After unhappily giving Patti Smith’s latest CD, Twelve, a so-so review (which you can find in Thursday's paper), I found myself a little distressed. It’s hard to give a middling review to someone like Patti Smith, who’s generally delivered stellar work over the years, but these covers were too serious and could have been delivered with more than uninspired devotion to the originals. A redo doesn’t have to be a complete deconstruction, like Smith so famously did with “Gloria” back in 1976, but it should have some bite to it.
Mary Weiss got it right with her remake, “A Certain Guy.” First recorded and written by Ernie K-Doe in the early Sixties as “A Certain Girl,” the song irresistibly bounces along to his easy melody. In Weiss’ hands, it’s still a simple piano-and-sax tune, but her smoky alto makes it pop like a new piece of bubblegum. And like any chestnut, you have to dig to find it – it’s only available on vinyl as the B-side to “Don’t Come Back” or on her MySpace page.
I reviewed Weiss' set with the Reigning Sound during South by Southwest and gushed about her new CD, Dangerous Game. Weiss was lead singer for the Shangri-Las in the Sixties, the most badass white girls to ever sing about bikers and broken hearts. The one-clap, three finger-pops of “(Remember) Walkin’ in the Sand” were without peer.
Weiss and Smith are close to the same age with similar New York backgrounds – how cool (and fun!) it would have been for Smith to tackle “Sophisticated Boom Boom” or “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” instead of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
The coolest thing about Weiss’ set (besides Weiss herself, looking good but slightly nervous) was that Miriam Linna sang backup with her. I’m not sure just how much Miriam had to do with Mary’s return, but I’m betting big bucks it was a lot. Linna, you see, is one of the unsung goddesses of rock & roll. She runs Norton Records with her hubby, Billy Miller. She played drums (but didn’t record) with the Cramps and recorded with Maureen Tucker and with the A-Bones. She and Miller edited and published a bunch of magazines, notably the retro-rock rag Kicks, for which I adore her.
Besides killer liner notes and well-informed profiles, she’s also written or edited a number of kitschy books on pop culture including The Great Lost Photographs of Eddie Rocco and Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties. There’s not much in the business of rock & roll or its ragged edges that Miriam Linna hasn’t done, and she does it all with such utter abandon and love for music that I’m awarding the first Girlie Action Medal of Honor.
Oh yeah, Mary Weiss gets one, too.
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