Van Halen Covers

I can distinctly remember dubbing a friend of mine’s cassette tape of Van Halen’s “Diver Down” album, but I think it was in the mid 80s, as opposed to its original 1982 release. (To put things in perspective, I wasn’t a rabid Van Halen fan at the time. However, they were an established band and their Orwellian-entitled effort 1984 was HUGE. If they weren’t a household name in ’83, they were in ’84.)

In any event, I always loved a lot of stuff on the Diver Down album — coincidentally, almost half of the songs on it are covers. There are some rockers and there are some off the wall ones, too, which make for some interesting listening.

Their take on Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” is probably their best known cover song. I grew up listening to this one before I ever heard the original. Kudos to them for keeping this well-deserved song alive. Not only does their take on it rock, but it has swagger. Plus, their instrumental intro to the tune “Intruder” is awesome to use an 80s expression. Both tracks ooze the Van Halen sound.

Really I could say just about the same thing about some of their other covers on the album…I heard the VH take on them before hearing the original or just heard their version more. There is some great harmony and an interesting synth sound on “Dancing in the Streets,” originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. (I didn’t realize Marvin Gaye actually shared a songwriting credit on this song until writing this blog entry.) Another sixties cover on Diver Down was written by The Kinks’ Ray Davies: “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” This one is actually the opening track. It features a lot of David Lee Roth’s vocal bump-and-grind and plenty of Eddie’s guitar.

As for the “weird” covers…it’s hard to beat ““Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” — a jazzy thing written in the 1920s. The best part is Fritz Van Halen (father of guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex) plays the clarinet solo while David Lee Roth injects his sense of humor and “old timey show biz” vocals to it.

Fittingly, Diver Down closes with an a capella version of the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans penned “Happy Trails.”

By the way, if you want to SEE something weird, check out their video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” It has a sort of Village People meets The Wizard of Oz vibe to it with a little bit of Samurai warrior and cowboy.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Taxman

It’s funny — I was watching Season 3 of “The Crown” on Netflix and The Beatles’ influence on me crept into what I was watching. More specifically, the line “Ah ah, Mr. Wilson — Ah, ah Mr. Heath” from The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver jumped into my head. Those two gentlemen served as England’s Prime Minsters while simultaneously annoying Beatle/songwriter George Harrison. (They were part of the storyline in the show.)

“Taxman” is a unique song in many ways. First of all, IT ROCKS!! Ironically, Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison did NOT play the solo on this one. Paul McCartney apparently contributed the James Jamerson/Motown influenced bassline and also played the scorching lead guitar solo on it. Harrison sang the lead vocal with Lennon and McCartney on backing vocals. (I had to double check, but I believe “Taxman” is the only Harrison composition to kick off an album by The Beatles. )

Lyrically, I think it’s a wry, clever song. Harrison bemoans “There’s one for you, nineteen for me” to start. He goes onto say something like this,

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”

In addition to the great harmony, I think “Taxman” has a kind of a funky feel to it.

The alternate version on Anthology 2 has some different lyrics and omitted the line about Misters Wilson and Heath. It’s around the 1:30 mark.

I listened to some covers of this song, but none of them really did much for me. There are some bluesy takes on it a la Stevie Ray Vaughan and Pat Travers. The only cover I found very interesting was a soulful rendition by Junior Parker. There’s also one from the 80s by Rockwell.

Hopefully, I’ll find some other good covers one day, but, if not, I’ll keep listening to the original Revolver version – besides it’s one of my all-time favorite albums — possibly #1.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

p.s. “My advice for those who die, declare the pennies on your eyes.”

Almost Saturday Night!

To quote Bob Seger, “I like that old time rock n roll!” Recently, I dug into a cardboard box full of dubbed cassette tapes and found a compilation/mix tape I made years ago. I must have been in a rockabilly phase at the time. I’ve always gone for rockabilly and what some call roots rock or Americana. And, yes, the two artists were solely Dave Edmunds and John Fogerty. Good stuff.

Fogerty was the driving force behind the roots-oriented Creedence Clearwater Revival and all of its swamp rock/American glory. One tasty original song he recorded post-CCR is called “Almost Saturday Night.” I don’t ever remember hearing this on the radio, but it was released on his self-titled album in 1975.

I always enjoyed the guitar intro on this one, but also the lyrics are a celebration of anticipating the best night of the week. “Gonna push the clouds away, Let the music have its way.” Across the Atlantic, Welshmen Dave Edmunds also recorded this one.

I like both versions. Edmunds’ harmony on this song reminds me of The Everly Brothers. It’s also got some great TWANGY guitar on it, too. Appropriately enough, it was released on his 1981 album entitled “Twangin…” If you’re into covers, it’s worth a listen. (Edmunds has done some interesting stuff. He covered Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking”, produced The Stray Cats first album, and even recorded a version of “The Sabre Dance.” )

Getting back to “Almost Saturday Night”, there are other versions out there (Ricky Nelson, The Searchers, and The Georgia Satellites), but these two roots rockers have are my personal favorites.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Dahl’s Dynamic Duo: Rounders

It isn’t exactly a Batman & Robin situation, but Ed Norton & Matt Damon are absolutely a dynamic duo in the 1998 film “Rounders.” This is a film I absolutely loved the first time I saw it and I still think it’s fantastic. However, Rounders is more than just an intense drama. It’s a story about friendship, loyalty, and following your gut. The ironic part is poker playing provides the backdrop for this film and I know virtually nothing about it. John Dahl directed this film. If I had to pick the best reason to see this film, it’s the cast — and I don’t mean just Norton and Damon. Supporting roles are played by the likes of John Turturro, Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich, and Famke Janssen. For my money, Martin Landau gives an amazing performance as a law professor/mentor in this one.

“Rounders” follows protagonist Mike McDermott (Damon) as he tries to balance life with his girlfriend (Mol) with attending law school, and his passion for playing poker. Things definitely get out of balance when is old friend and gambling partner Lester “Worm” Murphy (Norton) is released from prison. Viewers can tell from the get-go that Worm is a bit of a loudmouth and also has a penchant for playing cards….let’s just say “less than straight up.” However, the two guys have a history together. Despite his flaws, in my opinion, Worm is like that likable friend of yours who has a tendency to lead you astray. The real question for Damon’s character is “How far does your loyalty go?”

“Rounders” takes you into a world of smoky underground card games and the various characters who play in them. Villains in the film include Russian mobster “Teddy KGB” (Malkovich) and his thuggish muscle guy named “Grama.” (I’ve never really heard the origin of that nickname.) There is plenty of poker lingo in it, but you can get their meanings through context. (Some DVD versions include a poker lingo glossary in the special features.) The film really does give you a glimpse into another world. The vibe to me is very “East Coast.” It’s edgy.

I didn’t include any trailers for this film — I don’t think I saw any before seeing it. Also, from what I remember, there was at least one character in the trailer who really didn’t make the final cut of the film. A little confusing.

I think this film has a fairly wide appeal, but I think it’s seriously underrated.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Kung Fury

What do Nazis, dinosaurs, Vikings, and Miami-Dade cops have in common? The 80s action satire film Kung Fury. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an odd one, but if you have any appreciation for the likes of 80s era action films, it is a MUST SEE. Plus, it’s only a half-hour long. Apparently the film’s financial backing came via a Kickstarter campaign.

The 2015 film was directed by David Sandberg who also plays the epic, martial arts super-cop Kung Fury. The story line is ridiculously funny. KF has to go back in time to vengefully kill Adolph Hitler. (That’s after KF becomes “The Chosen One”. He was “hit by lighting and bitten by a cobra” or something like that. Naturally, he sports a reddish headband a la various 80s icons: Rambo, Loverboy’s Mike Reno, Johnny from the Cobra Kai Dojo, Olivia Newton-John, etc. )

Along the way, he gets some help from an ensemble of oddballs: Thor, two barbarian chicks, a computer geek called Hackerman, and his new partner named Tricera-cop. As random as it seems, the satire of the 80s is a big (and funny) part of the whole deal – video game arcades, enormous mobile phones, David Hasselhoff , and boomboxes to name a few. There are some big nods to Arnold Schwarzenegger via one-liners. I also felt the influence of Miami Vice and Tron as well. Plus, there is plenty of synth music.

If you were alive in the 80s, you owe it to yourself to see this film. I can’t tell you how many action movies I saw back then. You had Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Steven Seagal to name a few action stars from the big screen. I wouldn’t call these guys action stars, but TV had the likes of Hasselhoff on Knight Rider and Don Johnson on Miami Vice. It’s funny to look back now at all of the computer-themed technology. (Yes, it really did look like that. ) The big thing I would says is we didn’t have the internet, streaming, or even blogging back then. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained besides watching MTV. The best part of all is a full length film which is due to be released some time soon. It will feature some of those 80s icons like Schwarzenegger and Hasselhoff.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon.

Liverpool & Motown

After miraculously finding a vehicle with a working cassette player in the year 2019, I grabbed some cassettes from two massive boxes I have stored in a closet, and drove off to listen. You might think these 80s styled items would have 80s styled music on them, but you’d be dead wrong. In addition to Chuck Berry and The Kinks, I found myself listening to “With The Beatles” — the Fab Four’s second album released in the U.K. — not to be confused with Capitol Records U.S. release entitled “The Beatles Second Album.” (What A & R marketing genius came up with that one?)

I tend to think of “With The Beatles” as “The Beatles’ Motown Album.” My favorite cut on it is their version of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”

Fantastic harmony and a tight arrangement. You can tell John Lennon was a Smokey fan listening to this one. Even the Lennon-McCartney composition, “All I’ve Got to Do” on WTB has a big Smokey Robinson/Motown influence. It’s not the greatest thing Lennon ever wrote or recorded, but it’s worth a listen. You can hear the same soulful style vocals on “Not a Second Time.”

Lennon also handles lead vocals on two other Motown tracks: The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” I wasn’t crazy about either one of these at first, but they’ve grown on me. Both songs took on new lives for me when I learned how to play them on guitar. There are some interesting live versions of Mr. Postman out there, too.

I don’t think The Beatles’ version of “Money” eclipses the original, but the guitar riff is inspiring to me. So what about the rest of the album?

It’s an interesting mix. “Don’t Bother Me” was the first George Harrison solo songwriting composition to date. It’s got a different sound (minor key for one thing), but it also has Harrison’s independent stamp on it. (Nothing else on the album sounds like this song.) Harrison also handles lead vocals on two covers: Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Devil in Her Heart” by Detroit-area girl group The Donays.

A friend of mine thinks their version of “Beethoven” actually eclipses Chuck Berry’s original recording. While that’s close to blasphemy, Harrison’s guitar does sound pretty great. What about McCartney’s contributions to the record? His Little Richard-inspired whoops can be heard through out it, but the one song most familiar to casual music fans is McCartney’s “All My Loving.” If nothing else, McCartney delivers on this one. It also features a country-western guitar solo from Harrison. There are other songs on WTB including a Ringo vocal, a ballad from “The Music Man”, an interesting “yeah-yeah” song called “It Won’t Be Long” and a would-be single entitled “Hold Me Tight.”

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Chip Away The Stone

Aerosmith is a band that has enjoyed many lives. Lead singer Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry were affectionately known as “The Toxic Twins” at one point during their careers due to their rock star drug habits and lifestyle. I wonder who actually gave them that nickname? In any event, I’ve never been a die hard fan, but can definitely appreciate certain songs in their extensive catalog. One of those hidden gems, ironically, appeared on the 1988 release “Gems” and is called “Chip Away The Stone.”

For me, the harmony in the chorus is what really grabbed me the first time I heard it — and it still does when I listen to it today. The beat and feel of this song may be too “basic” for some listeners, but it works for me. The first verse of “Chip Away The Stone” is a poetic description of someone who’s just “too cool for school.”

You act like a prima donna
Playing so hard to get
Sittin’ so cool and nonchalant
Draggin’ on a cigarette

I can’t remember too many songs with the word “nonchalant” in them. I also like the pronunciation of promenade (prom n NOD) in the second verse. The song is basically a metaphor for trying to reach someone “cooler than thou” in the same way a sculptor chips the block of stone away to create a sculpture.

Originally the song was released in support of their 1978 album “Live! Bootleg.” Give credit to Aerosmith for bringing the words to life, but they were actually written by a guy named Richie Supa. He collaborated with the band and also wrote some other songs for them including “Amazing,” which is also worth a listen. Nowadays, Supa partners with an organization called Recovery Unplugged, which is involved with alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Give the guy some credit. I think Steven Tyler is trying to become a country singer — and I’m not kidding about that. Yikes!

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

p.s. As a completely random footnote, I always thought it would be funny to write a comedy skit about the quiz show Jeopardy! One character would win Final Jeopardy by guessing “What is Aerosmith?” (the band) instead of “What is Arrowsmith?” (the completely unrelated novel by Sinclair Lewis). Spelling doesn’t count against you in Final Jeopardy.