Every time I'm playing the Clash (probably my favorite band when I was 24-25) at home, I've always got an ear open for profanity, so I'll know what I need to edit or omit the next time the Clash get airplay on my show. I can't tell you how many times I've been tricked when listening to "Hate and War" from their landmark debut, The Clash (1977). Because Mick Jones' accent--not sure what type of British dialect it is--is so thick, when he sings, "I cheat if I can't win," it sounds like he's swearing.
At a bookstore recently, I ran across a new collection of reprints of picture sleeves from 45rpm records. It's Five Hundred 45s: A Graphic History of the Seven-Inch Record, by Spencer Drate & Judith Salavetz (published by Collins Design). Covering the 1950s right up to '70s punk and beyond (Olympia's Beat Happening, from the '80s, is in it). Five Hundred 45s is a blast to look at, even though the artwork is sometimes reproduced with too many dark tones--I remember that the Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" sported a lovely, colorful photo, and this one looks like garbage. Then I stumbled upon the Beatles' "Rain," of which I have a copy (the A-side was "Paperback Writer," as you probably recall). It's the first time I've ever noticed that on the "Rain" side of the sleeve, at least two images are reversed, as John and George both appear to be playing guitar left-handed. Ah, the psychedelic era.
Lots of sadness when playing James Ray on the stereo. A terrific singer in the Little Willie John mold, Ray was heavily into drugs and died not long after his big hit from 1961, "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody." He also did the original "Got My Mind Set on You." Less tragic: the bad production on most of his records, with hokey backup singers and way too many instruments.
I always have a good laugh at groups that are named after famous folks, and a lot of them are country. Among the large cluster: the Wailin' Jennys, the Dolly Ranchers, and Nora Jones' group, the Little Willies. The latest I've seen in that kind of pun zone is an east coast band named Girl Haggard--they even have a guest shot from one Hank Sinatra, Jr. on their new release Country & Eastern (75 or Less Records). For now, Girl Haggard sounds too cartoonish for my taste, but we'll just see if they're less obvious in the future.
Finally, if you've never heard Brenda Lee's take on "The Crying Game" (1965), you're missing out on some great pop. My copy for the last ten years was a scratchy version that a friend dubbed for me, so I was thrilled to find a $5 cutout recently--and the CD was in a grocery store. The tune is on the various artists compilation Have a Nice Life: More Great Breakup Songs of the '60s (Risky Business/Sony). Having (or hearing) clarity when you cry is definitely better, I think.