Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Build a nest in the sand dunes, lay our eggs and walk away

I kind of short-changed the Human League the first time around, so here's another attempt. In the 69LS interview booklet, after Daniel Handler pointed out the apparent Phil Oakey (Human League front man) influence on "I Can't Touch You Anymore," Merritt stated that "The Human League are second only to Kraftwerk, in my mind." The band started out in the late seventies when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh, two computer programmers, invited Oakey to sing for them. Their first single was "Being Boiled," a dark, menacing song with mentions of "slaying," "torture," and yes, being "boiled alive." Synth player Adrian Wright, who ran the slide projector during shows, hooked up with the trio around this time. After two albums, Ware and Marsh departed and formed the group Heaven 17, and Oakey assembled a new lineup to embark on a European tour, for contractual obligations.

The band finally found success under the producer's hand of Martin Rushent (who worked with Buzzcocks, Altered Images, XTC, and many others) with the release of Dare (Dare! for the US release) and the subsequent EP Fascination! For their 1986 album Crash, they took a more Top 40-friendly approach and employed the producer duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. That duo (which produced several smash albums for Janet Jackson) even wrote the album's single, "Human" - a number one hit. On the Human League tribute album Reproductions, the 6ths (Merritt with singer Lloyd Cole) covered "Human" in a low-key style, and well-aware of the song's laughable earnestness, Merritt tackles the mid-song spoken word passage with just a hint of a British accent (and his falsetto delivery of "I am just a maaaan" is pure cheese.)

I also short-changed John Foxx, so here we go. Foxx (real name: Dennis Leigh) started out in art school, playing around with synthesizers, and eventually he formed the band Tiger Lily (inspired by the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls) which evolved into Ultravox! (more! exclamation! points!). This outfit made three albums for Island Records, the first of which was co-produced by Brian Eno, and these records would be a big influence on Gary Numan. After Island dropped the band, Foxx left to start his solo career, and his replacement, Midge Ure, helped lead Ultravox (no "!" at this point) to fame and fortune with tracks like "Vienna" and "Reap the Wild Wind."

Foxx wasted no time and released his debut album, Metamatic, in January of 1980, full of icy synth sounds and modern urban imagery. Concerning Metamatic, Foxx commented, "At the time it felt dangerous, as if I'd thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I stripped things down to the point where I might have gone too far. In retrospect I did exactly the right thing." He enjoyed modest success - several of his singles charted, and he even created the score for Michelangelo Antonioni's film Identification of a Woman. However, in 1985, he put his music-making on hold, citing disinterest, and fell back on his art background, working in graphic design and photography. His return to music ten years later came in the form of a collaboration with Louis Gordon, yielding two albums, and the duo toured churches and botanical gardens across Europe. "Underpass" is originally from Metamatic, but here is the single version, available on the excellent career-spanning compilation Modern Art: The Best of John Foxx.

The 1965 entry on the list is "You Don't Know" by Ellie Greenwich, the Brill Building songwriting partner of Jeff Barry. Greenwich helped write some of the greatest pop songs ever, like "River Deep, Mountain High" for Ike and Tina Turner and two featured on Stephinsources, "Then He Kissed Me" (Crystals) and "Be My Baby" (Ronettes). She saved one of her best for herself, though - a soaring, heartbreaking song about the despair of unexpressed love. Her vocals are up for the task, and she just nails the line "I can't let her know" (near the one minute mark).

Growing up in Brooklyn, then Long Island, Greenwich had a mini-revelation when she heard "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by the Shirelles, because the melody was similar to that of a song she had written. She established herself, along with boyfriend (later husband) Jeff Barry, with the Brill Building songwriting crowd via Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Also, Greenwich and Barry recorded song demos that impressed Leiber, Stoller, and Phil Spector so much that they were turned into an instant band, the Raindrops. I Can Hear Music: The Ellie Greenwich Collection has three charming tracks by the Raindrops (two were hits for other bands), and it includes the stunning "You Don't Know" - but it also includes the album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung... from 1973. With soft rock versions of old and new songs, it was intended to be similar in style to Carole King's immensely popular Tapestry, but the arrangements are just dreadful to my ears. A better way to own "You Don't Know" is by getting the unbelievably great One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found boxed set on Rhino, released late last year. Other Merritt favorites are on it, like Dolly Parton, Petula Clark, and Dusty Springfield, and it's totally worth the dough.

I'll end with Merritt's thoughts on race and music, from this interview for Barnes & Noble:

What I'd like to see in the year 2000 is the abandonment of music being categorized by the race of the artist, or the perceived race of the audience. It's disgusting, and I would like to be amazed that it's still happening. [Eliminating] racism and sexism would be major improvements, and it would make an enormous difference in the music industry. It would be really nifty if black people were allowed to make records that didn't have to constantly refer to very recent traditions of black radio. It's absurd, and at this point, it's as though the only thing the American public were allowed to hear were "coon songs" and ragtime. It's worse, I think, than it was in 1899.

And he goes into it more in this Flagpole interview:

Merritt: I think music is one of the most segregated industries in the U.S. I gather it's different in Britain.
Flagpole: It's kind of across the board in the entertainment business, though, not just in music.
Merritt: Well, if you go see an action movie, it's most likely going to have one black male star and one white male star and kind of randomly assigned races for the female romantic leads. Often you'll have multi-racial couples. That vanishes when you move to comedies, and it's incredibly rare when you move over into music.

Flagpole: Do you think your music serves in any way to rectify the situation?
Merritt: Only in as much as I don't make those distinctions. Smashing genre is a lot of what I'm about.


On that note, I leave you with a track by Public Enemy, a group that has more than a few things to say about race issues. With members Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and Terminator X, the pioneering hip-hop group made a huge impact in the late 80s with its political and socially-relevant (and sometimes controversial) lyrics and adept turntable scratching. From Fear of a Black Planet (selected for preservation in the Library of Congress in 2005), here's "911 Is a Joke," which is Merritt's selection on the list for 1990.

Human League - "The Sound of the Crowd"
Human League - "Human"
John Foxx - "Underpass"
Ellie Greenwich - "You Don't Know"
Public Enemy - "911 Is a Joke"


There was a request for the Alvin Lucier tracks. Ubu, which had been out of commission for a while, is now back up and running, and you can get the 15 minute version of "I am sitting in a room" on that site, here. Here's the 1980 version excerpt I had previously posted:

Alvin Lucier - "I am sitting in a room" (fragment, 1980)


Well, folks, that's the last post. Many thanks to Chris Heschong, Robey Pointer, and Britton Ware for helping me obtain certain tracks, and special thanks to Chris for the bandwidth and server space. Thanks for reading, and if you have requests for re-posts, I can probably work something out - just email me. See you on Stephinsongs (and if you're not on Stephinsongs, join today!)

9 Comments:

Blogger Kuba said...

well done ol' fellow. sad to see it all finish; i learned a lot. it's been one of my favourites.
thanks,
kuba.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Tyler said...

I will genuinely miss reading this blog every week.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous mika said...

This was/is definitely one of my favorite and most worthwhile reads for less than or equal to a year! Thanks a lot for putting such time into it.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Ernest said...

Thanks, everyone! Glad you enjoyed it.

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Ira said...

Long time reader, only just getting around to say thanks for a wonderful blog!

8:19 PM  
Blogger David Jennings said...

Thanks a million, Ernest

7:57 PM  
Blogger Rusty said...

You've done a rare thing here: produced smart writing about music. Thanks a bunch, Sally Springtime!

1:53 AM  
Blogger Ernest said...

Aw shucks. Thanks for the kind words!

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Men are the ones who create evil on Earth. It is the choices they make which enslave their souls to hell. This is the test.

As we approach the Apocalypse the gods are removing "wrath of god" material from xtian dogma.
As we see wickedness spread throughout the country, like homosexuality, godlessness etc, using cable TV and the spread of "Californication" as justification, the similarly have changed xtianity, appropriatly with Catholicism first.
xtianity has changed radically in the 20th century, and people should be mindful of the way it was, because the people are in a process of slipping out of god's favor into a state of Damnation, from which the vast majority will never survive.

Using evil to prey upon evil.
I realize the horrific days of people planning monsterous acts like the Holocaust are behind us. But that doesn't mean still are not scams in the economy besides The Skim, which the gods view as necessary for positioning's sake.
Just as clone hosting selected disfavored whom the gods wanted to ensure had no chance to ascend before The End, so did being invited into the 21st century real estate scam ensure as of yet undetermined punishment elements.
They instructed people whom they wanted to condition about when the stock market would top out and told them when they should shift their asset base into real estate instead.
And they told them when to sell before they tanked the real estate market as well, timing all based on the level of confidence they wanted each to understand.
The victims may cry "Why would this happen to me." but their behavior in a prior life would answer this:::It didin't happen to anyone who didn't deserve it. IRONICALLY, SOME WHO ENTERED CLONE HOSTING AND PLANNED THIS ECONOMIC EVENT BEFORE THEY LEFT WERE REINCARNATED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS EVENT.
The God's poetic justice can be a beautiful thing indeed, even if they are evil immoral monsters.
But as we approach The End the gods decide to compromise their values and integrity to ensure everything is positionable.

Both the public and the private sector host $400k overpaid employees. The difference?
The public sector preys upon the disfavored rejects from motherlands, people too disfavored to stay reproducing with their own blood. Corporate preyed upon the more favored purebloods from their motherland through sourcing and therefore incurr more evil in the eyes of the gods, for their lives have more value. Yet another great example of the god's "reverse positioning".

The Gods send clues about this situation frequently.
I requested the "Pineapple Express" be "turned on" and we have the carnage in SoCal.
Evident the gods are malicious, vindictive immoral monsters, I don't live in SouthernCalifornia, and they did this in a region poorly equipt to harness this resource as is NoCal courtesy of the Sierra Nevada range.
Now this is a clue about me and who I am, since you need it spelled out.
Welcome to hell. They're been lying to you all and you did things you never should have, digging a far deeper hole for yourselves then you had before. You're all fucked, and if you don't change now you likely are The Damned.
You better run.

11:17 PM  

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