I’m a relative newcomer to The Decemberists.  Founded in 2000, I first heard them a few years ago on WFMU (the free-form radio station in the NYC area).   I kept an eye out for some used CD’s from the band and recently came across this 2011 effort The King Is Dead.  It was their sixth studio album so I may have some catching up to do.

Reportedly their most “rustic”work, the album has an infectious quality of great lyrics, solid songwriting and beautiful harmonies layered over relatively simple, understated music for a group of this size.  The band’s frontman, Colin Meloy was quoted as saying:

“If there’s anything academic about this record, or me trying to force myself in a direction, it was realising that the last three records were really influenced by the British folk revival […] this whole world that I was discovering, that I was poring over, learning inside-out. It was a wanting to get away from that. And looking back into more American traditions, reconnecting with more American music.”

Meloy’s point is well-taken.  The British folk roots come through clear through out the songs.  Take a closer listen to a track like “Rox in The Box” and you can hear strains of Fairport Convention or Donovan.  The supporting staff include such music luminaries as Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Gillian Welch (Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris).  The influences don’t end there.  Listen to the opening track “Don’t Carry It All“.  You can almost hear Mr. Young singing “Heart of Gold“.


Rolling Stone reviewed it as the “most pastoral, rustic record they’ve ever made”.  The public clearly dug it too and it reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart for the week ending February 5, 2011.





“You shoulda heard just what I’d seen”

Who Do You Love” is a tune composed and recorded by Bo Diddley but the version by Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks is so good I had to highlight it here.  Hawkins recorded it in 1963 on what was one of his last recordings for Roulette Records.

He pretty much stuck to Diddley’s arrangement with a tight to the bone growling vocal treatment that was his trademark approach.  As is widely known of course, Ronnie’s band The Hawks went on to back up Bob Dylan and eventually became The Band.   Check out guitarist Robbie Robertson on the right in the Hawks photo below taken at a gig in Ontario in 1963.


Robertson was widely acclaimed for his guitar work on this recording.  One of my favorite music writers, Richie Unterberger, described RR’s work here as “a good few years ahead of its time in its manic distorted intensity”.  Robert Palmer (not one of my favorite reviewers) compared Robertson’s work to the style of blues legend Willie Johnson, who backed up Howlin’ Wolf.

Ronnie performed the song with The Band in the concert film The Last Waltz. Truly memorable and a wonderful tribute to their early efforts that propelled them to stardom.  The Last Waltz version used a “Bo-Diddley” beat that was, by then, most identified with the song.

The song was also later covered by George Thorogood and the Destroyers.  It almost seems written for them.

I’ve included both the original Hawkins cover and The Last Waltz clips below.



I was at Exile On Main Street Records in Branford, CT this past weekend for Record Store Day and what more appropriately named store to pick up Gov’t Mule’s second vinyl release of six Rolling Stone classic tracks recorded live at The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA on Halloween 2009.

Very few bands do covers better than the Mule.  They cover a wide variety of tunes from Sabbath’s “War Pigs” to Pink Floyd’s “Money” to even rarities like Steppenwolf’s “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam”,  They add a talent and energy that I find sometimes surpasses the original but at the end of the day t comes down to their incredible chops.


This second offering of The Stone’s catalog is well-chosen and is a must have for any Mule fan.

They open Side A with “Wild Horses” and follow-up with “Bitch” and close out the side with “Slave“.  All three tracks are Mule at full rockin’ mode with the addition of  special guest Jackie Greene (Black Crowes) to handle some of the guitar work.   “Wild Horses” and “Bitch” are, of course, from Sticky Fingers with “Slave“from Tattoo You.

Side B is no less impressive.  They open with a short cover of “Play With Fire” and segue into a perfect treatment of “Can You Hear Me Knockin'” and close it out with the opening track from Sticky Fingers, “Brown Sugar”.

Government Mule

The vinyl record is a weighty 180 gram production and sounds great.




I first came across Toad the Wet Sprocket on an outstanding compilation bootleg titled The Best of Parking a Juggernaut.  The Parking A Juggernaut series was a large set of compilations which exposed me to alternative rock, New Wave, and power pop music,  I’ve seen references to there being at least 15 discs but I suspect there may be more.  I was able to acquire five to date and they’ve opened my eyes to number of great tunes and great bands.  Many, in my opinion, are highly underrated bands including Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Formed in 1986, Toad the Wet Sprocket (hereafter Toad..) includes vocalist /guitarist Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols (guitar) Dean Dinning (bass), and drummer Randy Guss.

They disbanded in 1998 (some solo work followed) but started doing some short U.S. summer tours in 2006.  In late 2010 the reunited and started writing their first new material since 1997’s Coil release. They subsequently released their newest album, New Constellation, on October 15, 2013.

Trivia Alert:  They took their name from a Monty Python sketch in which Eric Idle reads “Rock Notes”:

“Rex Stardust, lead electric triangle with Toad the Wet Sprocket, has had to have an elbow removed following their recent successful worldwide tour of Finland. Flamboyant ambidextrous Rex apparently fell off the back of a motorcycle. “Fell off the back of a motorcyclist, most likely,” quipped ace drummer Jumbo McClooney upon hearing of the accident. Plans are now afoot for a major tour of Iceland.”


Toad hit fortune and fame with their third album “fear”released in 1991. Driven by the singles “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean” the album soared into the top 20 and they reached platinum status.

When I first heard Toad I mistakenly thought I was listening to a new Gin Blossoms song.  An honest mistake given their similarity – listen for yourself as I’ve added “Til I Hear It From You” for comparison.  Hear it?  I also hear a bit of Crowded House in some of their tunes too…

If you want to add some Toad to your collection, fear is a good place to start although their triumphant homecoming live release Welcome Home: Live at the Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara 1992 is a spectacular glimpse at their live show and contains many of their big hits.  I’ve also added an acoustic version of “California’s Wasted“.  Well worth a listen.

Toad_the_Wet_Sprocket_Fear      tws6



James Brown (1933 – 2006)

The current issue of Wax Poetics magazine (#61) has a great interview with Fred Wesley who for many years was James Brown’s musical director. In the piece Wesley describes the collaborative process that went on between Brown, Wesley and The JB’s, Brown’s back-up band.   Coming to Brown’s band as a trombonist with some serious jazz chops (and aspirations to match), Wesley joined a talented team of musicians and quickly found his soul and funk legs.  He moved up the ladder to the musical director spot and received writing credits which still provide him with a comfortable life to this day.  I liked the WP piece although I came away thinking that Wesley didn’t show proper enough respect to Brown’s talent and the fact that he was a consummate show man who stayed at the top of his game for over 50 years.


Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina.  Supposedly, Brown’s name was to have been Joseph James Brown, Jr.; however, his first and middle names were reversed in error on his birth certificate. He later legally had the “Jr.” designation removed.  Around the age of four or five the Brown family moved to Atlanta  to live with an aunt who ran a brothel but they eventually moved to a nearby house of a different aunt. His mother split for NYC and Brown spent a lot of time on his own before dropping out of school in 6th grade.

Although Brown started his career singing gospel in Georgia he eventually joined an R&B vocal group called The Avons as lead singer.  Winning talent shows at Augusta’s Lenox Theater, Brown knew this was life for him.  The Avons later became The Famous Flames and came to public attention in the late 1950s with the hits “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me”.


Brown was tireless.  He toured the world, showed how it was done, and had the tightest back up band ever behind him.  His backup band, The Famous Flames, were also known as the James Brown Band (or Orchestra) or just the JB’s.  Brown’s success peaked in the 1960’s.  During that period he churned out hits such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”.

Brown’s 1963 release “Live at The Apollo” is considered one of the greatest live album ever.  What the ABB’s “Live at The Fillmore” is to rock music, Brown’s “Live at the Apollo” is to soul music.  The album captures the essence and power of Brown’s live show in a way that doesn’t always come through on a studio track.  The record company thought it foolish to release an album with no new songs.  They figured it wouldn’t sell to JB’s fan base but he proved them wrong.  Christgau pointed out in his review that although shorter than most live albums, the screams and swooning of the female fans push this over the top as great music.  I also like his characterization that The Famous Flames were “cleaner than a silk suit”.  The last glimpse of the now-defunct chittlin circuit.


As the ’60’s drew to a close and the civil rights movement changed the perceptions of both black audiences and performers, Brown’s music evolved from a gospel and blues base into a more “Africanized” approach and style which, in turn, heavily influenced the development of funk.

I’ve been listening to Brown since the late ’60’s.  I believe the first JB song I grooved to was the 1967 hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”. I had it on a compilation album and was mesmerized by the soul funk groove that JB and his back up band was laying down.  PGABNB didn’t include Wesley but it did include legendary sax player Maceo Parker and Jimmy Nolen, Brown’s guitarist (1965 – 1970) credited with inventing the chicken scratch playing style that was his trademark.

Part of the James Brown legend was that in response to withheld wages and poor treatment, the entire band quit on the same day in 197o. This didn’t appear to faze Brown much who picked up a younger band he found in Cincinnati called the Pacemakers.  The new band famously included future funk master bassist Bootsy Collins and his brother Catfish Collins.  James knew how to pick ’em.

Brown’s career spanned six decades and he was always at the top of his game.  While influenced mostly by Louis Jordan and Little Richard, Brown was clearly the single-most critical influence for a generation of soul singers including Michael Jackson, Sly Stone, and Prince.


Brown died on Christmas Day 2006 from complications of pneumonia.  According to his manager who was at his bedside, Brown stuttered “I’m going away tonight”, took three deep breaths and passed.





The band Flamin’ Groovies, formed in San Francisco in 1965.  They were active until about 1992 before they disbanded,  They have since reunited a few times and are currently back on the scene sans most of the original members.

I’ve heard them from time to time on the radio (I listen to some very free-form stations), I’ve never seen them in concert, and I don’t have even one of their eight studio releases or eight live releases plus as many compilations in my collection.  I plan to correct that last point the next time I’m digging through my favorite bin.  Yet, when I hear them I’m always mesmerized.  Clearly influenced by the likes of Chuck Berry, and The Beatles with some Dave Clark Five thrown in for good measure, more than one of their tunes sounds like “Roll Over Beethoven” or some derivation.

Founded by Ron Greco, Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney, their best known song is probably “Shake Some Action” from 1976.  Cracker covered the tune for the 1995 movie Clueless which gave FG a bit more needed attention.

Their debut album (Supersnazz – 1969) is a blend of ’50’s style pop tunes and covers with their added FG interpretation. I think this is where the announcer says “the stylings of….”.  Cue the power pop influences for an endless list of 1970’s bands.  Fast forward to them painting their own masterpiece with 1971 release Teenage Head.  Loney left the band in 1971 and his replacement, Chris Wilson, steered the band towards power pop.  They more or less went radio silent for the next five years but by 1976 had teamed up with producer Dave Edmunds (of Rockpile fame) to release Shake Some Action.  Clearly, it pays to go with the talent.

My two favorite Flamin’ Groovies songs however are”You Tore Me Down” from Shake Some Action and “Yes, It’s True”.  Listen to the Beatlesque choruses and harmonies and the tight pop execution.  Truly great songs.  Both are below.  So turn it up and get up and dance.









I’ve been wanting to include a song by The Searchers for a while now and almost landed on their classic 1964 cover of Jackie DeShannon’s gem “When You Walk in the Room” but I recently heard their equally great “Needles and Pins” again and knew I had to dig it up for you,

The song was written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono (which may explain why it was covered by Cher).

Originally recorded by DeShannon, it was also covered by Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks, and The Ramones but the award for innovative cover goes to Petula Clark for recording it in French where it rocked to #1 on the French charts.  I’ve included “La Nuit N’en Finit Plus” below.















Sulk was the 1993 debut album from the band Molly Half Head.  The band was an alternative pop quartet formed in Manchester, UK in 1992.  They produced two albums but split up not long after the second release in 1995.

The members included Paul Bardsley (vocals), Phil Murphy (guitar), Neil Daly (bass guitar), and Andy Pickering (drums).  Daly left the band after the first release and was replaced with Graham Atkinson on bass.

They released their first single “Taste of You” in March 1993 and had minor success with their single “Shine” from their 2nd album although the album itself was a commercial flop that led to their demise.


I like the band’s more complex arrangements which echo the avant-pop genre so prevalent of the early ’90’s in the UK.  These are talented musicians who clearly have some chops.  They blew me away. They’re reminiscent of bands like Magazine or That Petrol Emotion (with whom they shared club dates) but there’s no doubt here that they run a distant third to those bands.  Like many bands, their weakest link is the vocals.  The music is well-done (especially the bass and drum groove) but as soon as Bardsley opens his cake hole it all goes downhill like just so much shite.  In an insightful review by Trouser Press, it was pointed out that Bardsley pronounced all his consonants like the letter “z”.  Hmmm.good ear!

The lyrics are art-school gibberish but the music (without vocals) really over shines the mysterious writings here.





I was talking to a colleague recently and she remarked that a document we had with an expiration date of 2027 seemed so far away.  Only 12 years but, yeah, it does seem kinda futuristic.  But not quite as futuristic as the year 2525 which is a mere 510 years from now.  The one-hit wonder duo of Zager and Evans contemplated this back in 1969 and it intrigued enough people that it rocketed to the top of the charts  for six weeks in the summer of ’69.

The full title of the song is “In the Year 2525 (Exordium et Terminus)” and it was written and composed by Rick Evans in 1964 and originally released on a small regional record label (Truth Records) in 1968.


Zager and Evans disbanded in 1971. Denny Zager now builds custom guitars in Lincoln, Nebraska and Rick Evans no longer performs and lives in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

The song is about as ominous as it gets.  I’m sure somebody uttered the phrase “Heavy, man” back in the Summer of Love. The lyrics warned of the dangers of technology, it portrays a future where man is destroyed by its own technology.  References to robots replacing workers, test tube babies, environmental calamity.  Hmmm…this is bit too on the money for me.

“In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” opens with the words “In the year 2525, If man is still alive, If woman can survive, They may find…”.


The final verse laments that mankind will undergo a never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

Now it’s been 10,000 years, Man has cried a billion tears,
For what, he never knew. Now man’s reign is through.
But through eternal night, The twinkling of starlight.
So very far away, Maybe it’s only yesterday.

According to Wikipedia:

“The song was included in the controversial 2001 Clear Channel memorandum, a document distributed by Clear Channel Communications to every radio station owned by the company. The list consisted of 165 songs considered by Clear Channel to be “lyrically questionable” following the September 11, 2001 attacks.”  

Brilliant, really.  CC once again demonstrates how they consider the average listener to be a moron.



I came across the song “Universal Solider” recently on a Donovan compilation and realized that I hadn’t heard it in years.  It’s still great and still very applicable to the times we live in today.


The song was written and recorded by Buffy Sainte-Marie for her debut album in 1964 and was covered a year later by Donovan.  Donovan made it the hit that it became when he included it on his EP of the same name in the summer of 1965.  The popularity of the song inspired the record company to include the track on Donovan’s second album Fairytale in 1965.



Universal Soldier – Buffy Sainte-Marie

He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years

He’s a catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain
A Buddhist and a Baptist and Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will kill
You’ll for me my friend and me for you

And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way

And he’s fighting for democracy he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall

But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau (Liebau*)
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as the weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
But his orders come from far away no more
They come from him and you and me and brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put an end to war?

Note:  * Buffy’s version refers to the concentration camp at Dachau and Donovan’s version refers to Liebau a Hitler youth training camp in Poland.

I’ve included both Buffy’s and Donovan’s versions below.  Buffy’s clip below includes an intro interview on how she came to write the song.



As the readers of The Eclectic Ear know, I listen to a lot of jazz.  My tastes in jazz are wide-ranging but most of the time they fall into the post-WWII era and more specifically the jazz that was being produced between 1945 and 1960.  Don’t get me wrong, I really dig early jazz sounds, big band, and even the later fusion era scene forged by Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman.  I’ll wait in line to hear Wayne Krantz improvise with Tim Lefevbre and Keith Carlock at Bar 55 any day of the week. But… the golden age of jazz, for me, falls between those fifteen years or so after the Second World War when hard bop masters and guys who came out of the big band era started to spread their wings and fly.  This well is deep and I’m still finding new layers to uncover.  Talk about a musical journey.  I often find myself wondering what the jazz scene, in New York alone, must have been like back in the ’50’s.  If you check out old jazz photos (some of the most classic shots were taken by William Gottlieb)

One perfect example is Blue Mitchell’s recording of “Park Avenue Petite”.  Found on his 1959 release Blue Soul, the tune was composed by legend Benny Golson.  Very much under-rated. It hasn’t been covered by a lot of artists but, for me, Mitchell’s version is by far the nicest.  His introspective trumpet treatment evokes a quiet rainy night in the City.  Listen to it when you can be alone and savor the melody and the imagery.


Blue Mitchell, a native Floridian, started playing professionally after high school and landed in Horace Silver’s band for a number of years.  A huge talent on the trumpet, Blue formed a new band after Silver’s group disbanded and hired a young Chick Corea to play piano. Not to be pigeonholed into one genre, Blue joined John Mayall’s Blues Band in the early ’70’s.  He eventually moved into session work and was known for his stints supporting Tony Bennett and Lena Horne.   He died at a young 49 years old from cancer.


Benny Golson is someone I haven’t paid much attention to but plan to from now on.  He composed such classic jazz gems as  “I Remember Clifford”, “Along Came Betty”, and “Five Spot After Dark”.  Lush melodies that remind me of why I love this period of music so much.



A slightly unusual entry this week, a 1956 instrumental single that was released in two parts.  You’ve heard this tune even if you didn’t know the name as it’s been covered by a long list or artists from James Brown (with The JB’s) to Bill Haley and Buddy Holly.  The Beach Boys even took a shot at it on their 1963 classic release Surfin’ USA.

Written by Bill Doggett, Billy Butler, Clifford Scott and Shep Shepherd, this instrumental R&B tune peaked at number 2 on the chart for three weeks and was the hottest selling R&B tune of 1956.  Butler, by the way, was a huge guitar talent and played with many of the jazz greats of the day as did Shep Shepherd who played drums in Benny Carter’s group in the 1940’s.



Bill Doggett was a native of Philadelphia and was a jazz and R&B behind the organ.  He played with stars like The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald.

I’ve included both parts below as recorded by Doggett along with Brown’s version.




The Doobie Brothers’ “China Grove ” hit the airways the year I graduated from high school.  A track from their Captain and Me album it became one of their most popular songs.  The Doobies were an eye-opener (or maybe ear-opener) for me on a number of levels but mostly it was that they were driving rock music with arrangements other than straight up blues.   As I was raising myself on a self-prescribed diet of The Stones, Humble Pie, The Allman Brothers and a long list of Brit rockers, their uniquely arranged tunes were well…music to my ears.  Not quite jazz yet but it was clearly headed towards it.

The song was written by Tom Johnston and refers to a real life town in Texas not too far from San Antonio.  For me the heart of this song is the opening driving chord riff.  Played partially in a clave rhythm, the riff sets a distorted beat behind the solos.  Also, listen for the subtle bass turnarounds that run up into the verses.  Very well done.

If you’re new to The Doobie Brothers, Captain and Me is a great place to start although the best tracks here are all found on every DB compilation or Greatest Hits set.






More of a local cult-classic, The Fugs were formed in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960’s.  Two local poets, Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, formed the band as an outlet for their satirical anti-war, pro-drug ravings.  With Ken Weaver behind the drums they enlisted the talents of Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of the Holy Modal Rounders.  The name of the band is a euphemism for “f%&k” as used my Norman Mailer in his novel The Naked and The Dead.

The band was around for years, took a break in the early ’80’s and reunited for concerts in the late ’80’s.  They were relatively cohesive until Kupferberg’s death in 2010.


True Bohemians, and very much representative of their time and the golden age of Greenwich Village, The Fugs were the realdeal.  The track “Kill for Peace” is a sharply satirical song that brings home the sarcasm of a nation killing what it doesn’t like.

Check out a sample of the lyrics….

Near or middle or very far east
Far or near or very middle east
If you don’t like the people
or the way that they talk
If you don’t like their manners
or they way that they walk,
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace
If you don’t kill them
then the Chinese will
If you don’t want America
to play second fiddle,
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace
If you let them live
they may subvert the Prussians
If you let them live
they might love the Russians





There aren’t a lot of protest songs that hit #1 on the Billboard charts (“War” by Edwin Starr is another that comes to mind) but in 1965 the stars were in alignment and a former commercial fisherman named Barry McGuire found himself with the biggest hit in the country.  It also launched McGuire into the ranks of the one-hit wonder.

The song was written by P.F. Sloan and McGuire recorded it over two days in July of 1965 using top-notch L.A. session players known as The Wrecking Crew.  The vocal mix was intended to be re-done bit the song was leaked to radio and it took off from there.  The song was previously offered to The Byrds and The Turtles but both rejected it (this despite The Turtles’ previous success with recording Byrd rejects).

According to McGuire, he recorded the song in one take on a Thursday and was awoken the following Monday morning with a call from the record company telling him to turn on his radio.


Some of the lyrics were considered too controversial at the time…

The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but whats that gun you’re totin’?
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you boy

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Yeah my blood’s so mad feels like coagulating
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace

And tell me
Over and over and over and over again my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Mmm, no, no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction

Not everyone agreed with the sentiments of the song and “The Ballad of the Green Beret” by Sgt. Barry Sadler was released as a response shortly thereafter.   Some radio stations (incl the BBC) banned the song from air play and claimed that it was “an aid to the enemy in Vietnam”.  This sounds like the 1960’s version of Sony’s “The Interview” movie!