[vinylsighting] Sideman Serenade

On the side...

You’re successful in a certain undersung capacity. Maybe you write the songs, but don’t sing them. Maybe you provide some hot guitar, bass, clavinet, or drums. Maybe you produce things, but have yet to foist your own music upon the world. You’re a sideman, eeking it out behind the scenes, basking in at-best reflected glory – often deserving as much (if not more) credit than your nominal boss. Of course you want to make your own record.

I’m forever curious about these sorts of projects. If the non-singing guitarist from the Cars made a solo album, what would it sound like? (He—ELLIOT EASTON—did in 1985. It’s called Change No Change, and it’s surprisingly nifty. I just couldn’t find my LP for inclusion here.) For music-obsessive like myself, checking out the obscure solo albums and spin-offs is a handy way of discovering just what each little cog contributes…and the occasional gem or surprise is well worth the slog.

All the Woo in the World


The P-Funk galaxy is filled with fantastically fascinating and off-kilter side projects, from Fuzzy Haskins to the Horny Horns. But of all their resident geniuses, none seemed to operate with a scope quite so vast as BERNIE WORRELL, whose playing encompassed strong classical and jazz washes along with an uncanny funk sensibility and a nearly avant-garde approach to analog synth textures. This is his first solo disk (a Canadian pressing, for some reason), and features his reedy singing and sublime keyboards in a familiarly funky context.

In the World

It’s gonna take a lot to make up for the years of embarrassing mugging on SNL, but I have to admit, this solo disk from session mainstay G.E. SMITH is surprisingly solid, a lean power-trio take on early ‘80s power-pop with confident vocals, terse/confrontational lyrics, and lots of slashing guitar. He even gets Paul Simon to chip in background vocals. It’s not all great, but there are moments. Good blindfold test fodder, perhaps deserving a CD reissue as the endless quest for lost classics carries on…


 Get Off of My Cloud

The ecstatic guitar of Richard Lloyd was always unfairly pushed into the shadow of Tom Verlaine, who, let’s face it, is the sorta guy music writers love to swoon about: neurotic, poetic, adenoidal, etc. Lloyd was a little more of a classicist, perhaps, but his guitar playing was every bit as stratospheric, and his pop sensibilities were the band’s secret weapon—as demonstrated by a neat run of solo disks that continues to this day. This single features two one-man Stones covers, drenched in lead guitar but always in the spirit of the song.

House of Schock


Another pop secret weapon, Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock pushed hard from behind the kit. This, her one solo album (largely conceived and executed with Elen DeGeneres’s brother Vance, a future Daily Show correspondent), shines a light on her charming singing and mature pop sensibility – sounding not unlike a female Marshal Crenshaw (who guests here). Gina’s since contributed songs to folks like Miley Cyrus (ca-ching!) while continuing to propel sporadic Go-Go’s reunions. Might be time for another solo outing.


Loud Music in Cars


You’ve heard him. Even if you’ve never heard any of the classic Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds/Rockpile sides he embroidered with his ringingly nimble guitar (“Cruel to be Kind,” anyone? “Queen of Hearts”?), you’ve heard his declamatory intro lick on the Pretender’s “Back on the Chain Gang.” Thing is, he’s a great singer himself, and though this Stiff Records classic isn’t much on clever lyrics (for that, check out Billy’s album Bash, which was co-written with brilliant wordsmith Will Birch), the insistent melody and throbbing backbeat more than compensate.

Brad San Martin is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in the Boston-based indie-pop trio One Happy Island. His recently minted VinylSighting blog is a welcome addition to On The Download, despite the shortcomings of not being able to download a vinyl record.  

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