Archive for the 'My Favorte Record' Category

25
Nov
17

Alice Cooper “School’s Out”

If you’re anything like me, you played the title song loudly, repeatedly, each year, junior high and high school, on that glorious day in late May or early June… to the point that the lyrics, the tune, the nuances are ingrained in your mind like your social security number. And you might think there’s nothing left here for you to listen to. There you are wrong, as this is a great album, not just some filler backing up a hit. First of all, the song “School’s Out” is a lot better, hearing it again, than you remember—it’s one of those things that fades in your memory, but actually listening to it fresh is kind of a revelation. But because I’ve heard it like one million times, everything else on the album is more enjoyable to me—and it’s all pretty excellent, starting with the next song, “Luney Tune,” which starts out: “Slipped into my jeans/they’re hard and feelin’ mean.” I think that was the thing that turned me on to blue jeans. I don’t know about the rest of you kids out there, but that was it for me. Then it gets even better with the opening to “Gutter Cat vs. The Jets,” just a killer song.

This whole album, from 1972, has a high school theme, and borrows a lot from West Side Story and that whole mythology—which is very much in keeping with Alice Cooper’s overall theatricality. There’s an artifice to it all, of course, exacerbated by doing a kind of sound effects “street fight” bit—but that’s a very small part of this record. Most of all it’s great songs and some really pretty heavy duty music. I think this version of the Alice Cooper group wasn’t taken as seriously as the more blues-based musicians of the same era (that took themselves so seriously) (not that this isn’t blues-based at its core, but the theatrical element kind of dominates).

It has one of those novelty album covers that drives you crazy, not knowing which way is up, all that, as it’s a cardboard representation of a school desk, all decorated with graffiti, the lid opening to reveal a taped-in, very cool photo of the band (one—among many—strong influences on my drinking at an early age), and then a photographic representation of the inside of a school desk—which includes a switchblade, crayons and pencils, a slingshot, album credits in the form of a “School’s Out Quiz,” marbles, composition book, comics, etc. Even more impressive, the back album cover is a representation of the bottom of a desk (complete with gum stuck to it), with song titles scratched in—and die-cut legs that fold out, if you so desire.

Side two is as good as side one, starting with “My Stars,” and then what was not only my favorite Alice Cooper song, but favorite song period for probably a decade of my youth, “Public Animal #9.” This song must have been a single—at least it made its way into a jukebox at the Model-T Drive-In, a pizza place that had an old Ford Model-T high up on a pole as its sign. When I was 12 or so, first able to ride my bike on the street, my fledgling juvenile delinquent friends and I would head down there and order a pizza, and then when the waitress wasn’t looking, buy Lark cigarettes from a machine. We’d play the jukebox, and this is the song I most strongly remember. When we started our first band, maybe a year later, this is the first song we tried to emulate. It sure as hell seemed a lot easier for them than it was for us.

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08
Sep
17

Tom Waits “Nighthawks at the Diner”

This is a very early Tom Waits record, though I can’t remember exactly when I first heard it or where I got it, but it’s always been one of my favorites—of his, and favorite records period—and without a doubt my favorite live record—though it turns out—according to the internet—that it’s not really a live record after all. Apparently it was recorded at the Record Plant, in LA, in front of an invited audience used to replicate the sound and feeling of an intimate jazz club or piano bar. It’s really well done—they had me fooled. I always pictured this kind of sleazy, Sunset Strip nightclub, and throughout, he does refer to the Ivar Theatre repeatedly, and also “Rafael’s Silver Cloud Lounge,” and though I always figured he was kind of spinning tales, I still assumed this was in a legitimate club—you can almost smell the bourbon, vomit, and cigarette smoke bathed in red neon. Now, when I found out that I had been totally fooled, do you think I got angry? No. Because I have a high intellect, and I can enjoy being fooled, and I appreciate something so well executed.

His monologues before many of the songs are amazing in themselves; the one before “Eggs and Sausage” is particularly good and would make the record, even if that’s all there was. But there’s more, of course; in fact it’s a double record, and all the monologues and songs kind of blend seamlessly. Okay—now I notice—on the back of the album cover it says, right there, that it was recorded at The Record Plant. I guess I never bothered to read it. I also just noticed that there’s extensive lyrics on the inside, when you open it up—these are some long songs. I guess I never read along with the lyrics because you can pretty much make out every word—even though he’s doing a real Tom Waits-like, rough nightclub singer voice, he’s also clear as a bell. The lyrics are crucial. I can recall listening to this record in the spring of 1986, in Columbus, Ohio, while I painted my kitchen. So even to this day it feels like it’s the ideal record to listen to while painting a kitchen.

It would take me pages and pages to even kind of go over my favorite songs and excerpt my favorite lyrics. There are only two or three songs per side, but it all kind runs together, feeling like one live show, and it’s dense and extensive. Tom Waits must have been only in his mid-twenties when he recorded this, but he sounds convincing as an old-timer who’s been around forever. That’s part of the act. The cover photograph is of Tom Waits in a booth of a diner, photographed through a window—it could possibly be something an art department set up—but could also be a real diner—it would have been easy to find this diner in 1975. There’s nothing in that picture that doesn’t ring true. There are also seven people in the picture, in the diner, with him. I suppose I could scour the internet to find out if it’s known who they are—it could be the musicians, or friends, or real people in a real diner, who knows? Someone knows. It would be pretty cool to be one of those people. I just noticed, for the first time ever!—on the very bottom right of the cover, lying face-down in front of the diner window, is a person wearing a leather jacket. How did I never see that before? It’s kind of freaking me out—what else, in this lifetime—have I also not ever noticed? A lot, I’m sure.

22
Aug
17

Tom Waits “Foreign Affairs”

This is the first Tom Waits record I ever heard in my life (though I’m sure I must have heard a song or two, here or there, somewhere, but I don’t remember). It was in the attic of 4 Costley Court, Kent, Ohio, sometime in 1983, and I put the record on but little did I know the turntable was on 45, instead of 33, and I listened to the entire first side without realizing it was on the wrong speed. So my first conscious impression of Tom Waits as a singer was that he did kind of an offensive, comic impersonation of a black, woman jazz singer. I soon realized it was the wrong speed, but even so, it took me a long time to get used this record on the correct speed. At the time I thought Tom Waits’ singing voice was among the weirdest things I’d heard on a record.

The record belonged to Tom Strange, and I bought it from him. The other thing I bought from him was his acoustic guitar, and after countless moves across and back the country, I still have and engage with them both. I’d take them both to the ends of the earth, if there was such a place. Maybe it means something, those two things. Maybe I should be dedicating my life to playing songs like these. All great songs on this record. For a long time I called it my favorite Tom Waits record, and though it no longer is my favorite, it will always have a warm place in my heart because it was the first.

The noirish black & white cover photo is TW and a mystery woman, enveloped in shadows. She’s got more rings than fingers, a cigarette, and a passport. For some reason, I realize now, I thought for years it was a bottle of Passport Scotch. I guess that just shows that my head was more into traveling via liquor than streamer ship. The back is just TW, taking over the cigarette, and in a cute pose, looking like a 25 year-old heart-breaker. The record came out in 1977, so do math if you want to. There’s a lot of really nice nightclub sounding jazz playing on this record, and Bette Midler sings on one number. The lyric sheet is typed out with no caps, and even though you can make out every word he sings, you could read the lyrics like a pulp novel if your record player was broken. “Licorice tattoo turned a gun metal blue scrawled across the shoulders of this dying town…” You get the idea. I could probably benefit by typing out the entire lyrics—it would likely be a more fruitful next few hours than the sick dreams I’ve been suffering with, through long, terrible nights. I can only hope some of this record will go into my dreams.

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.




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