22
Feb
20

Parliament “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”

“Funk is its own reward.” “May frighten you.” I think someone speaks those words, in a kind of intro, or did I just imagine that? There’s a giant list of credits that reads like a funk all-star band, so I’m not sure who is doing what on any song, but I assume there’s a lot of George Clinton. There’s a couple of short songs, then the epic song, “Dr. Funkenstein,” which is a fairly slow, laconic, extremely funky whole-world of a song, with a chanted chorus and voices coming in from all over the place, speaking, singing, stream-of-consciousness. There is this pretty simple but genius repetitive guitar part that runs through it that I just want as the theme song for my life. The song is six minutes, but I wish it was a lot longer. I never do this, but I’m going to buy this song for my computer (sometimes I listen to music there, at home, when I’m not playing records) so I can just play this on repeat for hours. It’s like a TV show theme song, or a whole TV show, or movie. This record came out in 1976, and I may have heard it at a party, but probably not. I was in the phase of progressing directly from prog-rock to punk rock, but I missed the boat here. A few years later, one of the funniest and most offensive punk records I’ve ever heard, Black Randy and the Metrosquad’s “Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie,” has songs that just lift directly from Dr. Funkenstein. I don’t know why, exactly, but I just keep listening and listening to this song. With all the sound effects, and odd vocals—spoken parts, some in annoying cartoon voices, some in frog-voice—stuff that would normally get on my nerves—but here it sounds like a symphony of good insanity. All of the songs on this record are good, including one of those super-long-title ones, “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body),” and “Let’s Funk Around,” which exploits that tireless and seemingly inexhaustible tradition of using the word “funk” in place of the word “fuck.” The cover (front and back) is also first-rate, with members of the band, presumably, dressed for the stage, or the lab, in some kind of a 1970s television sci-fi set, a good one. I remember looking at a partial discography for Parliament—just the list of titles from the Seventies—all just excellent, mysterious titles. I wonder if these are easy to find—I mean, not for hipster prices, normal person prices—I’ll keep an eye out for them. It’s like a crime against my sensibility that I don’t own any Parliament Funkadelic vinyl.

21
Feb
20

Psychedelic Furs “Midnight to Midnight”

The Psychedelic Furs were a band I liked a lot at one time but never bought any of their records. Why was that? I have to ask myself about these bands who I remember liking a lot in the Seventies and early Eighties, when I bought a lot of records, but never bought any of their records. I can’t figure that one out. Anyway, I only remember seeing one album (maybe their first), from sometime in the early Eighties—and I feel like that was it for me—I either got sick of them, or just made the executive decision that they began to suck on record number two and never recovered. I had pretty unmovable opinions back then, often wrong even more than I am now. I pretty much despised “new wave” bands—though I suppose there were a few exceptions. By the time this record came out in 1987, I would have dismissed it just because the cover looked like an ad for hair gel. Who was my favorite band around that time? I remember liking Half Japanese a lot. Certainly nothing as slick as this record, had I heard it. But I do have this vague memory of being kind of haunted by that guy’s voice, the singer, Richard Butler. I have no idea of what he’s all about. What a distinctive voice, though—who would I compare him to, as a singer? Maybe Lou Reed? It’s not like he’s singing opera, but there’s no one in the world who’s going to sing like Richard Butler better than Richard Butler. What else could the guy do, anyway, be a telemarketer? You’d answer the phone and just have to say this is too surreal. I wonder what he’s doing now? Hopefully not pushing up daisies. Anyway, that’s a lengthy introduction just to say that I really like this record. It kind of surprised me, actually, because of the big sound, the Eighties production, etc.—not something I’m nostalgic for, but the songs are just really good—some of them, anyway—some way better than others. I don’t like everything about it—like some of that sax, yikes—that guy Mars could find himself on the sax offender registry. But I’m generally pretty forgiving about all the parts, here, as the whole is listenable, and sometimes even compelling. I wonder what the guys are doing now—maybe working at haberdasheries. Maybe one owns a corner pub, and maybe one runs an ice fishing camp up here, like the one I’m visiting tomorrow. I’ll be buying bait… “Wait, weren’t you in that band? For a while, back then, you made me believe in love.” “You and me both,” he says. “You want some wigglers?”

19
Feb
20

Perrey & Kingsley “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out”

This is one of those early electronic music records that I like a lot better in theory than for actual listening—though it’s okay, really, if you’re in the mood for that kind goofy, beeping, semi-comic synthesizer stuff—you know exactly what it sounds like without hearing it. There’s a handful of very familiar cover songs—some of which one wishes one may never hear again in any version. Theres’s few original compositions by Perrey and Kingsley, this French and German electronic geek odd couple who released a few records of this kind and were apparently influential. There’s an entire back cover of liner notes, but what got my attention is the mention of this early electronic keyboard called the Jenny Ondioline—which I’d never heard of—though there was a woman I had a crush on by that name. I was never sure if it was her real name, but suspected that it wasn’t. There is also a record by the band Stereolab by that name.

I guess now is a good time to disclose that I’m listening to records while staying at a rustic cabin in the “North Woods”—it’s as big as a castle, has a pretty nice record player, but the vinyl is somewhat eclectic. Probably more than I’ll have time to check out, though, if this rabbit-hole is any indication. Fortunately, there’s no internet up here so I have to rely on my crap memory. (Once a day or so, I’ll be heading into the nearby town, Elk Shores, to the Red Apple Cafe, with wi-fi, where I can post a review or two.) In this case I’m just as happy not to disclose the location of the cabin because I just realized I’m sitting here with an exceedingly rare record: the label is Vanguard, which says: “Recordings for the Connoisseur” and also “Stereo”—but on this particular disk it says: “Stereolab”—so I’m pretty sure this is one in which the band by that name traveled into the past in order to make their branding mark. So impressive is that fact, I was prompted to read the liner notes by Elmer Jared Gordon, and about the Jenny Ondioline he makes this rather cryptic claim: “…a minute keyboard electronic, requires a skilled playing technic inasmuch as the whole keyboard is manually vibrated as its notes are depressed, and the vibrational variants can characteristically color and subtly alter the sound produced. This ondioline typically suggests a tenuous and oddly plaintive quality so unique that even the highly sophisticated Moog mechanism with its infinite faculties cannot duplicate it.” Now I know why she called herself Jenny Ondioline.

12
Feb
20

Boots Randolph “Boots with Strings”

I’m not sure where this record came from, but if I bought it, it was on the strength of the cover photo, a moody closeup of a guy looking into the bell of his saxophone like he’s trying to figure out what got in there. One presumes it’s Boots Randolph. He plays in that style that sounds like he’s trying to get it out, whatever it is, somewhat forcefully—which is okay, just not my favorite use of that horn. With anything you blow into, there’s a lot of danger involved, and there’s a fine line between passable jazz horn and melodica atrocity. Boots Randolph was close to my dad’s age, which doesn’t really put anything in perspective or anything, but he is a Midwestern guy, too, and put out his first record the year I was born. This record came out in 1966, the year my first car was built (it was a VW Squareback). He put out “Country Boots” the year I first smoked weed, and “…Puts a Little Sax in Your Life” the year I graduated from high school. The dude put out a lot of records. He’s got a Wikipedia page, no surprise, but the weirdest thing there is the sentence: “Early in his career, he often billed himself as Randy Randolph.” Which refers back to nothing, and “Randy Randolph” is BOLD—and why? It’s not a link. I’ve never seen anything bold on a Wikipedia page—just the name of the page—so maybe it’s just when it’s someone with two names? Anyway, the fatal flaw here is (and this is entirely subjective, but then what isn’t?)—there’s not one but two Lennon-McCartney songs, one on each side, so they lie there like queasy little time-bombs. I love John and Paul and the Beatles, but there was a time period when it seemed like everyone had to include one of their songs—in everything from a bar mitzvah to a creepy garden serenade—and the most overplayed ones, no less. Rarely if ever do you hear an inspired cover of a Beatles song—in fact, it’s so rare, when you do hear one, fresh, inspired, or in some way better than the original, it’s worth making a great big point of it. Not here, I’m sad to day. My favorite song on the record is “Days of Wine and Roses” which starts with a little choir bit, which comes back later, and the sax lays back, more or less, just kind of squeezing out like a tube of toothpaste.

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

06
Feb
20

Offenbach “Gaîté Parisienne”

This is the same record that made its way into countless living rooms in 1958, onto the little built-in hifi record shelf, right? It’s this Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops version of Offenbach’s Gaîté Parisienne, put out by RCA records—the cover with the high kicking legs exposed in front of a shimmering red dress?—that one. If you’ve ever looked through the records at a thrift store, you’ve seen it. I guess this is the same record, put out by Camden (which is, I thought, the RCA cheapy label, but I don’t really know that for sure). Well, this is a far superior cover. This one is great. It’s the closeup of the head of presumably the same dancer, head back, eyes closed, mouth open. No doubt a similar yet different version of “sex sells.” For all I know, they have additional versions of this record with other seductively presented body parts. But anyway—I like this one—it’s actually pretty striking—you may not have another photo of woman’s face this large and clear among your entire belongings. Her teeth are so pronounced it just kind of makes you think about just how weird our teeth are. I might not listen to this again, on purpose, but I might keep it—if ever there was a record to keep for the cover and maybe hang like art.

05
Feb
20

The Best of Perez Prado

I don’t know anything about the history of the mambo—I could read some stuff on the internet and repeat it here—or you could tell me what you know over cocktails some evening. I don’t know, I don’t see myself starting to drink, but if I find myself reading stuff on the internet and then repeating it, I might just might, sitting glassy-eyed on some pirate’s shoulder. Perez Prado was Cuban, then moved to Mexico in the Forties, and was instrumental in mambo becoming hugely popular. The back of the record says he’s the “King of the Mambo.” Of course, Elvis was called the King of Rock’n’Roll—but we know it was Chuck Berry. I’m wondering who this record, from 1967, was for exactly, because by 1967—well you know what the kids were listening to. There is a popular and fun—but definitely corny—side to this music, and I’m thinking the same people buying this are the people who were buying the big-selling records that thrift stores just still can’t seem to get rid of. It’s hard for me to listen to the songs on this record without seeing the movie scenes (even if not exactly, specifically) they are attached to—or imagine someone eating some kind of Jello salad and drinking a whiskey sour. Though some of the songs—or more likely, parts of some songs, I can listen to the music being played—sometimes with a lot of style that makes me wonder what the life of the musicians was like. There’s some incredible bits, here and there. Or what was Perez Prado’s life like? Is there a movie about him? There has to be, right?—I’ll see that, sometime.




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