It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it’s not. It’s the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we’ve deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
Kristen Gundred prefers retro black dresses, vintage Silvertone amps, classic rock 'n' roll nicknames (hers is Dee Dee), and quintessential girl-group melodies. The 28-year-old Dum Dum Girls frontwoman introduced her sound punky, fuzz-blasted tunes with sing-songy melodies to the masses on the 2010 album I Will Be and took only one year to refine her aesthetic into the richer Only in Dreams: shoop-shoop surf lullabies smothered in reverb. Producers Richard Gottehrer (an industry legend known for his work with Blondie and the Go-Go's) and the Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner cranked up Dee Dee's vocals to reveal a stunningly rich vibrato that transforms even the simplest melodies into epic serenades. With the help of her fellow Girls for the first time on record (guitarist Jules, bassist Bambi, and drummer Sandy) Dee Dee shimmies between major and minor chords, giving tunes like lovelorn lament "In My Head" and snappy kiss-off "Just a Creep" a haunting glow. Only in Dreams is nearly evenly split between songs about love and loss tracks sparked by Dee Dee's agonizing time apart from her husband, Crocodiles frontman Brandon Welchez ("Bedroom Eyes," "Teardrops on My Pillow") and songs inspired by her mother's death after a long illness, like "Hold Your Hand" and the woozy, gorgeous slow burner "Coming Down," which recalls Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You." Both varieties are well served by her wistful vocal lines, sentimental drones and ability to channel rather than mimic the dramatic girl pop of the 1960s.
The Original Girl Gang
Dee Dee came up with the name Dum Dum Girls before she had any Girls to speak of, drawn to the gal-gang mentality that was practically born with these '60s badasses from Queens, New York. Their signature song "Leader of the Pack" set the mold: A swoony melody about following your heart into trouble turns into a mournful ache as the song's protagonist perishes over a soundtrack of pounding pianos, sweeping guitar arpeggios, and crushing drums. Amy Winehouse was particularly fond of the LP's other breakout hit, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)," an equally melodramatic tear-jerker with a doo-wop melody and chintzy beach sound effects.
The Punk Progenitors
Few rockers were more enamored with the magical melodies of '60s girl groups than Joey Ramone, who interpolated their poppy vocal lines into his band's pounding, spare punk anthems. The Dum Dum Girls clearly draw from the straight-up simplicity and wall of guitars on which the Ramones built their 1976 self-titled debut, from chugging fist-pumpers like "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Beat on the Brat" to romantic interludes like "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." The clearest relative on Only in Dreams: "Wasted Away," a frantically strummed three-and-a-half-minute thrasher perfect for blissed-out pogo-ing.
The Polished Pop Band
The pop vocal groups of the '60s gave the Dum Dum Girls their romantic soul, but girl-rock bands like the Runaways, the Go-Go's and perhaps most strikingly the Bangles blazed the trail for ladies picking up guitars and drum sticks. The Los Angeles band's sophomore set, Different Light, was anchored by two blockbuster singles: "Manic Monday," the Prince-penned tune that showcased Susanna Hoffs's enchanting vocals, and "Walk Like an Egyptian," the clanging pop hit with the irresistible "oh-way-oh" refrain. But deeper cuts like the driving, Cali-tinged "In a Different Light" reflect the Dum Dum Girls' relentless edge.
Dee Dee nabbed her band's name from two musical touchstones: the Vaselines' 1989 album Dum-Dum and the Iggy Pop track "Dum Dum Boys," but the influence of the former went well beyond the words printed on her band's album covers. Scottish rockers Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee's jangly doodles of pop-punk songs sound like Dum Dum Girls tracks performed unplugged groovy little numbers with repetitive melodies and clear roots in the nostalgic sounds of the '60s. Only in Dreams' "Bedroom Eyes" could have fit on this compilation of the group's first two EPs and full-length from the late 1980s, right alongside Vaselines tunes like the punky spazz-out "Teenage Superstars" and bloopy "Son of a Gun."
The Fellow Fuzzsters
Before the Dum Dum Girls got their chance to scuff up the surf sounds of the '60s the Raveonettes took a successful hack at the job, turning out five albums of fuzzed-out retro rock since 2003. Their full-length debut produced by the same duo who handled Only in Dreams is a quick and dirty disc the group labeled "whiplash rock 'n' roll" on its album cover with good reason. The reverb on the title track is so weighty you'll think your ears are flickering, and breakout single "That Great Love Sound" never takes a break from its pulsing, noisy groove.