Friday, November 27, 2015

Dirt City Chronicles_Cassette to MP3

Dirt City Chronicles_ Cassette to MP3
The Best of The Standells_ Rhino Records_ 1984

Another exemplary compilation from Rhino Records. As I've mentioned before, nobody does it better. Audio quality, liner notes, track selection... it's the bees knees. Not everyone feels the same way about Rhino's efforts. Larry Tambyln, who coined the name “Standells” and co founded the band has voiced his displeasure with Rhino's description of the band as “a clean living fun bunch of bananas” Larry likes to point out that The Standells were indeed hip and happening. They were after all, the first SoCal band in the 1960s to have long hair (which they promptly cut in order to land a gig at PJ's, notorious for its “no long hair” and matching suits dress code) Larry doth protest too much, the band's pre-Dirty Water recordings and publicity shots do present a clean cut, albeit lame bunch of bananas.

Larry Tambyln especially had a bone to pick with Harold Bronson, who researched and composed the liner notes. Stating that Bronson never met with him or any members of the band to verify any biographical info. Bronson noted that “The band included one guy who spoke with a very unhip broken Italian accent” That would be Tony Valentino, fresh off a pasta boat and as evidenced by Dick Clark's interview after The Standells performed “Help Yourself” Valentino spoke in a monosyllabic manner that brought Balki Bartokomous, Bronson Pinchot's immigrant character on the television sitcom, Perfect Strangers to mind. Harold Bronson also pokes at them for having “a Mouseketeer in the band... that's Dick Dodd, though Dick was cool, upping the band's “cool” quotation by a 100%

Let's face it, before Ed Cobb and “Dirty Water” The Standells were destined for the cut-out bin. Their legacy of failed singles and lame cameo appearances in b-movies and television sitcoms preceded them. Harold Bronson was right “Perhaps the years of growing up squeaky clean had suppressed a lot of angst that unleashed itself in the group's new found personality” “Oooh, that's a bingo. Is that the way you say it, "That's a bingo?” “The Best of The Standells” is an excellent and comprehensive collection of the band's best music during their “Dirty Water” period. There's nothing on here recorded before 1965, it's strictly Ed Cobb produced, Tower Records material. For earlier recordings go to my previous post

We're Your Children. Don't Destroy Us

*My primary research source for this section is “Wild Streets: American Graffiti versus the Cold War”
author: Mike Davis, International Socialism Archive

In 1966 the Sunset Strip was seething with young club patrons, milling about doing what bored white punks with too much time on their hands tend to do... disrupt things. To combat this trend, annoyed residents and merchants in the district pushed for the passage of a 10 pm curfew and loitering law to reduce the traffic congestion. The curfew was passed and went into effect in late 1966. In response, fliers were distributed along the strip inviting people to demonstrate. Hours before the protest, KRLA , a “rock” station, announced there would be a rally at Pandora's Box, a club located at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights Blvds. (owned by radio deejay and Shindig host Jimmy O'Neill) It was the opening salvo in what came to be known as “Sunset Strip Curfew” or “Hippie” riots.

“Hippie” was a misnomer, as the Sunset Strip protest riots kicked off, the hippie movement was in its infancy and still centered primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. Of the “thousand people in the street, singing songs and carrying signs” some were decked out in proto hippie gear, but the majority were clean cut kids driven by a powerful revulsion against arbitrary authority and perceived repressive enforcement of laws invoked specifically to curtail their movement and behavior. For white youths, this wasn't an entirely new phenomena. The roots of the Sunset Strip riots could be traced back to a series of riots that took place during the summers of 1960-61. The El Cajon Blvd. riot in San Diego, which involved thousands of white youths, erupted during a protest over the closing of a popular drag strip.

Subsequent clashes, Griffith Park (African Americans youth challenging de facto segregation that denied them access to the park) As the LAPD rushed in en-mass, black youths were heard chanting “This is not Alabama” Zuma Beach, exploded in violence during KRLA's “grunion derby” when police attempted to clear the beach at closing time. A crowd estimated at 25k, battled police, armed with beer cans stuffed full of sand and beer bottles. Almost simultaneously a second uprising broke out in Rosemead and a wedding reception in Bell resulted in a mob of 300 teenagers fighting in the street. Veteran cops accustomed to teenage deference were shocked by the crowd's angry defiance. They were “at a loss to identify a root cause for these white riots”

Sheriff Peter Pitchess observed that “defiance of authority, had moved beyond the point where blame can be placed solely on juveniles or adults, minority or majority groups” There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear. Following the initial riot, the Los Angeles City Council voted to acquire and demolish Pandora's Box, which was indeed demolished in Aug. of 1967. This ill advised action did little to quell the protests. The Sunset Strip wasn't wracked by a single riot, but rather by a series of counterculture clashes over an extended period (1966-69) thousands of youthful demonstrators joined by at times by celebrities (Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Sonny & Cher etc.) which ensured that the national media paid attention.

As Mike Davis points out: radicalized by the anti-war movement, the white youth battling police on the Strip started to see themselves as a secondary front in the struggle being waged by The Black Panther in South Central Los Angeles. Which led to a strange phenomena, the culminating showdown between thousands of white kids and the sheriffs in 1969 was mobilized by a a leaflet demanding “Free the Strip, Free Huey” Davis: “The battle over the urban night had joined forces with the revolution” It was however, a war of attrition. The urban night gave way to the neon nights and heshers of the late 1970s. The revolution petered out but not before it provided a shit load of fodder for exploitation movie producers

"The marketplace sold adolescent society its banners"

The struggle against curfews and crowd control on the Sunset Strip in the late 1960s was ripe for parody and “Riot on the Sunset Strip” Sam Katzman's teen exploitation film, released in 1967, directed by Arthur Dreifuss for American Pictures International did not disappoint. The Standells landed a coveted spot on the soundtrack album. They were joined by The Chocolate Watch Band (Dave Aguilar = Mick Jagger with maracas) and The Mugwumps (Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty, John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky, pre- Mamas and the Papas, Lovin' Spoonful fame) The title track“Riot on Sunset Strip” written by John Fleck and Tony Valentino, almost overcomes some laughable lyrics, “I'm going down to the strip tonight, I'm not on a stay home trip tonight” not even Dodd's snarly vocals can save it.

The movie is part exploitation film, part cautionary tale. No actual riot is depicted, unless you count the ensuing laugh-riot brought about by Mimsy Farmer's LSD induced dance number, which I can only describe as Tina Turner playing The Acid Queen doing an impression of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The acid trip scene is worth the price of admission alone. What we do get is a morality tale of what happens when a square girl hooks up with a bad crowd. Mimsy Farmer (who went on to appear in a series of Giallo films, i.e. Italian thriller or slasher movies) is Andy, short for Andrea, the new kid in town. The product of a broken home, her mother is an unbearable lush and her father is a police detective, too busy busting heads to notice that the times-they-are-a-changing.

Andy meets up with a crowd of Hollywood stereotypes, led by Herby (Schuyler Haydn) who has all the leadership qualities of Charles Manson but none of his charisma. His henchman, Grady is played by Tim Rooney, the son of Mickey Rooney. Tim was another of the ill-fated original Mousketeers. Both Tim and brother Mickey Jr. were dismissed from the show after just one season when they got into the paint shop at Walt Disney Studios and ruined hundreds of gallons of paint. He was stricken with polio shortly after he left the show and was paralyzed for two years. Ironically enough, Tim Rooney was replaced on The Mickey Mouse Club by none other than Dickie Dodd of The Standells. Tim's acting skills were limited and his limitations are in full display in this cinematic dumpster fire.

Let's cut to the chase... Andy is lured to a “freak-out” Her diet soda is spiked with LSD, she gulps it down exclaiming “I was thirsty” an almost instant identity transformation begins, one that produces instant licentiousness. Andy performs a cringe inducing raunchy dance, meant to imply that she is indeed asking for it. Herby slings Andy over his shoulder carrying her upstairs for the inevitable gang rape, declaring “Grass is fast, but acid is like lightning” Andy's father gets wind of the goings-on and shows up to find Andy somewhat catatonic as she declares “Five boys have been here” this causes him (played by raspy voiced, ex-Navy frogman, Aldo Ray) to punch out Herby, Grady and a few random punks at the hospital in a rather anti-climatic ending. 

I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby

“Dirty Water” written by Ed Cobb, was the song that launched The Standells to everlasting fame. It's since been adopted by Boston pro sports teams as an anthem of sorts. Which is silly, the song paints a less than attractive picture of the city, implying that it's crime ridden and that its men can't get the job done. “Frustrated Women (I mean they're frustrated) have to be in by twelve o'clock” Cobb also appears to mock the bean eaters for cowering in the face of a serial killer. “Have you heard about the Strangler? I'm the man I'm the man” As the story goes, it was with due cause, Cobb was the victim of a mugging while strolling along the Charles River with his girlfriend. “Dirty Water” was the first of a handful of songs authored by Ed Cobb, recorded by The Standells and hands down, the most successful.

“Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White” also penned by Ed Cobb was the followup single to “Dirty Water” it failed to crack the top forty (Dirty Water peaked at #11 U.S.) Cobb was adept at emulating the musical trends of the day, thus “Rari” and “Barracuda” sound derivative and yet it's hard to pin down how and why. “Why Pick on Me” is the best Sonny Bono song that Sonny never wrote. “Have You Ever Spent the Night in Jail?” replete with jail guitar doors and references to refried beans and lumpy beds, establishes once and for all that Ed Cobb was indeed the Shel Silverstein of 60s garage punk. “Mr. Nobody” written by Larry Tamblyn combines fuzz buster guitar with an angst fueled melody reminiscent of Bang era Neil Diamond.... which is to say, the best Neil Diamond.

The Standells were versatile if they were anything... “Mainline” is a throwback to the band's earlier frat rock days. A carefree jaunt that sorta brings their contemporaries, The Bobby Fuller Four to mind. “Medication” The Standells most overtly “psychedelic” song was actually written by Minette Alton and jazz pianist Ben Di Tosti. “She do what a good girl should she do what she do good” (The Chocolate Watch Band's version, also on Tower Records, gives the song a “Vanilla Fudge” treatment) Ben Di Tosti is a rather square guy who nurtures a Dixieland jazz fetish. It's easy to see that Ed Cobb and his studio hack, Lincoln Mayorga took some major liberties with the arrangement on both versions. “Dropped the pills like a maniac shaken bad like a walking sack of little pills”

“Try It” was The Standells “banned” song... written by Joey Levine and Marc Bellack, it never got off the ground due to Gordon McLendon's pious grandstanding. The Ohio Express, who at that point in time were actually Sir Timothy and The Royals out of Mansfield, o-HI-o covered the song for Super K Productions. In fact, “Beg, Borrow & Steal” the debut album by The Ohio Express, features The Royals, The Rare Breed and The Measles, a band from Kent, Oh. led by none other than Joe Walsh. The Super K version almost cracked the Top Forty. Joey Levine who would go on to fame as lead singer for The Ohio Express, wasn't yet involved with The Ohio Express, though he was working for Super K Productions. The lead vocal on “Try It” a song Levine co-wrote, was out sourced to Dale Powers of Sir Timothy and The Royals.

With “Can't Help But Love You” The Standells venture into Stax/blue eyed soul territory. I'm amazed the British “Northern Soul” crowd didn't pick up on this song. It met all their prerequisites, a big beat, soulful vocals, driving horns all released on a relatively obscure regional label. “All Fall Down” a rare collaboration between Dick Dodd and John Fleck is innovative psychedelia, it's a shame the band didn't get to showcase their songwriting skills more often.... the self penned tracks they did record are pretty damn good. “Animal Girl” a plaintive ballad totally inspired by The Rolling Stones “Aftermath”  album. The song is credited to Slim Harpo, though for the life of me I can't find his version and I can't even begin to imagine what Slim's original may have sounded like. Perhaps it's a typo. 

Dirty Water
Riot on Sunset Strip
Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White
Why Pick on Me
Mr. Nobody
Have You Ever Spent the Night in Jail?
Try It
Can't Help But Love You
All Fall Down
Animal Girl