Archive for the 'skip first and last song' Category

27
Feb
19

Sammi Smith “Mixed Emotions”

It might be hard to believe, but I had never heard of Sammi Smith (well, I probably had—after all, I used to listen to the radio and watch Hee Haw—but over the years a lot of brain cells have been eradicated, I’m afraid, and Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout had more prominently ghosted my radar, apparently), but I saw this older record of hers at the used bookstore (I haven’t written about it yet) and it had a very personality-rich cover, so I bought it, expecting it to be unlistenable, but it was great. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for Sammi Smith records. She was country and western singer who put out 17 or 18 albums in the Seventies, then moved on to other things. You can easily find a brief history on the internet if you’re interested. But I have a feeling that, just with my brief exposure to her, she was a fascinating person—maybe someone will write a biography about her.

The cover of this album (on Elektra records) is odd in that I would have guessed it was from the Eighties, just by the layout and graphics, the colors, the style. I admit I’m considerably more of a fan of things from the Seventies than the Eighties, in all forms of culture—including record albums and album covers. So I almost didn’t pick it up, but then I noticed it was Sammi Smith, and I looked at the back expecting to see a later date, and was kind of surprised that it was 1977. There is actually a really great photograph on the cover, but for some reason it is kind of weirdly cropped and vertical, with several inches of border on either side— why? A square version of this photo, blown up, would have been a much better cover.

The first song scared me because of its prominent use of a kazoo—never a good sign. Never judge an album by the first song, though. The next song is great—it’s called “Touch Me” and is a classic Nashville sounding song—I tried looking it up, to see who else did it—but do you know how many people have recorded songs called “Touch Me?” When I start writing songs again, the first thing I’m going to do is write a song with that title! Then a really nice, slow, old-fashioned sounding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the Don Gibson classic that I most associate with Ray Charles. Next is “De Grazia’s Song,” written by Sammi Smith—I don’t know who De Grazia is (a painter), but he/she wrote the brief, but glowing liner notes. The last song, then, is jaunty to the point that she refers to someone as “you little booger”—making this one of those famous, “skip first and last song records”—though that’s just the first side. What will the second side hold in store for us?

“I’ve Seen Better Days” is a good one—it’s written by Red Lane and Danny Morrison—I’m sure I’ve heard it, but I’m not sure where—a lot of big names in country music did it—but I’m going to say, hearing this version, if someone can show me a better version than this one, it might be my favorite all-time song. “Hallelujah for Beer” is a song that you probably get the idea from the title—a song that is probably playing right now on a jukebox in Milwaukee. “Days That End in ‘Y’” is another beautifully heartbreaking country song—but I’m getting tired of looking up who else did these songs. It’s another title I’m going to steal, but change it to: “The Days That End in Why” (if no one else has). “A Woman Left Lonely” is my favorite song on the record—it’s just undeniably a killer song, written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham—the most famous version, of course, being Janis Joplin’s. And I love Janis Joplin and her version of this song, but it’s an interesting comparison, her version and this one, because I’d argue that Sammi Smith’s is better, because it’s more about the song, while Janis Joplin’s is more about Janis. I don’t mean that critically, I love that about her—she could sing “Old MacDonald had a Farm” and break your heart. But I love how this version is also emotional, heartbreaking—but really, you love the song and the singer in equal parts. The last song, then, is the Tom Jans song, “Loving Arms,” and a beautiful, lovely way to end the record.

14
Jun
18

Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”

If you subscribe to the theory that BD died after Blonde on Blonde (1966) and was replaced with “Dylan 2,” then this record makes a lot more sense—the cover is a big, dark, head silhouette (which decades later would become a “thing”)—which makes you think of nothing so much as a statue, a monument to a legend, dead and gone, and the white lettering and song titles right over his head announce nothing so much as “this is a product.” The photo (BD in concert, blowing on that dreaded harmonica) looks oddly contemporary—even more so if you imagine he’s looking closely at a smartphone, which is how I’d suspect kids these days would interpret it.

This is possibly the most unlistenable Dylan record for me, as it starts with the dreaded “Rainy Day Women” and is pretty much made up of the songs that have been played to death—which I don’t even think are close to his best songs. About the only one here I can still stand to listen to is “Like a Rolling Stone,” and then only on Nostalgia Thursday, and then preferably with a frivolous drink. If I had the internet right now I’d look up how many times in articles over the years someone has said, “I wish at an early age someone had stuck that harmonica right up his ass,” or “He really puts the ‘harm’ in harmonica.” I suppose it’s supposed to sound like a train whistle, but personally, any time someone tries to make a rock song sound like a train, I’m yawning like the Grand Canyon, and even a mention of a train has me nodding off. And I love trains.

29
Aug
17

Sarah Vaughan “Send In The Clowns”

As much as I like Sarah Vaughan, and as much as I like clowns, and as much as I like the year 1974 (when this was released), you’d think it’d be an automatic home run. But no. First of all, I was never crazy about the song, “Send in the Clowns,” and here is a kind of cloying version that sounds more like the lame 1980s than ’74 (and interestingly, Sarah Vaughan also released a record called Send In The Clowns in 1981). The very next song, though, is a nice soul song (I’m not going to list all the songs here, but okay, I especially like this one: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”). Then the next one sounds like it could accompany a Blaxploitation movie. The next one is another smooth soul number. Then another one that’s more smooth than soul, but it’s okay. Side two is all really pretty good, though the last song is just way too much—it sounds like something from a live review in a very big supper club or small casino. It’s not pleasant. But really, the rest of the record is growing on me. I think this is one of those rare, but not unheard of, “skip the first and last song” LPs.

The album cover, put out by Mainstream Records, has the same exact picture on front and back, which I find just really unforgivable—I mean, why? You have the opportunity to put a full-color, twelve inch by twelve inch piece of art into the world—put a picture on the back of Sarah Vaughan applying makeup, or removing it, or cooking breakfast, or drinking tea, or a picture of your cat, or your kid’s art, or your laundry—anything but the same photo that’s on the front cover! The picture, of a clown, I’ve always assumed is Sarah Vaughan in clown makeup, but really it could be someone else, like maybe a clown. Anyway, as far a clowns go, it’s not too gnarly, but as far as album cover pictures go, it’s disturbingly gnarly. She’s wearing an odd clown suit, of which I think there is some significance, but I can’t find an example in the many, many, many, many clown images on the internet, so I just don’t know. Maybe someone will fill me in. She’s drinking from a straw, from a glass/cup/coconut concealed behind a paper umbrella. I don’t know, the whole combination of things is really kind of odd and unpleasant, though I can’t really put my finger on why. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Also, she’s not just a clown, but a man clown. But do clowns even have a gender? I mean, what are they, really? But anyway, this song, by Stephen Sondheim, isn’t about clowns, literally—duh. The lyrics are great, actually, but I’ve never heard a version of this song (and there’s been like a million of them?) that I liked. I don’t like the song. Maybe if there’s a version out there sung a cappella by Gilbert Gottfried, I could warm up to that.




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