Sunday, July 24, 2011
Blow-Up - Original Soundtrack
I've been reading about this new music service, Spotify, which basically gives subscribers access to a giant library of music, allegedly making CDs and records obsolete (unless you are a Beatles fan - they aren't on it yet.) I doubt that I will ever be a subscriber, I have enough music in my own collection to last the rest of my life and besides I'm too into records to ever accept any substitute. But if I were my son's age, I'd probably think it was a great idea, you could hear anything you want and it takes up no space, what's not to like? Maybe music shouldn't be something you collect, it should just be something you experience when you feel like it. I've always enjoyed the hunt, the effort it took to learn about music and to acquire it. To me that is part of the music experience, leafing through the bins, examining album artwork and liner notes, reading record reviews, listening to favorite radio stations. It seems dull to just type in a name and get the music, or worse to let someone curate my listening experience with their own playlists. My record collection is the product of my tastes and interests and it required effort from me to acquire it and represents an abundance of experiences. The nice thing about records as opposed to MP3s is that they have histories. When I look at this record it brings back all kinds of memories. I bought it in 1979. I had a summer job in San Francisco and it was my first chance to spend a lot of time in the City since infancy. Often I would skip lunch and explore downtown. Back then before the invasion of chain stores, there were lots of odd shops downtown - book stores, boutiques and even a few used record stores. Once when I was in the Theater District of the City around Geary Street I happened upon a basement record shop. As I leafed through the bins I realized all the records were soundtracks or original cast albums and all the patrons were middle-aged men. Not my scene at all. Before I beat it on out of there, I stumbled across this album, still sealed and not too expensive. I jumped on it. You might think I just wanted it for the Yardbirds' song, "Stroll On" and you'd be partially right. Actually though, my main interest in it was that I was a giant Michelangelo Antonioni fan. It was admittedly a weird passion for a teenager. I came across a book about him when I was 16 and I was fascinated by the descriptions of his films. I saw "L'Avventura" on TV and "Zabriskie Point" with "Blow-Up" at my local revival theater and I was blown away. As a pretentious teen I ate up his depictions of ennui and alienation. He was my favorite filmmaker until I discovered Jean-Luc Godard in college. Whenever I glance at the record all those memories come back to me. You just can't get that with a download. I don't normally like soundtrack records, but this is essentially a Herbie Hancock record with a bonus Yardbirds track. Hancock's music doesn't sound much like his jazz records and even less like the music he was doing with Miles Davis, much of it really isn't jazz at all, more like rhythm and blues. You can dance to the funky "Bring Down the Birds," "Main Title" and "The Thief" which are basically organ-driven rock with brief jazz interludes. "Verushka (Part One)" is a blues that reminds me of Booker T and the MGs. "Verushka (Part Two)" is also a blues but it is more conventionally jazzy in its sound. "Jane's Theme" and "The Kiss" sound like cocktail lounge jazz not that there is anything wrong with that. "The Bed" reminds me of Vince Guaraldi, I can almost imagine it in a "Peanuts" cartoon. "The Naked Camera" sounds most like progressive jazz and it is my favorite of the Hancock compositions. There are some compelling solos building off a hypnotic bass riff. I like "Curiousity" and "Thomas Studies Photos" as well although they are quite brief. For me though the best musical track on here is the Yardbirds' "Stroll On." It is essentially "The Train Kept-A-Rollin'" (which the group had recorded before) with new lyrics. I regard "Stroll On" as the greatest hard rock song the Yardbirds ever did, maybe even the best hard rock song of all time. With Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck trading licks there is a ton of guitar firepower unleashed over a relentless driving beat. It is fairly easy to get nowadays, but back when I bought this record, this album was the only way to get it and it was more than worth the trouble. I've played this record quite a bit over the years but I have to admit from a musical standpoint it is really minor, little more than a footnote in Hancock's distinguished career. Recommended for Jimmy Smith fans and Yardbirds completists.