Archive for the 'explanations' Category

27
Feb
19

Sammi Smith “Mixed Emotions”

It might be hard to believe, but I had never heard of Sammi Smith (well, I probably had—after all, I used to listen to the radio and watch Hee Haw—but over the years a lot of brain cells have been eradicated, I’m afraid, and Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout had more prominently ghosted my radar, apparently), but I saw this older record of hers at the used bookstore (I haven’t written about it yet) and it had a very personality-rich cover, so I bought it, expecting it to be unlistenable, but it was great. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for Sammi Smith records. She was country and western singer who put out 17 or 18 albums in the Seventies, then moved on to other things. You can easily find a brief history on the internet if you’re interested. But I have a feeling that, just with my brief exposure to her, she was a fascinating person—maybe someone will write a biography about her.

The cover of this album (on Elektra records) is odd in that I would have guessed it was from the Eighties, just by the layout and graphics, the colors, the style. I admit I’m considerably more of a fan of things from the Seventies than the Eighties, in all forms of culture—including record albums and album covers. So I almost didn’t pick it up, but then I noticed it was Sammi Smith, and I looked at the back expecting to see a later date, and was kind of surprised that it was 1977. There is actually a really great photograph on the cover, but for some reason it is kind of weirdly cropped and vertical, with several inches of border on either side— why? A square version of this photo, blown up, would have been a much better cover.

The first song scared me because of its prominent use of a kazoo—never a good sign. Never judge an album by the first song, though. The next song is great—it’s called “Touch Me” and is a classic Nashville sounding song—I tried looking it up, to see who else did it—but do you know how many people have recorded songs called “Touch Me?” When I start writing songs again, the first thing I’m going to do is write a song with that title! Then a really nice, slow, old-fashioned sounding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the Don Gibson classic that I most associate with Ray Charles. Next is “De Grazia’s Song,” written by Sammi Smith—I don’t know who De Grazia is (a painter), but he/she wrote the brief, but glowing liner notes. The last song, then, is jaunty to the point that she refers to someone as “you little booger”—making this one of those famous, “skip first and last song records”—though that’s just the first side. What will the second side hold in store for us?

“I’ve Seen Better Days” is a good one—it’s written by Red Lane and Danny Morrison—I’m sure I’ve heard it, but I’m not sure where—a lot of big names in country music did it—but I’m going to say, hearing this version, if someone can show me a better version than this one, it might be my favorite all-time song. “Hallelujah for Beer” is a song that you probably get the idea from the title—a song that is probably playing right now on a jukebox in Milwaukee. “Days That End in ‘Y’” is another beautifully heartbreaking country song—but I’m getting tired of looking up who else did these songs. It’s another title I’m going to steal, but change it to: “The Days That End in Why” (if no one else has). “A Woman Left Lonely” is my favorite song on the record—it’s just undeniably a killer song, written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham—the most famous version, of course, being Janis Joplin’s. And I love Janis Joplin and her version of this song, but it’s an interesting comparison, her version and this one, because I’d argue that Sammi Smith’s is better, because it’s more about the song, while Janis Joplin’s is more about Janis. I don’t mean that critically, I love that about her—she could sing “Old MacDonald had a Farm” and break your heart. But I love how this version is also emotional, heartbreaking—but really, you love the song and the singer in equal parts. The last song, then, is the Tom Jans song, “Loving Arms,” and a beautiful, lovely way to end the record.

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25
Feb
19

Alec Templeton “Alec Templeton and his Music Boxes”

“If I were king, it would be a must that everybody have a hobby…” starts Alec Templeton’s intro, the first track of this record. And I agree, though I’d add, “but drinking and looking at pornography don’t count.” He then goes on to talk about his love for, and obsession with, collecting music boxes. I kind of like this thing of the first track being a spoken intro—kind of like an audio version of liner notes. Though you might get powerful tired of it if it’s a record you have “on repeat” (as the kids say). Though, maybe there is little danger of that here, as the remainder of this record consists of recordings of various music boxes—there are 45 tunes from 24 different ones, some of them quite grand, of course, and large, elaborate, ornate, and expensive. They all sound like music boxes. There are a few faded black and white photos of some of the boxes, but they don’t really do them justice. And some informative (written) liner notes that start out: “For the next 44 minutes, Mr. Templeton would like to take you away from the cares and tensions of today and transport you back to the gay, quiet era of not so long ago—the era of the music box…” There’s a signpost up ahead!

I could imagine (actually, I couldn’t) having a roommate who, this was his favorite record, and played it every day right after dinner. I’m afraid you’d have to kill him. I mean, this is an enjoyable record to listen to once or twice. I guess you could try to see how many tunes you can name. I have to say, that song, “A Bicycle Built for Two,” has just been forever altered for me after hearing HAL sing it while perishing in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Kubrick did that to a lot of music, actually—thanks, Stanley!) Talking about movies, if you are a filmmaker, this record might work really well into your resources—there could very likely be some scene in anyone’s movie where one of these music box songs is just the thing. The sound, the feeling of them, is far from neutral. I wonder why it is that we associate this music box music with some kind of ironic vision of the underlying tragedy inherent in our existence? Is it something leftover from past lives? Or just from other movies?

24
Feb
19

Kay Starr “Rockin’ Chair / Stroll Me”

Kay Starr (no relation to Ringo—he was a Starkey and she was a Starks) was, according to Internet, born in Oklahoma, part Native American, and used to serenade the family’s chickens in their coops, which led to recording some 200 plus records, mostly in the Fifties and Sixties, but spanning half a century. I was familiar with her, have a song here and there on cassette, but I never heard these two songs on this 1958 single, which was in my box of random 45s. It’s in that category of early rock’n’roll, I guess, when pop orchestras were trying to cash in—at least that’s my impression—with shrill horns (“Rockin’ Chair”) and kind of bizarre electric guitar (“Stroll Me”) and hip lyrics about the radio, dancing, the sock hop, etc. “Rockin’ Chair” is about “Gramps” not being a square, diggin’ the new music, and is hopelessly corny. Though there could be hidden meaning—I mean, there has to be right? But I can’t listen again. “Stroll Me” is more interesting because of the guitar, and the weird way it sounds like someone keeps manually slowing down the record. Also, it’s supposedly about a dance, but everyone knows it’s about fucking. In a way, I can’t figure out if I’d rather hear people use these really obvious metaphors or just come out and say it straight—I guess there’s good and bad either way, right? The other interesting thing is that the orchestra is Hugo Winterhalter’s, who was probably quite prominent, but who I’ve never made a note of until now. I love that name, Winterhalter—I’ve never heard that one before—and I bet it’s especially poignant to people on a day like this when the temperature is going to drop 30 degrees and the wind is going to make everyone act like they’re back in the days of hopelessly insufficient overcoats.

19
Feb
19

David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”

Pretty much the first 14 years of my life I was dead-set on a future career as either an engineer or a manager—it was all studies, math, things in their place, doing what they were supposed to do—I didn’t waste time, wore socks to bed, pajamas tucked into them. Then I got this record and the next thing you know I saw something in the night sky—and after that, there wasn’t going to be any life for me in which I wasn’t some kind of an artist. That story isn’t exactly true—in fact it isn’t true at all—I really don’t know what happened to me, when, or why—that prevents me from having any kind of normal happiness. I’m just struggling here, thinking about how to possibly write about this album that even comes close to expressing how much I like it. I can say that I love it even more than snow on my eyelashes, sex, beer, and five o’clock on Friday, but all I ever hear from anyone is that it’s not even in their Bowie top five, and the album cover seriously freaked them out, and they like “Rebel Rebel” okay. Bowie fans are probably the hardest to convince, actually. And what do I care? I’m not trying to make people agree with me, after all, and everyone has their favorites here and their particular problems with this and that. Like the way the record ends with, “RockRockRockRockRock”—I mean, kind of embarrassing to me, even. And that opening, mutant wolf howl, and all that sci-fi bullshit. Well, I like that, of course—whenever I take a photograph of a weird landscape that reminds me of the inside album cover, I post it on Instagram and then recite “Future Legend” to Siri and see what she does with it. I mean, I even named my band Love Me Avenue—and don’t tell me there’s another band called Love Me Avenue out there—and if there is, you can speak to my attorney.

But how do I express why I love this record so much? That question has a lot of similarities to trying to explain why a good song is a good song. Maybe I should take a few minutes to see what a few other Bowie fans say about this record (I mean the ones who love it). Is there a 33 1/3 book about this one yet? (Not that I would want to attempt one of those books about this record—I don’t feel like I’m up to that task, and I don’t mind admitting it.) I know someone wrote one of the 33 1/3 books about Bowie’s album Low (which makes me, now that I think of it, want to read that book and revisit Low). I don’t think there is… I look it up, and holy shit! There is a book on Diamond Dogs! It’s only fitting that I listened to this record, just now, sitting under this insane February full moon, and it sounded better than it ever has—and now I see there is a book about it! It came out in… November 14, 2019. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that approximately nine months in the future? Insane. It’s by a guy named Glenn (with 2 n’s) Hendler (with an “e”). What the hell, Hendler? How can you do this to me? Oh, well… that’s okay, and kind of fitting, in a way. I have always felt—and always known—that there is something freaky and special about this record—and it’s almost as if the weird cover, the dystopian sci-fi lyrics, the whole package really, is some kind of smoke-screen for something even more weird below the surface. If we could say what it was, it wouldn’t be below the surface—elusive, unknowable, and mysterious—but, you know, the thing. The reason we’re here. Anyway—so, it’s just kind of fitting that this hopefully groundbreaking and vital text about this record (no pressure, Hendler!) has come out… in the future.

I wish I could remember the circumstances around buying this record, but 1974 is a confusing jumble of memories, a confusing time for sure. Maybe a record that I didn’t understand was the perfect thing. I didn’t understand the cover, with the steel and bronze dog-people. The album folds out and it looks like a scene from Blade Runner, which hadn’t been made yet—there is plenty of room for lyrics, but the only thing printed are the lyrics to the first song, a goddamn poem! (Though I recited “fleas the size of rats…” at every opportunity, for years.) Then I was confused by the song “Diamond Dogs”—why did it sound like the band was playing waist deep in a swamp, and why did I like that so much? And then why did the record shift to a slow song, that sounded like it was from a musical? And then why a song called “Candidate” (not into politics at the time). And then why a (reprise)? (I’m not sure when I was first aware of the pretentious prog-rock bands I listened to around then putting a song reprise on their records, but I’m pretty sure I pulled that same shit in my first band, somewhat ironically.) I liked “Rebel Rebel” (how could you not?)—but why two rebels?

I was pretty much worn out by the first side, and wore out the first side, going back again and again, trying to figure out what it was about this record. Why did Bowie drop the “David” and play guitar, saxes, Moog, etc.—so many instruments—and what in the hell was a Mellotron? Was the bass player really named Herbie Flowers? Finally, after many, many plays, or maybe days, (the days felt like months), I flipped the record, and side two was just so disappointing after side one. It starts with a ballad love song, yuck. But then, a few months, maybe years later, something happened and I liked side two more than side one! This might have coincided with the change in my life where I suddenly liked beautiful songs—was it drinking? Weed? Love? Maybe just the progression of music in my life. A song like “We are the dead” (even slower) was making an impact on me, even though I could only make out about 10% of the lyrics. And then “1984” is like a straight-up disco song (I hated disco, remember?) but there are these little parts that drop out, little lyrical parts, where I’m thinking, how does he even think of stuff like that? And then the song “Big Brother”—which maybe my brain couldn’t even handle at that point. Even now, like 40 some years later, after listening to this record thousands of times, I still can’t even comprehend, put my finger on, even describe, much less figure out, what happens in that song, musically or lyrically. It ends abruptly, too, just blending into, you know, the chant of the ever circling skeletal family. Nothing unusual there.

13
Feb
19

Jimmie Rodgers “Because You’re Young / I’m Never Gonna Tell”

Just to get things straight, Mr. Rogers is Fred Rogers, without a “d.” Aaron Rodgers (with a “d”) is the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. The “Father of Country Music” was Jimmie Rodgers, famous for his yodeling. He died in 1933. Born a little later that year, another famous country and popular singer, also named Jimmie Rodgers, is the artist who made this record. As of this research, he is still alive. I don’t know if he was named after the earlier Jimmie Rodgers, but if he was, why not. This record was released in 1958 on the Roulette label—“Because You’re Young” on one side, and “I’m Never Gonna Tell” on the other. The first is a nice, dramatic pop song with an orchestra—only 2:16 in length. After listening to all these hippie records where the songs go over seven minutes, it’s kind of nice to hear a short one, that does everything it’s supposed to do in a couple of minutes. Though I think people must have had a lot more tolerance back then for getting up and changing the records. The second side, though, is much more upbeat, and in fact I’d have to call it “jaunty.” I mean really jaunty. And it’s about half a minute shorter, because with all that jauntiness it doesn’t take long to do what it intends to do. Fans of jauntiness will love it, but for me, it’s just under two minutes too long.

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.




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