Best of July 2012: Reader picks include John Frusciante, Mike Keneally, the Beach Boys and Beatles

Offbeat new music from John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Pepper’s fame and a new collaboration between Frank Zappa alum Mike Keneally and XTC’s Andy Partridge ranked among the month’s big draws. We also got into a spirited debate over the relative worth of the Beach Boys’ deep cut “Busy Doin’ Nothin.'”

Meanwhile, sterling reissues from Bob Mould’s Sugar and Booker T. and the MGs were well-received, as was an early take on Kiss’ new single. We dove back into the legendary double-trio recordings of King Crimson, and thrilled to a live show featuring Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald and smoothster Boz Scaggs.

Finally, we have the alpha and omega of Beatle-dom — a standout track we love from their first album, and a tune from their finale that everybody has been arguing over since we first complained about it (no kidding) back in December of 2011.

Here are our top reader-selected items for the month of July 2012, based on page views at Something Else! Click through the item titles for additional details …

No. 10

SHOWS I’LL NEVER FORGET: DONALD FAGEN, MICHAEL McDONALD AND BOZ SCAGGS, JULY 14, 2012: The people who came of age when Boz Scaggs, the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan regularly charted songs don’t go steppin’ out as much at night, but when the Dukes of September come into town, it’s worthwhile for them to go catch this show and find their fountain of youth for one evening. There are no fancy light shows, outlandish costumes or funky strutting around the stage, just consummate professional musicians perfectly delivering a stage soundtrack alternative to The Big Chill. My dad, who I took along with me for a show I’ll truly never forget because I shared it with him, called it the best show he’s ever been to. I was so glad he was thrilled by it, but looking around the arena, I saw that everyone else was, too. — S. Victor Aaron

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Want to reel in more Steely Dan? Explore our song-by-song take on the entire Steely Dan catalog by starting at the Steely Dan Sunday Index]

No. 9

MIKE KENEALLY, WITH ANDY PARTRIDGE – WING BEAT FANTASTIC (2012): Note, though, that this is not an Andy Partridge project. The collaboration between the two was behind the scenes, with Partridge and Keneally crafting the songs together but Keneally recording the songs on his own. Either way, the result is a peak in Keneally’s career, one that has had a pretty good share of peaks in different forms, if they’ve sadly gone unrecognized by the general music world. Maybe pairing up with the XTC frontman wasn’t the best idea to right that wrong, as that band has, aside from a few key singles, gone almost as ignored as Keneally. But artistically speaking, this is a meeting of the minds that results in something fans of both artists are going to cherish for ages. — Tom Johnson

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Mike Keneally talks with us about the lingering influences of Frank Zappa and XTC, and his magical introduction to prog through ‘Tarkus.’]

No. 8

BOOKER T. AND THE MGs – GREEN ONIONS (1963; 2012 reissue): A sizzling outburst of lean pre-funk soul-rock, Green Onions introduced the world to the genre-jumping delights of Booker T, and the MGs. Unfortunately, after the debut title-track hit, Booker T. and the MGs would settle back into an essential anonymity — notable mostly to careful liner-note readers after years as the house band for Stax Records in Memphis. Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame righted that wrong in 1992, but two decades later it might be time for a refresher course: The song selection on this great reissue, going beyond the familiar “Green Onions” and its sequel “Mo’ Onions,” reflects the essential diversity — musically, socially — at the heart of this hard-grooving group of multi-culti hipsters. They were a group designed both to move hips, and to change minds. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Steve Cropper talks about key moments in his tenure with Booker T. and the MGs, and his stirring new tribute to childhood heroes the 5 Royales, ‘Dedicated.’]

No. 7

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEATLES, WELL, SUCKED: Major discovery: Beatles songs themed on the word “long” are bad karma — as our heavily debated list includes both the perfectly titled “Long, Long, Long” and treacly “Long and Winding Road.” We called the latter, in a point of deep contention for many Beatles fans, “this syrupy ballad.” Even at three-and-a-half minutes, it seemed to be overly long and, yes, winding. Well, to us, anyway. (Originally posted on December 27, 2011, but still going strong with our readers.)S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: We track back to some of our favorite, most memorable moments from the long history of Kiss – from ‘Destroyer’ to ‘Alive,’ from from ‘Ace Frehley’ to ‘Revenge.’]

No. 6

ONE TRACK MIND: KISS, “HELL OR HALLELUJAH (2012): The song is certainly a nod to the band’s past. It’s a rollicking rock ‘n’ roller in the spirit of much of their 1970s work, but it also has a little touch of 1980s glitz, and yes, just a little bit of that Revenge grit. That said, it’s not like Sonic Boom, which I thought was an attempt to make a record that sounded just like their 1970s output, sacrificing all else to get there. There’s a definite energy on “Hell or Hallelujah” that was missing from pretty much all of their 2009 release, and it actually seems that Paul and Gene are having fun again on this song, rather than collecting a paycheck. — Fred Phillips

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No. 5

KING CRIMSON – LIVE IN ARGENTINA: 1994 (2012): From a small series of shows to work out the kinks just before Crimson’s short-lived double-trio amalgam released the VROOOM EP. This set captures two shows from the middle of that tour, the earliest video evidence of this band working live, and it’s a thrilling thing to witness these two shows, afternoon and evening, on DVD, having never been available before. Most enjoyable is simply the pure joy present on the stage. There’s a playful nature bouncing around up there. It should come as no surprise to see Adrian Belew’s ever-present grin as he goads the others on, and Bill Bruford is frequently seen with a smile and gesturing loosely while the others react in kind. It’s serious music made through serious fun. — Tom Johnson

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Longtime King Crimson member Adrian Belew on the future of the band: Robert Fripp ‘may never want to do it again’]

No. 4

DEEP BEATLES: “ALL I’VE GOT TO DO” (1963): In 1963, the Beatles were gradually experimenting with taking elements of already existing music, tearing them apart, and reconstructing them using their unique talents as glue. This action resulted in forever altering the rock landscape by expanding the very definitions of “rock” and “pop,” demonstrating that there may not be such a thing as “pure” soul or “pure” rock. Instead, these genres borrow from other fields to create new kinds of music. “All I’ve Got to Do” represents their early stage in this process, and album by album they further established themselves as “mad scientists” expanding the rock and pop worlds. While not as adventurous as later cuts like “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “A Day in the Life,” “All I’ve Got to Do” perfectly illustrates the Beatles’ pastiche technique. — Kit O’Toole

[BEYOND THE BEATLES’ HITS: Think you know the Fab Four? Kit O’Toole’s ‘Deep Beatles’ series takes you into some undiscovered corners of the group’s ageless musical legacy.]

No. 3

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEACH BOYS, WELL, SUCKED: Beginning with the band’s foundering efforts to complete SMiLE in the late 1960s, Wilson and Co. have (let’s face it) raised expectations almost as many times as they have dashed our hopes — sometimes with truly catastrophic aftermaths. From rap songs to creepy come ons from Mike Love, from disco mixes to songs that were Seinfeldian in their commitment to being about absolutely nothing, the Beach Boys have — again, let’s face it — often charted a roadmap to disappointment. Here are five of our least favorite moments along the way. — Nick DeRiso

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Who would have guessed, after decades of awful public squabbling, that the battling Beach Boys would return at all — must less in perfect harmony?]

No. 2

SUGAR – COPPER BLUE; BEASTER [Deluxe Edition] (2012): That Sugar’s debut, 1992’s Copper Blue and the rest of their catalog, actually had escaped reissuing until now seems impossible. Good news, though: When it comes to the remastered reissues of Copper Blue, “mini-album” Beaster, and File Under: Easy Listening, each comes with exactly what’s needed. All the original songs, plenty of extras, and insightful commentary from a wide variety of those involved in and around Sugar at the time. What we get here in these packages is the best representation of what Sugar could be. They complete the story for those of us who felt like so much more was left to be said from this great little band. — Tom Johnson

[ONE TRACK MIND: Sugar’s standout 1994 song “Believe What You’re Saying” was perhaps Bob Mould’s most heartfelt work, something obviously inspired by real loss.]

No. 1

JOHN FRUSCIANTE – LETUR-LEFR (2012): A millennial amalgam of aerated, early 1980s-inspired electronics, soaring R&B vocals and gritty hip hop realism. You were expecting, like, guitar? Not so much on the former Red Hot Chili Peppers axeman’s Letur-Lefr, a progressive synth-pop surprise. Instead, Frusciante delves deeper into sounds he’s claimed as influences for years like Depeche Mode, New Order and the Human League, but with new wrinkles courtesy of soulful wailer Nicole Turley (aka Frusciante’s wife) and RZA — the Grammy-winning producer/MC from Wu-Tang Clan. — Nick DeRiso

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