Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shape of Things to Come - Max Frost & The Troopers

Shape of Things To Come
Max Frost & The Troopers
Tower ST 5147

Is this the best album by a fictional band?   Maybe if one doesn't count the Monkees and I don't.  The Rutles come kind of close perhaps but they are a joke basically, as is Spinal Tap.  It sure beats the Partridge Family and the Archies.  This record is an offshoot of the 1968 film "Wild in the Streets" where the main character Max Frost has a band called the Troopers.  The songs "Shape of Things To Come" and "Fifty Two Per Cent" both come from the film's soundtrack where they are attributed to a group called the 13th Power (although an early credit sheet for the film lists the group as Paul Wieler (sic) and the 13th Power.)   The 13th Power had previously been known as Mom's Boys and under that name had contributed a nice song to the soundtrack of "Riot on Sunset Strip" called "Children of the Night."  The singer of the 13th Power was Paul Wibier who would go on to record the cult classic "Satan" - the theme from the film "Satan's Sadists."  Wibier also wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on this album.  The 13th Power apparently sacrificed their identity (or perhaps had it taken from them by Mike Curb) to cash in on the success of "Wild In the Streets."  Assuming they are actually playing on this record (instead of some session men) there is evidence here that Mom's Boys/13th Power was a better than average garage band - not particularly original but fun.  When I say they are not original, I don't just mean derivative - the guitar solo in "Lonely Man" is lifted from the Yardbirds' "I Can't Make Your Way," "Shine It On" sounds a lot like "Western Union" by the Five Americans, "Captain Hassel" borrows from Junior Walker's "Shotgun."  Despite this, all the songs are pretty engaging, whoever is playing really cooks.  Nothing comes close to "Shape of Things To Come" in terms of quality, I guess the next best track would be "Fifty Two Per Cent" which is about how that percentage of the American population is under age 25 in 1968 and the power they can exert.  I also like "Shine It On" and "Let Your Mind Run Free."  Most of the songs have a youth power theme, which reflects the film in which youth take power and run amok.  The songs have a more positive view of youth than the film of course.  The lyrics have a lot of 1960's hippie cliches that I find pretty amusing, although less sympathetic listeners might consider them stupid.  I had not seen the film "Wild in the Streets," when I first encountered this group and the song "Shape of Things to Come" on Rhino's expanded version of "Nuggets" where it was one of my favorite tracks.  It later got picked up by Target for a commercial which must have been pretty amazing to any surviving members of the 13th Power I imagine.  I hope they got paid for it.  Unfortunately they didn't get any songwriting royalties because the song and "Fifty Two Per Cent" were both written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, my favorite of the Brill Building songwriters.  Unless you are a garage aficionado, all you really need from here is "Shape of Things To Come" which you can get from "Nuggets" but if you should stumble across a copy it is well worth checking out although it is fairly short and if you pay a lot you might feel ripped off.  I didn't pay a lot so I'm pretty happy with it.  Recommended for Paul Revere and the Raiders fans who wish Mark Lindsay had wanted to run for president.

Instant Party - The Everly Brothers

Instant Party
The Everly Brothers
Warner Bros.  W1430

The Everlys' fourth album for Warner Bros. - the first two were really good, the third was not so good.  This one is like the third, "Both Sides of an Evening" - it is another concept album, relies heavily on pop standards and showtunes, and is disappointing.  The concept this time is that this is a party record (a lot less fun than a Beach Boys party unfortunately) and it alternates slow tracks with faster tracks presumably for variety in dancing.  Most kids nowadays would want a lot higher b.p.m. then they are going to get from the Everlys for their dances.  There are also a bunch of recipes and party games that the brothers supposedly endorse on the back cover.  I doubt the modern kids would care much for those either.  That really was a different world.  I love the Everlys and would listen to them sing just about anything, but I'd rather it was rock, folk or country.  If I have to hear "Autumn Leaves," "Bye, Bye Blackbird" or "Oh My Papa" they do them as well as anyone I suppose, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather hear "Cathy's Clown" or "Lucille."  The only memorable song on this record is "Step It Up and Go" which they apparently learned from their father, Ike.  It is a lively rocker with a country flavor that suits them well.  Papa Everly is also responsible for the only other notable songs on the record, "Ground Hawg" and "Long Lost John."  The rest is pleasant but forgettable.  I'm happy I have this record and I play it sometimes, but unless you are a big fan you probably can skip it.  As for being a party record, well maybe in a rest home.  Recommended for party people with delicate dispositions.

The Composer of Desafinado, Plays - Antonio Carlos Jobim

The Composer of Desafinado, Plays
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Verve  V-8547

I pulled this out thinking I might get rid of it and decided to give it one final spin.  I like the Stan Getz bossa nova albums which rely heavily on Jobim's compositions but I figured that without Getz's sax or Astrud Gilberto's breathy vocals, this instrumental album was kind of useless.  Jobim plays piano on it and he's not exactly Bill Evans.  He mostly plays a single note style that seems kind of basic, even amateurish.  As I listened I was unimpressed at first, the heavy use of strings reminded me of muzak.  But as I listened longer I started to relax, the sound was so soothing and mellow.  It made me feel good.  As a result I've been playing it a lot lately.  It works great as background music but you can listen to it too.  Jobim's piano work has a rightness to it, it fits.  It seems simple but then it carries you away.  The rhythm section swings and I've even come to like the strings.  Jobim is a world class composer, this album is loaded with classic songs: "The Girl From Ipanema," "Insensatez," "Corcovado," "One Note Samba" and "Desafinado."  To hear them flowing out one after another in nice tasteful arrangements is a real pleasure.  It transports me back to another time and place.  I'm not old enough to remember when the bossa nova was popular but I have to admit that this record makes me want to suit up, pour myself a martini and take a slow turn around the room with a lady in a cocktail dress and too much make-up.  Recommended for lounge lizards who are tired of their Martin Denny and Les Baxter records.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chronic Town - R.E.M.

Chronic Town
I.R.S. SP 70502

Discovering college radio was a big deal for me.  Even in the relatively hip San Francisco Bay Area, the commercial radio stations were not playing a lot of New Wave music.  You'd hear an occasional track by the Clash or Blondie, but you'd have to hear a bunch of songs by the likes of the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers too.  College radio stations not only played cutting edge New Wave stuff but well-curated oldies as well, you'd hear the 13th Floor Elevators or the Chocolate Watchband just as much as the Damned or the Ramones on some stations.  I heard a lot of new music this way, that hasn't changed - I still mostly listen to college radio stations even though I'm long out of college.  It was through a college radio station that I discovered R.E.M., my favorite 1980s band.  I heard "Wolves, Lower" and it floored me.  It sounded like the perfect song, the jangly guitar, the relentless hooks, the evocative yet mysterious vocals, the driving beat.  I loved it, but I missed who the artist was.  I heard it again a few weeks later and again I missed who it was or maybe I just didn't understand the name - what kind of band names themselves R.E.M.?  The song stuck with me and I would look through new records looking for a song called "I'm Sailing Over" which is how I misheard "House in order" from the song's chorus.  A few months later I heard "Radio Free Europe" which blew me away and this time I heard that the artist was R.E.M..  I bought "Murmur" the next time I went to the record store and loved it.  I kept buying the I.R.S. albums as they came out but ignored the funny EP with the gargoyle on the cover because I didn't buy EPs or singles, I just wanted full length albums.  Finally I broke down and bought it when I saw a used copy.  I put it on the turntable and was flabbergasted to hear that great song I never forgot about.  "Wolves, Lower" thrilled me then and it thrills me now.  I still consider it my favorite R.E.M. song.  Spinning the rest of the EP I realized that I had heard "Gardening at Night" and "1,000,000" before on the radio as well.  After that I lost my prejudice about EPs.  The early R.E.M. were often criticized for their inscrutable or incomprehensible lyrics not to mention Michael Stipe's disinterest in enunciation, but I considered that a virtue.  Among the five tracks on this record, there is not a single song that I really know the meaning of, heck there isn't even one I can understand without a lyric sheet.  There are no love songs, there are no obvious statements of any sort.  I just pick up stray sentences and phrases, all of which I find striking and compelling.  As befits the band's name, I view the end result as dreamlike and poetic.  There are thousands of pop albums full of silly love songs, it is nice to have one that is different.  Just looking at the titles of the early R.E.M. songs is more like looking at a filmography for an experimental filmmaker than a discography.  How many other records before 1982 would have titles like "Wolves, Lower" or "Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)."  I can only imagine what your typical AOR radio station programmer of that era would say if someone asked him to start playing a song called "Gardening at Night."  I greatly admire Stipe's unusual vision and use of language.  I play this record all the time and I never get tired of it.  All five songs are terrific.  I consider R.E.M.'s period of time at I.R.S. records to represent one of the most significant bodies of work in the history of American rock and this is an essential part of it.  It is the sound that launched countless other college rock bands - the chiming guitars, obscure lyrics, moaned vocals, straight ahead rhythms, and lack of solos and other rock star posturing - they basically invented a whole school of alternative rock.  Recommended for Byrds fans who dig surrealism.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Talking Heads: 77 - The Talking Heads

Talking Heads: 77
The Talking Heads
Sire 6036

It was the New Wave that got me interested in modern music again after several years of obsessing over the 1960s.  I didn't go for it right away.  I heard the Ramones and thought they were silly (I've since changed my mind fortunately) and I thought the Sex Pistols were incompetent hucksters (changed my mind there too.)  I was always lukewarm about punk, I was alienated by that scene for the most part.  I liked the Clash, Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads, they were smart and had something to say.  The Heads especially appealed to me - they looked like me and my friends and seemed more like college kids than rock stars.  When I saw them on "Saturday Night Live" in 1979 performing "Take Me To The River," I became instantly smitten with them.  I went out and bought this, their debut album, and Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces" which were my first foray into the New Wave.  This album amazed me.  It was probably the most avant-garde record I had ever heard, not musically but lyrically and conceptually.  My taste was pretty mainstream, I had yet to hear the Velvet Underground or Roxy Music or the weirder side of David Bowie.  I loved David Byrne's geeky persona and his seemingly normal yet off-kilter statements, I pored over the lyric sheet marveling at his inventiveness.  "The Book I Read" was a song that seemed to come right out of my own head as if I'd written it myself (I wish.)  I wasn't used to pop songs speaking so directly to my own feelings and experiences.  Unlike most rock stars of the 1970s, I could relate to David Byrne.  He had so many interesting observations and wrote about mundane topics in a fascinating way.  What classic rock act could have come up with a song like "Don't Worry About the Government" in which Byrne sings an ode to the building he lives in and praises civil servants?  That song astonished and delighted me when I first heard it.  Though I can no longer hear it without thinking parody, "Psycho Killer" at the time impressed me greatly with its deranged point of view.  "No Compassion" has some really funny lyrics - "they say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time" is one of my favorite lines.  It also features some fun tempo changes like many of the songs on the record.  I also particularly like the manic "Pulled Up," and the funky "Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town."  I really dig Tina Weymouth's bass playing, I'm a sucker for a catchy bass hook and she whomps them out with the best of them.  Most of the songs by the early Heads are driven by her.  This album is so propulsive and compelling, it never quits.  Smarts, goofiness, hooks and a big beat - that almost guarantees a record that will spend a lot of time on my turntable as this one has for 30 years.  It is still where I go when I feel like hearing the Heads.  Recommended for energetic nerds and twitchy art students.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spaceship Earth - Sugarloaf

Spaceship Earth
Liberty LST-11010

The second album by Sugarloaf - I've listened to it a bunch of times and I'm still not sure if I like it, which probably means I don't.  It is kind of interesting though.  At times the group comes on like a straight ahead rock band akin to Crow or Steppenwolf, other times they sound more pop like the Raiders or the Guess Who and other times they go prog-rock with keyboardist Jerry Corbetta sounding like he's auditioning for Argent.  The new guy, Robert Yeazel, dominates the album writing or co-writing all but one of the songs on the record.  He's the hippie dude in the groovy macrame shirt on the right side of the front cover and his songs sound like the sort of songs a guy in a groovy macrame shirt would write.  Given the album title I expected an ecology theme, but actually it is more a living in the city sucks we have got to back to nature theme or as they say in "I Don't Need You Baby" - "I'm gonna do what is needed, keep my mind good and weeded" which suggests that some of nature's appeal might be illicit as well but they also dig fresh air, the sun and the trees.  Actually like most rock albums, the songs are more about love than the environment which is just as well I think.  Only one song, "Mother Nature's Wine," sounds anything like their most famous song "Green-Eyed Lady" (from their first album) and it is the only song Robert Yeazel did not write.  With it's tempo changes and big hooky bass line, it sounds like they are consciously attempting a "Green-Eyed Lady" retread but it is not nearly as memorable.  Musically I do like the eclecticism of the group's sound and the boys can really play.  They are cooking on the prog-rock instrumental, "Spaceship Earth," that opens the album and there is some nice soloing on the rocking "Tongue in Cheek" which also has a bit of prog-rock flavor.  I'm not a fan of prog-rock, but if there has to be such a thing, let it be like this - it is very dynamic and never reminds me of Mussorgsky.  Overall I prefer their first album although this album is more consistently engaging.  If you have a taste for early 1970s rock you may like this album.  Recommended for Yes fans who wish they weren't such pretentious wimps.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears - The Mamas and the Papas

If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
The Mamas and the Papas
Dunhill  D50006

When I started this blog, I thought I would just blog about whatever I was randomly listening to, but I find myself increasingly selecting records on the basis of whether I want to blog about them or not.  Sometimes I pick a record and realize I don't have anything to say about it and put it back.  Other times I pick a record that I don't particularly want to listen to, but which I want to write about, like this one.  I don't play it very much but I have a long history with it.  I discovered it through my Dad.  My Dad was not a rock and roll guy, his taste ran more Streisand/Sinatra and mariachi music when I was a kid.  For some reason though he got this album a few years after it came out.  He played it all the time for awhile, it seemed like every Saturday morning I would wake up to him blasting it on the stereo.  It was the first real rock album I ever heard and I loved it.  My sisters and I used to stare at the cover and speculate about the people squished into the bathtub.  They made hippies seem attractive and glamorous at least until I encountered my two uncles who had become hippies and then I decided they were kind of ugly and scary.  This record and in particular "California Dreamin'" took on a special poignancy for me when my parents divorced and I was exiled to cold, snowy Salt Lake City.  When I returned to California to live with my Dad, he no longer played this record and neither did I.  It reminded me of the happier days of my childhood and I didn't want to be reminded of what I had lost.  After I left home I came across this in the record store and decided to buy it and see if it was as good as I remembered.  Not really, but I do like it.  It is a well-produced mix of folk-rock and sunshine pop, a bit dated but still fun.  John Phillips' lyrics are not very original, but he is good with language and even when the words seem trite I find them engaging.  Everyone knows the two hits "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday" and very little on this record can match them aside from "Straight Shooter," "Somebody Groovy" and "Go Where You Wanna Go" all of which probably should have been hits.  "Got A Feelin'" is a nice slower tempo song with pretty instrumental backing and their trademark beautiful vocal harmonies.  They approach most of their covers by slowing them down as well.  They come up with interesting and sophisticated arrangements but I prefer the faster tempos originals of "You Baby" (Turtles), "I Call Your Name" (Beatles) "Spanish Harlem" (Ben E. King) and "Do You Wanna Dance" (Bobby Freeman/Beach Boys.)  The slow versions do allow for more elaborate vocalizing but generally, propulsion means more to me than harmonies when it comes to silly love songs, otherwise I'd be listening to the Lettermen or the Sandpipers.  Nonetheless this is a consistently enjoyable record that sounds wonderful.  It is not very substantial but it is very tasty, kind of like a cake that is mostly frosting.  Recommended for anyone who ever wanted to be a hippie but didn't want to get dirty. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bert Sommer - Bert Sommer

Bert Sommer
Bert Sommer
Buddah BDS 5082

I first encountered Bert Sommer via his brief association with my beloved Left Banke.  He was just a name to me until I saw him perform "Jennifer" at Woodstock in "Woodstock Diaries."  I was really impressed and jumped on this album when I came across it.  It was his third album.  Normally the hideous cover art would have had me continue flipping through the bin, it looks like some god-awful hippie bullshit but it is fortunately much better than that (although there is some hippie bullshit as well.)  This is no lost masterpiece but it is worth checking out.  I particularly like "Magic Elixir" which Sommer co-wrote with Michael Brown and which definitely benefits from Brown's inimitable pop songcraft.  It is the hardest rocking song on the record and features some fun lyrics.  I also like the anti-Vietnam War song "The People Will Come Together" which sounds a bit like the Guess Who on a good day and contains some nice guitar playing.  "Love is Winning" makes me feel good whenever I hear it, it has a compelling melody and endearing lyrics.  "Me and the Sunshine" is another nice feel-good song that has a bit of a sunshine pop feel to it.  ''Back On The Bag" is a nicely understated anti-drug song.   There are a few head-scratchers as well like Sommer's cover of the Rascals' "People Got To Be Free" which is one of the most forceful and soulful songs in the Rascals' canon and yet in Sommer's hands it sounds like Melanie.  His cover of "The Battle of New Orleans" baffles me.  I guess it is a joke, but it seems pointless and contrary to the vibe of the rest of the record although it does chug along more swingingly than the original.  To my immense surprise, the Rodgers and Hammerstein song "Carefully Taught" works great, you'd almost think it was written by a pair of hippies.  The album's themes are basically peace, love and brotherhood, so I suppose if you are cynical, nihilistic or just a serious minded realist, this is probably not the album for you.  If like me, you have a soft spot for hippies and youthful idealism, you will probably enjoy this.  It is a charming relic of that era that is good-natured, intelligent and sincere.  Recommended for fans of Donovan and Melanie as well as wannabe flower children everywhere.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thirty-Three & 1/3 - George Harrison

Thirty-Three & 1/3
George Harrison
Dark Horse  DH 3005

If you have read any of my previous entries you probably have figured out that I'm kind of a Beatles fan.  I'm not much of a George fan though.  I've largely ignored his solo work.  There are those who believe that the Beatles held Harrison back, but I think they were in fact the ideal venue for his limited talents.  He's really only good for two or three decent songs an album anyway and sandwiching his dour ditties among John and Paul songs makes them sound better than they would sound surrounded by more dour ditties, like on the solo albums.  Same with his work in the Traveling Wilburys.  The man is a natural supporting player.  I basically wrote Harrison off after I wasted my allowance money on "Living In the Material World" which I hated.  A couple of years later, I saw Harrison on "Saturday Night Live" and saw the Monty Pythonesque videos for "This Song" and "Crackerbox Palace" which I found very amusing and engaging.  I decided to give him one more chance and I bought this album.  It didn't convince me that I was wrong about Harrison but I had no regrets about having it either.  True to form there are only two memorable songs on the record, the aforementioned "This Song" and "Crackerbox Palace."  As a master of whiny self-pity, Harrison's "This Song" is characteristic of his oeuvre as he sarcastically responds to his plagiarism problems, but at least it is humorous like "Taxman."  Harrison once made his living as a lead guitarist but the song is driven by keyboards and the sax solo blows his own pedestrian solo away.  As a teen I thought "Crackerbox Palace" was some kind of religious allegory, but I later found out that the Lord in this case was actually Lord Buckley.  I liked it better after that.  Harrison's lyrics as a solo artist have always been a problem for me.  In "Woman Don't Cry for Me" he deserts his woman to follow his god which sums up his career pretty nicely.  Judging from "Beautiful Girl" his paramour is probably better off without him since part of his ode to beauty features him praising the girl as "not the kind you go handing around" - yikes, that's almost worthy of Mick Jagger.  There is lots of religion on this record which does not sit so well with me, but it is not as preachy as some of his earlier records.  At least this time around he is thanking his god for Smokey Robinson (something I can actually agree with) rather than for making him smarter and more clear-minded than the rest of us (there is still some of that on the record though.)  My other problem with Harrison is his lack of singing ability.  You need only hear his woeful cover of Cole Porter's "True Love" to realize that he should stick to guitar playing.  I find his weak whiny voice tolerable in small doses but over an entire album it is pretty wearying.  On the plus side Harrison comes up with more sprightly tunes than is typical with him and some of his best guitar playing since "All Things Must Pass."  If I don't pay attention to the words, I enjoy much of this record.  Recommended for pop-minded Hare Krishnas and undiscriminating Beatles fans.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators - The 13th Floor Elevators

The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators
The 13th Floor Elevators
WEA 56596

Is this the greatest psychedelic record ever?  I say yes.  I can only imagine the wonder a straight kid would have experienced encountering the eye on that extraordinary cover in 1966.  Perhaps he heard "You're Gonna Miss Me" on the radio and wandered into the record store leafing through the T's, the Temptations, Them, the Turtles, the Tokens and then this record that must have seemed like it came from outer space.  The eye in the pyramid, the crazy liner notes and that mesmerizing cover.  Maybe he was bold enough to take a chance on it, to buy it and bring it home, sneaking it past his parents, and then giving it a spin only to hear music like he had never heard before.  Roky's screaming vocals, the howling guitars, driving drums, relentless throbbing bass and that weird bubbling sound produced by the electric jug all swathed in a heavy layer of reverb that threatened to destroy his puny phonograph speakers.  And then the lyrics, the wild ramblings of a drug crazed madman, no not Roky, but the inimitable Tommy Hall, the kid has never heard such weird stuff.  If any record could have blown your mind this is the one.  This is such a great record.  I've heard "You're Gonna Miss Me" hundreds of times beginning with the original "Nuggets" comp where it was the best song on the record.  Even today when I hear the opening guitar chords followed by the full band and the electric jug and finally Roky wailing away, my heart starts pumping faster and I start shaking like I'm having a seizure.  That is truly a classic song.  I think people will still be digging it a hundred years from now.  The rest of the record is not far behind.  "Roller Coaster," "Splash 1," "Reverberation" and "Fire Engine" are all great songs.  Stacy Sutherland's underrated guitar work is tremendously exciting and when these guys are firing on all cylinders there is not a better band in the world.  Even the electric jug adds to the kinetic roar on the faster songs, although I find it a little irritating on the slow ones.  Maybe these guys only deserve co-credit for inventing psychedelic rock (along with John Lennon and the Yardbirds) but I'm pretty sure they invented the San Francisco sound even if they were from Texas.  I've heard plenty of bootleg and archival recordings of the early San Francisco bands and they can't hold a candle to this.  I'm positive that Roky taught Janis Joplin to sing, you can't listen to Big Brother and the Holding Company and not hear his influence.  I don't have an original International Artists pressing, mine is the 1978 Radarscope Records re-issue put out by WEA in Greece of all places.  You could find all sorts of oddball imports in Berkeley when I was there.  As you probably know original copies of this are highly collectible and highly expensive.  They aren't all that hard to find if you are willing to pay the price.  I've seen empty album covers of this sell for about 4 times what I paid for my re-issue.  I'm content with my lowly re-issue.  If you don't already own this in some form, buy it, buy it now.  This is an essential record that is just as awesome and compelling today as it was in 1966.  Recommended for anyone who wants to take a trip without taking a drug.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Yellow Submarine - The Beatles

Yellow Submarine
The Beatles
Apple  SW 153

I bought this while living in Alameda in the mid-1970s.  I don't remember why I picked it exactly, but I do remember liking the artwork and also not realizing that side two was not by the Beatles.  I saw the trippy song titles and figured they were more psychedelic wonders - boy was I wrong.  I was so disappointed when I played it.  I consider this the worst Beatles record, not really because of the music but because it is such an obvious ripoff.  The soundtrack albums for "A Hard Day's Night" on United Artists or the Capitol version of "Help!" are not much better but at least the Beatles had nothing to do with them.  This is an Apple product, fully sanctioned by the Beatles.  The two best songs, "Yellow Submarine" and "All You Need is Love" had already been released on other albums and the 4 outtakes they dug up to flesh out side one are far from essential additions to the Beatles catalog.  The only one I care much for is "Hey Bulldog" and despite Paul McCartney's fabulous bass playing on the song, it is definitely minor.  The "Sgt. Pepper" outtake "Only a Northern Song" shows potential but is buried in murky production and annoying sound effects.  Paul's "All Together Now" is so idiotic it makes "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" sound like Leonard Cohen in comparison.  Harrison's whiny "It's All Too Much" is a slight tune expanded with excessive instrumentation and tedious repetition.  George Martin's soundtrack music is conveniently on side two so you can ignore it if you choose, unlike the soundtrack albums for "Help" or "A Hard Day's Night."  I'm not a soundtrack music fan but even I can see that this is not particularly distinguished music.  I kind of like "Sea of Time" which goes from toying with "Within You, Without You" to a corny waltz which is quite a trip.  Otherwise side two is just a waste of time for me and I play it about as much as I play "Two Virgins" which is just about never.  Just for the record I don't really like the movie a whole lot either - I hate the Beatles impersonators' voices and I think the story is dumb although the imagery is wonderful.  Recommended for Beatles completists who don't mind getting mugged by the Fab Four.

You've Got To Hide Your Love Away - The Silkie

You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
The Silkie
Fontana  MGF 27548

Another souvenir from my trip to Boulder.  It has more ringwear than I normally deem acceptable, but the vinyl was pristine, it was cheap and I really wanted to hear it so I went ahead and bought it.  I was not disappointed.  Folk-pop is a guilty pleasure for me.  I know it is phony and commercial but I still enjoy it.  I'm a fan of the Seekers and this sounds quite a bit like them.  The main reason I bought this album was because three of the Beatles worked on the title track - only Ringo was missing, George provided the percussion.  It does not differ significantly from the Beatles version aside from the multi-part harmonies added on this record.  I really like Sylvia Tatler's voice, she sounds like the young Marianne Faithfull only more muted.  Her vocal on "[Bob] Dylan's Dream" really sends me.  This album is loaded with Dylan covers - eight of them in fact and they include most of his most famous early compositions.  I would like this record better if they had chosen more obscure covers, by 1965 who really wanted to hear another version of "Blowin' in the Wind"?  The Silkie add little to the Dylan originals aside from the groups' pretty vocals and more elaborate vocal arrangements.  If you like Peter, Paul and Mary's Dylan covers you will probably like these too.  "Close The Door Gently" is one of my favorite songs on the record, but it has no songwriting credit.  I find it hard to believe that it is a traditional song.  Whoever wrote it, it is one of the better break-up songs I've ever heard.  The group provides two original songs to the album which are essentially generic folk songs.  Even though they are derivative, they are pleasant to listen to and at least I haven't heard them a hundred times like the Dylan covers.  Recommended for people who like Bob Dylan's songs but hate his voice.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pointed Accounts of People You Know - Game Theory

Pointed Accounts of People You Know
Game Theory
Rational Records  ONA-004

I picked this up in a terrific record store in Boulder a couple of years ago.  I am embarrassed to admit that I was not aware of Game Theory when they were still an active band back in the 1980s.  I don't know how I missed them.  It is true that I was still obsessed with the 1960s back then, but I followed the New Wave and I was a fan of the "Paisley Underground" with which this band is sometimes associated.  When I finally did pick up on them, I fell hard.  They are one of my favorite 1980s bands.  A lot of the stuff that I liked back then disappoints me now - the ubiquitous synthesizers, the drum machines, that big 80s sound just seems ugly to me and a lot of that music feels superficial, unoriginal and derivative.  Game Theory though holds up pretty well.  Side one of this mini-album is classic Game Theory - clever and unusual lyrics sung in Scott Miller's high almost sugary voice backed by 60s inspired power pop loaded with hooks.  Miller's style is so distinctive, you know it instantly whenever you hear it whether it is Game Theory or the Loud Family.  The guy is a master of his idiom right up there with Robyn Hitchcock, Alex Chilton, Michael Quercio and Nick Lowe.  As far as I know he has never made a bad record or even a mediocre one.  Side two varies from the formula somewhat.  Two of the songs are by the band's original bassist, Fred Juhos and sound nothing like Miller's work.  "I Wanna Get Hit By a Car" sounds like a New Wave novelty song, it resembles a blend of the B-52s and Oingo Boingo.  I hated it the first time I heard it but it grew on me and now I kind of like it although I'm not all that happy with Juhos' vocal.  It is followed by Miller's contribution to the New Wave, "Life In July" with a cheesy 80s synthesizer sound, big drums, a bouncy beat and a vocal by keyboard player Nancy Becker.  It is a catchy song but I'd like it better without all the New Wave cliches.  The album finishes with Juhos' "37th Day" which is another departure from the classic Game Theory sound, it is a jangle pop ballad that evokes early Jefferson Airplane or Love without being explicitly retro.  I like it a lot but I'd like it better if someone else was singing it.  If you are a power pop fan, this record is well worth seeking out.  Recommended for Big Star fans looking for solace after Alex Chilton's premature departure from this earth.

Fuzz, Flaykes, & Shakes Vol 1: 60 Miles High - Various Artists

Fuzz, Flaykes, & Shakes Vol 1: 60 Miles High
Various Artists
Bacchus Archives  BA1140

I like 60s garage band comps.  I'm not obsessive about them but I pick them up when I see an interesting one or a bargain.  This series however I actually went after aggressively because of its reputation for quality.  After the Rhino "Nuggets" series it is my favorite series of comps.  It is amazing to me that despite there being so many of these types of comps out there, that people are still digging up so many quality tracks from obscure bands.  I guess it is a testament to the richness of the era that even unknown bands on obscure labels could still produce so much good music.  I had only heard of three of these bands, prior to buying this record - the Magic Mushrooms, the Palace Guard and the Stained Glass.  The Mushrooms' track, the folk-rockish "Let The Rain Be Me," does not sound anything like their cut on "Nuggets", the crazed "It's-A-Happening", I would have thought it was a different group entirely.  My favorite cut is the Band of Wynand's "Day-time, Nite-time" which takes a jangle pop base and adds psychedelic guitar and organ with impressive results.  The Gregorians' (what a great name) "Dialated Eyes" [sic] has the most extraordinary lyrics you are ever likely to hear from a garage band backed with a very compelling and sophisticated melody.  I really like the Search's "Climate" with its interesting tempo changes and its hypnotic organ work.  Soul Inc.'s "60 Miles High" is the most overtly psychedelic song on the record with lots of effects and trippy lyrics, a really nice cut.  The prize for trippy lyrics probably goes to the Society's "High & Mighty" which is full of psychedelic cliches and a nice driving beat.  This is really a worthwhile album, 18 uniformly good songs and excellent liner notes, these guys really know their stuff.  Also the sound quality is excellent, which anyone who listens to a lot of these garage band anthologies knows is pretty unusual.  Recommended for garageheads who are tired of the bad sound and mediocrities in the "Pebbles" comps.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fairport Convention - Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention
Fairport Convention
A&M  SP 4185

I bought this in Berkeley around 1980 and instantly fell in love with it.  This was the second Fairport Convention album which was entitled "What We Did On Our Holidays" in England with an entirely different cover.  I normally don't approve of record companies mucking about with album art, but I have to confess that I really like this cover.  It is my favorite picture of the group and I had it on display in my room for many years.  I am particularly moved by the happy countenance of Martin Lamble in the picture, in less than a year he would be killed in the van crash that nearly put an end to the band.  Aside from the altered artwork, the album is the same as its British counterpart.  It is a classic album, a folk-rock landmark and one of the best albums of its era.  This is my favorite Fairport line-up with new addition Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews handling vocals.  Matthews would be pushed out of the group during the sessions for the next record, which I suppose made sense but I miss his contribution to the group.  I thought his vocal interplay with Denny worked really well particularly on the lovely "Book Song."  This is one of the most graceful and charming pop records I have ever heard, it is full of wonderful singing and exquisite instrumental passages, particularly Richard Thompson's inspired guitar work.  Ever since I first heard it, I have considered the haunting "She Moves Through the Fair" to be the most beautiful pop song in existence.  Denny's vocal on that song makes me quiver every time I hear it.  Denny's own "Fotheringay" is also astonishingly atmospheric and moving and features some wonderful acoustic guitar interplay.  Anyone who has ever heard the early Fairport's BBC recordings knows what a great cover band they were and this record is no exception with memorable covers of Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" and Joni Mitchell's "Eastern Rain.  Richard Thompson asserts himself as an unusually talented songwriter with "Book Song," "No Man's Land," "Tale in a Hard Time," and the classic "Meet on the Ledge."  It is hard to believe that Thompson was only about 20 years old when he wrote "Meet on the Ledge," it is such a mature and wise song.  I can't hear it without thinking about Lamble and Denny.  I find it moving and uplifting every time I listen to it.  Even at this early stage in his career Thompson displays his gift for language and a distinctive point of view in all of his songs.  There is also a rare foray into the blues with Ashley Hutchings' "Mr. Lacey" which has its charms but also makes me glad that they stuck to folk-rock.  The odd mechanical noises in the instrumental break were created by robots made and operated by the titular character who was once a neighbor of Hutchings.  This is such a great album, I don't think you will ever find a more intelligent and beautiful pop record.  It is so unfortunate that the core line-up of Fairport was so short-lived, they were so talented and had so much potential, at their peak with this album and "Unhalfbricking" they were among the best rock bands in the world.  I'd pick this record over "Abbey Road," "Let It Bleed," "Led Zeppelin," "Tommy" or just about any other album from 1969 any day of the week.  Recommended for anyone who seeks beauty and sincere emotion in pop music.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Grateful Dead - The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead
Warner Bros. WS 1689

Most Deadheads dismiss their debut album, but of all their studio albums, it is the one I listen to the most.  I understand the arguments against it as being unrepresentative of their true sound but I still really enjoy it.  There are no bad songs on it and several are among the best the group ever did.  This was the first Grateful Dead record that I got, I bought it in Berkeley in the late 1970s.  I came to the Dead fairly late despite living in the San Francisco Bay Area where they were widely revered.  Maybe that's part of the reason I resisted them so long.  I was a fan of the San Francisco sound, I loved the defunct Jefferson Airplane, (although I despised the Starship), Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service, even It's A Beautiful Day, but because the Dead were still a big act and the abundance of Deadheads in the Bay Area, I think I rejected them just to be contrary.  Actually I still don't really like many of their records from that era (mid-1970s) all that much, I mostly like the stuff from the earlier Warner Bros. era, particularly the 1960s stuff.  The songs I heard on the radio like, "Casey Jones" and "Truckin'" didn't do much to convince me I was missing anything.  However when I heard their rocking performance of "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" on KPFA, I was really impressed and sought out this record to hear it again.  This album finally made me a convert.  It is very much a song oriented record, there is only one extended jam on "Viola Lee Blues" which features some incendiary guitar runs from Jerry Garcia. There is some of the trippy folk-rock that characterized the early San Francisco sound like the excellent cover of Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew" and my favorite song on the record, "Cold Rain and Snow" as well as the blues-rock that was also well-represented in the repetoire of the San Francisco bands.  Some of my other favorites on this album are the hard rocking "Cream Puff War" and the cover of Jesse Fuller's "Beat It On Down the Line."  The music is a lot more kinetic and fast-paced than is typical for the Dead, which I consider an improvement.  With the exception of "Moby Grape," I think this as good or better than any of the debut albums of any of the first generation San Francisco bands.  I've heard a few concerts from the 1966-1967 era Grateful Dead so I know that their live sound was different, but I don't really care.  This record sounds good enough to me and you don't have to get high to really appreciate it either.  Recommended for Deadheads with short attention spans.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gunfight at Carnegie Hall - Phil Ochs

Gunfight At Carnegie Hall
Phil Ochs
A&M  SP 9010

In anticipation of the new Phil Ochs documentary that opens today, I thought I'd revisit the album of his that is most special to me.  I'm not sure how much I really want to see that new doc, he had such a sad and tragic life, but I'm a big fan of his work so I'll see it at some point.  This album is special to me, but it is far from his best record.  I treasure it because it was so hard to get (released only in Canada) and because it is so revealing of where Ochs was at in 1970 as his commercial music career was basically ending.  It is a fascinating document, I wish I could have seen one of these shows.  The background behind this show was the catastrophic effect that the assassinations of 1968 and the protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago had on Ochs' psyche.  In his between song patter he mentions having died in Chicago which is also reflected in the cover for his earlier album "Rehearsals for Retirement."  He apparently came to the conclusion that in order to achieve positive social change, he'd have to give up being a folk singer and embrace becoming a popular artist.  As he puts it on the record, the revolution needed in America would only come about if Elvis Presley would become Che Guevara or something like that.  Not unlike Dylan before him, Ochs returned to his rock and roll roots which takes the form of lengthy medleys of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley songs.  I have no problem with that, I love that music a lot more than I do Pete Seeger or Joan Baez, but unfortunately Ochs isn't nearly as good a singer as Presley or Holly so the medleys are not all that great although the band behind him definitely is cooking as they used to say.  He also offers a rocked up version of the Nat King Cole standard "Mona Lisa" and a seemingly straight and perhaps even sincere cover of "Okee from Muskogee" that I find a bit baffling.  His own songs sound very nice thanks to the band behind him, I particularly like the piano on "Pleasures of the Harbor" and the guitar on "Tape From California."  Overall this is a very entertaining record.  Despite being on the brink of a mental abyss, Ochs seems surprisingly earnest and cheerful, he works hard to win over the crowd.  Anyone with any political sympathy for Ochs' position ought to be moved by his passion and dedication.  I've had a lot of affection for him ever since I first heard a record by him, which unfortunately was long after his suicide.  I don't have a lot of use for singing journalists (as Dylan once belittled him) or preachy folk singers, but Ochs good humor and sincerity has always won me over.  I like all of his albums, but this one especially touches me.  I hope someday someone will put out a legitimate release of the entire concert (this is less than half.)  40 years later he still has something to say.  Recommended for left-wing Elvis fans.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Story of the Who - The Who

The Story of the Who
The Who
Polydor 2683 069

This was the first Who album I ever bought.  When I got into record collecting, I thought of the Who as a 1970s hard rock band.  At the time they were one of the biggest bands in the world.  I only knew them from "Baba O'Riley" which I had on my "Get It Together" comp.  I liked that song a lot but I was into the 1960s and not knowing much about rock history aside from what I heard on the radio, I didn't really think of them as a 1960s band.  I was listening to oldies stations by then, but they were not playing the Who.  Then one evening I was riding in the car with my Dad passing through Sacramento on our way home from a long road trip and I heard the opening to "I Can See For Miles."  I was half asleep but I instantly woke up, the thunderclaps of Keith Moon's drums and the stinging licks of Pete Townshend's guitar got my heart pounding.  It was such an exciting song, it had the exact sound that I was looking for.  When it was over, I could not wait to hear it again.  I knew what I would be looking for next time I went to the record store.  I found it on this album and bought it, but I have no idea why I bought this pricey import rather than "Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy" except that I probably didn't realize that the latter was also a compilation album.  I also didn't realize that there was a rather large problem with this double record set, namely you cannot tell the story of the Who without including "I Can't Explain," "The Kids are Alright," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" or the original version of "My Generation" (this record substitutes an abridged version of the one from "Live at Leeds.")  In fact there is nothing from the "My Generation" album at all.  I can only assume that some licensing issue or copyright dispute prevented this, but still the absence of this music makes this record pointless.  Instead you get such marginal stuff as "Run, Run, Run" and their useless cover of "Heat Wave", a bunch of stuff from "Who's Next" and an album side devoted to "Tommy" that features more marginal stuff like "Fiddle About" and "Tommy's Holiday Camp" which were presumably included to give some songwriting revenues to John Entwistle and Keith Moon.  Yet there is nothing from "Quadrophenia" because according to the liner notes, the band felt it was inappropriate to isolate individual cuts from the whole of the album.  Nonsense, "5:15" or "Love, Reign O'er Me" could just as easily stand by themselves as any of the stuff from "Tommy" and they were actually released as singles.  In their place we get some cuts from "The Who By Numbers" which is a pretty dubious exchange.  It doesn't even bother to include the hit single "Join Together" which at least would have made it a little useful.  On the plus side it does have a short booklet outlining the history of the band with some funny pictures.  I like the cover art too.  Basically though this record is a failure.  My copy doesn't even sound all that good.  I've had all sorts of bad luck with Polydor imports from the 1970s, they must have had the worst pressing plant in the U. K. judging from the surface noise I've heard on their records.  In short I'm not sure who I could possibly recommend this to.  There are so many Who comps out there, I'm sure any of them would be better than this.  I guess if you hate Mods and their music but are still interested in the Who for some reason, I would recommend this comp to you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles

Magical Mystery Tour
The Beatles
Apple SMAL 2835

Yes another Beatles album.  This was the fifth album I ever bought and my third Beatles album.  This is not my original copy.  I gave that to my sister when it got worn.  For awhile I figured I didn't really need it, but in the 1980s I bought the copy I currently have mostly out of nostalgia, but also as a silly collector thing of wanting to have every Beatles album.  I bought my original copy in Salt Lake City.  I distinctly recall looking through the Beatles bin at the record store and choosing this solely on the basis of its back cover design which seemed quite psychedelic to me although I'd probably never even heard of the term back then.  It had so many of the songs that I loved on "1967 - 1970" that I figured it had to be good.  In retrospect it was kind of a bad choice, because aside from "Baby You're A Rich Man" every good song on here is already on "1967 - 1970."  The album contains a booklet with the story and pictures from the film which I found fascinating.  I was dying to see the film, but in that pre-video era I had to wait a long time before I finally was able to see it.  When I did see it, I couldn't understand why people hated it so.  I thought and still think that it is wonderful - charming, surreal, humorous and very creative.  It is a heck of a lot better than "Yellow Submarine" and at least as good as "Help!"  It deserved a better fate.  The record is pretty wonderful too.  Side two of this record is my second favorite Beatles album side after side one of "1967 - 1970."  It features the three Beatles singles from this period.  "Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane" is arguably the greatest single of all time.  "All You Need Is Love" is the quintessential hippie song.  "Hello Goodbye" is proof positive that Paul McCartney is a pop genius.  The song is so silly and inane, yet is so full of hooks and charming vocal harmonies that even though I've heard it a gazillion times, I still find myself perking up every time I hear it on the radio.  I can never resist singing along.  "Baby You're A Rich Man" demonstrates that the Beatles' B-sides are better than other people's A-sides.  I love the speeded up trumpets and Paul's melodic bass line.  Side one features the songs from the movie which unfortunately aren't as good.  "Your Mother Should Know" works a lot better in the movie (where it is featured in the big production number) than it does on vinyl.  On the record it sounds even cornier sandwiched between the whiny drone of Harrison's creepy "Blue Jay Way" and the surreal smorgasbord of "I Am The Walrus."  "I Am The Walrus" is easily the best song to come out of the film and is one of the best songs the Beatles did in this period.  I used to think that "Blue Jay Way" was full of deep symbolism about Harrison's friends lost in a mystical fog of materialism and hedonism in Los Angeles and then I learned that his friends were really just lost in the Hollywood Hills trying to find his house.  I felt dumb about that, but it doesn't make the song any less heavy.  The song makes an effective soundtrack in the film for some of its wildest footage.  "The Fool on the Hill" works great in the film as well but I've never been a big fan of the song itself despite Paul's passionate vocal.  "Flying" is an enjoyable instrumental and "Magical Mystery Tour" is exuberant and exhilarating, a classic piece of pop psychedelia.  Overall this is a very worthwhile album, nicely packaged and featuring lots of classic songs.  Recommended for people who don't already own "1967 - 1970" or who need an album-sized photograph of John Lennon shoveling a giant plate of spaghetti.