Monday, February 28, 2011

1967 - 1970 - The Beatles

1967 - 1970
The Beatles
Apple SKBO-3404 

This is the companion volume to "1962 - 1966."  It was the second Beatles album that I bought and my fourth album in my collection.  Again, I wore out my original copy and replaced it with this copy.  This era is even more poorly represented by the "1" compilation than the earlier era is.  There is nothing from "Sgt. Pepper" and it does not include "Strawberry Fields Forever."  In my opinion "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane" is the greatest single in the history of rock music so its exclusion from "1" just proves the foolishness of the concept behind that comp.  "1" also omits such essential classic cuts as "I Am The Walrus," "While My Guitar Gently Sleeps" and "Here Comes The Sun."  I prefer "1962 - 1966" to this album simply because it is more perfect.  "Old Brown Shoe" and "Octopus's Garden" do not belong on a best of record and while "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "The Long and Winding Road" do belong there, I don't like them very much.  On the other hand, side 1 of record 1 is probably my favorite slab of Beatles vinyl in existence.  I played it more than any other side of either of these comps.  It is a relentless stream of classic psychedelia.  It was not the first time I had heard psychedelic music, there were a few cuts on my "Get It Together" comp like "White Rabbit" and the Vanilla Fudge's cover of "You Keep Me Hangin' On," but this was when I really took notice that this was a different sort of music and that I really liked it a lot.  "A Day In The Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" in particular blew me away.  I'd never heard anything like them and I've basically spent the rest of my record collecting life looking for songs that good, without much success.  These albums came with lyric sheets on the inner sleeves and this was the first time I can remember actually studying lyrics trying to figure songs out.  "1967 - 1970" was also the first time I realized that rock music could be complicated, even serious, it was not just the kids' stuff they played on top 40 radio.  This record enslaved me to the Beatles.  To start out one's collection with these two albums, is to start upon the very apex of rock music.  It was all downhill from here, ha-ha.  That is not literally true, I've heard lots of great pop music after this, but I've never heard anything better.  No record has ever thrilled and fascinated me the way these two albums did.  I played them more than any record I have ever owned.  They literally changed my life.  Like "1962 - 1966" this is essential music that every pop fan should own.  Recommended to anyone who has ever wanted to be turned on.

1962 - 1966 - The Beatles

1962 - 1966
The Beatles
Capitol SKBO-3403 

My first Beatles album and the third album I ever bought.  My original copy is long gone, worn out from excessive playing on a cheap phonograph.  I bought a replacement copy in the early 1990s, mostly because of nostalgia since I already had every song on here on other vinyl albums.  My original copy was on Apple, but this is the later Capitol pressing.  This is perhaps the ideal introduction to the Beatles, it is greatly preferable to the more recent comp, "1" which lacks such crucial early songs as "Please Please Me," "Norwegian Wood," "Nowhere Man" and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away."  This record certainly served me well.  I got countless hours of enjoyment from it.  The music on here was so mesmerizing, so different from the music I knew on the radio, it was truly enchanting.  I played it endlessly marveling at the Beatles' eclecticism and sheer charm.  So many wonderful songs flowing one after another, an incredible display of songwriting genius, I had struck the mother lode.  It was like opening Pandora's Box, I was now hooked forever on the Beatles.  This record cheered me up so many times during my unhappy sojourn in Salt Lake City, it transported me out of my hateful existence to a much better place and for that I loved the Beatles as if they were my brothers.  As a kid not knowing anything about the Beatles' personal lives, I naively assumed that the picture in the gatefold featured them posing with their families.  I stared at the picture speculating who was related to which Beatle based on family resemblance.  Of course the picture is no such thing, but rather it is just a bunch of lucky strangers posing with the Fabs in the garden of St. Pancras Church in London, one of the many locations they visited during the celebrated "Mad Day Out" photo session in July 1968.  It remains one of my favorite Beatles pictures.  I still enjoy this album, I might quibble about some of the tracks and lots of my favorites are not on it, but it is still a nice mix of music, well-chosen and presented in chronological order which really helps one appreciate how rapidly the Beatles grew musically during those 4 years.  If you don't know this music already, I'm not sure why you'd be reading this blog, this is the most essential music in the history of rock.  It should be the cornerstone of any rock record collection.  If you are a Beatles fan, you must have it and if you are not a Beatles fan, then what the heck is wrong with you?  Recommended for everybody who likes pop music.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Enter The Vaselines - The Vaselines


Enter The Vaselines
The Vaselines
Sub Pop SP 810

If you already have "The Way of the Vaselines" CD you probably don't need this unless you are a big fan.  I am a big fan and the proud owner of "The Way Of the Vaselines" which is one of my favorite CDs.  Even if I weren't a Nirvana fan, I'd still love Kurt Cobain for rescuing the Vaselines from obscurity and getting them onto Sub Pop.  I happily bought this three record set, just to get these songs on vinyl (it also contains a nice album size booklet featuring interviews with Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee.)  Records one and two contain the entirety of "The Way of the Vaselines."  Record one features the two original Vaselines EPs, one on each side.  Nirvana fans will be familiar with the best songs here since Nirvana memorably covered "Molly's Lips," "Son of a Gun" and "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam."  "Molly's Lips" and "Son of a Gun" are fast paced and insanely catchy.  Hear them once and you'll be singing them all day.   "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam" is one of my all time favorite songs, a gentle rejection of Christianity with some gorgeous viola playing.  I never get tired of hearing it, it always puts a smile on my face.  Record two is the Vaselines' only studio album (until recently anyway) "Dum-Dum" with the bonus cuts from "The Way Of the Vaselines" of "Bitch" and "Dying For It (The Blues)".  This is essential stuff, an exciting fusion of punk primitiveness with a pop sensibility and smart, sardonic lyrics that frequently feature sexual and anti-religious themes  - it easy to see how this appealed to Kurt Cobain.  The Vaselines were Scotland's answer to the Buzzcocks.  This is some of the best music of the 1980s, really enchanting if you have any appetite for clever and compelling pop songs.  Record three features all of the previously unreleased stuff.  There are three demos including two unreleased songs "Rosary Job" (it means just what you think it means, yikes) and "Red Poppy."  The songs are a bit dull on the murky demos but in the live versions that follow, they are quite engaging and sound almost as good as the rest of the Vaselines catalog.  The live songs that make up the rest of side one are from a concert in Bristol.  It is little better than bootleg quality in terms of sound but it is an entertaining show.  Side two features a London concert that has better sound quality.  It is mostly drawn from "Dum-Dum" and admittedly the live versions don't really add much to the studio versions and I certainly did not need two versions of "The Day I Was a Horse", but at least the band's humor does shine through pretty clearly.  The only new song is their "tribute to the seventies," a raucous cover of the Gary Glitter song "I Didn't Know I Loved You ('Til I Saw You Rock 'N' Roll)" that is lots of fun.  Record three is definitely marginal, but I'm thrilled to have it even if I probably won't play it as much as the other two records.  Kudos to Sub Pop, this is an outstanding compilation.  Recommended to raunchy atheists with a taste for punky pop.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beatles '65 - The Beatles

Beatles '65
The Beatles
Apple ST 2228

My fourth Beatles album which I bought shortly after "Magical Mystery Tour".  I bought it in Salt Lake City right before I returned to California.  It seems an odd choice to pick over "Abbey Road," "Revolver," "Rubber Soul" and "Sgt. Pepper."  I was flying blind though at this point.  I had no music books, there was no internet to look stuff up in, no one I knew was a Beatles fan.  I was just guessing, buying albums on the basis of their covers and the few songs I knew.  The reason I chose this was because I loved their cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" which I had heard on the radio.  It is still one of my favorite Beatles covers.  As for the rest of the record, I was a bit disappointed.  I already had "I Feel Fine" from "1962-1966" and it is the best song on the record.  I was spoiled by "1962 - 1966" and "1967 - 1970" as well as the immensely superior "Magical Mystery Tour", I thought every Beatles song was great.  "She's A Woman" I really liked as well as "I'll Follow the Sun" but the rest of the songs seemed ordinary, at least by Beatles standards.  My opinion hasn't changed much since then, although I've come to appreciate "I'm A Loser" a lot more.  Back then I didn't realize that the Capitol albums were different from the Parlophone albums.  This album was a stripped down version of "Beatles For Sale" which is not all that great either, although a lot better than this.  I know a lot of people are into the Capitol albums for various reasons, but as soon as I realized that the Parlophone albums were different, I stopped buying the Capitol ones and concentrated on getting the imports.  Eventually I did end up buying all the Capitol ones as well, but only as a dumb collector thing, I still fail to see any reason why one would prefer them to the U.K. albums.  The artwork is comparatively shoddy, song selection is skimpy, the programming is sloppy.  Between their shabby treatment of the Beatle catalog and their re-issue program of the 1970s and 1980s where they released abridged versions of already short 1960s albums by the likes of the Beach Boys, Capitol has long been my least favorite major record label.  When the record industry collapses, as people keep predicting it will, this greedy company ought to be the first one up against the wall.  Every Beatles album that has music on it is worth having, but I certainly wouldn't make this one a priority.  Recommended for Beatles fans who have to have everything.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 
The Beatles
Apple SMAS 2653

Originally on Capitol, I have an Apple pressing from the 1970s.  It was the fifth Beatles album that I bought, my eighth album overall.  I was back in California after my miserable exile to Salt Lake City, living in Alameda with my father.  For the first time I had a record store within walking distance - heaven, but short-lived alas as we soon departed for the hated suburbs.  Unfortunately I didn't have much money, but at least I could do a lot of looking through the bins.  One day my dad left me some money to buy dinner since he would be out late.  On my way to the market I decided to pop into the record store to browse a bit.  I stared transfixed at the magnificent cover of this album and ended up going home with it instead of dinner.  I ate cereal that night but it was worth it.  I wish I could recapture the excitement I felt when I played it back then.  It seemed so exotic and magical, it was so thrilling.  There was nothing on the radio like it.  Carefully programmed records like this and "Band On The Run" and "Ringo" made me a fan of the album format.  Even in this misbegotten digital era where MP3s are king, I still believe this is the ideal form of pop music.  For awhile this was my favorite album, but as I grew older, like a lot of Beatles fans, I came to prefer "Revolver" which is also pretty magical and less flawed.  I still hold it in high regard though.  I have little use for "She's Leaving Home" and to a lesser extent "When I'm Sixty-Four" but I like the rest of it quite a bit, even the preachy drone of Harrison's "Within You Without You."  McCartney's relentless optimism shines through "Getting Better" and "Fixing a Hole" has a delicate, introspective quality that I find very appealing.  To this day "A Day In The Life" continues to be my favorite Beatles song.  When I heard McCartney perform it during his last tour, I practically died and went to heaven.  "With a Little Help From My Friends" features my favorite Ringo vocal performance and it is a song that always makes me happy even though I've heard it a thousand times.  The colorful lyrics and swirling organ of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and the relentless drive of "Good Morning Good Morning" show the strength of Lennon's creativity at the time although both pale in comparison to the greatness of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" which is another one of my all-time Beatles faves.  I find the imagery charming and the music enthralls me.  It is such an intoxicating song, it captures both the surrealism of childhood and the trippiness of psychedelia.  The title track and "Lovely Rita" are among my favorite Beatles songs as well.  I still get excited when I hear the tuning up sounds and crowd noises that open up the album, my heart beats a little faster anticipating the beginning notes of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."  Lennon's vocals on this record are extraordinary, they define psychedelia for me and I love McCartney's bass lines, with all due respect to Jack Casady and Jack Bruce, there has never been a better bass player in rock music than Sir James Paul McCartney.  This is the most famous album in the history of rock and rightly so, it was incredibly special to me.  For many years the cover was on display in my room and I treasure my copy the way some people treasure religious relics and totems.  The Beatles were my religion, they got me through my adolescence and continue to provide me with inspiration and insight.  There is a school of thought that rock should feature short fast simple songs and that this album is pretentious and misguided.  I'm not unsympathetic to this perspective, "Nuggets" is one of my favorite albums of all time and I love the Stooges and the Ramones and many garage bands.  But if this were all there was to rock, I'd be into jazz or classical music.  Rock shouldn't just be for cretins and kids, there ought to be room for intelligent discourse as well.  Rock is the dominant art form of my generation, it ought to be about more than just getting wasted and getting laid.  "Sgt. Pepper" opened up a new path, it expanded the boundaries of rock, it showed that albums could be more than just a collection of songs.  Maybe the Beatles deserve some of the blame for "Hotel California," "Tales From Topographic Oceans" or "Pictures at an Exhibition" but they also deserve some of the credit for Kurt Cobain, the Decemberists, Tori Amos, the Magnetic Fields, Radiohead or any other artist who regarded the rock album as a form of meaningful self-expression.  Whatever its faults, "Sgt. Pepper" transformed rock into something intellectually relevant, something that continues to speaks to me now that I'm way past my youth.  The Beatles can still take me to new places and open up my mind, which to me is what good art is all about.  I recommend this to everyone with any interest in rock music beyond "it has a good beat and you can dance to it."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ringo - Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr
Apple  SWAL-3413

Another souvenir from my time in Salt Lake City.  It was the sixth album I ever bought.  I even bought it before I bought "Sgt. Pepper" so the cool cover reference escaped me.  I remember quite vividly hearing "Photograph" on the school bus (they played the top 40 radio station for us) and being very moved by it.  Even though it is about a girl, I projected into it my missing California, my old friends and my father.  I think it is one of Ringo's best songs, co-written with George Harrison, it is among the best songs either man ever wrote.  The other hit singles on this, "Oh My My" and "You're Sixteen," don't really do much for me although they are pleasant enough and suit Ringo's voice quite well.  The real gems on this record come from his ex-mates in the Beatles, particularly Lennon's "I'm The Greatest" and McCartney's "Six O'Clock" which are first rate.  Harrison's "Sunshine Life for Me" and "You and Me (Babe)" are less impressive but since they beat anything on "Living in the Material World" or "Dark Horse" I respect Harrison's generosity in parting with them and of course he deserves a lot of credit for "Photograph."  "Devil Woman" which Starr wrote with Vini Poncia is the only real sour note on the album, its obnoxious misogyny seems out of character for the generally good-natured Starr.  The album is beautifully packaged from the colorful cover to the handsome lyric booklet which features charming illustrations of the songs by Klaus Voormann.  At the time this seemed like the closest thing to a Beatles reunion that there would ever be and that certainly adds some resonance to the music, but it is a fine album in its own right, proof that Ringo could do pretty well with a little help from his friends.  Recommended for Beatles' fans yearning for another fix.

Monday, February 21, 2011

'Bout Changes & Things - Eric Andersen

'Bout Changes & Things
Eric Andersen
Vanguard VSD-79206

Of the countless folkies of the mid-1960's, Eric Andersen was one of the best male singers.  I really like his voice and his phrasing, only Tom Rush and Ian Tyson appeal to me more.  He was a good writer too.  In an era of heavy-handed protest songs, "Thirsty Boots" addresses the Civil Rights Movement with grace and poetic understatement.  He also wrote nice love songs, "Cross Your Mind" speaks about a lost love in a manner I find very compelling.  "Violets of Dawn" is one of the prettiest songs of its era, I especially like the folk-rock covers of it by the Blues Project and the Daily Flash, but Andersen's acoustic original is quite good as well.  "Close The Door Lightly When You Go" is an excellent kiss-off song, it was one of the highlights of Fairport Convention's "Heyday" compilation album but Andersen's original is very appealing also.  Andersen's voice is a little too sweet to be effective in a bitter song like "Blind Fiddler" but it is still a very powerful song.  I like the rollicking "The Hustler" and "I Shall Go Unbounded" which are full of evocative imagery.  I suppose by 1966 this album might have sounded a little dated, maybe that's why he remade it as folk-rock album the following year, but it sounds timeless to me, classic really.  It has aged a lot better than many other folk albums of the period.  Recommended to Judy Collins fans looking for something a little more earthy and challenging.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Band On The Run - Paul McCartney and Wings

Band On The Run
Paul McCartney and Wings
Apple SO-3415

Another seminal record in my life.  It was the second album that I ever bought.  It came out during a difficult time in my life, my parents had divorced and my mom had uprooted us from California and moved us to Salt Lake City, a place I absolutely loathed.  During this miserable period, I discovered the solace of pop music.  I knew about the Beatles, but this was when I became a real fan of them.  I saw "Help" on television and was enthralled by it and then I heard "Helen Wheels" on the radio.  I was still listening to top 40 AM radio and hearing lots of crap.  With its propulsive melody and joyous chorus "Helen Wheels" sounded so fresh and exciting to me, I was thrilled whenever it came on and I was disappointed when it was not a chart-topping hit.  I did my part, calling in to request it with some frequency.  When I saw this album in the store, I spent my allowance money and bought it.  By then "Jet" was on the radio and I loved that even more.  Its mixture of rock thunder and pop smarts blew me away.  I couldn't believe it was not number one on the charts either.  Back then stuff like that actually mattered to me.  I was offended that Elton John ranked higher than McCartney.  Finally the "Band on the Run" single made it to the top of the chart and I felt vindicated.  None of the kids I knew liked McCartney, they liked Elton John, the Eagles, Chicago or if they were a little bit cool, Lynyrd Skynyrd or Led Zeppelin, it made me feel special and triumphant when Paul finally succeeded.  Such a terrific song.  Its dynamic shifts in tempo and clever lyrics made the song really stand out among all the dreck on the radio at the time.  I really loved this album, it is still my favorite McCartney record.  I played it all the time and it helped me through a difficult year.  I had the poster from it hanging in my room for many years.  I stared at the snapshots on it and wondered about the stories behind them.  I still consider this basically a flawless record, I like every song to varying degrees.  I saw McCartney in concert during his last tour and he performed most of the songs on here and I was impressed at how fresh and vital they still sounded even in comparison with the Beatles songs he was doing at the show.  Besides the three singles, there are plenty of good songs on the album.  "Let Me Roll It" is a majestic song that employs heavy reverb reminiscent of John Lennon's records with Phil Spector.  "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" is my favorite song on the record after the 3 singles.  It is driven by a rollicking piano line in classic rock and roll style upon which McCartney layers synthesizer lines and brass to create a powerful conclusion to the album leading in to a brief reprise of the title tune as a coda.  "Mrs. Vanderbilt" has a jaunty tune that mixes music hall with world music with surprisingly good results.  "Mamunia" is similar but more laid back.  It is typically McCartney-like in its outlook as it emphasizes focusing on the positive when confronted with the negative.  "No Words" was written by McCartney with fellow Wing Denny Laine.  It has a nice riff but is otherwise little more than filler.  I didn't like lyrical "Bluebird" very much as a kid, but I like it better now, especially the lovely vocal work.  The music hall sing-a-long "Picasso's Last Words" appealed to me even less back then, but I appreciate its warmth and sentiment now that I'm more mature.  I'm pretty sure I didn't even know who Picasso was back then.  In fact as a young teenager a lot of the lyrics on this record were over my head (I even had to look up what a "suffragette" was) but as I got older I came to realize that they are some of McCartney's finest lyric writing.  With their recurring themes of escape and freedom and their consistent craftsmanship and sophisticated imagery, they are an outstanding example of the artistry that the rock album is capable of.  I will always be grateful to Sir Paul for this record, it taught me the power and comfort in pop music and his cheery vision made a lot of bad days seem not so bad.  Recommended to Elton John fans who wouldn't recognize a pop genius if he hit them over the head with a copy of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Time of the Zombies - The Zombies

Time of the Zombies
The Zombies
Epic KEG 32861

Kind of a creepy album cover for a record that is so sweet and sensitive, but I guess it fits with the irony of the Zombies name itself - the most erudite and tenderest of the British Invasion bands chose to name themselves after mindless monsters.  "Zombie Heaven" basically rendered this obsolete, but as much as I love that CD box set, I still have a lot of regard for this double album.  I knew very little about the Zombies when I bought it as a teenager aside from their hit singles, but you couldn't ask for a better introduction to the group, every song is great, this record was compiled with a lot of care and intelligence.  At first I was a little perturbed that the group was so nerdy looking and that the liner notes were going on about how educated they were, but when I gave it a spin all my doubts vanished.  The band played with so much style and verve, Rod Argent's keyboard work was inventive and exciting, Colin Blunstone had such a heart breaking and expressive voice.  I'd never heard pop music like this.  Instead of the raw, driving, rhythm and blues inspired music I was accustomed to hearing from the British Invasion bands, I heard music from the hearts of poets - melancholy, observant, aching, yearning.  These songs really spoke to me, I related to the Zombies the way I never could to the Yardbirds or the Animals or the Stones.  I shared their world view, their cultural values, their middle class background.  Groups like the Eagles and Led Zeppelin might as well be from Mars as far as I was concerned, but these guys I could imagine talking to or hanging out with.  This was well before college rock, it was so refreshing to encounter a group I could identify with, one so unlike the macho pretty boys, hippie half-wits and drug-addled neanderthals that populated the rock scene of the 1970s.  Such great songs.  Side 3 and 4 feature "Odessey and Oracle" in its entirety, restoring that lost masterpiece to the catalog that it never should have left.  It is now justly recognized for its greatness, but back in the 1970s it was little known aside from "Time of the Season."  I was amazed by it.  The music was so eclectic, it was so different from every other record I had heard, it was my first serious encounter with chamber pop, aside from the occasional Beatles effort in that vein.  The lyrics were so intelligent - songs about World War I and convicts and loneliness and alienation.  I was dazzled by the imagery and atmosphere of songs like "Hung Up On A Dream," "Maybe After He's Gone," and "Brief Candles."  What other 60s band would do a song ("Friends of Mine") about how happy they are that their friends are in love and then actually name the friends?  "Odessey and Oracle" is chock full of these unusual and heartfelt songs.  A great, great album.  Side one and two cherry pick through the rest of the Zombies catalog including the hits "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" and adding such wonderful lesser known tracks as "Imagine the Swan," "I Know She Will," "Is This The Dream," "She Loves The Way They Love Her" and so many more.  I could just go on and on about how every song is terrific.  The liner notes by Pete Frame are first rate, with some vintage clippings and comments from the group.  One of my all-time favorite albums.  Recommended to anyone who ever wished that rock wasn't so stupid sometimes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968- Various Artists

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965 - 1968
Various Artists
Sire SASH 3716-2

This is a reissue on Sire of the original Elektra release from 1972.  It has a different cover than the original, in this case a cool psychedelic cover by Kelley Mouse Studios reminiscent of their work for the Grateful Dead.  Rhino Records took the original Nuggets concept and expanded it hugely over numerous CD box sets many of which I happily own, but this original record still shines in its beauty and purity.  It is an incredibly important record for me, my rock bible.  It changed my life.  I barely knew what a garage band was when I bought it, I think the only group on the record that I had ever heard of was the Blues Project (hardly a garage band, their inclusion on this record is debatable, but I'm not complaining.)  The idea that a bunch of teenage punks could make better records than the Eagles or Peter Frampton never occurred to me, the garage bands at my school just played crappy covers by BTO or Neil Young, I couldn't conceive of anything good coming out of them.  Then I heard this and I realized how much the Eagles and Frampton actually sucked.  The music on this record blew me away.  Well before I heard the Ramones or any new wave bands, this record showed me that short, fun and fast rock songs trumped the pretentious and bloated music I was hearing on commercial radio stations or watching on "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert."  After I heard the Standells and the 13th Floor Elevators, how could I possibly want to listen to Styx or Kansas or any other crummy 1970s band?  This was the real thing, the holy grail of rock.  A relentless stream of classic music flowed from the turntable when I put this on.  I instantly became a fan of Nazz, the Electric Prunes, the Remains, the Chocolate Watch Band, the Mojo Men and the Leaves.  I've loved these bands with a passion ever since.  Every song on here even the most obscure and silly ones appealed to me.  From the Magic Mushrooms to the Castaways, there is not a dud on here.  The fact that so many of these songs barely charted and were largely ignored by the oldies stations, showed me that there was another rock music, the one that wasn't on the radio and or in the chain record stores, but rather the one that existed in used record stores, college radio stations and in the collectors magazines.  This record opened up the idea of alternative music, it paved the way for the punk revolution.  In fact this record's liner notes were the first place I ever encountered the term "punk rock."  This album is a model of its kind, the perfect compilation album.  It has a point of view, it is brilliantly curated and features wonderful and humorous liner notes from Lenny Kaye that I basically memorized from reading them so often.  It taught me so much, it influenced me so deeply, I'll always cherish this record.  Even though I own just about every song on it on a CD or a vintage vinyl album, I'll never part with it.  Recommended for classic rock fans who don't know what they are missing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hark! The Village Wait - Steeleye Span

Hark!  The Village Wait
Steeleye Span
Mooncrest Crest 22

A 1974 re-issue of the original RCA release.  This was their debut album and is my favorite Steeleye Span album.  It features the unique Steeleye Span line-up of Ashley Hutchings, Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Gay Woods and Terry Woods who only stayed together long enough to make this album.  I was into British folk-rock for awhile, largely because I loved Fairport Convention so much and was trying to find something comparable to "Liege and Lief."  Of course I never did, but this came pretty close.  It basically follows the classic folk-rock pattern of adding electric guitars and a rock rhythm section to traditional songs.  Unlike later Steeleye Span albums which leaned more towards rock, this one is still pretty much a folk album, emphasizing mood, harmony and beauty.  When the Woods left after this album, the group cranked up the volume and I was never completely satisfied with the results.  For example the version of "The Blacksmith" on here is subtle and moving, whereas the remake on "Please to See The King" is loud and powerful yet also a bit irritating, the song just does not invite that kind of heaviness.  This record is full of wonderful singing arguably the best singing on any of Steeleye Span's albums.  Maddy Prior is a fine singer but at times I do find her voice kind of overbearing and harsh, almost shrill.  Gay Woods has a gentler, sweeter voice and their duet on "Fisherman's Wife" sounds heavenly.  Their voices blend superbly, they complement each other so well.  Woods' harmonies in support of Prior's lead vocals on "One Night As I Lay On My Bed" and "All Things Are Quite Silent" add warmth and depth to the songs.  Her own leads on "Lowlands of Holland" and "Dark-Eyed Sailor" are sublime.  I also like "Blackleg Miner" sung in a nasally vocal by Tim Hart which describes labor strife.  (There is also an excellent version of this song on Richard Thompson's "1000 Years of Popular Music.")  Terry Woods has a passionate vocal on the hunting song, "The Hills of Greenmore," which is one of the more powerful songs on the album.  It is a shame that this line up of the band didn't last longer.  This is an excellent album, one of the best British folk-rock albums I've ever heard.  Really only the absence of a first rate instrumental virtuoso such as Richard Thompson keeps this record from surpassing Fairport Convention's own work in this vein.  The songs are well chosen and tastefully performed, there is not a bad song on the record.  It is a consistently enjoyable and interesting album that stays with you long after it is over.  Recommended to Fairport fans who wonder what might have happened if Ashley Hutchings had stuck around and recruited a good singer to replace Sandy Denny when she left.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Out of the Bachs - The Bachs

Out Of The Bachs
The Bachs
Void 49

Perhaps the most celebrated DIY album of the 1960s, it is really good but not worth the small fortune it will cost you if you buy an original copy assuming you can actually find one.  This is a re-issue.  It is a remarkable record, astonishingly sophisticated for a high school garage band.  I suppose if you have the nerve to name your band after J. S. Bach, you are not likely to stick to "Louie, Louie" covers.  This album is unusually sensitive and eclectic, it is hard to imagine much of it being played at a high school dance or a frat party.  Every song is written by group members Blake Allison and John Peterman and they are strikingly original.  The lyrics are pretty awkward, but I prefer unusual pretentious lyrics to dumb banal ones which is typically what you get with self-penned garage band songs.  Musically this is way beyond the usual Yardbirds/Stones knock-offs of so many 60s garage bands - a very nice mix of folk rock and psych that reminds me of the first Love album.  I particularly like  "Tables of Grass Fields," "Free Fall," "My Independence Day," "I'm a Little Boy" and "Minister to a Mind Diseased," which features some truly weird lyrics that the group apparently were quite proud of since they printed them on the back cover.  The recording quality is abysmal, tinny with heavy echo, it sounds like it was recorded in a subway tunnel.  Despite this handicap, the quality of the music still shines through.  It is a shame this was their swan song, it is such a promising and interesting record.  You could do a lot worse in 1968.  Recommended for fans of the Pebbles series who wish the groups on there were a little less derivative and a little more smart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wedding Album - John and Yoko

Wedding Album
John and Yoko
Apple SMAX-3361

This originally came in an elaborate box with various posters and facsimiles of wedding stuff.  The box isn't terribly difficult to find although it is generally pretty expensive in collectible condition.  I bought the record without the box, but it only cost me $4.00 and even at that price I think I overpaid.  I've had this record more than 30 years and this was only the fourth time I ever listened to it.  It was the first John Lennon solo record I ever bought.  My crummy hometown briefly had a used record store and I saw this in the Beatles bin and bought it out of curiosity.  Of the three John and Yoko avant-garde albums, I like "Life with The Lions" best and "Two Virgins" least and this one is in the middle.  Depending on how you feel about Yoko's singing there is little on this album that resembles pop music, aside from John crooning a few bars of "Good Night" from the "White Album."  It is actually more like a performance art piece.  Side one features "John and Yoko" which consists of them reciting each other's name accompanied by some heartbeats for about 22 minutes.  It is not quite as boring as you would expect, it even made me smile a few times.  It would be decent background "music" for doing housework or some other mundane activity, it is easy to sing along with, maybe you could try saying your own name along with them.  It was presumably inspired by Stan Freberg's classic record "John and Marsha" which is the same idea only shorter and funnier.  Side two is entitled "Amsterdam" and begins with Yoko apparently improvising a song about peace.  I'm not a big fan of Yoko's crooning but this song would suck even if Sandy Denny were singing it.  That is followed by various excerpts from the couple's 1969 Bed-In in Amsterdam.  They are both funny and irritating.  Aside from Yoko and her son, I can't imagine who could possibly enjoy this album very much.  I find it more interesting than fun and not all that interesting at that.  Recommended for people who like Yoko's art more than John's music.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Greatest Hits - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

Greatest Hits
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich
Fontana SRF 67567

Arguably the worst band name of any major band in the 1960s, thankfully the music is a little better than their gimmicky name would suggest.  I like the psychedelic record cover, but unfortunately there isn't anything close to a psychedelic song on the record, it is basically bubblegum - childish and occasionally slightly naughty lyrics, cutesy vocals, big insistent beat and pronounced hooky bass lines - kind of a cross between Herman's Hermits and the Dave Clark Five.  Talk about your premature greatest hits collections, this was their debut album in the United States!  They never did have a hit here, nothing on this record cracked the American top 40, although there are 6 top 40 English singles on here.  My two favorite songs on the record are not among them though, "I'm On the Up" and the hardest rocking song on the record, "Hands Off."  These guys had a formula and basically stuck to it, aside from the sappy ballad "Here's A Heart" which is the worst song on the record, all these songs sound pretty much the same with slight variances like the Greek influence on "Bend It" or the Latin percussion on "Save Me."  If you like one of their hits you'll probably like them all.  I like them in small doses.  They are basically a singles band, over the course of an album I find their relentless cheeriness and heavy beat to be a little wearying - I have the same problem with the Dave Clark Five.  As far as bubblegum goes you could definitely do worse.  Recommended for Tommy James fans who think "Hanky Panky" is a better song than "Crimson and Clover."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Get It Together! - Various Artists

Get It Together!
Various Artists
RCA Special Products DLP2-0045

The first rock album I ever owned, it has immense sentimental value for me and was highly influential on my early record collecting.  I was a child of the 1960s but I barely remember the 1960s at all.  I have plenty of memories from then, but they might as well be from 1950s or 1970s.  I lived 20 minutes away from Haight-Ashbury in 1967 yet I never knew the Summer of Love even happened.  I had two hippie uncles but I just thought they were scary and I wouldn't go near them.  My only memories of the Beatles during their lifetime as a band was their cartoon on Saturday morning.  I didn't know about the anti-war movement until Kent State happened.  My parents and my neighborhood were as square as they come.  My Dad liked Sinatra-style crooners and mariachi music, my Mom liked classical music and light jazz like Shelly Manne and Ella Fitzgerald.  The only rock record my Dad owned was the first the Mamas and the Papas record and he got that after they had already broken up.  I associated the 1960s with kids songs like "Puff The Magic Dragon" and "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" and the Monkees.  By the time I owned my own radio, it was the 1970s.  Then in 1973 I started seeing television commercials for this record and it blew my mind.  I heard excerpts of "Get Together," "Somebody To Love," "Born To Be Wild" and "White Room" and they thrilled me.  I realized there was a lot more to music than the crap I was listening to on the local top 40 radio station.  Plus it had "Daydream Believer" on it and at the time the Monkees were completely out of print, my record store didn't even carry the old Colgems comp.  I had to have this record.  My parents had just gotten divorced and money was really tight at my house, but my mom finally agreed to shell out the $5.99 plus shipping and handling and I'll be forever grateful.  When this double record set arrived, my world had changed forever.  I listened to this over and over, mesmerized.  I suddenly hated the music on the radio, I was only interested in the music of the 1960s.  This record became my road map into what is still my favorite era of music.  After hearing their songs on this comp, I started buying albums by the Who, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, the Rascals and the Kinks.  Ultimately I ended up buying albums from every artist on here except Music Explosion and Buddy Miles.  I probably will end up with those two as well, I'm just not in any big hurry anymore.  Admittedly I ended up with a few lemons, the Zager & Evans album is pretty awful, but for the most part the original albums were worthwhile.  I doubt that I ever would have bought the John Fred album "Agnes English" were it not for his inclusion on this record and it is a real gem.  I can't really recommend a 1960s comp that claims to represent "The New Rock Music" but has nothing from the Beatles, Beach Boys, Dylan, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Zombies, Grateful Dead, Hendrix or CCR to name a few, yet features no less than 3 songs by the Guess Who as well less than essential artists like Four Jacks and a Jill, Los Bravos, and Zager and Evans.  Nonetheless I do love this record and I still play it occasionally, not just as an exercise in nostalgia, but because it is a nice mix of music.  You could do a lot worse than this as far as 1960s comps go, especially one that was sold on TV.  Recommended to people who don't know the music of the 1960s very well but stumble across this at a garage sale or a flea market.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fairport Chronicles - Fairport Convention

Fairport Chronicles
Fairport Convention
A&M SP 3530

The crummy suburban town I spent my teenage years in did not have much of a record store.  It was a typical mall-type record store, perhaps a chain one, I can't remember anymore.  It didn't stock much of a back catalog or carry anything out of the ordinary which is why I was flabbergasted when I went in there and saw this sitting in the bin.  I only knew Fairport Convention because of their entry in "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock" by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden which was basically my bible at the time.  Their description of Fairport as the English Jefferson Airplane fascinated me since I was heavily into the Airplane.  I was dying to hear them and I was thrilled to pick this up.  By a lot of standards this is kind of a crappy compilation, it ignores much of their career including their debut album, their only hit single "Si Tu Dois Partir" and nearly all of the traditional songs they covered including such crucial ones as "A Sailor's Life," "Matty Groves" and "Sir Patrick Spens."  Yet somehow it still works.  The compilers have an agenda of sorts, basically championing the original vision of the band as a contemporary folk-rock outfit, celebrating the musical content of their second and third albums ("Fairport Convention" and "Unhalfbricking") before "Liege and Lief" changed them forever.  They even throw in songs from splinter groups Fotheringay and the Bunch - all contemporary covers - that reflect this perspective as well as a song from Sandy Denny's solo album, "Sandy."  20 songs in total, only two traditional numbers and six covers.  Only one song from "Angel Delight" and 2 from "Full House."  9 songs from the second and third album though.  A greatest hits album without any hits.  Instead it is a pointed and intelligent selection of songs from a hard luck band that never got the success it deserved.  I loved it at the time and I love it still.  It flows beautifully, it feels like an organic and cohesive whole even though it jumps all over the place temporally.  All the songs are first rate.  The liner notes are extensive, smart and informative.  It is a wonderful introduction to Fairport.  I've been a fan ever since I first heard it.  Recommended to fans of the Band who wish they had been fronted by an enchanting woman singer with the most divine voice ever to grace a rock group.

The Charlatans - The Charlatans

The Charlatans
The Charlatans
Philips PHS 600-309

My post on "Live Yardbirds" got me reminiscing about my days in Berkeley and I started thinking about the one that got away.  I was in Rasputin's Records when I saw the Charlatans' one and only album.  It was about 15 bucks or something like that, nothing by today's prices but a lot for me and I didn't have it.  Nor did I have a credit card back then.  I was drawn to it because its cover was by Globe Propaganda which was responsible for two of my favorite album covers - the debut album by It's A Beautiful Day and "Happy Trails" by Quicksilver Messenger Service (I later learned that Globe was run by George Hunter, founding member of the Charlatans.)  I didn't know much about the Charlatans at the time but I knew I wanted this record, but alas when I finally got the money together and went back to get it, it was gone.  I searched for years and never saw another one.  Then the internet came along and eventually I found a copy that was not outrageously expensive and bought it.  I paid more than $15 of course, but it was worth it to stop regretting not getting it all those years ago.  My copy is far from perfect.  The cover has a little ring wear and there is some discoloration in the upper corner where I removed some tape, but the record itself is in pretty good shape.  The record is often dismissed because it only has 2 of the 5 original members (Mike Wilhelm and Richard Olsen,) but I like it quite a bit, more actually than most of the original Charlatans recordings collected on the CD "The Amazing Charlatans."  My favorite track is the radical re-working of "The Blues Ain't Nothin'" which was kind of a country blues boogie when the original band did it, but here it is all funky and rocked up and sounds a bit like the Electric Flag.  They also transform their signature song "Alabama Bound."  Unlike the more sedate and pretty versions offered on "The Amazing Charlatans," the version here is heavy and features a jam at the end that is about as close as they ever came to the stereotypical San Francisco sound.  I'm not sure which version I prefer, they all have their virtues.  The new guy, Darrell De Vore contributes two of my favorite songs on the record: "Easy When I'm Dead" which would fit in nicely on the first album by Quicksilver Messenger Service and "Time To Get Straight" which sounds surprisingly like early Jethro Tull (that's meant to be a compliment.)  The original Charlatans did a lot of old-timey stuff, particularly when Kama Sutra was grooming them to be San Francisco's answer to the Lovin' Spoonful, which I don't really care for.  This record is fortunately mostly free from that aside from "When I Go Sailin' By."  I expected bad things from their cover of "Wabash Cannonball" but it actually rocks out quite nicely in a Flamin' Groovies type manner.  "High Coin" is pure folk rock, it sounds like it was recorded in 1966.  In fact very little of this record really sounds like 1969 which to me is a good thing, I prefer the music of 1966 to 1969.  I guess the Charlatans were always a little out of step with the San Francisco scene even though they practically invented it.  Listening to this record I can't help but recall the scene in the movie "Fillmore" where Bill Graham throws Mike Wilhelm out of his office when he tries to get him to let his new band play at the Fillmore's closing week.  I imagine they would have gotten a pretty similar reaction if they tried to play this stuff at the Fillmore in 1969.  I still really like this record though and recommend it to anyone who prefers "Monterey Pop" to "Woodstock."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Live Yardbirds - The Yardbirds

Live Yardbirds
The Yardbirds
Epic E30615

I bought this record sealed for $25 in the early 1980s at my favorite record store ever, Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley.  It seems like a bargain now, it was actually a bargain then too, but for me, a starving student at the time, it was a princely sum.  I had to skip a few meals to pay for it.  It was worth it though.  The Yardbirds, or more specifically Jimmy Page, had this album withdrawn supposedly because he didn't approve of the dubbed crowd noises or more likely the attempt to cash in on the fame of Led Zeppelin.  There was no reason to be embarrassed by this album though, if anything Page ought to be embarrassed by Led Zeppelin's live album "The Song Remains the Same" which is a far worse record.  Yes the crowd noise is a little irritating, but the perfomance is awesome and the recording quality is pretty decent for a 1960s era live recording.  The group's performance of "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" is the best I've heard and they also deliver blistering takes of "Mr. You're a Better Man than I," "Heart Full of Soul," "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Drinking Muddy Water."  If you are a Yardbirds fan you are probably familiar with the extended psychedelic version of "I'm a Man" that the group developed with Page which has been featured on various archival reissues.  I admire the effort to breathe new life into the song, but I prefer the studio version the group recorded with Jeff Beck.  Nonetheless Page's fiery solo comes close to matching Beck's breath-taking solo on the original and you get to hear him play his guitar with a violin bow as well.  The group also offers up an epic version of Jake Holmes' "Dazed and Confused" (here entitled "I'm Confused") which Led Zeppelin essentially copied for the version they put out on their debut album, which might be another reason why Mr. Page has been so reluctant to allow this record to be released.  Much of this record is like a blueprint for the early Led Zeppelin sound.  Like any good live record, this performance is a little rough, a little sloppy perhaps, but full of energy and excitement.  Tracking down an affordable vinyl original may be impossible at this stage, but it has been widely bootlegged and was also issued on CD a few years back.  If you have any interest in the Yardbirds you definitely should check it out.  Recommended for people who think Led Zeppelin invented heavy metal.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sings Where It's At - Dick Campbell

Sings Where It's At
Dick Campbell
Mercury MG 21060

This record became a quasi-collectors item because of its shameless imitation of Bob Dylan from around the period of "Highway 61 Revisited."  It features some of the same musicians from the Dylan sessions including nearly the entire Paul Butterfield Blues Band and borrows a lot of Dylan's musical stylings.  The big difference is that Dylan is a genius and Campbell was a dimwit who could barely sing.  Nothing on this record comes close to the quality of even the worst Dylan songs from the period, heck nothing even comes close to the quality of "A Public Execution" by Mouse and the Traps which is the best Dylan copy I've ever heard.  Campbell's lyric writing is atrocious, it is so pretentious, sexist and self-righteous that I almost suspected it was a joke.  Could anyone be so clueless, such a cliche of a folk singer?  However judging from the earnestness of the liner notes I do believe that Campbell was the real thing, the worst folk-rocker ever.  Even Jan and Dean made better folk-rock than this.  The liner notes in which Campbell analyzes his "poems" on the record are amazing.  Most of them are addressed to his unfortunate girlfriend Sandi who is advised not to play hard to get or to try and tell him what to do.  Regarding the song "Sandi" Campbell writes: "Sandi tends to think in two dimensions instead of three.  If she was told something, then, that's what it was at face value.  No reading between the lines.  Nothing was symbolically phrased.  Example: Sandi (would say) 'the person loves me so things are o.k.'  Whereas, I might say, 'If affection filled the tranquil sea, then my ship of life would sail upon her love for me.'  Viva la defference (sic), N'cest (sic) pas?  However, through my songs and by the way I teach her to think clearly, she is 'escaping the treacherous bite' of a boring non knowledgeable existence."  Reading crap like that just makes me want to smash the record to pieces.  You can imagine the quality of the "symbolic" lyrics that flow from such a mind.  The sad thing is that if you could erase the singing, this would be a pretty decent record.  "Highway 61 Revisited" is one of my favorite albums of all time and I'm a big fan of the original Butterfield Band and Mike Bloomfield who contribute some fine playing for Campbell's "poems."  Musically this record has something to offer, it is derivative but still enjoyable.  But that singing, those words, ugh.  Even when I put it on in the background and try not to focus on the words, I'm irresistibly drawn to their awfulness.  This record isn't easy to find and it isn't worth whatever you'll have to pay for it, but I guess if you are into Dylan, you will probably be amused by it.  Recommended for people who think Dylan is a bad singer or who think his lyrics are too hard to understand - one spin of this and you'll never put down Bob again.