22 Jul 2013

Salem 66

Originally posted February 2, 2009
Calm song by a band that deserved to be influential and to have more recognition than they had. Who knows, maybe it's better this way, so let's keep Salem 66 as a little secret to be discovered. To post any song from their first records would be great (Across The Sea or Pony Song are true gems), but let's go for Sleep On Flowers from the now legendary Boston Bands That Could Be God compilation.

VA Bands That Could Be God LP (Conflict Records / Radiobeat Records, 1984)
Salem 66 – Sleep On Flowers

Salem 66 is like your grandmother’s favorite china: glazed smooth across the surface yet chipped and jagged around the border. Formed in Boston by Beth Kaplan and Judy Grunwald in 1982, they have evolved from artistic abstraction to accessible avant-garde.Julia Masi

The guitarist Judy Grunwald and the bassist Beth Kaplan write songs that use folk-rock guitar riffs and drumbeats that resolutely refuse to rock, topped with eccentric vocal harmonies that overlap and move in unexpected directions, all at steady mid-tempos. The pieces fit together to create songs that drone smoothly, determinedly and enigmatically, as if interior monologues had somehow been set to music.Jon Pareles (NY Times) 

Salem 66 (Robert Wilson, Susan Merriam, Judy Grunwald, and Beth Kaplan), 1984.
Elizabeth McCullough
Beth and Judy come from different musical backgrounds. As a child, Beth fell in love with baroque and studied a variety of instruments, including the harpsichord. A flirtation with rock’n’roll began when she was in the eighth grade and she heard Patti Smith’s Horses for the first time. However, she remained loyal to her harpsichord until she was 16 and taught herself to play bass guitar.Julia Masi

Beth Kaplan @ Chet's Last Stand, Boston, 1985. Robert Barry Francos
Judy grew up playing the 'Pumpkin Waltz' on the accordion. At seven, she decided she wanted to be in a rock’n’roll band. She came by her peculiar choice of instrument when she saw kids at a Sweet-16 party crank out covers of Rolling Stones songs on a snare, guitar, and accordion. She is also a self-taught musician who plays bass and guitar.Julia Masi

Never having played drums before, Susan's beats are made of simple, effective, and interesting patterns; each drum is treated as a separate instrument. Beth lopes her melodious bass lines around the rhythm, sensually flexing her knees to the beat. In contrast, Judy adds a degree of dissonance with her ringing chords and droning strings. Almost an Eastern touch. In relief to the positive aggression of their music, Judy's husky voice and Beth's softer tones float vocal harmonies together, keeping the sound warm and soothing. Marc English (Boston Rock)

Salem 66 (Judy, Susan, and Beth), 1984? Rocco Cippilone
People would hear Judy play guitar and say, 'That girl has a lot of balls, but she really sucks,' until we got better. But if you really believe in yourself, if you really believe you have something to say, somehow it gives you the confidence. Nerve is a good word. Balls is another word. It gives you that push to get up there and do it. That is a good half of what makes a good band. A lot of people – probably most people in the world – could write a good song. Or could play an instrument pretty well if they learned how. But what it takes, a good half of it, is the nerve to just push and do it. And to keep doing it, no matter what anybody says; to believe in it.Beth Kaplan

We had a long, weird career. I think there was a point early on where the big break should have happened for us. It's not like we thought that if we could get onto a major label it would solve all our problems, but we got to the point where we had to make some sort of level change and, in the end, it just didn't happen. Beth Kaplan

Salem 66 ‎Across The Sea 7" (Homestead Records, 1984)

Salem 66 – Across The Sea
More info here. 
Really nice stuff here from Salem 66. 'Across the Sea' features some cool guitar and vocal interplay which is highlighted by a super chorus. The B-side falters in its vocals and length, but it's still strong. Play it for your Mom. Lyle Hysen (Maximum Rocknroll #21)

Salem 66 Salem 66 12" (Homestead Records, 1984)

Salem 66 – Pony Song

More pics here.


Anonymous said...

Let's face it, a lot of indie bands from that era (or even, any following) are utterly unlistenable now: Salem 66 is one of the glorious rare exceptions.

Was a fan of theirs the first time I heard them on WNYU FM college radio circa 1985 or so, bought some of their LPs at local shops who actually sold indie/college rock at that time, which was rare for L.I. then to a large degree. Sadly never got a chance to see them live, being mainly stuck on bleedin' Long Island at the time. I did make trips to New England
then but for other reasons and
was far too young for the clubs
and bars. Was into them bigtime then, was for years, and still am. Would sit and stare at the back cover photo of Freq. and Urgency and fell in love with the tall chick with long black hair. Hells yes. Of course I did.

Listening right now to their "Best Of" compilation. Along with Winter Hours, Grapes of Wrath, Guadalcanal Diary, The Connells, Rain Parade, and Dreams so Real, chalk up another fabulous band that just never quite achieved the level of success they might've. On the other hand, maybe in some weird way that IS better for us NOW, if not the band. This way, they
never at all "sold out" and they stayed true to their roots, stuck to their guns, and made the music
they wanted to. Too many indie bands went "crap" the minute they signed to some major label
who pushed them to become the next.....whoever. It's diabolical. Even R.E.M. suffered
that mainstreaming fate and you
cannot tell me they didn't. No way. And it got worse as it went along, too.

C'mon Salem 66: you ladies (and one guy, I think) come out of retirement and show these terrible new "bands" out now how it's feckin' done. Throw these idjits right off the Widow's Walk.....right off. Blow them into Marblehead harbor with feedback and brimstone. Do it.
If Radio Birdman can do it, you
can too! The true fans haven't forgotten you.
(lovingly, Scott B. LI NY)

ONECHORD said...

Dear Scott,

Endless thanks for taking the time in writing such a nice comment on Salem 66.

So glad to hear you were a true fan of them back in the day and that you still love them.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I recently heard of this band while reading an article about the late Billy Ruane, and I went to Youtube and listened to all 12 or so songs that are up there. I'm 29 but I fell in love with this band like I was a teenager. It reminded of what it is to really be a fan. They make me feel alive. They were amazing, I can't believe they didn't get famous. I wish I had been around to see them live. Thanks for writing this blog post.

RAWR said...

Thanks for Doing this and introducing young folks to the Group.Love R.A.Wilson-Rodriguez