Tuesday, February 22, 2011

1966- "And Your Bird Can Sing" & from London with Luv

                                                        John Lennon outside his Kenwood home

Several years back, can't remember exactly where, I read somebody's riff on how John Lennon's "And Your Bird Can Sing" might be a dig at Mick Jagger and his relationship with Marianne Faithfull- she being the "bird" in question who can sing.  It was an amusing idea especially as I've always been fascinated by the interplay, competitiveness and socializing of the larger than life figures of the 1960's music scene and how their relationships with each other influenced the music they made.  Recently though while paging through a book that I first bought in the early 80's, The Rolling Stones-The First Twenty Years by David Dalton, I came across an excerpt from a column Jagger's girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton wrote for a publication called Mod Magazine that I think might suggest an alternate origin for the song, one that also makes more sense when you look at the time line for the writing and recording of the song.

                                                                 Lennon's Kenwood home

In the column, which I've scanned below, Chrissie starts off by detailing how she and Mick on a recent visit with George and Patti Harrison had ended up going over to John Lennon's Kenwood home for a private screening of "Citizen Kane"- "Orson Welles surrounded by Bourneville chocolate and cups of coffee" Chrissie enthuses.   Then, after a paragraph long digression about the fabness of Stevie Winwood and his taste in crepe shirts, she mentions that she recently turned 21 and describes some of the gifts she received including the following from Mick Jagger-  "a bird cage with a Victorian brass bird in it. The bird sings.  That is, it does if you put money into it."

Now Chrissie Shrimpton was apparently born in 1945 and so would have turned 21 in 1966.  Her relationship with Mick Jagger is dated as lasting from 1963-1966.  Since these two items appear in the same column one would assume that the trip to Lennon's and her 21st birthday took place within the same couple of months at least.  So the trip to Kenwood was most likely early 1966, another clue here is the mention later in the column of the boutique Granny Take A Trip which first opened in February of 1966.

The Beatles recorded "And Your Bird Can Sing" on April 26, 1966 and we can assume that John probably wrote the song in early 1966 around the same time frame as the visit from Mick and Chrissie for the screening of Citizen Kane.  I would imagine either this visit took place shortly after her birthday and the singing Victorian brass bird was mentioned in conversation with the Lennon's and Harrison's as one of her gifts, or that John, no stranger to reading the pop papers, read about the bird in Chrissie's column after the visit thus inspiring the song.  Since Mick and Chrissie relationship didn't end till sometime in 1966, and the reference to the singing bird is so direct and literal (the song immediately came to mind when I read the mention of the singing brass Victorian bird), it seems a much more probable explanation for the genesis of the song than Jagger's relationship with Marianne Faithfull, which didn't fully flower till later in 1966 after the writing and recording of  "And Your Bird Can Sing".

As an accompaniment to this post I've uploaded the Mono/Stereo Dr. Ebbett's edition of the Beatles American album "Yesterday" ...and Today.  This record assembled by Capitol Records for the American market and first released in June of 1966 contained the first appearance of "And Your Bird Can Sing", in a slightly different mix, as well as two other Lennon songs, "I'm Only Sleeping" and "Dr. Robert", that would be released later in the year on the British version of Revolver

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Towers Open Fire (<- click to DL mix)

1968 -  The Tet Offensive, riots in Paris and Mexico City, Russian tanks in Prague, MLK and Robert Kennedy assassinated, the Black and White Panther parties arming themselves, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers helping students to occupy Columbia University, the streets outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago erupting in a police riot, it seemed the whole damned shit house was going up in flames. Wild in the Streets, the great AIP film of 1968, in which the voting age is lowered to 14 and pop star, Max Frost, is elected to president and precedes to forcibly retire those over 30 and put them in camps where they are force fed acid, didn't seem that far fetched to the "silent majority" watching on their TV's.  The Yippies were making threats to spike the water system in Chicago.  Members of the Black Panthers made clear that offing honkies might be necessary to reach their goal of liberation. The bad vibes were tangible. We've lost control some were heard to say.  Enter WSB.

  In the early 1960's William S. Burroughs' post modern take on science fiction, which utilized cut-ups ("when you cut into the present the future leaks out") had predicted, perhaps even willed, this breakdown in a strictly controlled society predicated on the inflexible authority of the "rational" mind. No matter that the agents of control targeted by Burroughs had deeper roots than the authority figures activists on the left were fighting. The usually apolitical Burroughs upon witnessing first hand what was happening acknowledged that this was perhaps the first step in a longer goal of liberation from all agents of control, inner and outer.  There was an undeniable energy in the air, a crackling electricity, that still resonates, something indeed was happening here, matters of life and death laid on the line.

This mix was inspired in equal parts by the November 1968 issue of Esquire in which the events in Chicago were covered by Burroughs, Genet, Terry Southern and John Sack and the chapter on 1968 in Peter Doggett's There's A Riot Going On.  I don't care to dilute the power of these sounds and images by over analyzing or hem hawing about all the motivations, actions and contradictions of the musicians and activists involved, rest assured there were plenty. Instead let's let these sounds and images speak for themselves and conjure what they will.

                                                    photo by Carey Winfrey- 1968 Chicago



1. Uranian Willy 1- William S. Burroughs
2. Kick Out the Jams- MC5
3. The Whole World is Watching
4. Street Fighting Man- The Rolling Stones
5. Fifty Two Per Cent-Max Frost and the Troopers
6. We're a Winner- The Impressions
7. The Total Taste Is Here- William S. Burroughs
8. House Burning Down- Jimi Hendrix Experience
9. Hell No, I Ain't Gonna Go- Matt Jones & Elaine Laron
10. The Unknown Soldier- The Doors
11. Uranian Willy 2- WSB
12. Turn On Tune In Drop Out-The Fugs
13. Revolution 1 (Take 20)-The Beatles
14. I've Never Say Never to Always-Charles Manson & Family
15. Revolution (parts 1&2)-Nina Simone
16. The Pledge- The Holy Modal Rounders
17. Say It Loud-James Brown
18 Wild in the Streets-Max Frost and the Troopers
19. Uranian Willy 3- WSB
20. 55- Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan
21. Five to One (excerpt Miami 3-69)-The Doors
22. The Devil is My Name (1+1)-The Rolling Stones
23. Tuli, Visited By the Ghost of Plotinus-The Fugs
24. Poll-The Monkees
25. The French Revolution-Erica Pomerance
26. The Ballad of Martin Luther King-Mike Milius
27. A House is not a Motel- Love
28. Burn, Baby, Burn- Rev. F.D. Kirkpatrick & Jim Collier
29. All Along the Watchtower-Bob Dylan
30. Uranian Willy 4- WSB

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rick Johnson!!!! Squirrel Grunts into the Void (MX-80 Sound)

He was funnier than Lester Bangs and R. Meltzer on their best days, and though admittedly influenced by both he lacked the occasional cranky self-righteousness of the former and the perpetual self aggrandizement of the latter, leaving us, the lucky readers, with that increasingly rare beast, writing that is simply PURE FUN.  Friends, I'm here to tell you that Rick Johnson is one of the funniest writers you will ever have the pleasure to read, and even if you don't get all his references, that only means that you stand to learn some things in the bargain.  There's no one who writes like him today and truthfully probably few who would want to, but that's much more a testament to these sad times, than to any deficiencies in his prose, cause Ranger Ricks stuff is pure gold, at least to those that understand the genius humor of a parenthetical reference to Hitler as George Harrison's favorite painter (in the midst of attempted explanation as to why Harrison's solo records lack bite) or the compact and ACTUAL insight of describing Arthur Lee as an "idiot savant".

The good news is that Bill Knight, a friend of Rick Johnson's, has taken the time to edit a posthumous anthology of his writings,  "Rick Johnson Reader: Tin Cans, Squeems and Thud Pies".  It's mainly short half page record reviews with a handful of longer (only when compared to half page record reviews) pop culture pieces, subjects dear to Rick's heart such as junk food, beer and most especially, T.V.   Now admittedly this might sound underwhelming at first, hmm not one but two reviews of albums by largely forgotten bands like Starz, until you see what the man does, in record time (no pun), to explode these forms.  It's the kind of writing where you find yourself pausing every other line either due to uncontrollable laughter or to puzzle out and marvel over his bizarre descriptive phrases and wild ass juxtapositions, the kind of writing you run to the other room to read aloud to your significant other, the kind of book that if you read it on the bus people think your nuts, what with all that grinning and laughing.  Let me just shut up and give you some examples of Rick in action.

"Live albums are a great idea and like most great ideas (the electric back-pack, adult-proof caps, any given country's constitution), this animal stands with bovine distraction between the feed trough and its own shit, wondering, "Which one should I eat first?"."  Thin Lizzy- Live and Dangerous

"It's hard to find something bad to say about such a nice person, but I'll try. His voice whines like an overheated egg. His guitar playing is whiny as well.  In fact when he trades off his vocals with his guitar, it sounds like two extremely tired waitresses discussing a particularly obnoxious customer."
Peter Frampton- I'm in You

"With an anguished vocal performance bordering on bed wetting, singer Jello Biafra recklessly rhymes neutron bomb with Jane Fonda and sportingly invites his audience to 'jog for the master race'.  This is not mere music, this is climate control!"  Dead Kennedys-Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

"Other bits of verse you'll want to embroider on burlap and hang in your dump include "Curses and Invocations" ("I'll always be a word man/better than a bird man") (but not a soul man!) and the charming "Lament for My Cock" where he describes his little pal as "a tongue of knowledge." Yeah, but can it play Wipe Out?        
Jim Morrison and the Doors- An American Prayer

"Listening to Moody Blues albums is like going to school, only harder.  At least in your average classroom predicament, there's an actual answer to the question you slept through..................
But these MB questions are tuffies.  Nebulous, you might call them, although other, less kind students have described them as pointless, meaningless, and who gives a shit anyway? (Bad attitude.)
Moody Blues-Octave

"His seeming inability to compose music with any sort of bite since then could be chalked up to any number of reasons; psychedelic fascism (his favorite painter is Hitler), religious overindulgence, self-conscience musical maturity (pronounced ma-tour-ity) or even chronic vegetarian constipation, but I think it's just the real stockbroker in him coming out of the closet."
George Harrison-Living in the Material World

"Their lonesome-outlaw lyrics are about as poignant as plugging your speakers into a roll of pastel toilet paper"  The Eagles-Desperado

"Lawrence Welk's eat-it-right-out-of-the-pan approach to the Nothing World of television stuck with me, and helped me through the years to understand such diverse cultural phenomenon as Real People, Cher's tits, the Gerald Ford administration, and commercials suggesting you redecorate your home with attractive mirrors.  A game-show host without a game, Welkie was one of the first to condense Low Budget into an art form- on the tube, at least."

Here's an interview with the late Rick Johnson http://rockcriticsarchives.com/interviews/rickjohnson/rickjohnson.html

And as a bonus (or extra credit) here's a record that Rick had nothing but praise for 1977's
Hard Attack by the MX-80 Sound (see where Sonic Youth borrowed some of their ideas)