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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

June 21, 1995

Kings of Saturday Night

Saturday NightKim Fowley and Ben Vaughn, Kings of Saturday Night (Sector 2 Records 1995) - The unlikely duo of Kim Fowley and Ben Vaughn joined for 11 bendy and bluesy tracks on Kings of Saturday Night. Fowley, who contributed all of the vocals, and Vaughn, who contributed all the instrumentals, have a sound that resembles where the Doors might be if Jim Morrison had stuck around; older, sadder, and wiser. With songs about drugs, sex, and life, Kings of Saturday Night is a diamond in the rough.

Though younger, Vaughn is no stranger to the studio, having recorded four albums for Restless/Enigma Records. Vaughn has also worked on many film and T.V. projects, and compiled and annotated the acclaimed Johnny Otis collection, The Capitol Years.

Kim Fowley has been making music for 35 years, and wrote songs for such acts as Warren Zevon, Alice Cooper, Steppenwolf and the Flying Burrito Brothers (proving that he cuts across many genres). In addition, he produced albums for Gene Vincent, Helen Reddy and Dave Mason.

Ben VaughnWhile his resume is pop-oriented, Fowley's lyrics are based in the beat-poets, as he sings of life in an apartment ("A cubicle full of people"), pollution ("This planet is nowhere to live. Someone has to stop it or the whole world will stop"), and the future ("We are stranded in the future and have been since man landed on the moon").

The album is a coast-to-coast collaboration between the Hollywood-based Fowley and the New Jersey-based Vaughn. Vaughn cut instrumental tracks and sent them to California, where Fowley cut his vocals.

Says Fowley, "I sang to these pre-recorded tracks. I put vocals on and then sent the tapes back to Ben to mix. I like making a record this way...I had a John Fogarty version of Slim Harpo sitting in The Standell's studio that was transmitted back through time into a Louisiana swamp, with Cajun visions of Spanish goddesses. I don't think of myself as a Southern California artist. I think of myself as a musical Christopher Walken."

Fowley adds, "Ben Vaughn is the American Nick Lowe with a Sam Phillips brain. He's got the pocket down, the mix of rockabilly and folk-rock...As for the folk-rock aspects of the music tracks, [remember that] I co-wrote 15 songs for The Byrds out of five albums. Leo Kottke and Cat Stevens both recorded the songs."

Kim FowleyFowley's description of the brooding and sometimes ethically-challenged nature of his songs is accurate. From stark beauties like "Born to Die" to rockabilly/punkers like "Bad Man Bangin'," Kings of Saturday Night delivers the goods. The best cuts are "King of Saturday Night," a Seattle-influenced rocker, and the jaunty skittle-rocker, "21st Century Blues."

The album bogs down on Fowley's anti-drug raves, including "Chasin' the Dragon" and "Drugs (Nobody's Here)." These songs aren't music - they are public service announcements. Thanks for caring, but we're here for music.

Kings of Saturday Night is an unusual collaboration that works well. When Fowley and Vaughn find their groove, they're rock solid. Kings of Saturday Night will never make the radio airwaves, but it's well-deserving.

Pell MellPell Mell, Interstate (Geffen 1995) - The four members of Pell Mell (two of whom live on the East Coast, and two of whom live on the West Coast) play rock instrumentals for the 90s. On Interstate, their major-label debut (the band's credits also include several releases on SST and Sub Pop), Pell Mell displays a brash confidence that is rarely heard.

Pell Mell is Robert Beerman on drums and guitar, Steve Fisk on piano and keyboards, Greg Freeman on bass and guitar, and David Spalding on guitar and bass. This foursome has worked in the studio with many different bands, including the Royal Trux, Barbara Manning, and The San Francisco Seals. The album was recorded half at Low Down Studios in San Francisco, and half at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge.

Having previously made a living playing in Portland and parts of the Northwest, Pell Mell is no stranger to the alternative sound. However, Interstate refuses to be pigeonholed into any single genre. The opening cut, "Nothing Lies Still Long," comes straight from the surf; "Pound Cake" has a classic rock sound; and "Saucer" bridges out of the uptempo alternative school.

Rock instrumentals have a long and storied history, and Interstate will continue their influence. Try Interstate for a trip down a finely-crafted sonic landscape.

Too Many Regulations - We live in an era in which we are continuously over-regulated. Instead of relying on common sense and decency, the PC police want to legislate all of our conduct.

Example: The signs on the wall beside the elevators in our office are in Braille. What's the purpose? How is a blind person supposed to find elevators located on the second floor?

Second Example: I recently stayed in a hotel in San Francisco. The check-in sheet contained this question: "In the event of emergency, do you want physical assistance?"

Of course I do. Otherwise it wouldn't be an emergency. When asked, the clerk said this was required to protect the handicapped. Maybe so. But it's still a dumb question.

-- Randy Krbechek

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