11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

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05
Jan
19

The Walter Wanderley Trio “Cheganca”

I thought I had more records from Walter Wanderley, the Brazilian jazz keyboard hit recording artist and guy with a great name—but maybe that was before I lost all my records—anyway, sometimes you’ll see one in a cheap bin or thrift store, and I’m guessing that any or all of his vinyl is worth picking up. This one is all instrumentals, him playing organ with a couple of percussionists. I can listen to this any time of day, though coffee time and cocktail time come to mind as the most appropriate—but it would also work for painting an abstract canvas or the wood trim a bright color. This is on Verve records, from 1966, and the cover is a color photo of the trio in formal wear perched on gargantuan stacks of pallets of burlap bags of coffee beans. I’m assuming it’s coffee since one bag is stenciled “Brasil”—but who knows, it could be soybeans, or it could be Cheganca, because I sure as hell have no idea what “Cheganca” is.

I’m not even sure that if I spoke Portuguese I would know—I like to think that maybe it’s one of those things you know when you know, but it’s not for the squares. The album cover folds out to some extensive liner notes by Bob Lee with KRHM-FM, L.A. He says: “Walter Wanderley has no worry. He could play the Pasadena phone book and make it sound great.” What I do know is that this record would not only be appropriate, but essential if I was throwing a Holly Golightly style cocktail party (the only kind of cocktail party I’m interested in throwing)—it’s even possible this was playing in the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)—though that would require a time machine—and this record is one. I feel like I’ve heard this version of “Agua de Beber” in a movie somewhere (of course, I’ve heard a vocal version with Astrud Gilberto). Truthfully, much of this record is more upbeat than I normally care for, and also, I just quit drinking (25 years ago)—but that doesn’t mean I’ve been bright-eyed and jaunty for a quarter of a century. This music—in spite of it making you visualize odd groups of young lovers shopping in frivolity—also isn’t jaunty, which is kind of its miracle. And in a few cases, as with the standard, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” it manages to be both melancholy and upbeat at once, knowing that while there is no cure for a broken heart, painting your woodwork a bright color is a wise use of broken-heart-time, because time cures all things, maybe—but there’s a limited supply of it—and a serious limited supply of more.

28
Dec
18

Bruce Springsteen “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle”

I was one of those Springsteen fans who, before I was a fan, was turned off by all the Born to Run hoopla in 1975 but finally bought the Darkness LP in 1978, loved it, became a fan then, then went back to the first three records. I listened to his first six records to death, but after that I wouldn’t give him the time of day (and that’s more about me than him)—so I’m guessing there’s some great music from 1984 on that I missed, but, oh well. Currently he’s “On Broadway”—I know nothing about that, but I’ll guess two things: It’s really good, and I can’t afford it. I rarely look him up on the internet, but I’ve noticed that he uncannily resembles Jello Biafra—maybe they are friends. One thing I feel certain about, even never having met the man, I feel like he possesses a genuineness of spirit that even sainthood can’t diminish. That is based on a couple of live shows I saw in the late Seventies at the Richfield Coliseum (now a ghost) that I attended even after swearing off large venue shows. His concerts are legendary, and for once, legendary got that right. Anyway, I lost all my Springsteen LPs while movin’ around, so I made a point of picking up a copy of this one after I decided it’s the best. Someday I’m going to make a list of all the recording artists whose best record was their second one—there’s a lot! Also, this was from 1973 (as was his first record), further making my point that that was a pretty good year. There are more than a few of us out there, actually, that think this record is Springsteen’s best. We meet once a month in the VFW basement over hardshell tacos and Old Milwaukee Light and Skype with the national chapter, which mostly consists of mini-memorials for our recently passed and dwindling membership.

One reason I wanted a vinyl copy of this record is that I love the album cover (not so much the front, gigantic portrait—though if you isolate his thumb and stare at it, it will make you feel weird) because of the band picture on back—one of my favorite band photos ever. I’m not sure if they were yet called “The E Street Band”—but I liked this lineup even better than the later ones—which is saying something, because they were all good—but I just like the overall playing, production, and sound on this record. And this band photo, it’s the best. (In my opinion, there should only be two things in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: this photo, and a closed/out of business sign.) First of all, it looks like a really hot day, and they were able to maybe move down half a block from the Taste-E-Freeze to take a photo in front of the pawn shop. They all look “bad” (as we used to say), and not surprisingly, Clarence Clemons, the baddest. Garry Tallent looks like he has a leg cramp. Danny Federici looks like he was the only one who knew they were taking a photo that day. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was David Sancious’ band. My favorite, though, is Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, wearing cut-offs and an open Hawaiian shirt—for years I’ve used this photo as my summer fashion icon ideal—I just want to copy his look outright (though at this point, sadly, unless I’m able to trade in my stomach for some hair, it’s not ever going to happen).

Really, this sounds more like someone’s 20th record rather than their second—I mean in that it doesn’t sound like it’s trying too hard to please anyone as much as the people making it, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. There are only seven songs, but the three on side two are like 7, 8, and 10 minutes long! I like the production so much better than the later records, too—I guess it accentuates the songwriting. There’s no grandstanding, it sounds egoless, and it’s not too guitar heavy. On some songs the most prominent instrument is accordion—one of those being “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”—just that title!—which is one of my favorite Springsteen songs ever. Some of these songs—you presume before the record deals that these guys were playing in bars—but in what kind of bars could you play “Wild Billy’s Circus Story?” “Incident on 57th Street” might be prettiest Springsteen song ever, and just listening to it now makes me think about all the hearts he must have broken before getting his picture on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Listening to this record now confirms how much I like it; it’s the one I choose to put on if I’m in the mood for Bruce Springsteen. It’s also making me kind of curious, now, about what led up to the first two records. Maybe I’ll check out his autobiography. Anyway, I guess this record brings back some summer evening in the late Seventies, softly through my Advent speakers while sipping a rum drink, that fragrant, warm evening air, low lights in the “breezeway”—a room off the garage of my parents’ house that really was a time and place, and this record was part of it. Call it pure nostalgia, and I can’t argue with that, but that’s the sweet part of a good cocktail, and mixed with the right proportions of reality and weirdness, you get why the golden ratio is greater than the sum of its parts.

21
Dec
18

Jeremiah People “Buildin’ for the Very Third Time”

I picked up this record at a thrift store with a great deal of anticipation and promise, in spite of its evident Christian bent, as obscure Christian records are often bland for my taste. But it sits alphabetically in my Peaches crate next to two copies of “Jesus Christ Superstar” (one I wore out), and I am a fan of Bob Dylan and Jimmy Swaggart. One always hopes for weirdness and extremes musically, married with obtrusiveness in sentiment. From the first note, this is a pure expression of the Christian spirt, good will, positivity, and cheerfulness. Will I be able to detect a dark side? First of all, I don’t know what “the third time” refers to, but my Christian studies are admittedly rusty. Next, the cover is odd; it’s a house (or church) in the process of being built, used as a makeshift stage—I get that—but why are the band members absent?—it’s just their chairs, with some hats, a shirt, and a tambourine. What does that mean? The label is Light Records from Waco, Texas, and their LP label graphic is excellent. I would steal it for my own record company (if I had one, and if stealing wasn’t wrong). I’ve never been to Waco, but I bet there is some interesting history there. Of course there are also those tragic stories, like the Branch Davidians. Also, that biker shootout at the “Twin Peaks” restaurant, fairly recently. I’m sure Waco doesn’t want to be known for only that stuff. Baylor always has some fine sports teams. Also, I don’t even know if the band is from there, or just the label. In order to find out anything about this band, I would need to go to the “Deep Web” (aka, not on Wikipedia), and I’m not going to. Oh—the other exciting thing is the record is from 1973—which I’m sure people who know me are getting sick of my touting at the pinnacle of Western culture—but it just was, okay?

The best way to approach this record is track by track, and there are ten of them. Side One, track one, gets off to a great start with a soulful electrical piano, a pretty hot song until the corny key change—but still it could have been a very good theme song for a TV show about triumphant persistence—or Jesus, which the song is about. Track two slows it down with a really very beautiful ballad about growing spiritually. Track three, equally quiet, even prettier (these are some good women vocalists)—and then it shifts into a very Seventies, Carpenters sounding thing that could be a radio ad for “the good life.” Track four—let’s just say this one’s going to really discourage regular repeat listenings of this record. Track five is another really compelling one, good melody, very strong—it could almost be a James Bond movie theme, if James Bond was, you know, Jesus. Side Two, track one, then, is a real barn burner, or maybe in this case maybe something about buildin’ a barn is more appropriate. Track two slows it down, another pretty song—I just don’t like the male vocals as much, I guess—creeps me out a bit. Track three is so jaunty that even someone who likes jaunty might find themselves projectile vomiting. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. Maybe you love jaunty, in which case you could play this at your coke-fueled chipmunk wedding on pogo sticks. I had to lift the needle. Track four, then, is another beautiful, soulful, gospel-y song—how could this even be on the same record as that previous song? Track five is another pretty one, though kind of surprisingly melancholy sounding for what is mostly a pretty uplifting record. I mean it’s hopeful, and with a message. Well, that’s it. I hope I was able to give a fair assessment of this record, but it’s based purely on my taste in music, and not taking into account whether you’re on board with the religious message or jumping ship at first sight of a higher power. I know it’s very difficult to separate aesthetics with ideology sometimes, but when you’re reviewin’ the vinyl, sometimes you just gotta take a leap of faith.

16
Dec
18

The George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson “The Swingin’s Mutual!”

I heard that Nancy Wilson passed away a few days ago, and I recalled hearing her music now and then over the years, mostly on the radio. Then I remembered that—among my limited, rag-tag record collection—I have this 1961 album of her singing six songs with George Shearing. I have as many Shearing records as by any artist, because for one, you can find them, and not for a million dollars, and they’re all either pretty good or excellent. But also, I probably listened to more George Shearing than anyone as a kid because my parents had a lot of his records and seemed to play them more than anything else. That distinctive vibes along with the piano sound is probably more entrenched in my brain than fear. Nancy Wilson sings on half of these twelve songs; I would have liked it better if it was all of them, but it’s a fine album, regardless. “The Nearness of You” is a standout, and they’re all good. She must have been only in her early twenties when they recorded this, but she sounds very mature and has a lot of personality. She’s an Ohioan, and about the same age as my mother. I like to think she was maybe in Columbus when my dad was in college there. I know my dad saw George Shearing in Denver when he was in the service out there. The album cover is pretty odd, the two of them sitting back to back, both in in plastic Eames chairs, Nancy Wilson holding a Shearing album, glancing over her shoulder at George, and Shearing kind of propping himself up with her her “Something Wonderful” album (which was like her second, this being only her third). She went on to record 60 or 70 albums, no doubt covering all my favorite songs, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. The only sad thing is, unless I’m missing it, they didn’t collaborate on any more records—because, besides good music, for the album cover, they could have each held up this album cover, and started a kind of infinity mirror thing. Just an idea for one of the parallel universes.

14
Dec
18

Lesley Gore “California Nights”

A pretty listenable all the way through Sixties pop record—I really don’t know much of Lesley Gore’s music (besides that “It’s My Party” song, of course) as household name as she is. I’m a little too young for her earliest records, at least when they came out. I don’t think I realized this until later, but I was at first a fan of her because of a couple appearances on the Batman TV show, in the Sixties, which I never missed—I was really into that show, to the extent that every version of Batman since has only offended me. Seeing the Batman episodes many years later I realized that her character, Pussycat, was maybe the first girl I had crush on. I mean, who can remember, really, but I do remember being pretty infatuated. She did a couple of songs on the show, even, that are on this record. Pussycat is criminally employed in some way by Catwoman, and I don’t think when I was that young I was even able to fully process Julie Newmar’s over-the-top sexuality—actually, I still don’t know if I’m able to. Also, somehow I remember that my brother and I had these costumes that Catwoman’s male henchmen wore, which I think I thought were really cool, on one hand, but I was also kind of creeped out by how emasculated the guys seemed—even though I didn’t really know what that meant. There was a lot of pretty deep psyche-altering stuff in these shows, which of course I didn’t get at all, on the surface (I mean, I didn’t even get that it was funny). A couple characters in particular—Frank Gorshin’s version of the Riddler, and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman—they both raised the bar for this kind of, part-comic, part hypersexualized physical performance that I don’t think has been matched— or ever will be—even though a lot of fine actors have given it the old college try.

I guess I got sidetracked there. Anyway, I had to put the record on again, getting carried away with memories like I was. This is one of those thrift-store records I expected to put on once and see if it disturbed any stones along memory lane—I guess I wasn’t counting on it causing a kind of Batman flashback. Anyway, nothing on here is consciously recognizable, but the big surprise is I really like all of it. She was choosing some fine songs at this point, many by Bob Crewe (a producer on this record, along with Quincy Jones). One of my favorites, “Maybe Now” is credited to L. Gore and M. Gore—I’m guessing that’s her, and who else? Martin Gore, from Depeche Mode? Probably not—he would have been, like six. Okay, the internet tells me it’s Michael Gore, a successful composer, and Lesley’s little brother! Anyway, this record keeps getting better as it goes along—it’s one of those. “The Bubble Broke” is a particular standout. The picture on the cover is nice, too, though odd, but I’m not going to try to describe it or I’ll be here all night.

09
Dec
18

The Mamas and The Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”

The first Mamas and Papas record, and far from my favorite, though it has some great songs (each of their records has some of my favorites—though, if I was able to put together a “greatest” record for them it would probably not resemble anyone else’s version). My favorite here is “Somebody Groovy”—I can’t get enough of that song. Then “California Dreamin’”—a song I liked a lot when I kind of “rediscovered” (for me) the band, in the early Eighties—which is also, of course, probably the most overplayed of all their songs, and one I’d be in danger of being sick to death of if it wasn’t for it being used in several scenes in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994)—at which time it became forever connected to that movie, and those great scenes with Faye Wong working at the restaurant, playing the song on a boom box. The other one I really like here is “The In Crowd,” a Dobie Gray hit song (I also really love the Ramsey Lewis Trio version—one of my favorite songs) and this version is really an excellent one—they add a lot to it.

There are some bizarre liner notes, too, pretty long and wordy, written by Andy Wickham. Here’s a bit: “They live in a nutty world of semi-existentialism, of cuckoo-clocks and antique lampshades, of beat-up old cars and Indian boots…” etc.—great liner note style. The other thing worth mentioning is that I have two copies—I guess a stereo and a mono version—at this point I have no preference—but the covers are way different, and what’s weird is that it’s the same photo, cropped differently. It’s a photo where the four of them are sitting somewhat awkwardly in a dry bathtub. It’s a pretty good bathtub, too, in a tiled bathroom with a window right above the tub—I’d take that bathroom. On the right, the toilet would be very prominent except that it’s mostly covered by an art department signboard announcing the album’s singles. Too, bad—I want to see the toilet—is there an older version of the cover with the toilet visible? Anyway, on the other record the photo is cropped so that you can’t even see the bathtub—and if that one was the only one you ever saw, you’d think, why in the hell did they pick this odd, awkward photo in this weird tiled room? There must have been a handful of fun discussions, about all this, at Dunhill Records.




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