Don’t be fooled by the punk name or the “Sweet Jane” cover–or for that matter the “Sweet Jane” endorsement by Lou Reed. Margo Timmins has the pristine voice of so many early ’60s Joan Baez imitators, a timbre wholly uncorrupted by personality. Beginning with an insufferable a cappella reading of the traditional ballad “Mining for Gold,” she turns the wretched of the earth into art (to borrow a phrase from Alice Walker): in the matrix of Timmins’s sensibility that’s all the redemption the wretched need. The folk-music revival has got to be stopped before all ambitious pop music dissolves into a contemplation of its own piety. There’s no better place for it to stop than here.
2. Johnny Winter, “Stranger Blues,” from The Winter of ’88(MCA)
The Elmore James tune, and an overdue reminder that the ’69 Second Winter remains one of the most exciting claims anyone has made on the rock tradition. With drums and bass behind him, Winter jumps his sinewy. snaking lines across the piece, refusing, as he did on Second Winter, both Clapton elegance and Hendrix grandeur. What you hear is smash, twist, high-stepping, every riff cutting itself short and then leaping forward. The pleasure is in the tension: knowing everything will turn out alright, as the guitarist scares you into sensing it just might not.
3. Herman’s Hermits, “I’m Into Something Good,” in The Naked Gun (Paramount)
Postmod self-referentiality in a great trash film: after the song plays behind a falling-in-love sequence, its MTV credit appears on the screen.
4. Herschell B. Chipp, Picasso’s Guernica–History Transformations (California)
Someday, when a writer has had the time to live with the right disc as long as Chipp has lived with Guernica, I’d like to read a book about a single record as vitally detailed, as richly contextualized, as completely realized, as this book about a single painting. Submit titles and rationales now; the winner runs here, and the prize is a copy of Chipp–a good deal, since it goes tor $37.50.
5. Jewels, “Hearts of Stone,” from Oldies But Goodies Vol. 5 (Original Sounds reissue, 1955)
The LP itself is ancient; the cut sounds new. Still unknown compared to the hit version made in the same year by Otis Williams and the Charms, this L.A. doo-wop explosion sums up the freedom unleashed in the first flush of rock ‘n’ roll, and proves that the music was anything but a linear development out of r&b (even if “R&B” was the name of the label on which the Jewels’ record was originally released). In the unstable chanting of the chorus you can hear the thrill of making secret music public, and also the thrill of discovering that such an act makes old secrets (“BADDA WADDA BADDA WAH,” in this case) into a language not even the singers can understand. The momentum is so strong, and so confused, you can’t believe there’s an ending to it, and when the performance does end, there’s only one appropriate reaction: disbelief. Disbelief that it ended, and disbelief that it ever began.
6. Emily Listfield, It Was Gonna Be Like Paris (Bantam reprint, 1984)
Cool and touching–a Downtown novel already looking hack to a time “when punk was punk.”
7. Michael Barson, Lost, Lowly, & Vicious–Postcards From the Great Trash Films (Pantheon)
Old movie posters, topped by Roger Corman’s ’58 Teenage Caveman (“PREHISTORIC REBELS against PREHISTORIC MONSTERS”), featuring Robert Vaughn, looking at least 35, drawing his bow against some kind of swamp thing, which presumably represents his father. He can’t really be rebelling against dinosaurs, can he?
8. Almost Grown premiere (CBS, November 27)
This generational drama (the generation being the one supposed to respond to rock-sourced commercials) kicks off in 1962, though the dialogue says it’s 1988: “Gimme a break,” says one character. “I’m outta here,” says another. While nobody says “It’s history,” there’s a moment where the marketing strategy is coded into the storyline–thus rewriting history as mere hindsight, sealing the superiority of the present over the past. “Run it down,” Dad says over James Brown. His teenage son doesn’t sulk, or run away, or get his bow out of the closet: he makes a rational argument. “Dad, it’s a force. Rock ‘n’ roll could even become like–a huge business!” Dad: “Son, in this country, it doesn’t mean anything unless it can sell products. Can you imagine this stuff selling cars?”
9. Bangles, “In Your Room” (Columbia)
Sexy, if you’re a 16-year-old boy, or ever were.
10. All Things Considered, segment on the death of Roy Orbison (National Public Radio, December 7)
Here’s a man whose music has never left the radio, who’s in the midst of a major comeback, and on the day the news breaks only this station, of all those monitored by a select group of dumbfounded listeners, bothered to follow the announcement with a song.
Village Voice, December [dd?] 1988