From the infamous “Lost Weekend” period: side 1 offers bad outtakes from the ’75 oldies LP, while side 2, live studio rehearsals for tunes used on the ’74 Walls and Bridges, contains the strongest music Lennon made from the ’71 Imagine on down. With a small combo (led by guitarist Jesse Ed Davis), there’s the feel of a private blues session, but it wasn’t just the hysterical smear of strings and horns that ruined these songs on Walls and Bridges. It was their vocal mirror: the histrionics of “Steel and Glass,” the portentous, self-consciously sensitive phrasing of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” Now there’s a quiet, nihilistic confrontation with ugliness, lyrics just bitten, or chased out of control: “There you stand/With your toilet seat/And your Mickey Duck/And your Donald Fuck.” “Fuuuu-uh-uhuuuuck,” that last word is actually sung; it’s a chance for Lennon to say what he means, and he only finds out what he means as he happens upon the syllable, bends it, stretches it, breaks it, swallows it.
2. Mel McDaniel, “Stand on It” (Capitol)
A country hit and the best Springsteen cover since “Spirit in the Night” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: full-throated middle-aged rockabilly glory.
3. New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle” (Factory U.K. 12-inch)
On LP, you get Gillian Gilbert’s gorgeous synthesizer riff; here you get that plus the startling transformation of Bernard Sumner’s perfunctory vocal into a vocoded chorale that, alone of all the elements in this recording, lives up to its title. 4. Merry Christmas from the Sonic/Wailers/Galaxies (Etiquette reissue, 1965)
This might have taken longer to record than it does to play (a half-hour); after all, with three bands, you have to figure in a few minutes for them to set up. Big theme is perfidy of Santa Claus (“Don’t believe in Christmas/’Cause I didn’t get nothin’ last year,” wail the Sonics; “Santa Claus/Won’t you tell me please/What you’re gonna put/Under my Christmas tree/And he just say/NOTHIN’, NOTHIN’, NOTHIN’, NOTHIN’,” sonicize the Wailers), but let’s not forget the Wailers’ touching “Maybe This Year,” a reverie so delicate and slow they have a real problem keeping the thing from coming to a complete stop. So give the gift of song.
5. Coolies, dig..? (dB)
A precise and gleeful mutilation of Paul Simon hits. “Feelin’ Groovy” as it might be played on the nod, a Duane Eddy-style instrumental version of “Mrs. Robinson”—by the end, there’s little left of the songs but their vapidity, and it may be only copyright control that keeps the Coolies from taking on the townhouse jive of Graceland next, which deserves it more.
6. Sid & Nancy, directed by Alex Cox (Goldwyn)
This is where a phrase like mise-en-scene helps; you need a concept that vague to pretend to know why songs contrived a decade ago, sung by actors who offscreen disclaim any feeling for them, can still terrify and thrill.
7. Alice Kaplan, Reproductions of Banality—Fascism, Literature, and French Intellectual Life (Minnesota)
The mass psychology of fascism is a cliché; this short, scholarly, jargon-free, almost conversational investigation of the aesthetic, utopian, avant-garde appeal of the movement in France from the ’30s through the Occupation can be read as a study of fascist pop life.
8. Marty Robbins, Rock’n Roll’n Robbins (Bear Family German reissue, 1954-58)
All the extremes of “rock” are missing here. The voice is supple, sensual, friendly (even on the morbid “Footprints in the Snow”); the guitar playing alternates cowboy cool-water with tumbling, tricky bluegrass runs; the whole is a comfortable, completely convincing account of white blues. It’s what happened when a singer who always leaned to the western side of c&w tried to jump on a trend: a unique sound, not to mention a unique spelling.
9. Steven Gaines, Heroes and Villains—The True Story of the Beach Boys (NAL)
Disgusting, repulsive, hateful—also pointless, save as the last word anyone will need on these cretins.
10. Alan Cranston, “Zschau’s Greatest Hits” (Robert Shrum Associates)
This TV spot was Cranston’s last shot in his barely successful fight to hold his California senate seat against the hard-right shift of “moderate” G.O.P. challenger Ed Zschau, already notorious for flip-flopping. It came on like a K-tel ad, frantic and loud, lots of Zschau-faces pointing in different directions, a type overlay blaring song titles as a Wolfman Jack imitator growled them: “How many times can a man change his mind,” “Zschau bop flip-flop,” and, sealing the package, “Both Sides Now.”
Village Voice, January 1987 (TBC)