Archive for the 'Excess' Category


The Beatles “The Beatles (White Album)”

Just as I vowed to write shorter articles, the magic 8-ball fell on this 1968 monster, which is practically a quadruple album, actually, and about which books could be written (and probably have). Everyone has a complicated relationship with this record, and its lyric sheet poster, and its name (it’s interesting how “white album” has come to have its own larger, and complex meaning). This has come to be my favorite and least favorite Beatles record—and I’m sure I’m not the first or only one to say that. (The LP cover alone—all white, that’s the best thing ever—but when you print that gray, off-center “The BEATLES” on the cover—that’s the wimpiest, dumbest, cop-out of all time.) What I’m going to do here is rank the 30 songs from least favorite to favorite, and limit myself to a word or two (trying not to go on too many tangents!) about each song. (I’m not even going to write the entire song titles, since some of these are the longest song titles ever!)

Dead last – “Helter Skelter” – could literally be used to torture someone, and it’s got multiple fake endings, just sadistic. 29 – “Ob-La-Di” – besides being annoying, they invented the expression “brah”—which makes me puke. 28 – “I Will” – even though I’ve listened to this record 1000 times, I can’t remember this song AT ALL. 27 – “Good Night” – maybe it’s supposed to be a lullaby, but a lullaby is supposed to be soothing, not bore you to sleep. 26 – “Yer Blues” – I used to like this song, but now it sounds like someone called Ded Lepriken—plus it’s WAY too long—about four minutes too long. 25 – “Wild Honey Pie” – one Honey Pie is one too many, so this really doesn’t help. 24 – “Don’t Pass Me By” – the drums are great on this song, but every other part (especially that fiddle) should be burned. 23 – “Blackbird” – is it arrive or arise? That annoys me, but not as much as cramming “into the light of the dark black night” into too small a space.

22 – “Birthday” – it’s kind of funny how you can have a really excellent song but after you hear it ONE MILLION TIMES it then sounds like hyenas being slaughtered. If my worst enemy really wants to get to me, hold a surprise birthday party for me with this playing when I come in, then follow that with karaoke. Or you could just slowly rip my skin off. 21 – “Mother Nature’s Son” – I’d like this song less, but it is pretty. That’s all it is, though, and the ending (song title button—like it’s a commercial for granola bars) ruins it. 20 – “Julia” – I’m not crazy about this song, but I like how subtly weird it is—I mean, if you were Julia would you want this to be the song named after you? It sounds more like a song about mental illness. 19 – “Long Long Long” – would be boring if it wasn’t so haunting—more so because the lyrics only make sense as the expression of a lost mind. 18 – “Honey Pie” – what if all the Beatles’ songs sounded just like this one? They’d be about half as great at The Rutles. 17 – “Rocky Raccoon” – would be the most annoying song the Beatles ever did IF IT WASN’T FOR THE LINE: “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”

16 – “While My Guitar…” it’s bad enough to sing about your guitar, but to personify it is unforgivable. I do love how the tape speed is all fucked up. 15 – “Bungalow Bill” – this song sounds cool, and I like the sentiment, but the words themselves grate on me. 14 – “Piggies” – I like the lyrics—is this the meanest Beatles song? I’d like it better without the pig sound effects and the corny, English-humor harpsichord. 13 – “Cry Baby Cry” – it’s a very pretty song, and interesting that the verse lyrics and the chorus lyrics don’t really match—like totally schizo, lyric-wise! 12 – “Why don’t we do it in the road?” – totally dumb, but great, and the best thing is that you expect the second verse to say something like, “why don’t we do it in the car,” or in the yard, or sand, or at a fish & chips place. But no, it’s just still in the road. 11 – “Martha My Dear” – that is just a solid love song. Plus, I’ve never met a woman named Martha, and at this point, if I did, and thought about this song—instant crush.

10 – “Revolution 1” – I can’t tell you how much hearing this for the first time freaked me out, this slower version, after being familiar with the fast version (I had the 45 as a kid)—it was like my first experience “on drugs.” 9 – “Back in the USSR” – I love the opening with the airplane noise, and the first three songs on this album are why I loved it so much over the years. Still, it’s joke song—but it is funny. 8 – “Happiness is a Warm Gun” – kind of post-teen humor, but we forget, the Beatles were pretty much just post-teens by the time they broke up. Also, I love all the different parts; it’s like a mini “A Day in the Life”—though sadly could be called “A day in the guns=sex American news.” 7 – “Revolution 9” – I can’t understate the importance of a song like this (on a pop music album) to a kid in 1970 who has just scored his first tape recorder. 6 – “Savoy Truffle” – not quite as good a Alice Cooper’s dentistry song, but this one makes me more hungry.

5 – “Sexy Sadie” – I love how weird this song is when you listen closely, with that haunting piano, and it’s so bitter. 4 – “Dear Prudence” – I always thought this was the worst name to name a girl (you may as well just invite her to have un-safe sex at an early age)—and this beautiful song was created just to make the world better for all the Prudences out there! 3 – “I’m So Tired” – this is the perfect love song (which at the same time is using love purely metaphorically, and is about the fatigue of being human) and all in two minutes! 2 – “Me and My Monkey” – the song that gave the kids courage to leave the safe Beatlesphere and move on (often to darker pastures). Also, a sampling smorgasbord. 1 – “Glass Onion” – I hear the groans, but I can’t argue with never getting tired of this song—it’s pure pleasure—just the sound, those strings, all of it. Some Beatles fans hate it because it makes fun of them, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re destined to be a very angry, old, white man.


Captain Sensible “Sensible Singles”

Apparently someone staying at this “North Woods” cabin was into alphabetizing the record collection because this one was on the shelf right next to Captain & Tennille. I’ve never heard it or even knew it existed—but I know Captain Sensible as the bass player from The Damned, and I always thought he had the best punk rock name of all. Also, great style. Apparently this is his collection of his singles, hit or otherwise. I imagine he’s got an entire career I don’t know about, and unfortunately I’m not going to get much info off this album cover—there are no song credits or performance credits. He’s got a pretty good band, anyway. He does thank them, kind of; in the crude past-up photo of him on the back cover, wearing a sailor suit with women’s jewelry, in a drawn-on speech bubble coming from his mouth he’s saying: “Thanks to all the nutters who contributed to this vinyl masterpiece…”

The front cover is a huge, garish photo of the captain, painted on in places, with a crude painted tropical scene background. He’s wearing ridiculous sunglasses (or maybe they’re painted on) that look like vinyl records. And of course his captain’s hat. I wonder if he’s making fun The Captain (of Captain & Tennille)? Interestingly, this record is on the same label (A&M) as Captain & Tennille (at least the record I just listened to). Some of these songs are great, some inspired, and some are total rubbish. Which is exactly what I said about the Captain & Tennille record, essentially. It might sound like I’m trying to see how many times I can write Captain & Tennille while writing about Captain Sensible, but no. I just don’t know what to make of this record. He’s got some serious songwriting collaborators: Rodgers & Hammerstein (well, that one’s a cover) and Robyn Hitchcock! The rest I don’t know, but I’ll look them up later. I’ve got to read an interview with Captain Sensible—or maybe there’s a documentary about him somewhere.

Okay, this song, “Wot”—I remember this one, kind of a mindless disco number, repeating over and over, “Say Captain, say WOT!”—about one million times, or until you’re about ready to throw something. But I like it—it kind of reminds me of an Ian Dury song. “Martha the Mouth” is a really nice song—really good pop hook, and I’d love to be able to understand the lyrics. This is a record in which a lyric sheet would be welcome. “Stop the World” is a kind of “white funk” song—which reminds me of Royal Crescent Mob, from Columbus, Ohio. Didn’t they have a song, or album called stop the world, or something? “Glad It’s All Over” is another good one, and “It’s Hard to Believe I’m Not.” These songs sound like hits—in some kind of parallel universe maybe? “There are More Snakes than Ladders.” “I’m a Spider”—serious hit song with a chorus that goes: “I’m the spider, deep inside ya.” I don’t know. Insane. There could be a serious Captain Sensible rabbit hole out there. Enter at your own risk.


They Might Be Giants “Flood”

I grabbed this They Might Be Giants record off the shelf because I feel like I might know this band, but then maybe I don’t. I did, but I might have forgotten—I don’t know. Another band that started years ago (and this record is from that oppressive year, 1990) and I’m guessing they’re still a band, because what are you going to do, get a job at Tower Records—there is no longer Tower Records. Though I could imagine one of these guys being a grade school teacher, or a music teacher, etc. The album credits list two names, guys, plus a lot of guest musicians. There’s a lot of accordion, and then a lot of oddball sounds, most of them non-electronic. The approach is very jaunty. Most of the singing is this one guy—or is it both, who kind of sound alike?—slightly nasal, and articulated—jaunty. You can understand the lyrics, plus they are printed inside. (I just thought of this—has anyone ever included a lyric sheet where the lyrics are just totally different than what’s being sung? That might be good idea for someone!) This album cover opens up to reveal a kind of ghost image inside, over which are printed all the lyrics. They are really asking you to pay attention to the lyrics, and they might be very good, but I don’t have the energy—it’s very word heavy music. Okay, this one I’m listening to now, it’s pretty good, it has the line: “She wants to see you again/see you twisting in the wind.” That’s funny, but it makes me think about that expression, “twisting in the wind”—it’s metaphorical, but refers literally to lynching, right? A body hanging there, dead, by the neck—I think they’d leave them hanging—as a warning, right?

A lot of cleverness here—I think this is a band who gets a lot of NPR attention. Probably everything I know about them came via NPR. If you were describing something as very “NPR”—which is a pretty descriptive tag, as everyone gets what that means—this is the band, the sound, the songs—that come to mind. The album cover is another of those that really gets on my nerves. It has a nice photo on the front of a guy in a raft made of wash tubs—but then on the back, another photo of two guys in a raft. We get it. Oh, wait, it’s the same photo, which you see when you open it up—but it’s taller than wide, so the only way to do that is have them both sideways when the record is sitting upright. I just get endlessly annoyed with album covers that you don’t know which way is up. Is that clear? If it’s not, that’s the point of my annoyance. Then inside, there is all this space, but the print is microscopic (something which would be standard in the CD era. I know I complain a lot about album cover design, but the worst of them is better than all CDs). Wow. A lot of songs here—19! That’s too many—though probably not if you’re a TMBG fan. Based on this record, I’m not—but I’ll love a song, then hate a song, love a song, hate a song—back and forth—so who knows what I’d think if I went and listened to all their records—which would be quite an investment—more than I’m willing to spend at this time.


The Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”

I was excited to see a Flaming Lips record in the rustic cabin, because I think they intrigue me but I’ve never settled on forming a real opinion of them—first of all, I always get them mixed up with that other band with “flaming” in their name, and the band with “lips” in their name, though I’m sure none of these bands are anything alike. This is the one with that guy, Wayne Coyne, as the main guy, who I think I might recognize if I saw him on the street—he’s got a distinctive look which kind of reminds me of Toecutter from the first Mad Max movie (which is a weird person to take your look from—I think most people would go for Max, or “The Goose,” or Bubba Zanetti—but not Toecutter). This is a band I feel like I could have been in—or a band I was in could have been similar—I mean in just going on and on, evolving, but staying in their own world, to some degree. Internet tells me they formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City, and I started a band in 1983 in Ohio, which was one of the bands I was in that I felt could have gotten a record contract, all that nonsense (of course, I quit after a year, so I would have just been that guy who was in the first version and disappeared, anyway). I think I saw a documentary about The Flaming Lips, or maybe it was just some extended interview with Wayne Coyne, but anyway, from what I remember, they have some kind of hangout or headquarters in OK City, with people coming and going, and lots of music and creativity—it was kind of inspiring, though I wondered if there was any way into that world, or if it was kind of insular (because of how famous they are now), and I really wondered what this Wayne Coyne is like. I also wonder if, in a band like that, where there are other longtime members and creative forces, it gets kind of annoying when there is this very distinctive “main guy.”

This record is great, I’m really enjoying it. I suppose if someone had asked me if I was a fan of this band I would have said yes (before saying, “Well, I’m not sure, actually”)—so it’s no surprise. This is pop music, but I guess it’s verging on, or in some cases is fully what people call “psychedelia”—which, I think, often gets mixed up—I mean as a musical style—with a larger category of psychedelia, which would include all psychedelic art, and also lifestyle, drug use, etc. This record sounds pretty timeless to me, like it could have come out when there was a lot of psychedelic music in the Sixties, or the Seventies, or essentially any time since. This, however, came out in 2002, a date which now means nothing to me culturally, even though it’s now officially long ago. This album was “remastered” and re-released in 2011. I’m assuming remastered because it was originally a CD only?—or maybe because it was originally mastered poorly? The whole remastering thing kind of freaks me out, but if it sounds good now, it sounds good, which it does. The cover is a drawing of what looks like Gumby, but with a cropped head (haircut) and sprouting legs from his legs—and pink. I’m assuming this is a pink robot, and there is a small girl confronting him, and I assume that’s Yoshimi.

I suppose I should listen to some of the lyrics, since there’s a sheet and I can follow along, and I’d enjoy listening to it over, and it seems like there might be a theme here, or maybe this is another one of those “rock operas.” Okay, I can’t really get into the lyrics—that wasn’t a good idea. I mean, the lyrics are fine, they’re good, but I’m not in the mood to become immersed in a story that’s quite literally about a Japanese girl and some evil pink robots. It reminds me of what I don’t like about a lot of science fiction, and that’s the science fiction. Not that that’s the only thing here, there is also much about love, human relationships, and that’s all timeless. There’s something else, too, between the lines, in the synthesis of it all, but I don’t have the patience for that. I’ve got wood to chop and stack. But before I go, I want to re-emphasize—there is some weird and beautiful music on this record, and it could he the start of me venturing in the direction of being the huge Flaming Lips fan I always should have been.


Pink Floyd “The Wall”

I am on vacation in the “North Woods” once again, but this time staying at a place with the internet, so I can’t use ignorance as an excuse like last year, but I’m also only here for a few days—at this rustic cabin with a stereo system and some vinyl records—enough records, in fact, to overwhelm me a little; I just spent an hour trying to devise a random system for picking out a record, but seeing how my time is limited, I decided instead to just browse through until I see one I’m curious to hear, then write about that—but limiting my writing time to the time it takes to play. The first thing that caught my eye was Pink Floyd’s 1979 LP The Wall, which I’m sure many of my contemporaries know backwards, but I’ve never actually dropped a needle on, as it came out after the Pink Floyd had fallen out of my favor—for whatever reason. I loved this band a decade earlier—if I’d been asked to guess, I’d have guessed this record was from the Eighties, but not quite. The cover, which is a simple depiction of a brick wall, is more depressing than oppressive, and as it’s a double album, the inside reveals the wall being penetrated by some stoner art, which is little relief. Most of this I feel like I’ve never heard before, so that’s interesting, but it sounds, naturally, like Pink Floyd. The song, “Another Brick In The Wall,” however, I’m more than familiar with, and it’s a song, if I reached the end of my life without ever hearing it again, that’d be just fine.

It’s funny, I was thinking about this record earlier today while I was getting my tire fixed in a remote survivalist style outpost up here, while CNN played silently but closed-captioned and I happened to see the news of this Trump character’s “tweet” about “the wall” he wants to build—seemingly desperately, at the Mexico border. It was my impression that Trump apologists, wanting to alleviate his apparent insanity, keep scrambling to explain that he’s on one hand a “street fighter” who just can’t help his crude and offensive speech, while on the other he’s a sophisticated user of metaphor, and when he talks about “the wall” it merely means “security.” This explanation, however, seemed to enrage him, and he tweeted, “The Wall is the Wall”—emphasizing that no, he means an actual physical structure. This got me thinking about this record, and wondering what it all meant, since I didn’t get immersed in it back in the day. I don’t think this is the time for me to find out what it’s about though, because I’m just listening to it once through, without focusing on the lyrics—which are actually printed on the inner sleeves, though all but unreadable, in a font that might be called “Ralph Steadman.”

It’s weird—in a way, this doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd to me—in a way. Didn’t the band members start feuding with each other at some point?—could this be the beginning of that, or the result of it? Okay, here’s a beautiful song—it’s the first one that grabbed me—called “Comfortably Numb.” This band can put together a lovely pop ballad when they want to, that’s for sure. I realize I’m being kind of dismissive of this record, which I’m sure for some people, this was the record of their youth. It’s okay, call me an idiot. Anyway, thinking about the Trump Wall got me wondering about the similarities of the Reagan years (which this record butted into) with the times we’re now suffering through. I just mean—the support of Reagan—who was obviously brain dead for much of his presidency—if only because of the blanket of power he provided those bastards. I suppose one thing all presidents want is to build monuments to themselves, which maybe isn’t so different than rock stars. But Trump wanting to build this actual wall as a monument to him—that would almost be refreshing, in it’s simplicity and stupidity, if it wasn’t so depressing and frightening.


Endless Boogie “Focus Level”

Another double album, though there are only 11 long songs, some mostly instrumental, and some with singing that reminds me a little of the Chinese Electrical Band (my first band, not at all Chinese). I can’t make out a single lyric to save my life. The cover opens up to reveal, inside, a huge painting of a party consisting of a bunch of young people in an era several centuries past; it actually looks to me like a computer generated photo collage treated to look like a painting, but I don’t know, really, and honestly don’t care; I kind of like it, but then there was always something annoying to me about albums that opened to reveal more art—you’ve got the front and back cover! And then there is one of those annoying one sheet inserts for the credits, but it’s mostly more art and tells you very little, like who’s in this band and playing what?

Or who is even in the band. I heard one of these guys—or was it two?—or is there only one?—on the WTF podcast and it was pretty interesting, but I don’t remember any of the details. I’m not supposed to remember things, that’s what the internet is for! Anyway, some of these songs make me think of an annoying roommate who you want to take the guitar away from. But then some of them remind me of the first few times I went to see punk bands in Cleveland (at the Drome) and some of them sounded more like hard rock than punk, but that was okay because it was pretty severe, and heavy, and it was live. And then some of the other songs make me think of high school, going to see a local hard rock cover band at the marina or the county fair; one of those bands who has a cobbled together, homemade “light show” and is playing stuff like that “Slow ride, take it easy,” song (Foghat?) and that “Now you’re messin’ with a… sonofabitch,” song (Nazareth?)—not that any of this is a bad thing, it’s all about positive and visceral memories. In fact, those county fair bands made a much bigger impression on me than Blue Oyster Cult at a sports arena, capacity 12 billion. I thought BOC were pretty wanky, actually, though the bad pot didn’t help, nor the fact that they followed Bob Seger and ZZ Top. Anyway, I really like a lot of this stuff. There’s a fine line between wankiness and art, and if you take the chance to be wanky, sometimes, you might be able to make art you wouldn’t have been able to come up with if you didn’t venture into wankyville.


Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.


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