Archive for the 'Other People’s Records' Category

12
May
18

Harpo Marx “Harpo”

This 1957 LP doesn’t know if it wants to be called “Harpo in Hi-Fi,” “Harpo featuring Harpo Marx,” or simply, “Harpo.” The cover is a zany photo of Harpo Marx peeking through strings of a harp, pulling them apart as if he’s parting curtains—as if we can’t see him fully through the harp strings, anyway. This album features a dozen excellent tracks with various instrumentation, all including Harpo Marx on harp. It almost seems too perfect that a person known for being one of the Marx brothers, named Harpo, would also be an accomplished harpist. But then, truth is stranger than fiction. And why wouldn’t it be.

The accompanying musicians belong to the Freddy Katz Orchestra, though some of the songs are arranged by Harpo’s son, Bill Marx, who went on to be a theater critic. There are some standards here, as well as a some of Harpo’s compositions. There’s a lot of variety, and a lot to pay attention to, though it’s all very lovely. I could listen to this record from the beginning of the day until twilight, each number throwing me into a different mood, from nostalgia to melancholy to romantic. I’m afraid if I let myself, even, I might be compelled to mix myself a cocktail and sit on the veranda, neither of which are healthy options for me, but are both sounding good right about now.

The other interesting thing about this record is that it’s intended as a Hi-Fi test or demonstration record, as Harpo apparently was a Hi-Fi buff—and so the liner notes, besides noting the composer of each track, also reveals the particular instrumentation (including Harpo whistling) so you can better assess how your system is preforming. There is even technical information about the recording process, including details about the studio and mics, which should delight the technical geek. But that doesn’t mean you can’t just sit back and enjoy this record, and I find it highly suitable for: romantic dinners, cocktails on the veranda, crafts, reading magazines, and making love. All of which I’ve tested, with the record, at least to some degree.

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28
Apr
18

Manu Dibango “Soul Makossa”

This is a curious record because I don’t know what to make of it, but my first impression is that every song is good, while sounding nothing like the one before it, or anything I’ve had on my turntable in the last 15 days. The cover has a kind of bizarre photo (as if the camera is pointed up from the belt-buckle level) of a black guy with a striped shirt and sunglasses playing a horn (some kind of straight saxophone?) who I can only assume is Manu Dibango—who the record label tells me wrote and arranged all the songs—as well as penned the liner notes. The label is Atlantic and the year is 1972 (a year I’m quite fond of, and just got fonder). On the cover there is also a little gold box containing bold letters: “THE ORIGINAL”—implying what? That there are pale imitations out there that one must be aware of, deal with, and fend off?

The liner notes provide clues about this music we’re listening to, but I’m not going to sit here and retype the liner notes, but it’s briefly about how the music has African roots but is influenced by all kinds of other music, and ends by saying, “I am told that in the United States our music is now called “Black Ivory Soul.” So there you go. He also credits eight musicians and lists what they play and where they’re from, which includes: Guadeloupe, the River Congo, Cameroun, and France. There’s a picture on the back of five guys playing music in a place that looks like the end of a closed off tunnel.

The first song, “New Bell,” is an irresistible, driving dance number, or in my case, a song that compelled me to find something to make rhythmic percussion sounds with, which, as long as no one else is listening, I can get away with. There are some far off vocals, not in English, so it left me wondering what the title referred to. “Nights in Zeralda” perfectly evokes nights in Zeralda—which might refer to a neighborhood in Algiers, or perhaps a very special lady. “Hibiscus” really slows it down, and it’s even kind of melancholy, or dire, or at least very serious. It means you’re going to get a drink and turn the record over, for “Dangwa,” which could refer to the flower market in Manila, or someone or something I don’t know about, and I’m not going to know until someone tells me. This is a strange song, since it starts out with an intro, kind of evocative of something, and then it takes you somewhere entirely else. “Lily,” then, is a three minute story song—at least it sounds like a story—it could be about a lady—or it could be a very condensed epic movie.

“Soul Makossa” starts out sounding like a familiar James Brown song, then doesn’t, and it’s just a really happy, four and a half minute repetitive, funk, dance number, with more of this very crystal clear sax (it’s on every song). I really like the sound of this horn—it’s hard to explain what’s so good about it—it’s fairly obvious sounding, yet there’s a little subtle something, maybe some kind of blatant feeling that seems less blatant in the context. Maybe the internet will tell me more about “Soul Makossa”—and it turns out there’s quite a story—which you either already know, or can read about for yourself—but since I find this kind of thing irresistible—okay, so someone started DJ-ing this 45 in New York in 1972, and then a guy heard it and played it on the radio, but since it was impossible to find, like 23 bands did covers of it. Eventually Atlantic records saw dollar signs and released it. The other interesting thing is how many bands used the repetitive vocal line (wordplay on “Makossa”)—you can start scrolling down that list, but make sure you don’t have anywhere to be.

Finally, “Oboso” closes out the record, and it’s again a pretty jaunty tempo, funky, repetitive funk number, this time with far off horn and some up front psychedelic electric guitar. I think Oboso might be a name, and interestingly, it occurs to me that it’s also the word “Toboso” without the “T.” Toboso is a town in Ohio, and a name that I eventually used for my publishing company—it’s a long story, how it came to that—and ultimately an incomplete one, because I never did look into the origin of that as a place name. I mean, there’s Dulcinea del Toboso, a character in Don Quixote, and I suppose people may have been more literary minded back when they were naming towns and all, because there was no TV, and yet people had to have something to do in the evening, when they came home from chopping down trees and killing the native people—but now I’m on a tangent that’s not doing anyone any good.

31
Jan
18

Captain Sensible “Sensible Singles”

Apparently someone staying at this “North Woods” cabin was into alphabetizing the record collection because this one was on the shelf right next to Captain & Tennille. I’ve never heard it or even knew it existed—but I know Captain Sensible as the bass player from The Damned, and I always thought he had the best punk rock name of all. Also, great style. Apparently this is his collection of his singles, hit or otherwise. I imagine he’s got an entire career I don’t know about, and unfortunately I’m not going to get much info off this album cover—there are no song credits or performance credits. He’s got a pretty good band, anyway. He does thank them, kind of; in the crude past-up photo of him on the back cover, wearing a sailor suit with women’s jewelry, in a drawn-on speech bubble coming from his mouth he’s saying: “Thanks to all the nutters who contributed to this vinyl masterpiece…”

The front cover is a huge, garish photo of the captain, painted on in places, with a crude painted tropical scene background. He’s wearing ridiculous sunglasses (or maybe they’re painted on) that look like vinyl records. And of course his captain’s hat. I wonder if he’s making fun The Captain (of Captain & Tennille)? Interestingly, this record is on the same label (A&M) as Captain & Tennille (at least the record I just listened to). Some of these songs are great, some inspired, and some are total rubbish. Which is exactly what I said about the Captain & Tennille record, essentially. It might sound like I’m trying to see how many times I can write Captain & Tennille while writing about Captain Sensible, but no. I just don’t know what to make of this record. He’s got some serious songwriting collaborators: Rodgers & Hammerstein (well, that one’s a cover) and Robyn Hitchcock! The rest I don’t know, but I’ll look them up later. I’ve got to read an interview with Captain Sensible—or maybe there’s a documentary about him somewhere.

Okay, this song, “Wot”—I remember this one, kind of a mindless disco number, repeating over and over, “Say Captain, say WOT!”—about one million times, or until you’re about ready to throw something. But I like it—it kind of reminds me of an Ian Dury song. “Martha the Mouth” is a really nice song—really good pop hook, and I’d love to be able to understand the lyrics. This is a record in which a lyric sheet would be welcome. “Stop the World” is a kind of “white funk” song—which reminds me of Royal Crescent Mob, from Columbus, Ohio. Didn’t they have a song, or album called stop the world, or something? “Glad It’s All Over” is another good one, and “It’s Hard to Believe I’m Not.” These songs sound like hits—in some kind of parallel universe maybe? “There are More Snakes than Ladders.” “I’m a Spider”—serious hit song with a chorus that goes: “I’m the spider, deep inside ya.” I don’t know. Insane. There could be a serious Captain Sensible rabbit hole out there. Enter at your own risk.

31
Jan
18

Captain & Tennille “Love Will Keep Us Together”

I was kind of excited to put this one on, as I’ve never been able to bring myself to pick it up at a thrift store because of the bludgeoning familiarity of that title song, and the hideous cover—which is actually a pretty great album cover with beautiful dogs, one of whose head is bigger than Toni Tennille’s. And her teeth (TT’s, not the dog) are amazing and not airbrushed looking. The Captain is wearing some horrible sunglasses and an expression that looks like he’s barely able to hold back from punching the photographer. Tennille is actually wearing bib overalls, and a shirt that looks like it was sewn from someone’s kitchen curtains.

I did not realize that Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote the title song, which had to be one of the biggest songs of the year (1975), and it’s a good enough song, I guess, that I get some genuine nostalgia from it. It’s interesting, it seems like their official name is “Captain & Tennille”—though he’s known as “The Captain”—and also, his real name is Daryl Dragon. If your name was Daryl Dragon—if you were that lucky—wouldn’t you go by Daryl Dragon, and not some cheesy stage name like “The Captain?” (Though the captain’s hat is a nice touch, for anyone.)

Tennille and Dragon wrote a few of the songs, together, and separately, and there are also some Beach Boys present (a nice cover of “God Only Knows”), and Bruce Johnston’s “I Write The Songs”—which was a monster hit for Barry Manilow—and so bland that I never really thought about it—but hearing Tennille sing it kind of highlights the lyrics, since it’s obviously written from the point of view of a man, who claims to now be “very old,” and maybe even God—I mean, it’s supposed to be metaphorical, right? He wasn’t really writing a song, as God, I don’t think? It does say, “I am music, and I write the songs”—but if “music” wrote the first song, who wrote music? (If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so heavy that even He Himself cannot lift it?)

Most of the record is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable, and I’ll probably not be compelled to pick up a copy. If you never have to hear the song “Broddy Bounce,” consider yourself lucky—I thought the room had been invaded by animated trolls. And “Disney Girls” isn’t much better. For me, the real standout on the record is “The Way I Want To Touch You,”—written by Toni Tennille—I mean, it’s kind of sexy, even, if kind of dumb, but has that really killer chorus, “you are sunshine, you are shadow” etc. That takes me right back to somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but I was maybe drinking grape Kool-Aid, or eating Lucky Charms (saving the marshmallows for last), newly in love, and there was an AM radio playing.

30
Jan
18

They Might Be Giants “Flood”

I grabbed this They Might Be Giants record off the shelf because I feel like I might know this band, but then maybe I don’t. I did, but I might have forgotten—I don’t know. Another band that started years ago (and this record is from that oppressive year, 1990) and I’m guessing they’re still a band, because what are you going to do, get a job at Tower Records—there is no longer Tower Records. Though I could imagine one of these guys being a grade school teacher, or a music teacher, etc. The album credits list two names, guys, plus a lot of guest musicians. There’s a lot of accordion, and then a lot of oddball sounds, most of them non-electronic. The approach is very jaunty. Most of the singing is this one guy—or is it both, who kind of sound alike?—slightly nasal, and articulated—jaunty. You can understand the lyrics, plus they are printed inside. (I just thought of this—has anyone ever included a lyric sheet where the lyrics are just totally different than what’s being sung? That might be good idea for someone!) This album cover opens up to reveal a kind of ghost image inside, over which are printed all the lyrics. They are really asking you to pay attention to the lyrics, and they might be very good, but I don’t have the energy—it’s very word heavy music. Okay, this one I’m listening to now, it’s pretty good, it has the line: “She wants to see you again/see you twisting in the wind.” That’s funny, but it makes me think about that expression, “twisting in the wind”—it’s metaphorical, but refers literally to lynching, right? A body hanging there, dead, by the neck—I think they’d leave them hanging—as a warning, right?

A lot of cleverness here—I think this is a band who gets a lot of NPR attention. Probably everything I know about them came via NPR. If you were describing something as very “NPR”—which is a pretty descriptive tag, as everyone gets what that means—this is the band, the sound, the songs—that come to mind. The album cover is another of those that really gets on my nerves. It has a nice photo on the front of a guy in a raft made of wash tubs—but then on the back, another photo of two guys in a raft. We get it. Oh, wait, it’s the same photo, which you see when you open it up—but it’s taller than wide, so the only way to do that is have them both sideways when the record is sitting upright. I just get endlessly annoyed with album covers that you don’t know which way is up. Is that clear? If it’s not, that’s the point of my annoyance. Then inside, there is all this space, but the print is microscopic (something which would be standard in the CD era. I know I complain a lot about album cover design, but the worst of them is better than all CDs). Wow. A lot of songs here—19! That’s too many—though probably not if you’re a TMBG fan. Based on this record, I’m not—but I’ll love a song, then hate a song, love a song, hate a song—back and forth—so who knows what I’d think if I went and listened to all their records—which would be quite an investment—more than I’m willing to spend at this time.

28
Jan
18

Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward”

I picked out this one because I thought it was another robot vs. humans album cover, but it’s not a robot at all but some kind of elevated industrial tower structure, with a huge factory building in the background. In the foreground there’s a young man and woman in wedding attire—it would not be outlandish for me to believe this was an actual wedding photo—kind of an “alternative” one, the romantic embrace in front of an intimidating industrial backdrop rather than a pond with flowers and swans. If you think about it, it makes as much sense—though what it means in this setting, I can’t tell you. On the back is a sliver of a different take of the same photo, with a quote: “The world we live in and life in general.” SO… there you go. Means absolutely nothing. Or maybe not—on the song “Lie to Me”—“lie to me/like they do it in the factory/make me think/that at the end of the day/some great reward/will be coming my way.” Marriage, the factory… you’re smart and cynical enough to know it’s all a load of bollocks. But you can still dance.

I am familiar with Depeche Mode, of course, but I’ve never listened to them. This record came out in 1984, and is on Sire, which was a label I saw a lot of in the 80s. In 1984 I played in two bands, was in school, and had two jobs, so I feel like I missed popular culture entirely—no TV, no movies, very few new records. I stopped being caught up on new records coming out, though I’d heard earlier Depeche Mode and didn’t like them, as at that time I was turned off by anything I thought was remotely pop music, and also stayed far away from anything remotely “electronic” or that even employed synthesizers. I had gone through a “progressive rock” phase in the Seventies, but when punk came around I rejected all of that. But that was just another phase, of course. Now I don’t reject anything, necessarily, and like to take everything in with an open mind if possible, but actually seem to like less music than ever—so essentially, I guess, I’m more opinionated than ever.

On one listening I can tell there are some very hook-y pop songs here, some of which would probably resonate with me after repeat listenings. Remember the old days when you’d buy maybe one record a week or month, that first listening, so exciting, and then you’d try to hold off a few hours for the vinyl too cool down, or until the next day for the next listening, and when the songs would start to take hold, due to familiarity, it would be like a new record. And then you could go deeper, with the lyrics, maybe. I don’t know, but I don’t think people listen to music like that anymore—well certainly not on computers. This record sounds pretty much exactly like I thought it would, so I guess I know what Depeche Mode sounds like, and I’m not going to like them any more now than I ever did. Whenever I look up bands, I’m kind of surprised to see that they’re still playing, but then, why not? If you can make money at it, why would you stop doing that—to work at a haberdashery? Of course—stay in the band! Just try to stay away from the drugs!

Okay, one song here really grabbed my attention so I’m listening to it over. It’s called “Somebody”—nice song title. It’s the least electronic song on the record (which no doubt is why it grabbed my attention) with just acoustic sounding piano and singing (and some tapes of background noise, sounds like people at park). It starts out with some syrupy sweet sentiment that leads you to believe it’s going to drop the irony bomb in about three minutes. But here is the surprise, it’s actually sincere all the way through—but with reservations, questioning, not having it all figured out, but trying. I could paraphrase some of the lyrics, but I kind of hate when people writing about records do that (I know, I did it earlier), and this one works better as a whole. I’m assuming you either know the song, or know how to use the internet and can listen to it if you want to.

26
Jan
18

Beck “One Foot In The Grave”

I was happy to see a Beck album squirreled away here in this North Woods cabin, because it’s been drawn to my attention how unfairly I treated Beck in earlier reviews (just as an aside)—as well as Jeff Beck—and I say unfairly, because I’m actually a fan of both those artists, but they are both an easy target for some cheap laughs. But I do have the highest respect for both, and neither of them can help it if they have to share a name with Glenn Beck. What is Beck’s real name, by the way? Since the internet is still out, I’m going to guess: Johnny Langetree. I’m probably not far off. This 1994 album is on K Records, my favorite label of all time—and this was released around the time his first really huge record came out and made him huge—I can’t remember the name of it, but Beck fans know the one. I’ve never heard of this one. It’s what would be considered “Lo-Fi” I think, and I love the sound—a lot of it is like a guy with a guitar in a room—but some songs with additional instruments and musicians—and both approaches work here.

The front and back covers are black and white photos of Beck, looking very young, outside with bare trees in the background. On the front cover there’s an underage looking blond guy, and I have no idea who he is—maybe in town for a Gus Van Sant shoot. They’re standing in what could be a cemetery (which would be appropriate, given the title), in front of what could be a coffin, with what looks like a children’s book sitting on it. Beck is holding a Silvertone acoustic guitar, and he’s wearing a Kool-Aid scarf, which he probably didn’t get paid enough to wear, and maybe didn’t even make the Kool-Aid big-wigs happy, at least until his next record went gold (or was it called “Gold?”)

The record starts with a traditional blues number, and for my money (which would be $0, as I didn’t buy this) it is a perfectly nice cover—though if the whole record was more of the same, I wouldn’t be real thrilled. I imagine there were blues snobs who took the record off after this song and never even heard the rest. Well, that’s your loss, because the next song, “Sleeping Bag”—with some simple drums and slide guitar—would have made me fall in love with Beck, had I heard this back a quarter century ago. There are a couple of songs where he’s joined singing by Calvin Johnson (you can’t mistake his voice)—the singer for one of my favorite all-time bands, Beat Happening (and producer of this record). The song “Asshole” is another standout, not just for the why-haven’t-I-written-a-song-called “Asshole” title, but for its catchiness, as well.

There’s one song that kind of sounds like people doing their interpretation of early Pavement, and another song that makes me think of the Silver Jews. The album cover doesn’t credit the additional musicians, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were—or later became—well known for this or that (I mean, hopefully, good things, like music!) “Girl Dreams” is another good one. And “Painted Eyelids.” And the last one. Holy shit, this is a good record! And I might have missed out if I’d been able to go online and get tickets to the opera—that is, if there was opera around here, and I liked opera. Is that a Datsun, blurred in the picture on the back? Does anybody remember Datsuns?




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