Archive for May, 2018

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!

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12
May
18

Harpo Marx “Harpo”

This 1957 LP doesn’t know if it wants to be called “Harpo in Hi-Fi,” “Harpo featuring Harpo Marx,” or simply, “Harpo.” The cover is a zany photo of Harpo Marx peeking through strings of a harp, pulling them apart as if he’s parting curtains—as if we can’t see him fully through the harp strings, anyway. This album features a dozen excellent tracks with various instrumentation, all including Harpo Marx on harp. It almost seems too perfect that a person known for being one of the Marx brothers, named Harpo, would also be an accomplished harpist. But then, truth is stranger than fiction. And why wouldn’t it be.

The accompanying musicians belong to the Freddy Katz Orchestra, though some of the songs are arranged by Harpo’s son, Bill Marx, who went on to be a theater critic. There are some standards here, as well as a some of Harpo’s compositions. There’s a lot of variety, and a lot to pay attention to, though it’s all very lovely. I could listen to this record from the beginning of the day until twilight, each number throwing me into a different mood, from nostalgia to melancholy to romantic. I’m afraid if I let myself, even, I might be compelled to mix myself a cocktail and sit on the veranda, neither of which are healthy options for me, but are both sounding good right about now.

The other interesting thing about this record is that it’s intended as a Hi-Fi test or demonstration record, as Harpo apparently was a Hi-Fi buff—and so the liner notes, besides noting the composer of each track, also reveals the particular instrumentation (including Harpo whistling) so you can better assess how your system is preforming. There is even technical information about the recording process, including details about the studio and mics, which should delight the technical geek. But that doesn’t mean you can’t just sit back and enjoy this record, and I find it highly suitable for: romantic dinners, cocktails on the veranda, crafts, reading magazines, and making love. All of which I’ve tested, with the record, at least to some degree.

08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.




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