Archive for the 'mellow' Category

09
Dec
18

The Mamas and The Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”

The first Mamas and Papas record, and far from my favorite, though it has some great songs (each of their records has some of my favorites—though, if I was able to put together a “greatest” record for them it would probably not resemble anyone else’s version). My favorite here is “Somebody Groovy”—I can’t get enough of that song. Then “California Dreamin’”—a song I liked a lot when I kind of “rediscovered” (for me) the band, in the early Eighties—which is also, of course, probably the most overplayed of all their songs, and one I’d be in danger of being sick to death of if it wasn’t for it being used in several scenes in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994)—at which time it became forever connected to that movie, and those great scenes with Faye Wong working at the restaurant, playing the song on a boom box. The other one I really like here is “The In Crowd,” a Dobie Gray hit song (I also really love the Ramsey Lewis Trio version—one of my favorite songs) and this version is really an excellent one—they add a lot to it.

There are some bizarre liner notes, too, pretty long and wordy, written by Andy Wickham. Here’s a bit: “They live in a nutty world of semi-existentialism, of cuckoo-clocks and antique lampshades, of beat-up old cars and Indian boots…” etc.—great liner note style. The other thing worth mentioning is that I have two copies—I guess a stereo and a mono version—at this point I have no preference—but the covers are way different, and what’s weird is that it’s the same photo, cropped differently. It’s a photo where the four of them are sitting somewhat awkwardly in a dry bathtub. It’s a pretty good bathtub, too, in a tiled bathroom with a window right above the tub—I’d take that bathroom. On the right, the toilet would be very prominent except that it’s mostly covered by an art department signboard announcing the album’s singles. Too, bad—I want to see the toilet—is there an older version of the cover with the toilet visible? Anyway, on the other record the photo is cropped so that you can’t even see the bathtub—and if that one was the only one you ever saw, you’d think, why in the hell did they pick this odd, awkward photo in this weird tiled room? There must have been a handful of fun discussions, about all this, at Dunhill Records.

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20
Nov
18

Jim Croce “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

It must have been a major milestone in Jim Croce’s career when he felt that a critical mass knew how to pronounce his name, I mean, if he ever felt that was the case, because people probably kept mispronouncing it. But he was huge at one point, due to a couple of really big hit songs, on the radio all the time. The one on this record is “Time in a Bottle”—which is a song that tormented me, age 12 or so, I suppose, hearing it on the AM radio constantly, one of those songs I will forever associate with getting ready for school in the morning, since my parents always played the AM radio in the kitchen. It’s funny, because it seems like there are two Jim Croces, the one I’m familiar with who had the hits like that “Bad Leroy Brown” song, and then all these songs I’ve never heard, a lot of which don’t sound anything like the hits and are some pretty good songs. A lot of them seem to be about being poor, being on the road, being a poor guitar player and singer on the road. Once you can afford your “Time in a Bottle” Lear Jet or tour bus, what do you write about then? Or maybe he got screwed out of his hit record money like so many musicians.

He’s looking out from a church window on the cover with a stogie in his mouth, and sitting on his guitar case, on the road, on the back cover, wearing some serious walking boots and a jean jacket with a CAT Diesel Power patch. He’s also holding a stogie—again an album cover with a guy smoking on the front and back cover. Smoking was really important to a lot of people’s identities back in the day, and I guess it might still be. One interesting note, this song, “New York’s Not My Home” (about living in NYC for a year and not liking it)—I had never heard, and then while working on a Franke Latina movie he was considering it for the soundtrack, so I had my brother, Jeff, do a rendition of the song, which he did, a couple versions—great song! And he did a really great cover, nothing like the original– and so for me, that song is always going to be his version, which I think is a lot better than JCs—but don’t tell Croce I said that because you don’t want to mess around with Jim.

15
Nov
18

Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”

I know less about the Grateful Dead’s discography than about fine wines—totally, exactly, nothing—but I’d like to know more, and I’d like to find a way to like them someday, because I feel like they could be an acquired taste—that is acquired through listening to them—but putting in the time might pay some kind of dividends consisting of a pleasurable knowledge and depth of appreciation. But for now, to me, they still sound like a bunch of annoyingly stoned commune hippies. What a great band name, though!—who was around on band naming day? I can never get a handle on their sound—I can’t pick out individual singers or musicians—its a large band, but they usually sound like just a few people are playing. This record is another one like that—it all kind of blended together like a way too healthy smoothie—the exception being the last song, which is that famous, “Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine,” song, which is named, “Casey Jones”—I never knew that.

The first time I ever heard one of their songs, that I’ve been aware of, was on this early-seventies collection I bought—sold to me by TV commercials—when I was like 11, and it had the song “Truckin’” on it, which pretty much fascinated me, the breezy style of playing and singing, but even more, the lyrics—something about a salt machine, and livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine. The lyrics are all credited to someone named Robert Hunter, which fascinated me, as he was not a musician in the band. I read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone magazine) that he was the Dead’s lyricist, which seemed so bizarre to me… though, same thing with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, right? But this Robert Hunter, what was he like? I wanted to find out more, but we were a long way off from having the internet, not unlike me here in the “North Woods”—and, in fact, it occurs to me that the perfect scenario would be for the Grateful Dead (I mean, in a perfect world where they were still together and all still alive) to join me here in this cabin and play for about 12 hours straight while I put this old turntable to rest for awhile. I suppose if that happened I’d become either a huge fan or the harshest critic, but I’m guessing they’d all be cool and we’d have a good time and I’d finally gain some crucial insight into this music.

08
Nov
18

Tangerine Dream “Stratosfear”

I’m pretty sure I used to have this 1976 Tangerine Dream record and was not too crazy about it, so it’s worth revisiting—perhaps I have grown mature, or electronic, or German, or mellow, or nostalgic. The front and back and inside images are some photo-collage nonsense that is embarrassingly dated. The first song, “Stratosfear” sounds really familiar, like maybe it was used in a movie soundtrack or maybe soundtrack music has been directly inspired by this. I can see some wintery, European landscape with an expensive car traveling over desolate roads that should be beautiful, but because of this music and the the exaggerated blue color temperature of the scene we understand that something tragic either just happened or is about to. It seems like half, or more, of the movies I see are incredibly, annoyingly blue—and my theory about this is that it’s because of the current pharmaceutical landscape in which we live. I thought about this while working at a recent grocery store job where the workers (the ones who didn’t get “laid off”) worked with a seemingly speed-fueled intensity—in spite of their being NO coffee offered in the workplace—and very little coffee brought in from outside, even. Which led me to think about all the people who are diagnosed with ADHD, etc. and are prescribed Adderall, etc. and are essentially like speed freaks all the time. I don’t know this, but it would explain a lot. So, likewise, I’m thinking, with so many people on anti-depressants, maybe this has caused an overall shift in the acceptable color temperature of commercial cinema—in order to just look “normal”—it has to be very, very blue.

The first side is astoundingly under 15 minutes long (the second is closer to 20, but still…) aren’t these progressive rock guys famous for really long songs and albums? Maybe I’m just thinking of Genesis, whose records were always like 60 minutes long. But come on, it’s not like anyone is working up a sweat here, it’s just kind of programmed and then it trickles along like a 1970s movie (that you can’t believe was allowed to take its time like that, and would never happen today). But come on, guys, a lot of trees died so this album cover could open up to reveal the letters “TD” 24 inches wide (and a photo-collaged, little, black and white, blond, German kid as big as your fingernail). Side two is so quiet and low-key I think it would only work on that original, really good LSD I’ve heard about—and playing through tube amplifiers the size of a VW, and Altec-Lansing “Voice of the Theater” speakers that would turn the 1812 Overture into a weapon of mass destruction—but here functions to expose the subtlety that is necessary for this record to make any sense at all.

30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.

26
Oct
18

Jimmy Buffett “A White Sport Coat and A Pink Crustacean”

I haven’t been able to listen to Jimmy Buffett since the first time I heard “Cheeseburger in Paradise” for the hundredth time, so I put this record on against my better judgement, but I had my reasons, including the fact that I used to be a huge JB fan, around the time the Changes in Latitudes record came out, which led me to an earlier record, Highway A1A, which inspired my imagination and sense of adventure at the time (once when I was 18, then again 19, and brings back memories of Bocador Rum, CocoRibe Liqueur, Passport Scotch), heading down to Florida on spring break and exploring the Atlantic coastline. He has written some really good songs and goes all out with the lyrics, even if sometimes he goes too all out. The worst thing about Jimmy Buffett, now, I guess, is that he sounds too much like Jimmy Buffett.

It’s not his fault entirely that his name evokes all-you-can-eat crab legs on a cruise ship. A second reason for putting this on is that it’s from 1973, the year I started drinking, and my appreciation of JB goes hand in hand with drinking, preferably rum drinks with a lot of either pineapple or coconut or both—and also, I’ve never heard this record, that I can recall. It occurred to me that a good name for crusty old white guy music might be “Pink Crustacean Music”—which would be inspired by this title. That is also the title of a short liner note on the back cover by Tom McGuane which, if I understand it correctly, is a criticism of the seriousness of the folk movement and an appreciation of JB’s blender of country, fruit juice, show biz, and intoxicants. Plus, how bad can a record be that has songs titled “Peanut Butter Conspiracy” and “Death of an Unpopular Poet”? Also, included here, is the classic bar sing-a-long (credited to “Marvin Gardens”) “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.” Alas, I’m afraid, for me, the SS Jimmy Buffett has long since sailed.

30
Aug
18

Mickey Newbury “Sweet Memories”

This is a 1985 LP put out by MCA Records of “previously released material”—there’s nothing wrong with that if the songs are good—but the presentation, the album cover, doesn’t feel like an artist’s album, but a record company product, which, again is okay, but I’m more interested in the LP as an art form that’s a direct extension of the artist from a certain time and place. This would be the ideal thing to find on cassette at a truck-stop during a nonstop cross country road-trip in a vintage automobile. This would be your 3am ’til dawn music. The back contains some concise liner notes written by Wesley H. Rose, president of Acuff-Rose Publications, and he calls Mickey Newbury one of the great songwriters of our time. You might not have heard of him, but if you were a Nashville old-timer, you certainly would have. I wonder what’s going to happen to Nashville. I’ve heard, repeatedly, lately, about how the population there is exploding. For whatever reason, it’s the place to move to. Which means, of course, that the people who are getting there now, or soon, are going to have a hard time finding a place to live, finding a job, making ends meet. I suppose many of those moving there are songwriters, trying to break into the songwriting, singing, playing, recording music business. Most won’t make it. Some will stay and work at the new microbrewery, or a call center, and some will go back to the town they came from, and some will try the next place. I wonder where the next place is, or going to be?

Anyway, this is a fine listening record, and maybe a good record to study a well-crafted Nashville style song, but I’m not going to focus on the songs right now because many of them are on other Mickey Newbury records I have and will write about later. This has the feeling of a post-career record (not the case) with a 7 inch single size portrait of him on the cover (with his great smile and hair) surrounded by an expanse of oppressive green background (a shade of green I’d call “basement rec-room”). I first heard Mickey Newbury just a few years ago during a WKCR NY radio country music marathon, and in particular, this one song (can’t remember what now) that struck me as being the kind of song I’d like to write. So then I got kind of obsessed, not recalling ever seeing his records—started looking for them and found them affordable, and before you know it, I have six of his LPs (from 1973 to 1979) plus this one. I’ll get around to writing about those records when they come up on my random review system. Let this be my introduction to Mickey Newbury and promise of more to come. In a quick perusal of his internet biography (which you never want to take as gospel) it sounds like he had great success as a songwriter at a relatively early age, but didn’t record until his late twenties (what some would consider “late”), but then put out a lot of records, until he suffered with health issues and died far too young. You can find quotes of the utmost respect for him by some great musicians and songwriters. I’ll look forward to really listening in depth to some of his records, here, in the near future.




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