Archive for the 'Excess' Category

12
Feb
19

Ten Years After “Cricklewood Green”

Ten Years After is another one of those bands from the Sixties whose name is familiar—but I know absolutely nothing about them. Their biggest hit song was “I’d Love To Change The World” which I’ve heard 1768 times, and it always stimulated that part of my sensibility where song hooks sink in—a nice guitar part, and then the rest of it, including a chorus that sounds like they recorded it through an aluminum vacuum cleaner extension. That song also always made me a little queasy, too, because, just what are they saying? But anyway, that song came out ONE YEAR AFTER this album, Cricklewood Green (1970), which is a record my parents would have had if they listened to folk or rock in the Sixties, but they just didn’t get suckered in until John Denver. This record came out TEN YEARS AFTER I was born, and I was in my Bubblegum period at that time (though soon to transition to Glam and Glitter). By the title, I probably would have thought this was a Kinks record. We had a creek running behind the house where I grew up, but we called it a “crick”—that’s how we pronounced it—I wonder to what extent that’s a regional thing? Not important. I did 46 seconds of internet research on the naming of this band, and read that they called it that because they were Elvis fans and they formed TEN YEARS AFTER some peak Elvis period. I’m not sure I buy that, but it did make me wonder if the band ’68 Comeback (referring to Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special) was somewhat in reference to the naming of Ten Years After? Also, not important. It also made me direly wish I had some ’68 Comeback vinyl to write about, and made me vow to put a little more effort and dollars into my record collection.

The band at this point consisted of the principal songwriter, lead guitarist, and singer Alvin Lee (not his birth name), drummer Ric Lee (not related), on bass Leo Lyons (not a Leo), and keyboards, Chick Churchill (a guy). Bunch of comedians. I guess Lee is one of those names that if you’re afflicted with the blues you kind of want to have, either as a first name, a last name, or most desirable of all, the middle of a three name name. Like, if I decided to grow my wig out again, go back to electric guitar and lite strings, and just give into that terminal blues rock black t-shirt purple drank wankiness (believe me, it would come too easily, though I’m not saying I’d be any good), I could change my name to R. Lee Speen. I continue to pile sandbags against that particular midlife crisis levee compromise though by closely examining the efforts of the guys who came ten years before me.

The thing about blues based hard rock is that there is a fine line between a blistering hot guitar part and noodle wet wankiness, and FOR NO TWO PEOPLE is that fine line the same. That fine line is as unique as a fingerprint. It could be used in forensics—well, it probably has been. The first two songs have the word “road” in the titles, and the third song is called “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain.” Then there’s one called “Year 3,000 Blues.” The last song starts with the word “As,” and there is indeed a song called “Circles.” Only eight songs, and two of them are over seven minutes long, which means there is a good chance they go on for too long. One of those fades out, finally, only to fade back in for some more—a joke which wore out its welcome the first time anyone conceptualized it. There’s a song that sounds like they needed to wear bowler hats and suspenders to play it, and a jaunty blues song that makes you feel like you’re at the Times Square TGI Friday’s. When there’s finally a song I think I might like, it reminds me of The fucking Black Keys, which is no fault of Ten Years After, I guess, but I guess you could say The fucking Black Keys are partially the fault of bands like Ten Years After. Maybe I’m being too harsh—at least they avoided doing a train song, and they didn’t let anyone get ahold of the dreaded harmonica. Also, it’s a cool album cover, which is why I bought it, sucker that I am.

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10
Feb
19

Dick Lee “All I Want Is A Chance / The Show Has Ended”

I don’t know who Dick Lee is, and I’m in no mood to check the Old Internet in order to find out—so I’m going to let the two song 45 RPM single do the talking. I think it’s from 1953, it’s on Essex Records from Philadelphia, and both of these songs are with an orchestra, with Dick Lee belting out syllables in a hyper-dramatic, old-fashioned style—as if it pre-dated microphones and needed to project from the stage. It’s the kind of singing that you might find some older people love with fondness and nostalgia—for me, it make my ears bleed. The somewhat sick thing about this record—and I don’t know if this is accidental, or if someone had a pretty good sense of humor—is how the A and B side songs work together. “All I Want Is A Chance” is a desperate plea to a possible lover—you can imagine it. He just wants a chance to hold him/her in the morning and then, naturally, at night—to make this person love him as much as he loves this person. The B side, then, is decidedly less optimistic. “The Show Has Ended” is, surprise, not about a show, but a relationship. “The show has ended, I know that we’re through—you just pretend that your love is true”—it’s pretty harsh, really—“the curtain is falling, and so are my tears.” The show has ended, and all he has left is the memory. So it goes from “faint hope” to “distant memory” in two songs—no aspect of the actual relationship is documented here. I’m kind of surprised, though—after listening to the record a couple of times—I kind of like it. I guess it’s not so weird after all that it was pressed on vinyl and preserved for eager listening 66 years later by some asshole with nothing better to do than write about what listening to scratchy old records makes him think about.

09
Feb
19

Bernie & The Invisibles “All Possibilities Are Open”

There was a time some years ago when if you asked me what my favorite band of all time was, I would have said Bernie & The Invisibles—mostly based on the memories I had of seeing them live in the late Seventies, I guess it was—though I seem to have failed to document, in writing, much of this time. Around when my friends and I started our first punk band, we used to drive to Cleveland kind of regularly to see the punk bands who were playing at, as I recall, the Phantasy, Hennessy’s, and Pirates Cove. The bands that stood out were were the Adults, the Pagans, the Kneecappers, and Bernie & The Invisibles. I don’t remember The Invisibles all that much (I guess the drummer, the late Peter Ball is responsible for preserving some of this stuff)—but Bernie (who is Bernie Joelson) is just ingrained in my memory—I was pretty entranced with him. More than the other bands, you got the sense that if it wasn’t for punk rock, Bernie wouldn’t be doing this—but he HAD to be doing this. He had songs that needed to be unleashed on the world. His songs and his personalty were coming from some unique, impossible to understand by anyone but him place—and we were just getting this glimpse into his world. I looked forward to seeing him at every opportunity, and I got to know some of the songs, like “Eventually” and “Chinese Church.”

I’ve had some of his music on cassettes over the years, from live shows, I guess, but this is the first I’ve heard on vinyl—put out by My Mind’s Eye Records from Cleveland. (And thanks to Jeff Curtis for sending this to me!) If you’ve never seen Bernie live, this record might not do much for you—the sound quality it rough—and his style is fairly primitive. But it’s a good reminder to me of that time when he was my favorite in the world. There is a zine style insert with some writing and art by Bernie, old fliers, and liner notes by Mike Hudson who was the lead singer of the Pagans, and later a journalist—sadly, he passed away in 2017. I read his book, Diary of a Punk, and I’d highly recommend it. There are some good Bernie & The Invisibles stories here, and he expresses his appreciation for Bernie better than I could. I’ll excerpt part of one paragraph: “(Bernie) would wind his own personal experiences in with the views of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Buddha or Jesus Christ to create brilliant lyrics that hinted at the cosmos and the meaning of life while, at the same time were filled with good humor and a genuine sweetness I’ve never forgotten.” You might have to be a real detective to make out all of the lyrics on the songs, but it’s worth trying. I’d love if there was a lyric sheet. There is, at least, a brief tape review by Jim Clinefelter, a good zine excerpted interview, and some writing by Bernie that’s well worth squinting to read.

01
Feb
19

The Chico Hamilton Quintet “Sweet Smell of Success”

This is a soundtrack record, more completely titled: The Chico Hamilton Quintet Plays Jazz Themes Recorded for the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture “Sweet Smell of Success” (and there’s an even longer version on the actual label, which sounds like someone’s Oscar acceptance speech). If you’ve never seen the movie Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you can keep reading, because I’m not going to talk about it, and also consider yourself lucky because it’s a great movie, even if it might take all your strength to get to the end, drama-wise. It’s grim! But it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies you’ll ever see, and it’s got two of the most over-the-top performances, by two actors who probably would have paid to deliver what is some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’ll ever hear. It’s also got a great score, and in fact there are two soundtrack albums—one is Elmer Bernstein, and the other, this one, with music from the movie played by The Chico Hamilton Quintet—who actually appear in the movie, quite prominently, as the jazz band that one the characters (not one of the above two) plays guitar with. I knew nothing about Chico Hamilton before I saw this movie, and I still don’t know much, except he was a jazz drummer who then started this band that featured a cello. I’ve never heard any of their records, but if this one is any indication, they might definitely be worth picking up.

The album cover has a wallet-size picture of the band, but is mostly taken up by a big photo of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (actors referred to, above) who both look like they’re on the verge of actually exploding. They don’t, literally, anyway, but they come as close as an actor can without special effects. There are extensive liner notes on back, nicely written, though anonymous, which is too bad, because the beginning of the third paragraph makes this statement: “Side Two is one of the most unusual recordings ever attempted.” Ever attempted! It goes on to elaborate, but I’m neither going to retype it nor paraphrase, here. I didn’t find it as such, on first listening, but then I think there are things going on here that I’m not yet attuned to, so hell yes, I’m going to put it on again. It could be a great record for painting abstract paintings, or writing, abstract or not, or even cooking a decidedly not abstract dinner, which is what I’m going to do right now.

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…

07
Dec
18

Lowell George “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here”

I picked up this record recently, having never heard it, and curious. I have always been a kinda fan of Little Feat—I bought one of their records in high school, liked about half of it, but loved a couple of the songs a lot. I might have bought some more stuff by them, including a live record, not long before I lost all my records. I was kind of fascinated with the band, but most fascinated with Lowell George—it seemed like what I liked most about Little Feat was him, and then he died tragically young (at the age of 34, in 1979, the same year this record, his only solo album, came out).

This is an alarmingly short record—nine short songs—which makes you think, did he just not record a lot for the sessions for this record, or is he kind of a perfectionist about what goes on the record? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone does—all I have to go by is the music here. These are some nice songs—though I’m not getting a feeling of any kind of thematic line running through them at first listening—so I’m listening to this record a few times. I like it, so that’s no chore. This could be one of my regulars, at least in this place, at this time. My favorite, maybe, is “Two Trains” (one of his compositions), in spite of it being undeniably a dreaded “train song.” I also like, a lot, “20 Million Things,” and “Find a River,” and Alan Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do”—which is the first song on the record, and just fairly irresistible.

I only noticed later that there are liner notes on the inside sleeve—quite a lot of writing, actually, all in the no caps, no punctuation style that kind of says, hey, I’m a musician, not a writer, but I got something to say here. Okay, it’s not liner notes, but lots and lots of album credits—kind of a funny way to present them, though. Likely scrawled by LG with a pencil on the back of a paper bag and transcribed by someone. A lot of names there, and even though a lot of these people have lots of career credits, you have to wonder if this one might have been particularly special.

The cover is a painting by Neon Park, who did most of the Little Feat album covers, as well as a lot of others. A very clean looking Lowell George is in the foreground wearing a blue bathrobe (that looks just like mine), and behind him there’s a park or woods with a lot going on, some of it probably containing secret meanings—or not so secret—what looks like a picnic lunch containing some cheeseburgers and a City Lights copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. And then some lounging people who look a lot like Fidel Castro, Bob Dylan with devil horns, and Marlene Dietrich (but a black and white version of her from The Blue Angel (though possibly wearing Dorothy’s ruby slippers). There’s a few b&w photos of LG on the back, one of which kind of portrays him as a rather moist drunk. But on the other side of the sleeve there’s a really nice photo of him fishing, after snagging some sea-weed. It’s a great photo—he’s really attractive, and it makes you think he probably had a good sense of humor—was likely a warm and genuine guy—one of those people you’d feel kind of elevated, just being in the same room with him. I always got that from his music, too, so I’m going to go on believing that.

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?




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