Archive for the 'explanations' Category

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.

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

My parents had this 1958 record and played it a lot, along with other George Shearing—but there may be no other music that sounds like my childhood than this particular record—George Shearing Quintet “with Brass Choir”—songs arranged by Billy May. I’ll always get a weird feeling from this particular, singular, George Shearing sound—a combination of nostalgia, comfort, and a little bit of sadness and even some queasiness. I mean it’s so present from my childhood, he almost seems like a distant uncle or something. Yet I know nothing about him, except that he was blind from birth and put out an insane amount of records. Once in awhile I’ll read something, then forget it—like I forget that he was English, born in London, and came to the US after the war. I’ve tried to figure out what that “Shearing Sound” is all about—it has something to do with how what he’s playing on the piano works with the vibes and guitar—but I don’t really understand it—it’s over my head—maybe some patient music person can explain it to me someday.

George Shearing was popular enough, sold enough records, that you can find beat-up copies for nothing, and I’ll pick them up when I see them, like this one. I’ve hardly ever paid any attention to the front cover, which is a woman in a sparkly red dress lying on some golden satin sheets—she’s looking up seductively while exposing the full length of one of her long legs. On the bed with her is a trumpet, a trombone, and a French horn. I wonder if this record was subliminally responsible for me attempting the cornet as my first instrument—though I totally failed to get anywhere with it. I should have taken up the French horn—is there a cooler instrument out there, when you really think about it? I loved the picture of Shearing on the back cover so much I put it on the cover of one of my zines (an early issue of The Sweet Ride, from the Eighties). I never thought too much about the individual songs on this record—they all just kind of melt into each other with ultimate smoothness—but this is probably the first place I heard the standard, “Memories of You”—and I’ve always really loved that song. The rest of the songs, except for “Cheek to Cheek,” I couldn’t name, off-hand, but they are all so familiar, it’s like they’re DNA—the song “Burnished Brass,” for instance, with this smooth horn part that drops in and out with the piano—it could be the main theme for the documentary on my life. Yet, listening now, I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by this record, then dismissed it entirely. Now, it almost holographically recreates the space I grew up in so vividly that it’s somewhat overwhelming.

13
Sep
19

Sonny Criss / Gerald Wiggins / Erroll Garner / Stan Getz

The reason I have a random system to choose records to write about is because if I didn’t I’d never get to one like this where it’s a nightmare to even know what to call it much less to alphabetize it or catalog it. Those four jazz musicians are listed on the cover, but that’s all the information we get. The actual label lists those four names, but in a different order, and also includes Wardell Gray. What the fuck, people, I give up. It’s a Crown Records release from 1963 with two songs on each side, jazz, of course, and I guess it would be considered be-bop. It’s kind of a classic thrift store record because no one can sell it for anything and the cover isn’t even interesting, just the four names in various colors. There may have been some insert or info on a sleeve, but it’s gone now, if it existed. The back cover is just a Crown Records catalog in tiny print—kind of fascinating in itself, just to see all these records listed and categorized. But who is playing what on this one, I have no idea. I’d be tempted just to funnel it back to the thrift store, except you can just put it on and enjoy listening to it. Each song has a full combo, so I have no idea who else is playing, or who is playing on what or not playing. There’s also drums and bass, naturally, but also guitar and vibes on some songs. I’m sure some jazz expert could tell me, but I don’t really care, when it comes down to it. I’d rather know who was drinking coffee and who was drinking wine, who was smoking, and who was eating bagels.

The second side is a couple of standards, “Hot House,” and “How High the Moon,” with both songs sounding like they’re recorded live, and murky as hell. Not unlistenable, I guess, that is if you’re in the mood for murky bullshit. The first side, though, sounds like studio recordings, very crisp, well-recorded, great recordings. Good songs, too, that I don’t know—the first is called “I’ll get Away” and the second, “Miss Beat”—I didn’t immediately find anything about them on the internet, but didn’t dig too deeply. I asked Siri what each song was, and she named them, but instead of listing an artist, she gave me some squiggly lines. “What’s that all about?” I asked Siri, but she didn’t answer that, and instead gave me some sarcastic hipster bullshit talk. I asked a friend who said it’s probably Japanese. He’s not Japanese, though, and doesn’t read Japanese, but it’s a good bet, I suppose, so I’ll go with that. It’s not like we’re identifying mushrooms in the wild or anything. I’m thinking these songs were released on some kind of Japanese re-release, and that would explain that. Kind of. I also asked Shazam, and it got the first one, but told me the second one was “Photon” by Deetron—uh, I don’t think so—I don’t know who that is, but it’s emphatically not this. So I guess I’m just going to let this record’s mystery reign, and maybe some day some info will come to light, but I’m not holding my breath. Well, I might be—holding my breath—but that’s another story, and not related to anything about this record.

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

I’m pretty sure I had this record in high school—I had a few ELO records—though I can’t remember exactly which ones, now. I didn’t remember it was a double album, though, so maybe not. Also, I didn’t remember that the rainbow space station cover opened up to reveal the inside of the space station—it actually looks pretty cool, you’d think I’d have remembered that. As an insert, there’s an awkwardly vertical poster included, with these kind of creepy, black and white, almost photo-realist portraits of the band members—and I totally remember that—there’s something strangely off about the portraits—which kind of makes them both repulsive and compelling. In my memory, this was the record, or maybe the one after, when I stopped liking ELO—but now I’m thinking I was totally wrong about all this, or maybe my tastes have changed. (Obviously, both of those things are true—everyone’s tastes change, over time, and I have been wrong about nearly everything.)

Anyway, forget the past, because I’m really loving this record now, and you could even say I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I put it on kind of randomly while cat sitting, along with some others, and this became the one that defined the time there, away from home, this point in time. You never know if, or with whom, it will happen—but it’s kind of like falling in love (ha, if it [falling in love] was only that easy). Because of the space station album cover and the occasional aural buzzes and beeps, shimmering synth sounds, and restrained use of the dreaded vocoder, you kind of think it’s all a sci-fi theme, but it’s not—it’s all over the place, really, with a healthy amount of love songs. The funny thing is, when I glanced at the song titles, the only two I remembered were “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (hits)—so I’m glad I even put the record on, because those are my least two favorite songs on the entire album!

As it turns out, there’s one great pop song after another on this record—I’m not even going to list my favorites—just say, all of them but the above two. Then I noticed what I consider the most significant feature of this record—side three is kind if set off as its own thing—a mini-opera, called the “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” as there is a weather theme running through the four songs. Weather! Is there a subject I love more? So, then I had to read a little bit about it—and I didn’t find much, nor dig too deeply, but what I read was that Jeff Lynne went to a chalet in the Swiss Alps to work on this record (didn’t he ever see The Shining?) and it just rained and rained and he had writer’s block! He thought he was washed up, was likely on the verge of running amok, when the sun broke through and he began writing like a madman. Now, anyone will tell you, there’s an inherent bipolar-like thing that runs through the creative process, it’s all valleys and peaks, and sometime the low lows lead to the explosions of creativity—if you’re lucky—and he certainly was, here.

For me, though, the real find on this record is the song “Big Wheels”—with that one, I was immediately in love—so much so that I figured it had to be either a past life thing, or maybe the song was used in some really genius way by an opportunistic, manipulative filmmaker—servicing an emotional story with strong images and the enormous shorthand of this beautiful song. I looked it up but could not find any evidence that it was used anywhere, so I don’t know. I did see that “Mr. Blue Sky” was used like many, many, many times in movies and on TV. Everyone loves “Mr. Blue Sky”—interesting, because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that song. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s jaunty as all fuck. It kind of highlights that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like the jaunty and those who don’t. Those who like sunny skies and those who like stormy skies. Those who like happy songs—while a sad song brings them down—and those who live for sad songs. And I suppose, never the twain shall meet. Well, it’s not just sad songs I like, but sad and beautiful, and the two are often hopelessly intertwined. And this song, “Big Wheels,” is not only the most beautiful ELO song I’ve ever heard, but one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard by anyone.

I could just leave it at that, but I can’t—I need to listen again and look at it a little more closely—why does this particular song affect me like it does? And what’s it about?—sitting there in the middle of this mini-opera, as it is, in-between songs about weather and love? First of all, what does “Big Wheels” mean, anyway? And why don’t people love this song? First of all, it doesn’t refer to the plastic toy that the kid’s tearing through the hallways of the mountain chalet where Jeff Lynne’s trying to write. My first thought is, because of the album cover, is it’s the space station, as the music has that smooth, slow-rolling feeling, but I don’t know—then what does the space station mean? I suppose it’s the Earth turning, and, you know, “I let the Earth take a couple of whirls,”—the patience that comes with maturity, knowing that things will change. I suppose the song does have a lot of sadness in it (“It was not enough for you” / “It’s rather sad” / “I think I’m gonna have to start again”), plus, there’s the silent tear, cold dark waiting days, and lots and lots of pouring rain! Plus, my favorite: “no one knows which side the coin will fall.” There is the sense of not being in control—that your fate is in others’ hands. And that the other side of “tomorrow is another day” might be, no matter how good things are going, it’s no guarantee they’ll continue. Most sad songs start with the sadness, but has anyone ever written one that says, tomorrow will likely bring heartbreak—it’s as inevitable as death. I guess this one. The more I listen to it, the darker it becomes—it really is kind of an amazing force of nature, the sadness in this song, right up there with the weather. But it’s just so beautiful.

04
Sep
19

Michael Dinner “The Great Pretender”

I bought this record, used, because I had never heard of it, or him, Michael Dinner, nor could I recall any person, living or dead, having the name of “Dinner” (or Supper, Breakfast, or Lunch, for that matter). When I looked him up on the internet I found who I thought was another Michael Dinner, a successful director and screenwriter, still working—but it turns out it’s the same Michael Dinner! I guess he put out a couple of records in the mid-Seventies (this one is 1974) and then no more. Without further biographical information, I don’t know if his recording career died and then he went into pictures (looks like mostly TV), or if he went into pictures, found success, and was too busy to continue his recording career. We’ll have to ask him to clear that up. (Though, of course, sometimes, that kind of stuff is not very clear, even for the person involved.) You also might wonder why he ended up behind the camera, because if this album cover is any indication, he was pretty hot.

He’s what you’d call, I guess, a singer-songwriter, and the music is, I suppose you could call it, LA country, or California country—it was recorded in LA, and the list of musicians is impressive, lots of familiar names (I’m not going to list them, but it includes Linda Ronstadt). The songs are good, and I have the feeling that they will grow on me after a few more listens. Now it’s a week later—that’s the way things go here at the unpaid, under-appreciated, overly-emotional HQ and Center for Misfit Culture. We don’t care much what you think, but we love you anyway. Anyway, this is definitely a record in which repeat listenings are rewarded, and aren’t those the best kind? “Sunday Morning Fool” is a standout. Dinner has a pretty interesting voice, I mean subtly interesting… he’s a good singer, but more than that, there’s something there that reminds me of Willie Nelson—maybe I’m imagining that, it’s not really pronounced—but I hear that.

Another interesting thing, to me—I feel like I can divide the songs up between the sad and the jaunty (okay, this goes for everyone) and I just really like the ones that are a little more melancholy. I often wonder if the jauntiness is not sometimes coke-fueled, and remember, the years I seem to often focus on—early Seventies—is when the coke flowed like bad puns on grandpa-time. Or so they say. Another interesting observation, Dinner’s two albums were called The Great Pretender (this one) and Tom Thumb the Dreamer. One wonders if he never felt quite at home in this world—and that had something to do with him moving into pictures. But really, this record is pretty good (I’m curious about the other one, now) and you have to wonder about him walking away from a career—if this felt like a career to him, anyway. Also, you have to admire his restraint with respect to not naming this or any other record something like: “Dinner Time,” or “What’s for Dinner,” or “(Call me anything you want, just don’t call me) Late for Dinner.” It probably took great resolve to resit that temptation, and who among us can honestly say they’d have done the same.

23
Aug
19

Dave Major & the Minors “Second Record Album”

I did not expect much from this one, just based on the cover—which consists of the band name printed repeatedly in a sports-bar font with bright colors—so bright, in fact, that I would have guessed it was a few years old—but it’s 1972! On a tiny local label, and recorded in Milwaukee. Inside the sleeve there’s also a couple of color glossy band promo photos with the management company on the bottom—one fairly close-up, the other a wide shot of the band surrounded by a music-store-worth of musical instruments. They are wearing dried-blood-red, wide lapel blazers, and matching ties big enough to use as curtains. It’s so perfect that I also assumed this was contemporary—and also ironic—but no, it’s the real thing. Before even putting the record on I looked them up on the internet and the first thing I find is this story about how, later—not sure when—band leader Dave Perry broke into the house of an ex, shot her husband and his mother, and then tried to shoot it out with the police and was killed. That just depressed me so much I didn’t even want to put the record on. And then I noticed one of the photos is signed by Dave Perry, which frankly kind of creeps me out. I don’t find homicide the least bit interesting (or whatever even more fucked up qualities people attribute to heinous acts—entertaining?)—and it really makes it hard to write about this record. These were real people, with their lives ended stupidly, and there were kids involved, and a tragedy like this partly shapes your life, whether you want it to or not.

But still, I had to listen to it—I figured maybe once, and then to the thrift store—but it turns out the record is so fascinating, I’m kind of instantly obsessed with it. So I’m going to try to pretend I never heard about these tragic events. After all, I only saw this story one place online—maybe it’s one of those obscure urban legends made up by some neo-dadaist smart-ass like that one about Morrissey drinking Rolling Rock with kids in Ohio. Still, though, it’s probably going to color my experience—but it really is an interesting record. First of all, it’s kind of schizo and all over the place—a good example is in a two minute version of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” which is pretty hot while also being corny, and listenable, except for the Uncle Remus impression at the end. This is a lounge act, after all, and on some songs they sound like it, just in the cheesiness of the approach and the absolute erect jauntiness. But on the other hand, the playing is all not only tight and accomplished, but also really pretty inspired. If you were going out to see this band at some supper club, consider yourself not only lucky but also probably spoiled for all time. This is the kind of band that musicians like, I think—you’d have to, unless you were just jealous. But also, the casual fan, or Saturday nite dancer, or Friday fish fry eater—everyone’s going to like this band. From what I read, and a few online videos, the band put on a great show—they’d have 40 or 50 instruments on the stage with them, then keep switching off instruments—right in the middle of songs, even—with well-rehearsed choreography and highly entertaining and sometimes humorous showmanship.

There’s a big block of liner notes on back that, if you just read, you’d probably say, holy shit, and then dismiss it as someone’s manic attempt at a band description parody. I mean, it just goes on and on about the band members and all the instruments they each play. As impressive as this bit of writing is, it’s even more impressive when you believe it’s all true—and then some. They can sing and they can play! “Proud Mary” almost sounds like a typical lounge band cover, but on subsequent listenings you hear more, there. Most stunning is their version of the “Theme from Fistful of Dollars”—done well enough that it could have been used in the movie. Also, there’s a cover of a favorite of mine, “Sonny”—a fine version. But most notable of all are the original numbers by Dave Perry (one’s co-written by Steve Joyce)—there are five originals interspersed with the covers—that’s half the record—and they’re all good—all reminiscent of other stuff, naturally—but good, compelling songs and performances. In fact, as you listen through the record, each of the originals is better than the previous one—they kind of oddly build on each other. I’m really loving this record by this point, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times! But then, it occurs to me—do I really like it that much, or am I being seduced by the lore of the tragedy—the very thing that initially put me off? I know that sounds contradictory, but then contradiction is the foundation of appreciation, of infatuation, of desire, of love. Can you really ever trust your feelings about anything—even a 47 year old LP by a local lounge band? Oh this world.




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