Saturday, October 14, 2006

Songs of my youth

Playing right now: Human Sexual Response - In a Roman Mood
(see previous posts for gushing praise of this album)

When I was a kid, probably around the ages of, let's say, 5 or 6, every so often my mother would buy an album for me out of the blue. Maybe when I was home sick from school. I was young enough to not remember the details surrounding them.
I'm guessing they were things she'd pick out of the 5&10 bargain boxes thinking "He might like this." But unlike a parent thinking a Connie Francis or Jerry Vale album was a good idea because there was a Beatles song on it, Ma Shanley had a good track record for obscure garage albums.
One was an album by a band called the Hassles. Funny name, so I dug that. Gatefold cover - always cool. Pictures and liner notes, which I couldn't read. And the music......half of it sounded like the band wanted to be the Spencer Davis Group (although they covered Traffic, they were into Mr. Winwood's soul side, not his trippy side), and other times, they sounded like Vanilla Fudge (a ponderous version of "A Taste of Honey" with stops, starts and all sorts of dynamic shifts).
Years later, I discovered that the keyboard player in the band, who was i.d'd as "Billy Joe," dropped the second part of his nickname and brought back his surname, which was the same as the jettisoned name, plus the letter L..............that's right: Billy Joel.
Now, I can't stand that guy. Yeah, some of his '70s stuff was kind of cool, but overall I find him to be dull and arrogant to such an extent that it overrides any good accomplishments. But I busted out the Hassles album the other night and I keep coming back to a couple songs on it. Twice today. "Giving Up" is a slow number with woodblocks keeping the beat along with the drums and a dramatic vocal (not by Mr. Joel, I believe) and I can't get enough of it. I think it was written by Van McCoy, who would bring us "The Hustle" in the '70s.
They also cover the Sam and Dave song "You Got Me Hummin,'" which sounds pretty damn soulful for a bunch of not-quite 20-year-old Long Island boys. That is, after they get past the "ehhhh"s at the intro, which always sounded to me like two guys trying to move something that was too heavy. As opposed to sounding ready to get it on.
Along with the Sugar Bears and the Rugbys (the other great Ma Shanley find), I hold a special place for the Hassles.
Oh yeah, their bassist, Howie Blauvelt (which is probably German for "a surname that will keep you from fame and fortune") was later in the band Ram Jam that had a hit with Leadbelly's "Black Betty."

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