Archive for the 'Growing On Me' Category

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!

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08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

19
Mar
18

Bob Lind “Don’t Be Concerned”

I picked up this album knowing nothing about Bob Lind except that he’s probably that young, clean-cut guy on the cover with an acoustic guitar, so I assumed it would be acoustic guitar and singer music, but I was wrong, as there is a full band and instrumentation on these songs, and in fact a very big sound. I don’t know who is playing on it, so I’ll assume studio musicians. I like the sound, and I’m thinking: I would have liked it less if it was just Bob Lind and his guitar, though we’ll never know, now, will we? The record is from 1966, on the World Pacific label. There are liner notes on the back by Jack Nitzsche, who also produced and arranged the record, and is quite a familiar name, though I realized I don’t know that much about him—and just got sidetracked reading about him on the internet—and you should, too. He worked with Phil Spector, which doesn’t surprise me, listening to this record. I like the liner notes a lot, too, pretty funny, but then ending with this lovely sentiment (about Bob Lind): “His songs will remind you of summer, a love you once knew, autumn smells, bad times turned good with age, and yourself.” I’ll tell you right now, I’m going to steal the phrase “Bad Times Turned Good With Age”—in fact, that might end up being the title of my autobiography.

While you’re reading about Jack Nitzsche, check out the same internet for info about Bob Lind, because it’s pretty fascinating. His Wikipedia page doesn’t have any of those warnings like, “This reads like a novel”—but it does, kind of; dude has had a pretty interesting life. He also has a website, and as of this writing is out there on tour—so if you’re lucky you could check him out—maybe even have a word with him. Someone made a documentary about him, too, which I’m going to try to find after writing this—I don’t want to keep being sidetracked—back to the album. Apparently the song “Elusive Butterfly” preceded the album and was a huge hit, and was covered by a ton of big name artists. Somehow, even though I’m kind of old, the song has eluded me, over the years, and even now, I find its charms elusive. I’ll have to listen more closely to the lyrics, later.

As for the rest of the songs, I like several of them better than “Elusive Butterfly.” The second song, “Mister Zero,” has a nice atmosphere, with some haunting strings, and lyrics that go on bizarrely long. Then the next one, “You Should Have Seen It,” is even better, with this kind of forward urgency and big sound. More interesting lyrics, and same with the next one—I’m not taking the time to take in all the lyrics on this listening, but I’m making a mental note to sit down with it sometime. This is definitely a record that I’ll put on again, on purpose. Hey, then the next one, “Drifter’s Sunrise”—this one is very good too, and has a line about drinking coffee, which is sure to get through to Speen.

Side two has three songs that feature women’s names (Julie, Dale Ann, and Cheryl). Assuming these were written about real people, I wonder if any of them were jealous. Then my favorite song on the album, “It Wasn’t Just the Morning”—which is kind of scary, and addresses someone called “you.” Which is common for songs, now that I think of it. I’d imagine it’s hard to be romantically involved with these romantic singers. Which got me to thinking: have I ever felt like I was referred to in a song (not directly by name, of course, but possibly)? Yes, I have, and it’s kind of a weird experience!

Now back to the song, “Elusive Butterfly.” Okay, it’s about how love is elusive like a butterfly. Kind of lame, but I read somewhere that there were lots and lots more verses, so who knows—it could have gotten more interesting—but apparently they wanted it shorter, to have a chance at being a hit record—and only Bob Dylan was allowed to do those songs with like 80 verses. I want to hear about how he catches the elusive butterfly (of love) in a net, and then tries to take it out of the net and accidentally rips its wings off, or pins it to a board and then realizes it’s no longer beautiful, wild, and free—just a sad, gruesome taxidermy version of what was once beautiful. That’s a love metaphor I could get behind.

31
Jan
18

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.

30
Jan
18

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.

28
Jan
18

Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward”

I picked out this one because I thought it was another robot vs. humans album cover, but it’s not a robot at all but some kind of elevated industrial tower structure, with a huge factory building in the background. In the foreground there’s a young man and woman in wedding attire—it would not be outlandish for me to believe this was an actual wedding photo—kind of an “alternative” one, the romantic embrace in front of an intimidating industrial backdrop rather than a pond with flowers and swans. If you think about it, it makes as much sense—though what it means in this setting, I can’t tell you. On the back is a sliver of a different take of the same photo, with a quote: “The world we live in and life in general.” SO… there you go. Means absolutely nothing. Or maybe not—on the song “Lie to Me”—“lie to me/like they do it in the factory/make me think/that at the end of the day/some great reward/will be coming my way.” Marriage, the factory… you’re smart and cynical enough to know it’s all a load of bollocks. But you can still dance.

I am familiar with Depeche Mode, of course, but I’ve never listened to them. This record came out in 1984, and is on Sire, which was a label I saw a lot of in the 80s. In 1984 I played in two bands, was in school, and had two jobs, so I feel like I missed popular culture entirely—no TV, no movies, very few new records. I stopped being caught up on new records coming out, though I’d heard earlier Depeche Mode and didn’t like them, as at that time I was turned off by anything I thought was remotely pop music, and also stayed far away from anything remotely “electronic” or that even employed synthesizers. I had gone through a “progressive rock” phase in the Seventies, but when punk came around I rejected all of that. But that was just another phase, of course. Now I don’t reject anything, necessarily, and like to take everything in with an open mind if possible, but actually seem to like less music than ever—so essentially, I guess, I’m more opinionated than ever.

On one listening I can tell there are some very hook-y pop songs here, some of which would probably resonate with me after repeat listenings. Remember the old days when you’d buy maybe one record a week or month, that first listening, so exciting, and then you’d try to hold off a few hours for the vinyl too cool down, or until the next day for the next listening, and when the songs would start to take hold, due to familiarity, it would be like a new record. And then you could go deeper, with the lyrics, maybe. I don’t know, but I don’t think people listen to music like that anymore—well certainly not on computers. This record sounds pretty much exactly like I thought it would, so I guess I know what Depeche Mode sounds like, and I’m not going to like them any more now than I ever did. Whenever I look up bands, I’m kind of surprised to see that they’re still playing, but then, why not? If you can make money at it, why would you stop doing that—to work at a haberdashery? Of course—stay in the band! Just try to stay away from the drugs!

Okay, one song here really grabbed my attention so I’m listening to it over. It’s called “Somebody”—nice song title. It’s the least electronic song on the record (which no doubt is why it grabbed my attention) with just acoustic sounding piano and singing (and some tapes of background noise, sounds like people at park). It starts out with some syrupy sweet sentiment that leads you to believe it’s going to drop the irony bomb in about three minutes. But here is the surprise, it’s actually sincere all the way through—but with reservations, questioning, not having it all figured out, but trying. I could paraphrase some of the lyrics, but I kind of hate when people writing about records do that (I know, I did it earlier), and this one works better as a whole. I’m assuming you either know the song, or know how to use the internet and can listen to it if you want to.

24
Jan
18

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.




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