Culling The Herd: The Rest of The Bs. Hopefully.

Read the original "Culling The Herd" post here.

I think the Bs might just break me, if I don’t blast out the balance in one big burst (break blast balance big burst...see what I did there?).  Seriously, how many more are there?



Booker T Jones (featuring Biz Markie), “Just A Friend” – 0 stars.  Dump it.

There have been some rap songs that I liked.  This is not one of them.  It starts with Biz Markie (not his real name, I’m guessing) saying “Booker T and Biz Markie” over and over and goes downhill from there.  I made it to the end, but I may have passed out at some point.  Blech.



Booker T Jones “Potato Hole” – 5 stars / 3 stars.

Booker T is this old African American dude who is kinda the king of the Hammond rock organ.  He made “Green Onions”, only one of the grooviest songs ever, all those years ago…I have no idea what he’s been doing since, but in 2009 he hooked up with Drive By Truckers and Neil Young for this record.  I found it via a free iTunes download of “Hey Ya,” an instrumental cover of the gigantic Outkast hit.  It is…how should I say this?  Possibly the greatest running song ever.  While the original is undeniably catchy, it’s pretty shallow and disposable.  The cover dispenses with that – it punches you in the chest quick and doesn’t stop.  It just drives and drives and drives.  I’m not kidding one bit when I say it might be the greatest running song ever.  Seriously.

The rest of the record is…okay.  I may have written this before, and if I have feel free to skip ahead, but I remember reading a Rolling Stone review of the Christine Perfect (of Fleetwood Mac) solo record that featured the forgettable “Hold Me.”  The review was that, yes, she’s got this nice voice, and she’s a pleasure as a contrast to Stevie Nicks on a Fleetwood Mac record, but a whole album of her can get, well, pretty boring.  That’s how I feel about this one – there are a couple of songs that are worth keeping as accents, but a good portion of it goes.



BR5-49, “BR5-49” – 4 stars

First of all, the band name makes me giggle.  “BR5-49” is the phone number of Junior Sample’s used car lot on the old “Hee Haw” show, which I watched when I was a kid.  I do love me some obscure pop culture references.

As to the music, it’s pretty good – a mishmash of traditional country, honkytonk, rockabilly and straight ahead boogie, something like the Mavericks or the Derailers but with less pop sensibility.  “Even If It’s Wrong” starts it out quick, and it stays with that same shuffle-ey push throughout.  “Honky Tonk Song” is a good song, and “Little Ramona Gone Hillbilly Nuts) is a great anthem to my old punk friends who’ve grown up and moved on from the Dead Kennedys to…well, BR5-49.  The last three songs – “Are You Getting’ Tired Of Me”, “Hickory Wind” and “One Long Saturday Night” – are arguably the high points of the album, which is a nice change - usually the hits are early, which doesn't reward repeated listening.  In any case, I can totally imagine listening to these guys in a bar somewhere, and I still pick it up quite a bit.



Brett Dennen, “San Francisco” – 4 stars

Another free itunes download.  It’s not a perfect song – Dennen’s voice is…well, it’s a bit grating and affected.  But it’s a nice, tight pop song, cleanly produced and simple, played through a hipster filter that’s not annoying if you don’t think about it too much.  It’s also a good running song – it just shuffles along with a nice pace.  Def a keeper.



Bryan Bowers, “The Scotsman” – 3 stars.

I have no idea where this one came from, nor do I know anything about the singer, where it’s recorded, nothing.  And it’s nothing more than a novelty song…but it’s funny as hell.



The Brian Setzer Orchestra, “The Brian Setzer Orchestra” – 3 stars.  Keep it.

Let me start by saying that I LOVE the Stray Cats.  They were one of the first…oh, I don’t know…”unconventional” bands I ever loved.  Up to that point, my musical tastes were profoundly average.  Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, the stuff that just about every teenaged kid in the Midwest liked in the early 80s.  The Stray Cats were my first left turn on the road to wherever I am now.

And I say this with complete love for Brian Setzer, but, well, his record is not good.  Not good at all.  That’s not really fair – there are a couple of good songs.  But the vast majority of it is utterly disposable.

Conceptually, it’s a pretty good idea.  Take a great guitarist (and Setzer is, clearly), put him in front of a big band, and you should get something like Cab Calloway or Louis Jordan or Joe Jackson on his big band record.  Something vibrant, and exciting, and barrier-busting, and fun.

Instead, you get Brian Setzer singing crappy ballads over too many strings.  Part of the problem is that he's doing what everyone does as they get older – they slow down.  Pete Townshend hasn’t done the windmill thing in 30 years.  Bruce Springsteen thinks he’s Pete Seeger.  Rod Stewart…god knows what that is.  The puzzle is what makes these guys think we want to hear them crooning plaintively.  I doubt THEY want to hear stuff like “A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square” or “Your True Love”, why do they think WE want to hear it?

Again, this is kinda unfair.  There are a couple of really good songs – “Lady Luck” “Ball and Chain”, “Straight Up”, a couple of others.  And when it came out it seemed really fresh.  Now?  Not so much.  Now most of it seems stale and overcooked.



The Dirty Boogie – 5 stars.

The weird thing is that two records later he did this one, which is fabulous.  It’s so strange – it’s essentially the same band and is a similar mix of originals and covers, but it has a completely different tone.  It rocks, it jumps, it swings – and it still holds up.  Songs like “Jump Jive An’ Wail” and “This Old House” and “Let’s Live It Up” and…well, I could go on.  There are just a bunch of really fun, infectious songs here.

His cover choices are much better – uptempo Bobby Darin, Louis Prima, the Skyliners, but even his ballad-type cover choice of Johnny Farina’s classic “Sleepwalk” is a good one, particularly since it puts his guitar up front instead of the mushiness of his first big band record.  “You’re The Boss” has to go, since Gwen Stefani gives my hives, but that’s about it.



Broken Bells, “Broken Bells” – 4 stars.  Dig it.

And we move from old to new, to a record that the college kids I work with listen to.  It's a Danger Mouse joint, which means it's a collage (an inconsistent collage), but it's pretty good.  I had the Gnarls Barkley record, and I've had his Gorillaz record, but this one is better, beginning to end, than either of those.  It hangs together as a complete album than the others.



Bronski Beat, “Smalltown Boy” – 5 stars.  Dig it.

Bronski Beat, “Why” – 5 stars.  Dig it.

I heard “Smalltown Boy” before I saw the video, and I remember my first impression.  Haunting.    A falsetto voice over a driving synth track, it captured something that I hadn’t really heard before.  The video was more haunting – a young gay man in England, the victim of homophobic violence and discrimination, relives his life on the train to London where he will be accepted by friends.  It’s a remarkable video, from back when the best music videos were like mini films (I should say – maybe they still are.  I have no idea where to even find a video any more).  “Why” is in the same vein.  They are both great songs – what disco really can and should be.



Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” – 5 stars.  Dig it.

So, this project is based on doing the artists in alphabetical order.  As the last strains of an English gay anthem - “Why” - left my earbuds, I honestly had no idea what would come next…and I got the epitome of American hetero clichés, Bruce Springsteen.  Funny.

“American hetero clichés” is not a negative, by the way.  In some ways, those clichés exist because of Bruce, not in spite of him.  Bruce took some things that were bubbling about all over America – cars, working the factories, falling for the girl – and synthesized them in a totally new way.  Jon Landau famously wrote “I have seen the future of Rock and Roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” and that must have seemed true at the time.

Hyperbole, of course, but true.  “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and “Born To Run” both have to be considered among the greatest rock and roll records ever.  They’re not warhorses, either.  I’ve listened to “Born To Run” about a thousand times, and listening to it again, after a long hiatus…well, it still grabs me.  An amazing record, beginning to end.  Still.

Bryan Adams, “Run to you” – 4 stars.  Dig it.

A remnant of my sophomore year at Michigan…I was interested in a girl that loved Bryan Adams, to an almost absurd degree.  Kinda like girls of the 90s loved Richard Marx (and no, I have no idea where that came from.  Deep, obscure reference, but it stays).  The song makes me think of that year in the dorm, so I can’t delete it.



Buggles, "Video Killed The Radio Star" - 4 stars.  Dig it.

Funny that this is the last 'B' song - it's the end of a long, long line of songs…and listening to it now, it is a symbolic marker of a few cultural things, as well:  the end of album-oriented rock radio, the end of disco, the start of the MTV generation (it's famously the first video ever shown on MTV).

As songs go, it's an artifact, but still listenable.  A silly, disposable song that I'd probably delete if it was about anything else, but I still listen to it when it comes up on shuffle.  It stays.

And so, we reach the end of the Bs...a little over 700 out of 7300 or so total songs.  Next up the Cs, with some all-time favorites.

One of the thing I've passed over is the notion of Pantheon Acts.  Some acts and records are such an ingrained part of my life and the paths I've taken that it's hard to imagine them not being around forever.  At some point here I'll go back through what I've written and pick out a few to induct into the Matt Music Hall.  Or something...which reminds me, I've still got a Baseball Hall of Fame post or six in the docket, too.  And a post or three about podcasts.  And a few about RSS feeds, and the websites I listen to on a daily basis.  And online relationships, good and bad.  I also need to figure out how to embed links to iTunes so my multitude of readers can a) hear the things I'm talking about, and b) buy them all.

Sweet hell, I gotta go before I realize how much is bubbling in my head and I'm paralyzed into inactivity.  Latah.