Mr. Brick’s Top Picks – Volume 13


01. Frank Zappa – Peaches en Regalia (live)
02. The Mighty RAW – Go Go Power Rangers
03. Strong Bad – The System Is Down
04. The Blues Brothers – Gimme Some Lovin’
05. Neal Hefti – The Odd Couple
06. Procol Harum – Something Following Me
07. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
08. Billy Joel – The Longest Time
09. King Crimson – FraKctured
10. Stu Phillips & Glen A. Larson – Knight Rider
11. Strong Bad – Trogdor the Burninator
12. Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name
13. Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale
14. King Crimson – Dinosaur (live)
15. Johnny Mandel & Mike Altman – Suicide Is Painless
16. Frank Zappa – Stairway to Heaven
17. Queen – We Are the Champions
18. Procol Harum – In Held ‘Twas in I



01. Frank Zappa – Peaches en Regalia (Saturday Night Live, 1976)

The Peaches are back, and this time they’re live from New York!

Live, indeed, is a state in which Zappa was more than comfortable. The man toured incessantly throughout his life, and many of his studio album songs started out as live performances before receiving overdubs and tweaks to Frank’s satisfaction. Here, instead, is the inverse: a thoroughly produced studio track rewritten for the stage. Gone is the weightless whimsy, and here to replace it is a miniature marching band. I’m not just talking about the horns. I’m talking about the piccolo. The marimba (vibraphone? BAH). The TIMPANIS. Not so much the electric violin, but doesn’t it tie the piece together so nicely?

Speaking of the horns, do I spy with my little eye the Blues Brothers horn line? Yes and no. More correctly, they are at this time the Saturday Night Live horn line, though it is certainly worth nothing that each of them independently served with Zappa’s band before or after SNL. Good work gets you ‘round.

Being in Zappa’s band was no walk in the park, by the way. The man was a perfectionist, and he had a devious ear for complexity. He slaved for hours in his basement meticulously notating his parts to sheet music, yet he also loved a good jam and developed his own system of conducting to be able to direct his band on the fly. He was also staunchly anti-drug, virtual heresy in the world of working musicians.

Judging by this smashing performance and his chemistry with Don Pardo, Lorne Michaels and company were sufficiently impressed to invite Frank to host SNL two years later. What could possibly go wrong?

Judging by the fallout of that endeavor, I was lucky in 2003 (or 2004? definitely starting to lose the time) to find any video footage of Zappa from SNL, let alone a decent mp3. I do take it as a point of pride that said mp3 includes the voice of Don Pardo (criminally excluded from the video) introducing the song, and by proxy, this Thirteenth Edition of Mr. Brick’s Top Picks.

Thanks, Don.
Thanks, Don.


02. The Mighty RAW – Go Go Power Rangers (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers the Album: A Rock Adventure, 1994)

There was a point in time where I was spontaneously engrossed with the pursuit of television theme songs for either nostalgic or ironic enjoyment. In this case it was both. Power Rangers is a fitting start to the subset. It was one of the first shows I was pants-on-head crazy about, and I sure wasn’t the only one. What those Japanese do to us, man, it just ain’t right.

Like any good children’s show, MMPR was a turbo diesel V8 offroad vehicle for selling toys, and I think the embarrassment of my childhood mania for such an obvious shill is enough to put me off the notion of human interaction, let alone child rearing, for probably the rest of my life. How I pestered my mom to buy the shit. How happy I was to bring my Black Ranger to school in 2nd grade. Until he got stolen the first day. Never got him back. Cried like I got stabbed. Brought my Red Dragonzord, got stolen, never got him back. Not only was I losing the toys I loved, I was discovering that the world was a garbage dump full of faceless goblins prepared to flay me for my White Falconzord. The tears and the grief, man. My Mom wanted to kill me, and she was completely in the right. If I ever have kids it’s pens and paper. Crayons on their 10th birthday. Draw your own toys. Write a fucking book. You want a CELL PHONE? You’re sleeping in the garage tonight.


03. Strong Bad – The System Is Down (Homestar Runner, 2002)

Okay, scratch that. Pens and paper and Homestar Runner. Kid can lose as many Cheat figurines as she wants, so long as the little cartoon people she idolizes are made with the genuine love of simplicity and natural oddity that gave us the world of Homestar Runner.

You know Homestar, right? That glorious beacon of polish which dominated the amateur Flash scene, the internet, and our hearts before disappearing like so many beloved things too good for one lifetime.

This was briefly a popular jam with the Infamous Low Brass; we even did our own rendition of it at the band camp talent show which was…uh…existed.


04. The Blues Brothers – Gimme Some Lovin’ (The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording, 1980)

They’re here!


And if we don’t hurry, we’re gonna miss them. I really thought there was more to come after this, but uh, there’s only one volume left. No such luck. This is our only moment with the original five star criminals; let’s savor it.

My first experience with the Blues Brothers was years before the Top Picks at a jukebox in Pizza Hut (back when Pizza Huts had such timeless artifacts as jukeboxes, arcade cabinets, buffets, ashtrays, and tables). I was there with friends and wanted to play something cool, and though I’d never actually heard the Blues Brothers before, I knew who they were: white dudes in suits. What could be cooler than white dudes in suits? I put on “Soul Man” and felt real cool as I did it.

That is how I feel today when I’m drunk in front of a jukebox (a dangerous place for my wallet). Real cool. A jukebox suggests the night will not turn right without the correct songs to move it. Are you prepared for that kind of responsibility? Are you prepared to play forty dollars of songs to insure against the chicken fried country people or the Bon Jovi people or the dicklebergs who play “You Can Go Your Own Way” eight times in a row? Are you ready to watch their faces when they discover their premium-priced “Play Song Next” bids are just sinking pebbles in your ocean of immaculate taste? Are you ready to claim your house and defend it?

What were we talking about? The Blues Brothers.

I finally sat down with the actual film in high school, and it was even cooler than I thought, boasting a star-studded roster of R&B legends, ludicrous vehicular destruction, Carrie Fisher in her prime, and probably the best acting one could ever expect from the MG’s. Much like the acting chops of the band, a kind of staleness underscores the perpetual insanity following Jake and Elwood on their mission from God. Excepting the musical numbers (which are plentiful and spectacular), the movie keeps a stern poker face as its heroes shrug off a rocket launcher attack, jump a rising drawbridge, and pretend to be a country band.

For which I consider this one of my All Time Favorites, no question. The soundtrack’s great, too, though I have to say no Blues Brothers record is quite an All Time Favorite. When I want the blues, I go straight to the source more often than not. Nothing personal, boys.


05. Neal Hefti – The Odd Couple (The Odd Couple, 1975)

Somewhere around the 5th or 6th grade, I had a problem with staying up watching late night television in my room. This is when the very few channels which even aired children’s shows after 9:00 were premium and therefore not in my house. Staying entertained after dark, meant entertaining some new ideas of television. Or, more correctly, some old ones. It started with The Three Stooges followed by Johnny Carson on the Family Channel, and before long I was chasing that with a variety of Nick at Nite sitcoms until Conan O’Brien came on at 11:30. Before this point I’d written off everything after the Stooges as grown-up shows and dismissed them outright. After becoming enamored with Carson, though, I realized that maybe the grown-ups were on to something.

My parents tried to enforce a curfew, but having already put a TV in my room for Christmas with the SNES, it was hard for them to enforce the rule after they’d fallen asleep. Eventually they conceded, warning me of the consequences of undersleeping, consequences for which I have had no lasting respect since. I was up every night until 12 or 12:30, and on weekends I started pushing as far as 4 in the morning building LEGOs, drawing, reading, always with the TV going. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Munsters, Newhart, I Love Lucy, Taxi…even the infomercials, if I was feeling especially wild…

…but I don’t really remember watching The Odd Couple. I don’t know why I chose this theme for Volume 13. It’s a good song, but it’s not really nostalgic for me. Then again, it did just prompt me to write almost three hundred words about my childhood.


06. Procol Harum – Something Following Me (Procol Harum, 1967)

This is the song that made me want to pursue my piano studies beyond the mandatory requirements of a music major. Good old English blues that feels good on the fingers and the ears. Something that doesn’t need too much talent to sing or play, just a bit of diligence and a rational fear of death. And if you don’t yet possess the latter, just listen close to the progression in the chorus and wait.

One of my all-time Procol favorites. It’s been following me since I found it.


07. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (A Night at the Opera, 1975)

Here is one of the most tragic victims of the radio, this Herculean work that stands worthy of its praise, no matter how inundated our ears may be with it. Though, of course, like “victims” of this sort, uh, I think Queen got out okay. I think they managed. 180 overdubs, eighth-generation tape, abandonment of traditional song form, like seven different keys, come on. It’s too much done too right to dismiss.

My tuba instructor (a trombonist by trade) gave a recital in which she and three other trombonists played a full rendition of this. I need to hit her up, get my hands on that tape. Get it on this blog. Get it on…your…ears…place. Yeah I think I’m done here.


08. Billy Joel – The Longest Time (An Innocent Man, 1983)

Guess what, Tyrell? Remember in high school when you swore that every single part in this song was vocal, including the bass?

YEAH WELL I DO. I said, “no man, I think that’s an electric bass.” I saw your point; it’s an a capella. No instruments allowed. But there’s obviously a brush drum, so Billy was happy to bend that rule. I could clearly hear the (human) bass voice. Beneath that was another bass voice. Fuller, rounder, more mechanical than a larynx.

Yet you were so sure, so smug in your belief that the ideal a cappella bassist could make the vibration of his vocal cords indistinguishable to the vibration of a thick metal string. And look, dude, I’m not gonna tell you that’s impossible. In a world of circular breathing and multiphonics, far be it from me to say what the human body can’t do with intense discipline and a gamble against future health problems.

But where “The Longest Time” is concerned, well, GUESS WHO WAS RIGHT.





[bass guitar solo]


Billy Joel, you guys, I like Billy Joel. He gets flack and probably deserves it sometimes, but who in the hell doesn’t? I like Billy Joel. Let’s give him a little credit. He put a whole Motown/R&B tribute record together as a white man and the result was not a total embarrassment. He drove a car into a house and it was not a total embarrassment. (Emphasis on “total”: he didn’t hurt anyone, but he did blame it on 9/11.) He wrote “Piano Man”, and I don’t care if you’re sick to death of it. I don’t care if every piano pro is sick to death of it. Every piano pro starts as a piano chump who longs for the day to play it in a bar to the adulation of drunks. I am that chump. Billy’s a legend, like it or not.


09. King Crimson – FraKctured (The ConstruKction of Light, 2000)

King Crimson v5 (approximately) was a return to form of v3: the heavy, menacing power which in turn influenced the industrial revolution of the 90’s contemporary to v5.

At the turn of the century, v5 became v6, losing two veteran members and simplifying the Double Trio into a four-piece. The tone changed little, only strengthening the case that the results of the Double Trio experiment probably did not live up to Fripp’s expectation. (More on this very soon.) Fond as I am of a good sprawl, any part not pulling its weight is a liability, and though I was sad to see the rhythm kings Bruford and Levin leave, their professional caliber and understanding of this mechanical law no doubt informed their departure. They’ve pulled ample weight in their time.

“FraKctured” is itself a return to form, literally that of v3’s “Fracture”, a neurotic jam centered on one of Robert Fripp’s not-so-uncommon displays of guitar athletics. Only this time it’s bigger and meaner. The means of invoking the devil’s noise has come a long way in 26 years, means in which latter-day Crimson is more than fluent.

As I’ve said before, I was not naturally given to industrial emotions or sounds, but their being served by a trusted name certainly helped in this case. I think “FraKctured” holds up, but I can’t tell you the last time I reached for anything Crimson (other than Absent Lovers, which is gospel) in the last five years. I just can’t truck full time with the abyss. Not in this dialect.


10. Stu Phillips & Glen A. Larson – Knight Rider (Knight Rider, 1982)

I didn’t watch Knight Rider, either, but probably just because it wasn’t on the Nick at Nite rotation at the time. I can’t imagine not staying up to watch a show with a talking car. On the other hand, even as a kid I knew something was off about the Hoff.

Nothing is off about this theme song, though. I always love it when a super basic bass line infects the populace. It’s humbling. Guitars and drums can fling their arms around and diddle and gargle all they want, but all a body needs is bass, and not very much if you’re doing it right. James Jamerson proved it, John Deacon proved it, Tina Weymouth proved it, and Stu Phillips and/or Glen A. Larson prove it here.

The 80’s are now distant enough in the rear view mirror to be enjoyed without much fuss today, but, pffff, hah, shyeah, I was cool enough to like ‘em anyway. And on their own terms. Nasty, buzzy synths? The rapidly blurring line between music and machine? Lord yes. The public was wrong to ever turn its back. Now that they’ve repented, though, maybe the embrace is just a little too tight.


11. Strong Bad – Trogdor the Burninator (Homestar Runner, 2003)

In his most famous email reply, Strong Bad takes us to a sheet of looseleaf (the true warrior’s canvas), doodles a dragon, then sings a metal song about it. In under four minutes, he presses the the S-shaped brand to pop culture’s hide and changes the world…for a few years, anyway.

Doodles were a big deal to me. In grade school I doodled in the margins. My grade school teachers told me in high school they would be checking the margins every day for illicit markings. I found this quickly to be false, and carried on drawing random shapes, stick figures, and vegetables alongside my notes well into college.

Not on the level of Trogdor, perhaps, but I think Strong Bad would approve.


12. Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Cheers, 1982)

Being a Name in a Bar is not exactly something I foresaw in my future. Hell, at the time of burning this mix, neither myself nor any of my friends were anywhere near the supposedly standard high school pastimes of drinking, drugs, sex, and ritual sacrifice. Our biggest vices were violent films and swearing too loud near the teacher. But adulthood did catch up with us, and when it did, it was ready to serve.

If adulthood wasn’t enough to do it, Being a Name in a Bar is harder to avoid when your cousin is a bartender. When you’re there every Sunday night the last semester of college because you’re dreading the next day. When it’s the first place you go after a hurricane curfew has lifted. When you watch everybody else get thrown out at closing time but you stay there with your fresh beer, shaking your head, “No, man. I’m good. But you, you gotta go.” When you fall asleep outside the bar, get left by your ride who thinks you went home with someone else, and walk home on the shoulder of the highway after waking up at 4:15 am to an empty parking lot.

My Bar Stories (at least the interesting ones) are few and far between, but stitched together they constitute a montage of young adulthood not optimally but at least enjoyably spent, and if there’s a song for that, well, here it be.

Seeing as I’ve been throwing out some thanks on the tail end of this blog cycle, here’s a wave for my bartenders: Mason, Nigel, Scott, Panda, Nick, Cookie, Gerba, Hick, C.J., Mitch, Kaley, and the guy at Coach’s Pub in Houston. Sorry if I forgot anyone. You know how it is. I’ll come get my credit card in the morning.


13. Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

It is super weird to me that Procol Harum, an art-progressive-whatever rock group, have a hit single that was a staple slow-dance number at many a high school dance. In the 00’s!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s damn handy to have little Swiss army songs like this one for nights at the jukebox when I need to throw the crowd a bone before someone gets the idea to start playing over my list. The inner insufferable in me takes delight when the plebs are eating up bona fide art-rock without even knowing it.

Gotta wonder if this is still on the high school dance list, though. If it was already a surprise in 2003, something tells me more deplorable entries have usurped its standing. Whatever. More Procol for me. Grow up, Danish.


14. King Crimson – Dinosaur (Late Night with Conan O’Brien, 1995)

LISTEN TO THOSE PROG DORKS HOLLER! Conan wasn’t ready for that shit.

Now here’s a delight. One of my favorite relatively obscure bands on an episode of my favorite (then) (relatively) obscure talk show. Vintage Conan (when the Great Wall of Hair was only knee high) was my jam for a long time, and though 1995 was still a little too early for me to be up late watching TV, the day I found this little gem on the internet was a happy one indeed.

This is Crimson v5 (approximately), the infamous Double Trio, and to see it is perhaps to understand the origin of the mockery of progressive rock. Let’s analyze the setup row by row:

In the front row, left to right: Trey Gunn on the Warr guitar, Adrian Belew on the non-Warr guitar, and MY MAN Tony Levin on bass.

I have no idea what Trey Gunn is doing on this song, or at least on this performance of it. The Warr guitar is a touch-action guitar (similar to the Chapman stick), and in the Double Trio schematic, Gunn is meant to be Levin’s parallel. The thing about rhythm instruments, though, is that they tend not to warrant a parallel, least of all from their own genus. There’s no room for friends in the low frequencies. (The bass player is the loser of the band.)

Adrian Belew, however, needs no justification. On top of having served as frontman for the group since 1981 (and giving it some much needed personality), his prowess as a guitarist is matched only by his ingenuity with effects, always a welcome trait in King Crimson. (Adrian Belew’s tour of duty with Crimson began following tours with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Talking Heads. Good work gets you ‘round.)

Tony Levin is the ideal bassist. He’s known not so much for showmanship or a particular style of playing (though there are the Funk Fingers) as he is for being on hundreds upon hundreds of records and having toured with dozens of big names. He’s a textbook example of the lifelong working musician, and on Conan’s stage I can hear his bass pounding just fine.

In the back, left to right: Pat Mastelotto on the drums, Robert Fripp on the guitar, Bill Bruford on…the drums.

Pat and Bill are both extremely capable performers in their own right, and here Fripp has forced them to split a part that each could play individually in their sleep. You will notice Pat spends more time shaking the damn gourd than he does hitting the drums at which he is seated. They look like they’re having fun, and that’s nice, but in Bill’s own testimony, he left Crimson later because (among other reasons) “Pat has the gig well covered.” Granted, “Dinosaur” is not an ideal choice to showcase the Double Trio concept, but it is one of the more easily digestible songs from the album, and thus a good choice to showcase King Crimson v5 to a new audience. This is a rare television appearance, after all.

Fripp’s presence as the Original Crim is immutable, of course, and for all the shit I love to give him, he is the soul of the group, seated like a mushroom, playing guitar through a tower of machines. He, too, shows tremendous restraint in this song. Sometimes it’s restraint from virtuosity which defines Fripp. When that makes sense to you, that is how you know you are into prog, and that is how you know it’s probably time to go for a walk.


15. Johnny Mandel & Mike Altman – Suicide Is Painless (M*A*S*H, 1970)

It was kind of a shock to hear the actual lyrics to the M*A*S*H theme after years and years of the instrumental on TV. But then, my impression of M*A*S*H was from watching it with my mother as a kid, when the gravity of the subject matter was lost on me. A major theme of M*A*S*H is holding on to humanity in the face of death, and I can only guess that being flippant about mortality (and one’s power over it) is an essential part of living with it.

Then again, the lyrics were written by a 14-year-old specifically so they would sound like “the stupidest song ever written”. That 14-year old made more money (a lot more) for those lyrics than his dad did directing the film. Now who’s stupid?


16. Frank Zappa – Stairway to Heaven (The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life, 1991)

For all his public distaste and smug attitude toward a great deal of popular music, Frank Zappa wasn’t above a good cover, provided of course that he could twist it into something a little more inscrutable.

So he has here, with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway” (which surely needs no preface), and here his live defamation does special favors for it which no one else was ever likely to grant. Soulful vocals from the inimitable Ike Willis. Twisted guitar bends and erratic licks from…Zappa himself, probably? There are sound effects and goofs aplenty, almost obnoxiously so, but at last now we can actually hear the forests echo with laughter. Most notable are the horns, tastefully filling in harmonic vacancies before unexpectedly taking entire the guitar solo, note for note. I loved it in the old days, but today I can’t help but wish they dared to take it at the original tempo. Not only would the gambit have paid off doubly, but it wouldn’t be jarring when they finally do change gears for the coda.

I mean, that’s just me. I want simple things in life, like an entire horn section playing Jimmy Page guitar solos note-for-note at original tempo. It’s okay to dream big, you know. Speaking of, does anybody have Yoko Kanno’s phone number?


17. Queen – We Are the Champions (News of the World, 1977)

Well I managed to put the two most grievously overplayed Queen songs in the history of radio on one CD. I guess that’s better than splitting them up?

But the radio legacy of Queen has nothing to do with this inclusion. This song is yet another symbol of marching band days past. It was a tradition after every festival and competition performance to play this in the bandroom after we got off the bus. We stood in our rows, arms over each other’s shoulders, singing along and swaying (no matter how we ranked that night).

It was very kumbaya, yes, a repulsive notion on its face, and indeed I found it silly to begin. With each passing year, however, my loyalty to the troupe galvanized, and I sang louder than the year before. On top of which, my row, the Infamous Low Brass, incorporated jumping with the chorus into the ritual, and if you’ve never seen a group of people arm-over-arm jump together, it’s an uplifting spectacle with at least one guaranteed casualty.

And why not be proud? However it may have looked from the outside, this shit was hard. Long Saturdays in the sun. Two days a week in the slop. Mockery from the normies. Broken instruments. Blowing the form at festival and crying after the show. Buses full of gear to haul. Directors saying “one more time” for the fifth time. Hat plumes you’d better not lose. Busted bleeding lips. Overweight kids with overbearing mothers. Girlfriends, crushes, friends, grades, the future. It all cooked in the same crucible of the teenage mind, and no matter how the scores turned out that day, we were all there in the end when we could’ve just quit and had one less thing to worry about.


18. Procol Harum – In Held ‘Twas in I (Shine On Brightly, 1968)

My first thought when I read the title was “OH HELL YEAH, we’re bringing back the live Procol! BURY ME IN THAT SWEET MIGHTY SOUND,” but when I played the CD track it was just the studio version. I had to grab one hand with the other to stop it from seizing my laptop and hucking it out the window.

This is an unfair assessment. I have listened to Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony no less than a hundred times to date, and its bombastic, godly rendition of Procol’s five-part epic lords over its predecessor like Andre the Giant over Cary Elwes. Five years before they became inexorably linked with the orchestra, Procol Harum were just a group of lads trying to do something different in the realm of rock. Already dwelling in the shadow of the Whiter Shade of Pale, they came up with this sprawling piece of art-rock majesty to close their second album. Something different, indeed.

Listening to the studio track again, I can see just how unfair I’m being. Every bit of the grandeur of the Edmonton version is here, if only scaled down. All the emotional and tonal dynamics are in place, as are the fine melodies and the talent of Procol’s performers. Whether for financial or artistic reasons, Procol are all to themselves here, with no orchestra yet to support them, and they rise boldly to the task. Thick as a Brick, another famous work of overlong proggery, had the luxury of overdubs and strings to bolster its blows. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems “In Held” is recorded and performed precisely as is, with no studio machinations to prop the beast.

In making concessions to the studio, however, I can only give so much. Procol is deeply rooted in classical tradition, and collaboration with the orchestra was an inevitable conclusion. I think Gary Brooker knew only too well that he was writing music for a rock band which befit the orchestra. I thank him for the good sense to see it through. Brave though it be of the band to take on the task, there are certainly times which feel just a bit hollow, times where a horn here or a string there put that last coat of paint needed to shine on brightly.

Furthermore, while I truly mean no offense to Robin Trower, a guitarist worthy of his spoils, he completely fucked up by sitting out the Edmonton show. In his absence Dave Ball became the most unforgettable player on the record, and his solo in “Grand Finale” absolutely tears Robin’s original to pieces.

But, but, I must say but, my ears are whores for majesty, and majesty got to the door first anyway. The deck was stacked against this version from the beginning, and however unfair, it remains the certified truth. Give this one a listen if you prefer a modest grandeur.



I was worried that I’d gotten more carried away with the TV themes than I actually did, and for what it’s worth, I think I chose some good ones. I just didn’t choose ones from shows I remember. Or seriously watch. Odd Couple? Nope. Cheers? Never. (Ted Danson gives me the willies.) M*A*S*H? Not really. These are just themes which stuck, themes I liked.

In keeping with the theme of television, I caught two hard-to-find performances from two rarely televised bands, so, uh, pat on the back there, I guess. Let’s definitely say that was all according to plan. Good job.

At least I seem to be trying again. I can only guess at this time that my resolve to burn better mixes was renewed, my faith in the historical necessity resolved, just in time for the single, final volume awaiting us.

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