Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hell Week: Devil Got My Woman

Skip James: Devil Got My Woman


I have a handful of minutes before this week's theme changes, so I'm under the gun - read all about Skip James at Wikipedia.

Hell Week: Dance With The Devil

Cozy Powell: Dance With The Devil


Here's a novelty record put out in 1974 by Cozy Powell, who seemingly played drums for half the British rock acts of the 70s.

Mickie Most, the well-known manager/producer, talked Cozy into releasing Dance With the Devil - it hit #3 in the UK charts. It inspired a generation of would-be percussionists, much to the chagrin of their parents and neighbors.

Hell Week: Covers from Hell

Primus: The Devil Went Down To Georgia


Danny Barnes: Sympathy For the Devil


Dick Dale and his Del-Tones: Ring of Fire


Hayseed Dixie: Hells Bells

Hayseed Dixie: Highway to Hell


We try to avoid the obvious choices here at Star Maker Machinery, though we'll make an exception for a truly great song no matter how popular it might be. Still, somewhere around the beginning of each theme, a few song names pop up in the comments, and once named, these "obvious songs" never get posted.

This is a problem for me, because I'm one of those audiophiles who gets earworms, and bad. Which means whenever someone says "oh, yeah, I was thinking about this song", I start thinking about it, too. And though usually I just nod my head textually and pretend to move on, way back here behind the screen I'm damned to suffer the song on infinite repeat in my head for the remainder of the week.

Which is to say: I've had Sympathy for the Devil, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and Ring of Fire stuck in there since they were first mentioned in the comments way back on Sunday. Plus a couple of AC/DC songs I bet you were thinkin' of, too.

Since I'm still feeling a bit devilish, here's an eleventh hour set of the songs we were all thinking of this week. But I'd never be so trite as to post the originals -- that would, indeed, be too obvious, and not nearly evil enough. No, I've tried to find hillbilly and bluegrass covers for the rock stuff, and surf and jam/funk covers for the country songs. And you're going to listen to them anyway, aren't you? Because, in the end, the temptation we fear most is in ourselves.

Hell Week: Satan's Paradise

Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch & Fats Kaplin: Satan's Paradise


Yes, we have been to a very dark place, and now we see the error of our ways, and seek redemption. But friends, the path to redemption is not smooth! Now, brothers and sisters, NOW is the time when the devil is strongest! He will lay traps and snares for us in the form of wicked temptations! Will you be strong enough?

I have never heard a better description of these temptations than in this song. I imagine a dirt track under a gray sky. A breeze is just strong enough to blow the dust about, seemingly forming pictures. I'll let Kane Kaplan & Welch describe those pictures.

These fine gentlemen have known temptation of another sort. I'll use Kieran Kane's story by way of explanation. Kane first recorded as part of the duo the O'Kanes. If you recognize the name, you know that the O'Kanes had a string of hits on the country charts. Nevertheless, their label wanted them to change their sound to be more commercial. The pressure to do so led to the breakup of the group, and the end of their recording contract. Kieran Kane then signed with another major label as a solo artist. He recorded one album for them, which tanked after receiving minimal promotional support from said label, and he was soon without a contract once again. Up to this point, classic tale of life in the music industry.

But at this point, the story changed. Kieran Kane found, or rather made, his redemption. He got together with a group of musical friends, including Kaplan and Welch, who were at similar places in their careers, and founded the Dead Reckoning label. Now they make the music want to make, and find ways to sell enough to stay afloat. If this post helps, and if it means they will be able to make more music like this, then I am a happy man.

Submitted by Darius

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hell Week: The Fleshtones!

The Fleshtones: Burning Hell


Ain’t no Heaven. Ain’t no burnin’ Hell.

Now these guys could rock it out!

Hell Week: Mr. Devil

The Great Divide: Mr. Devil


Following in boyhowdy’s path to redemption, here is another uplifting, gospel-tinged song referencing the devil. Mike McClure has always had a strong gospel influence to his music – in fact, i did an entire McClure gospel post here. Mr. Devil was recorded back in Mike’s Great Divide days on the album Revolutions. Mike attempts to ward off Satan by letting him know that he has recently found Jesus and “laid [his] burdens down.”

“You have tried my faith, and you’ve one a time or two.
Mr. Devil, I’m growing tired of you.
Won’t you leave me alone, ‘cause I got work to follow through.
Don’t you tell me what I can and cannot do.”

i left the hidden track on the end of the song, because 1) it follows in the same vein – with a slightly jaded outlook on religion, and 2) There’s a cameo from Ray Wylie.

Get some learnin’ on Mike McClure...

Submitted by Payton.

Hell Week: Please Take The Devil Out Of Me

Caitlin Cary: Please Take the Devil Out of Me


Oh Jesus, please please take the devil outta me.
I've traveled far down this lonely road
The devil he's got me bent down so low
I've just found out where I want to be
Oh Jesus, please please take the devil outta me.
I'm getting tired of living in sin,
I'm tired of keeping the devil for my friend
I want so badly to be set free
Oh Jesus, please please take the devil outta me...

As we get towards the end of yet another fruitful theme week, it seemed fitting to start looking for transition songs. And though there are certainly a few out there, and just as certainly plenty more truly dark last-gasp greats to make the case for Satan himself, I can think of no better way to start working our way out of the Devil's dark arena than this great sinner's prayer for -- and subsequent celebration of -- redemption.

You might find this one familiar: it's a George Jones tune, originally. But there's something especially redemptive, I think, about all this Jesus talk coming out of the borrowed mouth of a sweetheart of a female vocalist with a twang and a grin and a great set of pipes, not to mention a killer hand on the rosined bow. So here's lesser-known Whiskeytown co-founder and powerful alt-country fiddler and singer Caitlin Cary with her short, sweet take on this old tune, originally released on Down To The Promised Land, the incredible 40-song compilation released way back at the turn of the millennium by alt-country label Bloodshot Records to commemorate their fifth year in the business.

Now I'm so happy, I'm free from sin,
because I let my dear Savior in
My Jesus told me that I was free
Oh Jesus, thank you, you took the devil outta me.

Hell Week: Scott H. Biram

Scott H. Biram: Raisin' Hell Again


Scott H. Biram: Long Fingernail


Over on we never ever ever pass on an opportunity to preach the gospel of Scott Hiram Biram and Hell Week on Star Maker Machine seems as good a place as any to set up a pulpit and preach to you dirty bastards. So here goes:

Rock 'n' Roll ain't pretty and neither is Scott H. Biram. The self proclaimed "Dirty Old One Man Band" successfully, and sometimes violently, lashes together blues, hillbilly and country precariously to raucous punk and godless metal.

Biram ain't no dour ass singer/songwriter either, sweetly strumming songs about girls with big eyes and dusty highways. HELL NO!!! His singing, yodeling, growling, leering and brash preachin' and hollerin' is accompanied by sloppy riffs and a pounding backbeat brought forth by his amplified left foot. The remainder of this one-man band consists of an unwieldy combination of beat-up amplifiers and old microphones strung together by a tangled mess of guitar cables.

All this flirtin' w/hell and the devil...we might need some Preachin' and Hollerin'...After all, Jesus Loves Scott H. Biram:

Submitted by Autopsy IV

Hell Week: The Devil & Me

BR5-49: The Devil & Me


Sometimes the best definition of alt-country is music that sounds so much like classic country that "country radio" won't go near it. Exhibit A: BR5-49. (Is it me, or does this track sound like it was left over from the sessions that produced the Elvis classic "Don't Be Cruel"?)

They got their start at Robert's Western Wear in Nashville, playing for tips. Here they remind us that the reason people risk damnation is that the devil can always find the best parties.

Submitted by Darius

Hell Week: Christmas in July Edition

James White: Christmas With Satan


Probably, everyone has heard the Waitresses song "Christmas Wrapping". But did you know that, in its original release, it could only be found on an album called "No Wave Christmas"? I knew, because, (guilty pleasure confession), I loved the song and had to have it. This almost proved to be a classic case of "bought a lousy album for one great song" syndrome. There was, however, one other song I fell in love with, (because I am hopelessly warped), and that was "Christmas With Satan".

This week, we have already had one example of an artist who used different names to maintain multiple recording contracts. Here is another. James White and the Blacks, James Chance, and the Contortions are all the same group. If you've never heard them, try to imagine a collaboration between KC and the Sunshine Band and free jazz master Anthony Braxton. If you haven't played the song yet, remember, you were warned.

Submitted by Darius

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hell Week: Hellhound On My Trail

Cassandra Wilson: Hellhound On My Trail


Rory Block: Hellhound On My Trail


Two of my favorite still-living blueswomen from opposite ends of the blues spectrum -- one a sultry jazz-pop chanteuse, the other a 5 time WC Handy award-winning acoustic folkblues guitar player of the Mississippi Delta Country Blues style -- deliver vastly different but equally powerful interpretations of this old country blues tune usually attributed to Robert Johnson.

"Hellhounds on my trail" may be merely a metaphoric mannerism, but each in her own way manages to bring the weariness of a sinner's life to what is otherwise a pretty standard sneakin' 'round song. As an added bonus, given the subject matter, the gender-bender approach is reasonably empowering, all things considered. Especially nice to hear powerful musicianship coupled with such powerful, sparse narrative.

Hell Week: Devil Doll

X: Devil Doll


Devil Doll is from More Fun in the New World, the fourth album by the band X. Many of the songs from the 1983 production later found themselves performed acoustic in the X side project, The Knitters. Here's an interesting 1986 video with the band, it has interviews and a live performance featuring The Blaster's Dave Alvin, who at that point in time had joined the band for a spell.

Hell Week: Devil With The Blue Dress On

Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels: Devil With The Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly


Shorty Long: Devil With The Blue Dress On


Before Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and John Mellencamp, there was Mitch Ryder. Known for his blistering stage shows, seventeen year-old Ryder's first band got their break playing Detroit's soul music club, The Village. His next band was Billy Lee & The Rivieras, which led him to record producer, Bob Crewe, who renamed the group (chosen at random from a telephone directory) Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and signed them to his fledging DynoVoice/NewVoice labels. Crewe was a one man wrecking crew, handling songwriting, producing and A&R. The band had a good run of hits, most notably Devil With A Blue Dress On, which in 1966 rose to #4 on the US record charts. The song was originally recorded by Shorty Long in 1964 as Devil With The Blue Dress, Ryder's version was at a faster tempo and turned into a medley with Good Golly Miss Molly.

In 1967, Ryder went solo without much success. During the 70s, he continued recording and touring. His last major label release was 1983's Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, produced by John Mellencamp. Nowadays, Ryder writes songs, paints and continues to tour.

Hell Week: Devil Inside

INXS: Devil Inside


INXS were a nifty pop tune machine that cranked out easy-on-the-ears hits to a welcoming US radio market that had tired of drawn-out AOR tunes from Rock's dinosaurs. Vocalist Michael Hutchence was a New Wave Jim Morrison and unfortunately, came to a similar end - in 1997, he was found dead in a Sydney hotel room, most likely the result of autoerotic asphyxiation.

Since then, the band has continued on, rotating the vocal spot with Terence Trent D'Arby, Russell Hitchcock and Jimmy Barnes.

In an odd twist, INXS threw their hat into the reality teevee ring with a contest to find a new lead singer. The winner was J.D. Fortune, who recorded and toured with the band in 2006.

Hell Week: Lucifer Sam

Sadies: Lucifer Sam [purchase]

I love this picture of The Sadies because it looks like they're playing Hell's waiting room. Then again, who knows with these guys. They play 200 dates a year. I can totally see them scheduling a gig in Satan's foyer, in between dates at The Knitting Factory and Maxwell's Hoboken.

As everyone and their lysergically-inclined brother knows, "Lucifer Sam" is an old Pink Floyd number, done when Syd Barrett was running the show. But hey, why run interference for the Floyd when you can talk about the hardest working, ass-kickingest roots-rock band in the bidness. Other bands may give you pomp, circumstance, and shameless spectacle, but The Sadies bring encyclopedic versatility and old-school showmanship to the stage. Their sets credibly and seamlessly switchback through Byrds-inflected country-rock, surf instrumentals, rockabilly, gospel, old-school country, and spaghetti western. If that's not enough, guitarist and vocalist, Dallas Good, once played an entire show headless. Let's see your favorite band do that.

In 2006, The Sadies released not only the best record of the year, but one of the defining records of this decade ... In Concert Volume 1 ... from which "Lucifer" is drawn. Culled from a pair of shows at Lee's Palace in their hometown of Toronto, I do not lie to you, my brothers and sisters, when I say that it's this generation's Last Waltz.

I'll let that lofty statement settle in.

OK, I make this mildly hyperbolic claim for three reasons: 1) Like The Last Waltz, In Concert Volume 1 features a rotating cast of special guests, including Neko Case, Jon Langford, Kelly Hogan, Jon Spencer, Gary Louris, the Blue Rodeo guys, and in a roots d'etat, actual Last Waltzer and fellow Canuck, Garth Hudson. 2) Like The Band, The Sadies are perfectly comfortable serving as a backing band or taking the lead on their own songs. And 3) Like TLW, In Concert is a brilliant survey of the host band's career that also serves to highlight their immense musical vocabulary. And hey, if nothing else, there's no Neil Diamond. Advantage Sadies.

Here's a short video Bloodshot Records produced for their song, "Flash," which has kind of a "Tombstone Blues" feel to it.

The Sadies - Flash

Here's a cool clip featuring animated Sadies and a tune from their soundtrack to the Ed "Big Daddy" Roth documentary, Tales Of The Rat Fink.

The Sadies - The Horseshoe

Hell Week: Hell's Half Acre

The Blood Oranges: Hell’s Half Acre


The Blood Oranges are one of those talented bands that came around just a bit too early or didn’t catch the kind of breaks that might have propelled them to the top of the 1990’s alt-country bubble. Whatever the reason, they disbanded after two albums and an EP, never making much of a splash.

Here’s a catchy one from their 1994 album The Crying Tree about Hell’s Half Acre.

Cross promotion alert! You can listen to my favorite Blood Oranges track over at my other blog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hell Week: Burning Hell

R.E.M.: Burning Hell


This is my first ever attempt at blogging in any of its forms… so I thought I’d start with a song from my favorite band, R.E.M.

“Burning Hell” is taken from the B-sides and rarities album, Dead Letter Office. This isn’t one of R.E.M.’s stronger efforts. Nor is it truly a good representation of the typical R.E.M. sound (Michael Stipe’s falsetto screams seem especially out of place). This is what happens when a jangle pop group takes a tongue-in-cheek attempt at recording a metal-fueled, riff-filled rocker.

Reader submission from Nelson

Hell Week: Conversation With The Devil

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Conversation With The Devil


The "Dark Knight" of the Texas Music scene is never more in his element than when he’s singin’ about the afterlife. Known for his prophetic, mysterious stories, Ray Wylie Hubbard creates some of the most image-inducing music around. Songs like Purgatory Road, Bones, The Way of the Fallen, Resurrection, and – of course – This Mornin’ I Am Born Again, often filled with slides and dobros, are just a few of his fatalistic pieces.

Conversation with the Devil is a vivid retelling of a dream. A rolling, talkin’ blues type song, it shows Ray Wylie trying to convince the Devil that he doesn’t belong down below.

I didn’t use the cocaine to get high, I just liked the way it smelled.

With over 6 verses, the song takes a turn as Ray Wylie and Satan seem to sort of hit-it-off, and Satan gives him some insight into how things work in Hell.

All the murderers and the rapists, they go in this fiery lake. As well as most of the politicians and the cops on the take. And all the mothers who wait till they get to K-Mart to spank their kids.

What you won’t find up in Heaven are Christian-Coalition Right-Wing Conservatives, Country program directors, and Nashville record executives.”

In the end, Ray Wylie takes the message as a sign to change his ways.

Some get spiritual ‘cause they see the light. Some ‘cause they feel the heat.”

Submitted by Payton.

Hell Week: Friend of the Devil

Grateful Dead: Friend of the Devil


Lyle Lovett: Friend of the Devil


Bob Dylan: Friend of the Devil (live '99)


Counting Crows: Friend of the Devil


Last Fair Deal: Friend of the Devil


Rice, Rice, Hillman, Pederson: Friend of the Devil


Most of the best-known Grateful Dead originals sprung from the collaborative songwriting of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, which dominated 1970 studio masterpiece American Beauty; this is one of my favorites, and -- judging from the number of great covers out there -- I'm not the only one. Something about the way the song manages to capture the trope and narrative structure of the best old appalachian blues songs from half a century earlier, I think. I wouldn't have posted so many, but I had a special request for this one, both the original and covers -- and I should point out that these are just a few of the many versions of this song I have, though many of the rest are mostly live recordings with dubious quality.

The slow, mournful Lyle Lovett is a particular favorite; so is Chris Smither's live version, which is posted elsewhere, lest the week's theme become overwhelmed by the amazing folkblues guitarist's wail. I don't usually like Counting Crows, but this song fits their fratrock anthem style pretty well, I think. The "new American roots" sound of Last Fair Deal and classic blue/newgrass from supergroup Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen at the end of the list are pretty sweet, too. And you can't knock the live Dylan, straight from the soundboard, ragged and torn, with full band behind him -- I got it from friend Ray when he did his own set of devilsongs, way back in December.

The lyrics of this song always struck me as kind of garbled, though the fragments of narrative we do get work well when you take them as the frantic ramblings of a haunted narrator on the run, his mind tumbling over the deadly sins (lust, greed), bad decisions and poorly managed urges that got him there in the first place. Near as I can tell, our particular devil here is a fickle friend with exquisite timing: he might loan you twenty in your time of need, but he's just as apt to track you down, pluck the twenty out of your desperate hands, and leave you stranded in a levee, laughing as the sheriff's hounds close in on your trail.

Hell Week: The Demon

Drunken Prayer: The Demon


I was very happy to see posts from Autopsy IV. In fact, my intention with this post is to thank him for all the great music he's turned me on to.

Case in point: Drunken Prayer's "The Demon". Demons are servants of the devil, and this one may be a physical entity, or a demon of the internal variety. It seems to me that either interpretation is possible, and either way, the devil can be blamed.

Looking at this weeks posts, it seems that the devil gets the best music. We should have a God, Heaven, and angels week to test that.

Reader submission from Darius

Hell Week: What the Devil Wanted

© The New Yorker Collection 2000. James Stevenson from All rights Reserved.

Whiskeytown: What the Devil Wanted


One of my favorite songs from my favorite Whiskeytown albums—perhaps not coincidentally because it's the least traditionally "alt-country."

Hell Week: Trip Thru Hell

CA Quintet: Trip Thru Hell (Part 1)


In 1968, this is exactly what a trip through hell sounded like. This (insanely great) instrumental comes from the rare and revered record of the same name by the CA Quintet.

Once, on a road trip excursion to Las Vegas, I fumbled thru a stack of CDs looking for an appropriate soundtrack to my first arrival in town. Trip Thru Hell seemed an appropriate choice for Sin City. I will always think of that!

Hell Week: Hayride To Hell

The Hoodoo Gurus: Hayride To Hell


There aren’t too many catchy power pop songs about Hell. But here’s one from Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus. The story is appropriately tragic, but at least the music is nice and jangly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hell Week: Black Angel

The Cult: Black Angel


Before The Cult became intimate with their inner-head-banger, they were more of a psychedelic goth band.

Black Angel, the last track on their second release, Love, is about a fugitive from the law who is headed home after many years of exile. He knows that he will be put to death when he returns, but he returns anyway. The chorus paints the picture of the man traveling with a Black Angel, the angel of death, at his side.

It's a long way to go, a Black Angel at your side.

I know this song isn't really about the devil himself, but the angel of death is pretty freaky too so I figure it counts.

(PS: Last year while the world was enthralled with American Idol, I made a playlist in iTunes called "The Real American Idols".  Basically it was one track from each of my favorite vocalists ever [whether or not they were American].  Ian Astbury of The Cult was right up there.  If you're not familiar with him as a vocalist, you should be.  He has pipes, man.)

Hell Week: Those Poor Bastards

Those Poor Bastards: With Hell So Near [purchase]

Those Poor Bastards: The Hellbound Train [purchase]

Imagine Death himself plopping his ass down at your campfire with his pal and band mate, Desperation, and they break out in song. What do you think that would sound like? I am gonna say Those Poor Bastards is pretty close.

Hauling themselves right out of a haunted 1930's Americana, Those Poor Bastards explore the depths of misery, despair, sin, insanity, and moral decay. Proper folks have concluded that you will probably go straight to hell for listening to this band. I might be inclined to agree.

Submitted by Autopsy IV

Please also see this earlier post from Autopsy IV that fell through SMM cracks until it was belatedly put up today.

Hell Week: I Think I'm Going to Hell

My Morning Jacket: I Think I'm Going to Hell


I've got My Morning Jacket on the brain today, so it seems apt that I should throw this one up now—the dramatic closer to Jim James & Co.'s excellent debut album from nine years back. This album blew my mind when it came out way back when. I was working in a record store and was bored to no end of all the new stuff surrounding me. I threw this album on with no expectations—actually, since it was on Darla Records, I expected it to be really twee—and subsequently listened to it two or three times daily for about three months. I lived and breathed this album when it came out.

It's strange to listen to The Tennessee Fire now, five albums into MMJ's career. The debut sounds so like yet unlike the rest of the band's output. I remember back in 1999 or 2000, they were on tour and they played the tiny little club I ran in downtown Phoenix; it served no alcohol, held 150 people packed, and doubled as an art gallery. Expecting a folky performance, I added a bunch of mellow bands to the bill—including me! pays to know the promoter, kids. Before they went on, Jim James handed me a copy of Black Sabbath's We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll to play over the soundsystem before they went on. Then I saw him pull out the flying V guitar. I knew I and the forty other people there were in for something we weren't expecting. It's so funny think that there might have been a time when you didn't expect My Morning Jacket to rock.

I'm getting off on a tangent as far as "I Think I'm Going to Hell" goes, but since I'm talking about that show: the best part, despite all the rocking, was when James walked off the stage and into the middle of the room—the show was the epitome of intimate, in a small room less than half full—and sang "I Will Be There When You Die" sans band, microphone, or amplification. One of the best concert moments of my life.

Final indulgent tangent: that night the band came to stay with my wife and I in our tiny little house. Our house was so small that one guy slept in their van, as there was literally no room on the living room floor. In the morning, the band was gone and two things were left behind: a tiny little thank-you note stuck to our refrigerator from "My Morning Crack Hit", and a pair of dirty—purple!—underwear on our bathroom floor. If only I had held onto that underwear... coulda made a mint on eBay.

Hell Week: Hell Is A Disco

Wammo: Hell Is A Disco [purchase]

Wammo formed the Asylum Street Spankers 666 months ago in a pact with the devil, when he played his washboard at a haunted crossroads in South Austin. Well, it wasn't exactly a crossroads, it was more like an intersection. And by intersection I mean in front of a Whole Foods on a Sunday morning, with the yuppies sipping their double-nonfat no-foam recycled hybrid cappuccinos over last month's Utne Reader and fastidiously ignoring Wammo as though he were covered in tattoos, boils, and Ross Perot bumper stickers. As we all know, only two of those statements is true. His talents are legend, his humor sardonic, and this song may include the infamous "brown note." Friends, if you have even a shred of dignity left, you will not listen to this song or Spanker addiction will be your mistress. Consider yourself warned.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hell Week: Cross Roads Blues

Robert Johnson: Cross Roads Blues [purchase]

Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry: The Devil’s Gonna Get You [out of print]

Lightnin’ Hopkins: Devil Is Watching You [purchase]

You can’t have a series on the devil without getting into the blues. Satan figures prominently in the original “devil’s music.”

Well-known legend has it that Robert Johnson received his gift of guitar-mastery in exchange for his soul as part of midnight transaction at a crossroads on the Mississippi Delta. Read about the details here.

Now please indulge a personal story:

As a young college student fascinated with roots music, I borrowed the family station wagon and dragged three friends from Ann Arbor down to New Orleans for spring break. Instead of chasing bikinis in Florida like most normal college guys, we toured the great spots of American musical history: The Grand Ole Opry, Preservation Hall, Louisiana bayou country, The Mississippi Delta, Beale Street, Graceland, etc. It was a fun trip.

One of the highlights was our ill-fated attempt to find a suitable crossroads on the Mississippi Delta for purposes of selling our souls to the devil in exchange for musical talent. We didn’t figure Highway 61 would do, considering that by 1987 it was a fairly major thoroughfare. So we went in search of dirt cross roads and ended up getting my dad’s Pontiac Grand Safari stuck in the foot-thick muck of some Mississippi-farmer’s cotton field. (I had no idea how we were going to explain the presence of four bespectacled Midwestern college boys with a stuck station wagon and a guitar.) Luckily, we were able to dredge our way out of the mud before being discovered.

After our muddy experience in the cotton field we decided to try our luck at a Highway 61 rest stop just south of the Tennessee line. Unfortunately, the devil did not make an appearance—despite our tuneless renderings of Cross Roads Blues.

Hell Week: Uncle Tupelo Edition

While researching this post, I realized there are numerous references to hell in the Uncle Tupelo catalog. Off the top of my head you have "Your heaven looks just like my hell" (Cold Shoulder), "It's a long way to heaven, it's a short way to hell" (Sauget Wind), and "Just as well to write this postcard from hell" (Postcard), a line which spawned an internet music group I've been a part of for several years now. However, those tunes weren't really about this week's subject, which is alternatively hell, Satan (in his many guises), and sin. You know ... the good stuff. For that, we turn to a pair of covers.

Uncle Tupelo - Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down [album version] [purchase]

Uncle Tupelo - Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down [live version]

"Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" was originally recorded in the 1930s and can be found on Tupelo's March 16-20, 1992 album, which at the time was an acoustic country-folk left turn in their post-punk discography. It also got the mythwagon gassed up for good. Produced by Peter Buck, the album is a true sleeper in the Tweedy/Farrar database, yielding a number of great performances, and a collection of songs (about half covers, half originals) that has almost universally stood the test of time. Listen to March for a solid weekend and you're likely to be hooked for good. For a great write-up on the origin of "Satan" ... as well as the other cover songs officially released by Uncle Tupelo ... please visit The Gumbo Pages, the unofficial Uncle Tupelo archives and essential reading for longtime Tupelo fans and newbies alike.. As a bonus, I've included a live version of the song, which actually comes from their final show, on May 1, 1994, in St. Louis. Where the recorded version is driven by Tweedy's acoustic guitar, the live version is propelled by Max Johnston on fiddle and Ken Coomer on drums.

Uncle Tupelo - Sin City [purchase]

This old town is filled with sin,
It'll swallow you in
If you've got some money to burn.
So take it home right away,
You've got three years to pay
But Satan is waiting his turn.

This old earthquake's gonna leave me in the poor house.
It seems like this whole town's insane.
On the thirty-first floor a gold plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain.

"Sin City" was a Gram Parsons-Chris Hillman co-write that originally appears on the Flying Burrito Brothers' debut LP ... wait for it ... wait for it ... Gilded Palace Of Sin. I fully expect at least one, if not two songs, from Gilded to be posted by week's end, so consider this Farrar/Tweedy version a teaser. This was actually the B-side to Uncle Tupelo's first single, "I Got Drunk" (1990). While they were probably closer in spirit and sound to Husker Du and The Minutemen, this track was a window on what was to come.

Hell Week: The Devil

The Rapture: The Devil


The Rapture formed in 1998 by keyboardist Chris Relyea, drummer Vito Roccoforte and guitarist/vocalist Luke Jenner. I could mention they had two EPs released on Sub Pop and Pitchfork awarded them album of the year for Echoes, but it would be better if you heard them yourself - download The Devil... if you dare.

Hell Week: Satan Gave Me A Taco

Beck: Satan Gave Me A Taco


Beck got his taco, and he got to eat it, too!

Lot's of folks in the indie music scene seem convinced that the major labels are Evil. That opinion is debatable, I suppose, but when Beck signed with Geffen, he managed a clause in his contract that allowed him to release indepenent albums, in addition to ones on Geffen. Not quite totally evil, then.

P.S. I realize that Beck already made the listings this week, in a haberdasher-ary manner, but this song was just too good for me to pass up.

Hell Week: Satan Is Real

The Louvin Brothers, Satan Is Real


A gorgeous gospel country waltz from the masters of sibling harmony, recorded all the way back in 1959 on an album of the same name. Sandwiched between the two sweet, light choruses -- a scant minute or less of sweet pre-Everly Brothers harmony chorus and delicate bass and guitar -- the bulk of this song is a long preacher-troped anti-pulpit speech straight out of the pews of the Baptist tradition, a confessional framed lyrically as a counterpart to the preacher's focus on heaven above, for the benefit of both preacher and sinner, and complete with church organ undertones.

A major tip of the hat to two of our beloved contributors, Brendan and the aptly-named-for-the-theme Ramone666, for introducing me to this one:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hell Week: I Chase the Devil

Max Romeo & the Upsetters: I Chase the Devil


Here's a 1976 reggae classic, produced by Lee Perry and later sampled in the 90s by the Prodigy and a few years later by Jay-Z on his track "Lucifer"—you'll hear his sample right at the start. Nothing beats the original though, in which Romeo promises to chase the devil into outer space, where he can torment aliens instead of us humans.

Hell Week: Race With The Devil

Gene Vincent: Race With The Devil


Do you think you could outrun the Devil on Judgement Day? Gene Vincent thought so, he raced the Devil doing 101 MPH. Rockabilly goodness from Gene & the Bluecaps - move, hotrod... move, man.

Hell Week: Don't Worry, If There's A Hell Below (We're All Gonna Go)

Curtis Mayfield: Don't Worry, If There's A Hell Below (We're All Gonna Go)


Curtis Mayfield is one of the few members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who have been inducted more than once - first with the Impressions in 1991 and again as a solo artist in 1999. The lowdown about the tune from allmusic:

Mayfield's fragile falsetto voice continues to get hit with doses of tape echo throughout the seven-plus minute track, a technique that influenced reggae/ dub producers like Lee "Scratch" Perry. It is a caustic rack, especially as the first single from Mayfield's solo career, but it did well on the charts, reaching number three on the R&B charts and 29 on the pop charts.

I'm glad to have occasion to post this, one of Curtis Mayfield's most overlooked songs.

Hell Week: Go To Hell

Alice Cooper: Go To Hell


Sort of a concept album- the concept being Alice sent to hell for the outrages he's been party to (and partying to!) up on Earth- 1976's Alice Cooper Goes To Hell is one of Alice's better works, in my opinion.

My favorite part of the song is a list of things Alice would do, since he is so depraved, and a perfect Paul Lynde voice suggests, "You'd gift-wrap a leper and mail it to your Aunt Jane."

Hell Week: Fire

Arthur Brown: Fire


Arthur Brown was the King of Hellfire, so much so he would arrive on stage wearing a flaming crown, as pictured above. Well before the days of Kiss and Alice Cooper, Art Brown would fuel a metal helmet with methanol and set it aflame - one time in Windsor it leaked out and his head caught fire. Lucky for him, two bystanders doused the flames by pouring beer on his head.

The Crazy Word Of Arthur Brown, the album from which Fire comes from, was produced by long-time Who manager and producer Kit Lambert, Pete Townshend was the associate producer. Carl Palmer, who went on to join Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, played drums. Fire hit #2 on Billboard, #1 in the UK in August 1968 and #19 in Australia in October 1968.

Hell Week: The Devil's Real

Chris Smither: The Devil's Real


You may not recognize the swallowed tenor wail and growl of swamp-folk singer-songwriter Chris Smither, but you know his songs: I Feel The Same and Love Me Like A Man, two of Bonnie Raitt's earliest, biggest hits, were penned by him, back when he a young muse in the sixties folk scene. After losing a chunk of the seventies and eighties to drink, Smither managed to get his act together, but this song, written for his 1993 studio-recorded comeback album Happier Blue, makes it clear: this is a guy who knows his subject -- and knows how to mine it for lyrical gold.

I don't usually post full lyrics, but you gotta see this written out, and not just 'cause Smither mumbles a bit when he sings. Folks, THIS is confessional folksong at its best:

The Devil ain’t a legend, the Devil’s real,
In the empty way he touched me where I hardly feel,
The empty hole inside me,
The nothin’ that could ride me
Down into my grave. It does not heal.
The nothin’ is a something that can suck you dry
As the whisper you can hardly hear that tells you why.

He told me, “You ain’t got no problem, you’re self-deceived.
These seeming contradictions are all make-believe.”
It was then that I decided that my life was being guided
By a second-rate dependence on first-class thieves
They told me I was breaking through when I was breaking down,
By the time I learned the difference they had long left town.

But they ain’t so malicious, they ain’t mean.
They just vaguely well-intentioned with no love I’ve seen
It’s the emptiness that kills you,
Cold comfort that can fill you
With a sense of dread that maybe things are worse than they seem.
They don’t tell you nothin’ that you don’t already know.
They keep holdin’ out the promise, but they don’t let go.

It was hard luck and trouble, bad times too.
I know I had it comin’, but I got through.
It was advice that you gave me
In a dream that saved me.
You said, “Get a new life-contract that spells out your dues.”
Took good will to find it, a clear conscience to sign it,
Now I dream about the good times and they all come true.

Today Chris Smither is the best acoustic blues guitarist on the folk circuit, and he just keeps getting better and better with each successive album. I saw him this winter from the very first row of a tiny New England venue, and his version of Dylan's Visions of Johanna blew me away; he'll headline at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this month, and I can't wait to see him again.

Want to hear more? This blog entry on Chris Smither has TEN more tracks available for download: five covers by Smither, including another "Devil" song that we're sure to hear more of this week, and five bonus covertracks.

Hell Week: Hell

Squirrel Nut Zippers: Hell


I love everything about this song - the quirky retro sound, the lyrics - it even has a great video. But, at the beginning of the decade, the band had slowly splintered. In 2007, they announced a reunion, but minus key original members Ken Mosher and Tom Maxwell. I can't imagine anything more appropriate for Hell Week than Hell - enjoy!

Hell Week: Pretty Polly

The Byrds: Pretty Polly


For whatever reason, following the first two most obvious songs for this theme (all together now... yep, those are the ones), this was the first one to come to my mind. This is a dark song by The Byrds. Willie leads poor Polly to a freshly dug hole in the ground and reveals to her that he spent the previous night digging it with a spade. Then he stabs her in the heart causing her to fall into the cold pit.

Now a debt to the devil, that Willy must pay
A debt to the devil, that willy must pay
For killing pretty polly and running away

An evil song for an evil week here at SMM.

Hell Week: What's the Devil look like?

Well of course there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, but the Great Satan himself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail and he carries a hay fork.

O Brother Where Art Thou?: Devil Clip [purchase]

Beck: Devil’s Haircut [purchase]

I guess this is as good a song as any to kick off Hell Week at SMM.