Archive for the 'My Favorte Record' Category

07
Nov
20

Steely Dan “Katy Lied”

This is the fourth Steely Dan LP, from 1975, and it may have been the first one I bought, as a 15-year-old music fan. I’m not sure though—I think I might have bought the first four all roughly around that time. I don’t remember what I made of it—I liked it—some songs more than others. I hear it somewhat differently now, of course. I have a page on my website (rspeen.com) where I write exclusively about individual Steely Dan songs—one at a time (selected at random, similar to here). At some point I realized that the only way to really appreciate SD music is to listen really closely, and also to attempt to analyze the lyrics. Otherwise, you’re only halfway there. For example, you might appreciate “Rose Darling” as a terrific pop song about a fictional woman named Rose, rather than a twisted coming of age masturbation saga in the form of a terrific pop song.

There are ten songs on this record, all of them really good. My all-time favorite was, and still is, “Doctor Wu”—which is one of my favorite Steely Dan songs—I’ve only listened to it thousands of times, yet it still puts goosebumps on my spine. It rivals the ten best movies of any given year—though in a four minute song, no CGI, no images at all, except in your mind. The song that I didn’t appreciate at all 45 years ago, but now has become one of my favorite SD songs is “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)”—kind of an epic in four minutes—it would be one of the 10 best TV shows in any given year. The music and the lyrics align in such a vision of affirmation that you can’t help but wonder just where lie the mines in that field of Hallmark emotional health—but since it’s a Steely Dan song, you know something lies beneath—though in this case, possibly dormant for a half century, or more.

The album cover is a blown-up photo of a grasshopper that’s pretty much almost all out of focus and quite striking and beautiful—it’s all but abstract. The back cover is an odd set of photos—by now, they’re pretty much strictly a studio band, I guess—they could have easily just included Becker and Fagen (or no one)—or maybe a couple dozen artists integral to the making of this record. Included: the great drummer Jeff Porcaro, looking like a 12-year-old (as do Becker and Fagen). Also, there’s “Mike” McDonald, snapped in the very process of—I read somewhere—inventing “Yacht Rock”—and the proof is “Bad Sneakers”—whether or not any of these guys could sail. As a teenager, oddly, the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the entire, pretty lengthy, recording tech paragraph at the bottom of the credits. I didn’t yet know how some adults could be totally serious and total goofballs at the same time, so I found this deliciously confusing. I particularly liked the line: “some very expensive German microphones.” Who says something like that? I was, at the time, working on my second or third “album” myself, on cassette—with $1.98 of gear. And that didn’t stop me—when I designed the “album cover”—from constructing my own inscrutable myths.

30
Oct
20

The Cramps “Psychedelic Jungle”

I use a random number generator to pick what record to write about next, and today it landed on this one, which is highly appropriate for Halloween! (I don’t make this stuff up, as much as it might sound like it. Alphabetical, right there between Crabby Appleton and David Crosby.) Actually, I was surprised I hadn’t written about it yet—well, I have, but not on this site. It is one of my 10 favorite records of all time, and I don’t mean the 100 that I say are my top 10. It’s definitely the best LP to come out in the wasteland of the Eighties (1981). The album cover is just a fisheye photograph of the band in a spooky attic (or your mind) but it’s just kind of the perfect album cover. The first time I saw The Cramps (can’t remember the year or where!) is one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. As a band, they’re basic and inevitable, as if they have always existed, generation after generation after generation. It’s hard to describe the position they occupy in my brain. It’s like they are extreme at the edges, and there’s no middle ground. On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 and 10 being both the best and worst) they get all 1’s and 10’s. Not for the squares.

This is their second LP, but it was the first one I heard, and I remember when—it was one of those experiences that are rare—when you hear something and can’t believe what you’re hearing—it makes no sense based on previous knowledge. Ron Metz (drummer for The Human Switchboard) played it for us in his apartment in Kent, Ohio, summer of 1981. He found it baffling—this is when punk and new wave was getting faster and poppier and louder—and this was the slowest, most droning, most minimal thing I’d ever heard. Ron put the record on at 45 RPM, just to try it, and at that speed it sounded like normal music. But it’s not normal, and that’s what makes it great. You don’t want to get to know these people. They sound like they might legitimately drink your blood—they must be either a cult, on drugs, or some form of un-human—likely all of those, to some degree. Or maybe it’s all an act, in which case, it’s more fun to just be scared.

There are 14 songs on this record and they’re all excellent. Half originals, and half covers—by people (until I heard this) I’d never heard of. I couldn’t tell which were which, and for years paid no attention to that. It all sound like The Cramps, and no one else. The originals are by Poison Ivy Rorschach and Lux Interior. She chews gum while playing guitar, and I maintain is the coolest person in the history of rock’n’roll. Lux Interior was a local guy, from near Kent, apparently from a normal family, if such a thing exists. He definitely went over to some version of the other side—that shadowy, depraved region of no return. Nick Knox was the most minimally extreme drummer I’ve ever heard. And then, on this record, Kid Congo Powers joined them—the only person to ever play guitar with The Cramps and The Gun Club and Nick Cave (the Rolling Stones probably should have hired him).

“Caveman” and “Can’t Find My Mind” were always my favorites—two of the most druggy extreme songs you’ll ever hear. “The Natives Are Restless” is almost shocking in how upbeat it is—the most danceable song about cannibalism I’ve ever heard. I think ultimately my my favorite part of this record are the first two songs, which—both fit the whole perfectly—and sound like nothing else on the album. It starts with “Green Fuz” (a cover, originally by Green Fuz, naturally). And then “Goo Goo Muck” (Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads—it’s very much worth finding that version!), which has my favorite guitar solo of all time. The way those two songs work together, the atmosphere they create, and the world they introduce you to, and the way it sets up the rest of the record… It’s kind of like reliving, all at once, the first time you did all those bad things that are going to send you straight to hell.

14
Oct
20

The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Jazz at Oberlin”

A 1953 live Dave Brubeck Quartet record, recorded at Finney Chapel in Oberlin, Ohio. It’s on the Fantasy label, and is on red vinyl. The quartet includes Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Lloyd Davis, and Ron Crotty. This is a fine record, and I can listen to it any time, day or night. I guess it’s considered “cool jazz,” but also, in places, Brubeck on piano, to put it in technical terms, plays some “crazy shit.” It’s a live record, but nicely recorded—my crude ear couldn’t tell it from a studio recording, and the polite applause doesn’t get in the way and, more important, no one is bantering between songs, or saying stuff like, “How many of you like to take a taste of alcohol?” This is an early Dave Brubeck record, I guess, and he kept putting out records for about six decades. Also, signifiant, according to the liner notes, is this concert was a catalyst for jazz being a big deal at Oberlin, which known for its music education. I grew up a bike ride away from that college, and sadly, never considered it for studies; my grades probably weren’t good enough, and it’s one of the more expensive schools around there—it’s akin to Ivy League in a lot of ways. This performance was held at the renowned Finney Chapel, where I did see a concert once (Michael Stanley Band)—though probably the only connecting threads with that show and this Brubeck one was that I attended with a bota bag filled with grain alcohol fruit punch. Years later, a band I was in, The Chanel Masters, played live on a radio show in Oberlin, which is a musical, and lifetime, high point for me. Finally, I may as well take this opportunity to announce that I intend to move to Oberlin in the not so distant future.

26
Apr
20

Rolling Stones “Let It Bleed”

I’ve got this beat up, old copy of this record, cover falling apart, scratchy, and I’ve heard every song at least one too many times, and my stereo is messed up, cutting out, channels not playing equally—but I’ve been listening to only digital music lately, from my computer (doesn’t help that I have crappy computer speakers) so when I put this on, despite the rough shape of everything, it felt like I was hearing music for the first time. Also, you forget how kind of low-key, relaxed, a little sloppy this era of Rolling Stones were, and also, just something in the recording, and mix, lately—it just sounds so warm and organic and present. It still sounds a dangerous to me. I so much wish I could go in a time machine right now to the week this record came out. At one time the song, “Let It Bleed” was my favorite song. I know it’s ridiculous to have a favorite—but why not. What is your favorite song? If you had to pick one. Leave your comments below. It’s not my favorite now, because I’ve heard it one too many times, but I have to say, it’s got to have my favorite drum sound of any recording I’ve ever heard—not so much the splashy cymbals later on, but just the drums toward the beginning of the song—very subtle, or maybe not so subtle—but hard to explain it—just the feeling, it’s like just total bad-ass-ness, or bad-attitude or just the essence of bad (when bad meant cool, fucked up, excellent, unreachable). If you ever want an illustration of why Charlie Watts was as important to the Rolling Stones as Mick and Keith, the drums on this song—that explains it.

The cover I have looks like it’s been in thrift store for 100 years—I don’t know if when this came out it had a sleeve with credits, or what, but this cover has like no information other than the band name, title, record company, and songs (in the wrong order). So maybe you had to wait until you read about it somewhere to know the cover art is a sculpture by Robert Brownjohn. I always loved this album cover, even if I never thought about it too much (kind of took it for granted, I guess). It’s funny how the back cover is the same thing, but partially eaten/destroyed. I guess it always struck me as a little disturbing, just because it kind of makes no sense—why is it floating in space? What’s the record sitting on? The weird thing though, is that I just went several decades without actually looking at it, and now I just noticed for the first time that there’s a pizza there! You might not notice the pizza on the front, but on back, there’s a slice with a bite taken out of it. I also never noticed the nails in the tire on back. I guess I forgot there was a clock there, too, and a big, metal film can, closed with red tape, on which is written: “Stones – Let It Bleed” (which kind of makes the band name and title a bit overkill). I wonder if there were discussions. Also odd: the five members of the band at that time (which still included Brian Jones, though this was the end of the line for him) are depicted as little wedding cake figures, stuck in the frosting, and on back, they have all been knocked over except for the one that’s Keith Richards. I wonder if there were discussions about that. I’m sure it didn’t mean anything.

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

17
Nov
19

Mott the Hoople “Mott”

My random system for picking records to write about landed on this one, which I may have touched on before, and hopefully will again, since it was such a huge record in my life. Then a couple of days later, in a thrift store, I saw this British pressing with a totally different cover—not that rare, or anything, but I’ve never seen it before, in person, somehow. This is the cover with a die-cut head-shape hole (which, I’ve read, was the bust of Augustus printed on transparent plastic! That part now gone. Also, why?)—and inside, a kind of amazing photo collage. The cover also looks like it was half spray-painted this shade of day-glow pink I didn’t think existed in 1973. I still prefer the US version, which is nothing special—four Seventies rock guys standing there with some stage lights—it’s almost comic in its datedness—but for me, pure nostalgia in its magic. I’ve forgotten a lot of my childhood, but I remember Scott Suter telling me to buy this record—we were in 7th Grade—and I did, intrigued by that band name that made no sense. The opening piano on “All the Way from Memphis”—that weird sound, something off about it, almost like the tape is slowed down or slightly manipulated (I’ll read about this somewhere, someday)—it just burned an indelible memory in my brain, and when I put it on now, it takes me right back there. There are a handful of things like that in your life—usually music is involved—and so I value those things like nothing else.

I think Mott the Hoople is the only band whose last two records are their best two, and it’s somehow not coincidental that they were named “Mott” and “The Hoople,” or that they came out in 1973 and 1974 (the two best years of popular culture, at least in the century surrounding my existence). In a way, they were both last records, because this is the last one with Mick Ralphs, who went directly from this to forming Bad Company. “The Hoople” is both remarkably the same and different than this record. I’ve long struggled and finally given up trying to pick my favorite of the two. Both versions of the band are great all the way through, but it’s Ian Hunter who’s at the center of the mess. It’s hard to make any sense of that guy. You can hear the Bob Dylan influence in everything he does, yet he sounds nothing like Dylan. I’ve gone through periods where I thought he was someone else in disguise, or even thought he was actually a woman. The conclusion I’ve finally come to is that he’s the most normal guy in the history of rock’n’roll, and also the strangest. It turns out it wasn’t Bowie who was the space alien, it was Ian Hunter. Though he might not be a space alien, but instead a ghost, or an android. I did something I never do, last year, and went to see an aging rock band live show—which was Mott the Hoople (with three of them from the ’74, “Hoople,” record) and so I did see the 80 year old Ian Hunter in person, and sure I was a few seats away, but it was like, next stop, Jesus. So the mystery just deepened (also hope—for what one can do at 80 years old).

A funny thing about this record is I’ve just kept listening to it over the years, never really got tired of it (though I don’t, you know, play it to death). When I was a lad, I liked the songs that rocked out more, while the ones with those alienating words (Hymn, Ballad) in their titles put me off a little. Now, those are my very favorite songs, just beautiful slower rock songs, with fairly incredible lyrics, worth checking out, if you never have—songs that I will most likely listen to again tomorrow, and next month, and early next year. Those, along with “I Wish I Was Your Mother” are now my favorite songs on the record. The whole thing is listenable, and also quite an oddity. The best rock music, for me, has always been that which is, how would you say it? Ill-fitting. Also, Ian Hunter’s voice, that’s just going to be knocking around in there, in my skull, like a cave painting, for the rest of my days, and after that, who can say.

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

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

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

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

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

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

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

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

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

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.




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