17
May
19

Television “Marquee Moon”

When I started writing about my record collection back in 2006, I was determined to go from A to Z, so like, I was never going to get to Television—but with this new random system I have, it’s sure taking a long time to get to certain albums, anyway—but maybe that’s good. This one is kind of hard to write about, actually, because it’s maybe one of my favorite 10 (meaning 100) records of all time, and it’s kind of like a force of nature, so it’s a little like you’re photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting someone to pay attention to your snapshot when people have done time-lapse, panorama, satellite, helicopters, drones, parasails, jumping it on a motorcycle, and as they died falling in. So, if you’re reading this, and it’s the highly unlikely case where you’ve never heard this record, either you are going to have such high expectations that it will necessarily stumble, or you’ve hit the jackpot in life—you get to hear it for the first time, and you can only do that once. And then the second, third, etc…

It’s from 1977, I suppose the best year of punk rock, and it comes from the New York punk rock scene, but it sounds nothing like any of the other bands from that place or time, or really anywhere. There had to be a lot of people who hated this when it came out; I bet some were then won over, some weren’t, still aren’t. Bands were playing fast, short songs, for one thing, and these songs are long (longest is almost 10 minutes!) and there are extended guitar solos. It’s complex; it’s practically jazz. It’s weird to think this record came out the same year as Steely Dan’s Aja, but you can’t imagine them on the same plane, much less the same year—but the same people were buying them—and in a way, they are quite similar. Eight songs only, four per side, and one could make a strong argument that if you ranked the songs from best to worst they would line up in the exact order they are on the album—which might seem kind of dismal, except for the fact that they’re all great songs. I’ve definitely listened to side one more than side two—but the one nice thing about that is that I feel like I might still be able to discover something on the second side. The first side is so ingrained in my head nothing less than brain damage is ever going to allow me a fresh listen.

I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics—though, and I’m not likely to at this point. That’s not true, there are a few lines that stick with me—it’s just that I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. But I love the line: “Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops…’” And a few others. I’m not going to talk about the guitars, okay? It just struck me that this could be the ideal record for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and if you wanted to spend a few excessive hours while giving it a few listens, use the internet and try reading all the ways people have used words to try to describe what those guitars are doing. I’m going to make this quick, though, by mentioning the cover photos—first there’s the kind of classic band photo, them all looking like they want to be the next one to make love—but it’s this high-contrast color that makes their hands look really crazy, kind of like one of those early Aerosmith records. I never bothered to look at the photo credits before, and it says Robert Mapplethorpe—I guess that guy knew his way around a camera.Then on the back there’s a photo of something that I’m guessing is abstracted by contrast—it’s credited to Billy Lobo. I think it’s supposed to represent the near death high you get, supposedly, from heroin, but I’m just guessing. Then, the inside sleeve band pic is very odd—it’s a great b&w photo, really, but printed weirdly, so the drummer and bass player have turned into shadows, while the inside of the drums are lit up. That the two guitarists are siting on kitchen chairs facing each other probably says more than bucket of liner notes could. And then, for as much as the photo is obscured in darkness, kind of amazingly you see all these details in hardware, chairs, amps, and shirts—really, it kind of simultaneously demystifies these guys as just regular schmoes, while elevating them to some kind of god love. Depending on who you are, you might focus more on Richard Lloyd’s guitar, or Tom Verlaine’s shirt, or everyone’s hands. I’m torn.

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11
May
19

Average White Band “Cut the Cake”

I like AWB’s 1976 record “Soul Searching” so much I wrote about it twice on this site, so it made perfect sense to me to pick up a copy of this previous record (from 1975), which was the one I no doubt remembered (not with any particular fondness) from high school. So, the first thing I see is a dedication on back, a little photo of Robbie McIntosh—so I was curious how he died at such an early era of this band. According to that internet (and citing Time magazine) he and bandmate Alan Gorrie ODd on heroin that they thought was cocaine at a post-show LA party in 1974. Somehow Gorrie was saved by Cher, who was there at the party, but this McIntosh died. That whole story is bizarre, and at one time I guess I would have thought it was interesting, in a kind of truth that’s stranger than fiction sense, or made some kind of bad joke (Average White Powder), but now, just thinking about this kid from Scotland dying in such a pointless way, just kind of made me sad, even a little depressed. So it was with that frame of mind I put this record on.

The first song, “Cut the Cake,” is maybe their most well-known song—it’s one of those I’ve heard countless times over the years, not really knowing it was AWB (the song is essentially a permanent, annoying monolith). I’ve heard that song accompanying (I’ve tried to redact the exact references from my memory) no doubt heinous products, promotions, sporting events, and other landscape destroying billboards to obscene wealth and soulless consumer greed-culture. I mean, it’s a hot tune—these guys might not be able to dial 911, but they can find a groove. It’s also the most pointless use of a lyric sheet I’ve ever seen. I’d like to interview the person at Atlantic records who had to type with word “gimme” (I’m not going to count) times. The cover, by the way, is not album covers’ finest moment—what’s supposed to look like a cake, from above, looks more like (I don’t know what it looks like)—I don’t want to just say the obvious, and say “shit”—but when you make that ass-rendition with the “W” in AWB, and put it prominently on something that resembles shit more than it resembles a chocolate cake, can one help where one’s mind goes? This whole record is listenable, but it’s not “Soul Searching” (maybe I should listen to that one again and see if it holds up for me?)—I mean, when it comes down to it, it’s the songs that make or doesn’t make something good, great, or ho-hum, and some songs become in-extractable ear-worms, and some dissipate like mist, and some take some time, sometimes many, many, many listenings, and it’s possible some of these are those, but they haven’t, at this point, happened for me. But hey, I’ve gone this far, so I’ll keep trying.

04
May
19

Kris Kristofferson “Jesus Was a Capricorn”

It’s not my favorite Kris Kristofferson record, but it’s got the best title and best cover of any record you’re probably going to see in a thrift-store for a dollar, so there’s really no excuse not to own it. Plus it’s a good record. My favorite songs are, “Nobody Wins” and “It Sure Was (Love)”, but they’re all okay—I especially like the ones that Rita Coolidge is singing on. I guess that’s her on the cover, kind of outdoing KK at the cool look, not any easy thing to do, and I read that they were married not long after this record came out. The back cover is either a clever art department fake of photos pinned to a bulletin-board, or else it’s just a black and white photo of the real thing. The thing is, I didn’t think push-pins were invented yet in 1972—but then, what do I know about history, apparently? There are also some pretty literal liner notes, handwritten and tacked up there, too. It reads as pretty genuine, and one would presume written by KK, but then, the one time I contributed liner notes to a record they claimed to be written by someone else, so who can say what is legit in this slippery show business world? Kids growing up now, who learn how to use Google before they even smoke or cuss, must live in a very different world. For the longest time, when younger, I thought Kris Kristofferson was a fake name or stage name, because—well, he was already larger than life, and it’s kind of a goofy name. But now, he was born Kristoffer Kristofferson. (One wonders if one of his kids is named Kristofferson Kristofferson.) When my parents admitted to considering naming me Russell Russell (Russ) Russell, I thanked them for not saddling me with a Looney Tunes handle. Anyway, it was many years until I took Kris Kristofferson seriously—also, maybe, because there was a time when the only guys with beards were Fidel Castro, Charles Manson, and Santa Claus. Eventually, of course, I realized Kris Kristofferson, who was born the same summer as my mom, was like the coolest dude who walked the Earth, and as of the writing of this, continues to do so. I don’t know if he’s a religious man, but I might consider buying all nine of his records from the Seventies, just because I think it’s interesting that the titles include, besides the name Kristofferson, the words: Devil (twice!), Lord, Jesus, Spooky, Bless, Surreal, and Easter. It may be hard to tell exactly where he’s coming from, but it’s definitely not the vanilla frozen yogurt counter of the Boring, Illinois Safeway.

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.

12
Apr
19

Virgil Gonsalves Big Band Plus Six “Jazz at Monterey”

For one thing, if you see this 1959 album cover somewhere, like at thrift-store prices, you can’t NOT buy it, with the monochrome, crude pasteup of Virgil Gonsalves and an enormous baritone sax perched death-defyingly on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, facing a witch-like wind-blasted tree. He looks kind of like the guy who does your taxes or fixes your porch, but that horn is no joke. The bold red letters, JAZZ AT MONTEREY—irresistible. If I was starting a record company, I might steal the Omega Records label design outright—it’s one of the coolest I’ve seen. I’m not sure if this is considered “cool jazz” or what—someone correct me. I mean, it is cool, very cool, cool as a cadet blue DeVille—but I’m not sure if it’s/he’s the official member of any movement. In the first song (and all of them) you can imagine soundtracks—to stuff like a guy wearing sunglasses driving a convertible really fast, somebody standing on a corner, two scientists making love, captains of industry eating whole fish, dentists at war with each other, the city of tomorrow, a really good poetry reading—I don’t know. Mostly, what I am thinking about this record is that I like it.

On back, there’s really long and extensive liner notes by Johnny Adams, Jazz DJ at KIDD in Monterey—way too much to paraphrase here—I didn’t even read it all! I’ll get to it some day, because he’s going into great detail, and ends by saying: “SO… bend an ear and listen!” And this is a listening record for me, meaning I’m going to put it on again, just to listen to it, see? I also like how he says that Virgil Gonsalves “has not one direction, but many.” I feel like I can hear that in the music. I believe there is a six piece band playing on some songs and a band twice that size on other songs… but it all sounds simultaneously minimal and maximal, subtle and complex. Virgil Gonsalves, besides being the bandleader, also plays the baritone sax, which is a very cool instrument. The lineups here are pretty much piano, bass, drums, and then horns, and more horns—saxophones and trumpets. Horns, lots and lots of horns. And more horns. Did I say horns?

06
Apr
19

Julie London “Calendar Girl”

This is one of the best theme records of 1956, if not ever, as each song represents a month of the year. Naturally, some months have more than one song written about them, while others needed an obscure song dug up, or a new one composed for this record, I’m guessing—so a lot of work had to be done and hard decisions had to be made. Like, it starts out with “June in January”—representing the first month of the year. The other aspect of this theme thing is that the album cover, both the front and back, are each decorated with six calendar style pinup photos of Julie London in skimpy costumes. Older people reading this might have an indelible image of Julie London in a nurse’s uniform, from the TV show, Emergency! in which she convincingly played a nurse, and about which I have no nostalgia. Her husband, Bobby Troup, played a doctor, but in real life he wrote “Route 66” as well as some of the songs on this album.

The best way to approach this record, then, is song by song, with visual accompaniment of the cheesecake photos—and to make matters richer, there are liner notes by Richard Breen (screenwriter of Tony Rome 1967), a man who needs no introduction, as I’m not going to paraphrase any, busy as I am writing my own. “June in January” is a song I’m well-acquainted with, and JL’s calendar photo is with balloons and a noisemaker, presumably after hours of the New Year’s party. February is a valentine, naturally, a big heart and a bear-skin rug, but a sad song, “February Brings the Rain.” “Melancholy March” is another sad one, the bear rug again, a see-through nightie, a feather duster, and green telephone (reminding me of how sad it is that cell phones will never be cool or beautiful objects). “I’ll Remember April” (especially this one) and she’s donning a polka-dot bikini and a parasol. “People Who are Born in May” is a goofy song that I’m not going to try to make sense of. JL is wearing a gingham bikini and is posing with basket of flowers. “Memphis in June” has some really nice imagery, and the pic is of her wearing a wedding dress, but one that wouldn’t be appropriate at a first wedding, a church wedding, or really any wedding, outside of the Playboy Mansion.

Side Two: “Sleigh Ride in July” is a nice compliment to the first song on the record, and the Preston Sturges movie, maybe, but it’s a weird song—the expression “I’ll take you on a sleigh ride in July” sounds at best too aggressive, and possibly felonious. In the picture she’s holding a firecracker big enough to destroy a house. Also, what this reminds me of is when, in grade school, I mixed up the spelling of the month of July and the name Julie (who I had a crush on), and I never got over being mortified. “Time for August” is a sultry song, and the pic is JL in a very small bikini sitting on some tangled fish nets, holding some kind of a large ball which I have no idea what that is! “September in the Rain” is about springtime, which for some reason feels like September? Another fishing theme, and this time she looks like Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. “This October” is another Bobby Troup song, and she’s wearing probably the most sexy Devil Halloween costume ever attempted, and of course there’s a pumpkin. “November Twilight” is a beautiful, melancholy song, and JL is wearing tasteful black lingerie and sitting on satin draped over something, maybe a large compost bin? Finally, she’s a scantily dressed Santa Claus with wrapped presents, and tells us that she’ll keep us warm in “Warm December.” Wait, but there’s one more, “The Thirteenth Month,” the “month of remember”—a very sad tune—perhaps she’s a ghost—but the picture—(this one full-size, on the inside as the cover opens, facing the liner notes) is flesh and blood—but especially flesh, as there is no costume to speak of, this time, just some tastefully draped ermine.




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