Archive for January, 2019

26
Jan
19

Chicago “Chicago”

I bought a late-Seventies Chicago record when I was in high school and was so-so about it, then later I just didn’t like them at all, so it was a surprise to me when, a few years ago, I found myself compulsively listening to some of their early stuff, especially the hits. I bought this 1970 record, titled “Chicago” (but also referred to as Chicago II, I guess, because it’s their second LP) from a $4 bin—mostly fascinated because the cover was thin cellophane over what looks like a badly photocopied cover, and the label is this really exotic, old, Asian looking, beautiful silver printing on red, called “First.” What was it? I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it’s from Taiwan, maybe legit, maybe a bootleg, who knows. I thought it might be unlistenable, but for $4, I was just curious. It turns out that it’s not only listenable, but a great record with great sound. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not (and my stereo system is an ongoing adventure in inconsistency), but weirdly it sounds better than any other record—just really lush and warm. How much that has to do with the pressing, and how much is just the recording, playing, songs—I have no idea. One thing about the band, Chicago, that I really like, is how uncomplicated their early recordings are, while being tremendously complex—you know, in song structure and arrangements—but just all really organic sounding.

I finally got curious and consulted the internet about these Taiwanese pressings, and sure enough, people talk about the sound quality being really good. I didn’t want to go down that particular rabbit-hole though—you’ve got to protect yourself, you know, from the old rabbit-holes—but I did note that someone talked about the weird cellophane covered album covers that are just like covers printed on the back of other things and then wrapped in this plastic. Then, looking closely at the cover of this Chicago record, I could see this faint writing coming through, and it said: “Shaft’s Big Score!” So then I had to cut the plastic away to see what was going on, and it turns out the Chicago cover is printed on very thin paper, and the inner structure of the album cover is made up of a Taiwanese printed “Shaft’s Big Score!” LP, and a divider (it’s a double record) in the middle is the cover of “Blood, Sweat & Tears 3.” Just really bizarre. Anyway, not ever having heard this record, except for some of the hit songs, I just kind of thought maybe the whole thing was some kind of random bootleg collection, but as it turns out, it’s just their second record, and it is kind of bizarre, just all over the place, but really great from beginning to end. They sure were pretty ambitious for a new band. I guess their first few records were double records, like they just didn’t realize that most sane bands primarily put out single records. At first they were called Chicago Transit Authority, but wisely chose to shorten the name (seeing how it’s even more syllables than ELO, and probably could foresee a career of rock journalists’ cleverness: “elevated” or “missed the bus”) to Chicago, and adopted that dumb script logo that looks like the sign for a deli, or something printed on a fat guy’s softball uniform.

I don’t want to go down a Chicago rabbit-hole, either—well, I just did—looking over their discography, and history, about which I know nothing. I rarely consult other music writers (I read lots of music writers, but I mean, specifically, when writing a review), but I was compelled to check Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” which is a great website, with no bullshit popping up, with an index, and searchable, tons of concise and insightful music writing (plus, he had the honor of getting a taste of his own medicine from Lou Reed, on that “Take No Prisoners” live record). Let’s see… Chicago… Christgau is… not a fan. To say the least. But I guess I am, now. Maybe I’ll pick up some more of the early records (I have a copy the their first “greatest hits” LP). Then, of course, I started reading about the tragic death of Terry Kath, and tried to remember what I thought about it at the time—1978. We didn’t have the internet, of course, and so we had to wait for any news to be on the radio or TV or in the papers, and then to really find out anything, next month’s Rolling Stone. I guess by that point I thought of the band as an insipid AM radio hits band, but still, it was pretty sad and senseless and depressing. Then later the same year, my hero Keith Moon died, and that really hit me hard. While I was legitimately sad, I remembered thinking that the intense public mourning for Elvis (the previous year) was kind of ridiculous (though it’s easy to forget that he was only 42). But Terry Kath and Keith Moon were barely into their early thirties. I don’t really believe that “only the good die young” thing (maybe it’s more that they haven’t had the time yet to become wretched), but considering another prominent 1946 birth… well, forget that (I try to avoid presidential politics on this site, but it is notable when someone goes from being merely a huge, reeking, cultural turd to a literal giant magnet for hate, racism, intolerance, and fascism).

A couple of years ago, when David Bowie died, and then a few months later, Prince died, I did feel pretty emotional, sad and devastated—again wondering if that made sense, not knowing them personally. But now, because of social media, you are very much aware of this as a shared experience. It is not at all unusual for people to mourn the loss of artists, public figures, who enrich their lives. Thinking about it now, when Terry Kath died, I was still in high school, living with my parents, and my shared experience about this kind of thing was primarily with them. And in those years, from the time of my birth, to the point at which I first moved away from home (which coincided, by chance, with Keith Moon’s death) my experiencing and dealing with the death of family members, friends, and public figures was a pretty intimate experience with my parents, and I feel like I was closer with them, on a communication level, than probably the average kid. So I’m thinking about that now… started out to write about this Chicago record… talk about your rabbit-hole…

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19
Jan
19

Audiophile “Echoes of the Storm”

This 33 1/3 RPM long playing 12 inch record is a collection of high fidelity recordings of various oddities, pressed into beautiful, translucent, ruby-red vinyl grooves, as heavy as the records the kids are making these days, though this came out in 1956. I’m considering “Audiophile” to be both the artist and the label (from Saukville, Wisconsin!), and “Echoes of the Storm” the title, though that recording comprises Side A of this disc—Side B is titled: “Crazy Quilt” and consists of several tracks: Rotary Saw, Hammer Driving Nails, Water Dripping into Bucket,” “Drums,” and “Music Box.” The last two tracks are undeniably “music”—though I’ll wager they didn’t crack the Billboard charts—and I find the Rotary Saw track not unlike being subjected to the sound of a rotary saw. In fact, if ever I put this side on again, on purpose, it would be justifiable for friends to express concern. Side A, however, is another matter. I love thunderstorms, and this sounds exactly like a thunderstorm, and it’s framed by birds and frogs, and a train rolls through somewhere around the halfway point! There are some pretty good liner notes about serious techie audiophiliac issues, but also composed with a lot of dry humor. It also reveals that the storm was recorded in Milwaukee in June, 1952—and I find it kind of thrilling to know that. The cover looks pretty homemade and it is beautiful. It includes an 8 x 8 inch, what looks like a woodcut, rendering of a storm, with racing clouds, a bent tree, and some really frightening, hairy lightning—all in silver and blue on black. I found myself staring at it while listening to the storm track, and I have to say, I’ll take this over drugs any day. I got a real evening’s entertainment out of the dollar or so this record cost me.

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.

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.




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