Search This Blog

Sunday, October 31, 2010

227. "In the Absence of Christmas" by Charlie McDonnell

Eden requested this one just about every day in October, and I promised her that if the randomizer didn't pick it by Halloween, I'd do it then. So here it is.

Actually a pretty disturbing song, chilly and stark in its original incarnation, I tried to make it even starker and chillier at the same time as expanding its arrangement. I thought that would be difficult, but it flowed pretty naturally and it gets pretty convincingly crazed at about the point where it should. I usually don't place much emphasis on the sound effects in songs-- in fact, as a rule I tend to dislike them rather intensely, but I've spent so much time on elaborate Halloween mix tapes over the decades that I tend to make an exception for one month and one milieu-- but I like how, on this one, the wind at the beginning reads (to me) like a spooky haunted house exterior type of thing, but by the end, coupled with the sleigh bells, it's clearly something from the depths of winter itself. The pounding drums toward the end and on the fadeout are indeed jacked from Peter Gabriel's "Intruder", as disturbing a portrait of a deranged individual as you could ever want, and it feels appropriate. Santa comes off as a bit of a sociopath, and the overprotective parents are their own kind of monsters... Gabriel in his prime would have been proud.

Rex ~ Everything except
Eden ~ Backing vocals

Saturday, October 30, 2010

226. "Boris the Spider" by The Who

Requested by the Broome family. Requests are going to be a little dicey for the next few days while I work through some obligations... don't worry, it's not forever.

This is in fact the very first Who song to be covered on 39-40, and, oddly, it's not a Pete Townshend composition. Both of these facts are only slightly less weird than the fact that yesterday's cover was the very first Bowie song I'd done. There are only a few more bizarrely unrepresented core artists out there; it'll be interesting to see if chance brings any of their songs my way.

There hasn't been a Braine recording for a while, and this seemed like a good one: Miranda already knew the bass part; Eden sang the song with Wye last Halloween at one of their very first gigs, and Ridley was incredibly enthusiastic about coming up with terrifying ways to utter the title phrase at the appropriate points in the song. Not to spoil anything, the new lyrical additions were written by Eden and their inclusion was her idea to begin with.

Happy Halloween, dear listeners.

Miranda Broome ~ Bass, backing vocals
Eden Hain ~ Lead vocals, additional lyrics
Ridley Broome ~ Backing vocals
(with Rex on additional guitar)

Friday, October 29, 2010

225. "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" by David Bowie

Requested by Eden Hain. Sort of.

So the funny thing is that this wasn't really supposed to be a cover of "Scary Monsters". At all. See, like, there was only one online request, and Eden and I started demoing a song, you'd never guess the title of this song, Tickle Me Pink ( it's Eden's favorite CRAYOLA crayon). And The even more hilarious part is that it's actually made out of I am the Walrus. Which all mixes together quite well I should say. Girly song title, scary song premise, John Lennon on LSD.

(Okay, the above was actually written by Eden, in character as me, but now it's really me again. OR IS IT?)

Anyhow, yeah, it was a crazy day running back and forth between schools, recording kids in classrooms, and ultimately delivering Eden to her gig with Wye. But along the way, driving around, Eden put in the second request, which was to finish a demo of this song "Tickle Me Pink" and then have me cover it, so that's what we set out to do. But we ran out of time before her show, and then she got invited to dinner by her dad and his family, so rather abruptly I started rearranging the sequencing I'd started for her song (which, yes, does include some recycled "Walrus" guts from "Free Bird") into "Scary Monsters", which was another cover she'd almost requested (and she did win the randomized 50/50 lottery fair and square). She did get home in time to provide the vocal and uke part on the coda. It's not surprising that this thing turned out a little bit weird, but in fact it's probably even artier than you'd expect, but when things get as hurried and by definition Frankensteinian as this recording already was, you lose a lot of shyness about excising near-random hunks of the mix or deliberately singing out of time or ditching the real end of the song in favor of some way-whack fake tropicalia. Or at least I do, and Eden lets me get away with it. Okay, who am I kidding... she came up with some of the most bizarre stuff herself.

Eden Hain ~ Vocals, ukulele
Rex Broome ~ Backing vocals, guitar, bass, other weird arty stuff

Thursday, October 28, 2010

224. "O Death" by Ralph Stanley

Requested by Ken Ostrander.

Ken didn't actually specify which version of this song he was thinking of, so I had to decide for myself. I went with the Ralph Stanley version from a very popular film soundtrack of recent years, because, although it's probably far and away the best known rendition of the song to modern audiences, it actually relates better to my rendition than most, being a capella. However, most of my phrasing and specific lyrics come from an only slightly older and even more modern take on the song, the one that appears on Camper Van Beethoven's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart LP. That was one of my favorite records at a very early time in my listening career, a point when I had perhaps 20 or 30 albums to my name, and it was one of my very favorites, so the CVB version remains the one I've heard the most in spite of my years of subsequent roots music immersion.

I didn't intend it, but the unique approach I took to this song results in a surprisingly palpable Beefheart feel. The instrument that crops up a time or two and takes a sort of solo is not, as it seems to be, some kind of analogue synth or amplified xylophone... it's my mandolin, rendered that way by the ultracompressive vagaries of the method of its transmission. If I liked to believe I was cooler than I really do (or am), I would make some kind of connection between this and the way McGuinn achieved that crazy sitar sound on "Why?" by playing his 12-string through a walkie talkie speaker, but I don't so I won't.

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

223. "Halloween" by The Dream Syndicate

Requested by Miles Goosens (among several others in recent weeks).

Not long ago, in the course of discussing a band (not The Dream Syndicate) whose output seemed to us to have gone substantially downhill at a certain point, a group of friends and I were noting that the band seemed to have spent several recent albums trying very deliberately to not do several of the things they were best known for. And one can understand that creative impulse in an artist who's quite a few years into a career and doesn't want to make the same record over and over again... but, as one of the participants in the discussion noted, there's a difference between relying on stylistic and formalistic crutches and simply playing to one's strengths.

I mention this because I had a few ideas for this one which were on the artistic curveball side of things... I was considering flying in a psychedelic sample interlude featuring soundbites from some of the many songs which share this one's title, layering many more and more sophisticated Halloween sound effects, and possibly making it into an extension of the recording of "Needle-In-A-Haystack Girls", the end of had me playing practically the same riff in the same key as the beginning of this song. But as I sat down to work on it, the idea of playing to one's strengths came back to me, partly because I had to dump a big bunch of guitar playing that I did late at night through amp simulators (so the kids could sleep) and which just didn't sound right to me. I had to wait an extra day in order to be able to fire up the real amps and do what I needed to do, and at that point I decided to call a spade a spade and admit that if I can be said to have a "strength" as a musician, it may well be replicating the sound of a buzzy/jangly band that's often thought to be highly influenced by the Velvets and/or Crazy Horse, if not Velvets and/or Crazy Horse themselves. Add to that the fact that nobody actually gives enough of a shit about me as an artist for me to have any kind of expectations to be running away from, and it seemed a pretty good argument for 8+ minutes of ringing guitar noise.

Two other quick notes, one being that the artwork for this recording represents the second time in my limited graphic design career that I've re-created the super-iconic cover for The Days of Wine and Roses, the first being for the compilation No White Light: Buried in the Eighties assembled by myself and Charlie Eckstrom some years ago. The second is that I'd be really curious to know what any guitarists or gear freaks would guess to be the type of guitar I played the lead track on (the 6-string; the 13-string is obviously my trusty Rick 610-12).

Personnel: Rex
Sound effects from the cassette A Night in the Graveyard by The Haunted House Music Co.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

222. "Demons" by Super Furry Animals

Requested by Ed Poole, who now joins Jeff Norman in the Two Consecutive Requests Performed Club Organization Guild.

Well, this wasn't ideal, but I'd been waiting all month for a song that I could recast as a sinister evil-guy rhymey monologue backed with some vintage Halloween background tapes (of which, as I've alluded several times, I'm a bit of a fan). The perfect candidate would've been a little more straight-up verse, but I was willing to entertain something a bit more abstract and potentially puzzling to the listener. The lyrics to this song came as close as I'm likely to get, given the scant days remaining before Halloween, so I decided to roll with it while I could.

The way I broke it down, it drifted a little farther from Zacherle territory than I'd anticipated, but settled into a groove that wasn't too far off the mark of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion "Ghost Host", particularly in the "stretching room" monologue, so I rolled with that and simulated the stereo ping-ponging from that bit, and that made it almost totally okay with me. The vocal repitching helped, too. It can be a bit harder for me to feel like I did a decent job doing over-the-top dialogue than over-the-top singing, but with the funky effect it was fairly easy to camp it up. We all need a crutch or two, don't we?

Personnel: Rex
Sound effects from Horror Sounds of the Night (Topstone Audio) and Scary Sounds (manufacturer unknown).

Monday, October 25, 2010

221. "Magick Power" by Opal

Requested by Ed Poole.

Oh, the fun we can have! This was a crazy mad day. I had to get up outstandingly early to pack up all my recording gear to drive across town and set up in my daughter Miranda's classroom to record her class singing a song we've written together about math. This was a one-man operation, in, as it turns out, the rain. It had to be done in less than an hour, and, at least in terms of what strictly needed to happen, it was, although the one student not present was Miranda, owing to what a total class act my ex-wife is. Still, I did have the forethought to randomize the Monday requests before I left, and, when this song came up, I thought it might be a nice and potentially terrifying touch to have a room full of fourth graders chanting along, so I had them do so as a sound check.

The rest of the day was not rainy at all; in fact, it was one of those perfect LA autumn days the kind of which we haven't gotten enough this year. Clear and windy... dead leaves skittering everywhere on the roads, choppy water on the reservoir, exactly what you hope for on Halloween itself. It was a mood lifter, but throughout the rest of the day I kept running into mentally ill people. More than usual, even. Somewhere in the middle of those encounters I got into a elevator with a random disheveled elderly man I'd never seen before. During the one floor descent, he looked at me and said, "Y'know, Rex, Morgan got dropped by the Times today." This creeped me the hell out. Fortunately we reached my floor right away; I got out of the elevator and he didn't, which was odd, because it was the bottom floor. And then I realized that he hadn't so much psychically hijacked my name as he'd been expressing his frustration that the LA Times had stopped running the comic strip Rex Morgan MD, and I was doubtless one of many people he'd felt obliged to inform about it.

Rex Broome ~ Lead and harmony vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar, nonsense sounds
Ms. Wong's Fourth Grade Class ~ Backing vocals
Eden Hain ~ Marcelline the Vampire Queen
Sound effects from the album Halloween Night

Sunday, October 24, 2010

220. "Needle-In-A-Haystack Girls" by The Bye Bye Blackbirds

Requested by Jeff Norman. Yeah, I know, but that's how it rolls.

I wish I'd had more time with this one! And frankly I feel sort of ripped off by fate; I was going to get to record this one with Skates & Rays, but the rehearsal got scrapped at the last minute... that would've been cool, and it would've let me play around the guitar interplay a lot more; I sure do like listening to it on the original. But the way this recording unfolded was gratifying in its own way. I have no idea if anyone else in the world will enjoy listening to it, but I do, and that's gotta count for something. Hearing it back, it seems to me as if it unfolded within a dream or something, like there are overtones in there I neither intended nor recall.

There's also the fact that the entire second half of the performance just happened. Obviously I went back in and complemented it with a few overdubs, but basically what was intended to be the playout, probably a fadeout, turned spontaneously into something else. I may have been back in the Skates & Rays mindset, because during our brief two-guitar lineup with the estimable Charlie Eckstrom we would do a variation on this exact thing, sounding kind of like Galaxie 500 and New Order playing at the same time. I always liked it quite a good deal and it bothers me a little that no recording exists.

Personnel: Rex

Saturday, October 23, 2010

219. "10538 Overture" by Electric Light Orchestra

Requested by Jeffrey Norman, who won the privilege by correctly identifying my backward-masked singing of "Revolution Part 2" by The Butthole Surfers during the bridge to "Something in the Air".

(Also, maybe it should be "The" Electric Light Orchestra per the single's artwork at left; this remains unclear.)

Due to the unusual nature of this cover, I'm going to highly recommend that you listen to the piece before reading my comments. To aid in this process, I'll put the links to the original and my cover right here so you can download them now, and return to find out what the hell you've just heard afterwards.

Okay, so the odd story here:

I have a very time-consuming recording project to tackle this weekend, so my time for 39-40 is a bit limited. But the idea of doing this song as an acoustic number seemed ludicrous to me. I mean, it would actually be possible and maybe an interesting challenge, but I think it was proposed by Jeff hoping that I'd do something differently interesting with it, and I was hoping to do so without breaking the time bank.

It occurred to me that I'd recorded an unreleased cover of a different ELO song, "Do Ya", with The Chiggers three years ago. The Chiggers were an interesting project, masterminded by Ms. Nigel Cox, who'd played keyboards in Skates & Rays (and is on our album You Are My Home) and was a vehicle for her original songs and some unusual covers in a stripped-down country-ish style. The core members were Nigel ("Tammy Chigger"), her boyfriend Patrick ("Slim Chigger"), and myself ("Waylon Chigger"). The band existed simultaneously with a very busy period for Skates & Rays and my schedule was really stretched trying to do rehearsals, shows and recording with both groups, but it was all worthwhile. Eventually Nigel & Patrick moved out of California before the recordings were really completed or released, and the project sort of faded away. Remembering it, I thought it was a shame that it never reached an audience, and that maybe it could in this context.

But I thought that just switching ELO tunes was a little too cheap, so there would have to be some pretext. My idea was, I'd record it as if a band was trying to play "10538 Overture" and struggling with it; after the take in question fell apart, they'd give up and decide to do "Do Ya" instead, which would be the cue for the Chiggers track. For the ruse to be even slightly successful, though, the false start of "10538" would have to sound like something more than a pisstake; it would have to sound like I'd made a real commitment to nailing the tune.

So-- and yeah, I appreciate that this is all nuts, but I think Jeff of all people might appreciate it-- I got pretty exacting about creating my fake band falling into a nonexistent chaotic shambles. I figured there had to be a fairly expansive arrangement, showing evidence of a decent amount of multitracking and programming and re-thinking of the song, all of which would seem to require more effort than anyone would reasonably put into something that was just going to die after less than a minute and a half. In fact, it ought to sound pretty damned good. And then there was the actual part where the song fell apart itself... that had to actually sound fairly convincing, at least the first time a listener heard it. So that took a bit of time, too.

So you kind of get a bunch of stuff all rolled into one. I hope at least some of it strikes you as groovy.

Personnel, "10538" intro:
Rex Broome ~ Piano and strings programming, guitars, bass, mandolin, harmonica, vocals

Personnel, "Do Ya":
Nigel Cox ~ Piano & lead vocal
Patrick Morrison ~ Drums
Rex Broome ~ Guitars, bass, backing vocals

Friday, October 22, 2010

218. "Motion Pictures" by Neil Young

Requested by Miles Goosens.

I'd have thought that if I were to cover a tune from Neil Young's mighty but still somewhat obscure On the Beach LP at this time of year, it'd be "Vampire Blues", but you really can't go wrong with this record... there's not a bad song on it. In fact, there's not a single "just okay" song on it. Some days it's my favorite Neil record, and that ain't easy.

My library actually already contains two exemplary covers of this song: one by Mercury Rev, which emphasizes the atmospherics, and one by The V-Roys, who add a bit of rock drama to it. I love both of those recordings and thought I had to go in a radically different direction with mine, so I did. What's really surprising about this is how easy it was. A few of the things that I just thought might work in my head actually did work in real life, and you can't always count on that, and then in a few instances I just got lucky and got things right the first time. Rather pleased with it, I think.

Personnel: Rex

Thursday, October 21, 2010

217. "Something I Learned Today" by Hüsker Dü

Requested by Bill Rodeheaver.

Interestingly, this is the second cover in a row begining with the letters "SOMETHING I". Possibly the subconscious at work here, and not just on Bill's request: Chris Huff requested Sean Cassidy's version of "Da Doo Ron Ron", and it clicked in my head-- I think because I remember my dad learning the lyrics to the Cassidy version when it was a hit-- that in that cover, Sean sings "Somebody tolde me that her name was Jill" in order to masculinize the lyric, and I wondered if that was in any way related to my just having covered "Ask for Jill". Huff would neither confirm nor deny. In any case, it's always a pleasure to have a go at a Bob Mould tune... or a Grant Hart one, since, also coincidentally, Grant's wonderful solo tune "2541" was requested today.

This is unquestionably the rawest recording I have ever posted to 39-40. Well, maybe some of those sickbed straight-to-condenser mic things were rougher, but I haven't done anything like that for a long time. The guitar and vocal are one-take deals, with, and this is very rare, no processing whatsoever on them, no trims at the beginning and end, nothing. The "second" guitar track is just a copy of the first, basically doused in lighter fluid and set ablaze. The weird little tag at the end was my response to Eden, who is upstairs playing and singing that song over and over again, trying out harmonies, maybe recording it, I don't know, and as weird as it is, I have to admit that it's cool, and accept that it's surely me who has made that seem like a normal thing to do around the house, and that, too, strikes me as cool.

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

216. "Something In The Air" by Thunderclap Newman

Requested by Roger Newlin.

Actually, Roger requested "Something by Thunderclap Newman", so I figured just add "In The Air" and I was pretty close to doing exactly what he asked for. It's sort of the obvious cover, and there are a couple of other interesting ones I could've picked-- "Accidents" for instance-- and then there's the mysterious question of why the Newman (I don't know if anyone really ever called them "the Newman", I'm just kind of riffing on how Buffalo Springfield was called "the Springfield") never recorded Speedy Keene's awesome "Armenia City in the Sky" as done by The Who, but this song is really too good to pass up.

Actually, I briefly had this song in my acoustic set. And I must have just made up my own version at the time, because I did it in G, and lo and behold it's totally in E. Further irony comes from the fact that when I did it in G, it kind of bombed because that turned out to be a lousy register for me to sing it in. E is only slightly better, so this one ended up in C. It's sort of surprising how rarely I transpose tunes for 39-40... it's often because I start working out the guitar parts by playing along with the recording and I develop pet voicings pretty quickly; as long as there's a way for me to sing it, I'll probably stick with the original key. Anyway, my favorite part of this is the bass... it's really high and yet has a sort of rubbery dubby sound, and I felt like I was channeling Naomi from Galaxie 500.

The first person to identify what I'm singing on the bridge part of this one gets a free request with no randomized competition. Go!

Personnel: Rex

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

215: "Ask For Jill" by The dB's

Requested by Bradley Skaught.

Now this is a cool song. And it was fun to do until I lost a big chunk of what I'd recorded in an application crash. Until then, it was a blast. The basis of my take on it was the insane see-saw riff that runs, and I'm not kidding, all the way through the original tune. I wanted to play that thing up, but there were some other changes that were going to have to go along with that. In the original, the chord sequence is pretty much only suggested by the bassline and a few keyboard stabs here and there. I wanted to make it a little more propulsive, so I was going to base it around a very strummy acoustic guitar and a massively simplified, maybe even lobotimized bass part. But I whipped up my version of that riff first, trying to broaden it out by having a whole ton of different instruments playing it at once. I did that really quickly and just looped all of them (why not?), but the first time I listened to it with the drum part I'd borrowed from The Fall's "Bremen Nacht", which had a similar rhythmic signature to the dB's song but a lot more snarl than I'd realized, it hit me as such a massive wall of noise, almost a "Needles in the Camel's Eye" kind of thing, that I laughed out loud, and that forced a bit of a change of direction.

Personnel: Rex

Monday, October 18, 2010

214. "Surrender" by Cheap Trick

Requested by Genevieve Broome.

Gen requested this one knowing it was one of my most frequently performed covers, but she didn't know about my ace in the hole: having the basic tracks of Midlife Crisis performing a version of it back in August. Still took a bit of work, but it's always nice to have an excuse to post stuff where I'm playing with other musicians, to say nothing of an actual band.

That this song is so regularly covered by me is a little odd, considering that I didn't really get into Cheap Trick-- yet again one of those bands popular in my younger days whose hits I never heard-- until relatively recently, in 2000, when I picked up a budget box of their first three albums in, of all places, London, alongside a bunch of budget Jam stuff and the requisite rare Magazine CDs &c. By that time I knew them by reputation and was aware of "I Want You to Want Me", but I did't expect to be quite as taken as I was. "Surrender", which I hadn't even known was a single, leapt out at me as a song that I really wanted to learn to perform, which was a rarity in those days: I was barely performing at all and still three years away from starting to posit myself as a rock singer/frontman/occasional solo performer. I was just really fascinated by the bigness of the chord and the strangeness of the verses butting up against the anthemic choruses. I've recently heard someone cite the lyric as "bad", which bowls me over... I think it's flat-out brilliant, and the standby explanation of it being about a kid whose parents are cooler than he is doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

Some strange things happen during this recording... the band was bum-rushed by a dog at one point, and my extemporaneous ad-libs don't go as far as they normally would, although I'm glad I was captured singing "got my Thunderhill records out". I almost never actually sing "KISS records", partly because I'm not overly fond of KISS but usually to namedrop another bad on the bill or a family concern (Eden's band Wye has taken the place of honor a few times as well).

Rex Broome ~ lead vocal, guitar
Tom Heckman ~ bass, harmony vocal
Chris Dixon ~ drums

Recorded live in The Barage, Hooker Hollow Road, Keyser, WV, August 2010 by Tom
Mixed and edited by Rex, Minco Records, Silver Lake, CA, October 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

213. "Manic Depression" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Requested by Miranda Broome.

Miranda requested this one because it's been her big project in her bass lessons for a while. Little did she suspect that I would therefore ask her to play it, and add only the whooshiest, thinnest and least guitarry parts to it in order to feature her playing. Ha! Actually, she gave me a brilliant excuse for not playing any guitar on this. Jimi's guitar playing remains among the most purely expressive things ever to feature in rock and roll, but when ever anyone else tries to play like him, no matter how well they do at it, the only thing they ever really seem to be expressing is "Damn, do I wish I was Jimi Hendrix".

The thing that comes in after the first chorus and sounds kind of like a guitar is actually Miranda's bass part, copied and raised two octaves with some fuzz stuff applied to it.

Miranda Broome: Bass
Rex Broome: Mandolin, vocal

Saturday, October 16, 2010

212. "Splendid Isolation" by Warren Zevon

Requested by Jeremy Osner.

I could've done this one from memory, guessing at the chords, and I would've been right. I have some interesting memories of Zevon's Transverse City album... it was the first new record by Zevon that I bought, after having been fairly obsessed with Sentimental Hygiene and Excitable Boy for a year or two before it came out. I was actually fairly disappointed with Transverse, but I listened to it a lot anyway. It was a different time, early in my life as a music dork; I had maybe 300 albums as opposed to the several thousand I'd have not too long after, and there were really only 20 or so artists I followed avidly, and I would immerse myself in even the just-okay records by those people. Zevon was one of them. I had just moved away to college and was able to get to decent records stores for the first time, and I picked up the new Zevon at the same time as his incredibly classic self-titled album. The comparison wasn't fair.

I remember the aspects of the record that didn't thrill me, but they don't seem to matter so much now. There were a handful of uncharacteristically frosty, synthy and futuristic numbers (one of which turns out to be pretty good in restrospect, and I get a charge out of the juxtaposition of massive fairlight sounds and Jerry Garcia lead guitar on the title track), and a few tracks where Zevon pitted his normally withering wit against some too-soft targets ("Down in the Mall" and "Gridlock", the latter a waste of Neil Young as a guest guitarist). One song I classed as such, though-- "Networking", a stab at computer culture circa 1989-- actually still mostly makes sense in today's tech terms, which is pretty astounding. The balance of the record is actually terrific. There are some future predictions that didn't pan out ("the war in Paraguay back in 1999"), but he just about nailed the imminent fall of the Soviet Union in "Turmoil", which was probably the first time I heard the term "mujahideen". And then there's this song, which is classic Zevon, and one that I loved enough to name one of my many mid-'90s mix tapes after a line from it: "Goofy, Take My Hand".

I did a straightforward acoustic version of the song, concentrating on the vocal-- I've decided that copping Zevon's style suits me and I'll probably keep doing it, so there's another takeaway perk from having done 39-40-- and decided to spend the balance of the time trying to figure out how to best mic Miranda's cello and give her enough time to get the performance right, as it's her first time recording on the instrument. Shouldn't have bothered... I got the sound I wanted pretty quickly (or at least I think I did; maybe I was just excited to hear, you know, a cello on there) and Miranda nailed it with enough time left to record a great harmony vocal as well. I think I've dialed in a pretty foolproof method of getting great harmonies from the Broome ladies, and I do intend to work it.

Rex ~ Guitars, vocal
Miranda ~ Cello, backing vocal

Friday, October 15, 2010

211. "Party 'Til You Puke" by Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band

Requested, for the second consecutive day, by Kevin Studyvin.

I had the lyrics in front of me, strummed a few changes to make sure they would make sense, and then hit record and improvised the music as I went. Had to go back and tweak some parts of the vocal because my voice was't always sure where my fingers were going. Nice to do something simple for a change.

Personnel: Rex

Thursday, October 14, 2010

210. "Sister Ray" by The Velvet Underground

Requested by Kevin Studyvin.

Now, this had to be done quickly, and yet it is a rather long piece. Given the "quickly" part, I thought about doing the words to the karaoke track of a different song, which had been the plan with "Free Bird" until that went off the rails. But given the length of the song, I had to figure out what karaoke-friendly song was long enough to contain the material. Yes... what other song is rather long... what song indeed...

Now I live beneath a particularly perverse Sword of Damocles in the form of the obvious conclusion to this trilogy: "I Am the Walrus" built out of little pieces of "Sister Ray".

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

209. "Division" by New Musik

Requested by Chris Franz.

This one got away from me... it was originally going to be totally acoustic, and then I got the idea to lay in my version of the synth lines as well. And then I picked up an electric instead of an acoustic, and this thing just started to happen. The only bit remaining of the acoustic idea is that there's nothing on here even vaguely resembling either a drum machine or a full drum kit, which is pretty weird. My favorite part of my version comes at the very end...

There's a part of the lyric that I really like, intentional or not. The song talks about "division" as if it's a kind of force of its own, as if instead of ideologies splitting off and separating from each other, there's this thing, "division", that drives the wedge from outside, and without which things would be much more harmonious. Which is interesting in itself, but the chorus contains the line "just because division wants it", and part of me hears "division" just for a moment as like a branch of some kind of huge government or corporation that enforces its will on the people in the song, a Big Brother type of deal. "Better radio Division for instructions." For one reason or another, I always get the feeling that something Orwellian and legitimately paranoia-inducing is just around the corner in genuine '80s synthpop tunes. Maybe it was the Reagan-Thatcher era, or maybe it was just all the cocaine that people were doing... or perhaps just the fact that 1984 came and went with that kind of thing as its soundtrack.

Personnel: Rex

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

208. "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Requested by Chris Huff.

Well, it was, as a few people have already pointed out, sort of inevitable that this would happen in this (or any) request format; in fact, in the back of my mind I think I've always known this was a specific part of my mission here. And I have so much to say about this one that I'm starting to write about it even before my cover is complete.

Firstly, let me say that I don't particularly dislike Lynyrd Skynyrd, although it is of course true that I have heard this song and "Sweet Home Alabama" a few too many times. And you shouldn't take the artwork on my cover version, which appears to show me offering you, the listener, a bunch of brussel sprouts, to mean I'm giving you something you don't want: I took that picture a few days ago because I thought the sprouts-on-a-stalk looked cool, and everyone in my family including myself actually enjoys lightly steamed brussel sprouts.

The truth is, completely apart from the music itself, I'm kind of fascinated by how, when, and through what confluence of circumstances "Free Bird" became the standby request to be shouted out at any given concert, and, from there, the cliché joke fake request to be yelled out or made fun of in movies and so forth. I know my dad used to get requests to "play some Skynyrd" back in the '70s; he's told me that, not knowing that Skynyrd was a band and not a dude, he would always reply "Hell, no, we're not gonna play Lynyrd Skynyrd-- he never plays any of our songs!" which must've sounded like an even better joke than he intended. The first time I remember seeing a flat out parody of the "Free Bird!" request was in one of the early, pre-MTV Beavis & Butthead shorts in the late '80s. I've always wondered how it came to pass that the pronunciation of the title when yelled out is always "FREEbird", when as far as I can tell the song doesn't suggest anything other than saying it as two words, free bird, with equal emphasis, but just now I've hunted up the original single's sleeve art (above), and right there, on the song's first appearance and despite almost all official listings of the tune since then reading "Free Bird", it's built right into that (kinda bizarre) design work as "Freebird".

(I've also been puzzled by why so many people, including a lot of the band's fans, spell their name incorrectly as "Skynard". It's not like it's a word that's ever seen spelled any way other than "Skynyrd", so the misspelling seems like something you'd have to go out of your way to invent. But, you know, I'm puzzled by a lot of stuff that doesn't bother anyone else.)

Okay, so I've gotta cover one of the most covered songs ever. Fine, I thinks, time to haul out the bag of tricks I've stashed aside for a rainy day. First unused idea: sing the lyrics to the song over a karaoke track for a completely different song. To keep a little bit of randomness involved, I hit the shuffle on iTune and waited for a song to appear for which a karaoke track was likely to be available. First one to pop up was "I Am the Walrus" (which, oddly, I'd already sampled once on 39-40, for the wildly popular Braine cover of "Egg Man"). Seemed like that could work, so I bought a karaoke track for the song off of iTunes (settling on the absolute cheesiest backing track of the many available, for maximum unsettling effect).

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed I could do something a little more interesting than just bending the words to a different melody. So I pulled up the online tabs for the two songs to see what keys and chords I was dealing with. Not a lot of overlap, but... what if I diced up the karoke "Walrus" into chords and retuned them as needed, and build a new "Bird" out of "Walrus" parts? Doable. So I went through that painstaking-ass, multiple-application-requiring process, knowing I had the pesky problem of the lack of minor chords in my source song, and the need for an E-minor in my final product. Once I had the thing lined up, I set to work on seeing if setting an organ stereo left and an acoustic guitar stereo right, both playing the E-minor where it was supposed to be, covered up the E-major on the mellotron. Seemed to do well enough, and to my delight Paul McCartney's bassline, after going through my musical food processor, still played as a pretty cogent bass part for "Free Bird". Thanks, Sir Paul-- I forgive you for that "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae" thing!

Other ideas started to arise... I needed some ambient washes here and there and I've started to get a feel for what works and what doesn't. I felt like backward folk music would fit here, and what I used was an old single by my dad, one of his few recorded original songs, called "Big Bad Bird" which expressed almost exactly the same sentiment as the song I was covering. Dad's song was written earlier than Skynyrd's, and it is, for my money, a bit better. I also used some ancient, unused overdubs that were recorded and abandoned around the time that single was being recorded... in 1968, I believe.

The vocal... surprisingly I decided to play it fairly straight, at least to begin with, although it shows signs of faltering when it lapses into Cat Stevens and Neil Young lyrics, and it goes to hell completely at the end in the fast section. But all bets are off at that point. The basis of it is radically retuned loop of the crazy percussion part from The Fall's "I'm Into C.B.", which I'd been saving as the basis for the backing track to the next hip hop track I got, but it works well as a skittery mekanik backbeat when sped up, too. I had to record part of that bit separately in order to facilitate the tempo change, and there's a little more madness incorporated in there: a big chunk of Maurice Rickard's "Red Fiber", which is a far more artful (and anagramatically titled) deconstruction of "Free Bird" than mine, is woven into the entire playout section, getting a featured role when all of the rest of the instruments die off. And my final touch, the coup de grace if you will (and you will) was the thing that I didn't do: I played no electric guitar on this recording. If you wanna hear me shredding it up, you'll have to go back to the Bob Mould cover or one of those other ones where I wailed my ass off for ya.

And there you go. I hope you're happy.

Personnel: Rex
Embodies big fat greasy chunks of "Big Bad Bird" performed by The Thunder Hill Singers and "Red Fiber" performed by Maurice Rickard.

Monday, October 11, 2010

207. "In the Woods of Hemlock Park" by The Rock*A*Teens

Requested by Jeff Norman.

This is not a song I'd heard before, and the production on it is really, really interesting, murky and classic-sounding at the same time. It wasn't something I could easily replicate and an alternative approach didn't immediately suggest itself to me, so I did what I'm supposed to do here... I stepped back and looked at the song itself. And I was surprised that I fairly quickly decided it was a variation on an old-time murder ballad. There's a lot of ambiguity as to what actually happens in the titular woods (well, either that or I'm quite thick), some question as to whether the tragedy is visited upon the victim by outside forces or the singer himself, and it's even a little open-ended as to who's truly dead and gone, but even that isn't too alien to the folk ballad trope, and the last verse does have a reversal or twist that's fairly common in them, too. So I had my approach.

At first I tried to reframe it as a dirgey waltz, but as I worked that out-- actually as I transcribed the lyrics, as they don't exist online, which, in case you've never thought of this, adds a fair amount of time to my process compared to songs which are tabbed to death on the internet-- it occurred to me that of the many versions I've heard of, say, "Banks of the Ohio" or "Stackolee", a fair amount of them are downright sprightly. And that started to seem a little more genuine to me, so that's the tack I took. If I'd had a little more time, I would've added banjo and something rigged to sound like a string bass, and as it was I barely got the mandolin on there, but the harmonica and the vocal style I tried out-- which is meant to be more Guthrie than Dylan-- manage to make the tune sound at least a little bit older than it is.

Personnel: Rex

Sunday, October 10, 2010

206. "Sweet Ghost of Light" by Robyn Hitchcock

Requested by Ken Ostrander.

No, your eyes don't deceive you (heh)-- the parody/tribute artwork covers have slowly been returning. For those of you who haven't followed 39-40 from the beginning, early on I somehow fell into the habit of creating individual artwork for each of my covers and tying it into the artwork for the song I was covering. It got impractical when I went on vacation in August, and is only now, and falteringly, starting to happen again. This one is particularly cool if you hold it up right next to the cover for the original LP... you get one long pair of eyes.

If 39-40 were in a "cover an entire album" format-- and actually, you reader-requestors totally could conspire to make it just that, with a little solidarity-- I think Eye would be a great candidate for me to tackle. Some songs would get rocked up, some songs would get spaced out, and other would stay low key and acoustic... it seems like the kind of thing one could do without feeling any need to be either too slavish or too experimental, and still preserve the flavor of the record. Which I love, so I may be biased.

Personnel: Rex

Saturday, October 9, 2010

205. "Yer Blues" by The Beatles

Requested by Kevin Studyvin.

This was recorded and posted (barely!) on what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday. I put a limit on the requests that they could only be Lennon compositions. In spite of and because of this, there was a record number of requests, with several people coming down in favor of this tune.

Today I have read, in the press and on numerous postings on that social nettwerk thing, a lot of words about John Lennon. Many of them have been extremely moving... not surprisingly, mostly the ones which tally with my understanding and experience of the man and his work. Some have been utter dross or worse; Lennon is just one of those guys many of whose ardent followers just don't get. It seems easy for people to reduce and simplify him to something he wasn't, which amazes me, because some of the stuff that makes him so fascinatingly complicated is so very difficult to just wave away. But people do. I know the world needs another Lennon-Christ comparison like it needs another working class hero, but there it, glaringly, obviously, glaringly obviously is.

For that reason I'm glad to have done one of John's difficult or confrontational numbers (leaving aside that a lot of his popular and poorly-understood songs also have subversively confrontational aspects) because that was a large part of who and what the guy was: a challenger of received wisdom. And I do believe that the streamlined version of his story being passed around by so many people today would be high on the list of received wisdom he'd be eager to debunk... hell, he had started that process before The Beatles were even over.

So this may not be the best Lennon cover you hear today, but I hope that it gets at a little something about the man that a lot of other covers will be happy to gloss over.

Rex Broome: Backing track, male rock vocal
Genevieve Broome: Female rock vocal, successfuly weaseling out of playing a guitar solo that she totally could have torn up and she knows it, too

Friday, October 8, 2010

204. "(Here's One I Bet You Wouldn't Want to Meet) In the Wild" by Monkey Typing Pool

Requested by Jeff Norman.

The original version of this was also written and performed by Jeff Norman, who is Monkey Typing Pool and, you may recall, produced the bulk of the 39-40 version of "God Bless the Child" way back when. Why, at that time I thought a whole lot of people would jump at the chance to collaborate with me on one of these things, for exposure and fun and just to be part of it all. Ha. Ha ha ha. My, how we laughed. Ha ha ha.

Anyway, I wish I'd done this better. I took the somewhat obvious strategy of rocking it up, and added a twist: I've always liked it when songs start with an instrument beginning on an off beat, creating the illusion that the downbeat of the song is something other than what it is and the melody is slid over from where it should be until the drums etc. enter and your mind has to do a fast mental shift to put everything in place. They sound odd the first few times you hear them, and then they start to sound normal... except that every once in a while you somehow hear it the way you did the first time, and it puts you right back in that moment. The only example I can think of offhand is "Dktr Faustus" by The Fall, because it's late. Anyway, in addition to throwing that little trick in there, I added a repeat of the chorus, a solo section, a half of a completely new verse, a breakdown and an extended outro, even with all of which I barely cracked the three-minute mark.

But the worst part of it was how, upon final playback (and even now, to a greater or lesser extent after having gone nuts tying to fix it) some of the attacks on the 13-string part were clipping violently. And I couldn't figure out where. I ended up doing all kinds of manual volume adjustments on a microscopic level, but it was basically uncorrectable (while also appearing to all intents and purposes not to *need* fixing). Which sucks because I was pretty excited about how it was turning out, until I wasn't. So sorry to everyone and most especially Jeff. They can't all be "Cold July Rain", I guess.

The cover image for my version, by the way, was selected by the tried and almost always true method of googling the title of the song and grabbing the first image that's big enough to be used. A recipe for win if there ever was one.

Personnel: Rex

Thursday, October 7, 2010

203. "A Song About Monkeys" by Charlie McDonnell

Requested by Eden Hain.

Yes, once again a member of my household wins the request of the day, and once again she gets to play and sing on it. It must be said that when I only get three or four requests, and my family peoples are reminded to request stuff from me just from my very presence and never miss a day, it's going to happen.

When we last checked in on Eden's progress in mastering the ukulele, she was helping me record this track on the first day she even tried to play the instrument. She's improved a good deal since then, largely through watching folks like Charlie McDonnell on YouTube. You may not be aware of this, but there's a major resurgence of interest in ukes right now, and, for whatever reason, YouTube is ground zero for it. It actually makes sense to me... YouTube videos are often done on the fly and with sketchy sound anyway. A nice portable uke beats a guitar as the thing you can pull out of your backpack and sing along with while vlogging from a train station in the Czech Republic or wherever. In any case, Eden's made it her own thing. So when I picked up my mandolin we came up with this joke idea, probably on a drive to school or something, of forming a super-high-end duo with us playing uke and mandolin... sort of the opposite of Mike Watt's Dos, I guess. We actually did it, though, on this track, opting for the project name Mandolele over Ukelin almost as much for the aesthetics of the word as anything else.

Eden is an avid follower of a bunch of these YouTubers, some of whom (and at times the point of the whole YouTubing enterprise) I just don't get, and a lot of whose musical material strikes me as clever but altogether too much on the novelty side of things to really excite me... if Dr. Demento is still going, he should be having a field day with online parodies and so forth. But McDonnell is very impressive. I have to love it that Eden found Charlie largely because he does songs and videos based on Doctor Who, which Eden loves because I introduced her to it. McDonnell's band Chameleon Circuit is in fact a "Time Lord Rock" band, all of whose songs are based on Who themes and characters, so there's entertainment to be found there for longtime fans like me. And yeah, maybe I have had a hand in creating a monster, but is it cool to have a daughter who rocks the guitar, loves Bowie, digs Doctor Who and writes songs reflecting all of that? Why, hell yes, I'd have to say it is.

Eden Hain ~ Ukulele, vocals
Rex Broome ~ Mandolin, whistling, vocals