Dave’s Underrated Albums … “In Through the Out Door” (1979) by Led Zeppelin

“In Through the Out Door” was the first music by Led Zeppelin I ever heard and I first encountered their music in the spring of 1981.  As a music fiend, I certainly was aware OF Zeppelin, but had never actually listened to them.  I even knew about this album since I followed the Billboard charts and it was a #1 album for 7 weeks during the end of 1979.  I was 11-years-old in the spring of 1981 and Zeppelin were a band that I associated with older, cooler people.  Various babysitters talked about them in hushed tones.  Older teens in my neighborhood, specifically the ones with long hair, dirt-staches, drove muscle cars with primer paint, and reeked of cigarette smoke seemed to REALLY dig Zeppelin.  Without hearing a note of their music, they seemed dangerous and something that would be way too heavy for me, despite the fact that I was a huge Alice Cooper and KISS fan.

So it was a major shock to hear “In Through the Out Door,” because despite some “heavy” guitar work here and there, this album wasn’t particularly heavy, let alone scary.  The first thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of keyboards and synthesizer on the album.  I actually had an “Is that all there is to fire?” moment when I listened to this. But … because cooler people than me held Zeppelin in such reverence, I felt that I couldn’t outwardly condemn this, even though I found it disappointing based on what I was expecting.  To put this in terms Gen-Y can understand, I expected Marilyn Manson, but heard Hootie and the Blowfish instead.

But … this album has grown on me considerably over the years.  While no Zeppelin fan in their right mind would place ANY of the songs from “In Through the Out Door” in a Top 10  (or Top 20, for that matter) of the greatest Zeppelin songs of all-time, what is here is damn good.  The opening track “In the Evening” is arguably the “heaviest” song on the album and while it won’t rattle your molars, it still rocks pretty hard. Forget “Stairway to Heaven” …  “All My Love” is THE prom song for the feathered hair and ruffled tux generation. “Carouselambra” is almost all synth, but becomes mesmerizing if you let it wash over you … being on a mind-altering substance while listening to it certainly doesn’t hurt.  “South Bound Suarez” is a song where the piano slams harder than the guitars. “I’m Gonna Crawl” is a wonderfully brutal mix of soul and metal.

“In Through the Out Door” is probably on no one’s list of favorite albums of all-time, but like a quirky old girlfriend or an odd movie you watched on an evening when you were in a great mood, its oddly satisfying.  There are significantly better Zeppelin albums and songs, but one must give the band props for trying to do something fresh when so many other bands of the era remained mired in the same head-banging formulas that earned them success. It’s too bad drummer John Bonham checked out soon after this was released.  It would have been interesting to hear what Zeppelin would have done going into the 1980s and beyond.

“I Don’t Care About You” – Fear

If any song summed up my 9th grade year, circa 1984-1985, it’s this under two-minute hyper-negative anthem by Fear.  I first heard this in a cheesy horror anthology film called “Nightmares,” in which one of the segments had a video game addict, played by Emilio Estevez, blasting this song in his headphones.  I then heard it a year later when a friend of mine had Fear’s “The Record” album on cassette and upon hearing it, my eyes lit up like that blind guy in Fritz Lang’s “M” when he hears Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” being whistled by a serial killer.

Despite how twisted (or quaint) this song sounds (in actuality, I wore sweaters/khakis back in the day of hardcore and had a 3.5 average),  I realize that had I admitted my love for this song post-Columbine, I would have been institutionalized or at least, been put on an extreme regimen of SSRIs that would arguably have made me legitimately nuts.  In reality, though, all I really needed back in the day is a “cut the bulls–t” talk by an understanding adult and a kiss by a cute girl.  Regardless, this is still a legitimately great, extremely “negative” song.  Despite the near psychotic suppressing of anything negative these days, it’s actually healthy to have negative thoughts from time to time, folks.  If you need further explanation, see the new Pixar film “Inside Out.”

“The Black Album” scene … from “Boyhood” (2014) dir. Richard Linklater

One of my favorite scenes from “Boyhood.” The father played by Ethan Hawke gives his son a mix CD and tries to explain why it’s so great. His son, played by Ellar Coltrane, graciously accepts the CD, but has a look on his face that he’s been down this road many times before with his Dad. The Hawke and Coltrane characters are good people, but let’s just say, I’m trying really hard NOT to be that kind of dad re: pop culture and my kids.

“Goodbye to Love” (1972) by the Carpenters

On the surface, the Carpenters epitomize the nadir of middle-of-the-road 1970s AM pop. But “Goodbye to Love” is a great song.  Granted, a lot of my love for this song has to due with the very prominent fuzz guitar by Tony Peluso.   But that guitar sound adds a tremendous edge to the lyrics which rival Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in their immense pessimism and depression.   Seriously, this is one hell of a great downer song.  Had this been sung by Cohen or Cave, this would be considered more of a classic than it is.   Because it’s sung by Karen Carpenter, it’s considered AM-radio cheese.  However, I would argue that her beautiful voice makes this song even more perverse.  Either way, I love this.

“Because I’m Awesome” (2007) by the Dollyrots

If you decide to give your song this title, you better have the chops to back it up.  And I’m happy to report the Dollyrots deliver in spades!  If you love rock n’ roll, there’s no way you can listen to this without a huge grin on your face.  The fact that this was recorded for Joan Jett’s Blackheart label comes as no surprise.

“25th Hour” (2002) dir. Spike Lee / scr. David Benioff

One of the best films of the 2000s, one of director Spike Lee’s best films, and one that is … sadly … almost completely forgotten these days, “25th Hour” is a tremendously powerful drama about the last day of freedom for a drug dealer, played by Edward Norton, before going to prison for 7 years.  Based on David Benioff’s novel (who also wrote the screenplay), “25th Hour” is an incredibly complex look at family, friendship, morals, the legal system, and culture … specifically a post-9/11 New York City. The performances by Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, and Anna Paquin are all extraordinary and Oscar-worthy.  The editing is superb, the script is intense, and the ominous music composed by Terrence Blanchard is one of the finest scores I’ve ever heard for a dramatic film.

Despite how great this movie is, I can understand why it’s not that popular.  Despite many moments of dark humor, it’s an extremely troubling and depressing film.  Because it’s about guilt … it’s about regret … its about that feeling where you wish life had a rewind button for actions or inactions.   But this is truly an amazing film and worthy of your attention.

Probably the best scene in the film is when Norton’s character delivers an angry, beyond politically incorrect 5-minute diatribe about every social, ethnic, and economic groups in New York City.  It was part of the original novel, and ironically, Benioff said it was inspired by a similar rant from Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”  However, when he wrote the original draft of the script, he sheepishly left it out because he was afraid of what Lee would say.  However, Lee loved it and insisted it be put back in.  The rant may be considered highly offensive, but you must watch it until the end when Norton’s character turns the anger back on himself and realizes he’s the one responsible for his fate.  Again, powerful stuff.

“The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” by Greil Marcus (2014)

Marcus

“The only thing that rock ‘n’ roll did not get from country and blues was a sense of consequences … In country and blues, if you raised hell on Saturday night, you were gonna feel real bad on Sunday morning when your dragged yourself to church.  Or when you didn’t drag yourself to church.”
-Bill Flanagan … from an interview with Neil Young (1986)

Greil Marcus’s “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” is one of the finest, most beautifully written books about music, art, and culture of all-time.  When Marcus wrote this book, he decided to avoid songs that most people would insist would be on a list of ten songs that would explain rock ‘n’ roll.  The songs Marcus selected are:

“Shake Some Action” – The Flamin’ Groovies
“Transmission” – Joy Division
“In the Still of the Nite” – The Five Satins
“All I Could Do Was Cry” – Beyonce
“Crying, Waiting, Hoping” – Buddy Holly / The Beatles
“Money (That’s What I Want)” – Barrett Strong / The Beatles
“Money Changes Everything” – The Brains / Cyndi Lauper
“This Magic Moment” – The Drifters
“Guitar Drag” – Christian Marclay
“To Know Him is to Love Him” – The Teddy Bears / Amy Winehouse

The songs he selects are all great in their own way, but may not be obvious choices in many peoples’ definitions of songs that define rock ‘n’ roll.  Yet, these songs, in the way Marcus describes them, tell an incredibly rich story of not only rock music, but American culture / history… with a few sidelines into British culture.  Marcus has been one of our finest cultural critics for over 40 years and this book equals his classic 1975 book “Mystery Train,” (which has since gone through 7 editions with additional notes by Marcus).

I will let Marcus explain why he included “Shake Some Action,” from an interview he did with Henry Rollins, who narrated the audio version of the book:

“When I came up with the idea for the book, I knew that ‘Shake Some Action’ by the Flamin’ Groovies would be the first thing I would write about,” he said. “It had to be there, and that’s because from the first time I heard it, and every time since, I’ve just been so shocked by it. It’s like, ‘This is it. This is what rock & roll is. This is everything rock & roll wanted to be. This is a performance that isn’t jazz, that isn’t blues, that isn’t country, that isn’t pop, that isn’t anything but rock & roll. Nothing like what you hear on ‘Shake Some Action’ was in the world before there was rock & roll.”

“The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” is a terrific achievement and even if you don’t agree with Marcus’s selections, I guarantee he’ll make you a true believer.  If you need further convincing, you absolutely need to check out the audio version narrated by Henry Rollins.  Rollins is an extraordinary orator and the way he conveys Marcus’s words shows a profound respect for Marcus and his thoughts. Easily one of the five best audio versions of a non-fiction book … and that includes Robert Evans reciting “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”

At the link below is a lengthy interview Rollins did with Marcus about the book that’s worth hearing:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/hear-henry-rollins-fascinating-chat-with-greil-marcus-about-ten-songs-20150126

“Inside Out” (2015) dir. Pete Docter / Ronnie del Carmen

Just saw Pixar’s “Inside Out” … In a word: brilliant … Smart without being smart-alecky, funny without being pandering, sad without being maudlin, poignant without being cloying.  While it’s a film that safe for kids and that kids will enjoy, it is NOT a kids movie.  One of the best and most complex examinations I’ve ever seen in a film context about emotions, psychology, dreams, and growing up.  Incredibly deep and moving.  It’s a movie that will seriously make you reconsider your life.  The best Pixar movie ever made.  Yes, I said it.

“One of Us” (2015) by Local H

My favorite song of the year so far.  Local H singer/guitarist Scott Lucas wrote “One of Us” while he was on his way to a wake for a friend. As Lucas told the Onion AV Club last April “It’s a funeral song, but I didn’t want it to be morose. I wanted it to be unsentimental and kind of triumphant, and above all else, unapologetic. Anything less would’ve felt like lying.”  This is an amazing, powerful song, the best highlight of many highlights from their terrific album “Hey, Killer.”

“Radio Radio” – Elvis Costello with the Beastie Boys (from the SNL 25th Anniversary Show, circa 2000)

Before you watch this clip, here’s some background …

Elvis Costello made his US debut on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) in early 1978.  He was supposed to perform “Less Than Zero,” a song about racism in England and Costello got through about 15 seconds of the song before he abruptly cut it and launched into “Radio Radio,” an extremely critical song about the increasing control of media by corporations.

Cut to 22 years later … SNL is broadcasting a 25-year tribute show.  The Beastie Boys perform their hit “Sabotage” when Costello runs on stage and … well … I think you can figure out where it goes from there …  a clever way to pay tribute to one of SNL’s most notorious moments and a terrific performance of one of Costello’s best songs with help from one of the most innovative rock / rap groups of all-time.

Even nearly 40 years later, the lyrics still bite:

“Some of my friends sit around every evening and they worry about the times ahead.
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference and the promise of an early bed.
You either shut up or get cut up, they don’t wanna hear about it.
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin’ to anesthetize the way that you feel.”