Priest Picks #15: Our Weekly Top 10
Welcome to week #15 of Priest Picks. We’ve got a little of everything this week: sad news, music docs, Spanish music from American citizens, rock bands with country names, perky pop singles, political pop-punk, eccentric British prog rock, Dora the Explorer, and more pickles than a single barrel can handle. You’ll have to read on to make sense of it all in this particularly bizarre edition of the Pickled Priest Picks.
1. JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE (1982–2020)
I’ll admit I’m lonely
And need someone to hold me
Just to sleep at night
But I’d rather be alone
Rather wake up on my own
Come the morning time
The days pass so slowly and it never fades
Evening comes, I’m looking for somebody else
These are the things I say only when I’m talking to myself
—“Talking to Myself” from The Saint of Lost Causes
2. CREEM: AMERICA’S ONLY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MAGAZINE / Documentary
I highly recommend you extract a ten-spot from your wallet or handbag this week and watch the new documentary about Creem Magazine that recently dropped online. Creem self-proclaimed themselves to be “America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine” as a middle finger to Rolling Stone, the goliath of rock mags at the time, and they backed up that claim on the daily. If this documentary proves anything, it’s that their claim wasn’t hubris. Sadly, the prime years of Creem (1969 to roughly 1975) were before my time, but the film paints a vivid picture of what real rock ‘n’ roll was like during its teenage years from the late-60s through the early-70s. Archival footage from local shows featuring bands like the MC5 and the Stooges proves one point conclusively—that Detroit was the epicenter of nasty, driving, dangerous rock music back in the day and it needed a likeminded magazine to harness that power and convert it into print. “Detroit was a city,” to quote actor Jeff
Daniels (who grew up in a nearby burb), “Where you start with a one-strike, maybe even a two-strike, count against you.” In other words, you had to fight to stay alive, thrive, and survive. Housed in its early years in a seedy part of Detroit—and good luck finding the other parts—Creem became known as the “Mad Magazine of rock ‘’n’ roll” (although Robert Crumb drew the "Boy Howdy" logo, not Don Martin) where irreverence and attitude oozed from every page of the magazine. Needless to say, they gave zero fucks what anyone thought and took political correctness off the menu from day one (sometimes to extremely insensitive levels—they wouldn’t last a
month today). Magazine founder Barry Kramer famously met new arrivals with a startling “Hello, motherfucker!” greeting and many agreed the magazine seemed to be “written by a bunch of convicts from Joliet State Prison.” That clearly was said in jest, but it wasn’t far off. You could claim the magazine was written about rock stars by rock stars in a way. Albeit critical rock stars, that is. The people that wrote or edited for Creem over the years reads like a who’s who of rock journalism: Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, Richard Meltzer, Nick Tosches, Greil Marcus, Cameron
Crowe, Chuck Eddy, Lisa Robinson, and the list goes on and on. Even artists like Rob Tyner (MC5), Patti Smith, and Peter Laughner (Rocket From the Tombs/Pere Ubu) contributed. “They were having more fun than us,” observed one real world rock star incredulously. The offices of Creem were one of those places you simultaneously wish you could’ve been a part of or wouldn’t have wanted to go near depending on the day (tip: monitor Lester Bangs’ alcohol intake). This documentary gets you reasonably close to feeling what it would’ve been like on both types of days, but unfortunately is way too short and superficial to satisfy real die-hard fans. Three hours sounds about right, but that’s just me; I want the whole fucking story in excruciating detail please. I am thankful that it didn’t go into their “later years” very much when they turned into a more mainstream metal magazine (which is how I first experienced it). Flaws and all, however, this is likely all the backstory you’re going to get about a publication that was, in its time, the distillation of everything rock ‘n’ roll music was meant to be.
3. THE GO-GOS / Documentary
On the subject of rock docs, I also watched the Go-Gos new documentary this weekend (Showtime). It’s pretty standard rock doc fare when you boil it down to its essentials (formation, build to fame, infighting, the obligatory “nightmare descent into drugs and alcohol,” breakup, reunion, hindsight), but what breathes life into this story is the fact the Go-Gos were the first all-female rock band who wrote and played their own material to hit the top of the charts. That’s positively disheartening and mindboggling when you think about it. But with that context, suddenly everything about the usual rockumentary becomes new again. So what, another rock star with a heroin habit—nothing new really. A female rock star with a heroin habit?—kind of shocking. A founding member gets booted from the band by the manager because the band is too weak to do it themselves—it happens. So why am I surprised when a band of females does the same? Maybe because I expect better from the more sensitive and feeling of the sexes. Contrary to what Joe
Jackson once claimed, it isn’t different for girls after all. Especially when it comes time to distribute the royalty checks and some make a lot more than others (the songwriters) even though non-songwriter Belinda Carlisle was as or more important to the band’s success as any other member. The most confounding aspect of the whole doc, however, is the resistance the band got when it was time to find a label to release their first album despite playing to L.A. venues with lines of fans wrapped around the block hoping to see the band play. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since—there would be a feeding frenzy for a band with the commercial appeal of the Go-Gos today, I imagine. I don’t mean to paint this doc as all doom and gloom because there are many hilarious and satisfying moments throughout. When they start catching on in L.A. Their wild and wacky tours of the UK. And best of all, the day tour headliners, the Police, brought champagne to the band’s dressing room to commemorate the Go-Gos passing them on the pop charts (and eventually staying at #1 for six weeks). It’s a great moment. I was surprised to hear they weren’t already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Lame. They deserve it, in my opinion. Just like they deserved a record deal, just like they deserved respect from venues around the world, just as they deserved a place at the top of the charts. They deserved it all and they deserve the “honor” for being such a ground-breaking rock band.
4. THE MAVERICKS / En Español
I was somewhat surprised to hear the Mavericks have never recorded an album entirely in Spanish during their long career. They’ve incorporated Latin and Caribbean influences over the years, of course, thanks in particular to Raul Malo’s Cuban heritage, but nothing quite like this. That said, En Español is positively marvelous. It has the distinct air of a passion project, something the band has always wanted to do, but never delivered. And it works with flying colors. It should be said that just because you have a passion doesn’t mean it’s always within your creative grasp. One listen to Steven Tyler’s country foray, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, proves this point definitively. The key to the album, especially for those who don’t speak Spanish, is that each song has a distinct musical identity as well as a vocal identity. Most of us could listen to Malo sing all day (especially when he carries a note like he does on “Recuederos”), but sometimes international albums start sounding samey when you don’t have something beyond the lyrics to grab onto. Not in this case, however. You’ll relish a keen attention to detail, the inspired instrumental choices, the joyous harmonies, and the stylistic variety. Great cover art, too. The Mavericks have delivered the goods on En Español and it’s a glorious thing to behold.
5. THE TEXICANA MAMAS / The Texicana Mamas
While on the subject of Spanish music, another entry this week comes from the Texicana Mamas, a band of Texas gals who vacillate from English to Spanish in that great Tex-Mex border-straddling tradition. While not quite a female version of supergroup the Texas Tornados, they do carry with them a similar joyous spirit that comes with playing classic tunes with close friends. If you want to have a killer Texas fiesta, you’ve just found your band. Pound-for-pound the Tornados may have had more firepower, which resulted in a celebratory street party vibe, but the Mamas have more heart and soul, with many of their songs celebrating familial bonds and the comforts of a tight-knit community. The band consists of three accomplished Latina singer/songwriters: Austin’s own eclectic renaissance woman Patricia Vonne, Stephanie Urbina-Jones, known for being the first artist to bring mariachi music to the Grand Old Opry, and perhaps the most well-known of the three, Tish Hinojosa, who my wife once observed has a name that sounds, if said with the proper cadence, like the perfect karate chop. Clearly, they are basking in every minute of their time together on this record and the energy is infectious. Originals like “Cucina de Amor” (“Kitchen of Love”) positively radiate maternal charm. They also revisit Linda Ronstadt’s recording of “Lo Siento Mi Vida” and actually improve on the original. They even spend a reeling few moments with Los Lobos’s “Cancion del Mariachi” (from the Desperado soundtrack) to wondrous effect. Some of the finest moments come during the gorgeous ballad “Abundancia” (abundance) and “American Dream,” which recalls the beautiful border-crossing songs peppered throughout the aforementioned Los Lobos catalog. I wouldn't dub this an outright masterpiece, but it doesn’t need to be. It's more functional than anything. But when you're looking for the perfect album for a late-afternoon/early-evening Mexican fiesta complete with freshly baked tortillas and strong, icy margaritas, and you've already played the new Mavericks record, then here's the next record on the stack waiting for its turn in the hot Texas sun.
6. COUNTRY WESTERNS / Country Westerns
If there’s one thing that fires up my boiler room, it’s a really good bar band. Country Westerns are just such a band. They may never rise beyond the stage of a local tavern, possibly a mid-sized venue at best if they're lucky, but for a few raspy, sloppy moments it’s gonna sound like heaven with barstools. Especially if you’ve downed a few beers prior to showtime. Their name is a red herring really. There’s very little country and less western to be found in their music, so I imagine they’re in for a few disappointed audience members when and if they ever get to tour again. It doesn’t help matters that they’re based in Nashville either. It only further cements the expectation. I imagine a scene similar to when the Blues Brothers played Bob’s Country Bunker. Pack some chicken wire in the trunk boys. Lead singer Joey Plunkett ended up in Nashville after moving from New York to open a bar. One could presume he saw an empty stage in the corner of his tavern and decided to fill it with his own band. It worked out so well that smoking hot label Fat Possum snapped them up and released their debut record this year. And it’s damn good, too, if not an outright masterpiece. It bodes well for the future though and I hope they make a more raw and reckless album next time. Either way, a solid band to watch and they seem to get better and better every time I listen to them. Even when they do a cover, it’s an atypical choice. In this case, a cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “Two Characters in Search of a Country Song” (from 1994’s The Charm of the Highway Strip), which shows a pretty keen and deep ear for a good song. Thankfully, they've got some songwriting chops, too. All songs are well-written and memorable on first listen. But the name wasn't a good idea no matter how many beers you've had.
7. REMI WOLF / “Hello Hello Hello”
From her new I’m Allergic to Dogs! EP, “Hello Hello Hello” is a mixtape ringer. It doesn’t sound like any other single of the moment which makes it perfect to pop on just when you’re mix needs a kick in the ass. It’s got a jaunty reggae/soul lilt, an effervescent chorus, and a wicked laid-back flow perfect for a ride down the Cali coast where she resides. It’s a total refresh for the ears and she somehow works eggplant parmesan into the lyrics as well. Not an easy thing to do—trust me, I’ve tried. I dig the whole EP, but this is the song that provides whole body healing when everything else feels stagnant.
8. BAD MOVES / “Local Radio” & “Working for Free”
A super smart pop-punk band that sounds and writes like they’re from Washington D.C. Which means they rock with integrity and write because they’ve got something important to say. “Working for Free” is as catchy a song ever written about wage differential and the treatment of the lowest level earners in our country. “Local Radio” is more of the same, expressing frustration at being held back from advancing at work and in society and then paying the price for having the balls to point out the injustice of it all. I am working through the record little by little and I’m adding more songs to my rotation as I go, but start with these two and tell me how it goes. I appreciate that they’re doing more than just writing pop songs with the usual themes and I totally dig their energy, too. Admittedly, a work in progress, but give them a chance to work for you. C'mon just give em a chance to prove themselves. It's the American ideal after all.
9. PEEPHOLE IN MY BRAIN / The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1971
I’ve been spending a little time with British reissue label Grapefruit’s latest compilation of obscure singles from bands straddling the psych-rock influenced late-60s into the more “progressive” hippy-dippy early-70s. It’s like the Great British Baking Show if the secret ingredient was always LSD. Actually, at 71 songs, the novelty wears a little thin quickly, but it is worth a quick run-through so you can sort the real gems from the chaff. My favorite track is Dana Gillespie’s “Andy Warhol” written for her by none other than David Bowie, but released two years after his version appeared on 1971’s Hunky Dory. Here we get the 1971 demo which is a lo-fi masterpiece. I’ll get some kickback for this, but I think Dana’s version is superior to Ziggy’s. Even for the most knowledgeable record geeks, there are some band names here that will have you scratching your head. For every known name like Curved Air (the great “Backstreet Luv” included here) there’s another like Stackridge, whose “Dora, the Female Explorer” miraculously was not used for the Dora the Explorer cartoon theme song—what a missed opportunity! Of course, your familiarity with most of these bands increases tenfold if you lived in the UK in the early 70s, but for the rest of us, this is a treasure trove of mostly forgotten goodies. You can stream most of the songs on the compilation right now, and perhaps I’ll come back later with a mix of my favorite tracks, but that could take me a while to whittle down. I didn’t want to waste any more time getting this into your grubby crate-digging hands though. A total treat for a lazy coronavirus afternoon.
10. PICKLES IN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, VOLUME 1
Fickle Pickle was a band I discovered during the Peephole in My Brain entry way back at #9 this week. This new regular feature is a no-briner, to say the least. I don’t know what the dill is, but since I started
this website earlier this year, I’ve been kind of craving pickles more and more, just like a pregnant lady. I hope that’s kosher with you. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been this preoccupied with pickles since I picked up 101 Pickle Jokes (by Bob Vlasic!) from the Scholastic Book Club back in 1972. Yes, way back when I was a cute little gherkin, there was a three-month period when pickle jokes were my bread and butter and some four decades later they still haven't gone sour; I still trot a few out now and then for eager subjects (Q: What’s the first line at a pickle card game? A: Dill me in.). Hence, when it was time to name this blog, it’s no surprise I gravitated toward something pickle-adjacent. I was born unencucumbered, what can I say.
So back to Fickle Pickle. The aforementioned Peephole compilation included a song titled “Down Smokey Lane” which is a madcap slice of eccentric, rollicking British hippie-pop with an extended dog bark solo mid-song. It’s awful. But, in search of something redeemable, I spent some time with The Complete Pickle, an anthology of their collected work, which is a salty 61-songs in length (including 14 live versions of some of their “greatest work”). This barrel of Fickle Pickles is way more than you could ever have wanted, I assure you. It features the band’s one album, Sinful Skinful, in its entirety, which was not only regrettably titled, but also featured the members of the band creepily ogling an unaware pig with bad intentions. Suddenly, and unfortunately, the album’s title was clarified once and for all (the same cover was reprised for The Complete Pickle tragically--see above). A quick tour through their collected works reveals a harmless, historically inconsequential band having a good old time and every once in a while they hit on something genuinely entertaining. My people have informed me they even had a hit in the Netherlands with a cover (a copy really) of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and they also inexplicably took on Don McLean’s “American Pie” at one point. That said, they did do a pretty fair take on Three Dog Night’s “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.” If you thought the world needed another version by a group of British fops, your prayers have been answered. So there you have it, ladies and gentleman, Fickle Pickle, perhaps for the last time in print. Q: How do you avoid listening to 61 songs by a band named Fickle Pickle? A: Don’t give them a record dill.
Be kind, take care, and buy records, in reverse order, alphabetized, and sorted for E’s and wizz.
The Fickle Pickled Priest