with that for about a year before getting a Gateway and fighting that for another two years.  Past ten years I've had the same computer but it's pretium 4, it hangs up more often than not  (like it is now) and researching the oldies and archives take much longer than it used to.  The future seems to be on smart phones where you can down load apps to get lesser known radio pod casts and net stations to hear what Cumulus/Clear Channel won't play.  Didn't used to be that way till Newt Gingrich sneaked past Bill Clinton doing Monica no doubt, the Telecommunications Act Of 1996 which gave us the Corporate CSers that is Cumulus/CC.  And the same shit music and now much loathed rock classics that we're sick of hearing three times in one 8 hour setting picking cotton at our employment.    Funny how KRNA used to play Nickleback  but now since that band is uncool, they haven't.  In the era of 1994, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots still live on but you don't hear Circus Of Power, Helmet and Killing Joke.  Think of ten years ago, Good Charlotte you couldn't escape hearing on the radio but now you don't anymore.  Los Lonely Boys came out with a debut that got played to death but 8 years later, they're forgotten in radio land.  Or Sister Hazel.  All For You makes them a one hit wonder, never mind they had a few more albums out after that.

Punk music of the 1990s has not aged very well. I really wasn't much into Rancid although Green Day is my choice of punk music, but KRNA considers them to rock and roll, so you can hear the usual Dookie hits.  Or Offspring's  Smash which somewhat holds up but every album after that they got to be a novelty act.  A lot like Smash Mouth.  Walking On The Sun is retro cool, Astro Lounge broke them with All Star, which made them a novelty act and after the third album nobody cared.  So they're playing county fairs and package deals with other washed up 90s acts.  Even Eve 6, which 15 years ago gave us Inside Out  is now a oldies act.  Like the rest, play for 15 minutes, just the hits and then hit the road to another town in the night. MXPX, basically Green Day light but speed metal due to a drummer with a sugar buzz and Torette's disease. Chick Magnet, they duplicated Green Day's Longview beat and got a minor hit for their trouble though you're more inclined to hear it on net radio.  They never did top Green Day, they came close with the Everpassing  Moment with Dave Grohl helping out but they blew their collective cool by then going for a Good Charlotte sound, with an eye on better sales.  That didn't work. But they're still around playing whenever they get a moment free from families and life situations.

Perhaps Blink 182 was the more serious contender to Green Day but the Blinkers seem to have a fixation with poo poo jokes and worse ones.  Dude Ranch is a poo poo joke itself, but Enema Of The State was a much better effort, a mature one at times although this year's event the boys couldn't help but change a few lines of their hits in a typical Animal House fashion.  The Mike Portnoy of punk drummers Travis Barker helped their sound a lot after he replaced the original drummer.  It's been said that Cheshire Cat, the album before Dude Ranch is one of the classic punk albums of the 1990s but once they enlisted the late Jerry Finn (Green Day/MXPX/Suicide Machines) to help guide them, they found their stride.  I'll give them this, the 2011 Neighborhoods album was a nice comeback album.  But even though they're in their 40s, they still can't stop telling poo poo jokes or playing the Cussing Song live (which can be found on Short Music For Short People on Fat Wreck Chords).  But at least they're still playing live, unlike Good Charlotte who has become a footnote to punk rock history despite rumors of a new album this year.

The lack of variety on Corporate Radio is a very sore subject and although this blog attempts to seek out the ones that did get some airplay, for some reason they don't now.   Make no mistake AC DC is good and their albums are classic, I just don't want to hear Back In Black on regular rotation the past 30 years.  And in the meantime Cumulus/Clear Channel overlook such bands like their counterparts The Angels (although Marsalies gets played once a month) or the even harder rocking Kings Of The Sun (the new Clifford Hoad led Rock Till You Die is better than anything KRNA plays new).  While Green Day gets the corporate love, none is shared for MXPX or Less Than Jake.  The Seattle Superbands of the 90s are on regular rotation but King's X, Atomic Opera, Ministry  and Helmet are on the outside looking in.  And don't get me started on Pink Floyd, since Porcupine Tree has been the best prog rock band in this era and KRNA still manages to pull out The Wall or Wish You Were Here (and of course Dark Side) instead.  And no King Crimson either.

Every day we have more new music to go with the past, there's never been so much out there and never has there's been so few ways to hear it, certainly not Corporate Radio.  Public Radio tries their best, but their format is about 4 hours before The World Cafe comes on.  And what the DJs play for new music isn't any better than the classic crap but at least it's a different torture.  Streaming is the way of the future for some but for me, it's never going to change me not buying anything and if there was a way we can hear it on the radio rather than a Smart phone at work I'm open to suggestion.

But there's a always a place for Radio Misfits and you can find them at the thrift store and the dollar section. You're better off just to take a bunch of CDs to work and listen to them.  But make sure you have a few to get through the night and have enough variety not to generate burnout like we do listening to the fucking FOX or KRNA at night.

Better yet, just give me silence.  It's better than four hours of earworms like Foolin' by Def Leppard in your head all night. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Buck Pets

The 90s is the last decade of creativity before major label buyout mania took over and the independent cool labels got swallowed up by corporations.  Good for the share holders but for the music listener not much so. Even in the 80s Island Records when Chris Blackwell was heading that label managed to score some good bands along the way.  John Mayall made two late comeback albums that were great, the now hard to find Chicago Line one of them. Drivin' n Cryin' the most visible.  And one of them came from Texas by the unique name of The Buck Pets.

A typical story of a one album wonder band, The Buck Pets' debut album is a raw sonic sludge of loud guitars and a combination of Soul Asylum lyricism but with a Husker Du' guitar sound that kinda foretold the grunge movement.  But since they were not from Seattle, the term is more Alt Guitar Noise.  Their first album remains their sole classic album. A bit of Jane's Addiction stop and start rock was added on for good measure, my guess is they couldn't name themselves The Fuck Ups and decided to find a name that could rhyme with that, thus The Buck Pets. Island was gracious enough to send the boys down to the Bahamas at Compass Point and get Ron St Germain to produce and mix the album and it doesn't sound out of place along with Jane's Addiction or early Husker Du', I hear The Junk Monkeys as well.  The band owes nothing to Peter Buck or REM, the initial reaction was them being associated to REM but not at all.  Unless they inspired REM to record Monster a few years later.  The first song Iron Cock probably scared away MTV 120 Minutes or Headbangers Ball but it's a nice start to the album.  I think the highlights is the acid power pop of Song For Louise Post and bonus CD cut The Bad Sleep Good,  Or Not At All which melody was probably inspired by Nirvana's Bleach but for references to such bands of influence, The Buck Pets S/T still manages to hold up.

But somehow the attitude changed big time and perhaps the Island buy out to Polygram soured the band and the next album Mercurotones paled in comparison. A product of Corporate Island telling them what to do and what sound is now, the record is just about total confusion as The Bucks tried anything and everything to update their sound but a lot of songs never get going or sound unfinished.  Perhaps the best title of this album is Fuck It by The Buck Pets.  One song Libertine is produced by the Dust Brothers (Beastie Boys) and the rest done by Michael Beinhorn whose best moment was Mother's Milk by Red Hot Chili Peppers and one of the more hands on and less satisfying producers of the 90s. Rock Goddess (R T Cocaine Blues) starts the record out okay but the rest of the record they sound bored. Libertine at least changes the outcome a bit and perhaps the Dust Brothers would have been a better choice of production than Beinhorn. The first album was husker du drive, Mercurotones is driven more by the Pixies.  Not a total waste, Hey Sunshine shows that they can do power pop fairly well.  But the band disown just about everything about this album including art work and photo taken.  The record flopped and Corporate Island said bye bye.

A change of label to Restless (aka Worthless Records according to the band) didn't help things. A change of drummers and To The Quick was released to indifference. Living Is The Best Thing got some airplay on the album rock station but nothing more came of this.  Ted Nicely replaces Mike Beinhorn at production but the problem was the songs were even less memorable than Mercurotones and they were stuck on a label that had no clue on how to promote this band.  A cover of the Who's Bargain is commendable but if you want to ever hear an album of a band giving up. To The Quick is that.  They did  threw in the towel after that, although Andy Thompson and Chris Savage did get the band back together for a 2010 reunion show.

For all intent purposes, The Buck Pets fit very well with Alternative rock of the late 80s, when they came out of the gate, they showed their influences and inspiration quite well but with record label meddling the next two efforts make a valid point of not signing with a major label.  You can hear the results.  For for a short time in 1989, they were one of the up and coming bands.  The first album is all you need to know.


The Buck Pets (Island 1989) A-
Mercurotones (Island 1990) B-
To The Quick (Restless 1993) C

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Remingtons

In the late 80s and early 90s it was not uncommon for soft rockers form country bands and make a decent living from it.  Chris Hillman probably had the most success with The Desert Rose Band.  Henry Paul went from the southern rock of The Outlaws and his namesake Henry Paul Band to form a partnership with Van Stephenson (Modern Day Delilah) and country hack Kent Robbins with the band Black Hawk which had a successful 90s run themselves.  Sometimes other bands fall through the cracks.  The Remingtons were one those who did.

Richard Mainegra and Rick Yancey were in the soft rock band Cymarron that had a 1971 hit with Rings, James Griffin was in Bread, perhaps the ultimate soft rock band of that time.  In 1991 thereabouts these guys got together to make two country rock albums for the dreaded BNA label.  Produced by Larry Michael Lee (Ozark Mountain Daredevils singer of Jackie Blue and later produced the likes of Alabama, Restless Heart and even R& B singer Tracie Spencer) and Josh Leo (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) the 1992 Blue Frontier was a product of country music of the 1990s, smooth harmonies, and soft tempo courtesy of some of the finest Nashville session players at that time ( Biff Watson, Bernie Leadon, Mike Rhodes, Harry Stinson).  Blue Frontier is mainstream C&W, with two top twenty hits with A Long Time Ago (10) and Two Timin Me (18). Like Restless Heart, it's ballad heavy and not enough rockin country to satisfy more than a curious listen.  But when James Griffin takes the lead on When Love At First Sight Goes Blind or Takin The Easy Way Out, then the record comes to life.  The record managed to peak at number 55 in 1992 and BNA ponied up for a new album.

Yancey left, Denny Henson replaced him and they recorded Aim For The Heart, a album that was better for the choice of a remake of Everything I Own, the old Bread classic, this time James Griffin did the vocals.  Jimmy sang on half of the 10 songs on Aim For The Heart, Robb Royer, an old Bread band mate and songwriter contributed the song Lucky Boy.  A bit more MOR pop while maintaining an eye on the country side, the record bombed and The Remingtons were let go from BNA.

The fact of the matter is that The Remingtons may have owed something from their soft rock beginnings but they were also were part of the music scene like that of Desert Rose Band.  A more friendlier sound than Desert Rose Band which meant more ballads.  And unfortunately for them what they had in mind for music, Black Hawk took a little bit further and had more hits.   Denny Henson and James Griffin continued on till Griffin died from cancer in 2005.

A footnote in country music of 1990s The Remingtons were not bad, most of the time they wrote their own songs. And anything Jimmy Griffin played in, he did give them a more rocking edge in the music they made. Nobody remembers them much anymore, today's country radio ignores them (like they do with Black Hawk and Desert Rose Band and even Restless Heart, unless Willie's Roadhouse plays them) and their CDs can be found in the dollar bins but both albums do have a good song or two. 

Blue Frontier (BNA 1992) B
Aim For The Heart (BNA 1993) B+

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reo Speedwagon Updated

Once upon a time REO Speedwagon was a hard rocking band from Illinois that managed to have a good rocking debut featuring Terry Luttrell. Had a minor hit with Lay Me Down and Sophisticated Lady but Luttrell left after a following out with Gary Richrath. Kevin Cronin replaced him and made REO TWO which was more of that hard rock and boogie and got FM airplay with Golden Country (to which Luttrell said he co-written with Richrath but never got credit). Then Cronin left and was replaced by Mike Murphy.

While reviews of Riding The Storm Out were not nice, I find it to be a rewarding album simply of the fact that a coworker had a 8 track of that and it was played a lot at the old APCO station that I used to work at. Joe Walsh helped out on a few songs on Riding The Storm Out and I always preferred the title track over the OTT version that classic rock radio plays to death. However Lost In A Dream was less enjoyable and This Time We Really Mean It showed REO spinning their wheels and getting nowhere. Murphy then left and Cronin came back for the 1976 REO album and despite tinny production from John Stronach, had a FM hit with Keep Pushin' and I Believe That Our Time Will Come. I used the like You Get What You Play For, their 1977 Live double but found that in my later years I tend to prefer the originals.

1978 began the classic years beginning with the wonderful You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish and they got hits with Roll With The Changes and Time For Me To Fly although it's a shame that Blazing Your Own Trail wasn't selected for the third hit. In my senior year, had this on cassette and it was one of the most played tapes that I did have. Nine Lives, didn't sell as well but it rocked harder with Drop It (An Old Disguise), Heavy On Your Love and Only The Strong Survive but yet this didn't have any ballads, unless you count the country sounding I Need You Tonight. But Hi inFIdelity broke them big time on the strength of Keep On Loving You and then REO became ballad heavy and after that I pretty much gave up on them from here on out and Richrath was eventually forced out of the band. Good Trouble took up where Hi Infidelity left off and basically was a snoozer and Wheels Are Turning and Life As We Know It were by the numbers MOR pop. Last year REO returned to Sony Music to put out the budget christmas album Not So Silent Night but I never did hear that. Find Your Way Home might have been their best since Hi Fidelity.

Like a fool, I sold my CD copy of REO and kept the album only to find out that the vinyl album was pretty scratchy. Guess I have to see if I can try to find that record. But in the end, REO started out a great midwestern rock and boogie band and then sold their soul for the radio and got that major hit. As for myself I prefer the rockers over the ballads anytime of year.

In the time since this original review I have come to find that the overplayed hits have soured my listening to their albums even though Keep On Loving You or Take It On The Run are cheese entertainment.  Today's Millennials roll their eyes and smirk on the tongue in cheek Tuna Fish, which has been nominated as one of the top ten all time worst album titles ever but still is a classic album in its own wake thanks to John Boylan helping with production.  And I even thought Kevin Beamish captured the REO sound quite well on Nine Lives although his later work with Henry Paul Band and Jefferson Starship really became dated 80s synch pop. Songs like Drop It or Only The Strong Survive still hold up. Anything beginning with Good Trouble onward, their label branded them into MOR pop like Journey but only more poppier and nobody remembers Terry Luttrell or Mike Murphy anymore.  At least on Find Your Way Home, Kevin Cronin finally learned how to rock a little bit more, something that he didn't do on Building A Bridge or worse the 1990 Epic farewell and flop A Man, His Dog, His Chicken etc to which the band finally rocks out, on the last two songs.  Which were the best two songs of that forgettable LP. 

But nowadays Kevin Cronin and company are content to bask in the past glories of Keep On Loving You or Can't Fight This Feeling and can be seen playing at state fairs and casinos, sometimes with classic rock refugees Foreigner and Styx, sometimes on their own.     I know in my heart that while I enjoyed having Cronin returned in 1976, replacing Murphy as the lead singer, my guilty pleasure still remains with the Murphy led Ridin The Storm Out or Luttrell's appearance on the first album.  The first remains a midwest rock classic but each album after that would reveal a more California pop and roll even on Ridin The Storm Out, Reo Two, still holding on to a Illinois groove.  But back then, their record label held out a very long 10 year association with them, till they hit gold with the 1977 Live album and after that the Platinum selling Hi Infidelity. And they sold out their collective cool, and eventually Gary Richrath would leave, thus finally giving Cronin his pop vision that started with the 1976 REO album and grew.  Like Journey, I'm happy they found their formulaic style of ballads and light pop, but also like Journey I'd rather hear them rock out than ballading it. Thank God, they haven't milked remaking the hits like Foreigner always seems to do, but then again they beat that band into making their own Christmas album.    Buyer beware indeed.  

Gary Richrath, the long time guitarist of the band passed away on September 12, 2015.

REO Speedwagon (Epic 1971) A-
REO-TWO (Epic 1972) A-
Riding The Storm Out (Epic 1973) B+
Lost In A Dream (Epic 1974) B-
This Time We Really Mean It (Epic 1975) C
REO (Epic 1976) B+
You Get What You Play For-REO Live (Epic 1977) C+
You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish (Epic 1978) A-
Nine Lives (Epic 1979) A-
Hi Infidelity (Epic 1980) B+
A Decade Of Rock And Roll (Epic 1981) B+
Good Trouble (Epic 1982) C+
Wheels Are Turning (Epic 1983) C
Life As We Know It (Epic 1984) C
REO-The Hits (Epic 1988) B-
The Earth, The Man, His Small Dog And A Chicken (Epic 1990) C+
The Second Decade Of Hits (Epic 1991) C+
Building A Bridge (Castle 1996) C+
Find Your Own Way (2007) B
Not So Merry Christmas (Legacy/CMG 2010) C+