One of the bright spots of this year of quarantine was that a lot of great music was released. I started the Turn Me On, Dead Man podcast just about this time last year, though I certainly had no idea what was in store for the coming year. Putting together the podcasts turned out to be a great way to use the time I had at home. At first I only contacted a couple of bands but by the time everything was shutting down I was emailing the artists as a matter of course. I was surprised how many bands offered thoughtful responses to my questions.
About my choices for the best of 2020, I actually made four lists. The first a Mixcloud compilation of some of the best tracks of 2020, followed by a list (in no particular order) of some of the best albums of 2020. After that is a list of reissues, compilations and live albums, and finally some singles and EPs–again, in no particular order.
Before I get to that, I’d just like to get one complaint off my chest. My biggest musical disappointment of the year was the delay of the Beatles Let It Be box set. In each of the last three years, Santa has brought me a wonderful Beatles box set (2017: Sgt. Pepper, 2018: The White Album, and 2019: Abbey Road). I was all set for Let It Be this year, complete with the new documentary by Peter Jackson. But like a lot of things in this past year, that didn’t happen. Instead, Apple Music issued this inexplicable little EP on Christmas day. At Home with the Beatles? WTF?
OK, with that out of the way, on with the lists. First up is my best-of-2020 compilation on Mixcloud. Most of these tracks were included on a podcast earlier in the year, but not all.
00:00 Herbcraft – Eon Rd 06:10 Firefriend – Ongoing Crash 10:18 Strange Motel – Dissonance 13:32 Tambourinen – Wollensak 16:39 The Cosmic Rabbit Holes – The Echo Trees 20:00 The Electric Myrrs – Castles in the Sand (The Adventures of Canvas Outtake) 23:23 Dark Fog – In the Background of Your Mind 25:18 Tia Carrera – Layback 32:29 Helicon – In The End 35:56 Alien Mustangs – Waiting The Dawn 40:54 Long Slow Dissolve – Into Darkness 52:44 Yuri Gagarin – The Outskirts of Reality 60:56 Spiral Wave Nomads – Ten Color Ritual 68:15 Satorinaut – Exclusive All Inclusive 82:45 Liquidacid – Karma Driving 95:05 Pilot Voyager – Tremulous
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that more than 65 million people are currently “forcibly displaced,” more even than at the end of World War II. Of this number 21.3 million are classified as refugees, those who have been forced to leave their country because of persecution, war or natural disaster. Those who are displaced within their own countries are classified as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). In many cases IDPs are even worse off, as they are often trapped in war zones and cannot receive aid or protection from international organizations.
The reasons for this record number of forcibly displaced people are that intractable conflicts like Afghanistan have been ongoing for many years, more recent destructive conflicts, such as the war in Syria, are happening with greater frequency, and solutions for these increasing numbers have not kept pace with the flow of refugees. Added to this are people displaced by climate change and disaster. According to the UNHCR, “Displacement linked to climate change is not a future hypothetical – it’s a current reality.”
Many displaced people have been seeking refuge in wealthy countries, but the political rhetoric about refugees has gotten depressingly ugly in those countries. European countries are erecting barriers against refugees and in the recent Brexit and U.S. presidential elections, campaigns have openly expressed nativist xenophobia in opposing the admission of refugees. The fear is that this will elevate the risk of terrorist attacks, but this ignores that many refugees are fleeing terrorism themselves. Increasing barriers have led many refugees to make ever more dangerous routes to their destinations, with over 5000 migrant fatalities so far this year, as the pace of these tragedies continues to increase.
Fortunately, several organizations are working on behalf of displaced people, such as the American Refugee Committee, the International Rescue Committee and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), known as Doctors Without Borders in the English-speaking world. Links are provided below if you’d like to learn more about what these organizations do and to offer your support.
Many thanks to the bands who have contributed tracks to this compilation. All of the songs on Without Borders have been contributed by the artists under an Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs Creative Commons license. Their music gives expression to an alternative vision of a better world.
Following up on my post about the best releases of 2014, here is a Mixcloud compilation of some the best garage and psychedelic tracks to come out in 2014. The tracks are arranged roughly in order of preference. My favorite of the year is “For My Own” by The Mystery Lights.
Pussy Riot is again in the news and the Free Music Archive is once again featuring the Turn Me On, Dead Man compilation Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel? A Tribute to Pussy Riot. This compilation, which was originally released on December 23, 2013, collects songs recorded by fellow musicians in support of Pussy Riot during their incarceration. These songs are cover versions of Pussy Riot songs, expressions of solidarity, and calls for their release. All of the songs on Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel? were contributed by the artists under an Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs Creative Commons license. Continue reading →
Following up on my previous post where listed the best LPs, EPs & 7″ releases of 2013, here is a Mixcloud compilation of my favorite tracks released in 2013. As I said last year, there is an ever-growing wave of excellent garage and psychedelic releases. I would go so far as to say we are living in a golden age. Bandcamp in particular has made it easy for bands to release their own material in a way that is relatively easy for fans to find. I just hope this run of great material continues. The tracks are roughly in order of preference with the obvious #1 being “Cannonball” by the People’s Temple. Just a great, great track. Continue reading →
The past year was an interesting one for Turn Me On, Dead Man. The most notable events were the release of two Creative Commons compilations: Conspiracy A-Go-Go, a collection of tracks referencing the JFK assassination released as the 50th anniversary of that event was approaching, and Who Break a Butterfly upon a Wheel?: A Tribute to Pussy Riot. I also interviewed several bands, most by email, a few on the phone and in person. I hope to be able to continue along those lines in 2014.
I don’t listen to everything that comes out. When I made my Best of 2012 list last year I missed a couple of great releases–I would have picked Whatever Forever by The Migs as my favorite EP and Private Airplane by Connections would have been near the top of my LPs list. My apologies for missing those and I’ll probably make similar late discoveries in the coming year. Still, I listen to my share, and the Turn Me On, Dead Man Best of 2013 list is what it is: a list of my favorite LPs, EPs & 7″s that were released in 2013. Continue reading →
Like a lot of people, I have been following the stories about Pussy Riot in the news. Major news outlets are reporting this morning that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were freed today. When I first heard the news that the members of Pussy Riot were to be pardoned, I asked several bands who had recorded songs in support of the band if they would contribute those tracks to a tribute compilation. When I read the news this morning I posted the compilation as a free download on Bandcamp. The liner notes are below. Continue reading →
The most recent Mad Men episode licensed the Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which proved, despite the price, to be a brilliant move, both artistically and in terms of promotion. Mad Men reportedly paid $250,000 for the rights to the song. Forbesinitally reported that this was the first time a Beatles track had been licensed to a TV show. They later corrected themselves, reporting that WKRP in Cincinnati had lisenced multiple Beatles songs, and had used three in various episodes throughout its run from 1978 to 1982. Though I don’t know how much WKRP in Cincinnati paid for the use of “I’m Down”, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Come Together,” most certainly less than what Mad Men paid.
It’s also interesting to note a couple of earlier uses of Beatles songs in television shows. The British science fiction series UFO used “Get Back” in episode 9, “Ordeal”, but perhaps without prior approval.
In the director’s commentary for the 30th anniversary DVD edition of Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper reported that he had selected music for his film without regard to cost–they simply didn’t think about licensing the music. UFO was produced at roughly the same time as Easy Rider, and it appears that the producers of UFO had the same attitude toward soundtrack music in using “Get Back”. Interesting to note, however, that “Get Back” remains in “Ordeal” on the DVD release of UFO episodes, while licensed music was edited out of WKRP in Cincinnati episodes when that show went into syndication. Also interesting is that UFO chose what was then a new release for this episode. Though filmed in 1969-1970, the show was set in the distant future of 1980 (by that time, according to the vision of the show, British motorists were driving on the right side of the road in futuristic muscle cars). By that time, “Get Back” would have been ten years out of date–or perhaps they realized the timelessness of Beatles music.
Another use of the Beatles’ music for a television show was the ABC Saturday morning cartoon The Beatles, which ran from 1965 to 1967. The first season featured the Beatles’ early hits, but by the third season the show was airing the psychedelic Beatles. Make no mistake, though, The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon never rose above its own lack of ambition, always sticking to its formula of inane plots loosely tied to Beatles songs, hijinks involving lovable but clumsy Ringo, and girls chasing the Beatles. And despite the great music, the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode was no exception. The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon never got it right–the accents and humor of the cartoon Beatles had nothing to do with the actiual Beatles–and the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode just added cultural stereotypes of “primitives” for good measure.
One clever touch, however, was the use of backwards audio. Here is the dialog just before “Tomorrow Never Knows” reversed:
Some time back I was in Barnes & Noble and a book jumped off the shelf at me. I was enjoying thumbing through We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1998-2001 even before I realized that the author was Eric Davidson, lead singer of the New Bomb Turks. The book is a fun read, full of stories about bands that played raucous garage punk in the pre-internet era. Though they may not have achieved mass success, they built up legions of loyal fans who loved the over-the-top shows. A good time was had by all, which was the whole point of it anyway. Eric Davidson uses the term “gunk punk” to describe these bands “rocking around with a ragged revamp that seemed to have completely dismissed hardcore and gazed through beer goggles back to lost ’60s garage rock (Sonics, Seeds) and/or early ’70s proto-punks (Stooges, MC5, Dictators, New York Dolls, Flamin’ Groovies, Cramps).” When Blurt asked Eric Davidson to name the three most important gunk punk bands, and he listed off 14.
Eegads! Well, if I must, but I’m making it longer, in relative chronological order…
Various Billy Childish groups – consistent, unrelentingly trashy recording and honesty.
Lazy Cowgirls – Whipping up all raw American roots music fast-like before most did, before hardcore even.
Dwarves – They made the perfect rock ‘n’ roll record, Blood, Guts & Pussy, and had probably the best overall live evocation of the We Never Learn icky ethos.
Gories – Mick Collins says it best in the book – essentially, when he heard all those lame post-Nuggets comps’ ads say “Wild, primitive garage rock!” then he bought them and they were jangly folk, he said they decided to make records as wild and primitive as those comps claimed. And did!
Supersuckers – No one really sounded like the Ramones, the Saints, and Motorhead in 1990. Burped out a great sense of humor while living and playing within the often self-serious grunge central, Seattle.
Mummies – Along with the Gories, truly reiterating the “anyone can do it” stance. The disgusting stained mummy outfits as a retort to the dress-up surf revival going on around them was a nice touch.
Devil Dogs – Being one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands ever, playing every show with sweaty urgency, and having Andy G hilariously spout off at all the jerks in the audience, yet winning them over, all make up the general savoir faire of gunk punk.
New Bomb Turks, natch – Mike Lavella said to me, “I don’t know how you’re going to write this book without saying what a big deal your band and that first album was on the scene.” So there, I said it here. Ha!
Oblivians – Their informed roots and extremely well-written songs – blasted sloppy through a revived sense of trash after early side-projects – made them a kind of garage punk 7″ tidal wave era cresting point, that washes down on bands to this day, where their reunion gigs are selling out in a few days.
Teengenerate – Ditto, only WAY trashier even; maybe the most explosive live act of this whole thing.
Hives – Veni, Vidi, Vicious was a truly great, catchy-approachable album that yanked a lot of this book’s aesthetic chutzpah into the charts, which has never been easy.The Ramones couldn’t even do it!
Clone Defects – The Defects – whom I used to help sneak into Detroit area shows and watch piss people off around town before they formed – knew their garage-punk shit, and then ate it again, shitting it out as a cosmic mind-bending meal for another generation, I suppose.
Black Lips – Similar job as the Clone Defects, only more Replacements drunk-winkers than Crime acid-eaters.
Many of these bands are still active, but gunk punk as described in We Never Learn had largely run its course by 2001. The New Bomb Turks themselves were a key band in this scene, of course. Though they still perform every now and then, the New Bomb Turks officially called it quits in 2003. At that time lead singer Eric Davidson explained,
Their myspace page explains, “We are NOT really a band anymore; we’ve all got various ‘real’ jobs, kids, etc. But we’ll come swig’n’sing with ya if the offer’s good.”
It’s interesting to see how the bandmembers have put their English majors from Ohio State to work. Eric Davidson worked edited CMJ for three years before publishing We Never Learn. Guitarist Jim Weber is now an English teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, and was named National Honor Society Outstanding Teacher in 2010. That same year, he did an interview with the school newspaper The Wildcat where he reported that he took up teaching because he “wanted to make an impact for the better”. In response to the question, “What comes first your passion for music or teaching?” Weber responded, “Teaching, hands down.” As he explains to his students on his website, “As you may or may not know, I play in a band called the New Bomb Turks. Before I became a teacher playing guitar was my job, that was how I earned a living. That ended about 8 years ago, but we we still play a couple of shows every year.”
The New Bomb Turks’ bassist Matt Reber was the manager of the Wexner Center Store, the bookstore of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. As part of a book tour in support of We Never Learn, Eric Davidson did a reading at the Wexner Center. Earlier that day, Eric Davidson and Matt Reber appeared in an internet forum to answer questions.
The New Bomb Turks played a number of shows in association with Eric Davidson’s book tour, which were a mix of highbrow and lowbrow. They played a show at the Bell House in Brooklyn with Live Fast Die that was followed by a book release party. The day after the reading at the Wexner Center, the New Bomb Turks performed at the Surly Girl Parking Lot Blow-Out with the Gibson Bros. and Scrawl. Eric Davidson then continued his book tour in Chicago with a book signing at the Museum of Contemporary Art. More recently Eric Davidson has continued to do interviews and sing with the Livids.
The New Bomb Turks have canceled all upcoming performances. They provide only the sketchiest of explanations on their website and Facebook page, “Due to a serious illness in our family, New Bomb Turks have decided to suspend all activity for the time being.” Let’s hope all is well soon for the New Bomb Turks.
Early in their career, the garage/psych band The Droogs released a single entitled “Ahead of My Time,” an appropriate theme song for this underappreciated band. Several years before it became fashionable, the Droogs were playing what would later be called “garage revival”. The Droogs released several singles beginning in 1973, and their early records were energetic interpretations of little-known 1960s garage-punk songs along with original material inspired by those records. Also, in terms of their artistic independence, the Droogs anticipated the “do it yourself” approach of punk rock by several years, releasing their records on their own label, Plug ‘n Socket. Despite releasing several compelling albums over a thirty-year span, however, the Droogs are little known outside of a loyal following, much of which is in Europe.
A few years back I interviewed guitarist Roger Clay about the long and eventful career of the Droogs. Here is the two-hour show that aired on Turn Me On, Dead Man Radio.
Ric Albin (vocals) and Roger Clay (guitar) began playing together as kids in the 1960s in a band called “Savage Rose”—only later did they find out a Danish band was using the same name. They formed the Droogs in 1972, taking their name from A Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess (1962) made into a film by Stanley Kubrick (1971). Their first release, a 7″ with cover versions of the Sonics’ “He’s Waitin'” and the Shadows of Knight’s “Lightbulb Blues”, came out the following year. Creem praised this record as the first American independent punk rock single. “Bow down to ’em on Sunday for that alone.” Their subsequent singles included more songs that have come to be regarded as garage/psych classics, but the band quickly shifted the focus to original material. The A side of their second single was “Set My Love on You,” written by Albin and Clay, backed with “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” by the Kinks. The Droogs’ next two singles featured all original material inspired by 1960s garage punk. The Droogs choice of material at this time was certainly out of the ordinary. Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets compilation came out in 1972 but few, if any, new bands were playing this sort of music in the early- to mid-1970s. In fact, the stripped-down approach of the Droogs was decidedly out of step with the trends toward progressive and arena rock prevalent at the time.
The Droogs had few places to play until the garage revival began in the late-1970s. The difficulty finding an audience and the lack of a stable rhythm section proved frustrating for the band. The Droogs considered packing it in, but with the success of bands such as the Last and the Unclaimed, who also drew on 1960s rock, more venues opened to them. By the time those bands were on the scene, however, the Droogs were already veterans of the genre. Rhino included the Droogs’ “Ahead of My Time” on their 1979 compilation L.A. In noting “if ever a band were ahead of its time, this was the one. Pre-dating the current movement by five years in spirit, attitude, and ideas, Ric Albin and Roger Clay epitomized the late 70’s American New Wave Band.”
The Droogs released two more singles and an EP before recording their first full-length LP in 1984, Stone Cold World. Despite its favorable reception, Stone Cold World didn’t receive the same level of attention that was given to albums by other California bands exploring similar territory. As noted in The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, “Stone Cold World was sadly obscured in the flurry to praise Green On Red, the Long Ryders and Bangles, but Albin and Clay doggedly pursued their chosen direction when the fashion faded.” The Droogs’ second LP, Kingdom Day, which was released in 1987, also received a fair amount of airplay on college radio stations. This album was included in Rolling Stone‘s retrospective section “The Year in Records” as one of a handful of albums representing “highly individual but equally striking contemporary refractions of the psychedelic dream.” Despite critical acclaim, however, the Droogs did not reach a broad audience. Perhaps most frustrating to the band is that they’ve always faced a cool reception in their home base, Los Angeles. “You’re never a prophet in your home town,” says Roger Clay with some resignation. After years of releasing their own records, the Droogs signed to the label PVC/Jem in the mid-1980s, but that label folded while the Droogs were on tour supporting Kingdom Day.
In his review of Stone Cold World in Melody Maker, Ian Gittens remarked that while the Droogs wore their 1960s garage rock influences on their sleeves, they “draw heavily on a whole range of influences to for an approach peculiarly their own; taking from all times”. His concluding remark, calling the Droogs “a curious anachronism”, clearly demonstrates a problem the Droogs long faced. That is, despite the quality of their material, the Droogs have not fit easily into any of the trends that have come and gone during their career, making the band difficult to market to a larger audience. Though Stone Cold World contained a re-recorded version of the Albin/Clay’s “Set My Love on You”, along with a live version of “He’s Waitin'”, the Droogs incorporated influences that set them apart from other garage revival bands. Creem referred to Stone Cold World as showcasing their “new, streamlined moderne approach to punkadelic blues”. Timothy Gassen, author of Knights of Fuzz: The Garage and Psychedelic Music Explosion, 1980 to Now, didn’t consider Stone Cold World—or any of the Droogs’ recordings after 1983, for that matter—to be garage rock releases. Also, despite being included on a couple of new wave compilations, the Droogs weren’t really a new wave band, either. Being from southern California and playing 1960s-inspired music, the Droogs were often associated with the neo-psychedelic Paisley Underground. The Droogs’ sound, however, was always more garage punk than the more psychedelic sound of Paisley Underground groups, such as the Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade. Still, the Droogs had close ties to other bands from the area, particularly the Dream Syndicate. Dave Provost, the bassist for the Droogs since the early 1980s, has also played for the Dream Syndicate. Other Dream Syndicate members have made guest appearances on Droogs recordings. Karl Precoda played guitar on “I Want Something” and Steve Wynn joined Ric Albin on vocals for his song “Maria”, both of which appeared on the 1990 LP Want Something.
Fortunately for the Droogs, the late-1980s brought the band success in Europe. The Droogs’ early singles had become sought-after collector’s items and the Droogs were well received on their European tours. Roger Clay attributes the Droogs’ success there to a European interest in American music and the more varied radio programming available in European countries. Some time ago I got a copy of Where The Bottles Flies!, a bootleg CD of the Droogs performance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in June, 1997. The Droogs had their own set to play at the festival, but they agreed to fill in for the Wu Tang Clan, who had canceled because of an altercation at the Newark airport on their way to the festival. Unfortunately for the Droogs, the festival management didn’t do a particularly good job of letting the audience know about the change. According to a story in the Danish newspaper Politiken, the Droogs were subjected to
mean behavior by the audience, throwing glass bottles, filled paper cups, food left-overs and other items at the Droogs, who were replacing the original group…. Though the situation seemed pretty dangerous to the Droogs, the Americans kept playing against the riot, without a word for the first four musical numbers, at which point the singer Ric Albin sarcastically said: “Well, thanks for the shower!”. The throwing also damaged the light control panel in the green tent, so the concert continued in a dark tent…. The Droogs, in spite of the dangerous and unreasonable conditions played a tight and well organized program to the end. When simple garage rock can be played so nicely with varied tempos and primitive atmosphere, you give in. And the audience did the same. At the end of the concert the Droogs received enormous ovations and the request for encores.
“Call Off Your Dogs” and “Puzzled Mynds” from Where The Bottles Flies!
One of the most avid collectors of the Droogs’ recordings was Hans Kesteloo of the German label Music Maniac Records. Music Maniac released Anthology in 1988, collecting all of the Droogs’ early singles and the 1983 EP Heads Examined. Music Maniac also released the Droogs’ follow-up to Kingdom Day, Mad Dog Dreams in 1989. Since PVC had folded, that album was not released in the United States until the following year. After adding a couple of tracks, Skyclad released the album in the United States as Want Something. The Droogs’ label troubles continued, however, and their next two albums, Droogs Live in Europe (1990) and Guerrilla Love-In (1991), were released only in Europe on Music Maniac.
In 1997, the Droogs returned with Atomic Garage, which featured a raw, less polished sound. No covers of 1960s garage-punk classics are included on this album, but the fuzzed-out sound of Roger Clay’s guitar harkens back to the sound of the Droogs’ early recordings. The title of the album signals a return to the energy of garage rock, but using a variety of equipment, vintage and new, the album sounds retro and current at the same. Apart from minor complaints about the drumming, The Bob called Atomic Garage an otherwise “perfect album for lovers of introspective psych-garage-rock.”
Perhaps someday the rest of the world will catch up to the Droogs. In 2006 the Droogs released a career retrospective compilation Collection, and much of their catalog is now available as digital downloads.