Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hotlegs - "Thinks: School Stinks"

10cc when they were 1 Million Years B.C.

Hotlegs - Thinks: School Stinks (Philips/Capitol, 1971)
Hotlegs - You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It
(Philips, 1976)

Eric Stewart / guitar, bass, vocals, synthesizer (Moog), arranger, producer
Lol Creme / guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals, arranger, producer
Kevin Godley / drums, percussion, vocals, arranger, producer
- Graham Gouldman / bass ("Today")
- Baz Barker / flute, violin
- Mike Bell / saxophone
- Ian Brooks / trumpet
- Rod Morton / tambourine
- Mike Timoney / organ
- Cheadle Hulme High School Choir / Vocals on "Suite F.A."
- Tony Harrison / String arrangement ("Today")

10cc fanatic Amy Linthicum bought vinyl copies of these two LPs online and then had them transfered to CD (thanks to Gary Gebler at Trax on Wax) for our digital listening convenience. All I can say is, "Hooray!" for Thinks: School Stinks is three-quarters 10cc (7.5cc?) at their prog-rock peak, two years before their titular 10cc debut album with Graham Gouldman. It is, in the words of one fan-critic, "the album many of us wished 10CC would make. It is largely devoid of the too clever for their own good lyrics and structures, the songs being simple, well crafted pop rock numbers."

I emphasize that last sentence because I think it points to the reason why the supremely over-talented band of musical brothers known as 10cc have been so criminally neglected by pop music historians. Could it be because they were too clever by far for their own good? Too multi-faceted (each member could write, sing, play, arrange, produce) to fit into rock 'n' roll's preferred pigeon-hole classification system of genres (pop, rock, soul, prog, AOR) and roles (i.e., lead singer, lead guitarist, drummer, etc.)

Amy's ears quite rightly heard a heavy Beatles vibe on Thinks School Stinks, especially the later Beatles albums released around this time period - specifically The White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road. And, speaking of "Neanderthal Man," she astutely pointed out, "You know it's a '70s record when you hear a pop song with flute in it!" My ears found this album to be a synthesis of everything 1970s, with studio production values that rate Thinks School Stinks as a stereo demonstration record - in other words, it sounds great and uses virtually every production trick in the book, from cross-fades, cross-channel zooms (especially effective on Eric Stewart's guitar solos!) to layered overdubs, echo, strings, you name it.

OK, back to the plot...Thinks School Stinks is the album Mssrs. Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Eric Stewart recorded as Hotlegs (Stewart coined the name in homage to the outstanding attributes of their sexy hotpants-clad Strawberry Studios secretary) to back up their insanely unlikely and massively popular (#2 UK pop charts, #22 US pop charts) reductio-ad-absurdum 1970 hit "Neanderthal Man," which sold two million copies worldwide.

Primal Stomp: "Neanderthal Man"

"Neanderthal Man" was as far from clever as a song could be, basically a sound check with a one-line lyric repeated for the duration of the song. It was so dumb, in fact, that it was the kind of thing that made bottom-line record company suits drool. Rock critic Dave Thompson picks up the story here:
In 1970, Kevin Godley, Lol Crème, and Eric Stewart were, alongside songwriter Graham Gouldman, the house band at the Strawberry Studios setup in Stockport, England. Gouldman was spending much of his time in New York, working as a contract songwriter for the Kasenatz/Katz bubblegum team - his partners remained at home, equipping the studio and testing the new equipment. It was during one of these tests, playing around with a drum kit and a new four-track recorder, that Philips label rep Dick Leahy happened by, heard what they were doing, and pronounced it an instant hit single.

"It" was a percussive experiment which evolved around a chant of "I'm a Neanderthal man/you're a Neanderthal girl/let's make Neanderthal love" and Leahy's instincts were correct. Restructured and released (under the name Hotlegs) in the summer of 1970, "Neanderthal Man" reached number 22 in the U.S., number two in Britain, number one in Italy, and ultimately sold over two million worldwide. The record was enormous. The Idle Race, heading towards the end of their brief but glorious career, wrested one final hit when they covered the song for German and Argentine consumption. Bandleader James Last included a version on his latest album; even Elton John, eking out a pre-fame career as a jobbing sessioneer, recorded his own distinctive version for a budget-priced collection of sound-alike hits.

Watch the "Neanderthal Man" music video.

"We thought we had it made," Godley thought at the time. "We were on our way baby!...We hit an unexpected nerve with 'Neanderthal Man.' It was one of those lucky accidents that turn into something both interesting and successful, without knowing how or why. When you go back and try to recreate the same circumstances it just doesn't work."

In his excellent glam rock history Children of the Revolution, Dave Thompson describes the events leading up to this unlikeliest of hits. In early 1970, Kevin, Lol and Eric were playing around with all the gear at their Strawberry Studios in Stockport, "strumming, wailing, and banging anything in sight" to test the new equipment coming into the studio. As Kevin Godley recalled to Thompson: "The first musical noises that had any cohesion...started life as an unorthodox drum test featuring fullkit overdubbed onto all four tracks, with Lol singing this spooky, retarded nursery rhyme that got mixed in via the bass drum mike. Like all the early work, it was driven by applied ignorance and adrenalin but we knew we had something. Unfortunately the track got erased but we liked the vibe so much we started again adding recorders, tone generator, anvil, backwards echo until it sounded like nothing else on earth."

Eric Stewart added: "Dick Leahy, from Philips, came in and said 'What the hell's that you're playing?' I said, 'It's a studio experiment; a percussive experiment.' He says, 'It sounds like a hit record to me - can we release it?' And we said, 'Yeah, okay. What should we call it?' 'Neanderthal Man.' And what should we call ourselves? Hotlegs.'We had a girl at the studio, Kathy Gill, who had very, very nice legs and she used to wear these incredible hotpants. Green, leather hotpants. So we called the group, ah, Hotlegs."

The flip side of "Neanderthal Man" was a song called "You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It," which later became the title of a 1976 Hotlegs compilation LP that simply rearranged the order of the songs on Thinks: School Stinks and added four more songs. The second half of the song "You Didn't Like It" would eventually evolve into the 10cc song "Fresh Air for My Mama."

"You Didn't Like It" - cover by Godley and Creme

Besides "You Didn't Like It," the "new" additional songs on You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It included "Today" (a reworking of a Godley-Creme song from their days as Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon), and both sides of the 1971 single "Lady Sadie" b/w "The Loser."

In between, Philips repackaged Thinks School Stinks as Songs (issued only in Britain, Germany, and Venezuela), omitting "Neanderthal Man" in favor of "The Loser" and "Today." According to rock critic Dave Thompson, Songs was Hotlegs attempt to nullify the "novelty hit" tag they were burdened with after "Neanderthal Man"'s surprising success:
Hotlegs broke through with a novelty hit, and they never lived it down. "Neanderthal Man" might have proven one of the most distinctive hits of 1970, but that's all it was -- distinctive, a thumping, crashing, grunting novelty its makers would rather have forgotten about completely. Certainly that was how it felt when they delivered their debut album, Thinks: School Stinks, and the suspicion grew even more intense six months later. Booked to open for the Moody Blues on a six-date U.K. tour, Hotlegs knew they could play up to the hit, and be laughed out of sight. Or they could play to their strengths, and maybe win the hearts of a few members of the headliners' audience. They chose the latter course and their U.K. record label, having long since abandoned any hope of any further hits in the "Neanderthal" vein, agreed to give it a go. Hence Songs, essentially a note-for-note reissue of Thinks: School Stinks, with one crucial difference -- no hit single. Both "Neanderthal Man" and the similarly jokey "Desperate Dan" were dumped, in favor of "Today" and the lovely "The Loser," and with the album's sleeve and title similarly revised, Hotlegs set out to try and gain some credibility. It should have worked. Even such minor surgery completely redesigns the album, planting it firmly on the edge of the soft rock boom, with the emphasis on the word "edge" -- even this early on, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme were more or less incapable of writing a straightforward song, while Eric Stewart's guitar playing is seldom short of rock-god revelatory. But "Neanderthal Man" remained a hard act to follow, and Hotlegs were never up to the challenge. By the time they transformed into 10cc, a little over a year later, both band and its album were long, long forgotten.

Stunned by their success, Hotlegs set to work out the album of songs that they hoped would be the antithesis (or antidote) to "Neanderthal Man," Thinks: School Stinks. Their creativity at a peak, they were clearly inspired to try out all the gizmos the studio had to offer on this long player - and use them they did; in fact, Kevin Godley believes that he and Lol Creme built their first Gizmo guitar prototype during this period (though I don't hear it anywhere on this album). And they took their time, not completing Thinks: School Stinks until March 1971, a full nine months after the July 1970 release of "Neanderthal Man."

Thinks: School Stinks (March 1971)

Songs / Tracks Listing
1. Neanderthal Man (4:19)
2. How Many Times (3:57)
3. Desperate Dan (2:12)
4. Take Me Back (5:01)
5. Um Wah, Um Woh (5:30)
6. Suite F.A.: On My Way/Indecision/The Return (12:53)
7. Fly Away (2:43)
8. Run Baby Run (2:50)
9. All God's Children (4:55)

Total Time 44:20

The first thing that strikes ones eyes is the album cover, designed by Godley and Creme, which depicts a scratched wooden school desk. Alice Cooper must have liked it too, because two years later a similar cover adorned his School's Out LP.

Alice Cooper's "School's Out" LP (1972)

With the exception of the infectious tribal-chant rocker "Um Wah Um Woh," little on this album bears any semblance to the hit "Neanderthal Man" - and the semblance is mainly to do with both songs' irresistable catchiness! (The simplicity of both songs' rote-repetitive lyrical chants makes me think of boozy soccer fans singing away in the terraces; in fact, this may help explain the success of not only "Neanderthal Man," but of other UK terrace-singalong bands like Slade and Oasis - bands that make music easy to interact with in a large crowd). Rather, in the words of Dave Thompson, "Hotlegs revealed themselves to be a very melodic, very gentle musical concern, a far cry from the proto-industrial crashing of 'Neanderthal Man.'" Ah yes, from the primordial ooze of "Neanderthal" arose the evolved, melodic concerns of pre-10cc...

In the interim between hit single and long-awaited support album, Hotlegs' U.S. label Capitol became so antsy for a follow-up single that they released a second, slower (5-minute) version of "There Ain't No Umbopo" - a song Godley-Creme-Stewart had previously released in the U.K. under the name Doctor Father (and which was probably also recorded by Hotlegs under the moniker Crazy Elephant for the Kasenetz-Katz bubblegum factory in the U.S.) - in August 1970. Kevin Godley described "Umbopo" as "one of those runt songs that hung around looking for a home for a long time. Everybody liked it, but couldn't work out where it belonged. I remember Lol coming up with this cool open guitar tuning and two hypnotic chords and us writing the song at my parents' house...forever. It was a long song, about six minutes or thereabouts and it was eventually released under the name Doctor Father."

Alas, "Umbopo" was not a hit.

Doctor Father - "Umbopo"

Though a follow-up hit to "Neanderthal Man" was not forthcoming, Hotlegs returned to to the charts anonymously at the end of 1970. With Graham Gouldman joining them at Strawberry Studios, they backed John Paul Jones (not the Led Zeppelin bass player but a comedian-turned-singer who Kevin Godley said "had the most wonderful rich voice") on his Christmas hit single "Man from Nazareth/Got to Get Together." A subsequent court order injunction by Led Zep's John Paul Jones forced the comedian to change his moniker to John Paul Joans (in the US market, JPJ was simply renamed "Jones"). The single rose as high as #25 on the UK charts.

What's in a name?: John Paul Joans

Then, under the guise of the New Wave Band (yes, "New Wave" debuted in 1970!), and with former Herman's Hermit Derek Leckenby in tow, the trio released a cover of Paul Simon's "Cecilia" backed with "Free Free Free" on the Major Minor label. Eric Stewart's "Free Free Free" was the first track he recorded at Strawberry Studios; though Harvey Lisbery is listed as the single's producer, this was an Eric Stewart production all the way.

New Wave Band: "Cecilia"

As Dave Thompson continues:
Undeterred, the trio (augmented by Gouldman) undertook a short British tour supporting the Moody Blues towards the end of 1970, but little more was heard from Hotlegs for another year. Then, in September 1971, they released a new single, "Lady Sadie," while Philips repackaged Thinks: School Stinks as Songs...Songs did no better than its predecessor, and Hotlegs was abandoned -- less than a year later, of course, the three members plus, again, Gouldman, would resurface as 10cc and, this time, enjoy considerably more success. It was at the height of this fame that the Hotlegs material resurfaced once more, as 1974's You Didn't Like It Cos You Didn't Think of It compilation brought together all the previously available Hotlegs material.

Moody Blues & Hotlegs, 1971 Tour Book

Regrettably, the Moody Blues tour did little to win over new Hotlegs fans. As Kevin Godley mused, "Audiences were expecting 'Neanderthal Man' and we were playing Thinks: School Stinks. Consequently, any momentum evaporated, the phone stopped ringing, and it was time for a rethink."

At this point, I'd like to echo the sage observations of Bob McBeath, who under his nom-de-plume "Easy Livin," rated Thinks: School Stinks - and the four extra songs on You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It - as follows: "The tracks are pretty much all founded in the acoustic guitars of Crème and Stewart, with occasional additional instrumentation being added as required. The songs are all written by Godley, and Crème, with Eric Stewart also receiving credit on the majority. In some ways, this is the album many of us wished 10cc would make. It is largely devoid of the too clever for their own good lyrics and structures, the songs being simple, well crafted pop rock numbers."

Kevin Godley, in a 1976 interview with George Tremlette (author of The 10cc Story - one of only two books ever written about 10cc), said the album included songs and ideas that he and Lol Creme had intended recording in 1969 with entrepreneur Giorgio Gomelsky for his Marmalade ("the sound that spreads") record label. Gomelsky had named the duo Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon, envisioning them as a sort of English Simon and Garfunkel, a notion Kevin Godley agreed with.

"Yeah, I can see that," he recalled to rock critic Dave Thompson. "The songs we were writing back then were kinda acoustic, rural-sounding stuff. When you're that kind of age, you are consciously copying someone, and we were probably consciously copying Simon and Garfunkel. It was only later in our careers, when we didn't really have too much time to think, that we started recording stuff that sounded like ourselves." Of Thinks: School Stinks, Godley added, "I still say that was a bloody good album. Most of the tracks were from the Frabjoy period and it's an interesting LP."

Eric Stewart, interviewed in 1976, recalled that Thinks: School Stinks presented a problem because it was so different from "Neanderthal Man": "It was totally alien to what people were expecting from us. It was a good record, a little ahead of its time. It was similar to the things we are doing now. It was very melodic with chord structures that hadn't been used before – and some of the sounds that we used on that album hadn't been heard at the time."

*** The songs ***


Bob McBeath: "We open with the single "Neanderthal Man", an irritatingly catchy song which may not have much to do with 10CC, but it is undeniably fun."


BMcB: "How Many Times" is a simple acoustic number with Crosby Stills and Nash like harmonies. Baz Barker adds some effective strings to the latter part of the song."

Midway through this song, a highly stylized string arrangement is introduced, recalling the type of orchestrations Marc Bolan was attempting in his pre-electric Tyranosaurus Rex days.

"How Many Times" was last single (released in the US) from Thinks: School Stinks. Unfortunately, it tanked on the charts.


"Desperate Dan" - a music hall piano-roll romp in the tradition of The Kinks (who name-check Desperate Dan in "The Village Green Preservation Society") or White Album Beatles at their most playful (think "Honey Pie," "Rocky Raccoon") - is Hotlegs' nod to the tough-as-nails (he shaved his beard with a blowtorch!), cowpie-loving Wild West character from Dudley D. Watkins's British comic strip The Dandy (which remains the world's longest-running comic strip, 1937-present!). And yes, a UK cow-pie (a meat-pie) is quite different from its US equivalent!

Desperate Dan corrals another cow-pie


Listen to "Take me Back."

"Take Me Back" is a mini-symphony of sound and, like "Suite F.A." anticipates later complex 10cc arrangements such as "One Night in Paris" from 1975's The Original Soundtrack. It's a medley of three different motifs, starting off as a pretty ballad with Lol Creme and Eric Stewart's acoustic guitars recalling "Mother Nature's Son" from the Beatles's White Album. Then the middle passage turns into an Eric Stewart electric guitar workout, calling to mind some George Harrison solo from Abbey Road ("I Want You (She's So Heavy"?), only to return back to an acoustic outro.

BMcB: "Take Me Back" is another delicate acoustic piece which offers a further glimpse of the music of 10CC, the vocals once again being particularly notable. The structure of the song is interesting, as it shows a willingness to draw a number of styles into a relatively short piece.


Listen to "Um Wah, Um Woh."

An absolutely amazing song, and one in which the boys throw in everything but the kitchen sink, production-wise. Highlighted by a stellar Eric Stewart guitar jam-out in the middle.

BMcB: "Um Wah, Um Woh" is a rather unfortunate title for what is actually a pretty good pop song. It may not have the class of 10CC, but it also lacks some of the pretentious indulgences too.


Listen to "Suite F.A."

BMcB: "Suite F.A." is a three part, 13 minute suite written by Godley and Crème. It is similar in structure to the "One Night in Paris" trilogy which appeared on The Original Soundtrack but with a greater emphasis on acoustic and orchestral sounds. There is no great complexity to individual parts, but mood does change frequently offering at least a hint of prog."

Personally, this makes me think of Side 2 of Abbey Road, which is an unmistakable influence. Godley, for one agreed, telling Dave Thompson, "We just kept going until we had an album, complete with our version of side two of Abbey Road, 'Suite F.A.'"


"Fly Away" was a reworking of a Godley and Creme song that had earlier been released on a Marmalade record label sampler, 100 Proof as "To Fly Away" by Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon - with writing credit erroneously credited to Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman. Marmalade was the short-lived British record label started in 1967 by pop impresario Giorgio Gomelsky; its roster included the early Godley and Creme band Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon, in addition to Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, Blossom Toes, and others. The same duo also recorded a Graham Gouldman track for inclusion on 100 Proof, "The Late Mr Great" (about a gentleman whose timekeeping was so bad he missed his own funeral!).

In fact, Gouldman proved to be the connection that brought Kevin Godley, then still a student at art school, to Giorgia Gomelsky's attention. In Children of the Revolution, Dave Thompson describes how it all happened.
One day in 1969, Gouldman asked Godley to join him at a Marmalade session. The moment Godley opened his mouth to unleash his ethereal falsetto, Gomelsky offered him a record deal. It was, Godley laughed, the prequel to a nightmare.

"More than anything, I recall the life change. The scene is still vivid in my head. A three-hour drive, in howling gale, from one life to another, leaving behind three years at Stoke on Trent College of Art and heading for London, and a totally unknown future. I remember crying and trying not to show it as Lol drove my MG Midget out of the college car park. I was missing everybody there before we even hit the road. I also remember the hood of the car flying up and smacking into the windshield and nearly killing us, then operating the wipers by hand through a crack in the soft top.

Things were calmer in the studio, but only just. "Cut to Eddy Offord behind the control desk at Advision Studios. A small, dark space smelling of last night's session. A whiff of weed and Afghan coats. Very London. Very hip. There was an old Mellotron in one corner, Giorgia, big and rumbling, coming on like a hip Rasputin and me singing in a real studio. Intimidating, impossible, the beginning of everything. When he decided to call us Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon, it was almost the end of everything."

The first song they worked on was "To Fly Away" and Godley recalled it was quite a challenging session. "It was the first time I'd stepped up to a microphone."

As Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon, Godley and Creme began work on an album in September 1969, recording basic tracks at Strawberry Studios with Eric Stewart on guitar and Graham Gouldman on bass; their debut Marmalade single, "I Am Beside Myself/The Animal Song" was released by the end of the month.

"We were more confident for 'I Am Beside Myself,' which had brass arranged by Tony Meehan, late of the Shadows," Godley recalled. "Graham may have played on these sessions. Not one hundred percent sure, but I do remember Keith Tippett being vaguely involved."

Of the Marmalade period, Kevin Godley recounted to Dave Thompson, "We were one of many new artists on a very cool label. We were obviously thrilled when both records came out, but learned a valuable lesson when they promptly disappeared. The rest is more haze than history..."

Indeed, Marmalade folded soon after the Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon single and 100 Proof compilation LP, but Godley had no regrets and valued the experience working in a "real" studio, an apprenticeship that would pay dividends in future.

"Giorgio certainly had the right attitude. I'm not sure anyone really knew what they were doing, but I think his overriding concern was to document the music that was around; he didn't really think the rest of it through. Full marks to him for being around, though, because nobody else was doing it. He got a lot of bands recorded that no one else would touch."


"Run Baby Run" is a basic blues rocker in the Canned Heat style, driven along by an insistent cowbell (more cowbell!) and guitar boogie vibe.

The opening lines and percussive rhythm of "Run Baby Run" were later reworked to become the basis for "Art For Art's Sake" on the 1976 10cc album How Dare You!.


"All God's Children" closes the album on a dreamy lullaby note, with Kevin Godley's angelic falsetto leading the harmony pack as he sings about sunny California (as only a Midlands-born Mancunian can!). Makes me think of "Golden Slumbers" from Abbey Road.

*** Extra Tracks from You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It ***


I'm so glad Amy purchased the You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It LP, if only because it contains this exquisite gem that makes the whole album worth it, even if it only contains four new songs. (I like it because she did think of it!) "Today" features all four original members of 10cc, with Graham Gouldman strapping on his bass guitar to play alongside Kevin, Lol, and Eric.

As "Easy Livin" critic Bob McBeath observes, "The song shows that the transition to 10cc was complete, and actually ranks on a par with pretty much anything the quartet recorded under that name. The wonderful arrangement includes orchestration and a great synthesiser ending. For fans of 10cc this is a real lost gem."

Watch/listen to "Today."


Listen to "You Didn't Like It because You Didn't Think of It."

This song, the B-side of "Neanderthal Man," spawned not one but two future 10cc ditties. The first part is an early precursor to the title track of 10cc's 1976 LP How Dare You!, while the second part turns into an early run-through of "Fresh Air for My Mama" (from 10cc's self-titled 1973 debut album).

A future two-fer!


"The Loser" was the B-side that probably should have been the A-side of Hotlegs' 1971 "Lady Sadie/The Loser" single. A slide guitar fan's wet dream, it makes me think of what Little Feat would sound like if they weren't so boring.

BMcB: "The loser" once again has the sound of an early 10CC song, the upbeat rock melody being basic but functional.


Released as a single in 1971 as a hopeful followup to "Neanderthal Man"'s success, "Lady Sadie" is a mid-paced funk number that McBeath, for one, thinks should have been left undisturbed. Kevin Godley called it "a faux Rolling Stones song that explored Eric's love of dirty blues guitar. It was so obviously other people's territory. It had a nice feel but it didn't chart. Probably didn't deserve to."


Looking back on Thinks: School Stinks, Godley told Dave Thompson, "It was great just to try to punch above our weight. It's not bad, but it's not us [10cc] yet, is it? At the time, we didn't recognize 'Neanderthal Man' for the inspired piece of nonsense it was. No tune. Stupid lyrics. 'We can do better than this, chaps.' We were young and subconsciously aping our heroes, like you do until the real you shows up, so 'Neanderthal Man' was this bizarre anomaly that pointed one possible way forward but we failed to see it."

Thank goodness.

In 2006, Godley sampled much of Thinks: School Stinks album for the mid-section of GG06's song "Son of Man" (GG06 being his band with Graham Gouldman, the two musicians once again a dynamic duo, just as before when they were '60s bandmates in The Mockingbirds). (Godley and Creme would later revisit this strategy on 1985's The History Mix Volume 1, when they sampled three 10cc songs as the song "Wet Rubber Soup.") "I could hear something of what we [10cc] eventually became, under all the other influences," Godley recalled later. "In truth, we didn't fully discover our own musical identity until we stopped trying so hard and started feeling."

Bob McBeath sums the LP up by saying, "In all, an album which should be part of the collection of any 10cc fan. There is a wealth of indicators here of how the sound of that band came about, not to mention some fine songs in their own right too. Personally, I rate this album higher than the majority of the 10cc albums which followed."

Now that's high praise, indeed! One thing's for certain: Thinks: School Stinks offers a fascinating look at where music was in 1970 and (especially on tracks like "Today") where four talented lads from Manchester would eventually end up. Or, as Dave Thompson put it. "Take one red-hot axe-man [Eric Stewart] steeped in the stew of the British beat boom and armed with a chart-topping US hit single [The Mindbenders' "A Groovy Kind of Love"]; add the best British songwriter this side of the Beatles [Graham Gouldman, author of "For Your Love," "Bus Stop," "No Milk Today," etc., etc.]; sprinkle on a couple of eccentric art students [Kevin Godley and Lol Creme] and lock them away in a studio of their own. God knows what you'd get today, and nobody was really sure what would happen at the end of the Sixties, either."

What you got from this mish-mash stew of talents and influences would eventually be called "10cc," a band that made some of the most beautiful, clever and complex music of their era. And on this album, you get to see three-quarters of that entity as a very promising - and very listenable - work in progress.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

2011 Pratt Book Sale

This Year's Score: Less is More

Enoch Pratt Central Library Book Sale, December 2-4, 2011

I, the ultimate hoarder, behaved myself at this year's
annual Enoch Pratt Central Library Book Sale and only got as many items as I could carry without a beast of burden or U-Haul, limiting myself to a few CDs, books, and one video (yes, just one for Capt. Video!). And pretty much everything I picked up was intended as gifts for friends that I thought might dig these scores. Total investment: $12.50 (which is about the price of a ticket at the Landmark Theater in Harbor East - shop and compare, I say!)

Fountains of Wayne - Out of State Plates CD
Book Sale Price: $2

I go WOW! for FOW and have everything they're ever done, but like an annoying missionary I like to convert others to the faith, so I picked this one up for my friend Dave Cawley. I truly envy Dave Cawley's ears when they receive this early holiday stocking stuffer, for FOW's songwriting duo of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are probably thee premiere purveyors of poignant power-pop for the melodically-inclined intelligentsia. They're also personal faves because, going by their song lyrics, they must have also suffered through some temp jobs in the corporate world I used to know so well. I mean, songs like "Bright Future in Sales" show them to be well-versed in the Dilbert-dominated world of "corporate cubicle culture" (the best depiction of which is currently airing on HBO's new Laura Dern series Enlighted).

This is my favorite release by them, a double-CD collection of B-sides, outtakes, demos and other non-LP "bonus" tracks including the great "Maureen," "The Girl I Can't Forget," their straight-faced Britney Spears cover "...Baby One More Time," the Dan Clowes-evocative story-strip "Comedienne" ("Comedienne, make up your mind/Are you laughing or crying/Are you killing or dying tonight?") and their Oasis carbon-copy rocker "Elevator Up." Besides the Britney song, they also cover Gene Pitney's "Today's Teardrops," Bacharach/David's "Trains and Boats and Planes," Jackson Browne's "These Days," and Aztec Camera's "Killermont Street" (Roddy Frame!). Oh, I almost forgot their ecunemical holiday season platters, "I Want an Alien for Christmas," "The Man in the Santa Suit," and "Chanukah Under the Stars."

Trainspotting: Music from the Motion Picture CD
Book Sale Price: $2

My girlfriend Amy has both volumes of this excellent soundtrack from the 1996 Danny Boyle film based on the novel by Irvine Welsh. I needed this, Volume 1, specifically because it completed my collection of music by Sleeper, the mid-90s Britpop band fronted by Louise Wener (who these days writes young adult novels for teen girls). Here Sleeper cover Blondie's "Atomic" (after Blondie refused to allow their version to be used), which accounted for their only blip on the stateside music radar. For more on my infatuation with Sleeper, see my blog post "Sleeper: If You Are But a Dream, I Hope I Never Wake Up."

Feeling guilty for getting something for myself, I made sure I picked up They Might Be Giant's Apollo 18 for Amy. It was only $2 bucks and had "I Palindrome I" on it, so it was a no-brainer. Miraculously, it was right next to Trainspotting, giving me the brief hope that someone had actually alphabetized the CD table. Yeah, right - in my dreams!

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Will the Circle Be Unbroken CD
Book Sale Price: $2

I remember my brother had this 1972 double album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in collaboration with many famous Bluegrass and country-western players, including Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, Bashful Brother Oswald, Norman Blake, Jimmy Martin, and others. Wikipedia claims the record is notable for, among other things, introducing fiddler Vassar Clements to a wider audience. I really like it and put it on as background music when I get up in the morning. It's laid-back and relaxing, like listening to Prairie Home Companion. Plus, the Civil War-era cover dude makes me think of today's current Beard Rock Revival.

Eliott Smith - Figure 8 CD
Book Sale Price: $2

Picked up this CD for myself, as I've always liked Smith and even aired his 1/2-hour documentary short Strange Parallel (featuring the "Robot Hand"!) on Atomic TV back in the day. But it's always amazed me how the poster boy of sensitive singer-songwriter Emo gave up his mortal coil in such a violent way: stabbing himself in the heart!'s always the quiet, soft-spoken types.

The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 1
by Mickey Spillane
Book Sale Price: 50 cents

Picked up this collection of three Spillane classics (I, the Jury; My Gun Is Quick; Vengeance Is Mine!) for Spillane otaku Dave Cawley. If he has it, I'll keep it, though I was always more a fan of the Raymond Chandler-Dashiell Hammett-Howard Browne "School of Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction" than Spillane's heavy-handed, hit-'em-over-the-head, borderline sadistic prose. Still, Kiss Me Deadly was a great movie, and you can't go wrong with girls, guns and guts! (Though I tend to prefer liquor, love and laughs!)

Jane & Michael Stern's Encyclopedia of Pop Culture
by Jane and Michael Stern
Book Sale Price: 50 cents

I already have this book (I think I have all the non-food books by the Sterns), but I figured somebody I know would like this great (although by now a tad dated) 1992 guide to "Pop Culture" - which the Sterns call "the closest thing America has to a national faith." This A to Z of who's what and what's what covers everything from Aerobics and Bubble Gum to Valley of the Dolls and Moon Zappa. Not to mention the world's best known (and only) pan flute maestro, Zamfir! The Sterns astutely point out that "Pop Culture" is American Culture, for the rest of the world does not know us by our ballet, great painters, or poet laureates. No, they know us by Disney World, Elvis, Oprah, Levis, fast food, action movies starring Sly Stallone, and Cher's tattooed butt cheek. Naturally, my beloved Three Stooges are honored in this selective-but-impressive tome, right alongside Twin Peaks and Televangelists. I consider this a great introductory primer to an evolving American national faith that would explode with the rise of cable TV and the Internet in the decades to come. Or, to paraphrase what Darth Vader would think of this book: "Impressive, but you are no Jedi yet." Yes, for the true Pop Culture Jedi would now subsitute Lady Gaga for Madonna. For aerobics, update to Pilates, hooping, and belly-dancing. For Sly Stallone and Schwartzenegger action movies, sub Vin Diesel and the Rock. Keeping the faith, baby!

Hurly Burly video
(Video Yesteryear, 1951, b&w)
Book Sale Price: $1

This Video Yesteryear rarity (the only other mention I can find for this film is in the Something Weird Video catalog, where it's offered in DVD-R format, as shown in the picture above) - which should not to be confused with the 1998 Sean Penn-Kevin Spacey movie Hurlyburly - is a collection of 1950s burlesque shorts featuring dozens of strippers, baggy-panted comedian wags, and "pulse-pounding music." Featured peelers include Georgia Sothern the Red-Headed Bombshell, Nikki the Dynamic Pepper Pot, Francine the Tulsa Wildcat, Diane Lund the Texas Tornado, Tandalaye the Slave Dancer, Honey Alden the Dynamic Blonde Menace, and Melba Merry (she of the "Sex-Sational Dance"!)

There's actually a strong Baltimore connection to this film curio, specifically to H. L. Mencken. You see, in 1940 Georgia Sothern wrote to Mencken to ask him to come up with an alternative word for "strippers," one that would raise the tenor of her profession. She wrote: "I am a practitioner of the art of strip-teasing...there has been a great deal of...criticism leveled against my profession. Most of it...arises from the unfortunate word strip-teasing, which creates the wrong connotation...if you could coin a new and more palatable word to describe this art, I and my colleagues would have easier going. I hope...(you) can find time to help the...members of my profession."

Mencken replied, "I sympathize with you in your affliction. It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way to the...zoological phenomenon of molting,...which is ecdysis. This word produces...ecdysiast."

Sonny Watson's web site continues the story, noting that Georgia Sothern the stripper became Georgia Sothern the ecdysiast and promoted both the profession and the word.
In almost no time at all a union arose called the Society of Ecdysiasts. Nevertheless, it was more than guns and roses for the Empress of Ecdysiasts, Gypsie Rose Lee who was not enamored at all with the new word to describe her profession. In a May interview of that same year, she took aim at Mencken and fired off an angry reply, "Ecdysiast, he calls me! Why, the man...has been reading books! Dictionaries! We don't wear feathers and molt them off...What does he know about stripping?" Despite her scathing review the humorous term continues today...

Indeed, there's even a web site for post-modern burlesque hipsters called Ecdysiast: A Pole Dance Studio.

Georgia on My Mind

Georgia Sothern had one of the most fascinating lives of all the ecdysiasts. One of the hardest working gals in her profession, her career began in 1922 when she was 13 and continued until 1977 when she finally retired at age 67. (Georgia Sothern passed away four years later in 1981 due to cancer.) She was once the main dancer in Michael Todd's 1942 Broadway show "Star and Garter," which featured the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee, Lily St. Cyr, Ann Corio, and others.

Watch Georgia Sothern's "Star and Garter" dance.

She was also one of the fastest strippers in the business; today, doctors would probably write her a scrip for Ritalin! Her unique "whirling dervish" style of striptease - allegedly born out of nervousness - eventually led to having a signature tune written for her, “Hold that Tiger.” She was quoted as saying: "I have a style all my own. Most teasers, just take off their clothes and parade around for their audience. Now I really work for my fans." In her book This Was Burlesque, Ann Corio agreed: "The mere sight of this red hot red-headed temptress tossing her hips in fantastic abandon to the wild music of the band caught up everybody in its spell…the audience was almost as exhausted watching as Georgia was performing. Sometimes she would get so caught up in her exuberant dance steps that she would end up taking off and putting on her clothing several times during a number, leading one fan to remark, 'She strips just like she had dynamite for lunch!'"

Performing the carnival circuit in the later years of her career, Georgia eventually took her own shows on the road, Sothern’s Red-Headed Revue and the Top Hatters. She For more information on Georgia Sothern, see also her autobiography, Georgia: My Life in Burlesque.

And, speaking of G-strings...

The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything
edited by Richard Sandomir
Book Sale Price: 50 cents

I got the paperback edition of this a few years back and regifted it to somebody for Christmas. But for some reason there were 10 copies of the hardback at the book sale. It's pretty funny, and I thought of my colleague Marc Sober (right) when I saw that his beloved To Be Or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942) trumped all comers in the Classic Film Comedy final four. But I demand a recount after seeing the Underwire Bra top the Thong (an early victor over the G-string) in the Women's Underwear final. Say it ain't so!

Thong Sung Blue

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