Archive | January 2012

Meat Puppets

My wife and I have found a number of bands over the years by taking a chance — we’ll read a favorable review and say “let’s try them”. (We’ve also ended up with a few ‘I can’t believe I bought that one’ albums.) That’s how we stumbled upon the Meat Puppets. Pre-Internet, it wasn’t easy to check out bands before buying, so you had to plunk down your money and hope for the best. My wife decided that good review + weird name = let’s buy it, so we got our first Meat Puppets album in the mid-80s. It turns out that they’re a great band that has produced a lot of terrific music.

The band was formed in 1980 in Arizona, by brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood (with Curt on guitar and vocals and Cris on bass) and drummer Derrick Bostrom. They started out as a hardcore punk band, and later added psychedelic rock and country elements to the mix. They have disbanded a couple of times and then re-formed. They are currently together (as of January 2012), and released the album Lollipop in April 2011.

Curt Kirkwood is one of the best guitarists I’ve heard, and that, more than anything, is why I’ve followed their career and bought several of their albums. I think that their taste for the bizarre and macabre in song lyrics and images in their videos is the main reason why they remain relatively obscure. In a previous post, I talked about how, for me, the lyrical content of a song isn’t very important as long as the music sounds good. The Meat Puppets are a good example of a band where this comes into play. If lyrics matter a lot to you, or if you’re looking for an emotional lift from a song, you probably won’t think too much of the Meat Puppets. I love them because their music sounds so good. As an example, here’s a video for the song Orange from last year’s Lollipop album:

One of their best-known songs from the early days was the title track of their third album, Up on the Sun. Here’s a video that includes some of Kirk’s improvisation:

The band reached their peak of prominence in the early 90’s. The members of Nirvana were big fans, and they invited the Kirkwood brothers to appear with them on their legendary 1993 appearance on MTV Unplugged, where they did three Meat Puppets songs in their set. The Meat Puppets’ next album, Too High to Die, released in 1994, was their most successful, and the single Backwater made it onto the charts. Here’s a video of them playing Backwater:

Here’s another great song with huh? lyrics, Scum, from their 1995 album No Joke (“Under the stone, we find the scum”):

To conclude, here’s one more video, for the song Vile from 2011’s Lollipop album, which I want to include just because it’s a damn good song:

Neil Young

Neil Young is an amazing musician, a master of several styles of guitar playing. In addition to being the godfather of grunge rock, he’s also outstanding playing folk and country, and has challenged himself by playing with a wide variety of people through the course of his career. He’s also as good at songwriting as he is at playing. In another post, I recommended his film Rust Never Sleeps. In the film, he does the same song two different ways — folk and grunge — demonstrating his mastery of both styles. Here are videos (not from the film) of both versions:

Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue) is the folk version, performed on acoustic guitar with harmonica. This version is from from Farm Aid 1985:

Hey Hey My My (Into the Black) is the grunge version, performed with Crazy Horse. This version is from the Phoenix Festival in 1996:

He first became known in the US as a member of the short-lived but highly influential band Buffalo Springfield. Here is a video of them doing Neil’s song Mr. Soul at the Hollywood Palace in 1967:

Neil collaborated with Crazy Horse many times over the years. He’s playing with them in the grunge version of Hey Hey My My (above), and he played with them in the film Rust Never Sleeps. His first collaboration with Crazy Horse was the album that established his prominence, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which was released in 1969. This trailer describes the effort in 1997 to restore and release five tracks from the band’s March 1970 performance at Fillmore East. Here’s one of those tracks, Cowgirl in the Sand:

Neil and Steven Stills were both members of Buffalo Springfield, which led to Neil playing with Crosby, Stills and Nash on occasion through the years. Here are Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performing Ohio on 3/30/2000 in Toronto:

Neil played with many musicians over the years. For example, he recorded his twenty-third studio album, Mirror Ball, in 1995 with Pearl Jam as his band. Here they are playing Rockin in the Free World:

I’ll freely admit that I like his rock music the best, but I also like his acoustic music. For the last twenty-five years, he has held an all-acoustic benefit concert for the Bridge School in Marin County, California. The list of performers over the years has been a “who’s who in rock and roll” (look at the list of performers in the history section of the website). He’s made an effort over the years to include younger artists. Here’s a performance from the most recent concert in October 2011, with Neil and fellow Canadians Arcade Fire doing Helpless:

Here’s another performance from the same show, with Neil doing Pocahontas with Beck:

As with some of the other artists I’ve written about, it’s hard to decide where to stop. I hope I’ve given you motivation to go find more about this great artist, and some clues as to where to find it.

More Gems

Here are some more Gems — songs that I want to single out, plus one album.

Midnight Oil

The thing that drew me to Midnight Oil was their intensity. This quote from Michael Lippold-Wollombi in the liner notes for their live album Scream in Blue sums it up better than I could:

I remember them alright. Prospect Hill Hotel, Melbourne a hot summer’s night in 1980. The crew weren’t saying much but the three-inch nails being used to secure the equipment to the stage should have alerted me to the forthcoming onslaught. I watched with fascination as the monitor engineer tuned the lead singer’s wedges whilst standing on top of a box. On questioning him he replied with a smug “you’ll see.” An ominous warning but what the heck, it was only a “one off” job for the day, just another band, it couldn’t be that bad. Custer probably made the same observation.

That night a gargantuan figure cavorted recklessly across the stage ducking and weaving around three manic guitarists as some lunatic at the rear was trying his hardest to destroy the drum kit I had laboriously assembled in the afternoon. Two hours later I stood among the ruins, soaked in sweat, and still unsure of what I had just witnessed. I collected my day’s pay and contemplated a safer career as a mercenary in a war zone somewhere.

Now THAT’s rock and roll, right? Power and the Passion was the first Midnight Oil song I ever heard, long before they were well-known in the US, and is still my favorite of theirs. I’ll admit I know nothing about Peter Garrett’s political career, which may influence your view of their music.


This video of Metallica performing Enter Sandman on September 28, 1991 is one of those cases where it was about more than just the music. The show happened as a result of post-Cold-War political changes. Two million people showed up at an airbase outside of Moscow to prove that there are headbangers in the East as well as the West. You can feel the intensity level go up when the band starts playing. It goes up a level when the bass starts, then goes up another level when the guitar starts, then BOOM they’re off.


This next video is of the Lemonheads doing Walkin’ Stroll. As far as I know the band never received much attention, but I like this song as 1:47 worth of straight ahead rock and roll (circa 1992). Not as sure about the video — just close your eyes and listen.

Roxy Music

I really like Roxy Music‘s song Love is the Drug (from the mid-70s). This video shows the band lip syncing to the song, but cuts it off before the end. The following video is a slideshow, but plays the whole song:

The Turtles

I want to spotlight an album instead of a single song. The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands is one of the best concept albums ever, and one of the funniest. It was released in November 1968.

The concept is simple — it’s a battle of the bands, with the Turtles playing the members of each band. So they present songs in several styles, and made up a fake band name for each song. The album has band pictures for each “group”. Here’s the program for the evening:

  1. The Battle of the Bands – The U.S. Teens featuring Raoul
  2. The Last Thing I Remember – The Atomic Enchilada
  3. Elenore – Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al
  4. Too Much Heartsick Feeling – Quad City Ramblers
  5. Oh, Daddy! – The L.A. Bust ’66
  6. Buzzsaw – The Fabulous Dawgs
  7. Surfer Dan – The Cross Fires
  8. I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts) – Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts
  9. You Showed Me – Nature’s Children
  10. Food – The Bigg Brothers
  11. Chicken Little Was Right – Fats Mallard and the Bluegrass Fireball
  12. Earth Anthem – All

My personal favorite among the band names is The Atomic Enchilada. As to Kamanawanalea — well, sound it out. The album demonstrated the terrific sense of humor of the band, who were known primarily for sweet love songs. Band leaders Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman later put that to use as Flo and Eddie in Frank Zappa’s band. Here’s a video for one of their “in character” songs, Surfer Dan, which does a good job imitating the Beach Boys and other surfer bands of the day.

There were two singles released from this album, Elenore and You Showed Me. Here’s a video for Elenore, with “Eddie” on lead vocals and “Flo” in the white shirt right behind him.