Archive for the '1970s' Category

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.

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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.

31
Oct
17

The Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra “Chariots of the Gods”

This is the 1974 soundtrack album for the 1970 movie by the same name, which was based on the 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods?—which was an international bestseller that, for years, you used to see wherever you’d see used paperbacks. Roughly, about the theory that extraterrestrials came to Earth in ancient times and influenced our culture (which would explain a lot, especially if they brought along cats). I feel like we might have seen the movie at some point in high school—projected in a classroom in 16mm, which we did occasionally—but I’m not sure. If we did see it, I guess it wasn’t as memorable as Highways of Agony.

But it’s the soundtrack album, by German composer Peter Thomas, that I’m interested in here. On the cover, I believe, are images from the movie poster, with an Easter Island head watching a Saturn rocket take off over the Great Pyramids, etc. It’s got 19 tracks, with titles like “Popular Myth and Destruction of Sodom” and “Rocket Science,” and is somewhat a journey in itself. It’s kind of hard to get a handle on since it’s all over the place, though that probably is a reflection of the movie. Maybe the easiest way for me to come to terms with this record is to go track by track and describe my own movie, based on the feelings each of these compositions conjures in my imagination. For simplicity’s sake I’m not going to name each track, but go by number, and we’ll call the movie: The Chariot of Speen.

Side A, Track 1 finds our hero waking up with a wicked hangover, complete with flashbacks of the time he fell in love with the neighbor girl who was four years older (he was 12). A2 sounds like he’s at the dentist, and it must have been pulling wisdom teeth because a radical shift in tone takes him crossing the desert with Peter O’Toole and camels, and every time someone hits that gong there is a human (or camel) sacrifice. A3 is much lighter, thankfully, maybe riding a bike, at least until the post-traumatic flashbacks kick in. A4 has us looking out over the plain, maybe counting windmills or oil-wells, or maybe just mirages. Yes, it was all merely an illusion. A5 begins with graduation day and tricks us, because it ends there, too. A6 is that ephemeral space between remembering and not remembering that you’re not remembering. A7 evokes that feeling of being in a public place with absolutely no connection to humans. A8 is walking music, when everything is groovy, people in your neighborhood respect you, and you occasionally stop to tie your shoes (way too often, actually). A9 is driving music, and it would have to be in a convertible, with blue skies, and above the blue Mediterranean, on those twisty roads that people survive in movies but not always in real life.

Side B, Track 1 gets us back on track with the main theme, in this case soaring overhead, presumably in some kind of contraption and not just disembodied. B2 evokes the nightmare of the Industrial Revolution, or it might just be enduring a night of indigestion. B3 finds our hero in love, naturally all too fleeting. B4 is that always hilarious joke, “I think we should see other people.” B5 is more either eternal life or eternal nothingness, which I guess are two sides of the same coin. B6, for whatever reason, has us shopping in a sunny market, maybe with a Warren Oates character, exploiting our superior exchange rates. B7 is walking among the unburied dead, wiping away sticky cobwebs that block the path, and the horror is acute but brief. B8 is that one scene in the movie with “the man with no name” (who eventually kills everyone) where he isn’t killing anyone, but rather finding innocence and beauty in the unblemished face of a ravishing international starlet who is unfortunately underage and about to be (in the movie) brutally raped and slain. B9 is the same guy, heading off to meet his destiny, on horseback (minus the destiny). B10 is our hero (who never sailed a day in his life) piloting a sleek sailing ship, staring off over the blue horizon, thinking about dinner.

13
Sep
17

Randy Barlow “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa”

I bought this 45 due to the weakness I have for buying records by any artist with the first name “Randy”—which has actually done pretty well by me in the past—Randy is kind of a goofball name, not necessarily someone you’d want to spend your life with, but well-equipped for theatrics, unhealthy deep-fried rings of sweet dough, or odd-ball songs with questionable lyrics. In my fiction writing, I named a character (based on me) Randy, and another (based on me) Barlow—so naturally, the name Randy Barlow intrigued me. I’d never heard of him, but it turns out he was fairly successful in country music, from the Sixties into the Eighties. He’s still out there, maybe still playing. Originally from Detroit, he was born Randall Moore, but I suppose that sounds like a guy who is sipping tea and writing sonnets, so he changed it to Randy Barlow. He’s got a solid singing voice. The label is Gazelle Records, which has a really nice logo where there the two L’s make the horns on a simple drawing of the gazelle. This record came out in 1976.

“Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa” is a Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune, but I don’t really like it—it sounds like something that would have been on the AM radio when I was in grade school, like “Knock Three Times,”—it’s not terrible, but I picked up this record entirely because of the intriguing title of the B-side: “The Bottle Took His Mother (And My Wife)”— which struck me as kind of insane sounding—a bit of a brain-twister trying to figure out what that means. Offhand, it makes you think it’s going to be a situation like in Chinatown (1974 movie) (“My sister, my daughter… she’s my sister and my daughter!”)—but then when you listen to it and realize the “he” in the title is the singer’s kid… it’s like, oh, okay, my kid’s mother and my wife, right. Kind of boring. Though the bottle still took her. The song pretty much spells it out: The guy took the kid and left his wife, because of her drinking. She didn’t die, though, so I don’t know… it seems like he’s more upset because her drinking is exceeding what he deems Christian-level drinking. In a way, it’s fairly reprehensible—I get the feeling it’s a little selfish. I know that it’s not easy to deal with an alcoholic, but it’s not like she started drinking after you married her. Essentially, this song should he called, “Because the Bottle took My Wife, I took our Kid (and now we’re making the lawyers rich in this extended custody battle).”

29
Aug
17

Sarah Vaughan “Send In The Clowns”

As much as I like Sarah Vaughan, and as much as I like clowns, and as much as I like the year 1974 (when this was released), you’d think it’d be an automatic home run. But no. First of all, I was never crazy about the song, “Send in the Clowns,” and here is a kind of cloying version that sounds more like the lame 1980s than ’74 (and interestingly, Sarah Vaughan also released a record called Send In The Clowns in 1981). The very next song, though, is a nice soul song (I’m not going to list all the songs here, but okay, I especially like this one: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”). Then the next one sounds like it could accompany a Blaxploitation movie. The next one is another smooth soul number. Then another one that’s more smooth than soul, but it’s okay. Side two is all really pretty good, though the last song is just way too much—it sounds like something from a live review in a very big supper club or small casino. It’s not pleasant. But really, the rest of the record is growing on me. I think this is one of those rare, but not unheard of, “skip the first and last song” LPs.

The album cover, put out by Mainstream Records, has the same exact picture on front and back, which I find just really unforgivable—I mean, why? You have the opportunity to put a full-color, twelve inch by twelve inch piece of art into the world—put a picture on the back of Sarah Vaughan applying makeup, or removing it, or cooking breakfast, or drinking tea, or a picture of your cat, or your kid’s art, or your laundry—anything but the same photo that’s on the front cover! The picture, of a clown, I’ve always assumed is Sarah Vaughan in clown makeup, but really it could be someone else, like maybe a clown. Anyway, as far a clowns go, it’s not too gnarly, but as far as album cover pictures go, it’s disturbingly gnarly. She’s wearing an odd clown suit, of which I think there is some significance, but I can’t find an example in the many, many, many, many clown images on the internet, so I just don’t know. Maybe someone will fill me in. She’s drinking from a straw, from a glass/cup/coconut concealed behind a paper umbrella. I don’t know, the whole combination of things is really kind of odd and unpleasant, though I can’t really put my finger on why. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Also, she’s not just a clown, but a man clown. But do clowns even have a gender? I mean, what are they, really? But anyway, this song, by Stephen Sondheim, isn’t about clowns, literally—duh. The lyrics are great, actually, but I’ve never heard a version of this song (and there’s been like a million of them?) that I liked. I don’t like the song. Maybe if there’s a version out there sung a cappella by Gilbert Gottfried, I could warm up to that.

23
Aug
17

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin IV”

I’ve got a new random number system for picking out records to write about, by the way, so there is no other reason for me putting this one on than that, though I still do thoroughly enjoy it—one of the more overplayed rock records of all time—every time I hear it. I don’t really need to talk about the songs or the music with this one, do I? My dream would be to meet someone who has never heard this record, then play it for them a few times while we talk about it and I take notes. But in what cave am I going to meet this person? My favorite song, no hesitation, is “Misty Mountain Hop”—one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs—especially the, “Baby, baby, baby do you like it,” part.

One of the funniest things is the disagreement over the title of this 1971 LP, the band’s fourth. I’m calling it, here, Led Zeppelin IV, as that, I think, is the most common way to refer to it, and what Wikipedia calls it. Discogs, however, insists that is has no title, which I guess is technically correct, but to call something “Untitled” strikes me as asinine, and that goes for anyone who has an artwork or something without a title, because then “Untitled” becomes the title and it’s no longer untitled. So please, people, title your shit. It just occurred to me, that since I’m writing about this now, in 2017, I may as well assign it a new title, and maybe it will catch on. I’ll think about this as I proceed.

I’m sure the album cover is considered some kind of a classic album cover, but I never liked it (except for there being no words on it), but when you open it up and look at the entire composition—the bleak landscape on the left, and crumbling wall with the painting hung on it in the foreground—it’s really pretty great. So I guess in that sense, I like it, which is more than I can say for the stupid stoner drawing on the inside, with a wizard standing on a rocky cliff looking down on a town (or maybe on a small, ragged figure of indeterminate gender, in the foreground). So little have I ever cared for this drawing, I feel like this is the first time I’m really looking at it. How many bags of weed have been consumed while the intricate, unrealistic rocks have been examined for hidden images and meanings? However, I just noticed, for the first time, that little white goat, grazing on an elevated plateau. I’m pretty certain the answer to the mystery lies there.

Okay, I’ve got it. Since this might be the most “Speenish”—(i.e., my last name, as an adjective, meaning the distillation of the R. Speen essence (sometimes, though not to be, confused with patchouli and burning sage))—of all popular rock ‘n’ roll records, I’m going to officially, as of this date forward, name this record: Led Zeppelin Speen.




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