30
Jun
20

Glen Campbell “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

I was not a fan of Glen Campbell as a kid, as he was all over the radio, and I’m sure I first heard the song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” every morning on the kitchen AM radio while I choked down my Crunch Berries and dreaded the day ahead. So this great song, by one of my favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb, had a real hill to climb. Grade school, 8 a.m., Crunch Berries, over-played county song. Now, of course, I love the early morning, am nostalgic for grade school and the kitchen radio, and somewhere along the line I became a fan of country music and Glen Campbell. Can’t eat the Berries. I suppose the first time I realized this was a great song was when I heard Nick Cave do it—a super over-the-top version. (There’s a song on this record called “Bad Seed”—I wonder if that influenced his band name?) Not long after that, I heard another fine version by The Mad Lads, on this huge Stax collection I had. And then I heard Isaac Hayes’ amazing 19 minute version, which might be my favorite at this point—but you know, I want to hear them all (there’s like a million).

I’m not crazy about this album, but it’s okay—some of is a bit country on the corny side for my taste. “Hey Little One” is a nice song, as is “My Baby’s Gone.” I can do without the Paul Simon. If you can’t find this record in a thrift store, you aren’t looking. I like the over, Glen with his guitar case on a bench in a bus station (on his way to Phoenix). In the picture on the back, he looks more ready for lunch than sad, as intended. But he’s got a wristwatch with one of those bands that are wider than the watch face—remember those? You might have to be 50 or older to remember that style, but that reminds me that I did have such a watch band—they kind of seem absurd now, but cool, as well. Of course, this was before watch faces got as big as dinner plates. I wonder if I could find one of those, though… Just shopped for 15 seconds—Etsy, $53. Okay! (Next time I see a dude around town with one, I’m gonna stop and talk.)

22
May
20

Albert Hammond “It Never Rains in Southern California”

The first two songs really remind me of some old Cat Stevens songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s just that I haven’t been able to listen to a few of those songs since they were playing all the time at at job I had in 1982. No fault of either of these guys. The third song reminds me of a Mott the Hoople song, at least the beginning of it—so I like that better—and the line: “California tastes so good/like coffee should/I can’t put it down” speaks to me. The next one is a corny folk-rock song that I find a little annoying. The last song then, starts out: “Anyone here in the audience/with a pad that I can crash in?” It’s a begging song!—from the perspective of the “poor musician.” First verse asking for shelter, second for food, and third for love—though it’s hard to be sure if that means “love” or merely sex. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume he’s asking for a place crash, something to eat, maybe some booze or drugs, hot sex, and true love. I mean, if you’re putting it in a song, why not? If you get half of that, it was worth it.

On the other side, then, is the hit, the title song. So, this is another song that brings back eating cereal at the breakfast table before school, this would be Junior High or so. I had no idea Albert Hammond is who was responsible for another of these 1973, Ohio, AM radio, 7:30 a.m. flashbacks. Plus, I never had any idea what it means: “It never rains in Southern California… but it pours.” Offhand, I’d say it means it’s always sunny, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a broken heart—but I’m not even sure, because there’s a part about not getting enough to eat, again. Then there’s a song called “Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels” which is about exactly that. Then “Down by the River,” which is not the Neil Young song from a few years earlier. This one is jaunty (sounds kind of like Tommy Roe) but I suppose that’s ironic because the lyrics are actually pretty grim—it’s an environmentalist song, and doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The next song is kind of beautiful, but lyrically grim, again—I’m not sure if it’s about a relationship, or general problems with being a person, or maybe trying to cover both at the same time. The last song is quiet and melancholy, nice—it sounds a bit like a Beatles song that slipped out the back door. Overall, I feel like this is an impressive work, even as dated as some of it is, and there’s some fine musicians playing, and I like that I could spend more time trying to figure where he’s coming from on some of the songs, but for whatever reason, I find some of it unbearable. I’m sure this is someone’s favorite record of all time, and I don’t mean to say you’re wrong—it’s just that it’s simultaneously too weird and not weird enough for me, if that makes any sense.

I knew nothing about Albert Hammond, so I thought this record would fill in a bit of that missing part of my past—and it does a good job of that. It’s got one of those covers that annoyingly opens sideways, so that you can tack it vertically to your wall—just in case you want a tall, black and white photo if this good-looking, kind of hairy, guy with his shirt open, a small medallion, and leather pants that just keep going. So the internet tells me he’s from England and this was like his first record, hadn’t had a big hit at the time they recorded it, so some of these laments about being a hungry musician very well might be literal (and if you want to take it metaphorically—about love—aren’t we all). He’s only in his seventies now, and still out there playing, sounds like, at press time. He recorded a lot of records, wrote a lot of songs, and I’m sure has fans all over the world. I’m glad I could finally shine some light on this missing piece of the big puzzle. What you’ll find, I think, is generally—if you keep looking—is that you (meaning all of us) don’t know half of about 99.9% of the world. Old records are out there, and they’re for you.

09
May
20

Richard Harris “A Tramp Shining”

Even though “MacArthur Park” is Richard Harris’ most well-known song, I’ve heard this album less than his other ones, for some reason. I guess this was his first solo album. I’m not sure how he and Jimmy Webb got together—I’m sure Jimmy Webb’s version is in his memoir, which I’d like to read sometime. It’s no surprise that all of these songs are really catchy, quite romantic, and a little corny. I mean corny in the best way—or at least in the way I like. I know this kind of somewhat overblown, baroque, romantic, pop song is a bit much for some people, but you’ve just got to let it wash over you. If you allow it to, this music can really fill some missing part of whatever might be missing, for you. I don’t know who I’m talking to, here—any fans of this stuff know what I’m talking about—though I’m guessing almost everyone I know resists it. There are little “interludes” between a lot of the songs, which is a nice touch. Pretty much all of the songs, maybe all, have some heavy-duty string arrangements, and there are also some first rate LA studio musicians playing. I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Webb’s songwriting—so that’s primarily where it’s at, for me. And then, it’s Richard Harris’ singing—his super-dramatic style, that pretty much takes it over the top, and then some.

Like the rest of the Richard Harris records, I’m going to include this as a regular listening one—and I’m sure in time I’ll develop some favorites among some of these songs, though they’re all good. Right now, I’ll say, “If You Must Leave My Life” is right up there. “MacArthur Park,” though, really is a masterpiece. There are two types of people in the world, those who think it’s a masterpiece, and those who can’t stand that song (and while I respect your opinion, I wildly disagree). If you haven’t heard it in awhile, your memory of it might be that it’s like 20 minutes long, but at just over seven minutes, it’s incredibly economical, in that there are four distinct parts to. It really is kind of amazing. I guess one thing that does bother people is that they have no idea what the crucial part of the lyric means: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” The confusion here always baffled me. Are you familiar with the the phrase, “I love you?” Now there a is real mystery, but you don’t hear people whining, “what’s that mean.” “Someone left the cake out in the rain” means: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” Well, plus more. Like with “I love you”— how there’s something behind that, which means much, much more—the same is true with the lyrics of this song. What’s with people needing to have everything spelled out of them, anyway? It’s not something you reinterpret with clunky explanations—it’s something you feel.

03
May
20

Martin Denny “Exotica”

I’ve had a lot of Martin Denny records over the years—I must have left some behind when I moved, here and there—they’re relatively easy to find, cheap—kind of your classic thrift-store record that is worth picking up, even if scratchy. They must have sold a lot of them. This one is the first “Exotica” genre record, apparently—from which Exotica got its name. It’s a good name for anything. It would be a good name for a soap review website: Soap Exotica. Oh, wait, that exists (it’s mine). It would be a good name for a restaurant, say Egg Exotica, or Exotica Taco. Martin Denny kept putting out several records a year all through the Sixties and beyond—I don’t know how many in all. I suppose there are some real connoisseurs of this music who might have their favorites, might have them all ranked, even! Those kind of nuts walk among us! I will, at some point, try to find some good writing about Martin Denny, and Exotica in general, and see if there is a consensus “best” record. I believe I have a few more, right now, but I’m not sure. As a fun exercise, I’m going to try to imagine I’m hearing this (and this type of music) for the first time. First, there’s the novelty of the birds, the sound effects, the jungle sounds. Depending on who you are, that might get old, say, anywhere from one listening to never. Then, I guess, somewhat, it reminds me of stuff I’d hear as a kid, like the Latin rhythm George Shearing records that my parents played. I can’t remember if they had any Martin Denny, or Arthur Lyman records, but I don’t think so. Anyway, I could listen to this stuff all day long, when I’m in the mood for it, but who can predict one’s moods? I would probably be a much bigger fan, overall, if my apartment was decorated to look like a Tiki Bar (something I could do), and if I was mixing up an occasional rum drink with tropical fruit (something I’d be better off not getting back into, at this point).

26
Apr
20

Rolling Stones “Let It Bleed”

I’ve got this beat up, old copy of this record, cover falling apart, scratchy, and I’ve heard every song at least one too many times, and my stereo is messed up, cutting out, channels not playing equally—but I’ve been listening to only digital music lately, from my computer (doesn’t help that I have crappy computer speakers) so when I put this on, despite the rough shape of everything, it felt like I was hearing music for the first time. Also, you forget how kind of low-key, relaxed, a little sloppy this era of Rolling Stones were, and also, just something in the recording, and mix, lately—it just sounds so warm and organic and present. It still sounds a dangerous to me. I so much wish I could go in a time machine right now to the week this record came out. At one time the song, “Let It Bleed” was my favorite song. I know it’s ridiculous to have a favorite—but why not. What is your favorite song? If you had to pick one. Leave your comments below. It’s not my favorite now, because I’ve heard it one too many times, but I have to say, it’s got to have my favorite drum sound of any recording I’ve ever heard—not so much the splashy cymbals later on, but just the drums toward the beginning of the song—very subtle, or maybe not so subtle—but hard to explain it—just the feeling, it’s like just total bad-ass-ness, or bad-attitude or just the essence of bad (when bad meant cool, fucked up, excellent, unreachable). If you ever want an illustration of why Charlie Watts was as important to the Rolling Stones as Mick and Keith, the drums on this song—that explains it.

The cover I have looks like it’s been in thrift store for 100 years—I don’t know if when this came out it had a sleeve with credits, or what, but this cover has like no information other than the band name, title, record company, and songs (in the wrong order). So maybe you had to wait until you read about it somewhere to know the cover art is a sculpture by Robert Brownjohn. I always loved this album cover, even if I never thought about it too much (kind of took it for granted, I guess). It’s funny how the back cover is the same thing, but partially eaten/destroyed. I guess it always struck me as a little disturbing, just because it kind of makes no sense—why is it floating in space? What’s the record sitting on? The weird thing though, is that I just went several decades without actually looking at it, and now I just noticed for the first time that there’s a pizza there! You might not notice the pizza on the front, but on back, there’s a slice with a bite taken out of it. I also never noticed the nails in the tire on back. I guess I forgot there was a clock there, too, and a big, metal film can, closed with red tape, on which is written: “Stones – Let It Bleed” (which kind of makes the band name and title a bit overkill). I wonder if there were discussions. Also odd: the five members of the band at that time (which still included Brian Jones, though this was the end of the line for him) are depicted as little wedding cake figures, stuck in the frosting, and on back, they have all been knocked over except for the one that’s Keith Richards. I wonder if there were discussions about that. I’m sure it didn’t mean anything.

18
Apr
20

Dave Dudley “Dave Dudley Sings: ‘Listen Betty, I’m Singing Your Song’”

Dave Dudley specialized in country and western truck driving songs—I had another album by him, at one time, seemed to have lost it. This one’s got funny liner notes by Tom T. Hall, as well as a couple of songs by him (including, “Listen Betty…”). Half the songs are by Dave Dudley, and overall there’s a nice mix of drinking songs, sad songs, and driving songs. My favorite is “For the Good Times”—it’s a sad, romantic one by Kris Kristofferson—that guy’s a good songwriter. Though I do like some of the honky-tonk, truck-drivin’ numbers, as well. The album cover is one of the better ones I’ve ever seen, period—it’s just a nostalgic photo of the inside of a diner with a waitress in the foreground picking up dirty plates, Dave Dudley at the counter trying to get her attention, and a jukebox in the background. Dudley’s got a yellow mug of coffee in front of him. We see the waitress in profile, but her expression looks a lot more like, “Give it a rest, buddy,” than “Oh! You’ve got songs on the jukebox!” Though, in this photo, Dudley is presumably acting the part of truck driver. That waitress, though, she looks like a real waitress, and those dishes look like real dirty dishes, and that counter looks like a real diner counter. She’s holding a cleaning rag in her left hand. I wonder if anyone can name another album cover in history with a picture of a woman holding a cleaning rag?

10
Apr
20

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis” (1978)

I’m not sure how many “Best of Skeeter Davis” records there are out there—I’m not even going to try to figure it out—some are re-releases of previous ones. If you see one in your price range, buy it—you can’t go wrong—it’s Skeeter Davis. This one from 1978 is on the cheapie Pickwick label, has a 98 cent cover—no picture of SD anywhere on the record! There are only nine songs on the record, which means the total playing time is around a half hour. The songs don’t have anything to do with each other, and the sound quality isn’t even consistent. For all those drawbacks, this is still a great record—in part because Skeeter Davis didn’t do anything but make great music. As far as I’m concerned she could have covered breaking glass and it’d be great. Anyway, this record has its share of cornball old-time love songs, like “Love Takes a Lot of My Time,” and one of those with a lot of speaking parts, “Set Him Free.” There’s a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” which is song I’ve always found beautiful, even though I’ve heard it more times than my stomach growling—and even though there’s an out-of-control fiddler threatening to set a shit-fire, Skeeter Davis’ voice extinguishes it and saves us all. There are more pop songs, too, a King/Goffin, and John D. Loudermilk’s “Sunglasses,” which is dumb, but no more dumb than the beach, which is where I wish I was right now.

04
Apr
20

Lani Hall “Sun Down Lady”

This may be one of the strangest album cover photos I’ve ever seen—it’s simply a color profile photo of (presumably) Lani Hall, blown up to billboard size—so large that the full-size album cover can only contain the area between her eyebrow and bottom lip. On top of that, it’s pretty color-saturated. Had she a zit on her right cheek, you’d have had to name the record “Mount Vesuvius.” But she looks nice—not many of us could stand up to such enlargement scrutiny. I wonder what she thought about the cover? Anyway, once I saw it, in the used record store, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it. I had no idea who Lani Hall was—I didn’t remember that she sang with Brazil ’66—and I didn’t know that she was married to Herb Alpert—maybe still is—or that she sang a James Bond theme song. This record, from 1972, is her first solo record—and she recorded a bunch more.

I like this one a lot, actually, and it’s going in my regular listening pile (I actually have an old end table with a thing that holds either magazines or record albums—that’s where I put my regular listening stack.) Herb Alpert is the producer, and naturally there’s some first-rate session players on it, and a pretty interesting collection of songs, including “Tiny Dancer” and another by Elton John, “Come Down In Time”—this is a really nice version of it. There’s also songs by Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Paul Williams, and more. One Lani Hall composition—a pretty intense love song. The Lesley Duncan song, “Love Song” is a standout, probably my favorite on the record. “Sun Down” is a very familiar sounding song (it’s written by Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”)—could this song have been playing on the AM radio in the morning while I ate my Cap’n Crunch before another horrific day of 7th Grade? I like it, now, though—it pretty much puts me on a beach, looking out over the Pacific as the light fades, with a beautiful woman and a rum drink. You know, pretty much my life.

28
Mar
20

Matt Dennis “Welcome Matt”

I kind of expected the worst from this record, pop music corny-ness, and it is pretty friendly, but also, it kind of strikes me as odd, how it’s recorded—Matt Dennis’ smooth, crystal clear voice is recorded so loud relative to the orchestra—he sounds more like he’s in the room here with me than if he was in the room here with me. Maybe that’s how pop vocalists were recorded in 1959, and I’ve just listened to so much Sinatra everything else sounds kind of crude in comparison. I’m not sure, though, as I don’t listen to a lot of comparable stuff. Maybe this reminds me a little of someone like Mel Tormé? Anyway, good songs, some standards like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “Cheek to Cheek,” and there’s a particularly nice song called “Home” that I’m not sure I’ve heard by anyone else. Then there’s “Welcome Mat” by the man himself—it’s a little goofy. The version of “My Blue Heaven” sounds really weird to me—like he’s flattening the end of each line—maybe that’s a style. Maybe that’s how the song was written. I don’t know know—I wish I knew more—I’ve got more questions than answers about this one. But I like it. My favorite, though, is “A Cup of Coffee a Sandwich and You”—a song I’ve never heard before, and probably for good reason—it’s insane. I mean, a sandwich? I guess the idea is, the simple things in life are good enough for him—but then where does that put “you?”

The cover particularly cracks me up—it’s a photo, taken in an actual apartment, of Matt Dennis in formal wear entering, carrying a welcome mat on which “Welcome Matt Dennis” is crudely rendered. There’s a woman standing there (who presumably put out the mat) who looks either annoyed or overwhelmed by the Matt Dennis sex appeal. Her long dress is an odd design of brown and gray plaid—it’s a really weird print for a dress—I have no words for it, I’m no expert. It looks like some kind of curtains or a tablecloth, to me, more than a dress, but what do I know? She’s wearing more pearls than can possibly be healthy—which are kind of overwhelmed by the plastic doorbell, peephole, and three brass doorknobs also visible in the photo. I mean, there was absolutely no art direction involved at all here (other than that cheesy “Welcome Matt”)—which, when I think about it—makes it actually more interesting than if a lot of care was taken to make it look not weird. I miss these times, from the past, when things didn’t have to get worked over and homogenized by a team of boring, frightened, accountants. When a doorstop was a doorstop, and “I love you” meant… Okay, maybe I should just stick to talking about the cover art, here.

13
Mar
20

Mickey Newbury “The Sailor”

I probably mentioned this before—I heard a Mickey Newbury song on the radio, never had heard of him, so kind of got obsessed with him, then bought half a dozen records—none of which stood up to that song (or the memory of it). Still, he’s an interesting guy, a successful Nashville songwriter and recording artist, without being a big star. I suppose fans of his consider him a big star, but you know, not one of that handful everyone knows—and if you think about it, what’s this obsession we have (in this cultural time and place) with being known even by the people who don’t really care about your art? I guess it’s about money, then, right? This is a nice country record, low key, solid songs, straightforward, Nashville studio pros, I guess, the usual themes. Actually, I’m not listening all that close to the lyrics. “A Weed is a Weed”—yes it is. The cover cracks me up—kind of a half-assed nautical mishmash. It made me think of the one room in my parents’ house that was decked out in a kind nautical, “Polynesian” (influenced, no doubt, by a visit to Disney Polynesian Village), and Tiki bar (influenced by visits to the Kon-Tiki in Cleveland and the Kahiki in Columbus). The closest music they played to country was nothing; I had a Johnny Cash 45, “A Boy Named Sue”—but that was more of novelty record. I don’t remember when I started to really like country music—I believe it was with Merle Haggard. At a certain point I just became open to anything. I can listen to this record, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s just not weird enough, on any level, to really comfort me in any way. And that subtle harmonica doesn’t help, it’s just so easy on the ears (in a bad way). It just occurred to me that the cover could be the background art for the menu of cheesy seafood restaurant—that made me laugh.




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