Category: The Daily Loper

Certain Songs #798: John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band – “On The Dark Side”

Album: Eddie & The Cruisers Soundtrack
Year: 1983

SOMETIME IN 1982

:: Phone rings ::

“Hello?”

“Bruce? Bruce Springsteen?”

“Um, yeah. How did you ge–”

“Hi, Mr. Springsteen, I’m an agent representing Joseph Brooks, a producer for Embassy Pictures.”

“Uh-huh…”

“So anyway Bruce — can I call you Bruce? — we’re doing a movie for Embassy pictures called Eddie & The Cruisers, and we were wondering if you’d like to do a song for the movie called ‘On The Dark Side,’ you see we already have the song title, so you don’t even have to worry about it, all you have to do is apply some of that Springsteen magic. We all love that Springsteen magic. Everybody loves that Springsteen magic. It’s … magical!”

“Wait. How did you ge–”

“So whaddya think Bruce? Are you ready to make some real money out here in Hollywood? It’s of course cool to have hit singles — I really loved that ‘Angry Heart’ song — and put out dark acoustic records for your art and everything, but Hollywoo–“

:: CLICK ::

I don’t know if the above conversation actually happened, but I guarantee you that the above conversation was thought about, and so when John Cafferty was offered the same deal — applying some of that Springsteen magic — for a song in film about a missing rock star or something (I’ll confess I’ve never seen Eddie & The Cruisers), how could he pass it up?

Anyways, “On The Dark Side” is the single most shameless Bruce Springsteen rip-off in history — and that includes Bruce Springstone’s “Flintstones Theme“, the Traveling Wilburys’ “Tweeter & The Monkey Man” and The Hold Steady’s hilarious cover of Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” — and I love every single craven second of it.

From the piano / echo-y voice intro to the handclaps to goddamn sax solo, there isn’t anything in “On The Dark Side” that isn’t Bruce 101, and yet, when it was re-released as a single in the middle of Bruce’s Born in the U.S.A. single extravaganza, it made the top ten, because that’s how huge Bruce was at the time.

Maybe people thought that John Cafferty was a protege of Bruce’s, kinda like Rockwell was to Michael Jackson or Vanity was to Prince, or most likely, they didn’t care. The just loved the dramatic and buoyant sound of the aong.

“On The Dark Side”

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Certain Songs #797: Joe Walsh – “Life’s Been Good”

Album: But Seriously, Folks …
Year: 1978

The single most likable thing — perhaps the only truly likable thing as “Boys of Summer” gets by on art not charm — anybody associated with The Eagles has ever done, Joe Walsh’s unapologetic ode to the rock star life remains as fun and catchy and weird as it seemed when it was first released in the summer of 1978.

One of those songs that straddled the AM/FM divide with perfect precision, the 4:35 single version went to #12 on the Billboard charts, while the 8:04 album version blasted its way from car stereos for months.

And why not? Starting off with a big bluesy guitar riff over a slow, stuttery drum beat, segueing into a round-robin of acoustic guitars before finally falling into a reggae, or “reggae,” riddim, Walsh doesn’t even start singing until over a minute in, like he’s goddamn Isaac Hayes or something.

But funnier.

I have a mansion, forget the price
Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice
I live in hotels, tear out the walls
I have accountants pay for it all

They say I’m crazy but I have a have a good time
I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime
Life’s been good to me so far

On the face of it, this should be insufferable, but Walsh’s geniality and good cheer about all of it comes through: he’s totally gobsmacked about how things got this way, but damn if he isn’t going to milk it for all its worth. And why not? You would too.

My Maseratti does one-eighty-five
I lost my license, now I don’t drive
I have a limo, ride in the back
I lock the doors in case I’m attacked

I’m making records, my fans they can’t wait
They write me letters, tell me I’m great
So I got me an office, gold records on the wall
Just leave a message, maybe I’ll call

After that, the song practically falls away, leaving just the beat, a weird jews-harp synth, and a very long guitar solo by Joe. Like the rest of the song, it’s not flashy, but it goes on matter-of-factly, as if to remind you that his life got this way because he can play a little bit of guitar, so here’s some guitar for y’all.

Eventually the original bluesy riff and acoustic round-robin comes back, setting up the last verse, the one that drinking and drugging teenagers of the 1970s uniformly loved. Or so I’ve heard.

I go to parties sometimes until four
It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door
It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame
Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed

And after proclaiming life’s goodness one last time, Walsh amps up the guitars and starts getting loud and overdubby until the fade, which takes nearly the last two minutes of the song. He even gets flashy there for while, tossing some more conventional guitar-hero licks in there as the song fades. It never descends into chaos or anything, but it provided a great bed for an FM DJ to talk over for awhile leading into commercials.

In any event, “Life’s Been Good” has always felt one of those songs that nobody hates: I mean, I understand this was exactly the type of thing that punk rock was supposed to destroy, but “Life’s Been Good” formed its own protective bubble and was able to escape unscathed.

“Life’s Been Good”

“Life’s Been Good” performed live by a very fucked-up Joe Walsh

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Certain Songs #796: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – “Burning Streets”

Album: Streetcore
Year: 2003

This is making me sad. Writing about St. Joe Strummer, and the last songs that he ever wrote and recorded.

I mean, it’s a sad time all around, I guess, so maybe it’s more that, but I keep thinking about what he would have done in the past fifteen years, and how such fucking wrong it is that a man that always felt so full of life was felled at such a young age. I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ, I’m four years older as I write these words than Joe was when he died.

If only his heart had been as strong as his soul.

Maybe this story is bullshit, of course, but apparently he and Mick Jones (I originally just wrote “Mick” here w/o even thinking, because what other “Mick” could it possibly have been?) were getting together and writing songs for what could have been The Clash’s comeback. Maybe it would have been crap, but it would probably have been better than Cut The Crap.

Or maybe none of it would have never come out, maybe Streetcore wouldn’t have been any good had Joe not died and not had a chance to overthink the tunes, maybe the alternate universe where Joe Strummer is still alive, he still hadn’t done a single great thing after “This is England,” though given we are in the darkest timeline, that probably isn’t the case.

London is burnin’ don’t tell the Queen
Somebody tried to speak garage
And they burnt down Bethnal Green
Piccadilly’s yearning, like a reggae beat
Soon you’re gonna be runnin’ down

What is the case is that “Burning Streets” is slow and stately and gorgeous and self-referential both overtly (“London is burning” is the main hook) and subtly (both guns and supermarkets get discussed), and sadly (because always sadly), feels like a potential new direction for his music, overstuffed with backwards guitars and vocal filters and round-robin choruses, and I could just hear what Mick might have been able to add to this stew two decades after they broke up and with nothing left to prove except that two titans could still get together and do whatever the fuck they wanted to, because their legacy is once and forever secure.

And London, will forever be burning. Sometimes with boredom. Sometimes not.

“Burning Streets”

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Certain Songs #796: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – “Burning Streets”

Album: Streetcore
Year: 2003

This is making me sad. Writing about St. Joe Strummer, and the last songs that he ever wrote and recorded.

I mean, it’s a sad time all around, I guess, so maybe it’s more that, but I keep thinking about what he would have done in the past fifteen years, and how such fucking wrong it is that a man that always felt so full of life was felled at such a young age. I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ, I’m four years older as I write these words than Joe was when he died.

If only his heart had been as strong as his soul.

Maybe this story is bullshit, of course, but apparently he and Mick Jones (I originally just wrote “Mick” here w/o even thinking, because what other “Mick” could it possibly have been?) were getting together and writing songs for what could have been The Clash’s comeback. Maybe it would have been crap, but it would probably have been better than Cut The Crap.

Or maybe none of it would have never come out, maybe Streetcore wouldn’t have been any good had Joe not died and not had a chance to overthink the tunes, maybe the alternate universe where Joe Strummer is still alive, he still hadn’t done a single great thing after “This is England,” though given we are in the darkest timeline, that probably isn’t the case.

London is burnin’ don’t tell the Queen
Somebody tried to speak garage
And they burnt down Bethnal Green
Piccadilly’s yearning, like a reggae beat
Soon you’re gonna be runnin’ down

What is the case is that “Burning Streets” is slow and stately and gorgeous and self-referential both overtly (“London is burning” is the main hook) and subtly (both guns and supermarkets get discussed), and sadly (because always sadly), feels like a potential new direction for his music, overstuffed with backwards guitars and vocal filters and round-robin choruses, and I could just hear what Mick might have been able to add to this stew two decades after they broke up and with nothing left to prove except that two titans could still get together and do whatever the fuck they wanted to, because their legacy is once and forever secure.

And London, will forever be burning. Sometimes with boredom. Sometimes not.

“Burning Streets”

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Certain Songs #795: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – “Arms Aloft”

Album: Streetcore
Year: 2003

Given the fact that a couple of years ago, I wrote about The Clash for an entire month, Joe Strummer already had a lifetime pass by the time he gave Mick Jones the boot, so in a way it didn’t even matter that Cut The Crap sucked, he’d already done enough.

Nor did it matter that his songs for the those great and insane mid-1980s Alex Cox films were underwhelming, he’d already done enough.

It did matter that his first true solo album, 1989’s Earthquake Weather, sucked, but only slightly: it wasn’t like my Clash records were going anywhere, and at that point I was only beginning to understand Sandinista! anyways.

But outside of producing an incredibly underrated Pogues album — 1990’s wonderful Hell’s Ditch — and replacing Shane MacGowan for a tour (the 1990’s version of Axl Rose replacing Bon Scott), Strummer all but disappeared from my life.

Which didn’t matter: he’d already helped change it once, and those Clash records still weren’t going anywhere.

So when Joe Strummer resurfaced with a band called The Mescaleros in tow, I didn’t really pay that much attention. I read the reviews, and they were pretty good, but I think I wasn’t going to take any chances, especially since it was supposed to be musically all over the map. So I didn’t. The second one, either.

Then Joe Strummer died unexpectedly — and of course was instantly canonized — and nearly a year after that, Streetcore came out, an album that was supposed to mark his return to rock ‘n’ roll, but wasn’t yet completed when he died.

Luckily, a couple of the Mescaleros took what were probably rough demos, added the proper backing, and Streetcore emerged, and I went out and bought it. And was pleasantly surprised at how much loved it. Not life-changing loved it, of course, but whatever had kept Joe Strummer from writing coherent rock songs for 20 years had clearly gone away, as most of the songs on Streetcore were more straightforward than anything he’d done in years.

And so with the guitars chugging along and Joe’s voice agreeably ragged, it was visceral thrill when he slid into the chorus of “Arms Aloft.”

May I remind you of that scene
The spirit is our gasoline
May I remind you of that scene
WE WERE ARMS ALOFT IN ABERDEEN!
May I remind you of that scene
Let a million mirror balls beam
May I remind you of that scene

With Joe’s voice filtered through an old mic for most of that chorus with the rest of the band massively overdubbed for the title line and an army of guitars, it wasn’t quite like The Clash, but it was a great enough of an approximation that it got right past my head and went directly to my heart.

Sure, he’d already done enough, but it was cool that we had just this little bit more.

“Arms Aloft”

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