Author Archive for Ray Speen

10
Dec
17

Bob Terri “Judy, featuring Bob Terri”

I bought this record because of the cover, which is a gigantic, a little bit cartoonish, color portrait of a woman—her face taking up most of the cover—it kind of reminds me of one of the Mad Magazine artist renditions. I don’t know who this is, but I’m guessing, “Judy.” It’s all a bit confusing, I guess because Judy, Bob, and Terri are all first names, so it kind of sounds like a movie: Bob, Terri, and Judy. (There are a lot of movie titles that are two names, but are there any that are three? There must be, but I can’t think of any offhand.) There are liner notes on back that tell us who is Bob Terri, but it reads kind of like a very dry CV—so I didn’t take much from skimming it. There is no date (Internet tells me it’s 1966), and the songs are mostly standards, but with one song (“Judy”) by Terri. Because of the garish cover, and that the singer is a guy named “Bob”—and because of my association of Judy Garland with drag queens, I guess I was sort of hoping this would be a kind of campy, crazy, drag queen record. Though I don’t even know what that would sound like. As it is, it’s a lot of straight, quiet renditions, pretty much piano and voice (with some accompaniment). I guess you could imagine walking into a little, dimly lit piano bar, and it’s just him there playing.

It’s still a little hard to listen to “Blue Velvet” and not think of the movie, Blue Velvet. I don’t want to think about the bar where Dorothy Vallens sang—I’m still trying to imagine a small, dark, perpetually smoky place… pretty much empty. No picture of this Bob Terri, so even if I imagined him, I’d probably be wrong. I guess he wrote the song “Judy” so I’m paying especially close attention to that. It’s a good song. It’s got an intro, then it’s a loving portrait of this Judy. I’m guessing it’s about a real person. I wonder what Judy thought about this song? Well, I certainly hope she was into it, or else she’d be a little creeped out. “Shadow of Your Smile”—that’s a good song, and this is a nice, pretty intense version. I had a fairly negative reaction to this record the first time I heard it, I’m not sure why, but now I’m really liking it. I can listen to this record. And it’s kind of interesting that I can’t really find anything about Bob Terri on the Internet. It was worth buying for the crazy cover, but it’s a nice listening record, it’s really growing on me. And it’s on Terri’s own label—it might be extremely valuable. I feel like I solved one mystery: what this record sounds like—but so many more mysteries have opened up, like: who is Bob Terri, and where is he now?

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09
Dec
17

Townes Van Zandt “High, Low and In Between”

At some point a decade and a computer or two ago I downloaded a metric ton of Towns Van Zandt records on my computer, and then for like a decade of playing random iTunes it seemed like the “shuffle” had some kind of TVZ preference—almost like it was a bug (these things MUST get built in by bored computer dudes, right?) So I’d get like about 25 percent TVZ, it seemed (I didn’t actually keep track and calculate actual percentage—because I’m not crazy). It got to the point where it was making me hate TVZ and deleting these songs, when what I should have done is stop listening to shuffle and listen to more records. I knew that, but still have a bad taste in my mouth, so it was like eating spinach (assuming you don’t like spinach) to put this record on. Naturally, listening to TVZ on vinyl is an entirely different experience, and I kind of feel like those people who eventually tried spinach and found it to be wonderful. But maybe this is just a good record, too—it seems to be a reissue of a 1971 album (if I’m reading my Roman numerals correctly) on Metamucil-colored vinyl, and the cover photo is presumably of TVZ (but it could be anyone) (snapped through the dirty window of a pickup truck with an Instamatic and no flashcubes)—asked to pose next to the back wall of a 7-Eleven while taking out the trash after second shift.

There is a liner note insert—though I’m not sure if that’s technically correct (maybe liner notes have to be on the back album cover and be possible to read without a magnifying glass and a day off)—by Colin Escott, who, if he hasn’t already, should write a book about Townes Van Zandt—he’s got a good start, here. It looks like some interesting stuff, though, and I’ll read it later. Right now I’m enjoying this record on a sunny Saturday morning, so cold out that they had to use the Kelvin scale. This is without a doubt my favorite TVZ record I’ve heard to date (though, I don’t know if you can count the virus-infused stuff in my iTunes, anyway). Good songs, all written by TVZ—good playing on all—and his voice has a happy and carefree quality, but not without the undercurrent of sadness you always hear from him. For some reason there’s something about the quality of his singing that always makes me think of him as a friend.

06
Dec
17

Stan Getz “Reflections”

This is a 1964 Stan Getz record, with “arrangements by Claus Ogerman/Lalo Schifrin” on Verve Records—11 short songs (I wish they were all longer!)—all really nice—what would be a great make-out record, except you have to get up too often to turn it over—but that’s one of the drawbacks of records, in general, for making out. I don’t know why this made me think about making out—I was not thinking of that; I suppose it’s because there is certain evocative appeal of these songs, and these arrangements, and this playing; that tenor sax is so out front at times it’s almost obscene. Or maybe it’s the songs with the choral arrangements, that sound like a movie (some of it is, such as Charade)—from a pre-rock’n’roll corner of the Sixties—a montage with beautiful people driving in a sports car with the top down, Cary Grant with a sick tan, or maybe Tony Curtis acting semi-inappropriate.

The cover has Stan Getz (I assume; he looks like that one character actor, you know, Jimmy Stewart’s cop friend in Rear Window) lying on a hillside in a seersucker jacket, smoking a cigarette, with an expression of either cool or defeat. It looks to me like the art department blacked out the area directly behind him so he wouldn’t just blend in with the grass, but it ends up looking more like we’re seeing a cutaway of him entombed in a fairly spacious grave. If you were to interpret it that way, you might interpret his expression as “not giving a shit.” You could even imagine this cover as one of those early anti-smoking ads, except he doesn’t look miserable enough, even for a man buried alive. Seeing how the album is titled “Reflections,” I’d have to say he’s… reflecting.

There are some serious liner notes on the back (three columns) by Jack Maher—I’d like to read it all, but maybe tomorrow after coffee. Okay, it’s now the next day. Have any of you reached the point in your life where coffee really does nothing as far as keeping you awake? I mean, it works in that it makes me feel normal, but say, to keep awake while reading three columns of text on the back of an album… no. Isn’t it great that someone would think it was cool to put three columns of text on the back of this album? I’d love to read it all, discuss it intelligently, but I don’t really feel like doing any kind of research right now. I know Lalo Schifrin from film scores, but I don’t know much else. I don’t know the Bossa Nova from a Chevy Nova, and I think the Samba is a pocket of dough, deep-fried and filled with something delicious. I read somewhere that everyone was all pissed off at Getz for “selling out” with this record—and I kind of love that idea, in its quaint sincerity—kind of like the folk people getting mad a Dylan for “going electric.” It’s a good reminder for anyone, in any time period, to step back and realize that even if you could look into the future, you have no idea just how bad things can and will get.

03
Dec
17

Bob McFadden and Dor “The Mummy” / “The Beat Generation”

Oh, no!—another novelty record. I suppose when you’re picking records up at thrift stores and yard sales, that’s what you’re going to get a lot of. These are two very different, but both goofy songs, by Bob McFadden (a singer and voice-actor—most significantly, to me—the voice of Franken Berry) and Dor (stage name for Rod McKuen, who wrote the songs, and was one of the few poets during my lifetime that I recall having household-name status). On “The Mummy” he uses an exaggerated silly monster voice, and the whole deal is not that interesting. I like “The Beat Generation” more, because the affected “hipster” delivery is a lot funnier to me. Also, I had no idea that this is the song that inspired Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation”—which is pretty inspired. This single is taken from the album “Songs Our Mummy Taught Us” which probably includes more of the same, though it does have a song called “Noisy Village.” Ha! Also of note: Bob McFadden shares a birthday with Randy Russell (as well as Edgar Allan Poe, Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark, Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, one of the Everly Brothers, Frank Anderson, and Franke Martin)! He’s from East Liverpool, Ohio (which should not be confused with Liverpool, England) home of the Elite Diner!

30
Nov
17

June Christy “Something Cool”

My dad had an identical copy of this 1962 record, so I kind of grew up with it, but don’t remember playing it a lot; more, I remember the distinctive album cover—a black and white (actually blue and white, for “cool”) illustration of June Christy with a three drink, closed eye smile, and an icy, sweating, tall drink in the foreground—so it’s bigger than she is. With an album cover like that you’re just asking for the ironic tag once the inevitable struggle with alcohol becomes public knowledge. The back has an even more stylized drawing of a highball and some brief biographical notes. I guess June Christy was famous for singing with Stan Kenton’s band and is most associated with “cool jazz.” This record, recorded with the Pete Rugolo orchestra, first came out in the Fifties, and was re-released many times in different versions and was ultimately her most successful album.

The internet tells me she was from Illinois and her real name was Shirley Luster, which is a great name, and you kind of have to wonder why she changed it, but it seems like people in entertainment all changed their names back then. This is a pretty upbeat, poppy record, and I always liked it; it’s got a few of my favorites: “The Night We Called It A Day,” “I Should Care,” “It Could Happen To You,” and the title song, by Bill Barnes, is really nice. I never listened that closely to her voice before, though I liked it okay, but now I’m paying more attention and finding it really captivating, kind of low, and very sexy, with a lot of personality. At times she reminds me a little of Anita O’Day and a little of Ella Fitzgerald, but also someone else—but I can’t figure out who. Maybe it’s not even a singer she’s reminding me of, but someone I know, or once knew. Oh, boy, I said I wasn’t going to fall in love again this year, especially with disembodied voices haunting lonely rooms above downtown shops, wind swirling early snow under a streetlamp. So much for promises.

28
Nov
17

Mott the Hoople “All the Young Dudes”

I have a theory that the peak of Western pop culture (music, books, movies) is the year 1973, and 1974 and 1972 come in a close second. I won’t list examples here, you can do that on your own. If I was allowed to pick my favorite things on different days of the week, on one of the seven my favorite rock band would be Mott the Hoople, but that’s mostly based on their last two records: Mott (1973) and The Hoople (1974) (to the uninitiated, it might sound like I’m making this up), and a single, “All the Young Dudes” from 1972. They had been a band since the Sixties (though I never heard of them until I bought the Mott record (as a young dude). The story I’ve heard is that they were a great live band, had a lot of die-hard fans, but their records didn’t sell that well, and they were about to break up in the early Seventies, and David Bowie, a fan, gave them the song, “All the Young Dudes,” which revived their career, got them a new label (Columbia), and led to this 1972 album—and then the two amazing (in my opinion) followup albums.

I might have some details or nuances wrong there, but I want to believe that, because it’s a great story. It’s also a crazy story because “All the Young Dudes” is one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs ever written, and who gives away their best songs when they’re right in the middle of a recording career as well? And it’s one of those songs that you know, the first time you hear it—that it’s going to be a classic. The nice thing is Mott the Hoople did a great version of it, and David Bowie later did an equally good version (which you might like better if you’re a Bowie fan), and no one sued anyone and everyone stayed friends (or so I want to believe). Anyway, the idea of Bowie giving this band that song is something that warms my heart every time I hear it.

I had probably heard the song somewhere, like on the radio, when I was 12, but I didn’t hear this album until many years later. As much as I liked Mott and The Hoople, it’s odd I didn’t seek out the older records, but at that time, I guess, it was looking toward the future, and I did buy the first Bad Company record, a band Mick Ralphs started when he left Mott the Hoople the next year. (The Bad Company hit song “Ready for Love” is on this record.) All the Young Dudes isn’t a bad album, but it’s not that great either; it feels really low-energy to me for some reason, and kind of disjointed. There are lead vocals from three different singers, but Ian Hunter is the one I want to hear. There are songs by Ian Hunter, other members of the band, Mick Ralphs, David Bowie, and even Lou Reed (not the worst cover of “Sweet Jane” anyone’s ever done, but not the best either).

The front album cover looks like it got slapped together in a mix-up with Columbia’s pulp fiction department, and they just decided to go with it. The five individual band pictures on back are all from live performance, but if you isolate their faces they just look sweaty and tired, and kind of sad even, like five guys watching their favorite football team lose. I’m pretty hard on this record, but really, there’s nothing here that indicates how good their next two albums would be, and how inspired Ian Hunter’s songwriting would be on those records. I can’t think of another example in rock’n’roll history where a band’s best two records are their last two. Still, I keep this record around just so I can listen to “All the Young Dudes” on vinyl—what can I say, it’s just really the perfect rock song, and is another one that sounds better right now than in in your memory (and the rhyme of “juvenile delinquent wrecks” and “I need TV when I got T-Rex” is one of the most inspired ever).

25
Nov
17

Alice Cooper “School’s Out”

If you’re anything like me, you played the title song loudly, repeatedly, each year, junior high and high school, on that glorious day in late May or early June… to the point that the lyrics, the tune, the nuances are ingrained in your mind like your social security number. And you might think there’s nothing left here for you to listen to. There you are wrong, as this is a great album, not just some filler backing up a hit. First of all, the song “School’s Out” is a lot better, hearing it again, than you remember—it’s one of those things that fades in your memory, but actually listening to it fresh is kind of a revelation. But because I’ve heard it like one million times, everything else on the album is more enjoyable to me—and it’s all pretty excellent, starting with the next song, “Luney Tune,” which starts out: “Slipped into my jeans/they’re hard and feelin’ mean.” I think that was the thing that turned me on to blue jeans. I don’t know about the rest of you kids out there, but that was it for me. Then it gets even better with the opening to “Gutter Cat vs. The Jets,” just a killer song.

This whole album, from 1972, has a high school theme, and borrows a lot from West Side Story and that whole mythology—which is very much in keeping with Alice Cooper’s overall theatricality. There’s an artifice to it all, of course, exacerbated by doing a kind of sound effects “street fight” bit—but that’s a very small part of this record. Most of all it’s great songs and some really pretty heavy duty music. I think this version of the Alice Cooper group wasn’t taken as seriously as the more blues-based musicians of the same era (that took themselves so seriously) (not that this isn’t blues-based at its core, but the theatrical element kind of dominates).

It has one of those novelty album covers that drives you crazy, not knowing which way is up, all that, as it’s a cardboard representation of a school desk, all decorated with graffiti, the lid opening to reveal a taped-in, very cool photo of the band (one—among many—strong influences on my drinking at an early age), and then a photographic representation of the inside of a school desk—which includes a switchblade, crayons and pencils, a slingshot, album credits in the form of a “School’s Out Quiz,” marbles, composition book, comics, etc. Even more impressive, the back album cover is a representation of the bottom of a desk (complete with gum stuck to it), with song titles scratched in—and die-cut legs that fold out, if you so desire.

Side two is as good as side one, starting with “My Stars,” and then what was not only my favorite Alice Cooper song, but favorite song period for probably a decade of my youth, “Public Animal #9.” This song must have been a single—at least it made its way into a jukebox at the Model-T Drive-In, a pizza place that had an old Ford Model-T high up on a pole as its sign. When I was 12 or so, first able to ride my bike on the street, my fledgling juvenile delinquent friends and I would head down there and order a pizza, and then when the waitress wasn’t looking, buy Lark cigarettes from a machine. We’d play the jukebox, and this is the song I most strongly remember. When we started our first band, maybe a year later, this is the first song we tried to emulate. It sure as hell seemed a lot easier for them than it was for us.




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