Friday, December 12, 2008

The Fleshtones: Stocking Stuffer and Vindicated: A Tribute To The Fleshtones!

The Fleshtones

Stocking Stuffer
Yep Roc

It's hard to write an introduction for The Fleshtones since by now, these hardworking guys from Hitsburg are getting their due and gaining the growing number of fans and praise that they always deserved. However, many of those numbers are the new converted who are likely kicking themselves over not knowing about them for the 26 or so years they've existed. Not only are The Fleshtones among the best, if not the funnest live act, but they have an extensive catalog, most of which is out of print, although one can always add a comment to the bottom of this review begging for those great albums to be given new lives in reissues. Not to worry, though. The past few years have definitely been the second coming for these Super Rock heroes, so as a holiday treat to all of us, we get the second release of the year in the nine song hurrah of Stocking Stuffer, a collection of originals and holiday covers that's nothing short of all the great stuff that we expect from The Fleshtones. Afterall, with that name, we all know it's gonna rock!

The opening "Hooray For Santa Claus" from the 1964 motion picture Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is loud and elated. One's sure to be singing along to the "We Spell" cheer by the second call. However, the movie is known by some to be the worst movie ever made and on par with the work of Ed Wood. Leave it to The Fleshtones to give a song from a C movie into something great. The followup to that is major: The Australian Xmas song Six White Boomers was recommended by Hoodoo Gurus co-frontman Dave Faulkner and includes the phone query to him "Well, what the heck is a boomer, Dave?" His recorded response is funny and a perfect omen for the song with it's powerchords added by Ross The Boss from The Dictators that put the sound right in the middle of the mid '80s Aussie garage rock scene, but with a great dose of AC/DC added. To bridge the inevitable cultural divide since nobody here connects boomers or joeys with Christmas, the sleighbells give out a truly rockin' Yule vibe! The original "Super Rock Santa" is probably the first song about how a saint can be cool with the line "Ho Ho Ho, Whaddya Know?' Peter Zaremba pulls on his crooner shoes for "All I Want For Christmas", which is a great song, but Peter Zaremba's deep, smooth voice on it can open up a can of whup-nog on any crooner out there.

The Keith Streng penned "Champagne Christmas" is a bit confusing. Like the liner notes say, it paints an intimate portrait. That's the confusion. Portrait or description of what many of you out there might be doing with just themselves and a bottle of bubbly on the holiday? Come to think of it, it sounds like a fun thing to do if you have to spend the night alone! Besides, the holidays and even more so this year's season give us constant reminders that things could be worse, such as "Champale And Christmas" or "Boone's Farm and Christmas". The lesson is if you're alone, grab yourself a bottle of semi good stuff and drink up! Like the song says "I got everything, everything I need, champagne Christmas tonight". Ken Fox makes a notable contribution in "Canadian Christmas", a longing for an authentic Christmas somewhere out of the Canadian cities, in the damn under freezing countries where Canadian Christmas is a 'Winter Wonderland". I guess this is a great example of why I'm thankful not to be of the dominant religion in this hemisphere; someone else can go out there and freeze their asses off in a Winter Wonderland, for crying out loud! However, it's still a great tune and I didn't hear "eh" once!

"Mr. Santa Claus," a rousing song from soul/r & b singer Nathaniel Mayer is sung by Keith Streng with all his soul. His scratchy but still toneful voice is a perfect compliment to the song and the person who originally sang it. Unbeknownst to most, Nathaniel Mayer died after having multiple strokes on November first of this year, which was after the Stocking Stuffer was pressed.

The Fleshtones take an approach that's purely youthful with bygone nostalgia on "Christmas With Bazooka Joe" that invokes images of silly fun found in those small comics. Definitely, a cool novelty. There's also a rocking version of "Run, Rudolph, Run". It's no surprise about it "rocking" since it was popularized by Chuck Berry. In fact, the opening guitar sounds like a Chuck Berry tune. Although the tune has been covered by many acts, including Dave Grohl with Billy Gibbons, Reverend Horton Heat, and many others, The Fleshtones distinctive old and new Super Rock treatment is the most complimentary to the song's heritage. In a related note, the song was co-written by Johny Marks, a Jew who also wrote "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". Additionally, Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas". So on one hand, Jews have written some very famous Christmas songs while Adam Sandler wrote the only rock 'n' roll Hannukah song. Lou Reed, Mick Jones, and Paul Westerberg, just to name a few notables of 'The Chosen People', but no Hannukah rock songs? I'd say one is over due.

The Fleshtones recently claimed that they're writing better songs now than they ever have. The originals on Stocking Stuffer are proof of that, with the final song "I Still Believe In Christmas", a great sing along done in their true sing along style with cool keyboards and a swingin' sax. Plenty of rockers do Christmas tunes, but when we think of Christmas albums, the knowingly less rockin' types are known for Christmas albums. I won't name them. You know them already because your parents probably own at least a few and you have to hear it when you go visit them. Stocking Stuffer is Yuletide Super Rock with great originals and some wonderful covers. It's no surprise that it's great, or that Keith, Peter, Ken, and Gordon all play at the top on it since they'd never settle for anything less. It's a damn good thing, too. Stocking Stuffer is the first great rock 'n' roll Christmas album. Besides, it's The Fleshtones! Their name is enough to know it's a great album.

Vindicated: A Tribute To The Fleshtones
Dirty Water Records
UsA through Get Hip Distribution

Tribute albums are usually hit and miss. Some of it's great, some isn't. That's not good enough for The Fleshtones. Their catalog is just too good. As a band, they take the cake for having the largest number of rock 'n' roll songs that are just perfect and give you the feeling that THEY ARE ROCK 'N' ROLL. So chances are, almost anyone can do a good cover since the material is just too good to work with. Again, not good enough for The Fleshtones. Instead, Vindicated: A Tribute To The Fleshtones takes the best garage rock bands from all over, although not known by most, to cover in tribute of super rock that can only be The Fleshtones! From Spain comes Los Chicos with their stripped down, bass thumped cover of 1991's "Living Legends". The powerpop production of Dave Faulkner is replaced with heavy doses of guitar and bass fuzz. What a perfect song (and title) to mark paying tribute to the eternal rock 'n' roll teenagers! The other contribution from Spain is the 1998 tune "Better Days" covered by Dr. Explosion, the band fronted by Jorge Explosion, the head of Spain's garage rock analog studio paradise Circo Perotti, not only home to an incredible vintage instrument collection and analog only recording studio, but also the studio where most of today's great garage rock bands native to Spain record. Philadelphia's legends The Cynics also recorded their recent release with Jorge at the studio. Whereas the original is almost frozen in time as either an acceptance of sad times for someone else or possibly a lament mirroring The Fleshtones status in the music business at the time, the cover communicates hope with it's louder sound recorded in mono. It's no suprise that Spain is represented here. It's a current hotbed for garage rock and has grown bigger in the past five years as a home for rock 'n' roll.

In greater proof of The Fleshtones status as international garage icons, Italy is represented with The Psychotones singing "Hitsburg U.S.A." in dual guitar, hot rhythm glory that tells the world where to go for rock 'n' roll! The U.K. joins in with Scotland's The Primevals adding their special ghoulish touch to "Screamin' Skull" from the 1983 release Hexbreaker, a song that was originally interpreted by Rolling Stone Magazine's Parke Putterbaugh as being about popping pills in East L.A. You be the judge of that. It's guaranteed that you'll be singing along with the first chorus. The other contribution from The British Isles is Richard Mazda with "Hope Come Back" from 1982's Roman Gods. It's on the "crunchy" guitar side with some suprising loud solos and a few synth/keyboard effects that fit quite well with the song's basic r & b base.

A garage rock invasion from Sweden has been taking place under our noses for quite some time now. The Maggots live up to their name by pumping up the Farfisa and clapping along with added guitar distortion, infecting the gloriously silly, repetitive lyrics with an almost nasal tone that brings home the youthful, amateur and fun sing-a-long quality of the 2005 song that ultimately celebrates self acceptance as pure joy. The Turpentines throw their hat in the ring on "The Girl From Baltimore" by lending a powerpop/metal guitar sheen, extended harmonica that brings out the vintage rock feel to the song, but adds a perfectly timed, Spike Jones like stutter resuperrocks a classic that one never tires of. As if to outdo everyone, the legendary Nomads take on American Beat in all its glory with heavier drumming and the anthemic "Can you hear the American Sound?". The added vocal harmony is great, but Handsome Dick Manitoba adds his traditional, over the top self promotion that only he can do and can never be topped or undone.

One doesn't think of rock 'n' roll when they think of France, but the French kids seriously one-upped their American counterparts when it came to The Fleshtones. Having little recognition in The States, they're long time rock stars in France. In fitting recognition of their support, there are four contributions from France. The Slow Slushee Boys turn "I've Gotta Change My Life" into a nugget with an organ led melody and some near pyschedelic vintage guitar that sound like a Vietnam War, Motown hinted self introspective. There's also the minimalist approach but simple chord super rock of Les Playboys "En Balade Avec Les Playboys". The other French Language song is Tony Truant's "La Fille du Noctambule". It just sounds cool in French! The unlisted fact that The Fleshtones are the backing band, but the drumming is heavier and the chords are fuzzier, giving it a more garage rock sound than the original recording. The final French contribution is more of an international coalition with France, Germany, and the U.S. with Snax Featuring Halloween Jack doing "Good Good Crack". It's techno! It's bizarre. The immediate impression is "What the fuck is this doing on here?", but the song topic deserves a pretty "out there" treatment. After all, it's only fitting that one hears techno while hearing "I need it need it, got to have that good good crack!"

We love The Fleshtones over here too, but instead of them elevating to super rock status, they always have and continue to serve as the blueprint of a great band that never gives up, stays true to what rock 'n' roll really should sound like, but also recreate what it should feel like night after night in small clubs and with small, but very happy crowds all across the country. The Fleshtones travel down the same roads and play in the same places every year, bringing back the whole ideal of great rock 'n' roll. Every time they play, one not only gets to see one of the best live acts ever, but ends up with an intimate connection to them as a result of a small crowd. After all, great rock 'n' roll is found in the small dives, punk clubs, and other crowded spaces, not the arena or stadium. Therefore, The Fleshtones are an ultimate guide for bands that are in it just to play their hearts out, regardless of the insignificant, small monetary gain, if there is one. Almost half of Vindicated: A Tribute To The Fleshtones is devoted to American acts. There's the classic garage stomp of "Watch This" recreated by The Havox, the very shakin' and psychedelic freakout of "I Wanna Feel Something Now" from The Insomniacs, the minimalist, Texas Hillbilly approach on "Whistling Past The Graveyard" by Hans Frank, "Headlock On My Heart" from the 2003 release Do You Swing faithfully rendered with blaring guitars and a great lead vocal from The Slickee Boys, desolate surf mixed with Cramps like buzzsaw chords of The Hate Bombs, the brash saxophone lending a '60s spy movie soundtrack feel on "Legend Of A Wheelman" from The Immortal Porpoises, and the Ramones/bubblegum resurrection on "Dreaming About Work" by The Subway Surfers. A special standout is the "Way Down South" by Florida's The Four Shames because it's the only track with a female voice, but it's awfully good and will make one crave for more fried chicken and all sorts of cholesterol laden Southern faire. A final American contribution comes from The Woggles, the Southern garage/soul counterparts of The Fleshtones on "The Theme From 'The Vindicators'.

Finally, Vindicated: A Tribute To The Fleshtones wouldn't be complete without a contribution from longtime friend, and one time producer Dave Faulkner and his hard and soft hitting powerpop legends themselves, The Hoodoo Gurus on "Pickin' Pickin", a super happy romp full of pop style that's always challenged by guitarist Brad Shephard's 'AC/DC Trigger fingers' that hearken back to another rock legend, The Flamin' Groovies.

Three Decades, 19 albums, and here we are. We love The Fleshtones! It's been quite a year for them with two new studio albums and endless touring accross the pond and back, throngs of new fans and regained old ones, and a chance to finally receive some of the praise (and profit) that they so much deserved for so long as among a chosen few bands to never put down the torch of rock 'n' roll in all its teenage dance party glory. 2008 was The Year of The Fleshtones. However, their extensive catalog is mostly out of print. The few copies available of such staples as Powerstance Hitsburg, Angry Years and others are only found on ebay for $80 or more being sold by obvious scum out to make money off of someone else's hard work. Roman Gods and Hexbreaker have about as much of a likelihood being found as Bigfoot! So The Fleshtones are left with a growing number and new and returning fans hungry for Super Rock: "Hitsurg USA", "American Beat", "Screamin' Skull", we all wnat to hear them, but at least for the present time, everything besides their four Yep Roc releases are out of print. It's time for Vindicated: A Tribute To The Fleshtones. They've earned it and as the legend has its long awaited growth spurt, we all want more of The Fleshtones.

It's a lot to take in, but the following \gives the perfect summary:

Feel that the beats back and play it that it happened that way
But you know that to us it was always there anyway
In Boston or New York or way out like in L.A.
Can you hear the American sound
Have your heard the American sound
Don't want to hear you put it down
I'd like to hear it on the radio in my home town

Every summer there's a number that I wanna hear the DJ play
In my room or at the shore man you know it's gonna sound OK
From Boston to Miami or way out in Malibu Bay
Can you hear the American sound
Have your heard the American sound
Don't want to hear you put it down
Hear it on the radio in my home town

Written by Peter Zaremba. Published by My Idea Music.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post—and don't forget the publication of Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band (Continuum, 2007).