Archive for the 'A New Beginning' Category

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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30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.

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.”

05
Aug
18

Link Wray “Link Wray”

Maybe this is the first Link Wray record, as it doesn’t have a title other than “Link Wray”—though, didn’t he put out records in the 50s?—and this looks seriously 70s, but there’s no date on it (the only thing I’m going to look up, once I’m reunited with the internet, is the dates each of these records came out). Anyway, here is another reminder to look more deeply into the early work of people you feel you have an idea of what they’re about; I’ve always been a Link Wray fan based on the few songs I know, and his sound, but really know very few recordings or anything about him. This record is on Polydor so he must have been well known enough, plus the cover is unusual in that it’s his head in profile, but die-cut along his face, and it opens that way. I thought the record companies reserved the fancy, die-cut covers for well-established gold sellers. Upon opening, a small photo is revealed—of a ramshackle structure, crudely painted with the sign, “Wray’s Shack 3 Track”—which is, according to the credits, the studio where the record was recorded, in Accokeek, Maryland. It would have been interesting to have been a neighbor to Link Wray and “The Family”—the credited musicians, several of which have the last name Wray. One name, Steve Verroca, plays drums, and also has half the songwriting credits. It makes me wonder when, if, and how the decision was made to call the band “Link Wray” and not something more band-like, such as “The Family” or “The Accokeek Noise Ordinance.”

20
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Bringing It All Back Home”

I would have been too young to appreciate this record when it came out, I suppose, though I kind of wish my parents were Dylan fans and I would have heard all this. Or maybe not. This has to be a lot of people’s favorite Dylan record, it’s got some of his best songs and maybe a better overall early rock’n’roll sound than any of them. I’ve always just kind of ignored it, I don’t know why. Just read the liner notes on back, written by Bob with minimal caps and punctuation—surreal and cryptic but pretty good. The cover photo is BD and a woman in a red dress holding a cigarette, sitting with a bunch of records and magazines in front of a fireplace. BD is holding a grey kitten. They’re all staring right at the photographer with remarkably similar expressions. I wonder whatever happened to that cat. Or that woman. Or that fireplace.

I wouldn’t want to have to say what my favorite Dylan songs are (or maybe I would like to, and I should make one of those favorite 100 songs lists—but I’ll have to listen to them all, some rainy day)—but “Maggie’s Farm” has to be one of my favorites. Is this the record that marked Dylan’s shift to electric rock’n’roll and rejection of the folk scene? It does have “Mr. Tambourine Man” on it, but then ends with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Who is playing on this record, anyway? There is no listing of musicians.

There is, folded up inside, a huge poster of that classic BD drawing (is it by Milton Glaser?—that’s the name in the upper corner)—it’s his head in profile, with big multicolored hair. The colors are lovely pastel shades. Did this come with this record, or just happen to get stuck in here? It’s never been hung up—there are no holes or tape-damaged corners. I bet I could sell this for some serious bread on eBay, and the people who own this cabin would never notice. (I’d just have to remember to edit this before publishing it.) Does some cafe around here have wifi where I could run my sale? Could I make enough for gas money back to civilization? So many questions, today, and so few satisfactory answers.

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).

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.




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