Archive for the 'sublime' Category

17
Nov
19

Mott the Hoople “Mott”

My random system for picking records to write about landed on this one, which I may have touched on before, and hopefully will again, since it was such a huge record in my life. Then a couple of days later, in a thrift store, I saw this British pressing with a totally different cover—not that rare, or anything, but I’ve never seen it before, in person, somehow. This is the cover with a die-cut head-shape hole (which, I’ve read, was the bust of Augustus printed on transparent plastic! That part now gone. Also, why?)—and inside, a kind of amazing photo collage. The cover also looks like it was half spray-painted this shade of day-glow pink I didn’t think existed in 1973. I still prefer the US version, which is nothing special—four Seventies rock guys standing there with some stage lights—it’s almost comic in its datedness—but for me, pure nostalgia in its magic. I’ve forgotten a lot of my childhood, but I remember Scott Suter telling me to buy this record—we were in 7th Grade—and I did, intrigued by that band name that made no sense. The opening piano on “All the Way from Memphis”—that weird sound, something off about it, almost like the tape is slowed down or slightly manipulated (I’ll read about this somewhere, someday)—it just burned an indelible memory in my brain, and when I put it on now, it takes me right back there. There are a handful of things like that in your life—usually music is involved—and so I value those things like nothing else.

I think Mott the Hoople is the only band whose last two records are their best two, and it’s somehow not coincidental that they were named “Mott” and “The Hoople,” or that they came out in 1973 and 1974 (the two best years of popular culture, at least in the century surrounding my existence). In a way, they were both last records, because this is the last one with Mick Ralphs, who went directly from this to forming Bad Company. “The Hoople” is both remarkably the same and different than this record. I’ve long struggled and finally given up trying to pick my favorite of the two. Both versions of the band are great all the way through, but it’s Ian Hunter who’s at the center of the mess. It’s hard to make any sense of that guy. You can hear the Bob Dylan influence in everything he does, yet he sounds nothing like Dylan. I’ve gone through periods where I thought he was someone else in disguise, or even thought he was actually a woman. The conclusion I’ve finally come to is that he’s the most normal guy in the history of rock’n’roll, and also the strangest. It turns out it wasn’t Bowie who was the space alien, it was Ian Hunter. Though he might not be a space alien, but instead a ghost, or an android. I did something I never do, last year, and went to see an aging rock band live show—which was Mott the Hoople (with three of them from the ’74, “Hoople,” record) and so I did see the 80 year old Ian Hunter in person, and sure I was a few seats away, but it was like, next stop, Jesus. So the mystery just deepened (also hope—for what one can do at 80 years old).

A funny thing about this record is I’ve just kept listening to it over the years, never really got tired of it (though I don’t, you know, play it to death). When I was a lad, I liked the songs that rocked out more, while the ones with those alienating words (Hymn, Ballad) in their titles put me off a little. Now, those are my very favorite songs, just beautiful slower rock songs, with fairly incredible lyrics, worth checking out, if you never have—songs that I will most likely listen to again tomorrow, and next month, and early next year. Those, along with “I Wish I Was Your Mother” are now my favorite songs on the record. The whole thing is listenable, and also quite an oddity. The best rock music, for me, has always been that which is, how would you say it? Ill-fitting. Also, Ian Hunter’s voice, that’s just going to be knocking around in there, in my skull, like a cave painting, for the rest of my days, and after that, who can say.

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

18
Oct
19

Joy of Cooking “Closer to the Ground”

I had never heard of this band, and the cover—a stoner painting of an easy chair in the woods—didn’t exactly say, “buy me,” but the back cover—a full-sized photo of five hippies—pretty much dated it (1971)—and that’s a good date. Three men and two women, and not Fleetwood Mac. I was expecting the worst hippie folk imaginable, but figured it was worth checking out. A band name like “Joy of Cooking” could mean you have songs about making bread and lentils, or it could be a major drug reference, or it could mean, as band, you cooked, you got down, you rocked out. To my delight, for the most part, the latter is the case. I mean, there are still plenty of hippie folk elements, but even that’s not always a bad thing, and sometimes a good thing. Some of the songs are pretty hard, and some are soulful. It’s not Janis Joplin, but then, who is? There are a lot of musical influences, and the songs are kind of all over the place, kind of hard to pin down, and I don’t mind that at all. It’s a record worth listening to a few times, and what I hear of the lyrics, initially, is also intriguing. Actually, as I listen more… some really good lyrics. So, it turns out the songs, vocals, guitars, and keyboards are by the two women in the band, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite. This is their second LP, and from what I read, personnel has changed since the band formed (in Berkeley)—but it’s Toni and Terry’s band.

There’s seriously a lot of interesting stuff going on here. I’m kind of surprised they weren’t a much bigger band—but then, they are on a major label, and I bet they have their enduring fans. I’m going to check out the lyrics more, now. The record folds open, and there are lyrics and black and white photos inside. Also, there’s a separate lyric sheet—I’m confused for a moment, then realize it’s to their first record. No doubt some shelving confusion with the record’s previous owner. Maybe that means I should make a point of finding their first record. Anyway, not much about lentils or bread, and as a band, they do pretty much cook. One song in particular stands out like a sore thumb, or should I say, the opposite. There are not any bad songs, but this one, called, “Sometimes Like a River (Loving You)” was somebody’s (Toni Brown’s) very good day on the songwriting magic path—it’s so good, it’s the song when the record is over, you go back and play that one again. I may be wrong (1971 was a weird-ass time), but I’m guessing when they played live, this was the song where a few notes in, the audience would be hooping a hollering, people would get up to dance, people would sing along—that love-making thing between the band and the audience. Excellent lyrics, too, check out this line: “Sometimes like a new wind you touch my hand / And I can feel the sudden pleasure in not knowing.” That makes me want to cry. I feel like I’m being kind of annoying, loving one song so much more than the others, but then, for me, songs are what it’s all about. All songs were not created equal. Everyone knows that, but we tend to forget it when we’re bored on uninspired. It takes a truly excellent song to remind you that, yes, music is the best thing there is, better than love, sex, hash brownies, and even bank accounts.

10
Oct
19

Thelonious Monk “Underground”

I got ahold of a nice copy of this record somewhere and it makes me happy to own it and to listen to it. I am not a collector, nor do I spend much money on records. As big of a superstar as Thelonious Monk was and is, you don’t see a lot of his records, and when you do, you have to pay for them. It’s kind of crazy he was so well-known because I don’t hear his music as at all mainstream, and I don’t personally know that many huge fans of his. A lot of his music is too challenging for the average person, even the jazz fan. I’m not a big jazz fan, generally—well maybe I am, but I can’t talk about it with too much knowledge. But there is something about all of this music—all Thelonious Monk recordings—that just connects with me on an almost subconscious level—or unconscious, or preconscious level—like from before my birth, if that holds any water for you. I have said, and publicly, that Thelonious Monk is not only my favorite musician and recording artist, but my favorite artist, period. That might sound like hyperbole, but then, who else would it be? I am writing this brief mention, of this 1968 record, Underground, one of his later ones, on the eve of his birthday, October 10, which for me is the major holiday of the year. They always play Thelonious Monk all day on his birthday, on WKCR in New York, and I can’t think of a better day to call in sick, stay home, play the internet radio, and draw or something.

There are seven songs on this record, none of them near my favorites by or recorded by him, but I like them all. I have never really heard a Thelonious Monk recording I didn’t like, I don’t think, which makes me feel like maybe I’m not a very sophisticated listener, which maybe I’m not—or maybe he just never made a bad recording. Of course, I haven’t heard them all, so I guess in that way I am somewhat unsophisticated. “Ugly Beauty” is on this record, which is actually one of my favorite Monk compositions, and this is a fine recording of it. That song could be the theme song to pretty much anything—in fact, just start with that song and build a world around it. I guess all the songs here are Monk compositions, except for “Easy Street,” which is a song I love and have heard a billion versions of. It’s funny, it really doesn’t matter if he plays standards or his own compositions—they all end up sounding like his songs. The band here includes Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, as well as Charlie Rouse—sax on about half the songs. I’ve mostly only heard Charlie Rouse with Monk, but he’s one of my favorite horn players ever—there are some recordings on which he almost makes me forget to listen to Monk’s piano. An odd thing here, for a Thelonious Monk record, the last song, “In Walked Bud,” has vocals by Jon Hendricks. It’s a great song, and though I can’t say I like it better than some earlier versions without vocals, I love ending the record with this song, and I love Jon Hendricks.

I imagine people made a big deal out of this album cover, and even the goofball liner notes on back are mostly about the cover. It’s a photo shoot somewhere that’s dressed up to look like a French Resistance hide-out, with a piano, lots of weapons, bombs, and wine, and Monk and a woman in a beret with machine guns, a Nazi tied to a chair, a cow, and quite a lot more. The cow might be a live cow. This was some art director person’s dream day at work. It makes me think about how the album cover size is the absolute perfect format for certain art, it really is. Thelonious Monk had some great album covers, I mean a lot of them, and this one is right up there, and it’s right up there with all album covers ever, really. He always looks great, too, which seems to be effortless to him, but was it? I mean, his playing sounds effortless, too, and I’m sure it was not. I’ve lived in New York a couple of times, and like most people, it’s kind of exciting for me to see a celebrity, but imagine running into Thelonious Monk walking down the street—back when he was walking down the street—that would have been like the thrill of a lifetime.

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

My parents had this 1958 record and played it a lot, along with other George Shearing—but there may be no other music that sounds like my childhood than this particular record—George Shearing Quintet “with Brass Choir”—songs arranged by Billy May. I’ll always get a weird feeling from this particular, singular, George Shearing sound—a combination of nostalgia, comfort, and a little bit of sadness and even some queasiness. I mean it’s so present from my childhood, he almost seems like a distant uncle or something. Yet I know nothing about him, except that he was blind from birth and put out an insane amount of records. Once in awhile I’ll read something, then forget it—like I forget that he was English, born in London, and came to the US after the war. I’ve tried to figure out what that “Shearing Sound” is all about—it has something to do with how what he’s playing on the piano works with the vibes and guitar—but I don’t really understand it—it’s over my head—maybe some patient music person can explain it to me someday.

George Shearing was popular enough, sold enough records, that you can find beat-up copies for nothing, and I’ll pick them up when I see them, like this one. I’ve hardly ever paid any attention to the front cover, which is a woman in a sparkly red dress lying on some golden satin sheets—she’s looking up seductively while exposing the full length of one of her long legs. On the bed with her is a trumpet, a trombone, and a French horn. I wonder if this record was subliminally responsible for me attempting the cornet as my first instrument—though I totally failed to get anywhere with it. I should have taken up the French horn—is there a cooler instrument out there, when you really think about it? I loved the picture of Shearing on the back cover so much I put it on the cover of one of my zines (an early issue of The Sweet Ride, from the Eighties). I never thought too much about the individual songs on this record—they all just kind of melt into each other with ultimate smoothness—but this is probably the first place I heard the standard, “Memories of You”—and I’ve always really loved that song. The rest of the songs, except for “Cheek to Cheek,” I couldn’t name, off-hand, but they are all so familiar, it’s like they’re DNA—the song “Burnished Brass,” for instance, with this smooth horn part that drops in and out with the piano—it could be the main theme for the documentary on my life. Yet, listening now, I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by this record, then dismissed it entirely. Now, it almost holographically recreates the space I grew up in so vividly that it’s somewhat overwhelming.

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

I’m pretty sure I had this record in high school—I had a few ELO records—though I can’t remember exactly which ones, now. I didn’t remember it was a double album, though, so maybe not. Also, I didn’t remember that the rainbow space station cover opened up to reveal the inside of the space station—it actually looks pretty cool, you’d think I’d have remembered that. As an insert, there’s an awkwardly vertical poster included, with these kind of creepy, black and white, almost photo-realist portraits of the band members—and I totally remember that—there’s something strangely off about the portraits—which kind of makes them both repulsive and compelling. In my memory, this was the record, or maybe the one after, when I stopped liking ELO—but now I’m thinking I was totally wrong about all this, or maybe my tastes have changed. (Obviously, both of those things are true—everyone’s tastes change, over time, and I have been wrong about nearly everything.)

Anyway, forget the past, because I’m really loving this record now, and you could even say I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I put it on kind of randomly while cat sitting, along with some others, and this became the one that defined the time there, away from home, this point in time. You never know if, or with whom, it will happen—but it’s kind of like falling in love (ha, if it [falling in love] was only that easy). Because of the space station album cover and the occasional aural buzzes and beeps, shimmering synth sounds, and restrained use of the dreaded vocoder, you kind of think it’s all a sci-fi theme, but it’s not—it’s all over the place, really, with a healthy amount of love songs. The funny thing is, when I glanced at the song titles, the only two I remembered were “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (hits)—so I’m glad I even put the record on, because those are my least two favorite songs on the entire album!

As it turns out, there’s one great pop song after another on this record—I’m not even going to list my favorites—just say, all of them but the above two. Then I noticed what I consider the most significant feature of this record—side three is kind if set off as its own thing—a mini-opera, called the “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” as there is a weather theme running through the four songs. Weather! Is there a subject I love more? So, then I had to read a little bit about it—and I didn’t find much, nor dig too deeply, but what I read was that Jeff Lynne went to a chalet in the Swiss Alps to work on this record (didn’t he ever see The Shining?) and it just rained and rained and he had writer’s block! He thought he was washed up, was likely on the verge of running amok, when the sun broke through and he began writing like a madman. Now, anyone will tell you, there’s an inherent bipolar-like thing that runs through the creative process, it’s all valleys and peaks, and sometime the low lows lead to the explosions of creativity—if you’re lucky—and he certainly was, here.

For me, though, the real find on this record is the song “Big Wheels”—with that one, I was immediately in love—so much so that I figured it had to be either a past life thing, or maybe the song was used in some really genius way by an opportunistic, manipulative filmmaker—servicing an emotional story with strong images and the enormous shorthand of this beautiful song. I looked it up but could not find any evidence that it was used anywhere, so I don’t know. I did see that “Mr. Blue Sky” was used like many, many, many times in movies and on TV. Everyone loves “Mr. Blue Sky”—interesting, because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that song. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s jaunty as all fuck. It kind of highlights that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like the jaunty and those who don’t. Those who like sunny skies and those who like stormy skies. Those who like happy songs—while a sad song brings them down—and those who live for sad songs. And I suppose, never the twain shall meet. Well, it’s not just sad songs I like, but sad and beautiful, and the two are often hopelessly intertwined. And this song, “Big Wheels,” is not only the most beautiful ELO song I’ve ever heard, but one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard by anyone.

I could just leave it at that, but I can’t—I need to listen again and look at it a little more closely—why does this particular song affect me like it does? And what’s it about?—sitting there in the middle of this mini-opera, as it is, in-between songs about weather and love? First of all, what does “Big Wheels” mean, anyway? And why don’t people love this song? First of all, it doesn’t refer to the plastic toy that the kid’s tearing through the hallways of the mountain chalet where Jeff Lynne’s trying to write. My first thought is, because of the album cover, is it’s the space station, as the music has that smooth, slow-rolling feeling, but I don’t know—then what does the space station mean? I suppose it’s the Earth turning, and, you know, “I let the Earth take a couple of whirls,”—the patience that comes with maturity, knowing that things will change. I suppose the song does have a lot of sadness in it (“It was not enough for you” / “It’s rather sad” / “I think I’m gonna have to start again”), plus, there’s the silent tear, cold dark waiting days, and lots and lots of pouring rain! Plus, my favorite: “no one knows which side the coin will fall.” There is the sense of not being in control—that your fate is in others’ hands. And that the other side of “tomorrow is another day” might be, no matter how good things are going, it’s no guarantee they’ll continue. Most sad songs start with the sadness, but has anyone ever written one that says, tomorrow will likely bring heartbreak—it’s as inevitable as death. I guess this one. The more I listen to it, the darker it becomes—it really is kind of an amazing force of nature, the sadness in this song, right up there with the weather. But it’s just so beautiful.

23
Aug
19

Dave Major & the Minors “Second Record Album”

I did not expect much from this one, just based on the cover—which consists of the band name printed repeatedly in a sports-bar font with bright colors—so bright, in fact, that I would have guessed it was a few years old—but it’s 1972! On a tiny local label, and recorded in Milwaukee. Inside the sleeve there’s also a couple of color glossy band promo photos with the management company on the bottom—one fairly close-up, the other a wide shot of the band surrounded by a music-store-worth of musical instruments. They are wearing dried-blood-red, wide lapel blazers, and matching ties big enough to use as curtains. It’s so perfect that I also assumed this was contemporary—and also ironic—but no, it’s the real thing. Before even putting the record on I looked them up on the internet and the first thing I find is this story about how, later—not sure when—band leader Dave Perry broke into the house of an ex, shot her husband and his mother, and then tried to shoot it out with the police and was killed. That just depressed me so much I didn’t even want to put the record on. And then I noticed one of the photos is signed by Dave Perry, which frankly kind of creeps me out. I don’t find homicide the least bit interesting (or whatever even more fucked up qualities people attribute to heinous acts—entertaining?)—and it really makes it hard to write about this record. These were real people, with their lives ended stupidly, and there were kids involved, and a tragedy like this partly shapes your life, whether you want it to or not.

But still, I had to listen to it—I figured maybe once, and then to the thrift store—but it turns out the record is so fascinating, I’m kind of instantly obsessed with it. So I’m going to try to pretend I never heard about these tragic events. After all, I only saw this story one place online—maybe it’s one of those obscure urban legends made up by some neo-dadaist smart-ass like that one about Morrissey drinking Rolling Rock with kids in Ohio. Still, though, it’s probably going to color my experience—but it really is an interesting record. First of all, it’s kind of schizo and all over the place—a good example is in a two minute version of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” which is pretty hot while also being corny, and listenable, except for the Uncle Remus impression at the end. This is a lounge act, after all, and on some songs they sound like it, just in the cheesiness of the approach and the absolute erect jauntiness. But on the other hand, the playing is all not only tight and accomplished, but also really pretty inspired. If you were going out to see this band at some supper club, consider yourself not only lucky but also probably spoiled for all time. This is the kind of band that musicians like, I think—you’d have to, unless you were just jealous. But also, the casual fan, or Saturday nite dancer, or Friday fish fry eater—everyone’s going to like this band. From what I read, and a few online videos, the band put on a great show—they’d have 40 or 50 instruments on the stage with them, then keep switching off instruments—right in the middle of songs, even—with well-rehearsed choreography and highly entertaining and sometimes humorous showmanship.

There’s a big block of liner notes on back that, if you just read, you’d probably say, holy shit, and then dismiss it as someone’s manic attempt at a band description parody. I mean, it just goes on and on about the band members and all the instruments they each play. As impressive as this bit of writing is, it’s even more impressive when you believe it’s all true—and then some. They can sing and they can play! “Proud Mary” almost sounds like a typical lounge band cover, but on subsequent listenings you hear more, there. Most stunning is their version of the “Theme from Fistful of Dollars”—done well enough that it could have been used in the movie. Also, there’s a cover of a favorite of mine, “Sonny”—a fine version. But most notable of all are the original numbers by Dave Perry (one’s co-written by Steve Joyce)—there are five originals interspersed with the covers—that’s half the record—and they’re all good—all reminiscent of other stuff, naturally—but good, compelling songs and performances. In fact, as you listen through the record, each of the originals is better than the previous one—they kind of oddly build on each other. I’m really loving this record by this point, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times! But then, it occurs to me—do I really like it that much, or am I being seduced by the lore of the tragedy—the very thing that initially put me off? I know that sounds contradictory, but then contradiction is the foundation of appreciation, of infatuation, of desire, of love. Can you really ever trust your feelings about anything—even a 47 year old LP by a local lounge band? Oh this world.




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