Author Archive for Ray Speen

07
Aug
17

The Association “Goodbye, Columbus”

This is a soundtrack record for the 1969 movie, Goodbye, Columbus which features some Association songs, much of it corny and dated sounding, and kind of great if you’re in the mood. “Dartmouth? Dartmouth!” is a groovy number if you’re looking for something for your dance party. The movie, which I’ve seen parts of on TV (worth watching, for me, because I love Richard Benjamin) is based on the book by the same name, Philip Roth’s first. I’m kind of unclear, and not patient enough to figure out, the references in the book, movie, and on one track of this record to Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State University, but it’s kind of annoying. I’ve read a couple books by Philip Roth, which were great, and I plan on reading more, but not this one. I’ve got a complex relationship with Columbus, Ohio, where I first went to college. I used to be a big fan of Ohio State football, but when I went to school there, I became disillusioned by the football players (who were now (then) the same age as me). I kind of knew this one guy, Art Schlichter, who has kind of an amazing and tragic story (well, you can read about it, if you’re interested). The Buckeye’s beloved coach, Woody Hayes, was fired that year after he punched a player on another team. The whole sports thing kind of crumbled before my eyes. Though now, almost 40 years later, despite rejecting sports on almost every level, I’m once again a huge Ohio State football fan, and anticipate the coming season more than seems healthy. I dropped out of school after two years and attempted to walk across the country. That didn’t go well. But anyway, that was my first “Goodbye, Columbus”—though later I returned to that town, following there the first woman I was in love with. At one point we were engaged to be married, but that didn’t work out, and I’ve yet to be married. So that was kind of my “Goodbye, Columbus” the second time. Though—you guessed it—I returned once again, and tried to go back to school—which didn’t go well at all, and I then swore off college. So, yeah, number 3. If I wanted to get ridiculous, I could subtitle yet another chapter of my life “Goodbye, Columbus”—about my short but intense liaison with a woman who happened to share a name with that city, movie, and this record. She was the love of my life, at least at that time—until she crushed me like a grape with wine written all over it. I guess I’ve digressed a little bit here, and kind of didn’t pay attention to side two, but I suppose it was okay, not bad music to inspire wistful reveries.

07
Aug
17

The Association “Insight Out”

I never paid much attention to The Association but I heard the song “Never My Love” in a movie sometime fairly recently (can’t remember what movie) and it struck me as a great song, as familiar as it is, it was kind of discovering a new song. People must have went nuts for it when it was new and on the radio; it’s an undeniable pop classic—what does it take to write a song like that?—how much of it is just luck? The rest of this record can’t come close to that song, and most of it strikes me as annoying happy hippie bullshit. “Windy” was a hit when I was a kid (this record came out in 1967)—on the radio a lot, and I might have had the single—but I don’t really like it much. If I tried really hard I might find more to like about this record, but life is short (and LPs are long). The album cover is uninspiring (and way too familiar if you ever look for used records) but there is the address of The Association Fan Club: 24 N. Mentor, in Pasadena, which is now The Ice House, a comedy club.

30
Jul
17

Michael Franks “The Art of Tea”

I had never heard of Michael Franks, saw this record in a thrift store and bought it against my better judgment. The picture on the cover, of him, doesn’t tell you much, unless it tells you this record is 1975. There are some familiar names playing on this record: Wilton Felder, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, and more, and I’m listening to it as I look for him on the Internet. He’s a jazz singer/songwriter; all the songs here are his, and there are lyrics on the back, and there’s some good ones. On second listening the record is already growing on me. I like his voice a lot—it’s equal parts a little odd and way smooth. He’s been putting out albums pretty regularly since 1973, and he’s got a website, looking pretty good, now in his seventies, and still playing. Don’t know why I’ve never heard of him. One song here, “Popsicle Toes,” I’ve heard before—I believe done by Diana Krall. How about these lyrics from that song: “You must have been Miss Pennsylvania/With all this pulchritude/How come you always load your Pentax/When I’m in the nude?” Or how about this one, called “Eggplant”: “When my baby cooks her eggplant/She don’t read no book/And she’s got a Gioconda/Kind of dirty look/And my baby cooks her eggplant/About 19 different ways/But sometimes I just have it raw/With mayonnaise.” In the lyric department, he’s definitely got it going on, at least here in 1975. And did I say that the whole record is smooth?—something that might have put me off at one time, but now I’m into it.

25
Jul
17

Archie Ulm “Archie Ulm at the Yamaha EX-42”

This is apparently a private pressing record from around 1975 of this organ wizard from Milwaukee, Archie Ulm, playing some supper club standards on the Yamaha EX-42, accompanied by percussionist Paul Hergert and guitarist Ar Kriegel. I don’t know anything about the Yamaha EX-42—“an electronic marvel” without looking it up, and I’m not going to (it’s an early 70s big-ass electric organ) which he plays, as well as an ARP Odyssey and a Carnaval electric piano. (The cover photo, of Archie sitting behind a bank of keyboards, is pretty great.) This whole record is a pleasure to listen to, just because he’s taking the organ a little (and sometimes a lot) beyond what you’ve heard anyone do (I think… well, I haven’t heard everyone… but then everyone hasn’t heard this). It’s kind of unfortunate that a lot of songs here are popular numbers (“The Hustle,” “Pink Panther”) that I kind of wish I’d never have to hear again, under any circumstances. (Though I don’t mind so much the “Rockford Files” and “NBC Mystery Movie” Themes.) When he goes off from the familiar parts of the songs, though, it’s pretty amazing and makes you think it’d be great if we could just hear his own compositions, or better quality, less cheesy standards. (“The Cat” is a standout; and he doesn’t hold back.) But you’ve got to make the people happy, I guess, and for some reason the people get nervous when they’re not hearing something they recognize. The cool thing is, because he is apparently satisfying the popular familiarity button, he sneaks in quite a lot of playing that should be making people nervous—because it’s completely insane.

15
Jul
17

Mose Allison “Mose Allison Sings”

I first heard Mose Allison in 1981 when Dave Wilner brought a cassette he’d made from his dad’s records, I believe, to Kent, Ohio where I met him. It’s kind of hard to believe that more years have passed since that time than had passed since this record was released (1963). That makes no sense, but then nothing about time and perspective does. I saw Mose Allison live in Cleveland sometime in the 1980s, and he sounded much like he does here. There are extensive liner notes by Ira Gitler that I’ll get to some day. The label is Prestige and there is an impossibly suave picture of him on the cover. 13 songs and every one of them is great, Mose Allison singing, playing piano, and a few different people on bass and drums. On any given Monday this could be my favorite LP of all time. My favorite songs are “Lost Mind” and “Eyesight to the Blind” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”—but like I said, they’re all great.

18
Jun
16

Lee Hazlewood “The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71)

I don’t want to get into an entire bio of Lee Hazlewood but I do have to include this legal disclaimer that he’s like my all-time hero, at least based on his style, singing, songwriting, and legend, and also the fact that he did the tile song (sung by Dusty Springfield) for my all time favorite movie (The Sweet Ride) as well as having a cameo part in that movie. If there are stains on his reputation or tales of bizarre behavior, there are other forums for that, but here I’m discovering this odd double LP with a much too specific title and questionable album art. Not because there are naked women or they are kneeling, looking up at him (you can only think about this humorously, right?) but because the women are all sporting fake LH-esque moustaches, and I’m sorry, but that’s where I draw the line.

This album is dated 2012, about 5 years after he died, and LHI stands for Lee Hazlewood Industries (his own record label in the late 60s) and it’s got a booklet with extensive notes which I unfortunately don’t have time to read, and it’s on this super heavy vinyl that someday is going to be cursed by the aching back survivors of record collectors (at least until they start selling the stuff off). Two records, 11 of the 17 songs written by LH, but they all sound like his songs. He sure knows how to pick songs to cover. He is joined singing, on a few songs, by Suzi Jane Hokom, Ann-Margret, and Nina Lizell. All the songs are good, most are weird, and several have those crazy kind of spoken introductions. Because of this modern packaging, it’s hard to remember that these were records that came out at about the time when I first started buying 45s. It would be cool to find the old versions. Pretty much, if you ever see a Lee Hazlewood record, no matter how dusty and scratchy it is, it’s worth picking up because it’s like a an artifact from a parallel pop music universe.

 

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.




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