Archive for the 'explanations' Category

28
Mar
20

Matt Dennis “Welcome Matt”

I kind of expected the worst from this record, pop music corny-ness, and it is pretty friendly, but also, it kind of strikes me as odd, how it’s recorded—Matt Dennis’ smooth, crystal clear voice is recorded so loud relative to the orchestra—he sounds more like he’s in the room here with me than if he was in the room here with me. Maybe that’s how pop vocalists were recorded in 1959, and I’ve just listened to so much Sinatra everything else sounds kind of crude in comparison. I’m not sure, though, as I don’t listen to a lot of comparable stuff. Maybe this reminds me a little of someone like Mel Tormé? Anyway, good songs, some standards like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “Cheek to Cheek,” and there’s a particularly nice song called “Home” that I’m not sure I’ve heard by anyone else. Then there’s “Welcome Mat” by the man himself—it’s a little goofy. The version of “My Blue Heaven” sounds really weird to me—like he’s flattening the end of each line—maybe that’s a style. Maybe that’s how the song was written. I don’t know know—I wish I knew more—I’ve got more questions than answers about this one. But I like it. My favorite, though, is “A Cup of Coffee a Sandwich and You”—a song I’ve never heard before, and probably for good reason—it’s insane. I mean, a sandwich? I guess the idea is, the simple things in life are good enough for him—but then where does that put “you?”

The cover particularly cracks me up—it’s a photo, taken in an actual apartment, of Matt Dennis in formal wear entering, carrying a welcome mat on which “Welcome Matt Dennis” is crudely rendered. There’s a woman standing there (who presumably put out the mat) who looks either annoyed or overwhelmed by the Matt Dennis sex appeal. Her long dress is an odd design of brown and gray plaid—it’s a really weird print for a dress—I have no words for it, I’m no expert. It looks like some kind of curtains or a tablecloth, to me, more than a dress, but what do I know? She’s wearing more pearls than can possibly be healthy—which are kind of overwhelmed by the plastic doorbell, peephole, and three brass doorknobs also visible in the photo. I mean, there was absolutely no art direction involved at all here (other than that cheesy “Welcome Matt”)—which, when I think about it—makes it actually more interesting than if a lot of care was taken to make it look not weird. I miss these times, from the past, when things didn’t have to get worked over and homogenized by a team of boring, frightened, accountants. When a doorstop was a doorstop, and “I love you” meant… Okay, maybe I should just stick to talking about the cover art, here.

22
Feb
20

Parliament “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”

“Funk is its own reward.” “May frighten you.” I think someone speaks those words, in a kind of intro, or did I just imagine that? There’s a giant list of credits that reads like a funk all-star band, so I’m not sure who is doing what on any song, but I assume there’s a lot of George Clinton. There’s a couple of short songs, then the epic song, “Dr. Funkenstein,” which is a fairly slow, laconic, extremely funky whole-world of a song, with a chanted chorus and voices coming in from all over the place, speaking, singing, stream-of-consciousness. There is this pretty simple but genius repetitive guitar part that runs through it that I just want as the theme song for my life. The song is six minutes, but I wish it was a lot longer. I never do this, but I’m going to buy this song for my computer (sometimes I listen to music there, at home, when I’m not playing records) so I can just play this on repeat for hours. It’s like a TV show theme song, or a whole TV show, or movie. This record came out in 1976, and I may have heard it at a party, but probably not. I was in the phase of progressing directly from prog-rock to punk rock, but I missed the boat here. A few years later, one of the funniest and most offensive punk records I’ve ever heard, Black Randy and the Metrosquad’s “Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie,” has songs that just lift directly from Dr. Funkenstein. I don’t know why, exactly, but I just keep listening and listening to this song. With all the sound effects, and odd vocals—spoken parts, some in annoying cartoon voices, some in frog-voice—stuff that would normally get on my nerves—but here it sounds like a symphony of good insanity. All of the songs on this record are good, including one of those super-long-title ones, “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body),” and “Let’s Funk Around,” which exploits that tireless and seemingly inexhaustible tradition of using the word “funk” in place of the word “fuck.” The cover (front and back) is also first-rate, with members of the band, presumably, dressed for the stage, or the lab, in some kind of a 1970s television sci-fi set, a good one. I remember looking at a partial discography for Parliament—just the list of titles from the Seventies—all just excellent, mysterious titles. I wonder if these are easy to find—I mean, not for hipster prices, normal person prices—I’ll keep an eye out for them. It’s like a crime against my sensibility that I don’t own any Parliament Funkadelic vinyl.

19
Feb
20

Perrey & Kingsley “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out”

This is one of those early electronic music records that I like a lot better in theory than for actual listening—though it’s okay, really, if you’re in the mood for that kind goofy, beeping, semi-comic synthesizer stuff—you know exactly what it sounds like without hearing it. There’s a handful of very familiar cover songs—some of which one wishes one may never hear again in any version. Theres’s few original compositions by Perrey and Kingsley, this French and German electronic geek odd couple who released a few records of this kind and were apparently influential. There’s an entire back cover of liner notes, but what got my attention is the mention of this early electronic keyboard called the Jenny Ondioline—which I’d never heard of—though there was a woman I had a crush on by that name. I was never sure if it was her real name, but suspected that it wasn’t. There is also a record by the band Stereolab by that name.

I guess now is a good time to disclose that I’m listening to records while staying at a rustic cabin in the “North Woods”—it’s as big as a castle, has a pretty nice record player, but the vinyl is somewhat eclectic. Probably more than I’ll have time to check out, though, if this rabbit-hole is any indication. Fortunately, there’s no internet up here so I have to rely on my crap memory. (Once a day or so, I’ll be heading into the nearby town, Elk Shores, to the Red Apple Cafe, with wi-fi, where I can post a review or two.) In this case I’m just as happy not to disclose the location of the cabin because I just realized I’m sitting here with an exceedingly rare record: the label is Vanguard, which says: “Recordings for the Connoisseur” and also “Stereo”—but on this particular disk it says: “Stereolab”—so I’m pretty sure this is one in which the band by that name traveled into the past in order to make their branding mark. So impressive is that fact, I was prompted to read the liner notes by Elmer Jared Gordon, and about the Jenny Ondioline he makes this rather cryptic claim: “…a minute keyboard electronic, requires a skilled playing technic inasmuch as the whole keyboard is manually vibrated as its notes are depressed, and the vibrational variants can characteristically color and subtly alter the sound produced. This ondioline typically suggests a tenuous and oddly plaintive quality so unique that even the highly sophisticated Moog mechanism with its infinite faculties cannot duplicate it.” Now I know why she called herself Jenny Ondioline.

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

05
Feb
20

The Best of Perez Prado

I don’t know anything about the history of the mambo—I could read some stuff on the internet and repeat it here—or you could tell me what you know over cocktails some evening. I don’t know, I don’t see myself starting to drink, but if I find myself reading stuff on the internet and then repeating it, I might just might, sitting glassy-eyed on some pirate’s shoulder. Perez Prado was Cuban, then moved to Mexico in the Forties, and was instrumental in mambo becoming hugely popular. The back of the record says he’s the “King of the Mambo.” Of course, Elvis was called the King of Rock’n’Roll—but we know it was Chuck Berry. I’m wondering who this record, from 1967, was for exactly, because by 1967—well you know what the kids were listening to. There is a popular and fun—but definitely corny—side to this music, and I’m thinking the same people buying this are the people who were buying the big-selling records that thrift stores just still can’t seem to get rid of. It’s hard for me to listen to the songs on this record without seeing the movie scenes (even if not exactly, specifically) they are attached to—or imagine someone eating some kind of Jello salad and drinking a whiskey sour. Though some of the songs—or more likely, parts of some songs, I can listen to the music being played—sometimes with a lot of style that makes me wonder what the life of the musicians was like. There’s some incredible bits, here and there. Or what was Perez Prado’s life like? Is there a movie about him? There has to be, right?—I’ll see that, sometime.

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

31
Oct
19

Skeeter Davis “My Heart’s in the Country”

This record has the best cover of all the Skeeter Davis records I own (which is a lot, but not nearly enough of them). It’s a full cover color photograph of Skeeter sitting in a barnyard wearing a red and white gingham dress, holding a baby pig. As cute as she is, the pig’s even cuter. The photo is weirdly cropped, as in it doesn’t look cropped—I’m guessing they took a few, but there weren’t a lot to chose from that had sufficient focus when blown up that large, because, I’m no expert, but I believe those little pigs are kind of squirmy. It’s a great cover. There’s also substantial liner notes on the back, by Skeeter Davis, which I’ll read in a bit. I was going to say this isn’t my favorite of her records, which it isn’t, but now that I’m listing to it a few times, while writing this, it’s growing on me. Skeeter Davis records will do that. The title song (by Larry Kingston and Felton Jarvis) is about a singer who has big city success, but nevertheless, she sings, “My heart’s in the country, on a farm in O-hi-o.” Which, of course, strikes a chord with me, as an Ohioan. She is from Kentucky, so this song is a character, but also her, and southern Ohio and Kentucky do have a border, but it’s not necessarily the one drawn up by The Man. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the Ohioan in her (as well as the Kentuckian in me) that draws me to her so intensely. This song also has one of those spoken parts, which I’m sure some people find corny, but I love that, especially when Skeeter Davis does it.

One thing that’s interesting about Skeeter Davis is that she had success with both pop and country audiences, which is something she talks about in the liner notes, maintaining that her roots are in the country (and this country music). I’m personally not partial to either the pop music or the country music she’s recorded—I must say, I like both equally—and sometimes you can’t really hear a line between them (but sometimes you can). As I’ve said before, above all, I’m song oriented, so it matters little, the genre or style—I’ll like a song, or not so much. The biggest generalization I make when I’m categorizing music I like or don’t like is the degree of jauntiness—and I’m sure people are tired of me using that word, but it best expresses the thing that often turns me off. (Of course, I’m sure there’s a jaunty song out there that I do like, but I can’t think of one right now.) Naturally, both country and pop songs can be jaunty. On this record, which is all hardcore country songs, we have the jaunty and the not jaunty. The not jaunty ones tend to be sad and melancholy—those are my favorites. A few of my favorites here are “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (by Dolly Parton and Bill Owens), “I’m Living in Two Worlds” (J. Crutchfield) (not about the two worlds of pop and country—it’s a relationship song—and a sad one). And “Before I’m Over You” by Betty Sue Perry, another in the tradition of losing one’s mind (going crazy, insane, etc.) over a love gone wrong. Of course, there are songs that are kind of in between sad and jaunty, the clever country songs—one here I like a lot is “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart,” by Liz Anderson (I always liked that expression, about eating, and there’s nothing I like better than the tradition of inserting “heart” in every expression imaginable).

These liner notes are Skeeter answering the question, “What’s the country like?” She goes on and on with nostalgic descriptions of the things she remembers and loves about country life—sure, it’s sugary and sweet, but really kind of touching, too—at least to me. My favorite part of it is where she’s talking about mothers and fathers, now gone, their particular smells, and she says, “And they were smells you’d like to smell again, but can’t.” I guess that reminds me of what I like about Skeeter Davis—there is this simplicity, clarity, a kind of innocence, but never without an underlying melancholy and world weariness. It also reminds me that I have this autobiography she wrote, called Bus Fare to Kentucky, which I still haven’t read—I’ve got to read it sometime.




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