Songs You May Have Missed #735

The Bills: “Bamfield’s John Vanden” (2005)

Folky Victoria, B.C. quintet the Bills eschew the usual mandolin, fiddle and accordion for an infectious a cappella sea chantey.

Though this song sounds for all the world like a traditional, it was actually written by the Bills’ Chris Frye in honor of his great uncle, Bamfield, British Columbia coastal fisherman John Vanden, who passed away in 2011 at age 96.

Since its appearance on 2005’s stylistically diverse Let Em Run LP, the song has found favor (and inspired cover versions) in folk circles, so maybe it will attain “traditional” status.

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Songs You May Have Missed #734

Toy Matinee: “Last Plane Out” (1990)

Producer Patrick Leonard, having earned Warner Brothers Records around half a billion dollars by co-writing and producing Madonna albums such as True Blue, Like a Prayer and I’m Breathless, was asked by label chair Mo Austin “What would you like?”.

He replied, “I just want to make a record”, meaning a record of his own material.

Patrick Leonard

The result was Toy Matinee, the one and only album by the band of the same name–possibly the best band ever to have released only one record.

Leonard collaborated with bassist Guy Pratt, singer/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, drummer Brian MacLeod, and guitarist Tim Pierce–most of whom had previously worked together on Madonna albums.

Probably because of this previous musical collaboration, the collective gelled into a band, felt like a band, and played like a real band immediately in a way that astounded producer/engineer Bill Bottrell.

Kevin Gilbert

Leonard, being a fan of progressive rock and jazz fusion, had previously sprinkled Madonna songs with largely unnoticed touches of the influence of such artists–“sneaking a lot of stuff by people”, as he described it.

For example, the outro of “Like a Prayer” has a bass line that mimics Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report.

“Cherish” features a shuffle beat in the style of drummer Bernard Purdie, played by Jeff Porcaro. Both Purdie and Porcaro are Steely Dan session alumni.

And the lead track from Toy Matinee, “Last Plane Out”, opens with a conspicuously nimble-fingered, too-good-for-pop acoustic intro that owes a debt to Gentle Giant.

Bill Bottrell

Bottrell’s production helped create an album that straddles the worlds of mainstream, “accessible” music and something more ambitious by reigning in the proggier tendencies of the session aces in the room.

All this and so much more is explained by the band themselves in this short documentary about the making of an album that once filled cutout bins and is now a hard-to-find cult favorite fetching top dollar.

“Last Plane Out” was one of two single releases from the LP, both of which peaked at #23 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

The band never cracked the Pop top 40 and the album only managed a peak US chart position of #129.

There are no true band photos to share here because, being session players with other commitments, the guys who recorded the album never toured it. Kevin Gilbert assembled an entirely new band that performed the material on several short tours.

If only Toy Matinee could have had a career, not just an album.

Songs You May Have Missed #733

Alice Cooper: “The Quiet Room” (1978)

I wanna pull on your coat about another unfortunate music trend: the distillation in contemporary culture of the music of artists of past eras into a song or two.

Journey has become, for many under tha age of 30, “Don’t Stop Believin'”. The great career of Neil Diamond is summed up in the three minutes and twenty-one seconds of “Sweet Caroline”. Styx is reduced to “Renegade” and “Come Sail Away”. Johnny Cash? “Ring of Fire”.

And Alice Cooper is known by too many young music fans solely for “School’s Out”.

One day this blog will seek to remedy that properly.

In the meantime, give me a minute on my soapbox to tell you Alice had a span from 1975-78 in which he charted inside the top twenty no less than four times with ballads. These were:

“Only Women” (#12 in 1975)

“I Never Cry” (#12 in ’77)

“You and Me” (#9 in ’77)

“How You Gonna See Me Now” (#12 in ’78)

That’s four consecutive Alice Cooper albums with a ballad as the lead single–all top 20 hits

Far from the one-dimensional shock rocker the decades have folded him into, Alice Cooper should be reappraised as one of the foremost purveyors of pathos of the latter half of the 70’s.

If that don’t suit you, that’s a drag.

1978’s From the Inside LP, which Alice co-wrote with long-time Elton John sideman Bernie Taupin, is a concept album inspired by Alice’s battle with addiction. If it’s not one of his best albums it’s certainly one of his most personal and self-reflective.

The single “How You Gonna See Me Now”, is the heart-tugging deliberation of a man forced to spend time away from his family and wondering if he’ll be welcomed back when his time of institutionalization ends. A man questioning whether the pieces of his life will still be there to put back together.

Taupin’s lyric is deliberately ambiguous enough to lend itself to interpretations of criminal incarceration, a stint in rehab, or a stay in a sanitarium. It’s a tender, affecting and these days very much overlooked song.

“The Quiet Room” is another animal. No such ambiguity here. The protagonist is clearly, in the jargon of the day, in an insane asylum. And the material plays to Alice Cooper’s performative strengths, alternating in schizophrenic fashion from tender verses to unhinged choruses.

Alice Cooper is a brilliant singer actually, and sings in a variety of voices when a song calls for a variety of moods (or even multiple personalities on songs such as “Years Ago” and “Ballad of Dwight Fry”).

Okay so this may or may not send you back to listen more closely to Alice Cooper’s 70’s records. My main point is: the guy was a versatile and talented songwriter, one of the era’s best, and there’s a heck of a lot more to him than “School’s Out”.

Songs You May Have Missed #732

Sally Oldfield: “You Set My Gypsy Blood Free” (1979)

From Oldfield’s second solo album, after appearing on projects such as The Sallyangie (see link below) with brother Mike.

Common to both projects is the ethereal and mellifluous vocals that might bring Mary Hopkin to mind, and a style that seems to be a progenitor to Enya and Loreena McKennitt.

Perhaps a bit flowery for many listeners this side of the Atlantic. But beautiful if you have an ear for it.

You set my gypsy blood free!

You waken the dancer in me!

I wanna run through the dew of the night

To bring flowers to lay at your feet!

I have nothing to give you to light up your life

But the wild call of heartbeat to heartbeat

That seeks to be one

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Songs You May Have Missed #731

Kings of Convenience: “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From” (2001)

From Kevin Maidment’s album review:

Although Kings of Convenience are keen to play down any blatantly self-evident similarities to Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, and Belle and Sebastian, the winsome and placidity-favoring Norwegian duo of Erlend Oye and Eirik Glambek Boe have probably already got the subway buskers of tomorrow lining up to lend an ear. Studentlike in appearance (one of them has a duffel coat and John Major specs) and unashamed to softly impart such nonrock lyrics as “put the kettle on” and “using The Guardian as a shield to cover my thighs against the rain,” the weightless and airy acoustic guitar muse of Quiet Is the New Loud isn’t a million miles from Radiohead’s “Nice Dream” or Pink Floyd’s “If” with a subliminal swish of bossa-nova rhythm. A contentedly purring cello, a plaintive touch of piano, and the muffled sound of a trumpet add necessary sonic depth, and the results are as pleasant and civilized as a little light conversation over tea in the drawing room. But what a shame they chose to name themselves after a lavatory.

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Songs You May Have Missed #730

Modest Midget: “Troubles in Heaven” (2010)

From the Dutch progressive/pop fusion band Modest Midget’s 2010 debut, The Great Prophecy of a Small Man.

“Troubles in Heaven” is mostly built around a single infectious motif, but with enough key modulations to keep it fresh and enough stylistic pivots to make you wish you could have a look at songwriter/vocalist Lionel Ziblet’s record collection.

The instrumental break is a swerving musical rollercoaster ride: Zappa-esque for a moment…timpani fills…then country fiddle. Then synth. Then a bit of straight-ahead rock and roll guitar. Then a second, middle eastern-sounding breakdown–klezmer music? (Ziblet grew up in Israel).

I guarantee you’ve heard nothing like it.

Decide for yourself if it’s Gentle Giant or XTC or something else this band brings to mind over the course of a frolicsome 3-minute ride.

Modest Midget is a little eccentric, a little schizophrenic, and a lot of fun.

Songs You May Have Missed #729

Pacha Massive: “Don’t Let Go” (2006)

The Bronx duo of Dominican-born Nova (on keys and guitar) and Columbian-born Maya (on vocals and bass) stir up a melting pot of musical flavors on their 2006 debut.

Their music is equally at home on a dancefloor, in a laid-back lounge, wafting across your living room or pulsing from your car.

Songs You May Have Missed #728

Herman’s Hermits: “No Milk Today” (1966)

No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
No milk today, it seems a common sight
But people passing by, don’t know the reason why

How could they know just what this message means?
The end of my hopes, the end of all my dreams
How could they know a palace there had been
Behind the door where my love reigned as queen?

No milk today, it wasn’t always so
The company was gay, we’d turn night into day

But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up two down

No milk today, it wasn’t always so
The company was gay, we’d turn night into day
As music played the faster did we dance
We felt it both at once, the start of our romance

Graham Gouldman wrote hits for the Hollies (“Bus Stop”, “Look Through Any Window”) the Yardbirds (“For Your Love”, “Heart Full of Soul”) Herman’s Hermits (“Listen People”, “No Milk Today”) and the band of which he was a member, 10cc (“I’m Not in Love”, “The Things We Do For Love”, Dreadlock Holiday”).

He says his father, who regularly proposed song titles and helped him with his songwriting, suggested he write a song with the title “No Milk Today”. Graham says his first reaction was negative until his dad explained the milk bottle on the porch–from the days of the milk man, of course–was a metaphor for a relationship that had ended.

Gouldman proceeded to write a poignant lyric and set in in an alternating minor- and major key setting. Then John Paul Jones (yes, that John Paul Jones) created an inspired baroque pop arrangement with strings and bell chimes, and when Peter Noone added his crisp, sympathetically plaintive lead vocals, a minor pop classic was born.

Except producer Mickie Most didn’t hear it. The record company wanted to release it as a single, but Most, who hadn’t even wanted to record the song, resisted.

Only Jones’ lobbying for the song caused Most to relent. Mickie Most is legendary for the ability to hear a single, but somehow missed completely on “No Milk Today”. Noone swears it was John Paul Jones’ enthusiasm for the song that saved it.

However, despite going to number 7 in England, the song was released only as the flipside to “There’s a Kind of Hush” in America. Yet it received enough airplay even as a B-side to make it to #35.

Hard to say if it would have been top ten if promoted as an A-side. With lyric lines like “just two up, two down” (a reference to a modest home with only two rooms upstairs and two downstairs) it has a peculiarly British feel.

But then, songs like “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”, which sound as British as can be, were huge hits in America, while they weren’t even released as singles in England.

The analysis video below, by the excellent Phil from Wings of Pegasus, helps one fully appreciate both song and performance.

The second video, featuring Graham Gouldman’s own performance, explains the song’s genesis.

Songs You May Have Missed #727

Walter Martin: “Too Cold to Waterski” (2018)

I look forward to Walter Martin’s vacations almost as much as he does. The man always returns with sweetly skewed descriptions of his adventures.

He’s pop music’s David Sedaris.

Some of his records are children’s records. But all of his records have a childlike nature. This guy stands on his tip-toes to see things in a way most of us have forgotten to look.

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Songs You May Have Missed #726

Styx: “I’m O.K.” (1978)

Like contemporaries Kansas, who leaned more toward progressive rock, Styx had a pretty clearly-defined two-album artistic career peak. Both bands released their two finest albums between 1976 and ’78.

Pieces of Eight, which followed platinum breakthrough The Grand Illusion, was a more than worthy follow-up. It combined some of the progressive tendencies of their pre-Tommy Shaw early work with tight, commercial singles like “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade”.

While all three of the album’s singles were penned by Shaw (the third being the joyous “Sing For the Day”) Dennis DeYoung’s “I’m O.K.” certainly could have been a single.

Perhaps the church organ solo disqualified it.

But this song is like DeYoung’s answer to Shaw’s “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” from the previous LP–uplifting pop/rock psychology from an era when so-called “classic rock” was trying to hold its own in a landscape altered by disco and punk.

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