Songs for Odin™ XIV
minor secrets of the MTX, Dr Frank, the Bay City Rollers, etc.
Yes, friends, ’tis time for another collation of recent Songs for Odin posts. If you’re not aware, I started doing this back in 2018, posting a video of a song each Wednesday with a little write-up styled “the minor secrets of…” The cutesy, arguably now quite tedious, Odin conceit is based on the fact that it was scheduled for Wednesday, i.e. Wodnesdæg. That’s the only reason. But I have had some fun with this, if “fun” is the word I want.
There’s more detail about how and why I started doing this in the intro to the first installment; and the Odin conceit is explained, somewhat, in the intro to the second. The subsequent installments may be found here: three; four; five; six; seven; eight; nine; ten; eleven; twelve; thirteen.
[links in preceding paragraph updated, 12.29.2020 — ed.]
I’ve also added a bit at the end, comprising posts that, while not technically Songs for Odin, still reference songs and thus may be of interest to anyone who might be interested. I mean, obviously.
Table of contents: “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing”; “New Girlfriend”; “Everybody Knows You’re Crying”; “Rock and Roll Love Letter”; “Some Foggy Mountain Top”; “I Feel for You”; “…and I Will Be with You”.
1 “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing”
Just Noise and a Title: Welcome friends, to Song for Odin™, except that, for reasons beyond control it had to be postponed this week. These things happen. Basically, I was just too hammered to organize a proper Song for Odin™ at the proper time. It is now, sorta appropriately I guess, þunresdæg, meaning dies Iovis, the Day of Thunder, Lightning, the way you love me is frightening. Properly understood, this is Thor’s Day, by Jove. And that means a Song for Thor. Oak trees. Hammers. Smoldering boots where once a proud warrior stood.
Ideally I’d have something at least quasi-Thor-esque to offer here. I wish I had a video of my band covering KISS’s “God of Thunder”: such does not exist, though as a kid I played in two semi-imaginary bands that used to do it. “Big, Strange, Beautiful Hammer” would work, and were I more of a trooper I’d summon the gumption to do a quick rendition on laptop video for the occasion, but that will not happen now. (It’s not a bad idea, though… maybe one day.)
Instead I will reach back into the past, as usual. And what we have here is a song called “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing”, from show at Gilman, May 2, 1987.
This is from a video transfer recently acquired from our friend Shayne Stacy, of the Sacramento Music Archive. I have posted a couple of vids of songs performed in some university dorm space from 1986 (“Just Your Way of Saying No” and the Munsters theme song), but if there is an earlier full MTX show video extant, I don’t know of it.
It’s not the highest quality, but it does show the band as it was at that time, warts and all, and head-on rather than from the side, which is slightly unusual. Many of the songs are cut off or garbled, but this one carries on through its full two minutes three seconds. As always, we were having a good time, whether or not the audience felt the same way.
This show was: NoMeansNo, Blast!, MTX, Primal Scream, and Unit Pride: I’ve posted the flier here:
I don’t believe this was our first show at Gilman, but I can’t find the answer to whether or not it was on the internet at the moment. We had played with NoMeansNo at least once before, the previous year, the noted Own’s Pizza show featuring the Lookouts and Victims Family that many people regard as the germ that eventually sprouted the whole Gilman Street ding dong. Here’s that flier, btw:
There are several songs in this set that wound up on the Rough Trade Night Shift LP including this one, but I don’t think they’d been recorded yet.
We were trying them out before an audience that, mercifully I suppose, didn’t care much what we played as long as we got off the stage within our 30 minute allotted set time. Which we did. Show business success.
As for the song, well… I doubt anyone would choose it as a candidate for Mtx forever or put it on any “favorites” list. The sole reason for its existence is the much-advertised United Negro College Fund slogan “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” Shortening it to “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing” and turning it into a song about confusion, alienation, miscommunication, self-loathing, and the human condition was a stellar idea upon which, I think it has to be said, the song as executed didn’t quite deliver. I would write a much better song called “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing” now that I know what I’m doing. (But I won’t; you can’t go back.)
Nevertheless, I’m still rather inexplicably fond of this song, warts and all. I like the minimalism even though it doesn’t do as much as it could within its parameters (thus negating the virtues, or at least the wonders, of minimalism properly engineered.) It’s just noise and a title, really. I’m glad they’re not all like that, and I regret many if not most of my misfires, but this one’s okay with me.
And… that’ll do it for þunresdæg, I think. We’ll try to get back on the Odin schedule next week, if no rock and roll happens to to derail the train. Till then: ave atque vale, my fine, feathered fiends.
(Original post on minds.com may be found here.)
2 “New Girlfriend”
Higher Breasts and a Bigger IQ: Maybe you’ll recall, but probably not, that last week’s Song for Odin™ had to be postponed till the following day, Þūnresdæg, because of wild, wild times that took their toll. But now the schedule has arighted itself, mostly. So: for Wodnesdæg, for the Many-Shaped, the War-Blind and Flaming-Eyed Shouter and Thunderer, and for you, I present: The Mr T Experience — “New Girlfriend”, MTX live at Nessun Dorma, Genoa, Italy, 28 October, 1996:
This has always been among the most crowd-pleasing songs, for reasons that aren’t hard to fathom: it’s short, to the point, catchy, energetic, silly, funny, and just ever so slightly… edgy, un-PC, I suppose you’d say. Like “Will You Still Love Me When I Don’t Love You,” “God Bless America”, and (believe it or not) “Mr Ramones,” this song was originally a throwaway tune to play solo during a broken string break on stage just so there was something to do instead of, or in addition to, just standing around awkwardly. (I should say, drum hardware failure break because that was more likely; except that, when it was a drum thing, and the issue was addressed before the little song was over, the drummer would usually start making all sorts of noise on the snare and cymbals, interrupting the song and basically continuing the theme, settus interruptus. We were so in tune with each other it was unreal. I rarely managed to make it to the end of one of these songs for that reason. Fortunately, or otherwise, no one ever really cared one way or another. But I digress…)
So as I was saying, this song pre-dates the recorded version by a good few years, but we never did it as a band till the Doctor-Joel-Jym line-up did it in our first recording session, and first release, in that configuration, the “Alternative Is Here to Stay” 7". It is notable for being the first recording where I was allowed to have the guitars as loud as I wanted them. I think Kevin allowed it because he didn’t like the song very much, knew it was destined to be a throwaway B side anyway, and wanted to see if bumping them up would stop my continual belly-aching. (It didn’t, but I did like it: I remember hearing the playback and dancing around the control room, if you can believe that, raising my hands skyward and saying something like “yeah that’s good.” All things I rarely, if ever, do.)
Here’s that original recording, by the way. I still like the guitars, for what that’s worth.
So yeah, I’m fond of this song. It’s one of those recordings that doesn’t make me cringe, which, you know, is rather a small category. I know lots of people like it a lot. It’s found its way onto quite a few of those “best of” playlists we’ve been soliciting on Spotify — do one if you have yet to do so (details here, and here.) And you know, maybe it should be on the album, though it hasn’t been on my A list till typing this. That master tape has disappeared though, both the multi-track and the mix, so it’d have to be resurrected from the CD or vinyl, which is very far from the ideal, but it can be done, and must be done when there are no other options, as there aren’t here. Hmm.
Sorry about all this positivity. I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual negative, grimly resigned self next Wodnesdæg so never fear. Till then, party, or furrow the brow, like there’s tomorrow, like share subscribe upvote comment, etc. And be good, my children.
(Original post on minds.com is here.)
3 “Everybody Knows You’re Crying”
Welcome to another Wodnesdæg, friends, eaxlgestealna, shoulder companions, wherein I present yet another Song for Odin™ in the form of a youtube video link and attach some words thereto.
What we have today is a recording from our dear friend and confidante, Lauren Banjo, a swell interpretation of the song “Everybody Knows You’re Crying” (from the 2004 MTX album Yesterday Rules.) This acoustic arrangement slows the pace to a less jaunty tempo, arguably more apt considering the subject matter. There are some subtle shifts in the chord voicings that serve the melodic content quite well, and some great vox too. It really gets the song across. Well done, Banjo!
It’s the “getting the song across” that matters most, and though theoretically that shouldn’t be too much trouble when you start with a good “text” it is actually fairly elusive in practice. You can do everything right and still not manage to make even a great song land effectively. I like our pseudo-Byrds arrangement of the song a lot, though I have criticisms of it sonically (I wanted the guitars to chime more and sound bigger.) But sometimes it takes hearing someone else’s take on a song to bring home what’s great about it. This is a song I’d rather taken for granted, to be quite honest. We used to play it, pretty much in every set on the Yesterday Rules tour as I remember, but never since; and I used to do it solo from time to time, but I never really felt it connecting, and I don’t think I’ve done it in years and years. I don’t know why.
Anyhow, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of it if asked to list, say, my five best songs. But being compelled to revisit it now, if I do say it myself, it’s really pretty great, probably one of the best I’ve come up with ever, and it probably should be on that list for what it’s worth.
One goal in lyric-writing that I’ve had ever since I noticed it as a “thing” is to make the delivery sound conversational while simultaneously doing all the compositional “poetics” things lyrics need to do (rhyme, scan, cohere, develop, set up and deliver punchlines, etc.) It’s way harder than you’d think, which is why so many songs out there (including some of mine, I won’t lie) require the singer to emphasize the wrong syllables and otherwise mangle the delivery to make it all fit. I spent a whole lot of time and frustrated effort to make it happen on this song. It was begun in the pre-Alcatraz era (there’s an early, much less lyrically-together version of it recorded on the four track cassette machine among other Show Business Is My Life and Alcatraz numbers.) It was years before it reached this form. But, you know, it worked out in the end. One thing I learned, the hard way, is not to release songs before they’re ready to be hatched. That can take awhile.
It’s tedious when writers explain their songs, and I don’t want to do that. A song good enough to warrant such explication should be good enough not to need it. But it’s a song about depression, one of several I’ve written, and probably the best of them. It’s a character study, but the “you” in it is ambiguous: it’s one of those where the “you” could be another person, addressed in a spirit of empathy, or it could be the narrator addressing himself in the mirror. It doesn’t matter all that much which it is, and don’t know for sure which. A lot of my songs are like that. The figure that ends verses and choruses, the melodic line that goes with “no one ever really cares,” is a kind of punctuation, sung on the verses but not on the choruses — that’s a neat trick that glues the song together. I think the bridge is one the best I’ve ever managed. And I still find the double-entendre of “you can’t escape the conclusion, though you don’t like what it was” immensely satisfying even after all these years.
But enough blowing my own horn, so to speak. I’m kind of rediscovering this song, is all. Thanks for bearing with me through it, and thanks, most especially to L. Banjo for presenting me with an occasion upon which to conduct said rediscovery. She really brought it back to life for me! The original recording, by the way, is here. Like, share, subscribe, praise Odin, all that good stuff.
(The original post on minds.com is here.)
4 “Rock and Roll Love Letter”
Gonna keep on rock and rolling till my jeans explode… welcome to Wodensdæg and accordingly to another Song for Odin™ installment. And by installment I mean yours truly playing “Rock and Roll Love Letter” at the Troubadour in West Hollywood during a solo interlude at an MTX show, March 2015.
This was one of the first handful of shows we did since re-constituting ourselves as a band with Jaz playing drums. The first performance of this MTX iteration was a brief surprise set at the King Dork Approximately book release party at 1–2–3–4 Go! Records in Oakland in December 2014.
Subsequently, Joe King persuaded me to take the band on the road once again. I was greatly skeptical and reticent. It seemed like a totally crazy thing to do, but, what the hell, I figured, let’s give it a shot, as much as a pretext to see Joe again as anything. So we did some shows with the Queers, including this one, and they went great. And we were, unlikely as it seemed, a band again. Hard to believe that was four years ago.
Anyhow, I pulled this song out spontaneously without having rehearsed it and though I flubbed lyrics here and there I pretty much got it alright overall. (It’s a challenging song to articulate comfortably, even when you remember it all.)
It has always been one of my favorite songs. It was written and first recorded by singer-songwriter-rocker Tim Moore, but is far better known as a Bay City Rollers song, which was an international mega-hit, and, as a rock and roll / pop single, it ranks as a true classic. I first heard it (obviously) in Bay City Rollers form like everybody else. That’s the “cleaned up” version though. The original is a sludgy, sprawling, somewhat dirty, adolescently desperate, libidinous love poem set to music, with some great guitar playing as well.
Though two of the three verses are intact in the BRC single, you hardly notice how weird, awkward, and over-the-top they are, qua lyrics, till you hear them in the original. The BCR missing verse is the one about there being “no romance living in the USA.” It kind of sounds to me like there’s an edit in the BCR recording, so maybe they recorded the whole thing and snipped it out. And I see their point if so: they were Scots, plus “electricity’s a devil” is really hard to cram into that line, rhythmically.
It was through this song that I discovered Tim Moore, who was a powerhouse singer-songwriter, too idiosyncratic and unwashed for the mainstream bigtime but of course all the more interesting for that. I expect he made a great big huge pile of money from the royalties for this song: I hope he didn’t spend it all in one place, or that the Bentley, guns, and drugs were worth it if not.
I always wanted to record this as an MTX song, but the Records covered it first (in the full Tim Moore version, but with some nice, rockin’ arrangement twists) and I’d never dare to compete with their vastly superior competence. Maybe there’s another Tim Moore song to try, though. I’ll look into it. “Sweet Navel Lightning” maybe.
But I digress. I think I’ve only played this song a couple of times, including this, and I’m glad it was captured. It plays in my head all the time. Please like, subscribe, share, comment, and do the thing where you go about your day being genuinely kind to people but not getting in their face to any great degree. Just smile and leave each other more or less alone unless drastic measures are called for. For this, my friends, is the real love, the kind you can’t buy in shops. Peace.
— Tim Moore — “Rock and Roll Love Letter”
— Bay City Rollers — “Rock and Roll Love Letter”
— The Records — “Rock and Roll Letter”
— Tim Moore — “Sweet Navel Lightning”
(The original post on minds.com is here.)
— “Some Foggy Mountain Top”: I wrote about this song in its own Medium post.
— “I Feel for You,” a terrific rendition of one of my old songs by Michael Giddings, on YouTube. Living Room Rock!
And, just by way of a “minor secret” here: this song came about because once upon a time long ago Kevin Army misread the sloppily-written lyric sheet for the song “I Fell for You” as “I Feel for You.” Even after he knew the real title, he would often say “I Feel for You” instead, either out of force of habit or as a kind of joke at my expense. Well, I know a good double entendre when I see one and it was only a matter of time before “I Feel for You” became a song in its own right, which it did a few years later on the Alcatraz album. Feel me?
—“…and I Will Be with You”, continuing a series that began with last week’s live version from the Queers of one of my old songs.
This one’s from our friend Farhan Pratama, all the way from Indonesia. I saw a snip of it on Instagram and he was kind enough to send me a file. This isn’t a song I’d ever thought to do solo-acoustic, as it seems so drums-y, but in fact it does work this way. Thanks, Han!
And that’ll do it. Thanks for listening, and reading, if anyone has managed to get this far down the page, which I doubt. Till next time.