Archive for the 'Guitar Gods' Category

23
Aug
17

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin IV”

I’ve got a new random number system for picking out records to write about, by the way, so there is no other reason for me putting this one on than that, though I still do thoroughly enjoy it—one of the more overplayed rock records of all time—every time I hear it. I don’t really need to talk about the songs or the music with this one, do I? My dream would be to meet someone who has never heard this record, then play it for them a few times while we talk about it and I take notes. But in what cave am I going to meet this person? My favorite song, no hesitation, is “Misty Mountain Hop”—one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs—especially the, “Baby, baby, baby do you like it,” part.

One of the funniest things is the disagreement over the title of this 1971 LP, the band’s fourth. I’m calling it, here, Led Zeppelin IV, as that, I think, is the most common way to refer to it, and what Wikipedia calls it. Discogs, however, insists that is has no title, which I guess is technically correct, but to call something “Untitled” strikes me as asinine, and that goes for anyone who has an artwork or something without a title, because then “Untitled” becomes the title and it’s no longer untitled. So please, people, title your shit. It just occurred to me, that since I’m writing about this now, in 2017, I may as well assign it a new title, and maybe it will catch on. I’ll think about this as I proceed.

I’m sure the album cover is considered some kind of a classic album cover, but I never liked it (except for there being no words on it), but when you open it up and look at the entire composition—the bleak landscape on the left, and crumbling wall with the painting hung on it in the foreground—it’s really pretty great. So I guess in that sense, I like it, which is more than I can say for the stupid stoner drawing on the inside, with a wizard standing on a rocky cliff looking down on a town (or maybe on a small, ragged figure of indeterminate gender, in the foreground). So little have I ever cared for this drawing, I feel like this is the first time I’m really looking at it. How many bags of weed have been consumed while the intricate, unrealistic rocks have been examined for hidden images and meanings? However, I just noticed, for the first time, that little white goat, grazing on an elevated plateau. I’m pretty certain the answer to the mystery lies there.

Okay, I’ve got it. Since this might be the most “Speenish”—(i.e., my last name, as an adjective, meaning the distillation of the R. Speen essence (sometimes, though not to be, confused with patchouli and burning sage))—of all popular rock ‘n’ roll records, I’m going to officially, as of this date forward, name this record: Led Zeppelin Speen.

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05
Jun
10

Boston “Boston”

It’s really hard to criticize something like this album–I mean it’s like criticizing The Dictionary–though, when I say that, I’m assuming “the dictionary of the English language,” and if you don’t speak English, the book isn’t of much use.

Listen to the record!

That was an attempted allegory. Note: edit out that first paragraph before posting.

Listen to the record!

Everyone knows the story of how Tom Scholz, MIT grad and scientist, was working for GE developing the Doomsday Machine when, while tinkering in his basement workshop, developed all those compressors and distortion devices that– when built into what are known as “guitar pedals” –have allowed future generations of mindless wankers to pick up an electric guitar for the first time and in fifteen minutes learn how to make noise like a goddamn god. When Andy Warhol said that “fifteen minutes of fame” thing, this is exactly what he was talking about.

Listen to the record!

That “Listen to the record!” business is from the liner notes, and I just love liner notes. It makes me so sad to think about all the young people and their MP3s and how they don’t even have an idea of the concept of liner notes. These liner notes discuss how the guys got together, first called their band “Springfield” and when things weren’t happening, changed the name to “Boston” and the rest is history. There is also a discussion of “technology,” but I’m just listening to the record. The song “More Than A Feeling,” despite being seriously in the top ten of alltime overplayed songs, is surprisingly fresh sounding–I mean considering– with that acoustic part and the hard rock part– I know it should sound more stale than it does– well, maybe it’s just been such a “Long Time” since my stereo needle touched vinyl. The song, “Long Time” incidentally, was used in studies. It was found that people of a certain age group (my age) could pick up a guitar for the first time and play the opening guitar part nearly note for note, particularly guitar store employees.

I’m making fun of this record a little, but I have to admit I’m actually enjoying listening to it, so if you’re a fan, old or new, and you want say “Speen thinks it rocks” go ahead, it won’t bug me too much. Really, it’s not entirely these guys’ fault that some of these guitar flourishes are what many of us will hear as we’re dying, coming out of a coma, having sex, or every time we turn the ignition of a car or open a can of Pepsi. Maybe Scholz DID invent the doomsday machine after all. Look at the cover art closely, if it doesn’t cause flashbacks to commence. It looks like the Earth is exploding and entire cities are being saved by being jetted off into space by dome-topped flying saucers. The one closest to us, of course, contains Boston. One wonders if Kokomo made it.

Lyrically–there are no printed lyrics on this particular sleeve, so I’m trying to make them out. Smokin’ indeed rhymes with tokin’. It’s interesting, with all the millions of times I’ve heard “More Than A Feeling” I never heard the “Mary Ann slipping away” part. Who is this “Mary Ann”? Seeing how this record came out in 1976, you have to figure the lyricist must have been watching endless Gilligan’s Island reruns, and how many people had a crush on that Mary Ann? I know I did, but it’s interesting, once I got to a certain age, I switched over from Mary Ann to Ginger. I really believe that’s a sign of maturity. Ask your friends who they prefer– it’s a good test to separate the men from the boys. I’m trying to remember who the eighth person on that island was… Anyway, you KNOW that The Professor could have had a short wave radio rescue transmission going in about five minutes, but he obviously didn’t want to. Thurston had Lovey and The Skipper had Gilligan (don’t pretend you didn’t know) so who else was there to satisfy the two hot women other than Russell “Magic” Johnson (not his real name) who– well they couldn’t really show it on TV then like they could today– got more ass than a makeshift bamboo outhouse.

I would apologize for that last paragraph, but you’ll never see it. I just started drinking coffee again and I’m getting carried away here. Memo to Speen: DELETE the paragraph about lyrics before posting.

Side two starts out with a really corny, compelling, unoriginal and utterly awesome rocker called “Rock & Roll Band” which is probably about playing in a rock & roll band, but I’m not going to fall back into that listening to the lyrics trap. I wasn’t actually able to get to the end of side two because this particular record, which was found on “the street,” seems to have about a kilo of cocaine encrusted in the later grooves of the second side. I would take the initiative to clean it, but I can’t find a hundred dollar bill.

20
Jun
09

Blues Explosion “Extra Width”

I preferred to alphabetize the band as “Blues Explosion” rather than wait for later in the alphabet (and be faced with alphabetizing dilemmas–Spencer, Jon Spencer, The Jon Spencer?)– but this is indeed The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, one of my all time favorite bands, I’ll admit right away. This isn’t my favorite of their records (and I haven’t even HEARD all their records) but it’s pretty solid. Also nice is that it’s a record–one of the newest in the current collection I’m writing about– though it’s from 1993– which now seems as long ago as The Fifties. The boys look pretty young in their individual Richard Kern glamour portraits– Jon Spencer’s, on the cover, which should have sold a record or two, is particularly striking with all the stuff in his hair and his Kuchar-esque eyebrows. Hell– I’D buy that guy a double bourbon!

There’s even some pointless liner notes on the back, for an old-fashioned touch– by Herb Hitts– a description of a live show that is so generalized and cliché-ridden it may as well say, “they rocked” with one fist in the air. Is it meant to be ironic? While I think it is — the once ironic fist in the air, and heavy metal fist in the air, and expression “rocked!” — once intended to be ironic, is no longer taken, or even intended that way– so what you have instead is a willful reduction of the IQ by half. But with this band there is no discussing irony or sincerity, they are so far beyond those considerations, you can’t figure it out and you shouldn’t try. Though, I can imagine if I was in a band with Jon Spencer I might at some point beg him to “please sing normal for once!” I might roll my eyes violently when he comes into rehearsal with a song called “Back Slider.” It might lead to a fight, someone walking out on the session, sulking on a bar stool, but would any of that be real or just another episode in a cheap paperback version of the life of a blues band that’s a rock band and a punk band?

I guess the question with this band will always be (as it is with every band): are they just an act– are they merely ABOUT what they seem to be, or are they the real thing? I have had the benefit of seeing a live show a few years back (maybe the last live show I’ve seen) where that question was answered; either they were the real thing, or else the real thing doesn’t really exist. Which might be the case. As time goes on and layers of history are peeled away, and you closely examine what you considered the important bands from your past, you find out they were ALL acts. The only thing that is real are the rare moments when no one was looking, the mistakes, and the tiny miracles that occasionally transcend the cement weighted egos and vanities.

But enough about me. This record is the kind of record, unfortunately rare, that I always prefer to listen to all the way through. I love some of it and hate some of it, but to isolate individual songs seems pointless. It all runs together the way a record album should. I’ve listened to it now hundreds of times, but I couldn’t tell you what a single song title is or what any of them are about. There’s a lot of grunting, groaning, screaming, unsettling noises, and then suddenly you find yourself in a groove that you wish you never had to leave. The guy’s singing “typecast” but he may as well be singing “hotpants” – guitars are destroyed, and the side is over.

To all of you in the CD generation, you will, I’m sure, not believe me when I tell you that you will never, ever be able to understand the singular, sublime pleasure of turning a record over and putting the needle on the second side. After some Elvis from hell bullshit, we again find ourselves in a groove that is over far too soon. Then some kind of an incomprehensible plodding noise out of which suddenly can be heard the phrase: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich!” Probably the high point of my life. Then an instrumental funk groove that serves a similar function as when, in certain times and certain cultures, one would excuse oneself from the table to gracefully throw up. Followed by an unpleasant exorcism of a song– but it all works together, because then you get to the last song on the record, which is also the best, and it’s like you endured your dreadful vegetables, formalities, and pleasantries so that you can be rewarded with (your favorite dessert here). Bon appetit!

11
Apr
09

Black Sabbath “Vol. 4”

Why I never had this album, which came out in 1972, in my adolescent record collection, is beyond me, since I had “Master of Reality” from the year before and I loved that one—particularly the song “Sweet Leaf.” Even as a lad, I thought it was both funny and awesome, simultaneously, though I’m sure I didn’t use the word “awesome” at that time. I probably thought it was “bad”— which in 1971 meant awesome.

So I’ve never put this one on a turntable until now, and it’s pretty satisfying. The first song, “Wheels of Confusion” starts out with some guitar excess that sounds just like Pink Floyd, and you have to wonder if it was a joke. Pink FLOYD… Black SABBATH—get it? Then it goes right into that super heavy, super slow, simple guitar heavy metal that I love so much, and it’s like eight minutes long, too! The next song, “Tomorrow’s Dream”—if you were ever going to put a heavy metal song into a time capsule and send it out into space—to represent “Heavy Metal”—this would be the song. “Changes” kind of brings me down, even though it’s so obviously pretty and an allowable step in a different direction. “Supernaut” brings you back to where your heavy metal brain wants to be—insane!

Side two is much of the same, with Ozzy working the brain/insane rhyme which he had been, was, and would continue to make a career out of. Actually, I don’t know how many times he or anyone else used that rhyme, and I’m sure not going to pursue it! There are some pretty obvious drug references—a clue: if someone in rock music mentions “snow” it has nothing to do with weather. Everybody back then wrote about drugs a lot… you’d think they were IN LOVE with drugs! Try to find someone from 1972 who WASN’T writing songs about drugs—that is the real challenge.

The cover is a classic high contrast photo of Ozzy that’s as boring as it is iconic. The inside cover is nicer, with, apparently large color photo pages of the band—most of which are missing in this tattered copy—though there is a good picture of Tony Iommi, who was one of the more cool looking guys in rock from that time, in my opinion. The band wishes to thank, in the credits, “COKE-Cola”—apparently they were the first ones ever to make that Coca-cola/cocaine connection, and for that we owe them a great debt.

14
Mar
09

George Benson “Weekend in LA”

Ever since the suffering, bored days of high school, I’ve always considered George Benson’s 1976 milestone, “Breezin'” as shorthand for “insipid.” So it was with great trepidation that I put on this double, LIVE, LP from two years later, the dreaded cultural abyss of 1978. But to my surprise, I’m rather enjoying this low key, smooth jazz experience—really, I’m not kidding. I’ve graced my turntable and neighbors with this LP more than a few times lately. Perhaps I have mellowed like a fine wine. I’m not exactly coming home from school, putting on the Sex Pistols, and pounding a quart of hard cider like I was doing in the days this was pressed. No, these days Ray Speen has used his crack pipe to prop up the wobbly leg of his game table where he’s slowly working on an enormous jigsaw puzzle of the Taj Mahal. That image in the reflecting pool—as still and perfect as it is—just drives you crazy! But that’s another subject.

At first I thought this was a single record, as the second disk is gone. Then I noticed that I was in possession of Record 1 Side I, backed with Record 1 Side IV. That’s Roman numeral “4” for all you intravenous drug abusers who can’t get their minds off the dope. Try a jigsaw puzzle, really. The best song is on side “IV”—the awesome Leon Russell’s “Lady Blue.” Other standouts are “Weekend in LA”, which could be synonymous with “mellow,” and “On Broadway” which could maybe be the theme song for everything in the 1970s I’d like to forget. But in a good way. You can barely tell this is a live record, the audience is so subdued; they sound like they’re all sitting in comfortable seats next to blonde ladies, sipping gin sours.

The cover is as equally classic, with “George Benson” “signed” in red neon, and George assuming the (strictly reserved for superstars) Jesus on the cross pose, that is if Jesus had been gripping a hollowbody, George Benson signature Ibanez in one hand, which, who knows, maybe he was. There are a couple more good pictures of GB, and really, he’s got one of the best moustaches of all time. This could very well be my moustache model for my new look. I’m already, as it is well known, fond of those open collars big enough to double as a jib, Genoa, or even a mainsail. Not something you’d want to wear on the high seas, but fine for tropical, LA nights.

08
Feb
09

Jeff Beck “There and Back”

Trying to write about these five or so Jeff Beck albums is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do– it’s kind of like the aural equivalent of scaling a virtually unlistenable replication of Mount Everlast or something, made especially difficult without an oxygen tank or being allowed to overuse the “W” word. This record from 1980– was ever there more deadening, time to stop reading and do the crossword puzzle, words as “this record from 1980?” (Unless it’s “this record from 1988.”)

I just checked my statcounter and my readership has fallen to ONE PERSON– who I suspect is Mr. Beck himself. Fortunately he is also checking my statcounter or we might end up in quite a “row.” Seeing how he virtually invented the sleeveless look, I suspect he still works out– something I ceased to do long, long ago, unless you count working out Lil’ Ray.

I’ve never been to the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame, but I wonder if there is a Disney Animatronic version of a guitar store complete with the annoying customer running though every guitar cliché known to man, sponsored by Applebee’s America’s Favorite Neighborhood Grill. Free downloadable Hollywood bad girls nude wallpaper free flat tummy tips and debt counseling I found you a job! Is there a large electronic billboard like the stock market or something with the top selling records of all time, or at least the “Dark Side of the Moon” ongoing sales statistics, and the Rolling Stone greatest guitar wankers of all time, Jeff Beck currently ranked at 14 but looking to crack the top ten with continued collaborations with unlistenable contemporaries. But I like Jeff Beck, don’t get me wrong. I love the man. He doesn’t make me listen to these records, and he sure as hell isn’t the one paying me $9 an hour to review them!

One big, huge complaint. The album cover, which is simply the name in white, in stencil letters on a black background in fake leatherette (meaning it’s a fake version of a fake version of a fake version– how self-aware is that?) is one of like A MILLION record album covers (if you don’t have records and would rather hear me complain about CDs, stop reading NOW) that have an image and/or words on the cover and then some other image or words on the back cover set SIDEWAYS– that is on a 90 degree difference from the front. As record albums are SQUARE, it is hard or impossible to tell, when this happens, which side is up, and which side faces to the right, where the opening is where the record is inserted. Sometimes, even, the record goes in the top rather than the side. And sometimes, as in this case, the printing on the back is presented sideways, at least in relation to that of the cover. I’m sure the people designing the records find this playful. I find it incredibly annoying.

24
Nov
08

Be Bop Deluxe “Axe Victim”

I listened to this record with great anticipation, not having any recollection of what this band sounded like, even though I remember the name well, from my youth. To my surprise it sounds more like David Bowie than anything, though not quite, kind of like that parallel universe Bowie created for the movie “Velvet Goldmine” by a lot of musicians, but most notably Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry. And I suppose you could say this sounds a lot like Roxy Music, but I never listened to that much Roxy Music, it was Bowie for me. I never listened to ANY Be Bop Deluxe– how did that happen? I would have loved this record had I bought it when it came out in 1974 when I was a huge glam rock fan and really into the whole androgynous sci-fi thing, and still a little afraid of the Rolling Stones. I pretty much know for a fact that guitar excess didn’t bother me as much then as it does now– and there is plenty of excess here! This is pretty much Bill Nelson’s band– not the Bill Nelson who is the Florida Senator who flew on the Space Shuttle– though this Bill Nelson has just as effectively seen the heavens firsthand on his six-string rocketship. The title “Axe Victim” could very well refer to the ears of the listener who is not somehow immune to this sort of thing. I mean, if you removed about two fingers on one hand and three on another, this guy could be a great guitar player. This record could be convincing argument for religious leaders not to condemn masturbation, just so young boys will have something to do with their hands besides practice, practice, practice. I’ve just got to say, if you really want to play with the London Philharmonic, get a fucking violin!

But for all that, somehow, perhaps against my better judgment, I really like this record! Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, as it comes out of my favorite era of rock, the early seventies. And that should surprise no one– just look at my hair! Okay, I admit, I’m stuck a little in that time period, forever trying to relive the weird trippy sensation I had when I brought home that “Diamond Dogs” album from the Ontario store. Anyway, I’ve been listening to this thing over and over, and the more I listen to it the more I like it. The guitar still sounds tremendously overdone, like 300 notes where you could get by more effectively with one, but the singing is quite compelling, and most of the songs are great. Actually, the songs are all over the place, some much better than others, but together as a whole, and specifically as a record album with two sides, they really work together as a whole. The album cover is better not mentioned– I won’t describe it, and if you don’t remember it, believe me– don’t go searching it out. The back cover, however, is classic– a picture of the band– looking more goth than glam, almost– and there is every indication that if you were Bill Nelson’s lover, you’d always be in second place.

But really– I love this record– this is just the kind of thing that finding in some dingy basement could really make you have faith in the idea that there are still great things out there that you have somehow overlooked. I am going to go so far as to go out and buy myself a cassette tape device and record this in a lovely analogue fashion. I might ever go a little further and look up Bill Nelson on the internet. Well, actually I already did, a little bit. It kind of makes me happy, for once, that he’s still out there, maybe in space, making music.




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