Archive for the 'Guitar Gods' Category

17
Jul
19

The Doobie Brothers “Minute by Minute”

This record came out certainly after I had stopped liking The Doobie Brothers—1978—by that time, it was punk rock for me, not these lame, saggy-ass hippies. The kind of classic b&w band photo cover with the six of them posing like a soccer team is nice. Which one would you make out with? If you said anyone but Michael McDonald, you’re just being contrary, because you know he’s the only one without skunk-weed breath. Though I am a “Skunk” Baxter guy from way back. There is an inner sleeve with a giant blowup photo of a roach—no, not a cockroach!—a nearly consumed marijuana cigarette—I’m guessing it’s blown up X10. Just in case you thought “Doobie” referred to a high school track coach, or a submarine sandwich, or someone’s pet, or dick—well, here it is, spelled out in plain English. Or maybe that’s not a roach at all (squinting), but an artist’s rendition of an alien craft, from the school that believes UFOs will not be all sleek, smooth, and symmetrical, but all fucked up. It actually looks like some alien vessel from Lost in Space, the original TV show, the early episodes from 1965, which were in black and white and sometimes truly frightening (and first introduced me to the idea that when we, Earthlings, are traveling out there, Space, then we are the aliens).

On the other side is a lyric sheet! I am so excited! Now I can finally find out what they are singing on “What A Fool Believes”—something that’s been driving me crazy now for forty years. It starts out, “He came from somewhere back in Malongo.” Where in the hell is “Malongo?” Well, it’s not Malongo, it’s: “in her long ago.” But what does that even mean? And then, “As she rises to the Apocalypse, or the Acropolis”—what’s that about? But no, it’s “her apology.” Actually, when I really listen, I can’t understand any of the lyrics. Is that the key to a number one song? I’m here to make that statement: the key to a hit song is to sing the lyrics so no one can understand them. Anyway, this is after Michael McDonald pretty much took over this band, at least on paper. Who knows, really. I’ll look forward to watching that 12 hour Doobie Brothers documentary, that’s got to be out there, or being made, on a double feature with a Yacht Rock documentary, which of course features Michael McDonald. I used to hate the guy; maybe I associated him with the lame side of the late Seventies, you know, that horrible beard and football jersey combo look. Or maybe I associated him with that most heinous of all hamburger chains. But now I pretty much love the guy, which I suppose says something about me, not him, or time, or the sewer flowing into the river, and the river flowing into the sea.

21
Jun
19

Paul Horn “Visions”

I should have known who Paul Horn was, or maybe I did, kind of, but forgot or wasn’t thinking about it when I picked up this record. I was drawn to it because it looks like someone made the album cover while either on acid or in a therapeutic situation while being detained—whether it be by the authorities, caregivers, or cultists. Apologies to cover designer Glen Dias. That sounds too harsh—and it really is quite stunning and beautiful, but also kind of fucked up. It’s really pretty bizarre, and not slick, and if it wasn’t for the prominent “Epic” logo in the corner, I might think this record was totally homemade. That’s a compliment. There are liner notes on the back, by producer Henry Lewy—neatly typed, not scrawled in blood or anything, but laid out in the shape of a butterfly (or a bat? Or a concretion?—anyway, I can’t read it). There’s a reason that writing—which is just an already rather difficult-to-translate code of communication—is laid out with the end of each line continuing on a justified left margin. These liner notes are telling me they want to be admired as a design, but not read. Or maybe it was just someone’s—over there at Epic—bad design idea.

Another record from 1974—I seem to be drawn to that year without even trying. I’m not sure what to make of this record, actually, some of it sounds just right on, with a mellow groove, and some fine playing, and of course some really nice flute by Paul Horn. I could imagine putting this on quite regularly. But then it will get to a part that sounds just kind of insipid to me. It’s interesting, this record is all cover songs—David Batteau, Joan Baez, two by Joni Mitchell, three by David Crosby, and three by Stevie Wonder—but it sounds like a real unified band sound—so you kind of recognize the songs, but the style is Paul Horn (or his band on this record—I don’t know enough Paul Horn to say if this is a deviation). I’ll have to pay more attention to see whose songs translate best to this style. But right now, I’m having trouble paying attention to anything. Still can’t sleep, headache every day. The headaches are getting worse. Can’t concentrate. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I started to imagine putting this record on with a dinner guest over. Maybe I’ve just cooked some, I don’t know, some quinoa, kale horseshit. Borrow a corkscrew from the front desk and open the best bottle of red $12 will buy. If I started drinking again, I think the last thing I would be able tolerate is red wine. Like, for some reason, I really associate red wine with depression. Anyway, one song comes on, and it’s prefect mood music—and yeah, I guess I’m talking about a date. Then the next song comes on and creeps me out! I guess one song will make me feel like a very suave guy, kind of liquid, mind and body as one. And then the next one will make me feel like I’m in a commercial for a 401(k) Plan. It’s totally schizo, this record. I’ve heard movie soundtracks this schizo—in fact most movie soundtracks are, which is why I rarely listen to movie soundtrack records. Maybe I won’t write about this record now. But then, I might put it on a year from now and have the same exact reaction—so maybe I should write about it, get it over with, as a kind of warning, or an antidote… for my future self.

31
May
19

Fuzzhead “LSD”

Due to my “Speenish” reputation, readers might expect me to express my opinion about whether this 1993 LP, provocatively titled LSD, in some way portrays or evokes an “acid trip”—and you know what, I’m not going to do it, because that’s your trip, I mean if you want to go there, and you can decide that for yourself. This isn’t an educational record, it’s an album of music, broken into songs, and it does that very well, with primarily guitars, bass, drums, and voices. These few elements are far from sparse, as there are a lot of them, going on at the same time. Listening to this again, I had a bit of an impression that it could have been quadraphonic sound—that is, if I had four speakers—so I’m almost getting the impression of four speakers coming out of two, or even two different stereos playing almost the same two records at almost the same time. Which probably makes it sound more chaotic than it is… it’s actually quite coherent, compelling, easy on the ears, brain, nose, throat, what have you. There is no centrally defined singer, but multiple ones coming in from here and there, one of them a woman’s voice that makes me think of Grace Slick enough to make me think of Jefferson Airplane, as well. Not that that is a comparison, I’m not doing that, and other comparisons would be more apt, but I’m not going there, and I’m not going to use the word “psychedelic” more than once, and I just did it.

The cover of this record is all white except for an enlarged typewriter font “lsd” and “fuzzhead” and a large gray hand (bigger than actual size) protruding from the left, holding what one presumes is some kind LSD delivery device on the end of the middle finger. For some reason the hand makes me think of a squid, probably one big enough to destroy cruise ships. The acid makes me think of an impossibly small drive-in movie theater screen. Small movies for small people. It seems like yesterday when this record came out, yet it was like a quarter of a century ago. And what’s a quarter of a century?—besides the time it took for the drive-in theater on the end of the finger to become a reality.

Fuzzhead is a band started by Bill Weita—though I suppose I could be wrong—it could have been started by any number of the names equally divided in the album credits. But I think it was Bill Weita, a guy I lived in the same house with, in Kent, Ohio, 1987 into 1988. There were six or seven of us in that house and WE ALL GOT ALONG. We made homebrew in the basement, started an art movement, and watched a videotape of The Sweet Ride on TV. Bill would disappear into the basement for hours, weeks at a stretch, make a lot of noise that could only be described as repetitive and annoying. Then he’d eventually come out with cassette tape with music that might have come from Berlin in the Seventies, or a basement in Kent. He’d make a finished product, on cassette, with a typewriter and crude drawings. This record is much along the same lines, though it’s vinyl and on someone else’s label (Father Yod). I moved away, never to return, and Fuzzhead was born, not, I don’t think, long after. When I lived there, however, we, the roommates, called Bill “The King of Rock’n’Roll”—he didn’t self-apply that name, in case anyone is wondering. But I’m here to say, that R&R museum up north on Lake Erie is necessarily a failure and travesty until Bill has been at least asked to be freeze-dried and on permanent display.

17
May
19

Television “Marquee Moon”

When I started writing about my record collection back in 2006, I was determined to go from A to Z, so like, I was never going to get to Television—but with this new random system I have, it’s sure taking a long time to get to certain albums, anyway—but maybe that’s good. This one is kind of hard to write about, actually, because it’s maybe one of my favorite 10 (meaning 100) records of all time, and it’s kind of like a force of nature, so it’s a little like you’re photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting someone to pay attention to your snapshot when people have done time-lapse, panorama, satellite, helicopters, drones, parasails, jumping it on a motorcycle, and as they died falling in. So, if you’re reading this, and it’s the highly unlikely case where you’ve never heard this record, either you are going to have such high expectations that it will necessarily stumble, or you’ve hit the jackpot in life—you get to hear it for the first time, and you can only do that once. And then the second, third, etc…

It’s from 1977, I suppose the best year of punk rock, and it comes from the New York punk rock scene, but it sounds nothing like any of the other bands from that place or time, or really anywhere. There had to be a lot of people who hated this when it came out; I bet some were then won over, some weren’t, still aren’t. Bands were playing fast, short songs, for one thing, and these songs are long (longest is almost 10 minutes!) and there are extended guitar solos. It’s complex; it’s practically jazz. It’s weird to think this record came out the same year as Steely Dan’s Aja, but you can’t imagine them on the same plane, much less the same year—but the same people were buying them—and in a way, they are quite similar. Eight songs only, four per side, and one could make a strong argument that if you ranked the songs from best to worst they would line up in the exact order they are on the album—which might seem kind of dismal, except for the fact that they’re all great songs. I’ve definitely listened to side one more than side two—but the one nice thing about that is that I feel like I might still be able to discover something on the second side. The first side is so ingrained in my head nothing less than brain damage is ever going to allow me a fresh listen.

I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics—though, and I’m not likely to at this point. That’s not true, there are a few lines that stick with me—it’s just that I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. But I love the line: “Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops…’” And a few others. I’m not going to talk about the guitars, okay? It just struck me that this could be the ideal record for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and if you wanted to spend a few excessive hours while giving it a few listens, use the internet and try reading all the ways people have used words to try to describe what those guitars are doing. I’m going to make this quick, though, by mentioning the cover photos—first there’s the kind of classic band photo, them all looking like they want to be the next one to make love—but it’s this high-contrast color that makes their hands look really crazy, kind of like one of those early Aerosmith records. I never bothered to look at the photo credits before, and it says Robert Mapplethorpe—I guess that guy knew his way around a camera.Then on the back there’s a photo of something that I’m guessing is abstracted by contrast—it’s credited to Billy Lobo. I think it’s supposed to represent the near death high you get, supposedly, from heroin, but I’m just guessing. Then, the inside sleeve band pic is very odd—it’s a great b&w photo, really, but printed weirdly, so the drummer and bass player have turned into shadows, while the inside of the drums are lit up. That the two guitarists are siting on kitchen chairs facing each other probably says more than bucket of liner notes could. And then, for as much as the photo is obscured in darkness, kind of amazingly you see all these details in hardware, chairs, amps, and shirts—really, it kind of simultaneously demystifies these guys as just regular schmoes, while elevating them to some kind of god love. Depending on who you are, you might focus more on Richard Lloyd’s guitar, or Tom Verlaine’s shirt, or everyone’s hands. I’m torn.

01
Mar
19

Mountain “Flowers of Evil”

The guitars on this record just won’t quit. They may well outlast the demise of almost everything else on the Earth. In some future time, just after the cockroaches have even finally all died out, those guitars might still be going. But it’s just one guitar, right? Do I have to look this up? Sometimes I want to deal with a record just at face value, which is why I so enjoyed staying at various cabins in the “North Woods” where the internet is just a rumor, yet they have an old hi-fi and a stack of moldy LPs. This one has everything you need, pictures of the four guys in the band and simple descriptions of the instruments they play (guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keyboards), songwriting credits, some lyrics, but like a lot of older records, no date. (It’s from 1971.) Great front cover black and white band photo—the guys wearing their best stuff, but trying to look casual, and like the photographer was able to expend exactly one photo. On one guy’s shirt it says “Gerken”—but I think that was written there by the former owner of this LP—Gerken is a company that moves dirt from point A to point B. Or it could be a misspelling of gherkin, a type of pickle. Or it could be an obscure weed reference. Or the former owner’s name. At any rate, any of those things could explain the condition of this record (dirt, weed, pickle juice)—it’s close to unplayable. There are also liner notes explaining how side two—which is live—is really long (almost half an hour) which—considering that it was not really recommended making LPs that long due to diminishing sound quality— is really not all that bad sounding.

There has been nearly a half century of guitar heavy rock played, recorded, performed, and practiced by too-loud-neighbors since this record came out, which is a staggering amount, enough to sink the world and float the Titanic. So it’s kind of hard to appreciate what was likely the mind-blowing and groundbreaking nature of the hard rock this band was playing—but it’s just really difficult to put into perspective. I could probably enjoy it more if the record didn’t sound like it was being simultaneously murdered as it played. To be fair, I looked for some stuff on the internet, and there is some really great old footage of them playing live, and I very much enjoyed that. The guitar player and singer, Leslie West, is a big, sweaty guy, and really fun to watch play. I always love when a guitar player makes his guitar look like both a toy, a weapon, and an unwanted growth he’s trying to eradicate. I also really like certain guy’s names that are more often women’s names—not the unisex names, but the ones that kind of throw you off, like Leslie and Tracy. I don’t know why that’s important—and why names are important—but it is and they are.

26
Jan
19

Chicago “Chicago”

I bought a late-Seventies Chicago record when I was in high school and was so-so about it, then later I just didn’t like them at all, so it was a surprise to me when, a few years ago, I found myself compulsively listening to some of their early stuff, especially the hits. I bought this 1970 record, titled “Chicago” (but also referred to as Chicago II, I guess, because it’s their second LP) from a $4 bin—mostly fascinated because the cover was thin cellophane over what looks like a badly photocopied cover, and the label is this really exotic, old, Asian looking, beautiful silver printing on red, called “First.” What was it? I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it’s from Taiwan, maybe legit, maybe a bootleg, who knows. I thought it might be unlistenable, but for $4, I was just curious. It turns out that it’s not only listenable, but a great record with great sound. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not (and my stereo system is an ongoing adventure in inconsistency), but weirdly it sounds better than any other record—just really lush and warm. How much that has to do with the pressing, and how much is just the recording, playing, songs—I have no idea. One thing about the band, Chicago, that I really like, is how uncomplicated their early recordings are, while being tremendously complex—you know, in song structure and arrangements—but just all really organic sounding.

I finally got curious and consulted the internet about these Taiwanese pressings, and sure enough, people talk about the sound quality being really good. I didn’t want to go down that particular rabbit-hole though—you’ve got to protect yourself, you know, from the old rabbit-holes—but I did note that someone talked about the weird cellophane covered album covers that are just like covers printed on the back of other things and then wrapped in this plastic. Then, looking closely at the cover of this Chicago record, I could see this faint writing coming through, and it said: “Shaft’s Big Score!” So then I had to cut the plastic away to see what was going on, and it turns out the Chicago cover is printed on very thin paper, and the inner structure of the album cover is made up of a Taiwanese printed “Shaft’s Big Score!” LP, and a divider (it’s a double record) in the middle is the cover of “Blood, Sweat & Tears 3.” Just really bizarre. Anyway, not ever having heard this record, except for some of the hit songs, I just kind of thought maybe the whole thing was some kind of random bootleg collection, but as it turns out, it’s just their second record, and it is kind of bizarre, just all over the place, but really great from beginning to end. They sure were pretty ambitious for a new band. I guess their first few records were double records, like they just didn’t realize that most sane bands primarily put out single records. At first they were called Chicago Transit Authority, but wisely chose to shorten the name (seeing how it’s even more syllables than ELO, and probably could foresee a career of rock journalists’ cleverness: “elevated” or “missed the bus”) to Chicago, and adopted that dumb script logo that looks like the sign for a deli, or something printed on a fat guy’s softball uniform.

I don’t want to go down a Chicago rabbit-hole, either—well, I just did—looking over their discography, and history, about which I know nothing. I rarely consult other music writers (I read lots of music writers, but I mean, specifically, when writing a review), but I was compelled to check Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” which is a great website, with no bullshit popping up, with an index, and searchable, tons of concise and insightful music writing (plus, he had the honor of getting a taste of his own medicine from Lou Reed, on that “Take No Prisoners” live record). Let’s see… Chicago… Christgau is… not a fan. To say the least. But I guess I am, now. Maybe I’ll pick up some more of the early records (I have a copy the their first “greatest hits” LP). Then, of course, I started reading about the tragic death of Terry Kath, and tried to remember what I thought about it at the time—1978. We didn’t have the internet, of course, and so we had to wait for any news to be on the radio or TV or in the papers, and then to really find out anything, next month’s Rolling Stone. I guess by that point I thought of the band as an insipid AM radio hits band, but still, it was pretty sad and senseless and depressing. Then later the same year, my hero Keith Moon died, and that really hit me hard. While I was legitimately sad, I remembered thinking that the intense public mourning for Elvis (the previous year) was kind of ridiculous (though it’s easy to forget that he was only 42). But Terry Kath and Keith Moon were barely into their early thirties. I don’t really believe that “only the good die young” thing (maybe it’s more that they haven’t had the time yet to become wretched), but considering another prominent 1946 birth… well, forget that (I try to avoid presidential politics on this site, but it is notable when someone goes from being merely a huge, reeking, cultural turd to a literal giant magnet for hate, racism, intolerance, and fascism).

A couple of years ago, when David Bowie died, and then a few months later, Prince died, I did feel pretty emotional, sad and devastated—again wondering if that made sense, not knowing them personally. But now, because of social media, you are very much aware of this as a shared experience. It is not at all unusual for people to mourn the loss of artists, public figures, who enrich their lives. Thinking about it now, when Terry Kath died, I was still in high school, living with my parents, and my shared experience about this kind of thing was primarily with them. And in those years, from the time of my birth, to the point at which I first moved away from home (which coincided, by chance, with Keith Moon’s death) my experiencing and dealing with the death of family members, friends, and public figures was a pretty intimate experience with my parents, and I feel like I was closer with them, on a communication level, than probably the average kid. So I’m thinking about that now… started out to write about this Chicago record… talk about your rabbit-hole…

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.




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