Sunday, August 28, 2016

September Song

For many, music is an escape. For some, it's no more or less important than weather. It exists, and they work around it. Many use it to help make dancing look less frightening. For me, and for as long as I am old, music has been oxygen. I need it to survive. It has never been background.

I can recall an afternoon a long time ago, sitting on the floor in front of my "close & play" record player, dropping the top down on "Beatles '65." That same day, my mother had some friends over and they each offered me a dollar to play along to "No Reply" on my small, three piece drum kit. I said no. "He's so cute." I was two years old, and over a half century later, I am seeing that day with great clarity. I just wanted to listen to "Beatles '65." You guys sit with your Highballs and packs of Kent cigarettes and just leave me with my records.

There hasn't been a day since that afternoon where music has not been played in my world. Even on September 11th, 2001, at least for the first few hours of the day, when people were still unsure about what was happening around them, Bob Dylan's "Love & Theft," released on that same day, was spinning in my shop, while the phone rang incessantly with calls alternating between, "Did you hear about the second plane?" and "Did the new Bob Dylan come in?"

I have another memory from a few years earlier, of being asked by a customer what I thought of the new Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach collaboration. I admit gushing a bit, and as I explained how one song's lyrics really got to me, I started to choke up. He raised his hand and said, "Okay. Relax." I wanted to shove the CD into his smug mug. I cannot and won't ever apologize for being moved by words and music.

Many will cite "Annie Hall" as their favorite Woody Allen film. Mine is "Radio Days." The era is different, but the sentiment, and on many occasions, the locations, are exactly the same. The idea is simple. Music is a part of Woody's life, and countless songs trigger specific memories. I'll come back to this.

We are heading into the last quarter of what has certainly been, for me, the worst year I've experienced. It's not about health. Or about money. I have the former...I think.  I don't have the latter...I know. But 2016 feels like a colossal thorn in everyone's side. People very close to me are either suffering with their own personal demons, or turning their demons on each other, and in a few cases, me. 2016 seems to be the year of no accountability. A year of "Fuck you, I don't care." A year, where right and wrong are no longer considerations. A year, where anything goes, even if it's going in the absolute worst places imaginable. A year, where hostility rules, truth is a rarity, selfishness is viral, and compromise is non-existent.

2016 has been mean.

But 2016, for me personally, is the first year in memory where I have gone days without listening to music. Imagine that. 2016 has handed me a king's spread of various disappointments that has made music a catalyst for misery. And like the aforementioned "Radio Days," songs that once triggered the best memories, have recently, triggered the worst. David Bowie, the once joyous sounds of New Orleans, Prince, Bruce's "The River," the guitar solo in "Comfortably Numb," Daltrey's scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again," even music that I played on, all leave me with a sinking feeling. I find myself listening to things like "Bitches Brew" or Cecil Taylor, music without words, with no real connection to anything personal. Music has become what I said it would never be. Background.

I have no doubt this malady will cure itself. Man can only go so long without playing air guitar to "Pinball Wizard."I am just so amazed by it all, I needed to put it down for history's sake.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Songs Of The Week, 2016: 8/20-8/26

Sub-Rosa Subway- Klaatu
You Showed Me- The Turtles
Abandoned Luncheonette- Hall & Oates
(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)- The Hotrats
Kingdom Come- Tom Verlaine
Lost My Drivin' Wheel- Tom Rush
23A, Swan Hill- Ian Hunter


Friday, August 26, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Best "Not Really Records" Of All Time

Having exhausted any possibility of new and interesting commentary on classic records like "Pet Sounds," "Blonde On Blonde" and "The White Album," I thought I'd offer this.

The Beach Boys' 1969 release, "20/20" would have been the perfect follow-up to the beloved "Pet Sounds." Even though it is a Frankenstein creation of singles and leftovers, it feels a hell of a lot more cohesive than "Smiley Smile" or "Wild Honey," has fewer weak spots than either of those records, and even has a few songs stronger than some of the weaker tracks on "Pet Sounds." For me, "20/20" is all about how it plays and at the risk of opening up that can of worms again, it plays with fewer speed bumps than "Pet Sounds," that is of course, if like me, you think tracks like "That's Not Me," "Pet Sounds" and "Sloop John B" are indeed, speed bumps.

Another record that comes to mind is The Who's "Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy." This is a collection of singles, yet it is so absolutely perfect, it plays better than the majority of The Who's catalogue. You might be thinking, "Well, don't all Greatest Hits" records play perfectly? It's all hits!" The answer is NO.  Two artists that immediately come to mind are Elton John and Cheap Trick, artists I love, with hits I do not. E.J.'s Greatest Hits might still be on the charts after 40 years, but you still have to suffer through "Daniel" "Honky Cat" and "Crocodile Rock." As for Cheap Trick, I think their hits set came in the CD age, so they may need to be disqualified, but still, "The Flame" anyone? "Can't Stop Falling Into Love?"

I am a stickler for sequencing. I think anyone who has ever made a mixtape feels the same way. While "20/20" has never been considered anything but the 20th Beach Boys record, it doesn't change the fact that the band did not go into the studio with the intention of creating it. Yet, it plays like they did. It plays really well. And with The Who's "Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy," having tracks like "I Can't Explain," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," "Substitute," and "Pictures Of Lily" all in one place, (as opposed to filler like "Cobwebs & Strange,""Whiskey Man" and "The Ox," mucking up the playback of their first two records), makes that record as good as "Who's Next."

(As you may have read on these pages, I think "The Who Sell Out" is their best record and one of my top three records of all time. I am well aware of the filler of that record. I just don't care.)

So, dear friends, can we come up with other officially released albums that, while not proper releases, stand out as better records?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Songs Of The Week, 2016: 8/6-8/19

Going Places- Paul Weller
The Way It Will Be- Gillian Welch
Everything- Squeeze
I Turn Around- Elvis Costello
I Know What Boys Like- The Waitresses
Dead Or Alive- John Cale
Raise Your Hand- Eddie Floyd
I Take What I Want- James & Bobby Purify
The Jean Genie- David Bowie
Sleepless Nights- The Everly Brothers
It Might As Well Be You- Del Amitri
The Passenger- Siouxsie & The Banshees
Forever Now- The Psychedelic Furs
I Never Glid Before- Gong


Friday, August 19, 2016

Weekend Mix: All Hail The King

I frequently comment, "Nothing after Exile on Main St", or "Nothing after Who's Next", or "Nothing after Wish You Were Here", so it shouldn't be suprising I've always maintained "Nothing after the Army" in regards to Elvis.
And that was being generous, because I really meant "Practically nothing after SUN".

Upon his return from the Army there was a decade of terrible movies with soundtracks full of indifferently recorded shlock like "Do The Clam", "Harum Scarum", and "Spinout".
Then there was the brief moment of the "'68 Comeback", which showed he could still do it, if he wanted to.
And then it was just "Fat Elvis", whose stage show seemed as bloated as he'd become.

Here is a review by Bob Claypool for the Houston Post in late 1976:

"Elvis Presley has been breaking hearts for more than 20 years now, and, Saturday afternoon in the Summit----in a completely new  and unexpected way----he broke mine. The show was awful, a depressingly inchoherent amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn't act like the King of anything, least of all Rock n Roll."

I can think of no other major artist whose catalog has been so ineptly, and hapahazardly managed.
Endlessly repackaged beyond recognition, it's really hard to get a handle on.
As far as I knew, all you really needed was "The Sun Sessions" and "Elvis Gold Records Vol 1".
I bought all four discs of "The Complete '50's Masters", even though most of the essentials are on the first two. I didn't think to bother with the '60's or '70's.

In the mid '90's, I read Peter Guralnick's awesome two volume biography, "Last Train To Memphis", and "Careless Love". I began to appreciate "Supiscious Minds" and "Burning Love", and became curious about the later sessions, as his new producer, Felton Jarvis heroically tried to salvage what was left of the King's career.

On August 6th, with a sense of obligation and morbid curiosity I downloaded "Way Down In The Jungle Room", a new collection of his very last sessions, in 1976.

I remember reading in "Careless Love", just how hard it had become to get Elvis into the studio.
He was whacked out on pills and knew he wasn't really up for it.
An improvised studio was set up in Graceland. Elvis kept the musicians waiting for days before coming downstairs.

I just re-read the chapter, and it's amazing anything was accomplished.

I didn't bother listening to any of it until Monday night. "Way Down", the opener, knocked me right out. In fact, nothing sucked. I got the idea for the Weekend mix. I pulled other songs from sessions after the '68 Comeback.

On Tuesday (August 16), out of curiosity, I looked up his death only to find it was that very day 39 years ago.
Sal posted something about Gungadin and his Bongos. I didn't see any mention on FaceBook, even though most of my friends are musicians. Elvis had truly left the building.

He didn't overdub. All the performances were recorded "live". And it's worth hearing if only for James Burton's guitar.

Two of my all-time favorite albums are Gram Parson's "GP", and "Grievous Angel". On them he used the core of Elvis band: James, Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen D. Hardin (keyboads), and Emory Gordy(bass).
Elvis' "Never Been To Spain" was recorded at MSG, on June 10, 1972. In September the guys were working for Gram, in his quest for "Cosmic American Music".

I think He and Elvis represent the Yin and Yang of the same whole. I hear a killer band with two very different singers covering a lot of the same ground. I couldn't say which was the darker half.

I included a "live" track from MSG in homage to the fake "live" medley of "Cash On The Barrellhead/Hickory Wind" on "Grievous Angel".

Clearly Gram was influenced by Elvis, who I wish had taken a crack at "Ooh Las Vegas", and can only imagine what he would have done with "$1,000 Wedding". The last song here, "If That Isn't Love", reminds me of "Hickory Wind".

I doubt Elvis really knew who Gram was, although I can imagine him asking James, "How'd it go with that hippie boy?", to which James might have replied something like, "It was okay, but he's no King of Rock N Roll". He's said he didn't think much of it at the time, but to his surprise, no interviewer since doesn't ask about working with Gram.

In this collection, I avoided familiar hits, and the cluttered bombast of his live shows in order to hear how good "Fat Elvis" really was. I wanted it to sound like a killer double album. What you'd put on right after "GP/Grievous Angel", in order to extend the vibe.

His voice is always there and the band's killing it.

It's noticeable that his studio patter in the early '70's, as evidenced by "If I Were You", was ebullient, while there's an ugly cranky-ness at the core of the jokester on the last sessions. He was the original redneck opioid addict after all.

I think he still "had it" as a singer until the very end. He was a bonafide musician. He had both rhythm and pitch. Check out his piano accompaniment on "After Loving You" (1969). Rock solid.

He was the greatest and most sadly squandered talent I can think of. Except for maybe Gram Parsons.


All Hail the King

All Hail Too

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Stupid Rare Single Of The Day

I've been listening to the ridiculously rare Skip Bifferty LP, a 1967, almost-never-released, freak beat gem on RCA.  Some snooping on the internet will treat you to the full album, as well as some rare singles, including "Man In Black," the tune above, which has Steve Marriott credited as arranger and Ronnie Lane as producer. And though Don Arden managed Skip Bifferty, there is some speculation over whether the two Small Faces actually took part in this recording, as the relationship between Arden and Skip Bifferty had already gone sour at the time of release. I don't care. I love the record and it sounds like something Marriott and Lane might have had a hand in.

For those keeping score, both Mickey Gallagher and John Turnbull of Skip Bifferty ended up in, among other bands, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, while Turnbull has been Karl Wallinger's right hand man in World Party for years. If you don't know the Skip Bifferty record, it's time to give it a spin. You don't need the $400 original MONO release on vinyl. YouTube will do, or even a cheap CD.