Archive for the 'Randy' Category

26
Feb
19

Randy Newman “Sail Away”

I first heard Randy Newman’s song “Sail Away” on a Warner Special Products box set LP called Superstars of the 70’s that came out in 1973 and was sold on TV. I heard a lot of music for the first time via that thing, but they placed “Sail Away” directly after Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze” and The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” so I kind of dismissed it as “Yacht Rock” (which wasn’t invented, or at least named, yet) and didn’t bother to listen closely enough to the lyrics to realize it wasn’t about… “sailing.” I’m sure I understood irony at the time, but at 12 and 13 I was (like a lot of kids) kind of a raging maniac, and it wasn’t until my first year in high school—when my English teacher Mr. Kimble used a lot of popular songs in his class—that I started to listen to song lyrics a little differently. It’s interesting how kids kind of mature at different rates—I mean it’s both different for each individual and each person has different parts of them maturing—so it’s all out of whack. I think this is fascinating, and can also be scary. Pretty much everyone is born into the pain of a raging narcissist, and you can even keep that childhood part of you vital—I think it’s really built into what’s necessary for “success”—and it’s possible to find a mate who supports it. It might even really not be a problem until you become a parent, or a boss, or the President. Other people keep other child parts vital, which can both make you happy, and suffer (often both simultaneously). I pretty much go by feelings more than intellect, to a fault, and my music listening often reflects that. Like, on that Warner collection, “Tumbling Dice” was my favorite song, and still holds me under its spell, and I still have no idea what Mick Jagger or the backup singers are singing. What’s it about? Tumbling dice, I guess, but also an unspeakable desire.

Anyway, this record is great, I love it from beginning to end. I feel like these songs will work on your computer, or MP3 player, at home, or while walking, but it’s nice the album has the lyrics inside—I think it’s one where you can eventually get more out of reading along at some point. I don’t know about you, but I never like to read lyrics when I first hear a song—I’d rather really get to know a song before I ever go to the lyrics. But it does have some value, I think, reading lyrics, to appreciate songs on different levels. You can find this one in a thrift store, too, but you might overlook it because it has one of the murkiest album covers you’ll ever see, of Randy Newman looking a lot like Ian Hunter—and it’s one of those that annoyingly folds out sideways—so no one ever knows how to put it on a shelf or in a bin. Opened up, it’s like a super closeup photo of him sitting at a piano wearing sunglasses and corduroy jacket in extremely low light, as if the photo was taken surreptitiously with a telephoto lens through door opened only a few inches without his knowledge. In the act, no doubt, of writing a song. Or maybe thinking about writing a song, which, I guess, is the same thing.

This is a record I’m still only scratching the surface of, and it could easily accompany me to my grave (I mean in a good way). A few years back I discovered the Randy Newman song “Wedding in Cherokee County” (from a different LP) and it became my favorite song for about a year, and an example of what songwriting can, could, should (and maybe never, for me, would) be. The twelve songs on this album are sitting there like the complete works of some (pick your favorite) writer, heavy on the shelf, but nothing but wallpaper until you tackle them with all the parts of you working as best as you can aspire to (at this point). What’s kind of amazing is 1972 is getting near half a century ago, and this music feels contemporary (at least to me). Also, several of these songs are under two minutes long and only one is barely over three and a half. The richness can’t be taken in all at once—I mean it can, it’s enjoyable—but to really get at it. I’ve got to go in for just a little bit, and then come back for more later. The title song is a complete experience, it’s just so beautiful on the surface and so angry and caustic just underneath. Randy Newman is an LA guy, but spent a lot of time in the South, has a kind of accent, writes a lot about the South, but it’s interesting there are a couple of songs on this record referencing Ohio. For one thing, he probably understands that southern Ohio is the South, and maybe he even knows, like I do, that so is all of Ohio. His song “Burn On” sounds like it’s in the tradition of southern river songs, but it’s about the Cuyahoga River which famously caught on fire in Cleveland (even much younger people might know about that). It kind of caught people’s attention about pollution, at the time, and provided fuel for those annoying environmentalists. Of course, now we’ve got a genius in the White House, who, if the river was to catch on fire again, would tweet that the river didn’t catch on fire, it was FAKE NEWS, and his supporters would believe him—shit, dude’s got it figured out.

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08
Feb
19

Thelonious Monk “Pure Monk: Thelonious Monk Piano Solos”

This record is some sort of a cheapo re-issue, I think, on the Trip record label. I’m guessing all eight of these songs were on other records, and they’re all solo piano. I think this record came out about 1974. Thelonious Monk released a lot of records and was immensely well-known and popular (while there are people who just can’t stand him at all). Ever since I first heard some of his recordings, in 1981, I’ve been fascinated with him, because I didn’t know there was any music that sounded like that. I feel like I’ve written about him a lot, and so I’m just repeating myself, so I’m not going to write much here. I guess there are times when I don’t feel like listening to his music, just because it’s my favorite—it’s like, if you have a favorite food, do you eat it every meal? But most of the time when I hear a recording of him playing, whether with a band or solo, I just stop what I’m doing and listen. There’s something there, connected right to my brain—I mean, it’s almost like without the microphones and magnetic audio tape and records and speakers or even my ears. It’s too bad you don’t find his records in cheap stores all that often—I guess they go for a lot of money. This one is probably not very desirable among collectors, and as an object it’s pretty lackluster—it’s just an uninspiring presentation. It almost seems like it could have come out yesterday, so it’s kind of weird that it came out like 45 years ago. I’m talking about the cover—the record itself sounds fine. The music, of course, is great—look, I don’t have a favorite food—or book, or writer, or movie, or artist, or a favorite anything. Except for Thelonious Monk’s music—all of it—that’s my favorite music.

07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

14
Dec
18

Lesley Gore “California Nights”

A pretty listenable all the way through Sixties pop record—I really don’t know much of Lesley Gore’s music (besides that “It’s My Party” song, of course) as household name as she is. I’m a little too young for her earliest records, at least when they came out. I don’t think I realized this until later, but I was at first a fan of her because of a couple appearances on the Batman TV show, in the Sixties, which I never missed—I was really into that show, to the extent that every version of Batman since has only offended me. Seeing the Batman episodes many years later I realized that her character, Pussycat, was maybe the first girl I had crush on. I mean, who can remember, really, but I do remember being pretty infatuated. She did a couple of songs on the show, even, that are on this record. Pussycat is criminally employed in some way by Catwoman, and I don’t think when I was that young I was even able to fully process Julie Newmar’s over-the-top sexuality—actually, I still don’t know if I’m able to. Also, somehow I remember that my brother and I had these costumes that Catwoman’s male henchmen wore, which I think I thought were really cool, on one hand, but I was also kind of creeped out by how emasculated the guys seemed—even though I didn’t really know what that meant. There was a lot of pretty deep psyche-altering stuff in these shows, which of course I didn’t get at all, on the surface (I mean, I didn’t even get that it was funny). A couple characters in particular—Frank Gorshin’s version of the Riddler, and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman—they both raised the bar for this kind of, part-comic, part hypersexualized physical performance that I don’t think has been matched— or ever will be—even though a lot of fine actors have given it the old college try.

I guess I got sidetracked there. Anyway, I had to put the record on again, getting carried away with memories like I was. This is one of those thrift-store records I expected to put on once and see if it disturbed any stones along memory lane—I guess I wasn’t counting on it causing a kind of Batman flashback. Anyway, nothing on here is consciously recognizable, but the big surprise is I really like all of it. She was choosing some fine songs at this point, many by Bob Crewe (a producer on this record, along with Quincy Jones). One of my favorites, “Maybe Now” is credited to L. Gore and M. Gore—I’m guessing that’s her, and who else? Martin Gore, from Depeche Mode? Probably not—he would have been, like six. Okay, the internet tells me it’s Michael Gore, a successful composer, and Lesley’s little brother! Anyway, this record keeps getting better as it goes along—it’s one of those. “The Bubble Broke” is a particular standout. The picture on the cover is nice, too, though odd, but I’m not going to try to describe it or I’ll be here all night.

24
Nov
18

Palace Brothers “Palace Brothers”

This one is definitely a person in shadows, head and shoulders—it looks like in a room, in front of a window, the background blurred out. This one also has a sticker on the shrink-wrap—it says “Palace.” The spine says, simply, “Palace Brothers.” There is no other info except for the list of ten songs on the back cover, white on black. On the label it says Palace Brothers, and the song titles, and the date—but the oddest thing is that there is the most vinyl space (i.e., without grooves, between the last song and the label) I’ve ever seen—you could plant crops there, there’s so much room. Maybe it’s all part of what seems to be a minimalist approach. The songs are pretty much all acoustic guitar and singing. Good songs, some of them pretty repetitious, and others with long, dense lyrics.

I am pretty sure I know this, that Palace and Palace Brothers is Will Oldham (though what I don’t know is if and when there is someone else playing with him, like one of the “Brothers”—or if there even are brothers, or even band members). The first time I ever heard of Will Oldham is when someone who I just met (can’t remember who, or the circumstances, exactly, except that I think it was in Seattle!) said that I was a dead ringer for Will Oldham. I had no idea who that was, but you can believe I looked him up later, since they were kind of adamant about it. I personally don’t see the resemblance (for one thing, he’s younger and better looking)—except to fall into that broad category: “Bald guy with a beard.” Anyway, it did lead me to listen to some of his music, which I have admired, though I haven’t tracked down all of his output—seeing how I’m not, like, a millionaire with unlimited time.

One thing that occurred to me, again, listening to this record (which is not meant to be a knock on WO, just happened to think of it)—in these songs that are like, or based on, traditional blues songs, where a line is repeated several times—what’s up with that? You wouldn’t write that way in prose. You wouldn’t write that way in prose. You wouldn’t write that way in prose, Lord! At least you shouldn’t. If you talk that way, you’ll lose all your friends. How hard would it be to write another line? It’s not like rhyming is real difficult, and lines don’t need to rhyme, anyway. I realize this is a tradition, but so is (in order to achieve wealth and power) fucking those less fortunate than you in the ass. It doesn’t make it right. Again—not meant to be a knock on Will Oldham! He’s excellent!

 

17
Jan
18

Three Dog Night “Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits”

I don’t usually care for greatest hits records (Chicago IX is a big exception) but I picked up a clean copy of this one for a couple of dollars for listening because I love some of their songs. I had a copy of the Harmony LP when I was little and I pretty much wore it out. It’s funny, this unadorned (no pics!) 14 song record strikes me as totally contemporary, in a physical object sense, but it’s 44 years old! The songs on here are from the years which I think of as the pinnacle of Western pop culture, and a few of these songs, to me, are as good as Top 40 radio has ever been. They were a huge band, but I don’t ever remember seeing them on any of those late night music shows, and I would not have recognized any of the guys. From the few pictures I’d seen, I thought it was a perfect band name because they all looked a bit lycanthropic and sleepless. I always assumed that the expression “three dog night” had something to do with heavy partying, but Internet tells me it means a night that’s so cold you have to take three dogs to bed with you for warmth! Thanks Internet.

This was a band with three lead singers with distinctive styles, but I never knew their names or who was singing what, and I still don’t, really. It’s a tight band, and I like the sound. What is most remarkable and interesting is the vast array of songwriters they did songs by. You can spend a rainy afternoon looking over their discography songwriting credits. My favorites here, first are the songs from Harmony, “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” written by Paul Williams, and “Never Been to Spain,” which is written by Hoyt Axton, as well as “Joy to the World,” another of my favorites. Probably my favorite song on the album is Allen Toussaint’s “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”—which is one of those songs that’s a bit corny in your memory, but loud, through good speakers, is like a new song. The sad thing is, my favorite TDN song, Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” is not on this record. It was, however, on their first greatest hits album. If you think about it—for a band whose first album came out in 1968—that this was their second greatest hits album—that’s just totally nuts.

One other odd thing I’m reminded of is there are a couple odd things that always kind of drove me crazy, as much as I love these songs. One is in Harry Nilsson’s song “One,” the lyric, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” I guess that’s more on Nilsson than TDN, and I’m sure people think that’s great, but it makes me think of someone out at restaurant, saying, “I’ll do the wings with the Sriracha aioli dipping sauce”—for some reason that’s always bugged me. And on “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” on the wind-down toward the end, where they’re singing, “Just an… ol/love song, just an… ol/love song”—kind of mixing the word old and love… if you listen to it again you’ll hear what I’m trying to describe. For some reason that just always bugged the shit out of me. I mean it still does—it bugs the living shit out of me. And I love that song.

03
Dec
17

Bob McFadden and Dor “The Mummy” / “The Beat Generation”

Oh, no!—another novelty record. I suppose when you’re picking records up at thrift stores and yard sales, that’s what you’re going to get a lot of. These are two very different, but both goofy songs, by Bob McFadden (a singer and voice-actor—most significantly, to me—the voice of Franken Berry) and Dor (stage name for Rod McKuen, who wrote the songs, and was one of the few poets during my lifetime that I recall having household-name status). On “The Mummy” he uses an exaggerated silly monster voice, and the whole deal is not that interesting. I like “The Beat Generation” more, because the affected “hipster” delivery is a lot funnier to me. Also, I had no idea that this is the song that inspired Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation”—which is pretty inspired. This single is taken from the album “Songs Our Mummy Taught Us” which probably includes more of the same, though it does have a song called “Noisy Village.” Ha! Also of note: Bob McFadden shares a birthday with Randy Russell (as well as Edgar Allan Poe, Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark, Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, one of the Everly Brothers, Frank Anderson, and Franke Martin)! He’s from East Liverpool, Ohio (which should not be confused with Liverpool, England) home of the Elite Diner!




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