Monday, November 21, 2005

Contoocook Line: Oliver's Garden

Rughead Records, Richmond VA, 1988

Attention Pavement fans! This would be more or less forgettable Richmond-Chapel Hill southern folk rock but for the drummer (listed here as Jonah West not Steve West) going on to play traps for one of the 90's biggest indie acts. Oh well, let's let his boss explain how this college band inspired Pavement to record two tongue-in-cheek songs about the biggest rock band at that time :
in the '80s steve was in an r.e.m.-inspired band called contocook [sic] line so i figured we should cover a [REM] song as a form of male musical social bonding. r.e.m. at that point were as popular as they would ever be - everybody hurts was the type of song your parents liked. so i guess i wanted to pledge allegiance at exactly the wrong time. anyway, we blitzed through camera, a song buried on side two of reckoning (it eventually came out on the cut your hair single). we had some extra studio time so i decided to do another song. this time, instead of the cover, we did a song about the band itself. the song, the unseen power of the picket fence, eventually made its way onto an aids benefit album called no alternative. the lyrics go all over the place (various observations about the band), but in the end i imagine r.e.m. as a unit in the confederate army during our civil war. general sherman is marching through georgia, burning down the mansions (except in savannah) and his last hurdle is r.e.m...

needless to say, i see r.e.m. standing tall in the face of the invader, even if the idea is absurd because the boys obviously would object to the slavery!!!! but as far as it goes they have proven me correct by being practically the most durable group on the face of the earth. album after album they are one of the hardest-working groups in showbiz. if any band deserve to be included in the webster's dictionary definition of "staunch" it is r.e.m....

Alas, those thinking that this is some sort of find will be disappointed. The music is the type that makes you forget the stereo is even on. Lots of acoustic rock type songs. I tried to listen to it several times and always seemed to wander off. Only one or two songs merit more than one listen, if that (but in the interest of fairness, I listened to the record a couple of times).

"Allen" suffers from some really collegiate lyrics ("Taking time with our li-i-ives") but I've never heard a more democratic mix - every instrument and the vocals is given exactly equal weight and it's built around a somewhat catchy bass riff and you can hear some of West's best drumming on the record here. It's certainly the most "R.E.M.-inspired" of the bunch. The album closing track, "Go To Hell" is a not very clever but has enough adolescent scorn to want me to keep it for special occasions. Other songs such as "Goliath" and "Sour Grapes" suggest an even more angry undercurrent but who really has the patience to care?

(How did this get in my collection? I have no friggin' idea. I'm pretty sure I didn't buy it and it probably came as a promo for my fanzine or the DC Period.)


Contoocook Line iswas:
  • g, voc - John Smith
  • g, voc - Rob Williams
  • b - Hanby Carter
  • dr., voc - Jonah West (aka Steve West)
  • Dominic Carpin of Richmond's long-running Cashmere Jungle Lords provides backing vocals on "Allen"
Links and Other Information:
  • The quote above is excerpted from an a review of R.E.M.'s Reckoning by Steve Malkmus printed in Q and reprinted on an R.E.M. fan forum - Murmurs.
  • Lyrics to "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" via Leo's Lyrics Database (link not recommended because of pop-up ads and other suspicious stuff)
Some bands I like to name check,
And one of them is REM,
Classic songs with a long history
Southern boys just like you and me.
R - E - M
Flashback to 1983,
Chronic Town was their first EP
Later on came Reckoning
Finster's art, and titles to match:
South Central Rain, Don't Go Back To Rockville,
Harbourcoat, Pretty Persuasion,
You were born to be a camera,
Time After Time was my least favourite song,
Time After Time was my least favourite song.
The singer, he had long hair
And the drummer he knew restrait.
And the bass man he had all the right moves
And the guitar player was no saint.
So lets go way back to the ancient times
When there were no 50 states,

And on a hill there stands Sherman
Sherman and his mates.
And they're marching through Georgia,
we're marching through Georgia,
we're marching through Georgia
They're marching through Georgia,
we're marching through Georgia,
marching through Georgia
and there stands REM

(Aye Sir, Aye Sir, Aye Sir they're coming, Aye Sir, move those wagons, Aye
Sir, Artillery's in place Sir, Aye Sir, Aye Sir, hide it, hide it, Aye
Sir, run, run.)
  • Pavement's cover of "Camera" and "Unseen Power" are in the Matador reissue of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
  • Both songs can also be found on iTunes and, I assume, emusic.
  • When Stipe met Pavement:
    Pavement has mentioned other bands, artists and songs before, one of the most famous is the R.E.M. resumé recital on "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" from the Red Hot Charity collection "No Alternative." Video director Lance Bangs introduced Pavement to the Georgia pop giants when they came through Lexington, Kentucky. In their hotel suite, after Michael Stipe entered naked from a shower (it is unclear whether he thought the room empty), everyone had a chuckle over the song, and later that night, before tens of thousands of screaming fans, Stipe dedicated a set of songs to Pavement.


Leo said...

There's no suspicious stuff on the site...yes, you'll get one popup per 24 hours, but that's it...the rest is just regular text and image ads!

Jim H said...

OK - I got malwared once by a lyrics site (real bad) so I'm just leery - thanks for setting me straight.

Leo said...

Yeah...there are A LOT of lyrics sites that do bad stuff...but I hate them as much as you do! And you'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) how often companies try to get me to run that crap...I don't want to do that to my visitors!

Jim H said...

Leo, I struck out the lines above and will use your site as a future source. Thanks.

Leo said...

Awesome...thanks very much! And if for whatever reason you ever DO notice anything fishy on the site, let me know so I can track it down and get rid of it ASAP.

Spin Buldak said...

On a completely different subject... I love your blog, Jim. Your record collection reminds me a lot of mine. I'll even bet you have the same Nice Strong Arm and Phantom Tollbooth records I have. Anyway, I'd like to convert mine to mp3 format and don't know what software to use. Care to give any tips?

Anonymous said...

hey man. great blog.
the links the contoocook Line mp3's are broken. could you please fix e'm?

Jim H said...

No, sorry but you can try and contact me and I can send them to ya.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I would contact you gladly good sir. how do I do that? is your email adress written anywhere? thnx again!

Jim H said...

vinyl dot mine at gmail

allenharrelson said...

Hi, I'm Allen. The one on the record. All I wanna say is that this band had the best after-show parties, ever.

Anonymous said...

This album is better than anything Pavement ever put out. John Smith was one of the best unsigned singers that I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

This album is better than anything Pavement has released. And those are the worst lyrics that I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

I liked Steve even though he was frequently grumpy. But that apartment was the gross. This is why I did not lose my second virginity there.