Archive for the '1960s' Category

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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30
Nov
18

Jefferson Airplane “Volunteers”

If you want to give some kid an introduction to 1969, this would be a good place to start. The album cover is modeled after an activist newspaper, and the foldout, insert lyric sheet is as well. There is that equal amount of humor, deadly seriousness, surrealism, practicality, insiderishness and outsiderishness in unequal but workable measures. The music, too, of course—that style of vocal harmony, everybody singing, and jamming, and pretty excessive lead guitar that is often impressive once you’re in the mood. If I have time later, I’m going to go back and read some of this stuff, but I’m nearing the end of my time here (as we all are). I am actually pretty unfamiliar with Jefferson Airplane—I know the names (if you came across them for the first time, you might think they were a law firm, or a deli), but not much about them. I probably have had more contact with the band through the movie Gimme Shelter (1970) than any other way. Oh, one really important thing is that this is one of the few records I know of that uses the inside album cover (it’s one of those that fold open) to good use: there is a giant (as big as the album cover, X2) photo of peanut butter and jelly on bread (it looks like crunchy PB and straw-or-raspberry jelly-or-jam, with a liberal amount of butter). So it’s an open-faced, PB&J—and then when you close the album cover back up, it makes a sandwich. Get it?

23
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “Nashville Skyline”

There is the theory that there have been two Bob Dylan’s, the Robert Zimmerman who made the music up through Blonde on Blonde, and then the one who “became” Bob Dylan after he was killed in the motorcycle accident (likely no motorcycle accident, but a more mundane or sordid death, and the motorcycle accident was an invented story for the time away, to recover, but there was no recovery, just death). The second Dylan is a guy, probably a talented but unsuccessful Nashville musician (who sings a lot like Jim Nabors) who looked like Dylan (a guy who “fit the jacket”—as in the Greg Brady fitting the jacket Brady Bunch episode) and could play, and saw this as a weird gig he’d be able to step away from eventually with some cash—but later realized it was actually the Devil’s Opportunity of the Century, and there was no escape until the escape of death, ultimately.

Which is a long way around of saying this record sounds like nothing that Dylan had done before, while sounding exactly like what he had done before—which is of course, keeping in line with what he (both of him) has always done. (Actually, the multiple Dylans in Todd Haynes’ movie, I’m Not There (2007) is a much better conspiracy theory, kind of like the Shakespeare being-a-collective theory—and I realize that movie is not a theory, it’s an innovative and brilliant approach to Dylan—but often from art arises not just metaphorical but actual truth.) Anyway, I think I heard this way back when I was in high school and I didn’t like it—the Jim Nabors voice freaked me out, and I didn’t like country and western, yet, at that time—but now, this is one of my favorite BD records, and “Lay Lady Lay,” a song I once couldn’t stand, is one of my favorites, as well as “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.”

03
Oct
18

Sarah Vaughan “The Lonely Hours”

I didn’t know I had this 1964 Sarah Vaughan record, and it’s a good one—I should be putting it on regularly. Twelve bluesy, dramatic songs, arranged by Benny Carter, roughly on the theme of lost love. Sarah Vaughan doesn’t hold back. It’s a nice copy, too, on Roulette records, with that lovely two-tone target checkerboard label. The cover looks like it’s part of an actual painting (no one painted square paintings) that has more deep blue color than any record I own. It’s what looks like a NYC row-house apartment, big steps going up to a darkened front door. The only light is from the bay window, in which a woman, wearing a neglige, I think, is standing, looking out (presumably, in this context, for an absent lover). She may or may not be smoking—a cigarette, that is—one might say she’s “smoking,” as in hot. I don’t talk that way, personally, but I do think it’s odd that she’s white, while Sarah Vaughan, who’s record this is, after all, is black. You’d think they could have found an image that more closely reflected the artist at hand. I wonder if there was a discussion at the label about it. Maybe that’s not so weird, there are sometimes women on the cover of Sinatra records, it’s not always him. White women, of course. No, it’s fucked up.

Quite unrelated, I noticed that there is a Wikipedia page for, besides Sarah Vaughan, a Sara Vaughn—which just struck me as funny because her name is like the more famous singer, but without the “h” in Sarah, and without the second “a” in Vaughan. Sara Vaughn—a middle-distance runner of sufficient success to get a Wikipedia page. She’s 32 years old, five foot one (like the Iggy Pop song), and her race seems to the the 1500 meters—which was close, in distance, to my best race (the mile—but we hadn’t gone metric, yet). Oh, that’s interesting—her best mile time is 4:27—that’s exactly my best mile time! I make nothing of this coincidence—I just take every opportunity to brag about that personal best, since it was not bad for a high school kid in the 1970s. “I’ll Never Be the Same”—is a standout on this record—it’s a familiar song, no doubt I’ve heard Sinatra do it—same with “If I Had You.” “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is another familiar one—I think I know the Kay Starr version—but that song (written by Walter Donaldson) goes back to 1930, the year my dad was born, and was recorded by well over a hundred artists. It makes you wonder if that was even an expression before this song—and if so, where’d it come from? Anyway, I could go on and on—I love all these songs. “(In My) Solitude” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” are standouts. It’s a real mood record—I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next time I break up with someone… if ever… again… A notion so distant… I’m sure there’s a song about that.

10
Jul
18

Dave Van Ronk “Dave Van Ronk Sings Ballads, Blues & a Spiritual”

I never really listened to any Dave Van Ronk before, aware of him primarily as a name in the early Sixties (was it late-Fifties, as well?) NYC folk music scene—a time, place, and music I’ve pretty much ignored as not being my bag, exactly. But DVR had come to the forefront of my attention because of the movie, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), which was supposedly inspired primarily by Dave Van Ronk—though the main character, Llewyn Davis, doesn’t seem to resemble DVR in appearance, sound, or biography—at least not too much, to my knowledge. Anyway, these are some pretty serious folk tunes, performed well and reverently, and this is a serious record, put out by the label DOXY, full title: “dave van ronk accompanying himself on guitar sings ballads, blues & a spiritual”—and includes liner notes by DVR and detailed track by track analysis on the inner sleeve by Kenneth S. Goldstein.

I just listened to the whole record and it’s very good, surprisingly compelling. (I mean, for me, not a real cheerleader for traditionally played traditional music and seriousness, etc.) DVR’s voice is pretty great—it’s unique and expressive, and I especially like the more blues oriented stuff. Anyway, I’m not going to get too much into the history of this right now; there are lyrics and notes about each song on the inner sleeve, but I’m not taking a college course here! It’s just nice to know that I feel like I’ve had a big, heaping, hot meal of Van Ronk, and next time he’s on the radio I won’t change the station.

14
Jun
18

Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”

If you subscribe to the theory that BD died after Blonde on Blonde (1966) and was replaced with “Dylan 2,” then this record makes a lot more sense—the cover is a big, dark, head silhouette (which decades later would become a “thing”)—which makes you think of nothing so much as a statue, a monument to a legend, dead and gone, and the white lettering and song titles right over his head announce nothing so much as “this is a product.” The photo (BD in concert, blowing on that dreaded harmonica) looks oddly contemporary—even more so if you imagine he’s looking closely at a smartphone, which is how I’d suspect kids these days would interpret it.

This is possibly the most unlistenable Dylan record for me, as it starts with the dreaded “Rainy Day Women” and is pretty much made up of the songs that have been played to death—which I don’t even think are close to his best songs. About the only one here I can still stand to listen to is “Like a Rolling Stone,” and then only on Nostalgia Thursday, and then preferably with a frivolous drink. If I had the internet right now I’d look up how many times in articles over the years someone has said, “I wish at an early age someone had stuck that harmonica right up his ass,” or “He really puts the ‘harm’ in harmonica.” I suppose it’s supposed to sound like a train whistle, but personally, any time someone tries to make a rock song sound like a train, I’m yawning like the Grand Canyon, and even a mention of a train has me nodding off. And I love trains.

08
Jun
18

Sly & The Family Stone “Greatest Hits”

I don’t think I ever owned a copy of earlier Sly and the Family Stone records, but I had this 1970 greatest hits record, it feels like, all my life, and everyone had it, and you know all the songs—they were on the radio, they were on TV, and they’re still being played here and there enough that you might hear one on any day somewhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if you put the vinyl record on your stereo and listen to it closely, like I’m doing, it actually sounds fresh, since the reality of the music is different from my memory—it’s actually rawer, more innovative, and generally more interesting than the version in my memory. Particularly the songs: “Everybody Is A Star,” “Life,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” “Stand!”—really, all of them. No matter how well you know them in your sleep, it’s amazing how much better they sound “in person” (just you and your hi-fi).

I remember this time in junior high or high school when Sly and the Family Stone were on some variety TV show the night before, and everyone was talking about it at school the next day. Imagine that! There was some kind of confusion when the band took the stage, because then, Sly, or all of them, left the stage, I think, before coming back and playing. I don’t know what was going on, and it might be possible to find a video of that now, and even people discussing it, but I remember that as a very unique, very real moment, that really separated itself from the usual, over-rehearsed bullshit. He seemed like he had a great sense of humor, was having lot of fun, and had great style. This record has a just terrible cover, you’ve seen it, but over time it’s become kind of a classic, I guess. But the back is better, just a huge picture of Sly with a red knit hat and the best teeth I’ve ever seen. And the album cover folds open (and there are some liner notes, which I don’t remember being there—pretty good, too) and there is a giant vertical picture of the band, kind of out of focus, grainy, weird perspective, and Sly with those great boots—really, one of the best band pictures ever.




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