Archive for the 'Nostalgia' 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.

23
Oct
20

Kitty Wells “The Kitty Wells Story”

I’m just not passionate about Kitty Wells the way I am about some other country singers, but I do appreciate her, and I’m glad to have this substantial double LP, which includes 24 of her hits. She certainly laid down the golden carpet for a lot of singers, particularity women country singers—seeing how her first hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was way back in 1952—and was about “cheatin’” and such. (It was written by veteran songwriter J.D.”Jay” Miller.) Kitty Wells was known as Queen of County Music—and I’m sure some would argue, but maybe not. (As far as who is the King of Country music, no one can rightly agree.) She had a lot of respect, and a long, serious career. I wonder if anyone’s made a movie about her, whether dramatic or documentary? I have not heard a lot of tragic, crazy, and depraved stories about her life, like you hear about a lot of successful country singers, or just singers, or just artists. I’m sure she had her share of heartbreak, though—everyone does—and she puts some in these songs.

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.

01
Aug
20

Jackie Gleason “The Torch with the Blue Flame”

I grew up thinking of Jackie Gleason as this corny guy on TV, until I saw The Hustler (1961), after which I could never forget that complex, melancholy Minnesota Fats character. I started noticing these “Jackie Gleason presents” mood music records in thrift stores a couple of decades back and realized they are actually really good. They also have some seriously insane titles (like, “Opiate D’Amour” and “Music to Change Her Mind”), and great covers (some would be worth buying for the cover alone), and there are a lot of them. I used to have a few. The cover of this one is a striking photograph of a young woman with flame-colored hair and a blue dress I can’t even begin to describe, reclining on a scratchy blue couch and satin blue pillow with a bundle of what one can only assume are love letters. I was immediately attracted to this record because (besides the cover photo) it’s a little odd, a UK pressing, with a very flimsy, glossy cover, and really heavy vinyl. There are four more songs than on the US version, I believe. I could play this record all day if I had turntable that kept repeating it. It’s got to be the most smooth and mellow record I have. It’s just really low key, but still has personality. There’s some really nice vibes on most songs, some muted horns, and just a nostalgic, romantic feel, overall. A lot of songs I know, some I don’t, but sound familiar. If I ever start dating again, I’ll be all set—all I need is a full bar, a round waterbed, and a love-light.

30
Jun
20

Glen Campbell “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

I was not a fan of Glen Campbell as a kid, as he was all over the radio, and I’m sure I first heard the song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” every morning on the kitchen AM radio while I choked down my Crunch Berries and dreaded the day ahead. So this great song, by one of my favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb, had a real hill to climb. Grade school, 8 a.m., Crunch Berries, over-played county song. Now, of course, I love the early morning, am nostalgic for grade school and the kitchen radio, and somewhere along the line I became a fan of country music and Glen Campbell. Can’t eat the Berries. I suppose the first time I realized this was a great song was when I heard Nick Cave do it—a super over-the-top version. (There’s a song on this record called “Bad Seed”—I wonder if that influenced his band name?) Not long after that, I heard another fine version by The Mad Lads, on this huge Stax collection I had. And then I heard Isaac Hayes’ amazing 19 minute version, which might be my favorite at this point—but you know, I want to hear them all (there’s like a million).

I’m not crazy about this album, but it’s okay—some of is a bit country on the corny side for my taste. “Hey Little One” is a nice song, as is “My Baby’s Gone.” I can do without the Paul Simon. If you can’t find this record in a thrift store, you aren’t looking. I like the over, Glen with his guitar case on a bench in a bus station (on his way to Phoenix). In the picture on the back, he looks more ready for lunch than sad, as intended. But he’s got a wristwatch with one of those bands that are wider than the watch face—remember those? You might have to be 50 or older to remember that style, but that reminds me that I did have such a watch band—they kind of seem absurd now, but cool, as well. Of course, this was before watch faces got as big as dinner plates. I wonder if I could find one of those, though… Just shopped for 15 seconds—Etsy, $53. Okay! (Next time I see a dude around town with one, I’m gonna stop and talk.)

22
May
20

Albert Hammond “It Never Rains in Southern California”

The first two songs really remind me of some old Cat Stevens songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s just that I haven’t been able to listen to a few of those songs since they were playing all the time at at job I had in 1982. No fault of either of these guys. The third song reminds me of a Mott the Hoople song, at least the beginning of it—so I like that better—and the line: “California tastes so good/like coffee should/I can’t put it down” speaks to me. The next one is a corny folk-rock song that I find a little annoying. The last song then, starts out: “Anyone here in the audience/with a pad that I can crash in?” It’s a begging song!—from the perspective of the “poor musician.” First verse asking for shelter, second for food, and third for love—though it’s hard to be sure if that means “love” or merely sex. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume he’s asking for a place crash, something to eat, maybe some booze or drugs, hot sex, and true love. I mean, if you’re putting it in a song, why not? If you get half of that, it was worth it.

On the other side, then, is the hit, the title song. So, this is another song that brings back eating cereal at the breakfast table before school, this would be Junior High or so. I had no idea Albert Hammond is who was responsible for another of these 1973, Ohio, AM radio, 7:30 a.m. flashbacks. Plus, I never had any idea what it means: “It never rains in Southern California… but it pours.” Offhand, I’d say it means it’s always sunny, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a broken heart—but I’m not even sure, because there’s a part about not getting enough to eat, again. Then there’s a song called “Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels” which is about exactly that. Then “Down by the River,” which is not the Neil Young song from a few years earlier. This one is jaunty (sounds kind of like Tommy Roe) but I suppose that’s ironic because the lyrics are actually pretty grim—it’s an environmentalist song, and doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The next song is kind of beautiful, but lyrically grim, again—I’m not sure if it’s about a relationship, or general problems with being a person, or maybe trying to cover both at the same time. The last song is quiet and melancholy, nice—it sounds a bit like a Beatles song that slipped out the back door. Overall, I feel like this is an impressive work, even as dated as some of it is, and there’s some fine musicians playing, and I like that I could spend more time trying to figure where he’s coming from on some of the songs, but for whatever reason, I find some of it unbearable. I’m sure this is someone’s favorite record of all time, and I don’t mean to say you’re wrong—it’s just that it’s simultaneously too weird and not weird enough for me, if that makes any sense.

I knew nothing about Albert Hammond, so I thought this record would fill in a bit of that missing part of my past—and it does a good job of that. It’s got one of those covers that annoyingly opens sideways, so that you can tack it vertically to your wall—just in case you want a tall, black and white photo if this good-looking, kind of hairy, guy with his shirt open, a small medallion, and leather pants that just keep going. So the internet tells me he’s from England and this was like his first record, hadn’t had a big hit at the time they recorded it, so some of these laments about being a hungry musician very well might be literal (and if you want to take it metaphorically—about love—aren’t we all). He’s only in his seventies now, and still out there playing, sounds like, at press time. He recorded a lot of records, wrote a lot of songs, and I’m sure has fans all over the world. I’m glad I could finally shine some light on this missing piece of the big puzzle. What you’ll find, I think, is generally—if you keep looking—is that you (meaning all of us) don’t know half of about 99.9% of the world. Old records are out there, and they’re for you.

03
May
20

Martin Denny “Exotica”

I’ve had a lot of Martin Denny records over the years—I must have left some behind when I moved, here and there—they’re relatively easy to find, cheap—kind of your classic thrift-store record that is worth picking up, even if scratchy. They must have sold a lot of them. This one is the first “Exotica” genre record, apparently—from which Exotica got its name. It’s a good name for anything. It would be a good name for a soap review website: Soap Exotica. Oh, wait, that exists (it’s mine). It would be a good name for a restaurant, say Egg Exotica, or Exotica Taco. Martin Denny kept putting out several records a year all through the Sixties and beyond—I don’t know how many in all. I suppose there are some real connoisseurs of this music who might have their favorites, might have them all ranked, even! Those kind of nuts walk among us! I will, at some point, try to find some good writing about Martin Denny, and Exotica in general, and see if there is a consensus “best” record. I believe I have a few more, right now, but I’m not sure. As a fun exercise, I’m going to try to imagine I’m hearing this (and this type of music) for the first time. First, there’s the novelty of the birds, the sound effects, the jungle sounds. Depending on who you are, that might get old, say, anywhere from one listening to never. Then, I guess, somewhat, it reminds me of stuff I’d hear as a kid, like the Latin rhythm George Shearing records that my parents played. I can’t remember if they had any Martin Denny, or Arthur Lyman records, but I don’t think so. Anyway, I could listen to this stuff all day long, when I’m in the mood for it, but who can predict one’s moods? I would probably be a much bigger fan, overall, if my apartment was decorated to look like a Tiki Bar (something I could do), and if I was mixing up an occasional rum drink with tropical fruit (something I’d be better off not getting back into, at this point).

04
Apr
20

Lani Hall “Sun Down Lady”

This may be one of the strangest album cover photos I’ve ever seen—it’s simply a color profile photo of (presumably) Lani Hall, blown up to billboard size—so large that the full-size album cover can only contain the area between her eyebrow and bottom lip. On top of that, it’s pretty color-saturated. Had she a zit on her right cheek, you’d have had to name the record “Mount Vesuvius.” But she looks nice—not many of us could stand up to such enlargement scrutiny. I wonder what she thought about the cover? Anyway, once I saw it, in the used record store, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it. I had no idea who Lani Hall was—I didn’t remember that she sang with Brazil ’66—and I didn’t know that she was married to Herb Alpert—maybe still is—or that she sang a James Bond theme song. This record, from 1972, is her first solo record—and she recorded a bunch more.

I like this one a lot, actually, and it’s going in my regular listening pile (I actually have an old end table with a thing that holds either magazines or record albums—that’s where I put my regular listening stack.) Herb Alpert is the producer, and naturally there’s some first-rate session players on it, and a pretty interesting collection of songs, including “Tiny Dancer” and another by Elton John, “Come Down In Time”—this is a really nice version of it. There’s also songs by Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Paul Williams, and more. One Lani Hall composition—a pretty intense love song. The Lesley Duncan song, “Love Song” is a standout, probably my favorite on the record. “Sun Down” is a very familiar sounding song (it’s written by Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”)—could this song have been playing on the AM radio in the morning while I ate my Cap’n Crunch before another horrific day of 7th Grade? I like it, now, though—it pretty much puts me on a beach, looking out over the Pacific as the light fades, with a beautiful woman and a rum drink. You know, pretty much my life.

28
Mar
20

Matt Dennis “Welcome Matt”

I kind of expected the worst from this record, pop music corny-ness, and it is pretty friendly, but also, it kind of strikes me as odd, how it’s recorded—Matt Dennis’ smooth, crystal clear voice is recorded so loud relative to the orchestra—he sounds more like he’s in the room here with me than if he was in the room here with me. Maybe that’s how pop vocalists were recorded in 1959, and I’ve just listened to so much Sinatra everything else sounds kind of crude in comparison. I’m not sure, though, as I don’t listen to a lot of comparable stuff. Maybe this reminds me a little of someone like Mel Tormé? Anyway, good songs, some standards like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “Cheek to Cheek,” and there’s a particularly nice song called “Home” that I’m not sure I’ve heard by anyone else. Then there’s “Welcome Mat” by the man himself—it’s a little goofy. The version of “My Blue Heaven” sounds really weird to me—like he’s flattening the end of each line—maybe that’s a style. Maybe that’s how the song was written. I don’t know know—I wish I knew more—I’ve got more questions than answers about this one. But I like it. My favorite, though, is “A Cup of Coffee a Sandwich and You”—a song I’ve never heard before, and probably for good reason—it’s insane. I mean, a sandwich? I guess the idea is, the simple things in life are good enough for him—but then where does that put “you?”

The cover particularly cracks me up—it’s a photo, taken in an actual apartment, of Matt Dennis in formal wear entering, carrying a welcome mat on which “Welcome Matt Dennis” is crudely rendered. There’s a woman standing there (who presumably put out the mat) who looks either annoyed or overwhelmed by the Matt Dennis sex appeal. Her long dress is an odd design of brown and gray plaid—it’s a really weird print for a dress—I have no words for it, I’m no expert. It looks like some kind of curtains or a tablecloth, to me, more than a dress, but what do I know? She’s wearing more pearls than can possibly be healthy—which are kind of overwhelmed by the plastic doorbell, peephole, and three brass doorknobs also visible in the photo. I mean, there was absolutely no art direction involved at all here (other than that cheesy “Welcome Matt”)—which, when I think about it—makes it actually more interesting than if a lot of care was taken to make it look not weird. I miss these times, from the past, when things didn’t have to get worked over and homogenized by a team of boring, frightened, accountants. When a doorstop was a doorstop, and “I love you” meant… Okay, maybe I should just stick to talking about the cover art, here.

28
Feb
20

Big Bay Band “Heathsville”

This is one of those records that makes no sense, as nothing on the front cover, back cover, or label matches up that well—you’d almost think it’s in the wrong cover, but the songs actually match up. According to the label, it’s “The Big Bay Band,” who sound to be an accomplished swing band, and do put some flair into some of these songs. Of course, some of them are too corny and unlistenable, but others, like “I’ve Got the World on a String” are pretty inspired (well, it’s a great song). The cover is a $1.98 photo session out in the woods with three women holding up various horns, jubilantly. If you squint, they actually look like zombies in a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Only the closest woman’s grin gives it away—not zombies—jubilant. Which makes me think about all the people who have been playing zombies, or extras as zombies. It’s probably a little harder than it looks, to get the facial expression and the movement just right. Though it’s beyond me, at this point, why anyone cares.




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