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Fancy Plans Guide to Rock and Roll Vol. 9

August 24, 2009

In the past volumes of this guide we’ve taken some swipes at some pretty big names. “But what of the small, indie, critic’s darlings?” I hear you asking. Well, they’ll get theirs as well. It’s just that, well, if you’ve had a 30-year career of diminishing returns, it’s just so much easier to broadly swipe. Not to mention, they’re all big boys and girls (Heart, especially) and should be able to take it. And while I hate to admit to taking the easy way out, today’s lineup is probably the easiest. It does include one request, however: Steven Wonder.

Def Leppard - Britain's finest seven-armed rock monster

Def Leppard - Britain's finest seven-armed rock monster

Def Leppard
If someone asked you what the ’80s sounded like, you could grab any of their first three albums and say, “Listen to this.” A band that was always more pop than metal (and more hair than talent – zing!), Def Leppard defined an era. That era was the “MTV stands for Music TeleVision” era, the early days when MTV was still pushing music in video form, rather than relegating it to soundtracking promos, bitchy Real World infighting or rolling behind the Real World closing credits.

They power on to this day, a testament to their longevity and their fans’ unwillingness to branch out their musical tastes. They’ve earned a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame if for no other reason than their multiple triumphs over adversity, including losing a drummer’s arm to a car crash and losing an entire guitarist to death. That, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s noticeably lax standards and elastic definition of “rock.” (No worse, really, than the Grammy committee’s definition of “metal.” Jethro Tull, indeed.)

Voted Most Likely to Be Asked to Please, for the Love of God, Put a Shirt On
Voted Most Likely to Be Asked to Please, for the Love of God, Put a Shirt On

John Denver
Speaking of elastic definitions, John Denver never strayed near “rock” or “roll” once in his career, or in the afterlife, according to our sources (Sonny Bono, the Big Bopper). As sickeningly clean-cut and wholesome as a busful of Young Republicans, Denver tore the ’70s a new wuss-hole and presaged country’s descent into bland pseudo-pop. Presumably Denver released several individual albums, but who fucking needs them, considering he released around 19 “Greatest Hits” compilations.

Unlike the edgier Pat Boone and the comparitively “gangsta” Air Supply, Denver never toed the line once, cruising a steady, easy-going center line that left people yearning for the street toughness of the Eagles or Jackson Browne. Oddly enough, he was the subject of one of the darkest tribute albums ever, as death metal’s finest took on such classics as Sunshine on My Shoulder and Sweet Surrender on the unfortunately named Things to Do with Denver When He’s Dead (Cleopatra Records). Keep your ears peeled for Morbid Angel’s take on his (also unfortunately titled) classic, Fly Away.

The secret of Dire Straits' success? Glow-in-the-dark headbands.
The secret of Dire Straits’ success? Glow-in-the-dark headbands.

Dire Straits
Speaking of bands that hitched their star to MTV (we were: just scroll up to Leppard, Def), Dire Straits were yanked out of their mopey pub-rock scene and held under the fast-flowing mainstream, when their single Money for Nothing burst onto the scene in 1985.

Propelled to multi-platinum success by a video so meta it name-checked the only channel that would play it, the Dire Straits seized this opportunity, wove it into a wicker lawn chair and collapsed into it for six long years. Having Rip van Winkled right past their sell-by date, the Dire Straits awoke to a very different world; one that had passed them by in a blur of distortion and flannel.

Now stuck in the unenviable classification of “boomer rock,” the Dire Straits are doomed to walk the earth, playing mid-sized arenas and large corporate conventions along with other hellish acts like Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Steve Winwood.

Album cover for Wonder's relatively unknown classic "Stevie Wonder Sings the Rick James Songbook"
Album cover for Wonder’s relatively unknown classic “Stevie Wonder Sings the Rick James Songbook”

Stevie Wonder
A brilliant child prodigy (perhaps not on par with Mozart, but at least up there with Bill Withers or Huey “Piano” Smith), Stevie Wonder went on to usher in a new era of R&B in the ’70s. This, of course, was followed by another ushering in the late-’90s by, among other artists, Usher. Known for his well-crafted hooks, infectious swaying and not being able to see, Wonder is a shoo-in for the African-American Blind Piano-Playing R&B Singer Hall of Fame, joining charter member Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx, who portrayed Ray Charles in the 2004 film, Ray.

Wonder lost his sight at an early age during a tragic “Wonder Twin Powers” accident with brother Davie. Due to a disagreement in terms that neither was aware of until after the word “Activate,” the resulting mixture of garbled syllables resulted in their potent twin powers being activated in the form of “Summon Baphomet,” an ancient malevolent diety (who is not a morning person, per se). The wrathful and drowsy god responded by removing Stevie’s eyesight and Davie completely. The suddenly removed-from-this-dimension twin was renamed “He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken or Referenced To” and so we won’t for the remainder of this piece.

Stevie Wonder went on to sign with Motown Records as age 11, thanks to Baphomet, who admitted he had “overreacted” and “owed him one.” The rest is history. Wonder went on to release album after album with hit single after hit single, culminating in the peak of written music: I Just Called to Say I Love You. Understandably, no self-respecting indie record store clerk will come within 100 miles of this single, leaving you to purchase it pretty much anywhere else.

The hundreds of members of Little Feat prep for a turf war with Chicago
The hundreds of members of Little Feat prep for a turf war with Chicago

Little Feat
The story of Little Feat’s formation is a fascinating one, filled with facts, intrigue, Frank Zappa and jazz fusion. Legend has it that Lowell George was trying to form his own group, using members of Frank Zappa’s touring band. Fed up with Frank’s terrible anal jokes and endless guitar wankery, George approached Bill Payne, another Zappa band member.

Word of this dissent leaked back to Zappa, whom George overhead saying, “Trying to organize these halfwit guns-for-hire into an actual band would be no small feat.” George overheard this and took off as fast as his size 4’s would carry him.

George formed his own group and, poking fun at his diminutive shoe size, suggested they name the band “Little Feet.” His bandmates and promoter heard this as the much-more-clever “Little Feat,” and hastily cranked out thousands of posters and album covers featuring this spelling. After discovering their error, George was furious and shuffled band members in and out of the lineup for the next 30 years.

Little Feat’s blend of rock, jazz, funk, R&B and shoegaze proved popular and Lowell George soon found himself surrounded by groupies, all oohing and aahing and saying how “cute” and “adorable” he was. Because you know what they say about guys with little feet? They have big hearts. And are as cute as buttons.

-CLT

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21 comments

  1. Ann Wilson says, “Fu** you”. (Nancy, on the other hand, says, “Thank God I didn’t turn out to be the fat one”.)


    • Good old Heart. Emphasis on “old.” Well, I guess they have that whole “at least we’re not Wilson Philips” thing going for them.

      Good to see you, TL. Thanks for stopping by.


  2. Oh how can anyone not love a band whose lyrics include:
    “Yeah, but are you gettin’ it? – Armageddon it!
    Ooh, really gettin’ it? – Yes, Armaggedon it!”

    All hail Def Leppard.


    • Perhaps it made more sense in the original German, like the intro to “Rock of Ages.” Sometimes that sort of thing doesn’t translate well, like the onamatopeic “I’rm a-gettin’ it.”

      Perhaps it lies in the word “ooh” with its connotation of words unspoken, unwritten or unthought.

      I will give the band a tenative boost to “Able to be Loved (with Baggage).”

      Thanks for the visit, great comment and for straightening me out, WIB. Always great to see you.


  3. I’m sorry … But wrong on all counts. It was Franks idea that Lowell form another band. Jimmy Carl Black remarked that Lowell had little feet. Bill Payne went to great lengths to find Lowell through Zappa’s management. But he Was cute as a button ;*)


    • Thanks for clearing that up, Tex. I’ve fired a steady stream of fact checkers before giving up and doing it myself, with only an Allmusic guide and several shots of Sambuca for company.

      I mainly do this Tuesday nights, because it’s ladies’ night and drinks are half-off. (I wear a wig.) Suffice it to say the facts are always a little fuzzy. I’m beginning to have my doubts about Stevie Wonder ever summoning a wrathful pagan diety. 😉

      Thanks for visiting and for the great comment, Tex. Hope to see you again.


  4. …did somebody mention ladies night?

    Thank you for this, CLT.

    I now understand why strangers would always come up to my Mom in the mall, asking for her autograph and wanting her to belt out a few verses of “Take me Home Country Roads”…

    The likeness is eerie.


    • Somebody did mention ladies night, and it certainly was not a man in a wig.

      Speaking of men in wigs, John Denver certainly made a handsome woman, much like your mom. I remember asking him/her for a few verses of “Rocky Mountain High,” which was greeted by a roundhouse slap.

      To this day, I’m still confused.

      Thanks for the visit and comment, bschooled. Say hi to your mom for me.


  5. Capitalist, since you have so much expertise in matters of music, may I ask your opinion on a ‘matter of music’? My girls have iPods LOADED with songs. I, on the other hand, derive much pleasure from listening to the radio when I drive (I do take an iPod when walking). My reasoning is that there is the ‘element of surprise’ when I tune in the radio (and my fingers are a flutter with 12 pre-programmed radio stations), plus, I enjoy listening to ‘hits’. My daughters tell me constantly that I am missing something. I would prefer to listen to a song that has ‘made it’ so to speak than 80% of the songs on their iPods that I wouldn’t care if I ever heard again. Is it too indulgent to listen to music that has ‘peaked’? AM I missing something?

    P.S. My daughter refers to me as a “mainstream buffoon”.


    • In theory, I would agree with your daughters. I don’t think its indulgent to listen to music that has “peaked” but after you’ve heard the same songs a couple hundred times, surely you need to move on?

      Fortunately for you, you have 12 separate pre-sets, hopefully with 12 separate styles. If I did 12 presets where I live (the Midwest), it would be country, country, country, Christian, FOX Talk Radio, Sports Radio, Classic Rock, ‘new’ Rock, Top 40, Country, Country, Country.

      I have gotten past the point where I will attempt to insult people for listening to the radio or sway them from their preferences. I don’t listen to the radio because they don’t play the kind of music I like. If radio plays what you like, elizabeth, listen to the radio.

      I do, however, take offense when asked if I know ‘x band’ who’s all over the radio at the moment, and when I don’t I’m assumed to be the Philistine. That’s when I get ‘High Fidelity’ bitchy. I’ll not have my musical knowledge questioned by ‘mainstream buffoons’ (no offense, elizabeth).

      Listen to music you like. That’s all I ask. Be passionate about it. Life is too short for songs that are ‘ok’ or ‘not too bad.’


  6. Thanks for the analysis CLT. I actually have wildly eclectic musical tastes and am the only person in my age group that I know who loves rap and hip hop. I live on the west coast and get a fairly good array of musical fare. I simply think the radio is under valued and also can’t quite grasp the time investment needed to upload ‘thousands’ of songs that are just ‘okay’. Thanks for giving me permission to dance in my car to the Funky Cold Medina.


    • Dance to your heart’s content, elizabeth. The kids (meaning yours) will dig it the most. Roll the window down as well and sing every lyric as if you wrote it.

      Music makes life worth living.


    • By the way… here’s some thoroughly enjoyable hip hop for you. Old skool and old school. Have fun, but click them one at a time.

      No embedding on this one. You’ll have to click thru:


  7. Thoroughly enjoyed both links CLT!! Now I’m in the mood for some Matisyahu.


  8. How could your write this and not mention that Def Leppard has moved on to country?!?!?! Where’s your biting cynicism now?!?!? And don’t you ever talk about Stevie again! A grown man by the name of Stevie has enough to deal with besides living down the first song to ever feature a Casio keyboard beat. (I bet you didn’t know Casio paid him fifty zillion dollars to use their prototype, very cutting edge and brave if you ask me). Any man who shows me the, ‘Secret Life of Plants’ or gives me, ‘Songs In the Key of Life’ deserves to be forgiven for “Just Called” and ignored until his death and then praised. Perhaps you should find, ‘Higher Ground’.


    • Oh, shit! Where is my biting cynicism? Fuck. I must have left it on top of the the car and then drove off. Shit. Everyone in the car. We’re headed back.

      As for Steven Wonder’s beautiful casiotones… I would refer you to his obscure b-side, “Slumming It for the Fuck of It,” which I much prefer to “Higher Ground.”


  9. A post that takes me back and reminds me how old I am. Thanks so much, CLT.

    Thanks to my kids, I get a wide variety of music. Joey will find something and play it for me, “Listen to this one, Mom. I think You’ll like it.” Most of the time he’s right. I love music of all kinds, but I tend to listen to the same things over and over.


    • Claire!

      Welcome back!

      Sorry about the blasts from the past. No doubt it was the virile young (and hairless) John Denver that brought back all those pleasant memories.

      Joey’s a good kid. It’s hard to let your kids recommend tunes to you. When they’re right, it’s great. When they’re wrong, it takes weeks to get the song out of your head, or to reaffirm your faith in the future of America.


  10. Thanks Professor! John Denver always did make me a little warm with all of his Rocky Mountain Highs.


  11. I can’t find it…


    • I’m sure it doesn’t exist. Much like Stevie’s long-lost twin brother.



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