Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Dirtbombs Recreate the Bubblegum Era with Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!

Here is a revived version of a Line Out post about the Dirtbomb's 2013 album, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! (these posts were purged from the internet after The Stranger pulled the plug on their music blog).

BLOGS Sep 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm

The Dirtbombs Recreate the Bubblegum Era with Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!

  • Illustration by Lee DeVito
  • Hey, hey, they're the Dirtbombs

The Dirtbombs
Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!
(In the Red Records)

Only a band that truly loves bubblegum pop, and doesn't think of it as silly kid's stuff or some quaint artifact from yesteryear, could make a record filled with as much gleeful abandon as Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!

I'm roughly the same age as singer-guitarist Mick Collins, so I'd imagine that he also discovered the phenomenon while it was happening in the 1960s and '70s. I remember watching The Archies on TV—I read the comic books, too—and listening to the Ohio Express on the radio—specifically "Yummy Yummy Yummy"—and thinking that music couldn't get much better than that. And in my little child's eye view of the world: I was right.

Instead of a collection of covers, however, like Ultraglide in Black (soul and funk) and Party Store (Detroit techno), Ooey Gooey consists entirely of originals. It's a risk, but those who've been following Collins since he fronted the Gories in the 1980s know that he likes a challenge, and that he almost always rises to the occasion.

The most surprising thing about the album, though, is how closely it aligns with the rest of the Dirtbombs' discography, proving that bubblegum has always been part of their DNA. If the music doesn't completely break the mold, the lyrics tell another story, because Collins is a worldly, well read individual, qualities that are antithetical to bubblegum, which celebrates the simple pleasures. Anything too heavy would wreck the flow, so he sets aside his real-life concerns about global warming and government surveillance in favor of ice cream and carnival rides.

But there's a fine line between bubblegum and glam, and the group crosses it a few times, especially on "Jump and Shout" and "Hey! Cookie," where they dirty up the sweetness with fuzz bass, cowbell, and their trademark double-drumming. That isn't a bad thing, by any means. On the contrary, it helps to keep kitsch at bay, though the tone is lighter than ever—no more so than throughout "Girl on the Carousel" where Collins comes on like a starry-eyed boy doodling hearts in his notebook rather than the black-clad cat who once shouted about nitroglycerine.

  • Buddah Records
  • Kasenetz-Katz production from my collection

At 29:40 minutes, Ooey Gooey plays more like a mini-album than a long-player, but that's the way these records used to work, and anything much longer might overstay its welcome (even then, padding was the name of the game when the singles were the thing). Like candy, bubblegum intends to be pleasurable and addictive, not nutritious and fulfilling, which means that one spin is either too much or not enough. Nonetheless, I'm not totally won over by "We Come in the Sunshine," which features a too-obvious nod to "Good Vibrations," but at least they acknowledge the debt by citing Brian Wilson in the liner notes (they also make sure to make sure to include Kasenetz-Katz among the list of thanks).

The band's attention to detail extends to the Gary Panter painting on the cover and the Lee DeVito illustration on the back, both of which reference The Archies. And for those who act fast: 200 copies were pressed on bubblegum-pink vinyl. Now I just need the t-shirt, the lunchbox, the buttons, and the stickers.

In the Red Records releases Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! on Sept 17.

Claudia Lennear's Lone Solo Record, Phew!, Rocks Hard, Defies Expectations

Here is a revived version of a Line Out post about Claudia Lennear's 1973 album, Phew! (these posts were purged from the internet after The Stranger pulled the plug on their music blog).

BLOGS Oct 9, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Claudia Lennear's Lone Solo Record, Phew!, Rocks Hard, Defies Expectations

Claudia Lennear
(Real Gone Music-Warner Bros)

Claudia Lennear, who came to fame as a member of the singing and dancing Ikettes, has a unique voice that combines strength and fragility. She can wail and shout with the best of them, but there's a certain vulnerability that always shines through (that incongruity describes her countenance, as well, which projects joy and sorrow in equal measure).

It's an appealing combination, though anyone who picks up Phew! expecting Tina Turner's brand of firepower may leave disappointed. Lennear had her own thing going on.

Her participation in Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, which produced both a record and a concert film, gives some indication as to the eclectic sounds she laid down on her lone solo album, now available in a vibrant new reissue.

Despite the involvement of pianist and composer Allen Toussaint, who produced the medley-like side two, Phew! isn't strictly an R&B release (Ian Samwell produced side one and Ted Templeman produced the bonus track, Lowell George's "Two Trains"). Instead, Lennear draws more from the wells of rock and blues, with the exception of Toussaint's "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," which holds its own with Lee Dorsey and the Meters at their groove-heavy, New Orleans best.

Once I got to that track, I realized how much she and the pre-disco Sylvester were on the same wavelength in 1973. This album and his twin rock records, Sylvester and the Hot Band and Bazaar, didn't attract the attention they should have, so I'm as grateful for this reissue as for Sylvester's Blue Thumb Collection.

In the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom—still playing at the Crest—director Morgan Neville catches up with Lennear and other prominent backup singers from the 1960s to today, like Gloria Jones ("Tainted Love") and Merry Clayton ("Gimme Shelter"), and finds that every single one of them has had a hard time making—or maintaining—the transition from the back to the front of the stage.

It's understandable that Lennear wouldn't want to toil for the infamous Ike Turner for the rest of her days, and with her talent, it's inevitable that she would step out of the shadows, but her time in the spotlight was relatively brief—she left the Ikettes in 1970—but at least she made the most of it. Phew! includes the cream of the Warner Brothers session crop, namely Ry Cooder (guitar), Jim Dickinson (piano and guitar), Jim Keltner (drums), and Spooner Oldham (electric piano).

As any 1970s photograph of her will attest, Lennear was also a shapely lady who once posed for Playboy, something Neville asks her about in the documentary—to her obvious discomfort. It's possible that listeners of the day didn't expect such a foxy mama to rock as hard as the shaggy men with whom she was associating at the time, like Leon Russell who tried (and failed) to sign her to his Shelter label.

Mick Jagger, who appears in 20 Feet, gets a lascivious look on his face when talking about his former tour mate. I had no idea, while watching, whether or not they had an affair, but his expression indicates that the thought certainly crossed his mind. (In a 1973 issue of Rolling Stone, writer Ben Fong-Torres refers to their relationship as "a romance." Responds Lennear, "It's very platonic." Later in the same interview, which appears in the CD booklet, Lennear backtracks: "That 'platonic thing'," she admits, "That was a lie.") The Claudia Lennear Appreciation Society doesn't end there: David Bowie wrote "Lady Grinning Soul" about her.

Since the 1980s, the California-based Lennear has been working as a foreign-language tutor and making music on the side. Unless another LP comes along, this 40-year-old recording, which hasn't aged a day, stands as her only solo effort. I'm sorry she never released another, but I'm glad this one turned out so well.

Lennear inspired the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," Mick Jagger inspired "Not at All."

Phew! is out now on Warner Brothers. Disclosure: I'm friends with Pat Thomas, who oversaw this reissue. Over the years, Pat has also overseen reissues from Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Nico, Linda Thompson, and Betty Wright.

Saturday, September 03, 2022