Author Archives: Jeff Gemmill

About Jeff Gemmill

I am not old, but middle-aged; not grey, though a few hairs are fading that way; and not feline, but human. In years past, I've written for the black & white sections of the Cable Guide, See, Total TV and TV Guide, plus helped oversee a cool and short-lived fanzine called Da Boot, which focused on bootleg CDs. In the late '90s and early '00s, I also oversaw the Old Grey Cat website, which focused (primarily) on Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and all of their various permutations). I can be reached at oldgreycat [at] yahoo [dot] com.

The (un)Essentials – Jan & Dean’s Folk ’n Roll

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once in their life.)

Like many a child of the ‘70s, my introduction to the surf-rock stylings of Jan & Dean came by way of oldies radio. In my case, it was Michael St. John’s Saturday-night show on WPEN-AM in Philadelphia, which I tuned in after Elvis Presley’s death. I picked up a few double A-sided singles of theirs from the Hatboro Music Shop and, like many of my classmates, was blown away by Deadman’s Curve, the made-for-TV biopic about them that aired on CBS on Feb. 3, 1978.

I was 12 years old. Soon enough my attention would be diverted elsewhere – but I never forgot about their music, which I found funny, sly and just plain good. A year or three later, in fact, I wound up picking up their two-LP Anthology. Not only did it collect their best work, aka their hits, but it also included their versions of two Beach Boys songs (“Surfin’ Safari” and “Little Deuce Coupe”) and two Beatles songs (“Michelle” and “You’ve Got to Hide My Love Away”).

Fast forward a few more years, to the end of 1984: I’m browsing the used and rare vinyl in Memory Lane Records in Horsham and come across Early L.A., a compilation that featured pre-fame recordings by Dino Valenti, David Crosby, the Byrds and Canned Heat… and Jan & Dean’s 1965 LP Folk ’n Roll, which found the duo trading in their surfboards for fringed jackets.

The mid-‘60s were a difficult time for established acts, remember. Times and tastes were changing at a rapid clip, and veterans were doing whatever they could to hold onto the spotlight. Folk ’n Roll is a perfect example of that. It’s not a great album, though it has a few good-great moments; and, title aside, it’s less folk-rock and more pop-folk, with a dose of attempted satire tossed into the mix.

That said, the opener – “I Found a Girl” – could’ve been released at any point in the preceding years …

I should mention that it was co-written by the legendary P.F. Sloan and partner Steve Barri, who worked with Jan Berry often in those days. (That’s Sloan’s falsetto on “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” in fact.) “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which closes the first side, is also theirs; and has more of a folk-rock feel…

“Where Were You” was a hit for the Grass Roots the following year, of course; that group was created after Sloan-Barri’s demo began receiving airplay sometime in 1965. The Jan & Dean version falls between the demo and the official Grass Roots release, I believe. I should add that its similarity to Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction” is even more pronounced here because “Eve” falls two songs earlier on this album side.

Part of what I find to be the kitschy charm of Folk ‘n Roll comes from the earnest unease that the duo have with the material. They don’t sound comfortable with the slowed folk-rock beat or ringing Rickenbacker, for example, though their harmonies remain a joy to hear…

…and, yet, the album is eminently listenable – even the one misfire, “A Beginning from an End,” about a man seeing his late wife in his daughter. That sounds sweet, and it is – up until the spoken interlude, when he recalls the wife’s death during childbirth. “I felt so all alone as they wheeled you through the doors and told me to wait….” (In some respects, that interlude conjures “Deadman’s Curve.”) The song sounds great until you listen to the lyrics, basically. And once you do? It becomes awkward. And crass. Let’s leave it there.

Well, let’s not. Here it is:

Likewise, their attempt at satire with “The Universal Coward” falls flat – the song is similar, in a sense, to “Ballad of the Yellow Beret,” the parody of Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Beret” that featured a young Bob Seger. (In their defense: Neither possessed crystal balls that foretold what was to come.) More funny: the back cover picture of a new “potest” movement:

And, too, the title tune – which borrows its melody from “Surf City” – is a funny delight. Unlike “Coward,” it pokes affectionate fun at the folk-rock scene.

So, in short: Not a great album (thus it’s “(un)essential designation”), but an interesting listen, all the same.

To hear the album in full (and with commercials):

Fazerdaze’s Morningside – The Review

It’s Wednesday morning, 7:52am. I’m in my car, on the way to work – and, as is often the case, stuck in traffic. Streaming via Apple Music: Morningside, the debut album by Fazerdaze.

Like most new releases, it’s been assigned a slew of specific descriptors – shoegaze, dream pop, guitar pop, indie pop and bedroom pop (that last due to its DIY nature, not to its subject matter) – to help with the discovery process. But I hear something else: the (direct or indirect) influence of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, perhaps due to my having recently watched a documentary about it on Showtime. Not in the production values, mind you, as it’s obviously lacking a Wall of Sound, but its melodies and moods. I’ve read that Amelia Murray, the 24-year-old New Zealander behind the music, listened to the Beatles and Bob Dylan as a kid, but nothing of the Beach Boys – and yet, as the reverb- and echo-drenched music commandeers my ride, the wistful melancholia of Pet Sounds is what I hear.

Even “Lucky Girl,” the catchy song I featured a few weeks ago, is deceptive, spinning unease about commitment into an upbeat number.

The album’s final song is a sonic, if lo-fi, marvel:

I won’t go so far as to say Morningside is the greatest thing since sliced bread; i.e., I’m reining in my usual effusiveness. But I will say that I was cursing myself by mid-day, when I went to listen to the album again and discovered that I’d left my headphones at home.

I highly recommend it, in other words.

Also, one thought: sometimes I fear that ever-more-specific descriptors are a hindrance, and not a help, to the discovery process, which really should be less about sameness of sound and more about inspirations, influences and sonic surprises. But that’s a post for another day.

Anyway, here are a few live versions of their songs:

Today’s Top 5: Maria McKee in 1989

I came across this CDR tucked in a box in our basement – a copy of another CDR that I received while a member of a Maria McKee email discussion group sometime in the…late ‘90s, I believe. It came with cover art created by whoever initiated the “CD tree”; you can see his (or her) original on this 45worlds.com page. I don’t believe it was ever a store-sold bootleg, just a fan-generated creation. He (or she), or a friend, snuck a tape recorder into this specific show, which is from the Bayou Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1989.

As I said, though, this particular CDR is my copy of the original, and dates to the early 2000s. In those pre-iPod days, I frequently made CDRs for the car and, for a time, also created the covers for them. Sometimes, just as whoever created the original artwork for the set, I snagged a picture off the ‘net and added the track list, such as with the Juliana comp I blogged about a while back. Other times, though, I used Paint Shop Pro to tinker with the image and/or create collages – it was a fun thing to do. And, too, as in this case, I powered up Poser, a 3D-image creation program that I played around with at the time, and tried to develop something totally unique.

Of note, my image includes a picture lifted from a Kiss the Stone bootleg titled Breathe, which preserved a 1994 concert from somewhere in Europe, that I used on my old website for a time. I scanned the cover, loaded it into Paint Shop Pro and splashed color here, there and everywhere, and then cut out a picture scanned from one of Maria’s CD singles. You can see the original Breathe cover here.

All of which leads to this: I also encoded the versions of “Shelter,” “Breathe” and “Into the Mystic” from the performance onto my computer’s 20-gig hard drive as “high” bit-rate MP3s: 192kbps. Maria’s rendition of all three were spellbinding.

My hope had been to feature five tracks from the show itself, but since only two are (apparently) on YouTube, I’ve expanded the theme to include all of 1989.

1) “Into the Mystic” – From the Bayou Theater in Washington, D.C.

2) “Over Me” – Another from the Bayou.

3) “Am I the Only One” –

4) “To Miss Someone” –

5) “Breathe” –

And two bonuses in one:

6) Maria with Van Dyke Parks and Stevie Ray Vaughan on Night Music performing “Troubled Waters” and “Sailin’ Shoes.”