A favorite blogger of mine Mentasms has tagged me:
“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”
1. Baby, I Love You– The Ronnettes
This explosive track out of the girl-group renaissance is a current obsession. I challenge the elitist to maintain his or her claim on rock ‘n’ roll’s decline between 1960-1964 after seriously considering Brill Building girl groups. The Ronnettes infuse a whorishness into a modern high-art symphony for kids. The Afro-American, Puerto Rican members of the Ronnettes maintain brilliant cultural authenticity within the regime of Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, and Baby, I Love You is quite simply pop thunder.
2. I’m Your Puppet– James and Bobby Purity
Motown is a fantasy machine. At the moment, I’m grooving on I’m Your Puppet. The innovative juxtaposition between the pluck of a Playskool xylophone and James and Bobby’s soggy vocals is tireless for me. I don’t know who is officially credited with its composition, though I would be entirely unspurpised if Smokey Robinson had a hand in this. Bob Dylan calls him the greatest living American poet for a reason after all. Robinson is a master of evoking imagery out of a child’s dream-turned-nightmare, set to the Motown pop archetype with grace. I’m Your Puppet falls into the Robsinsonesque lyrical rubric.
3. I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone – The Monkees/The Sex Pistols
It’s a treat to listen to (watch) the original Monkees track for I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone back-to-back with the Sex Pistols’ cover. The Monkees are avant-garde, absurdist, anti-authoritarian feminists operating their subversive rock ‘n’ roll rebellion from the shadows of a modern Gynesis. Despite the bloated snobbery of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the fleshless asceticism of rock elitists, those who have actually listened to the albums of the Monkees easily find their artistic merits. I know I’m cheating, but I’ll submit another track: Mary, Mary (written by Monkee Mike Nesmith):
Nesmith clearly knows his American blues roots.
Click here for the Run D.M.C. cover.
4. Freedom ’90– George Michael
I am forever grooving on this jubilant, transcendent song. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a feminist anthem. No, opera. Popera.
5. Walk On By- Issac Hayes
Let’s not mince words: You don’t know what you don’t know until you listen to this track all the way through. Hayes’ extravagant cover of Burt Bacharach’s masterpiece (originally recorded by Dionne Warwick) is awe-inspiring. Off his four-track album, “Hot Buttered Soul”, Walk On By embodies the title.
7. Whole Lotta Shakin’ – Jerry Lee Lewis
I’ve been taking in Lewis kaleidoscopically. Watching footage, reading Tosches legendary biography “Hellfire”, listening to music, etc. He is my pagan god of the moment. Below are various tiles in my mental JLL mosaic.
Michael Ventura writes in Shadow Dancing in the U.S.A., “The Voodoo rite of possession by the god became the standard of American performance in rock ‘n’ roll”, later quoting Butch Hancock talking about Elvis’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, “Yeah, that was the dance that everybody forgot. It was the dance that was so strong it took an entire civilization to forget it. And ten seconds to remember it.”
“Hormones are our link to pagan nature. Thought itself is a net of racing electric impulses, the energy that unifies the cosmos, a music of atom’s dance”
“No art form, not even Greek tragedy in Athens’s Theater of Dionysus, ever gave full voice to the Dionysian until our own rock and roll, a raucous development of Romanticism.”
-Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: The Cancelled Preface
Just for fun, I’ve been trying to imagine the great idols of pop in the place of the Greco-Roman pagan gods. Little Richard would definitely be Dionysus, Sam Cooke is Icarus, Marilyn Monroe is Venus, Elvis is difficult. Zeus? No. That doesn’t sit right. Maybe Apollo. Maybe he is Venus, not Marilyn. Then again, maybe he’s a new kind of god all together.
But Jerry Lee Lewis, without the shadow of a doubt is Hades.
“The booze and the pills stirred the hell within him and made him to utter hideous peals. At times he withdrew into his own shadow, brooding upon all manner of things,–abominable, unutterable, and worse. At times he stalked and ranted in foul omnipotence, commanding those about him as Belial his minions. He was the Killer and he was immortal– damed to be, for as long as there were good and evil to be torn between in agony. He would sit backstage in a thousand dank nightclubs, and he would know this, and he would swallow more pills and wash them down with three fingers more of whiskey, and he would know it even more. He would walk like a man to the stage, with his Churchill in one hand and his water glass of whiskey in the other, and he would beckon those before him, mortals, made not as he to destruction from the womb; he would beckon them to come, to stand with him awhile at the brink of hell. Then he would be gone into the ancient night, to more pills and more whiskey, to where the black dogs never ceased barking and down never broke; he would go there.”
–Hellfire, Nick Tosches
If you have a netflix account, I promise you will not be disappointed if you put the bonus disc of the Chuck Berry documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” disc 4 in your queue. The Jerry Lee Lewis interview is compelling, soulful, drunken, hilarious, and downright scary. You’ll thank me for this recommendation if you see it.