Jun 2013 (II) / FUR (Part 2)

Well, I finally did it:  I wrote a note that was too long – actually, way too long – for Facebook.  There is a 65,535-character limit that I was about to exceed, so I’ll have to present the rest of this month’s post separately.  “Part 1” can be found at Fur (Part One)
*       *       * 



Any in-depth discussion of Bob Dylan inevitably comes to the supposedly controversial and dramatic “going electric”, where he was booed at some concerts and called “Judas” at another.  The above single, “Mixed Up Confusion” – the very first 45 released by Dylan – muddies those waters considerably, and this is perhaps the reason that this ground-breaking recording is given short shrift in both Wikipedia and Allmusic.  In fact, I found almost nothing about the song except YouTube videos, lyric sheets, download sites, and the other usual Internet folderol. 


I did find this brief mention of the song on the Wikipedia article on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan:  “Unlike the other material which Dylan recorded between 1961 and 1964, ‘Mixed Up Confusion’ attempted a rockabilly sound.  Cameron Crowe described it as ‘a fascinating look at a folk artist with his mind wandering towards Elvis Presley and Sun Records.’” 


The first Bob Dylan album, Bob Dylan was released with great fanfare by Columbia Records in March 1962; it is a relatively conventional folk album that is not unlike those that Joan BaezJudy Collins, and Peter, Paul and Mary were recording at the time, with just two original songs.  The album was produced by John H. Hammond, the legendary talent scout who signed Bob Dylan to Columbia.  Though excellent in every way – for instance, the album includes “Man of Constant Sorrow”, the song (as performed by the Soggy Bottom Boys, with George Clooney on lead vocals) that was made famous in the 2000 Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou – Bob Dylan sold just 5,000 copies initially; and Columbia Records executives began grumbling about Dylan’s being “Hammond’s folly”. 


Legend has it that Bob Dylan wrote Mixed Up Confusion on the way to the recording session, and the single was recorded on November 14, 1962 with an electric band:  three guitars (including Dylan’s), bass, drums, and a lively piano.  Mixed Up Confusion was omitted from both versions of his second, much more successful album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; interestingly, the “B” side was “Corrina, Corrina”, the only song on the album that Bob Dylan didn’t write (another was co-written). 


The Mixed Up Confusion single was released on December 14, 1962 – a full 5 months before the album was released – but was almost immediately pulled from the market.  Though not electric in the same way as, say, Like a Rolling Stone, Mixed Up Confusion is rock and roll all the way.  Had this song been given any exposure at all, the folk-rock movement could have been started years earlier. 


I encountered Mixed Up Confusion on one of the first Bob Dylan bootleg albums that I bought (though it was not Great White Wonder).  However, it was not officially re-released until the box set Biograph was released in 1985.  A pristine copy of the Mixed Up Confusion 45 brought $1,225 at auction in 2008


*       *       * 




Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of seeing the “Queen of RockabillyWanda Jackson live in concert at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis, MS.  One of the first songs she played was “Funnel of Love” which dates from 1961; Wanda said that the song had gotten a lot more attention in the last 10 years.  I first heard the song on one of the overpriced but essential Born Bad CD’s back in the 1990’s, and the song thrilled me to the core of my being; it immediately became one of my all-time favorite songs. 


It is difficult to describe Funnel of Love; it is not a traditional rockabilly song, that’s for sure, and I have heard Roy Clark’s innovative guitar technique that more or less mimics a sitar on at least one other track of hers.  The mood is spooky and almost psychedelic – all the more so for having several kinds of background singers and a strategically placed “ting” of a triangle from time to time.  It is definitely a one-of-a-kind record:  Wanda Jackson never recorded another song quite like this one, and no one else ever did either. 


Wanda Jackson played Funnel of Love on Late Night with Conan O’Brien that a friend found for me on her phone.  It’s a great song played live, but nothing can touch the original. 


That is not a misprint:  The song came out in 1961.  Who knows where rockabilly might have gone if Wanda Jackson would have continued down the path that Funnel of Love was pointing to. 


In any case, Funnel of Love never appeared on any of Wanda Jackson’s studio albums; it was the “B” side of Right or Wrong, more of a pure country song that became Wanda’s first Top Ten country single.  Her remarkable rockabilly singles didn’t chart very high for the most part; “I Gotta Know” – with several tempo changes and a great line in the chorus, “If your love’s the real thing / Where is my wedding ring” – was Jackson’s sole hit in its original release.  I had thought that Funnel of Love appears on her 2011 comeback album, The Party Ain’t Over that was produced by Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, but that ain’t true either. 


Wanda Jackson went on to have a long and successful career as a country music star.  But the concert that I saw in Bay St. Louis was all rockabilly


*       *       * 


Actually, I take that back.  At one point in all of her concerts, Wanda Jackson speaks of her becoming a born-again Christian in 1971.  She also sang a gospel song – I forget which one, and I haven’t been able to find out online – but it also rocked. 


*       *       * 




Brian Wilson was the bandleader and primary songwriter of the Beach Boys; writing for AllmusicWilliam Ruhlmann says that Brian Wilson “is arguably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era”.  In the beginning, there were fun songs about surfing and cars and girls, as well as a (more or less) friendly rivalry with Jan & Dean that prefigured the more contentious Beatles vs. Stones debates.  It is no secret that Jan Berry – a wunderkind in his own right – wasn’t happy that the Beach Boys copied the surf sounds that Jan & Dean pioneered. 


When the British Invasion came along and seemed to sweep away the surf music scene, Brian Wilson masterminded a response album in 1966 by the Beach Boys that matched the Brits in every way:  Pet Sounds.  The hit songs from the album – “Wouldn’t it be Nice”, God Only Knows and “Sloop John B” – don’t begin to convey how well Pet Sounds works as an album.  The record was hugely influential and (in a nice twist) was an even bigger hit in England than it was in the USA


On the heels of Pet Soundsthe Beach Boys released one of the most incredible singles by anybody in the mid-1960’s:  “Good Vibrations”.  The song was originally intended as one of the tracks on Pet Sounds, but Brian Wilson knew that he would never be able to complete the song to his satisfaction in time for the album’s release.   


John Bush in Allmusic says of the background behind this classic:  “‘Good Vibrations’, the Beach Boys1966 entry into the best-single-of-all-time sweepstakes, announced the coming era of pop experimentation with a rush of riff changes, echo-chamber effects, and intricate harmonies, plus the very first theremin ever heard on a pop record.  The natural grace of the song belied the months of recording and mountain of tape reels it required, however.  Though Brian Wilson’s self-described ‘pocket symphony’ was his masterpiece, its creation effectively put the coda on his production career, and he was never the same again. . . .  In the end, ‘Good Vibrations’ cost over 50,000 dollars to produce, making it one of the most expensive singles recorded up to that point.”  


*       *       * 


Brian Wilson was none too happy that Pet Sounds wasn’t a bigger hit; though the album peaked at #10 in the American album charts (and #2 in the U.K.), “Good Vibrations” was #1 with a bullet in the U.S. and U.K. alike.  Thus, in August 1966Wilson began working feverishly on another album that would be called SMiLE to prove beyond doubt that Americans could outdo the English


Brian Wilson brought in a talented collaborator for his project, Van Dyke Parks.  In Allmusic, William Ruhlmann says of him:  “In a field where the term ‘genius’ is handed out freely, Van Dyke Parks is the real article.  As a session musician, composer, arranger, lyricist, and singer, he’s contributed significantly to several decades’ worth of inimitable masterpieces credited to other artists, as well as generating two or three masterpieces of his own.” 


Van Dyke Parks is a native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi and was a musical prodigy.  He studied the clarinet and also did some work as a child actor; while in his teens, Parks appeared in Grace Kelly’s final film, The Swan (1958).  After graduating from college, he made some recordings for MGM Records in 1964 that included “Come to the Sunshine”; the touring band that he put together included a young Stephen Stills.  Primarily though, he worked behind the scenes, playing as a session musician with Sonny and Cher  (before they even took that name) and Paul Revere and the Raiders under producer Terry Melcher.  His other early credits include playing Hammond Organ on the ByrdsFifth Dimension album and also keyboards for Judy Collins, plus arranging songs for Tim Buckley


Terry Melcher put Van Dyke Parks in touch with Brian Wilson; Wilson needed a lyricist who could match his musical visions that he was struggling to get on tape.  Just imagine:  an album full of “Good Vibrations”-level music!  John Bush continues:  “[Brian Wilson] labored over every note and, more than that, every tone, often asking his musicians or the Beach Boys themselves to revise when the results didn’t match his conception of the music going on inside his head.  Such care and control produced music that was far beyond Pet Sounds, and when the impressionistic themes and lyrics of collaborator Van Dyke Parks were added, SMiLE began shaping up as the most unique LP ever produced by a pop group.”  


*       *       * 


SMiLE was never completed.  Part of the reason might have been the limitations of recording studio technology in those days; Brian Wilson was already becoming reclusive, and a decade later, he might have been able to put the album together privately and then spring it on the world, fully born – the way that studio wizard Tom Scholz was able to do with the original Boston album in 1976.  Brian Wilson might have been over-reaching also, and there is little doubt that the pressure of the months of recording sessions contributed to the decades of drug addiction and mental illness that plagued Brian Wilson after the SMiLE recording sessions collapsed in early 1967


The Beach Boys soldiered on and became one of America’s most beloved rock bands, with President Ronald Reagan dubbing them “America’s band” in 1983.  Over this period, some pieces of what would have been the SMiLE album – authorized and otherwise – began dribbling out.  “Sail on, Sailor” was released in 1973 and was the only Beach Boys single to crack the Top 50 for nearly a decade (between 1968 and 1976). 


Brian Wilson tried on several occasions to jump-start a solo career; one time, his abortive attempt coincided with the release of one of the Beach Boys’ biggest latter-day hits, “Kokomo”.  I wish I could remember the time period or the beach town that I was in (maybe Santa Cruz, California) where there were xeroxed fliers being handed out about an appearance by Brian Wilson in a small club, as though he were some local guy just starting out. 


In the early 2000’sBrian Wilson started having some success and recognition again; so in 2004, he set about presenting SMiLE at long last.  Wilson debuted the album at a live concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 20, 2004; and the release of Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE as a solo album followed in April 2004


In October 2011, under the name The SMiLE Sessions, the original recording sessions were boiled down into what the SMiLE album might have sounded like in 1967.  Several official releases of the package have already been made, including various Deluxe Editions.  Oddly, the recreated album itself is in mono – supposedly because that is the way that Brian Wilson would have wanted it – even though stereo versions are available on 80% of the songs.  All editions include a second CD that feature bonus tracks and stereo renditions. 


*       *       * 




Not all of the news is bad, however.  Sometimes “what might have been” turns out to be more than anyone could ever have expected.  The history behind the glorious hit single “The Sounds of Silence” (now identified as “The Sound of Silence”) by Simon and Garfunkel requires me, as usual, to make a big detour in the process, and to pick up the Bob Dylan story from earlier in this post. 


*       *       * 




It was clear that Bob Dylan’s second album would be very different from Bob Dylan, where only two original songs were presented.  Wikipedia notes:  “Many critics have noted the extraordinary development of Dylan’s songwriting immediately after completing his first album.  Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin connects the sudden increase in lyrics written along topical and political lines to the fact that Dylan had moved into an apartment on West 4th Street with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo in January 1962Rotolo’s family had strong left-wing political commitments; both of her parents were members of the American Communist PartyDylan acknowledged her influence when he told an interviewer:  ‘Suze was into this equality-freedom thing long before I was.  I checked out the songs with her.’”  That’s Suze Rotolo on Bob Dylan’s arm in the front cover shot of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, walking down a snowy Greenwich Village street. 


The recording sessions started in April 1962, and the album had a working title of Bob Dylan’s Blues – as late as July, this was still to be the name of the album.  These April sessions included wonderful songs like “Sally Gal”, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, “Rambling Gambling Willie”, “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”, “The Death of Emmett Till”, and “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”, among many others.  Because Bob Dylan’s songwriting was progressing so quickly, nothing from the April 1962 sessions was utilized on the album as it was finally released (though a few were included on a brief early release of the album – copies are now worth five figures).  I was, however, able to enjoy them on the many Dylan bootleg albums that I acquired over the years. 


On February 7, 1962, at the Finjan Club in Montreal, Canada – according to a website called www.downtheroadtoecstasy.co.uk/ – Bob Dylan made what might be the first public performance of the standout track from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”.  (Wikipedia mentions that Dylan “debuted” the song at Gerde’s Folk City on April 16, 1962, but that was apparently only the New York debut).  I have a copy of this performance also on a Dylan bootleg, and it is chilling to hear Bob Dylan really working hard to present this now-legendary song to an audience that had never heard it before. 


The introduction that Bob Dylan gives at the Montreal club makes it apparent that he knows what a new direction he was taking in his songwriting with Blowin’ in the Wind:  “Here’s a song that’s in sort of in a set . . . a set pattern of songs that say, uh . . . [here, Dylan strums on his guitar for a while] that say a little more than, I love you and you love me, Let’s go over to the banks of Italy, and raise a happy family, You for me and me for . . . me.” 


In a radio interview on New York radio station WBAI in June 1962 (which, if I am remembering this right, is included in part on Great White Wonder – or at least, one just like it is), legendary folksinger Pete Seeger described Bob Dylan as “the most prolific songwriter on the scene” and then asked Dylan about his songwriting; he replied in part:  “I might go for two weeks without writing these songs.  I write a lot of stuff.  In fact, I wrote five songs last night [chuckling can be heard in the background], but I gave all the papers away in some place called the Bitter End” – one of the most famous music clubs in the City I might add. 


*       *       * 


As the months dragged on in the recording sessions for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, producer John Hammond might have begun feeling a little out of his depth – no doubt he knew that he had the goods this time.  He was also having power struggles with Albert Grossman, who became Bob Dylan’s manager on August 20, 1962.  Additionally, Bob Dylan first started making recordings with a backing band in October 1962.  


At any rate, another producer was brought in to help out – an unlikely though inspired choice as it turned out.  As described in Wikipedia:  “Because of [Albert] Grossman’s hostility to [John] HammondColumbia paired Dylan with a young, African-American jazz producer, Tom Wilson.  Wilson recalled:  ‘I didn’t even particularly like folk music.  I’d been recording Sun Ra and [John] Coltrane. . . .  I thought folk music was for the dumb guys.  [Dylan] played like the dumb guys, but then these words came out.  I was flabbergasted.’   


“At a recording session on April 24, [1963,] produced by Wilson, Dylan recorded five new compositions:  ‘Girl from the North Country’, ‘Masters of War’, ‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’, ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’, and ‘Walls of Red Wing’.  Walls of Red Wing was ultimately rejected, but the other four were included in a revised album sequence.” 


Besides the work on Freewheelin’Tom Wilson wound up producing many of the albums that make up the heart of Bob Dylan’s early career:  The Times They Are A-Changin’Another Side of Bob Dylan, and Bringing it All Back Home


*       *       * 


Prior to beginning work on his next album, Highway 61 RevisitedWikipedia reports:  “In May 1965Dylan returned from his tour of England feeling tired and dissatisfied with his material.  He told journalist Nat Hentoff:  ‘I was going to quit singing.  I was very drained.’  The singer added, ‘It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you.’  


“As a consequence of his dissatisfaction, Dylan wrote 20 pages of verse he later described as a ‘long piece of vomit’.  He reduced this to a song with four verses and a chorus – ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.  He told Hentoff that writing and recording the song washed away his dissatisfaction, and restored his enthusiasm for creating music.  Describing the experience to Robert Hilburn in 2004, nearly 40 years later, Dylan said:  ‘It’s like a ghost is writing a song like that. . . .  You don’t know what it means except the ghost picked me to write the song.’” 


As it turned out, the early recording sessions that produced the classic “Like a Rolling Stone” recording were the only ones for Highway 61 Revisited that producer Tom Wilson worked on; Bob Johnston handled most of those duties, and he also went on to produce what many believe to be Bob Dylan’s magnum opus:  Blonde on Blonde.  


*       *       * 




Meanwhile, during March 1964Tom Wilson was the producer for the first album by Simon and GarfunkelWednesday Morning, 3 A.M.  Like Bob Dylan’s first album, it was a fairly conventional folk album with numerous traditional folk songs and cover songs, including “The Times They Are A-Changin’”; there were only four songs that had been written by Paul Simon


The first song on Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. is “You Can Tell the World”, a gospel song that had been written and performed by Gibson & Camp.  At that time, the latter gentleman was known as Bob Camp; he later took the name Hamid Hamilton Camp and also Hamilton Camp.  When I first encountered him, Hamilton Camp was in a supporting role on one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, He & She.  The show starred Richard Benjamin (as a cartoonist) and Paula Prentiss (as a social worker) as a married couple; they have one of the longest lived marriages in Hollywood (52 years and counting).  One of the Benjamin character’s cartoons had become the basis of a television show; the perfectly cast Jack Cassidy co-starred as the egomaniacal actor who played “Jetman” on that show.  Hamilton Camp played the folksy handyman for the apartment building where the couple lived, and the cast also featured Kenneth Mars as a firefighter who often walked into their apartment via a plank that he extended from the firehouse into a window in their apartment.  


Despite the stellar cast, innovative plot lines, and a lead-in from Green Acres, the show was cancelled after only one season.  He & She is now considered to be a ground-breaking series that paved the way for the MTM shows of the 1970’s like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show; they ran back-to-back for years, and I never missed them.  Those shows basically ruined me for television programs in future years. 


I didn’t know that Hamilton Camp was also a folksinger until I got to college and discovered that his 1964 album Paths of Victory was a favorite album of the College Republican crowd that I began running with.  For some reason, they considered it to be the perfect album to play if you were really depressed; for myself, I loved Paths of Victory because it included covers of seven – count them, seven – Bob Dylan songs, most of which were unfamiliar to me.  The album also includes Camp’s best known song, “Pride of Man”, later covered by Quicksilver Messenger Service and Gordon Lightfoot.  I have found several other Hamilton Camp albums over the years, but never that one, so I guess I am going to have to break down and order it sometime.  Actually I have always loved “the hunt” and rarely order a particular album, even one as beloved as this one. 


*       *       * 


Anyway, in its initial release in October 1964Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was unsuccessful, possibly overshadowed by the Beatles.  Of one song on the album, “The Sounds of Silence” – performed acoustically, like all the rest – Art Garfunkel wrote in the liner notes:  “‘The Sounds of Silence’ is a major work.  We were looking for a song on a larger scale, but this is more than either of us expected.” 


Wikipedia describes what happened next:  “On June 15, 1965, immediately after the recording session of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, [Tom] Wilson took the original acoustically instrumented track of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1964 version, and overdubbed the recording with electric guitar (played by Al Gorgoni and Vinnie Bell), electric bass (Joe Mack), and drums (Buddy Saltzman), and released it as a single without consulting [Paul] Simon or [Art] Garfunkel.  The lack of consultation with Simon and Garfunkel on Wilson’s re-mix was because, although still contracted to Columbia Records at the time, the musical duo at that time was no longer a ‘working entity’.  Roy Halee was the recording engineer, who in spirit with the success of the Byrds and their success formula in folk rock, introduced an echo chamber effect into the song.  Al Gorgoni later would reflect that this echo effect worked well on the finished recording, but would dislike the electric guitar work they technically superimposed on the original acoustic piece.” 


For the flip side of the single, Tom Wilson added a song that Simon and Garfunkel had recorded a few months earlier when they were trying for a more “contemporary” sound.  “We’ve Got a Groovey Thing Goin’” wasn’t anything like the serious-natured hit song on the “A” side; when the Sounds of Silence album was rushed to the stores after the success of the newly electrified single, the liner notes about this song said simply:  “Just for fun”.  Paul Simon seemed to like the now somewhat embarrassing Sixties slang term “groovy”; he also wrote “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”.  Besides being a single for Simon and Garfunkel (backed with “I Am a Rock”), a band called Harpers Bizarre took “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) to #13 in 1967


The Sounds of Silence” began climbing the charts and was the #1 single in the country for the first three weeks of 1966 (sandwiched between a Dave Clark Five song and a Beatles song).  Simon and Garfunkel began working together again and went on to have one of the most storied careers in American popular music.  “The Sounds of Silence” is among several Simon and Garfunkel songs that were used in the 1967 film The Graduate; using existing songs in a soundtrack was unusual in those days, though it is commonplace now.  In 1999BMI said that “The Sounds of Silence” was the 18th most performed song of the 20th Century.  


*        *        * 


I have had the idea for a “might-have-been” post about rock and roll for most of the year; this is a mistake that I will not make again, I assure you!  I had no conception that the post would be this gargantuan when I started out, and this is likely due in no small part to having thought it through for several months.  There are several other examples that I had intended to include – the troubled life of the original frontman for Pink FloydSyd Barrett, and the San Francisco psychedelic band It’s a Beautiful Day that had a gorgeous hit in 1969, “White Bird” – plus others that have no doubt slipped my mind.  In the future, when I have a lot to say about a particular rocker, I will take them one at a time – as I did with the long discussion on Link Wray’s classic instrumental Rumble in the UARB post on Link Protrudi & the Jaymen.  


The problem was, I never could come up with an appropriate band or artist where a discussion of this sort would be a natural lead-in.  Eventually, I decided to just go for it and pick out a UARB that had been on the to-do list long enough:  FUR, a favorite punk rock band that was among the first bands that I thought of when I conceived of starting this monthly series some four years ago. 


Why Fur?  Good question; basically, I just pulled the band choice out of the air.  As I have finally gotten to the point in the post where I am actually discussing the UARB, I now believe that Fur is a fine if left-field choice to end a discussion of the foundations of rock and roll:  This trio illustrates well the idea that first germinated in the person of Buddy Holly and was later expanded in spades during the first-wave punk rock revolution of the late 1970’s – that rock and roll is for everybody who wants it badly enough.   


To some extent, I think that Providence guides my hand as I am writing.  For example, in the post about the UARB Hacienda (one of the few current bands that I have written about), I started out talking about the Premiers in an examination of Hispanic rock bands and artists.  Their song “Farmer John” – which Neil Young covered much later – is the next-to-last song on the classic compilation album Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 and also the oldest, dating from 1964.  As I struggled with how best to describe their sound – having been dissatisfied with the descriptions I had read in reviews and other places, including their own label’s promotional material – I realized that Hacienda’s music was actually quite similar to this song by the Premiers


*       *       * 


I can hear some of you now saying:  “Stuff and nonsense!  Ants among colossi!  How can you DARE talk about a miserable little punk rock band in the same article as these giants?” 


And there are others who are probably thinking by now:  “I thought you were going to talk about a cool punk band.  When are you EVER going to quit jabbering about all of these old farts?”  For all I know, most of Fur’s fans would agree with this latter sentiment. 


*       *       * 




But the bandmembers in Fur would not.  Most of the music on the Fur CD is in 3rd or 4th gear; in fact, on “Sex Drive”, the song moves from 3rd gear to 4th gear when the tape speeds up in a way.  However, on one track, “James Brown” – still another legend that I don’t have room for here – the band slows down to a respectful pace; Holly Ramos even counts down before starting to sing her lyrics: 


“I met you once by chance like some lucky people do – I said I wasn’t wearing any underwear, & you smiled and you said, me too.”  I assume that must be a true story of Holly Ramos’ meeting James Brown, because who could make up something like that?  Ramos continues:  “I know you wrote the book ’cause I see you got the scars – & all the other boys are trying hard but no one’s coming close to being how you are.” 


*       *       * 




The frontwoman for Fur is Holly Ramos, a musician and actress from New York City.  As revealed in a 2003 interview with Glitzine – a glam/punk/pop online fanzine that has evidently been around for 40 years – Ramos was into the New York punk scene at an early age:  “In grade school I started to get interested in 1977 type punkthe RamonesBlondiePatti Smith.  And in high school I got into hardcore (Black Flag/Bad Brainsetc).  I am interviewed for the book American Hardcore, a book about the history of that music.”  The book was written by Steven Blush and was the basis for an acclaimed 2006 documentary by the same name, American Hardcore that was directed by Paul Rachman


Holly Ramos first got into the music scene when she met Jesse Malin in high school.  They started a “party” (rave?) together in 1991 called GREENDOOR (where Ramos was the DJ) that persisted sporadically through the end of the 1990’s.  “Green Door” is the name of a fun 1956 hit song by Jim Lowe about a mysterious nightclub where the singer could never gain admittance; I have a copy of the song on one of the Born Bad CD’s.  However, the name was probably taken from one of the first high-profile pornographic movies (from 1972), Behind the Green Door – whose name was taken from the song – that starred then-unknown Marilyn Chambers (the famous “Ivory Snow” porn queen). 


*       *       * 




Holly Ramos asked Jesse Malin to produce Fur’s music, and they worked together on their first single, Sex Drive.  This single in its original form appears as the closing track on the band’s CD, Fur


Jesse Malin was previously a member of Heart Attack, one of the early New York hardcore punk bands and reportedly one of the youngest at that time (some of the bandmembers were between 12 and 16 years old).  The band was active from 1980 to 1984Malin later became the lead singer for D Generation, a popular glam-punk band that was formed at about the same time as Fur.  


Together with Ryan AdamsJesse Malin co-founded a hardcore punk rock band in 2002 called The Finger.  Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams) has been active in music since about 2000.  I remember well a music video for his song “New York, New York” that was filmed just 4 days before September 11, 2001, showing the World Trade Center in the background. 


Interestingly, The Finger took its name from a notorious hardcore punk rock band from Raleigh, North Carolina called FingerRyan Adams was a big fan of this group.  Although I haven’t confirmed it, Finger might have grown out of an earlier Raleigh hardcore band called Colcor.  Several songs by this band were included on a 1982 cassette-only compilation album called No Core that also features Corrosion of Conformity.  I was delighted to find an LP of the music from this cassette (probably a bootleg) that was among the first albums that surfaced from the Katrina mud.  Hardcore and thrash punk is not really my thing, but I do love that album. 


*       *       * 




Fur was founded in about 1991 and featured Holly Ramos (guitar and vocals) and Danuta Gozdziewicz (bass and backing vocals).  Evidently there were a succession of drummers but never more than three bandmembers; on the CD, the drummer is Michael McDermott.  About the CD, Ramos continues from her 2003 interview:  “We had a CD on Blackout Records and singles and some college radio attention.  It was poppy Ramones style, melodic and aggressive, had a lot of great press and terrible distribution.”  


As mentioned, Sex Drive is the single that was produced by Jesse Malin.  The rest of the CD was produced by Phil Caivano, who has been a member of the stoner rock band Monster Magnet since about 2000


*       *       * 




I have presented most of the photos from the album insert in this post.  There is another on the CD itself, a negative photograph of Holly Ramos playfully positioning her crotch above the hole.  Once I saw the pose, it seemed like an obvious thing for a woman to do on an album, but I have never seen it done before or since. 


This photo is not at all pornographic – Holly Ramos is clearly clothed.  However, it makes me think that the band name Fur is meant to be a sexual reference.  The 2nd solo album by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s is called Fur (1988); she is pictured on the cover holding a rabbit (a fertility symbol from time immemorial), so Wiedlin probably intended the same, even though Jane Wiedlin is well known as an animal rights activist. 


*       *       * 




Holly Ramos wrote all but one of the songs for the Fur CD.  The exception is X Offender, a track from Blondie’s first album, Blondie that was written by Gary Valentine and Deborah Harry.  This song was also released as Blondie’s first single in June 1976, on Private Stock Records.  This single did not chart, though two others from their first album did. 


The title of “X Offender” is a double entendre; the reference is not to an ordinary ex-offender but to a sex offender.  Fur’s version of the song is rougher and has somewhat lower production values, though I prefer it to the original.  X Offender fits like a glove into the Holly Ramos songs that make up the remainder of the album, so I suppose you could say that Fur sounds like a punkier Blondie in their original incarnation. 


Fur played for years in New York and also toured this country and Europe before breaking up in about 1998


*       *       * 




I am not really much of a lyrics guy; even on some of my very favorite albums, I probably couldn’t quote a single line.  Obviously that’s not true of my entire collection; the lyrics from Bob Dylan were a big attraction to me from the very beginning.  However, the most important thing to me about song lyrics is that they need to mean something to the singer, not that we as the audience necessarily need to know what is being said or even what it means.  Years ago, I once wrote about song lyrics, mentioning a Twisted Sister hit song from 1984:  “The point is, you can’t sing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ angrily, but you can sing ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ with a bit of venom.” 


You might remember We’re Not Gonna Take It as a classic music video on MTV back in the day; as Wikipedia describes it:  “The song is notable for its popular music video directed by Marty Callner, with its emphasis on slapstick comedy, where a parent gets the worst of the band’s mischief.  Controversy arose when the depiction of the family in the video caused a public outcry long before the ‘explicit lyrics’ warning was placed on records, cassettes, and CD’s. 


This led to the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center, co-founded by Tipper Gore (who later became Second Lady of the United States).  Mark Metcalf, the actor portraying the father in the video, had previously played Neidermeyer, the ROTC student commander in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978).  In a reference to his role in the film, Metcalf says in the video, ‘A Twisted Sister pin? On your uniform?!’.  [Lead singer Dee] Snider himself can also be heard cursing and swearing the question ‘A pledge pin? On your uniform?’ at the end of the song.” 


U. S. Senate hearings were held in 1985 about supposedly offensive song lyrics, where Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider and Frank Zappa (among others) testified.  A somewhat tongue-in-cheek TV movie about the controversy called Warning: Parental Advisory came out in 2002; it was created by VH1 and was directed by Mark Waters.  In one scene, appearing as himself, Dee Snider clomps into the Senate chambers in full Twisted Sister regalia to testify. 


*       *       * 




Lyrics are one of the real strengths of Fur, and that is pretty rare among punk rock bands.  Full lyric sheets are provided in the CD insert, which is unusual as well.  Like the quotation that I have already given for James BrownHolly Ramos’s lyrics are mostly conversational in nature, like something you might hear at a nightclub.  Some of my favorites are just short lines, like “You’re great, baby, like a [Andy] Warhol star, that’s what you are”; ‘I’m tired of all the other stars I’ve f--ked”; “I wear your clothes baby everywhere”; “they say you’re a prostitute, you’re feelin’ bad, but you’re looking cute”; “you’re not an ocelot, so don’t try being something you’re not”; and “you’re divine baby, what’s your sign?”  Some are riffs on her own lyrics, my favorite being:  “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth, baby, tell the ta-ru-u-u-uth”. 


There are verses and choruses that are worthy of quoting in full (in apparent reference to Angels in America):  “I got no angels looking over me, no superhero’s gonna save me, I’m so amused with how I am, just like a devil to the lamb”; and “I got a fuel injection kiss, I wanna ride your rocket ship, I wanna see your heavenly body, ride on a trip & visit planet Holly”. 


James Brown is full of pull quotes:  “Get down to the sound”; “You talk about America & your God & your race”; and “But you give it all when you sing & baby I just wanna, gotta, hafta let you know that you saved my life with your stunning attack”.  Honestly, it was all I could do to not give the full lyrics for James Brown


*       *       * 




One of the disadvantages of having a large record collection is that even favorite albums are inevitably pushed aside for years at a time.  Until I started putting this post together, I had forgotten how great the Fur album really is.  The fuzz-laden guitar work by Holly Ramos is first-rate, and she is backed by the rock-solid rhythm section of Danuta Gozdziewicz on bass and Michael McDermott on drums.  As one reviewer noted, it is amazing what a big sound Fur creates with just three bandmembers. 


There are other cool aspects of the CD; the opening track, “Beautiful Wreck” starts with Holly Ramos saying a single word – “sing” – and ends with car-crash sounds.  Ramos begins “Ocelot” – a species of wild cat that is also known as the dwarf leopard – with a series of “meow’s”, probably as a counterpoint to the closing line:  “Don’t try being something that you’re not.”  The word is spelled “oceolot” twice on the CD insert; that might be an alternate spelling, but in any case, “oceolot” gets 122,000 hits on Google.   


There is not a wasted note on the entire album, no dead sections where I am waiting for a favorite song to come on.  It has never occurred to me even once in the 50 or more times that I have played this album to think, well, I’ll just skip over such-and-such song this time.  I wish I had another 5 CD’s by this band. 


*       *       * 




Holly Ramos moved on to acting for a while after Fur broke up.  Ramos had a starring role in the 2001 indie film Margarita Happy Hour that also featured the Fur song Sex Drive in the soundtrack.  Holly Ramos also wrote, produced and starred in a 2004 short film called The 100 Lovers of Jesus Reynolds


Holly Ramos moved from New York to Los Angeles in 2003 and is still active in music.  Ramos co-wrote “Cigarettes and Violets” that appears on Jesse Malin’s 2002 solo CD, The Fine Art of Self Destruction; she also contributed to several tracks that appear on others’ albums in the mid-2000’s.  


The first solo album by Holly RamosRacehorse came out in 2006; her label has the remarkable name of Ford to City: Drop Dead Records.  The name is taken from a famous headline that was published in the New York Daily News; the reference is to the refusal of the Federal Government – in the person of President Gerald Ford – to aid the New York City government when it came close to bankruptcy in 1975.  


In her 4-out-of-5–star review for antiMusic.comGisèle Grignon says:  “[Holly] Ramos’s voice, in all its glorious originality, cunningly textured lyrics, and irresistible magnetism is, (and if anyone out there is actually keeping track, I apologize for my by-now strangulation-worthy overuse of the following word) refreshing.  It’s so unlike anything else out there today, that you will be forgiven for initially considering switching the channel or flipping through your musical options for something familiar, safe and Ovaltine comfy cozy.” 


Holly Ramos has both a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/pages/Holly-Ramos/25110461394?fref=ts – and a website – www.hollyramos.com/ – though the website appears to still be under construction.  


Fur bassist Danuta Gozdziewicz now goes by the name Danusia Roberts Trevino and is working as an actress.  She also has a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/danusia.robertstrevino?fref=ts – and a website – www.danusiatrevino.com/members/DANUSIATREVINO/pts.html#/1// .  


*       *       * 


Flashback:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month for June 2011 – THE UNKNOWNS 




There are several YouTube songs by the Unknowns (also known as Bruce Joyner and the Unknowns); here is a striking performance taken from New Wave Theatre of their song The Streets (also known as “Shadows Stalk the Night”) that also shows off the other wacky stuff on that channel besides punk rock:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqRQcWJVnbk .  This is another live performance (from 1990) of another great song, Dream Sequencehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kfg0sS8nhAY .  If you need any other proof that the Unknowns are not like anybody else, check out this demo performance (audio only) of Common Man:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO4_5A5pwEE .  There are other Unknowns songs on YouTube, plus additional Bruce Joyner music from his bands the Plantations and Reconstruction 


*       *       * 


Photo Gallery:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month for June 2010WATERLILLIES 


Here is the first CD by WaterlilliesEnvoluptuosity 




This is the second album, Tempted 




This maxi-single cover of Temptedis much more attractive: 




Very few photographs of bandmembers Sandra Jill Alikas-St. Thomas and Ray Carroll are available; here are a few: 




This is a promotional shot that also shows the band: 




* * *
The Honor Roll of the Under Appreciated Rock Bands and Artists follows, in date order, including a link to the original Facebook posts and the theme of the article.
Dec 2009BEAST; Lot to Learn
Jan 2010WENDY WALDMAN; Los Angeles Singer-Songwriters
Feb 2010 CYRUS ERIE; Cleveland
Mar 2010BANG; Record Collecting I
Apr 2010THE BREAKAWAYS; Power Pop
May 2010THE NOT QUITE; Katrina Clean-Up
Jun 2010WATERLILLIES; Electronica
Jul 2010THE EYES; Los Angeles Punk Rock
Aug 2010QUEEN ANNE’S LACE; Psychedelic Pop
Sep 2010THE STILLROVEN; Minnesota
Oct 2010THE PILTDOWN MEN; Record Collecting II
Nov 2010SLOVENLY; Slovenly Peter
Dec 2010THE POPPEES; New York Punk/New Wave
Jan 2011HACIENDA; Latinos in Rock
Feb 2011THE WANDERERS; Punk Rock (1970’s/1980’s)
Mar 2011INDEX; Psychedelic Rock (1960’s)
Apr 2011BOHEMIAN VENDETTA; Punk Rock (1960’s)
May 2011THE LONESOME DRIFTER; Rockabilly
Jun 2011THE UNKNOWNS; Disabled Musicians
Jul 2011THE RIP CHORDS; Surf Rock I
Aug 2011ANDY COLQUHOUN; Side Men
Sep 2011ULTRA; Texas
Oct 2011JIM SULLIVAN; Mystery
Nov 2011THE UGLY; Punk Rock (1970’s)
Dec 2011THE MAGICIANS; Garage Rock (1960’s)
Jan 2012RON FRANKLIN; Why Celebrate Under Appreciated?
Feb 2012JA JA JA; German New Wave
Mar 2012STRATAVARIOUS; Disco Music
Apr 2012LINDA PIERRE KING; Record Collecting III
May 2012TINA AND THE TOTAL BABES; One Hit Wonders
Jun 2012WILD BLUE; Band Names I
Jul 2012DEAD HIPPIE; Band Names II
Aug 2012PHIL AND THE FRANTICS; Wikipedia I
Sep 2012CODE BLUE; Hidden History
Oct 2012TRILLION; Wikipedia II
Nov 2012THOMAS ANDERSON; Martin Winfree’s Record Buying Guide
Dec 2012THE INVISIBLE EYES; Record Collecting IV
Jan 2013THE SKYWALKERS; Garage Rock Revival
Mar 2013THE GILES BROTHERS; Novelty Songs
Apr 2013LES SINNERS; Universal Language
May 2013HOLLIS BROWN; Greg Shaw / Bob Dylan
Jun 2013 (I) – FUR (Part One); What Might Have Been I
Jun 2013 (II) – FUR (Part Two); What Might Have Been II
Jul 2013THE KLUBS; Record Collecting V
Aug 2013SILVERBIRD; Native Americans in Rock
Sep 2013BLAIR 1523; Wikipedia III
Oct 2013MUSIC EMPORIUM; Women in Rock I
Nov 2013CHIMERA; Women in Rock II
Dec 2013LES HELL ON HEELS; Women in Rock III
Jan 2014BOYSKOUT; (Lesbian) Women in Rock IV
Feb 2014LIQUID FAERIES; Women in Rock V
Mar 2014 (I) – THE SONS OF FRED (Part 1); Tribute to Mick Farren
Mar 2014 (II) – THE SONS OF FRED (Part 2); Tribute to Mick Farren
Apr 2014HOMER; Creating New Bands out of Old Ones
May 2014THE SOUL AGENTS; The Cream Family Tree
Jun 2014THE RICHMOND SLUTS and BIG MIDNIGHT; Band Names (Changes) III
Jul 2014MIKKI; Rock and Religion I (Early CCM Music)
Aug 2014THE HOLY GHOST RECEPTION COMMITTEE #9; Rock and Religion II (Bob Dylan)
Sep 2014NICK FREUND; Rock and Religion III (The Beatles)
Oct 2014MOTOCHRIST; Rock and Religion IV
Dec 2014THE SILENCERS; Surf Rock II
Jan 2015 (I) – THE CRAWDADDYS (Part 1); Tribute to Kim Fowley
Jan 2015 (II) – THE CRAWDADDYS (Part 2); Tribute to Kim Fowley
Feb 2015BRIAN OLIVE; Songwriting I (Country Music)
Mar 2015PHIL GAMMAGE; Songwriting II (Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan)
Apr 2015 (I) – BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 1); Songwriting III (Partnerships)
Apr 2015 (II) – BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 2); Songwriting III (Partnerships)
May 2015MAL RYDER and THE PRIMITIVES; Songwriting IV (Rolling Stones)
Jun 2015HAYMARKET SQUARE; Songwriting V (Beatles)
Jul 2015THE HUMAN ZOO; Songwriting VI (Psychedelic Rock)
Aug 2015CRYSTAL MANSIONMartin Winfree’s Record Cleaning Guide
Dec 2015AMANDA JONES; So Many Rock Bands
Mar 2016THE LOVEMASTERS; Fun Rock Music
Jun 2016THE GYNECOLOGISTS; Offensive Rock Music Lyrics
Sep 2016LIGHTNING STRIKE; Rap and Hip Hop
Dec 2016THE IGUANAS; Iggy and the Stooges; Proto-Punk Rock
Mar 2017THE LAZY COWGIRLS; Iggy and the Stooges; First Wave Punk Rock
Jun 2017THE LOONS; Punk Revival and Other New Bands
Sep 2017THE TELL-TALE HEARTS; Bootleg Albums
Dec 2017SS-20; The Iguana Chronicles
(Year 10 Review)

Last edited: April 8, 2021