Just when it seems you’ve reached the age and quantity of musical acquisitions (ethereal or physical) where you can just kick back and wait for great new music, an unearthing comes along to remind you the past isn’t even past. I speak here of a 2018 Record Store Day release that confirmed the existence of something I’d just recently written off as hearsay or deteriorated tape: hardcore honky-tonkin’, ill-fated and underrated Floridian Gary Stewart’s legendary Motown-gone-smoke-filled-bar 1970 demo sessions. Worth the wait? Fuck yeah. Worth the price? I don’t do Record Store Day because I have been going to record stores regularly for 42 years, I hate crowds, and 80% of the offerings (at least) are straight-up junk, but I do wait like a fisherman with his bobber the morning after, and I snagged it for $30 off eBay–the same about Gary got paid for the 90-minute session! That’s $15 a song on this 45, and I will die happily with it in my possession.
The “A” is a cover of The Four Tops’ “Baby, I Need Your Loving” (“I Can’t Help Myself” is also listed on the session log reprinted on the 45’s back cover, but it remains vaulted). Gary’s in typically intense voice; his characteristic line-punctuating quaver hasn’t entirely come to the fore, but the desperation for which he would become famous in such singles as “Out of Hand” and “Your Place or Mine” is well-audible. The performance fades out after a half-improv/half-recitative that’s a little awkward, but Stewart’s singing, his churning rhythm guitar (I assume it’s him from the energy but there are no personnel notes available) and the punchy demo mix make the track very stimulating.
Stevie Wonder’s “Yester-You, Yester-Me, Yesterday” is more like it! Titularly, you’d suspect an ill-fitting wince-inducer, but…history shows when Stewart was matched with material in which the persona was reflecting on the past from a point where he was neck deep in ashes, Sally bar the fuckin’ door. On this song, you’re hearing transmissions from the room in the Tower of Song right between Hank’s and Jerry Lee’s.
I also received the Cincinnati band Wussy’s new EP, also a 45, in the mail. They are, with Yo La Tengo, the epitome of a critic’s band, but in spite of that, the group’s so very human writing and singing, plus their tendency to rock on out, places them in my pantheon. Unfortunately, the lead Beatles cover here sucks left hind tit, and their run on Jennie Mae Old’s “Runaway” only a shade better. Taste only gets a critic’s band so far.
Fortunately, the B is, weirdly, one of my favorite rock and roll responses to Trumpism so date, even if it wasn’t designed that way. It leads with an old recording, of The Seedy Seeds’ “Nomenclature,” one of the greatest songs ever about identity, and leaps and bounds better than the original–only now it seems to get at something defiant and real about gender fluidity that’s under attack. And the cover of The Afghan Whig’s “Retarded”? Well, I probably won’t willingly listen to the original again, but I can just repeat-play this one by virtue of Lisa Walker’s delivery of the line, “Who’s retarded now?”
As far as other burning questions go, do you need Neil Young’s newly-available 1973 live recording of Tonight’s the Night, performed at The Roxy in Hollywood? No. It’s really good, don’t get me wrong: after a month of recording the studio release, Neil and band showed up to play it for folks (prophetic of a current and tiresome tour gambit), and they’re sharp. The stage banter’s a bit cynical; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you need to pay for “Roll Out the Barrel,” ironically positioned though it may have been. Personally, I really miss “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” which would have blazed live–Nils was right there, man!–and “Walk On”‘s presence doesn’t quite make up for its absence. You’re fine if you simply have the studio release, which is live’er than this could possibly be.
I know The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society is legendary, but it’s also a quarter marred by insipidity. Just sayin’.