009. The Cramps – Stay Sick!

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Six years ago today, Lux Interior, the legendary lead singer of The Cramps, cast off this mortal coil.  In commemoration, Retro in the 90s will review a different Cramps album from the 1990s for each of the next four years.

But, first a little background.

In the spring of 1976, The Cramps began to fester in an NYC apartment.  Without fresh air or natural light, the group developed its uniquely mutant strain of rock n’ roll aided only by the sickly, blue rays of late night TV.  While the jackhammer rhythms of punk were proliferating in NYC, The Cramps dove into the deepest recesses of the rock n’ roll psyche for the most primal of all rhythmic impulses – Rockabilly – the sound of southern culture falling apart in a blaze of shudders and hiccups.

As late night sci-fi reruns coloured the room, The Cramps also picked and chose amongst the psychotic debris of previous rock eras – instrumental rock, surf, psychedelia and sixties punk.  And then they added the junkiest element of all – themselves.  Nick Knox, stoic drummer with the history of the big beat written in his left hand.  Ivy Rorschach, voodoo guitarist with the rhythm method down as pat as her blonde beauty.  Bryan Gregory, flipping cigs and fractured with Vincent Price and decent folks ask, “What hath God wrought?”

The Cramps don’t pummel and you won’t pogo.  They ooze and you’ll throb.

Dr. J. H. Sasfy, Professor of Rockology
American Rock n’ Roll Institute, Washington D.C., USA

One of the more interesting facets of the 1990s retro boom was the presence of so many different potential gateways leading Gen X youths to discover the recent past.  However, for individuals immersed in the punk rock, hardcore or skateboard subcultures of the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Cramps were a very common portal.  A recurring theme of all things retro in the 90s was “initiation through ironic distance”.  Although we loved their music dearly and took it seriously, the antiquated slang and B-movie aesthetic often produced reactions ranging from strange intrigue to debilitating laughter.  Of course, that was all part of their unique charm, and The Cramps never came across as ironic or corny.  Of questionable sanity?  Quite possibly.  Demented?  Sure.  Perverted?  Most definitely.  Yet, generally they projected a calculatedly menacing aura.  They looked, talked and moved like a hot rod gang who would have served as the antagonists to Steve McQueen or James Dean in numerous golden age exploitation films.  Sure they were smart, funny and charismatic, but you just knew they were all carrying switchblades and lots and lots of pills.

While chart topping mainstream success on the level of Whitney Houston may have eluded them, The Cramps were a very important part of 1990s retro.  Maybe they didn’t spend as much time on MTV or the cover of SPIN as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but they did wind up on a very special Halloween episode of the most conspicuously 90s of all television shows, Beverly Hills, 90210 (unfortunately, I could only find a clip with French over dubs).  That was certainly more than one could say for Pearl Jam.  Those Chuck Taylor-wearin’ low- self-esteemers couldn’t even stop moping long enough to bother with dating Shannen Doherty.  Chalk another one up for The Cramps.

Let it be known, that in 1990 The Cramps sired a psychobilly magnum opus titled Stay Sick!  This title is a tribute to the legendary, undead, beatnik, horror host Ghoulardi, who would routinely sign off from Cleveland’s Shock Theatre in the early 1960s by imploring his audience to, “Stay sick.”  Lux Interior was a native son of Akron, Ohio and well within the broadcast range of WJW-TV, Channel 8.  Thus, Ghoulardi’s shtick, as well as the B-movies regularly featured on Shock Theatre, had a profound impact on not only The Cramps choice of subject matter, but also their stage personae.  This, right here, is one of the many things I absolutely love about The Cramps.  We’re not even past the title and I’ve already explained Ghoulardi.

As for the musical style of Stay Sick!, the song structures, rhythms and melodies  used classic rock and roll and rockabilly as a foundation, yet the execution gave an obvious nod to the ethos, attitude and general bombast of punk rock.  Poison Ivy’s twangy guitar riffs and leads were reminiscent of Duane Eddy, Hasil Adkins and Link Wray.  Drummer Nick Knox laid down steady and simple beats that would have sounded perfectly at home in the catalog of Buddy Holly or the Big Bopper.  Unlike the vast majority of psychobilly bass players, Candy Del Mar eschewed the upright bass for an electric Höfner Artist model.  Though purists may have blanched, the crystal clear tone allowed her crawling bass-lines to effortlessly carry each song.  Of course, Lux Interior’s hilariously clever lyrics and larger-than-life delivery were the icing on the cake.  Instead of opting for lo-fi engineering, the album was recorded with the standard technology available at the time, which made for a clean and modern sounding record without sacrificing any savage vitality.  The twelve tracks of raucous retro revival were as follows;

  1. “Bop Pills”
  2. “God Damn Rock & Roll”
  3. “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”
  4. “All Women Are Bad”
  5. “The Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon”
  6. “Shortnin’ Bread”
  7. “Daisys Up Your Butterfly”
  8. “Everything Goes”
  9. “Journey to the Center of a Girl”
  10. “Mama Oo Pow Pow”
  11. “Saddle Up a Buzz Buzz”
  12. “Muleskinner Blues”

Stay Sick! opened with “Bop Pills”, a rambunctious rock n’ roll number originally written and recorded by Macy Skipper, an obscure rockabilly singer, whose claim to fame was recording some demos in the mid 1950’s for Memphis, Tennessee’s legendary Sun Studio.  Allegedly, “Bop Pills” referenced the widespread amphetamine consumption amongst early fans of rockabilly, rock and roll and long haul truckers.  I’m not sure whether rockabilly’s institutionalized tradition of covering older and very obscure blues/country/rock and roll artists originated with The Cramps, or if they simply perfected the art.  Regardless, after hearing a new Cramps album, the listener would be exposed to a handful of great old music to which they otherwise never would have heard.  An argument could easily be made that as a band, this was The Cramps’ greatest achievement.

“God Damn Rock & Roll” gave Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s 1978 hit “Old Time Rock & Roll” the metaphorical and philosophical beat down it so richly deserved.  While not quite parody, The Cramps used Seger’s hit as a reference point, stripped it down to its frame, completely rebuilt it, and carried it through to the logical point of absurdity.  “God Damn Rock & Roll” sounded simultaneously more old-timey, primal and threatening.  Obviously, The Cramps loved old time rock and roll as passionately and deeply as anyone.  They just took a much more intense and badass approach to it.  God bless, ‘em.

The most well-known track from Stay Sick!, if not the entire Cramps’ discography, was “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”, which hit #35 on the UK Top 40 chart.  This wasn’t so much a song as it was a mid-century B-movie gone sonic.  The Cramps laid down some righteous rockabilly riffage while channeling liquor and drug fueled drag races, beach movies, and the films of Russ Meyer.  The video featured the band performing the song, interspersed with shots of gorgeous guitarist Poison Ivy go-go dancing dressed in her trademark pin-up girl finery amid a sea of vintage neon signage.  Nick Knox stoically laid down the beat and Candy Del Mar played her swingin’ bass-lines while simultaneously chomping bubble gum like a juvenile delinquent straight out of an Ed Wood movie.  Lux Interior sang the track with a joyous sincerity that channeled some bizarre hybrid of Elvis Presley and Frankenstein’s monster.  Needless to say, when compared to the cheesy, overproduced R&B of Boyz II Men or the pretentious socially-conscious status-whoring of R.E.M. that was popular at the time, “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns” stood in stark contrast both aurally and visually.  The retro-pulp shock and awe invited the listener back to a time when rock and roll was a lot more dangerous and a hell of a lot more fun.

“All Women Are Bad” was a tongue-in-cheek misogynistic ode to original sin, beginning with Adam and Eve, continuing on to Sampson and Delilah, and ending in a fit of shudders and hiccups.  “They’ve got groovy wiggly tails and horns on their heads, all women are bad.”  Indeed.  In a sane and just world “The Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon” would be the official go-to Halloween FM radio staple instead of Michael Jackon’s “Thriller”.  Lux Interior name checks the eponymous Universal Studios Gill-Man, It Came from Outer Space (1953), James Dean’s infamous chicken run from “Rebel Without a Cause”, and even …..Satan.   As fate would have it, the video was banned from MTV, I suspect by whomever it is that lobbies on behalf of playground equipment manufacturers.

CrampsCreature

Somehow, The Cramps managed to transition seamlessly into a stompin’and barnburnin’ rendition of “Shortnin’ Bread”, a folk song dating back to 1900.  Now THAT’S retro.  While treated with all due respect, the vocals were performed with such over-the-top monstrous bravado that one just couldn’t help but smile.  “Daisys Up Your Butterfly” was a mid-tempo, blues-derived tune brandishing some of Lux Interior’s finest poetic grandiloquence.  “Now you might believe the world is sweet and fine and sugar candy.  But, I, myself, believe in whatever comes in handy.  Now you’re whistling past the graveyard, hoping for the best.  But a humjob at the K-Mart just might wreck that party dress.”  The Bard himself would be envious of such silver-tongued humor.  “Everything Goes” moved the album into an even more blues-laden direction, while clearly staying within the confines of rockabilly proper.  In the aforementioned sane and just world, “Everything Goes” would be a staple in every strip club juke box.  “No holes barred, watch your toes.  Look out, baby… everything goes.  You got your g-strings and gin and nylon hose, chicken pot pie… everything goes!”

The next two songs were even more overtly sexual and pleasantly sleazy, while staying within the bounds of (semi) good taste and early 1960s movie rating codes.  “Journey to the Center of a Girl” combines references to science fiction gems such as Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and She Beast (1966) with Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88”.  There were even a few subliminal backwards messages thrown in for good measure.  “Mama oo Pow Pow” inverted the second half of The Trashmen’s 1963 classic “Surfin’ Bird”, and created an epic tribute to the Bettie Page style of “cheesecake” and bondage girly magazines which had a substantial underground following in the latter half of the 1950s.  Once again, Lux Interior is in rare form, “I don’t wanna be your dear sweet friend.  I just wanna beat your little pink rear end.”

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“Saddle Up a Buzz Buzz” was the last original track on “Stay Sick!”, and it was a beautiful conglomeration of everything that made the entire album great.  Obscure historical references, deviant sex, B-movies, Tarzan, Corvette Stingrays, Rat Fink and surfing were all combined into an ultra-potent cocktail of awesome.  In the opinion of your humble narrator, some of Poison Ivy’s best guitar work is found on this track.  The album ended with a positively ass-kickin’ cover of Jimmie Rodgers’s bluegrass classic “Mule Skinner Blues”.  It was almost too loud, too harsh and too chock full of hillbilly swagger to be contained by the fragile vinyl grooves of a mere record album, yet verily it was.

One of the best things about The Cramps was their de facto historical approach to rock and roll.  Instead of being concerned with the “Next Big Thing”, The Cramps’ time-preference was almost on a “geologic” scale.  When the average Gen-Xer got to the end of Stay Sick!, he was suddenly aware that he had missed an incredible and very substantial portion of the history of rock and roll.  There were amazing things to seek out and forgotten secrets just waiting to be rediscovered.  Every quest for such knowledge begins with the sudden realization of what one does not know.  To paraphrase the venerable philosopher SO-crates, “To know, is to know that you know nothing.  That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

On that distinctly profound note, we’ll let the cosmic wisdom of Lux Interior speak for itself.

Remember this!  Everything that you have ever experienced in your entire life has brought you to this instant.  All things now are possible in the limitless void of counter-actuality!  All things, too, that are knowable will be realized in this new dimension of BIKINI GIRLS WITH MACHINE GUNS!

Rest in peace, Lux Interior.  You are missed.

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90s In The Now – Lorde is a Time Traveler from 1993

Today, Retro in the 90s introduces a new feature, 90s in the now.


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Whilst driving in the car with my elementary and middle school aged children, I was trying to figure out why I like Lorde.  Out of all the soulless, overproduced, prefabricated dreck on Top 40 radio that I’ve been forced to endure over the past five years, there are exactly two artists I like; The Black Keys and Lorde.  The Black Keys are basically a garage rock band from Ohio with retro sensibilities, so that’s a no-brainer.  But, why do I like Lorde?  Is it because of her genuine talent and good taste, or her relative talent and taste far exceeding that of her peers?  Or is there….. something else?

Then I heard this bit of information regarding The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (2014).

On July 31, 2014, it was announced that Lorde would provide a single for the film’s soundtrack album and curate the record.  The track list for the soundtrack was released on October 21, 2014. Details of the fifth track were confirmed on November 3, 2014.

As the album’s curator, Lorde has recruited Grace Jones, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon, Diplo, Miguel, The Chemical Brothers, Charli XCX, Stromae, Major Lazer and Ariana Grande to contribute to the official track list.  On December 3, 2014, the soundtrack was re-released digitally featuring “The Hanging Tree” by James Newton Howard featuring Jennifer Lawrence, a song originally released on the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (Original Motion Picture Score), as the fifteenth song on the album.

A curated soundtrack?  Now, why does that sound so familiar?

Oh, yeah.  The concept is as intrinsically 90s as Kurt Cobain and Bill Clinton playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis.  As I previously stated during my review of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994),

Soundtracks were a very big deal in the 1990s, as they filled the pop-cultural void between K-Tel and Now That’s What I Call Music!  Most of these featured currently popular songs from currently popular artists such as the soundtracks for Singles (1992),The Bodyguard (1992), and even So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993).  Others were more conceptual featuring popular artists of one genre covering formerly popular artists of another genre such as The Crow (1994) soundtrack which hit number one on the Billboard charts, or the Judgment Night (1993) soundtrack which forced collaboration between alternative/grunge/metal artists and rappers, often with striking results.

To expand upon the 1990s phenomenon of curated soundtracks, I should also mention the following;

  • Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) – This thematic “collage of sound” was “produced” and “compiled” by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails The album sold over 500,000 copies and went gold.
  • Empire Records (1995) – This album was an alternative rock tour de force, scoring Top 40 hits for The Gin Blossoms, Edwyn Collins.
  • David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) – This was also “produced”, “complied” and otherwise curated by Trent Reznor. The album reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts and also went gold.
  • Spawn (1997) – The soundtrack paired metal, nu metal and alternative rock bands together with DJs and electronica producers.  The album also reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts.
  • The Saint (1997) – This soundtrack was a tasteful blend of electronica, alternative rock and new tracks from 80s new wave magnates Duran Duran and musical super genius David Bowie. Note that Duran Duran also appears on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (Original Motion Picture Score).  This album went on to win the 1998 BMI Film Music Award.

As I processed this information, certain patterns began to appear.  Either I enjoy the musical stylings of Lorde because of a Pavlovian response to imprinting that took place twenty-plus years ago, or she’s a time traveler from 1993.  I found the second option much more interesting, so we’re gonna go with that one.

Note: the following testimony is much more powerful and entertaining if read with the Southern baritone voice of former United States Senator and Law & Order alumnus Fred Thompson.


Lorde is a Time Traveler from 1993

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is my thesis that the recent Top 40 recording sensation known as “Lorde” is not really a eighteen year old from New Zealand. No, she’s nothing of the sort. I will present enough evidence today to convince you that the pop star masquerading as Lorde is really a time traveler from the year 1993.

Let us begin with what is commonly referred to as “the eyeball test”. If my assertion doesn’t pass the eyeball test, then why continue?

Exhibit A.

lorde_100

This is a picture of Lorde.

  •  I ask you to note the following.
  •  the cascading mane of soft, fluffy curls that are ever so slightly out of control
  •  the large and widely spaced eyes
  •  the natural hair color
  •  the eyebrows that look like they’d actually occur in nature
  •  the full lips
  •  the delicate jaw line

Exhibit B.

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This is a random sample of Lorde’s peers in 2014.

From left to right, Lady Gaga, Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj, and Miley Cyrus.

They were all pop stars in 2014.

I ask you to note the following

  •  stick straight and perfectly controlled blonde tresses
  •  the small and narrowly spaced eyes
  • all these women have the exact same unnatural hair color
  • at least two of them are wearing wigs
  • none of them are natural platinum blondes
  • all of their eyebrows appear to have been embossed by a laser-wielding drag queen
  • even the pop star of African descent has thinner lips than the average for her demographic
  • if Miley doesn’t stop taking HGH to keep herself skinny, she’s going to develop a full blown manjaw

Now, back in 1993 there were not only pop stars, but also rock stars, movie stars and TV stars. Their worlds simply did not overlap as they do today.  Thus, I’ve assembled below a random sample of Lorde’s peers circa 1993 as adjusted for pop cultural media crossover in much the same way an economist would adjust for inflation.

Exhibit C.

Gunnar von Cowtown's All-Time Celebrity Crush: The Quarter Finals

From left to right, Keri Russel aka TV’s Felicity, Madchen Amick of Twin Peaks fame, Noxema dream girl Rebecca Gayheart, and White Zombie’s Sean Yseult.

If you were forced to put Lorde into one of these two groups, Exhibit B or Exhibit C, which would you choose?

Before you answer, I’m not privy to such information, but I have it on good authority that in 2001 every White woman under the age of 30 got a memo from Janet Reno’s Justice Department mandating that natural hair color was explicitly forbidden, hair must be straightened daily, and a mandatory four hours a week were required for eyebrow plucking.  Failure to meet the specified requirements would result in federal investigation, jurisprudence and quite possibly incarceration.  I would like to produce evidence of said memo, but according to legend they all self-destructed after reading.

I certainly didn’t agree with the edict, but I didn’t come here do debate its merit or lack thereof. I only want to ask you this. If you were forced to put Lorde into one of these two groups, Exhibit B or Exhibit C, which would you choose? And remember you ARE under oath.

That’s what I thought.

Since I’ve totally murdered the eyeball test, let’s move on.

Exhibit D.

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This is a picture of Lorde at a recent awards show wearing a choker necklace.

You know who wears choker necklaces in 2014?

Nobody.

You know who wore choker necklaces in the 1993?

Exhibit E.

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The entire female cast of Beverly Hills 90210.

Exhibit F.

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Here’s another recent picture of Lorde making a public appearance wearing chunky Doc Marten’s-looking shoes with her socks scrunched down.

Let me repeat that for those of you in the back of the jury box, SHE HAS HER SOCKS! SCRUNCHED! DOWN!

NOBODY WHO WASN’T A TIME TRAVELER FROM 1993 WOULD PURPOSELY SCRUNCH HER SOCKS DOWN AROUND HER ANKLES! THAT SORT OF THING JUST ISN’T DONE IN 2014!!!!!

 

LOOK!!!!

 

SOCKS!!!!

 

SCRUNCHED!!!!!

I could easily rest my case here, but let us continue if only for the sake of due diligence.

Exhibit G.

The lyrics to Lorde’s first Top 40 hit “Royals”

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom

Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,

We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams

But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece

Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash

We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

Exhibit H.

The lyrics to Lorde’s second Top 40 hit “Team”

I’m kind of over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air

So there

Obviously these lyrics are criticizing the inanity and conspicuous consumption that permeate modern hip-hop culture.  I’m certainly not the first to notice this.  Andy Nowicki of Alternative Right has written two fine articles here and here.  However, White girls in 2014 would never criticize hip-hop culture!  They’re expected to just smile and twerk. But, back in the early 90s….

Exhibit I.

This is the video for “Kool Thing” by Sonic Youth. The song was inspired by an interview bassist/singer Kim Gordon conducted with LL Cool J for SPIN in which the two artists clashed over allegedly misogynistic comments.  Not only could White girls make comments critical of hip-hop culture back in the early 90s, they could write songs about it…. then make a video…. that MTV would play…. at least on 120 Minutes!

In conclusion, the implications for our society coming to terms with the fact that time travel has already been perfected are indeed staggering.  But I ask you to refrain from pondering those implications for now, and simply review the available evidence which I have presented to you today.  Is Lorde a time traveler from 1993?  Using Occam’s Razor…. hell, Occam’s Butterknife should suffice….. choose the simplest explanation.  The obvious and irrefutable conclusion is that Lorde is indeed a time traveler from 1993. There is simply no other way to explain her.

Thank you.

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Follow Me on Twitter

I’ve finally caved in to this whole “social media” thing and joined Twitter.  So if you’d like to hear me tweet, twit or otherwise twaddle, follow @GunnarvnCowtown, or scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the shiny blue button.  So far I’m just using Twitter for making snappy one-liners, non-sequiturs and trolling “social justice warriors”… lolz.  Eventually, I’ll start sending out any and all Retro in the 90s updates.

It’s getting close to Christmas, so enjoy some swanky holiday tunes from the Ultra Lounge.

Cheers,

Gunnar von Cowtown

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TV Casualty – 10/1/2014 Halloween Edition

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October means Halloween, and Halloween means more than enough vintage horror flicks to choke a werewolf.  We’ve got ghost stories every Thursday, mummy matinees every Saturday, haunted houses, vampires that don’t sparkle, zombies, Frankensteins, mad scientists, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price, psychos, schizos, proto-slashers, the original angry birds and even giant-mutant-flesh-eating rabbits!  Upgrade your DVR’s memory and brew lots of coffee, because October it’s going to be wonderful.  This is without a doubt the best retro TV month of the year.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 02, 2014

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Special Theme: Ghost Stories

  • 8:00 PM Topper (1937)
  • 10:00 PM The Time Of Their Lives (1946
  • 11:30 PM The Canterville Ghost (1944)
  • 1:15 A Place of One’s Own (1945)
  • 3:00 AM The Cockeyed Miracle (1946)
  • 4:30 AM Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 03, 2014

  • 6:15 PM 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) – TCM

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 04, 2014

  • 12:00 PM The Mummy (1959) – TCM
    The Hammer Films version starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  There will be a Mummy Matinee at high noon every Saturday this month.
  • 1:45 PM A Night at the Movies: The Suspenseful World of Thrillers (2009) – TCM
    A documentary tracing the history of the thriller genre
  • 3:00 PM Peeping Tom (1960) – TCM
    A cult classic serial killer flick about a psychopathic murder who photographs his victims at the moment of death
  • 10:00 PM The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts another fine Universal picture with cutting edge (for 1957) special effects

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 09, 2014

TCM Special Theme: Ghost Stories

I have to warn you, most of these are “romantic” ghost stories.  They’re all pre-1960, so you won’t see anything as scary as Demi Moore with short hair.

  • 8:00 PM Portrait of Jennie (1948)
    Meh.
  • 9:45 PM The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
    Meh.
  • 11:45 PM Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
    Meh.
  • 2:00 AM A Guy Named Joe (1943)
    Meh.
  • 4:15 AM The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)
    A samurai’s wife returns from the dead for revenge.  Finally!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2014

  • 12:00 PM The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) – TCM
    Part II of Hammer Films vs. The Mummy Franchise
  • 10:00 PM The Uninvited (1944) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts a classic Paramount Pictures ghost story

Blackula Double Feature!

The funkiest vampire rises from the grave in….

  • 2:15 AM Blacula (1972) – TCM
  • 4:00 AM Scream, Blacula Scream (1973) – TCM

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2014

TCM Special Theme: Ghost Stories

Yay!  Horror comedies!  I’ve been waiting a long time to see some of these.  Just look at the titles…. The late Ivan Reitman owed somebody royalties.

  • 8:00 PM The Ghost Breakers (1940)
  • 9:30 PM The Old Dark House (1963)
  • 11:15 PM The Smiling Ghost (1941)
  • 12:45 AM The Ghost Goes West (1936)
  • 2:15 AM Ghost Chasers (1951)
  • 3:30 AM Spook Busters (1946)
  • 4:45 AM Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944)

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2014

  • 12:00 PM The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) – TCM
    Part III of Hammer Films vs. The Mummy Franchise
  • 10:00 PM The Wolf Man (1941) – MeTV
    Svengoolie vs. Lon Chaney Jr.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014

  • 4:00 AM The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) – TCM

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2014

  • 2:15 AM The Fog (1980) – TCM
    The John Carpenter original, and much better than the crappy 2005 remake

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014

  • 6:00 AM Night Of The Lepus (1972) – TCM
    Giant flesh-eating Bunnies FTW!!!  In hindsight, this film and Mike Marano’s brilliant analysis (suggesting that the mutated, carnivorous killer rabbits were an allegory for baby boomer hippies) may have been one of the earliest inspirations for Retro in the 90s.

TCM Special Theme: Ghost Stories
Turner Classic Movies finally brings its spectral A-game.

  • 8:00 PM The Innocents (1961)
  • 10:00 PM The Uninvited (1944)
  • 12:00 AM The Woman In White (1948)
  • 2:00 AM Night Of Dark Shadows (1971)
  • 4:00 AM The Others (2001)

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2014

  • 12:15 PM Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) – TCM
    Starring two-time Bond Girl (and top ten all time retro-crush) Valerie Leon as the vengeful reanimated Egyptian princess
  • 2:00 PM Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982) – TCM
  • 4:30 PM Mad Love (1935) – TCM
  • 5:45 PM The Birds (1963) – TCM
    Hitchcock, baby.
  • 10:00 PM Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – MeTV
    Svengoolie, Bud Abbot, Lou Costello and a host of Universal Monsters

TCM Presents THE ESSENTIALS: CLASSIC HORROR NOVELS

  • 8:00 PM The Haunting (1963) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM Village Of The Damned (1961) – TCM
  • 11:30 PM The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – TCM
    Hammer Films outstanding take on Mary Shelly’s legendary monster
  • 1:15 AM A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King (2011)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2014

  • 8:00 PM Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)
  • 12:45 AM The Monster (1925)

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2014

TCM Special Theme: Vampires

  • 6:00 AM Nosferatu (1922)
  • 7:45 AM The Vampire Bat (1933)
  • 9:00 AM Dead Men Walk (1943)
  • 10:15 AM Isle Of The Dead (1945)
  • 11:45 AM The Return of the Vampire (1944)
  • 1:00 PM House Of Dark Shadows (1970)
  • 3:00 PM Horror of Dracula (1958)
  • 4:30 PM Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965)
  • 6:15 PM Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1969)

TCM Special Theme: Horror Anthologies

  • 8:00 PM Dead of Night (1945)
  • 10:00 PM Twice-Told Tales (1963)
  • 12:15 AM Kwaidan (1965)
  • 3:00 AM The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
  • 5:00 AM Torture Garden (1967)

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2014

8:00 PM  Psycho (1960)
Gus Van Sant remade this in 1999 shot-for-shot… further evidence for the blog’s premise.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2014

TCM Special Theme: Ghost Stories

  • 8:00 PM House On Haunted Hill (1958)
  • 9:30 PM The Legend of Hell House (1973)
  • 11:15 PM 13 Ghosts (1960)
  • 1:00 AM The Haunting (1963)
  • 3:00 AM Burnt Offerings (1976)

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2014… HALLOWEEN, BABY!

24 HOURS OF HORROR on TCM

  • 6:00 AM London After Midnight (1927)
  • 7:00 AM Mark Of The Vampire (1935)
  • 8:15 AM The Devil-Doll (1936) EXPAND
  • 9:45 AM I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
  • 11:00 AM Cat People (1942)
  • 12:15 PM The Tingler (1959)
  • 1:45 PM Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007)
  • 3:15 PM Dementia 13 (1963)
  • 4:45 PM Carnival of Souls (1962)
  • 6:15 PM Repulsion (1965)
  • 8:00 PM Night of the Living Dead (1968)
    It just wouldn’t be Halloween without the George Romero classic
  • 10:00 PM Curse of the Demon (1958)
    If you haven’t seen this one, make sure you do.  It’s really a lost gem.
  • 11:45 PM House Of Wax (1953)
  • 1:30 AM Poltergeist (1982)
  • 3:30 AM Strait-Jacket (1964)
  • 5:15 AM Eyes Without a Face (1959)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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TV Casualty – 9/2/2014

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September, baby!  There are a couple of really worthwhile views this month, so if you can drag yourself away from NCAA football and the NFL, check out the following.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 02, 2014

  • 5:00 PM  The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) – Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
    Evil Dead hero Bruce Campbell’s favorite movie

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 04, 2014

  • 10:30 AM  The Devil Commands (1941) – TCM
    Obligatory Boris Karloff
  • 10:30 PM  The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – TCM
    A very influential heist flick

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 06, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Werewolf of London (1935) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts Universal’s first werewolf film

Women in Prison Night on TCM!

  • 2:45 AM House of Women (1962) – TCM
  • 4:15 AM Caged (1950) – TCM

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 07, 2014

  • 1:45 PM  East Of Eden (1955) – TCM
    Obligatory James Dean

Planet of the Apes Double Feature!

  • 8:00 PM  Planet of the Apes (1968) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM  Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – TCM

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

  • 3:15 AM  The Vampire Bat (1933) – TCM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2014

Jerry Lewis Night!

  • 8:00 PM  The Nutty Professor (1963) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM  The Caddy (1953) – TCM
  • 12:00 AM  Three on a Couch (1966) – TCM

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

  • 12:45 AM  Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1932)
  • 3:45 AM  Freaks (1932)
    Gabba gabba we accept you one of us!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2014

  • 10:00 PM The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts this classic tale of decapitation.

Vincent Price Double Feature on TCM!

  • 2:00 AM  Madhouse (1974) – TCM
  • 3:45 AM  House Of Wax (1953) – TCM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

Shaft Double Feature!

  • 12:00 AM  Shaft (1971) – TCM
    He’s a bad motherf…… hush your mouth!
  • 4:00 AM  Shaft in Africa (1973) – TCM

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2014

  • Svengoolie placeholder – MeTV

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

  • 6:15 PM  The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) – TCM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2014

  • 8:00 PM  Patton (1970) – TCM
    Arguably the finest war movie ever made
  • 1:15 AM  Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964) – TCM

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Be sure to check back in October for enough outstanding retro horror to choke a wolfman!

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Random Retro Reaction – 8/25/2014

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After attending a heaping hunk of hot rod shows this summer, I finally got around to reading Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.  This is a collection of Wolfe’s articles published between 1963 and 1965 for EsquireHarper’s Bazaar and the New York Herald Tribune.  Although I’ve been hanging around in retro-circles for the past fifteen-plus years, I’ve never heard anyone discuss this book (other than Steve Sailer), which borders on absolute travesty.  The first half reads like the Retro Bible; Las Vegas, hot rod shows, kustom kulture, demolition derbies, Googie Architecture (which Wolfe refers to as “baroque modern”), dirt track racing, Cary Grant, Phil Spector, and so on.  Wolfe has a rock solid command of the English language and an uncanny knack for describing people, places and things, but that’s not his best attribute as a writer.  He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of art, history and culture that enables him to take a seemingly trivial manifestation of pop culture and contextualize it to the point that it all makes perfect sense.

As a point of contrast, a couple of years ago, I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson, and I was… underwhelmed.  After reading some of his well researched and less “gonzo” musings on the Hell’s Angels and the Kentucky Derby, I really thought this book would be better.  Basically, Thompson just gets loaded on a bunch of different drugs with his 300-lb Samoan attorney, drives recklessly to Las Vegas, acts like an ass and has paranoid delusions.  Other than a few hilariously scathing remarks about hippies, late-60’s youth culture and Timothy Leary, I really didn’t get much out of it.  At his best, Thompson was extremely insightful and had a knack for putting strange bits of Americana into their proper context with historical reverence.  However, he just didn’t seem to get Vegas, much to his loss, and even more so the reader’s.

Most of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reads thusly, “I’m loaded on mescaline!  I’m drunk!  I’m high!  I’m on ether!  My attorney is naked and breaking things whilst throwing up!  AAAAAHHH!!! Cops!”  Meh.  I guess you had to be there.  I hate to say this, but the movie (which I plan to cover in a future post) was way better than the book.  It conveyed much more of the humor and absurdity, and I actually gave a damn about the movie characters.

Fortunately, Tom Wolfe really, really got Vegas!  This was precisely the insight I coveted.

I call Las Vegas the Versailles of America, and for specific reasons. Las Vegas happened to be created after the war, with war money, by gangsters. Gangsters happened to be the first uneducated…but more to the point, unaristocratic, outside of the aristocratic tradition… the first uneducated, prole-petty-burgher Americans to have enough money to build a monument to their style of life. They built it in an isolated spot, Las Vegas, out in the desert, just like Louis XIV, the Sun King, who purposely went outside of Paris, into the countryside, to create his fantastic baroque environment to celebrate his rule. It is no accident that Las Vegas and Versailles are the only two architecturally uniform cities in Western history.

Well said, Mr. Wolfe.  His descriptions of off-duty showgirls in hot pants were even more epic.  He started off by coining the phrase “buttocks décolletage” and it just got exponentially more awesome from there.  Unfortunately, the second half of the book delves into myriad articles detailing inherent pretentiousness and fruityness of the New York art gallery scene, just before further descending into the even more New York-centric navel gazing myopia of various socialites. None of which I found particularly interesting, save the chapter on neo-Puritan Huntington G. Hartford II and his Gallery of Modern Art.

Regardless, the first half of the book should be required reading for anyone into retro culture. I did manage to locate a pdf of the eponymous chapter dealing with George Barris, Ed Roth, Dick Dale, and kustom kars.

http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1292219.files/Week%208/Kandy%20Kolored%20by%20Tom%20Wolfe.pdf

Enjoy.

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TV Casualty – 8/1/2014

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The pickings are slim this month, but it’s August and you should be outside enjoying the summer anyway.  Quality over quantity, baby.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 2, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Son of Dracula (1943) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts and Lon Chaney Jr. stars as the Count.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 3, 2014

  • 12:30 AM Forbidden Planet (1956) – TCM
    Best sci-fi movie ever

SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, 2014

  • 9:45 PM The Thin Man (1934) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM Curse of the Undead (1959) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts the original vampire western

MONDAY, AUGUST 11, 2014

  • 10:15 PM The Wild One (1953) – TCM
    Marlon Brando stars in the granddaddy of all outlaw biker flicks

SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) – MeTV
    Svengoolie, Bela Lugosi & Lon Chaney Jr…. oh, yeah.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

  • 5:45 PM Cool Hand Luke (1967) – TCM
    Paul Newman’s best film.  The Reverend Horton Heat was also a big fan.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 23, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953) – MeTV
    Svengoolie and Boris Karloff…. together at last.
  • 1:30 AM The Wild Bunch (1969) – TCM
    Sam Peckinpah’s ultra-violent western

SUNDAY, AUGUST 24, 2014

  • 8:00 PM The Maltese Falcon (1941) – TCM
    Film Noir 101 with your professor, Humphrey Bogart

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014

  • 8:00 PM Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) – TCM

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30, 2014

  • 8:00 PM How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) – TCM
    Obligatory Marilyn Monroe
  • 10:00 PM The Mad Ghoul (1943) – MeTV

SUNDAY, AUGUST 31, 2014

  • 8:00 PM Shane (1953) – TCM
    Arguably the finest western ever made

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Retro Linkage – 7/18/2014

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Steve Sailer has just been knocking it out of the park this week by observing current retro phenomena though his dissident-right-colored 3D glasses.  I tried to re-post links to his blogs several times, but he just kept cranking out more.

Back in the 1950s, impresarios tried all sorts of upgrades to get people to stop watching free TV at home and pay to sit in a movie theater, such as color movies, widescreen formats, 3D, and Smell-o-Vision. That’s all coming back, although American theaters are lagging. One reason for those huge overseas box office totals this summer is because more and more foreigners are paying premiums to watch movies in new “immersive” theaters with power seats.

This immediately reminded me of another Retro in the 90s post that I need to write, Matinee (1993).  This period comedy was directed by Joe Dante and starred John Goodman as a 1950s independent schlock filmmaker in the mold of William Castle.  Castle was infamous for gimmicks, such as giving each customer to his first film, Macabre (1958), a certificate for a life insurance policy in case he or she died from fright during the movie.  Even better, Castle installed vibrating motors from military surplus airplane wing de-icers in theater seats during screenings of The Tingler (1959), starring Vincent Price.  Matinee (1993) paid tribute to Castle’s theatrical chicanery with the fictional film-within-a-film, Mant!  The gag is revealed at about 1:10 in the trailer below.

Did Steve Jobs singlehandedly bring back Shiny Box Modernism?  Did we forget why we got tired of it the first time? Did they invent some new window-washing robot that makes it affordable to keep it looking spiffy?  One odd thing about Ventura Blvd., however, is that a supermarket looking like an Apple Store is actually a locally sensitive retro throwback to the venerable indigenous architectural style of the San Fernando Valley, Googie.

While much of Apple’s marketing involves touting their products’ streamlined and futuristic designs, the concept is hardly new.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times, the idea of a bright, shining, sparkling future was most perfectly manifested in Mid-Century Modern (aka Googie) architecture.  Chris Jepsen at Spaceagecity.com has been making this point for well over a decade.

Googie architecture and design was art that told a story. The story had many variations, but its general plot was always something like this:

Man left his caves and grass huts and through hard work and ingenuity has built an amazing modern world. Tomorrow he will conquer any remaining problems and colonize the rest of the galaxy. However, for all his achievements and modern science man will never lose touch with the natural world and his noble roots.

It would behoove all retro-philes and architecture junkies to spend some time perusing his site, Googie Architecture Online.  In my opinion, Mid-Century Modern is not only the perfect combination of form and function.  It goes much deeper than that, it works on many symbolic, and dare I say it spiritual levels.   Architecture reflects the culture that created it, and tells its story.  This is intuitive to most people when they view the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the ruins of Ancient Greece and Rome, Easter Island, and the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe.  The culture that spawned Mid-Century Modern architecture was comprised of a confident, competent, ambitious and optimistic people.  This was the culture that knew hardship, grew up during the depression, yet won WWII, emerged as a super power, and would soon put a man on the moon.  The spirit of that culture was as fearless as it was beautiful.  Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of it.

This review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) proves once again why Steve Sailer is my favorite film critic, second only to Joe Bob Briggs.  I don’t want to take anything out of context or ruin any of the surprises, so you’re going to have to read the whole review.  It’s worth it alone for this solid gold nugget of trivia about Sammy Davis Jr.

It’s not just me who sees the Planet franchise as traditionally being an allegory about blacks and whites.  Sammy Davis Jr. considered the original Planet of the Apes the best film ever about black-white relations, and is said to have enshrined the eight-foot-tall prop statue of the primordial primate Lawgiver in his Beverly Hills backyard.  (After Sammy died $5 million in debt to the IRS, the feds foreclosed upon the fiberglass figurine and auctioned it off for $2,500.)

In the first Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston, the ultimate white man, is thrown into a world where monkeys are the Man and he is reduced to the status of an angry black radical. In Rod Serling’s screenplay, gorillas are the Irish cops, orangutans the conservative WASP ruling class, and chimpanzees the liberal Jewish intellectuals who are Heston’s only hope.

Two thoughts spring to mind;

1. I wonder what the rest of the Rat Pack thought about Planet of the Apes (1968)?  Can’t you just picture Sammy, Dino and Sinatra, glasses of scotch in one hand and cigarettes in the other, sitting around some swanky Vegas lounge discussing the flick?  Oh, to have been a fly on that wall.

2. If we could just convince Steve to start adding dead body and breast counts to his reviews like Joe Bob, all other film critics would be rendered useless.

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008. The Reverend Horton Heat – Liquor In The Front

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Elvis Costello once said that, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture – it’s really a stupid thing to want to do.”  Yet, somehow music journalists have always found the wherewithal to scrawl volumes of Tolstoy-length pieces on almost anyone with a microphone or guitar.  Thus, it absolutely boggled my mind that so little had been written about rockabilly virtuoso James “The Reverend Horton Heat” Heath and his merry men.  You, dear reader, know darned well that I enjoy doing my homework and digging deep into the subject matter behind each post.  How else can one wring meaning from a topic like blood from a stone?  This due diligence not only reflects my commitment to intellectual honesty, but often leads to the blogger’s delight of the posts virtually writing themselves.  Thus, I was confused, befuddled and kind of appalled to see that no one had given The Reverend Horton Heat’s 1994 masterpiece, Liquor in the Front, sufficient consideration, much less a proper analysis.  Even the All Music Guide’s snippet of an entry led me to believe that their reviewer just didn’t get it.

Needless to say, this post certainly did not write itself, and I was forced to utilize the Charles Bukowski method of getting drunk and listening to the album whilst writing.  Fortunately, this technique cured my writer’s block, and all things considered, I’ve certainly had worse evenings.  Regardless, the criminal under-appreciation of Liquor In The Front and dearth of thoughtful examination seemed even more egregious due to the weighty amount of personal significance that I placed on this album.  Yes, this was personal.  For The Reverend Horton Heat’s Liquor in the Front was the first album that metaphorically grabbed me by the lapels and hollered in my face, its’ breath pungent with the juniper-and-lime-infused stench of one thousand gin and tonics, “YOU HAVE MISSED AN INCREDIBLE AND VERY SUBSTANTIAL PORTION OF THE HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL!  REPENT, MOTHER****ER, FOR THE END IS NIGH!”

  1. “Big Sky”
  2. “Baddest of the Bad”
  3. “One Time for Me”
  4. “Five-O Ford”
  5. “In Your Wildest Dreams”
  6. “Yeah, Right”
  7. “Crusin’ for a Bruisin'”
  8. “I Could Get Used to It”
  9. “Liquor, Beer & Wine”
  10. “I Can’t Surf”
  11. “Jezebel”
  12. “Rockin’ Dog”
  13. “The Entertainer”

Liquor In The Front (surreptitiously subtitled… Poker In The Rear) was jointly released by both Sub Pop and Interscope Records, as the band was transitioning between contracts and labels.  This was a very interesting juxtaposition, as Sub Pop was an independent label verging on major label status, and Interscope (which I covered earlier with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) was a major label posing as an independent.  In the early 90s, Seattle-based Sub Pop was known as THE grunge label, having signed and introduced the world to the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, long before they were considered cool.  Sub Pop also released the first two Reverend Horton Heat albums, Smoke ’em If You Got ’em and The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat in 1990 and 1993, respectively.  Interscope heard something they liked, and added The Reverend Horton Heat to their ample stable of potential next big things. 

The sudden injection of major label dollars to the album enabled both prettier production and packaging than the Rev’s previous projects, which was entirely expected from any de facto major label debut.  The production was handled by Al Jourgensen of Ministry fame.  Prior to Liquor In The Front, modern rockabilly, psychobilly and surf rock albums were intentionally lo-fi, either due to budget constraints or an artistic decision to pay homage to the recording technology of earlier decades.  Jourgensen was renowned for pioneering what at the time were considered avant-garde and cutting edge engineering techniques used mostly, if not only, within the industrial genre.  However, rather than trying to make Liquor In The Front sound like The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, Jourgensen simply produced a fantastic sounding album, by bringing Jim Heath’s raging Gretsch guitar front and center, and then surrounding it with crystal clear drums and bright upright bass.  If one concentrated, one could hear every note played by each musician on every song.  This is one of the primary reasons why Liquor In The Front appealed to fans of alternative rock, grunge, metal and hardcore.  Instead of making the 90s equivalent of an old, worn out, scratchy LP, he made one that sounded every bit as good and clear as any other record of the era.

Liquor In The Front started off with what in my opinion was the greatest opening one-two punch in the history rock and roll; “Big Sky” and “Baddest of the Bad”.  One could easily argue that they were one epic song, with “Big Sky” serving as an extended introduction then transitioning seamlessly into “Baddest of the Bad”.  (To lend further credence to this assertion, the band always played both songs back to back during live sets.)  Musically, “Big Sky” was a western-tinged psychobilly instrumental played with the velocity, intensity and technical proficiency of speed metal.  The minor-chord progressions and riffs were similar to those found in western swing and countless spaghetti western soundtracks, complete with copious reverb twang.  Somehow the songs managed to incorporate metallic double kick drum, blast beats and blistering guitar solos without losing even a hint of that cowboy/greaser aesthetic.  While Elvis Costello was right, and it’s exceedingly difficult… and stupid… to even attempt to describe the feelings music elicits, I’m too dumb to know when I’m beaten.  Thus, “Big Sky” evoked emotions associated with magnificent multicolored sunsets over desert canyons, herds of wild mustangs running at top speed whilst kicking up clouds of dust, mysterious and tragically beautiful women whom you’ll never even know, and moments in time that are gone forever.  Whether or not you believed in Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, “Big Sky” seemed to capture the archetypal sense of regret found in the dark recesses of the American psyche.  “Have we strayed too far from our roots?  Have we lost something vital?  Is it too late to get it back?  Such is the fundamental essence of the siren call of all things retro.  Oh, and you could totally mosh to it.  “Baddest of the Bad” carried on with the basic sonic structure laid down by “Big Sky”, only altering itself slightly to accommodate the Reverend’s lyrics about love gone rotten.  At first listen, it seemed impossible to believe that something so melancholy could kick so much ass?  Yet, verily, it did.

“One Time For Me” started off moody, slow and sexy, thus providing the perfect background to the Rev’s lyrical plea for some special girl to do something especially naughty.  The song’s momentum built and eventually climaxed at punk rock warp speed.  Unfortunately, “One Time For Me” was only released as a CD single in Australia.  As for the reason, I can only surmise that the bastard public had better taste down under?  “5.0 Ford” was crafted around a riff that sounded like “Hot Rod Lincoln” on a heavy dose of steroids and amphetamines.  The lyrical content revolved around the most conspicuously rockabilly of all topics; drag racing one’s hot rod.

At this point, Liquor In The Front downshifted dramatically with the exotic and lounge-worthy “In Your Wildest Dreams”.  The right Reverend’s romantic crooning along with the bossa nova rhythm would not have been out of place on a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra record.  A recurring theme of all things retro in the 90s was “initiation through ironic distance”, and this song was a perfect example.  At the time I first heard this album, I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to jazz, Latin or otherwise, but eventually I became acclimated to the intentionally schmaltzy “In Your Wildest Dreams”.  After I stopped chuckling, sat down and listened, it wasn’t long before I was buying up Ultra-Lounge compilations like there was no tomorrow.

“Yeah, Right” upshifted into sludgy, mid-tempo I-IV-V blues progression backed by a hybrid industrial/surf beat and lyrics about a wannabe model who done the Reverend wrong.  In all fairness, “Yeah, Right”, with its slightly distorted vocals and mechanical drum sound was the only track on Liquor In The Front bearing any of the hallmarks of producer Al Jourgensen’s beloved industrial genre.  Regardless, no one would have ever mistaken it for a Nine Inch Nails outtake.

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“Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’” shifted the album back into high gear, with a psychobilly barn burner which centered around defending one’s girl, car and guitar in no particular order.  Lyrically, in an era that was renowned for alt rock wimps, it was refreshing to hear a band other than Pantera threaten to kick someone’s ass.  “I Could Get Used To It” was a very traditional and raucous rockabilly tune about a fine, fine woman.  “Just one taste and that’s all it took.  I’m like a big bass on your fishin’ hook.”  It should go without saying that popular grunge bands of the early 90s like Alice In Chains didn’t make many bass fishing references.

The album switched gears yet again, with the unapologetically country “Liquor, Beer & Wine”.  Much like the lounge-influenced “In Your Wildest Dreams”, “Liquor, Beer & Wine” again strategically implemented “initiation through ironic distance”.  At the time I first heard this album, I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to country or western, but there was no turning back after being confronted with sheer brilliance such as this, “The doctor says I’m livin’ on precious borrowed time, with all the time I’m givin’ to liquor, beer and wine.  The x-rays of my liver look like molded old Swiss cheese, my heart pumps blood and alcohol through hardened arteries.”  Soundgarden only dreamt of such eloquence.  After I stopped laughing, sat down and listened, it wasn’t long before I started checking out all those old Johnny Cash albums that my Grammy always insisted I’d like.

Aside from a couple of chanted gang choruses, “I Can’t Surf” was an instrumental tour de force of everything that was wonderful about surf rock; speed, intensity, minor key riffs, crawling bass lines, middle-eastern-sounding scales, and reverb galore.  I hadn’t been so floored by a guitar solo since the first time I heard “Battery” off of Metallica’s Master of Puppets.  Aside from the virtuosity, “I Can’t Surf” was a track that made many an aspiring musician ask themselves, “Where the hell did these guys learn to play like that?!?  What phenomenal influences have I overlooked?  If I really wanted to write a song like that, could I even do it?”  Listening to this track was simultaneously inspiring and humbling.

“Jezebel” was an amped up version of Frankie Laine’s 1951 hit, which had been covered by everyone from Desi Arnaz and The Everly Brothers to Herman’s Hermits and Sade.  The melody, though both moody and vaguely exotic, lent itself readily to the band’s muscular musical style.  Obviously, this was the most authentically retro track on the album, hearkening back to a tale of man’s ruin from the Old Testament.  “Rockin’ Dog” was another traditionally crafted mid-tempo rockabilly tune about the Rev battling his reputation as a womanizer whilst attempting to overcome his date’s last minute resistance.  The entire song is riddled with enough antiquated Happy Days slang and righteous rockabilly guitar work to make both The Fonz and Bill Haley green with envy.  The self-assured and good-natured humor of the song stood in stark contrast to the mopey alternative rock that pervaded the airwaves of the day.  If one lyrically compared The Smashing Pumpkins“Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage” with The Reverend Horton Heat’s “I’ve got to stop sittin’ like a bump on a log, I’ve got a reputation as a rockin’ dog”, it was immediately clear to the listener with which band one would rather split a bar tab.  The album closed with sixty-six seconds of Scott Joplin’s classic piano rag “The Entertainer”, and the band acting like drunken jackasses in the studio.  It was one thing to finish an album with a smile on your face, but quite another to finish an album laughing like an idiot.

In conclusion, The Reverend Horton Heat’s Liquor In The Front purveyed a variety of retro musical styles including rockabilly, country, surf and lounge.  Al Jourgensen’s stellar engineering and production made the album eminently listenable to a generation raised on cassettes and CDs.  These factors combined with the band’s outstanding musicianship and novel sense of humor made for an extremely potent and enjoyable gateway drug.  From that gateway, the listener could travel freely through a virtual universe of previously undiscovered audio retro delights.  Subjectively, one could make an argument that Liquor In The Front may not have been the best neo-rockabilly album of the 90s, or even the best Reverend Horton Heat album of the 90s.  Yet, attempting to quantify such a statement would be “like dancing about architecture”.  I think it’s sufficient to say that in the 90s there were many available gateways into retro forms of music.  But after walking through this particular gateway, I never looked back.

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TV CASUALTY – 7/1/2014

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I’m a lazy slacker and I was going to take the summer off of bloggin’, but there are so many outstanding and obscure drive-in-worthy flicks on the tube this month that if I let you miss them, I’d have to kick my own ass on general principle.  There’s stuff playing that I’ve never seen.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, one can’t understand meta-retro without first understanding retro.  Thus, I, Gunnar von Cowtown, your humble narrator, will continue to peruse the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) schedule and other basic cable listings to highlight all the classic Horror, Monster, Sci-Fi and Cult films from the Golden Age of American cinema that regularly resurfaced throughout the 1990s.  Tune in, turn on, and veg out!  

TUESDAY, JULY 1, 2014

  • 8:00 PM The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) – TCM
    Not the 1923 version starring Lon Chaney Sr., but still worth watching

WEDNESDAY, JULY 2, 2014

  • 4:30 AM The Raven (1963) – TCM
    Roger Corman directs Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson in this Edgar Allen Poe adaptation

SATURDAY, JULY 5, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) – TCM
    Allison Hayes stars in this drive-in classic which arguably generated the best movie poster of all time
  • 10:00 PM The Invisible Woman (1940) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts a screwball comedy loosely based on the work of H.G. Wells

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Viva Las Vegas (1964) – TCM
    Elvis & Ann-Margaret vs. Sin City

Ray Harryhausen Double Feature on TCM!

  • 8:00 PM Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
  • 10:00 PM The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

SATURDAY, JULY 12, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Queen of Outer Space (1958) – TCM
    I’m so gaga for Zsa Zsa
  • 10:00 PM Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) – MeTV
    Svengoolie vs. my favorite Universal Monster

SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2014

  • 12:00 PM The Wasp Woman (1959) – TCM
    Another high quality Roger Corman Bee movie
  • 10:00 PM Svengoolie – Revenge of The Creature (1955)
    The second entry in Universal’s Creature From The Black Lagoon trilogy.  If you’ve never seen this one, make sure you do it now.  Outstanding.
  • 3:45 AM Tentacles (1977) – TCM
    Nothing goes better at 3 AM than a giant octopus flick

SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2014

  • 2:15 PM His Girl Friday (1940) – TCM
    Cary Grant being awesome

MONDAY, JULY 21, 2014

  • 5:00 PM I Married A Witch (1942) – TCM
    Gratuitous Veronica Lake
  • 6:30 PM The Ghost Goes West (1936) – TCM
    The horror comedy Ed Wood wishes he made

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2014

  • 8:00 Bullitt (1968) – TCM
    Steve McQueen’s 2nd best film

SATURDAY, JULY 26, 2014

  • 10:00 PM The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts the thrilling conclusion to the Creature trilogy.
  • 12:45 AM The Mummy (1932) – TCM
  • The Boris Karloff classic!  “Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?”
  • 2:15 AM Spider Baby (1964) – TCM
    I’ve literally been waiting for years to see this obscure cult horror gem that influenced Rob Zombie and Mike Patton

SUNDAY, JULY 27, 2014

  • 2:00 PM The Blackboard Jungle (1955) – TCM
    The first film to ever feature a rock n’ roll soundtrack
  • 4:00 PM Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – TCM
    Obligatory James Dean
  • 8:00 PM Cat People (1942) – TCM
  • 9:30 PM The Curse of the Cat People (1944) – TCM

Good luck facing yourself in the mirror if you forget to set the DVR.

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