The Platters/Hank Ballard & the Midnighters
The rough and the smooth
The Platters: Enchanted: The Best of the Platters (Rhino '98)
It's arguable that the most successful vocal group of the '50s by far‑-20 top 40 pop hits between 1955 and 1961‑-weren't doowop at all. They never sang on street corners, that's for sure. And although they started at King, their hits were on a major label, Mercury, overseen by a songwriter named Buck Ram who insisted Mercury market them on its pop rather than "race" imprint. All but one featured Tony Williams, a funny-looking little dude with a precise, melodramatic tenor. Ram's piano triplets on their breakout "Only You" inspired a Stan Freberg parody, and his "When I feel your charm/It's like a fourth alarm" was one of the worst couplets of the decade. But the Platters' half-heartsong, half-heartbreak oeuvre proved romance needn't be adolescent or evanescent, and although Williams is dismissed as Jackie Wilson writ small, I prefer him just because he doesn't have what it takes to go all operatic on his timeless standards and period originals. This hitches up three collectors' items from the group's post-Williams and -Ram incarnation where Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, and Ink Spots covers should be. But "Smoke Gets in You Eyes" remains, as it must. Zora Taylor's ingenue lead on the early-'57 "He's Mine" is girl-group before the Chantels. And where do you think Chrissie Hynde got her band name? Some Jackson Browne album? Or "The Great Pretender," which she thrilled to as a horny youth? A
Hank Ballard & the Midnighters: Sexy Ways: The Best of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (Rhino '93)
Doing my due diligence, I bought the easier-to-find 2005 King iteration of this canonical comp, All 20 of Their Chart Hits. But though you may have to settle for it, I'm glad I don't. I prefer the dance novelties (best: the stepping-in-space "The Float," complete with wobbly out-of-phase backup) with which it replaces Rhino's r&b marginalia (best: the Marty Robbins tune "Sugaree"), but the sound is tinnier and the annotation nonexistent all the way down to the composer credits. The 15 songs the two share are the nub of Ballard's achievement not counting "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)." That the man who had hits with "Work With Me Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby" also had hits with "The Twist" and "Finger Poppin' Time" (and wrote three of them) is all you need know of the breadth of his vision. Ballard's businesslike determination to create a disturbance in your equilibrium never slackens. He's disruptive in a way most quality r&b is too focused on music per se to have time for. A MINUS
To pick one comment out of the thread seems a little narrow-minded, so truly, thanks to everybody and then especially thanks to Bob for using the phrase "power play" since that sums the day up very precisely.
You guys are great and now, it's on to Tuesday. And you know what that means ...
First of all, "inchoate," as in "Just begun and so not fully formed or developed," is not the same thing as "raw." Flipper is raw. Nirvana is raw. MBV, to my ears, is not fully formed or developed. Impressionistic, if you will. Hence, inchoate. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it keeps the band from being a personal favorite for me, especially since I like good lyrics, which you figure most "art" bands would spend a little more time on. I mean, you had twenty years to think about it, and you couldn't come up with anything better than...
You come back and see I welcome
I wonder how that you find out
I wonder how that you find out
You could be the one for me
You couldn't lie that it's not for
You couldn't now that it's over.
This is a big failing of Kevin Shields...in my opinion. Even if his melodies were as good as Irving Berlin's (I respectfully disagree), Shields has never, and could never, write anything as profound as "White Christmas." He just has no use for reaching people that way -- he's more about sound and sensation. Which is fine, but has its limits...for me.
For me, fun is an intellectual pursuit, which is why your disco comment doesn't work with me. "Ring My Bell" is far more intellectually rewarding to me than anything Kevin Shields has put his name on. As far as "Exile on Main Street" goes...are you sure you're not confusing that record with "Steel Wheels?" And as far as Sonic Youth and early R.E.M. go regarding lack of intellectual content, well I can't argue with you there. No intellectual content...at all...
Hey, man...I LIKE My Bloody Valentine. Let's be clear on that! I just don't love them. At least, I don't love them as you apparently do.
As far as their "pernicious" influence, perhaps I'm jaded after three years of listening to Pitchfork's weekly reviewed records for my column, but the reason you can't find major bands that have aped MBV is because there aren't any -- there's just a shitload of minor bands that have tried and tried and tried. Case in point: the History of Apple Pie, whose new record has lyrics even more Hello Kitty than Kevin Shields'.
And now, I will play the new MBV record. And I will enjoy it.
Take care of yourself, Greg -- we love you over here in this thrift store corner of the world. Peace be with you, Michael.
Great stuff Ryan, I always look forward to your posts here. Personally I rarely play Fireboy, but "Riddle In the Rain" and "Dark Side of Town" are two of his best for sure. I know those are the Xgau picks but in this case he's right. I guess when I'm in the mood for Grant, his first and third are where I go. As far as the thumb thing goes who can guess. Some jerk disses Wussy and gets 7 (I think) thumbs up.
Thinking of you Greg and look forward to our upcoming "date" ,Crenshaw and Dave Alvin, 2 of my favorite 80's songwriters.
Tough day Greg, I'm sure. I havn't had to deal with this incredibly gut-wrenching situation yet. But will soon, I'm sure- my parents are both 87 but live on the other side of the Country.
Ryan, thanks for the insight into Fireboy. You are a walking enclopedia on all things Go-Between. I vaguely remember you giving other useful insights to the Go-Betweens/Grant McLennan in previous threads.
I know different terrible stories, too. No good answers. It's no way your fault. Which isn't to say you shouldn't be getting drunk tonight.
Not that they have enough depth to cover the Go-Betweens, but they do cover The Mekons.
Here's an imbedded link with Greil Marcus talking about Ancient and Modern.
And if you'r3e not listineting ot the Roget ZKnox album wha the F is wrong with you!???
Sorry,. I'm kind oif c=drunk. Put my Dad in the "mewmory Care=" Unit today. Which meand my sister and I broke up a 66 year marraiage. F--k F--k F--kk
m sure I'll regeret this tomorrow. Except for t he Roge Knox part.
p.s.s: I hate the broder ads too. How stoopid do they think we are. Dpmn't answret that.
there is a place you cannot go - it's around me
I'm lying in a bed on the dark side of town without you
I hear it now/your violin
I'm still a long way/I'm not even close/tell me who do I pay/to get rid of your ghost?
come on time -- do your magic trick
Plus his best Dylan rip, "Whose Side Are You On?". But ten brilliant, naked songs. And dig his passing recollection of the pre-Amanda Go-Betweens buried in words near the end: "a reluctant, bitter feminist/a boy with thin wrists/a tall man with a gift/and I'd never been kissed".
Oh, and the dank, austere early run through "What Went Wrong" and the four spare, effort-free covers (Springsteen, Monkees "Moon River" and early Go-Be's), which backed its singles.
I have to add that I hate, hate, hate turning off the poisonous border ads to get a decent view of EW. Hate it like gutter-stomping a retarded puppy I know is the spawn of Satan.
“The image of God is your final obstruction to a religious experience.” --Joseph Campbell
What's with the tortured support of MBV? It makes me
not want to go back and hear their early stuff-which blew past me-back in the day- to
begin with. Or maybe it was simply the awful sound quality of their cassettes. Or maybe I was right. Think I'll wait for Mr. C to chip in
on the new one. If he did already-that blew past me too.
Yeah, I’d agree that there’s plenty of sex in MBV. "Soft as Snow," for god's sake? And my copy of Blissed Out is lost, but I seem to recall that the MBV piece includes Shields dilating on the joys of sleep. They heart oblivion, with much of what that implies. I'm with Kevin in wanting more of this sort of thing (and the gorgeously unsettled sound of Deerhunter means more to me than that of any less-cryptic band still playing). But since I'm no longer 20 I don't feel the need to choose between MBV and, I don't know, John Prine.
EDIT: In case it's not clear from the above (and it's not), I love John Prine.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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