Archive for the 'Speenish' Category

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

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30
Nov
18

Jefferson Airplane “Volunteers”

If you want to give some kid an introduction to 1969, this would be a good place to start. The album cover is modeled after an activist newspaper, and the foldout, insert lyric sheet is as well. There is that equal amount of humor, deadly seriousness, surrealism, practicality, insiderishness and outsiderishness in unequal but workable measures. The music, too, of course—that style of vocal harmony, everybody singing, and jamming, and pretty excessive lead guitar that is often impressive once you’re in the mood. If I have time later, I’m going to go back and read some of this stuff, but I’m nearing the end of my time here (as we all are). I am actually pretty unfamiliar with Jefferson Airplane—I know the names (if you came across them for the first time, you might think they were a law firm, or a deli), but not much about them. I probably have had more contact with the band through the movie Gimme Shelter (1970) than any other way. Oh, one really important thing is that this is one of the few records I know of that uses the inside album cover (it’s one of those that fold open) to good use: there is a giant (as big as the album cover, X2) photo of peanut butter and jelly on bread (it looks like crunchy PB and straw-or-raspberry jelly-or-jam, with a liberal amount of butter). So it’s an open-faced, PB&J—and then when you close the album cover back up, it makes a sandwich. Get it?

23
Nov
18

Endless Boogie “Long Island”

Uh oh, the next one is another Endless Boogie double album. That’s okay, it’s good… I’m listening now. This one has a cover image that looks like it could be a creepy landscape, like a huge hill, kind of a Lord of the Rings, unnatural, geological formation that is a hill and also a dude’s head. The first thing I saw was the head, in silhouette, and a face, big nose, long hair, beard and mustache, and one white glowing eye. I only know the record is called Long Island because of a sticker on the front, on the plastic shrink-wrap which is still intact, which also keeps me from opening up the album cover to see what’s on the inside. (Like song titles, credits, a poem, more stoner art?) I can’t open it though, so I try to peer in the crack—it looks like it might be a treasure map or possibly pornography, but who will ever know with this shrink-warp? Goddamn record collectors. I shouldn’t complain, since I’m a guest here at the cabin, and it’s nice of the owners to let me listen to the stereo. But it does make me think about the kind of toy collectors who collect toys that are still in the packages, never opened. Something about that seems totally wrong. I think there is a special place in Hell for those kind of toy collectors, and that is: Commander and Chief of Hell.

At least it’s possible to look at the label, which tells us that the band is Endless Boogie and the album is called Long Island (which makes me think of two things: one of the sequels to Harriet the Spy, The Long Secret; and Long Island Iced Tea, a cocktail I first drank c.1986 in a sleazy Eighth Ave/42nd Street cocktail lounge with cockroaches crawling on the liquor bottles. (I think the New York Times might be in that spot now.) Also, the year the record is released, and an infinity symbol/two dimensional rendition of a Mobius Strip. And song titles, my favorites being: “Taking Out the Trash,” “The Artemus Ward,” and “The Montgomery Manuscript,” which aren’t necessarily my favorite songs—I haven’t matched them up yet—I haven’t gone that deep—and I’m not going to, because I want to move on to the third big shadowy head record.

15
Nov
18

Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”

I know less about the Grateful Dead’s discography than about fine wines—totally, exactly, nothing—but I’d like to know more, and I’d like to find a way to like them someday, because I feel like they could be an acquired taste—that is acquired through listening to them—but putting in the time might pay some kind of dividends consisting of a pleasurable knowledge and depth of appreciation. But for now, to me, they still sound like a bunch of annoyingly stoned commune hippies. What a great band name, though!—who was around on band naming day? I can never get a handle on their sound—I can’t pick out individual singers or musicians—its a large band, but they usually sound like just a few people are playing. This record is another one like that—it all kind of blended together like a way too healthy smoothie—the exception being the last song, which is that famous, “Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine,” song, which is named, “Casey Jones”—I never knew that.

The first time I ever heard one of their songs, that I’ve been aware of, was on this early-seventies collection I bought—sold to me by TV commercials—when I was like 11, and it had the song “Truckin’” on it, which pretty much fascinated me, the breezy style of playing and singing, but even more, the lyrics—something about a salt machine, and livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine. The lyrics are all credited to someone named Robert Hunter, which fascinated me, as he was not a musician in the band. I read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone magazine) that he was the Dead’s lyricist, which seemed so bizarre to me… though, same thing with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, right? But this Robert Hunter, what was he like? I wanted to find out more, but we were a long way off from having the internet, not unlike me here in the “North Woods”—and, in fact, it occurs to me that the perfect scenario would be for the Grateful Dead (I mean, in a perfect world where they were still together and all still alive) to join me here in this cabin and play for about 12 hours straight while I put this old turntable to rest for awhile. I suppose if that happened I’d become either a huge fan or the harshest critic, but I’m guessing they’d all be cool and we’d have a good time and I’d finally gain some crucial insight into this music.

05
Aug
18

Link Wray “Link Wray”

Maybe this is the first Link Wray record, as it doesn’t have a title other than “Link Wray”—though, didn’t he put out records in the 50s?—and this looks seriously 70s, but there’s no date on it (the only thing I’m going to look up, once I’m reunited with the internet, is the dates each of these records came out). Anyway, here is another reminder to look more deeply into the early work of people you feel you have an idea of what they’re about; I’ve always been a Link Wray fan based on the few songs I know, and his sound, but really know very few recordings or anything about him. This record is on Polydor so he must have been well known enough, plus the cover is unusual in that it’s his head in profile, but die-cut along his face, and it opens that way. I thought the record companies reserved the fancy, die-cut covers for well-established gold sellers. Upon opening, a small photo is revealed—of a ramshackle structure, crudely painted with the sign, “Wray’s Shack 3 Track”—which is, according to the credits, the studio where the record was recorded, in Accokeek, Maryland. It would have been interesting to have been a neighbor to Link Wray and “The Family”—the credited musicians, several of which have the last name Wray. One name, Steve Verroca, plays drums, and also has half the songwriting credits. It makes me wonder when, if, and how the decision was made to call the band “Link Wray” and not something more band-like, such as “The Family” or “The Accokeek Noise Ordinance.”

29
Jul
18

Bob Dylan “Street Legal”

I’ve never heard this record before and I’m guessing, but not sure, that when it came out in 1978—the year I graduated from high school and was avidly reading Rolling Stone magazine—it got a less than favorable review—or maybe I was just over Dylan by that time, temporarily—or maybe his previous album was too weird and inscrutable—who knows. Anyway, the first thing that’s striking to me is that in the live performance, black and white, photo on the back, he looks just like Freddie Mercury—did people, when this record was released, talk or write excessively about about how he looks just like Freddie Mercury? It looks like a picture from the Renaldo and Clara/”Rolling Thunder Revue” era, but wasn’t that years earlier? Anyway, it’s just a bit of a mystery. On the front cover there’s a picture of him standing in a doorway wearing some really awful jeans and a black leather vest, looking left, down the street like he’s waiting for someone, or a bus.

“Baby Stop Crying” is a nice song, pretty soulful (though the sax break does sound a little St. Elmo’s Fire (my shorthand for lameness). I just noticed the photos on the inside sleeve, two out-of-focus, B&W photos of Bob and a dark skinned man (really wish I had the Big I to look this up) at what looks like a really great tea shop. Bob’s wearing that polkadot shirt you see in a lot of photos (I’m assuming he had more than one, but who knows). It almost looks like a much earlier photo. Can you date Dylan pics by his shirts?

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!




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