Archive for the 'sublime' Category

08
Jun
18

Sly & The Family Stone “Greatest Hits”

I don’t think I ever owned a copy of earlier Sly and the Family Stone records, but I had this 1970 greatest hits record, it feels like, all my life, and everyone had it, and you know all the songs—they were on the radio, they were on TV, and they’re still being played here and there enough that you might hear one on any day somewhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if you put the vinyl record on your stereo and listen to it closely, like I’m doing, it actually sounds fresh, since the reality of the music is different from my memory—it’s actually rawer, more innovative, and generally more interesting than the version in my memory. Particularly the songs: “Everybody Is A Star,” “Life,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” “Stand!”—really, all of them. No matter how well you know them in your sleep, it’s amazing how much better they sound “in person” (just you and your hi-fi).

I remember this time in junior high or high school when Sly and the Family Stone were on some variety TV show the night before, and everyone was talking about it at school the next day. Imagine that! There was some kind of confusion when the band took the stage, because then, Sly, or all of them, left the stage, I think, before coming back and playing. I don’t know what was going on, and it might be possible to find a video of that now, and even people discussing it, but I remember that as a very unique, very real moment, that really separated itself from the usual, over-rehearsed bullshit. He seemed like he had a great sense of humor, was having lot of fun, and had great style. This record has a just terrible cover, you’ve seen it, but over time it’s become kind of a classic, I guess. But the back is better, just a huge picture of Sly with a red knit hat and the best teeth I’ve ever seen. And the album cover folds open (and there are some liner notes, which I don’t remember being there—pretty good, too) and there is a giant vertical picture of the band, kind of out of focus, grainy, weird perspective, and Sly with those great boots—really, one of the best band pictures ever.

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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!

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.

08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

20
Feb
18

The Beatles “The Beatles (White Album)”

Just as I vowed to write shorter articles, the magic 8-ball fell on this 1968 monster, which is practically a quadruple album, actually, and about which books could be written (and probably have). Everyone has a complicated relationship with this record, and its lyric sheet poster, and its name (it’s interesting how “white album” has come to have its own larger, and complex meaning). This has come to be my favorite and least favorite Beatles record—and I’m sure I’m not the first or only one to say that. (The LP cover alone—all white, that’s the best thing ever—but when you print that gray, off-center “The BEATLES” on the cover—that’s the wimpiest, dumbest, cop-out of all time.) What I’m going to do here is rank the 30 songs from least favorite to favorite, and limit myself to a word or two (trying not to go on too many tangents!) about each song. (I’m not even going to write the entire song titles, since some of these are the longest song titles ever!)

Dead last – “Helter Skelter” – could literally be used to torture someone, and it’s got multiple fake endings, just sadistic. 29 – “Ob-La-Di” – besides being annoying, they invented the expression “brah”—which makes me puke. 28 – “I Will” – even though I’ve listened to this record 1000 times, I can’t remember this song AT ALL. 27 – “Good Night” – maybe it’s supposed to be a lullaby, but a lullaby is supposed to be soothing, not bore you to sleep. 26 – “Yer Blues” – I used to like this song, but now it sounds like someone called Ded Lepriken—plus it’s WAY too long—about four minutes too long. 25 – “Wild Honey Pie” – one Honey Pie is one too many, so this really doesn’t help. 24 – “Don’t Pass Me By” – the drums are great on this song, but every other part (especially that fiddle) should be burned. 23 – “Blackbird” – is it arrive or arise? That annoys me, but not as much as cramming “into the light of the dark black night” into too small a space.

22 – “Birthday” – it’s kind of funny how you can have a really excellent song but after you hear it ONE MILLION TIMES it then sounds like hyenas being slaughtered. If my worst enemy really wants to get to me, hold a surprise birthday party for me with this playing when I come in, then follow that with karaoke. Or you could just slowly rip my skin off. 21 – “Mother Nature’s Son” – I’d like this song less, but it is pretty. That’s all it is, though, and the ending (song title button—like it’s a commercial for granola bars) ruins it. 20 – “Julia” – I’m not crazy about this song, but I like how subtly weird it is—I mean, if you were Julia would you want this to be the song named after you? It sounds more like a song about mental illness. 19 – “Long Long Long” – would be boring if it wasn’t so haunting—more so because the lyrics only make sense as the expression of a lost mind. 18 – “Honey Pie” – what if all the Beatles’ songs sounded just like this one? They’d be about half as great at The Rutles. 17 – “Rocky Raccoon” – would be the most annoying song the Beatles ever did IF IT WASN’T FOR THE LINE: “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”

16 – “While My Guitar…” it’s bad enough to sing about your guitar, but to personify it is unforgivable. I do love how the tape speed is all fucked up. 15 – “Bungalow Bill” – this song sounds cool, and I like the sentiment, but the words themselves grate on me. 14 – “Piggies” – I like the lyrics—is this the meanest Beatles song? I’d like it better without the pig sound effects and the corny, English-humor harpsichord. 13 – “Cry Baby Cry” – it’s a very pretty song, and interesting that the verse lyrics and the chorus lyrics don’t really match—like totally schizo, lyric-wise! 12 – “Why don’t we do it in the road?” – totally dumb, but great, and the best thing is that you expect the second verse to say something like, “why don’t we do it in the car,” or in the yard, or sand, or at a fish & chips place. But no, it’s just still in the road. 11 – “Martha My Dear” – that is just a solid love song. Plus, I’ve never met a woman named Martha, and at this point, if I did, and thought about this song—instant crush.

10 – “Revolution 1” – I can’t tell you how much hearing this for the first time freaked me out, this slower version, after being familiar with the fast version (I had the 45 as a kid)—it was like my first experience “on drugs.” 9 – “Back in the USSR” – I love the opening with the airplane noise, and the first three songs on this album are why I loved it so much over the years. Still, it’s joke song—but it is funny. 8 – “Happiness is a Warm Gun” – kind of post-teen humor, but we forget, the Beatles were pretty much just post-teens by the time they broke up. Also, I love all the different parts; it’s like a mini “A Day in the Life”—though sadly could be called “A day in the guns=sex American news.” 7 – “Revolution 9” – I can’t understate the importance of a song like this (on a pop music album) to a kid in 1970 who has just scored his first tape recorder. 6 – “Savoy Truffle” – not quite as good a Alice Cooper’s dentistry song, but this one makes me more hungry.

5 – “Sexy Sadie” – I love how weird this song is when you listen closely, with that haunting piano, and it’s so bitter. 4 – “Dear Prudence” – I always thought this was the worst name to name a girl (you may as well just invite her to have un-safe sex at an early age)—and this beautiful song was created just to make the world better for all the Prudences out there! 3 – “I’m So Tired” – this is the perfect love song (which at the same time is using love purely metaphorically, and is about the fatigue of being human) and all in two minutes! 2 – “Me and My Monkey” – the song that gave the kids courage to leave the safe Beatlesphere and move on (often to darker pastures). Also, a sampling smorgasbord. 1 – “Glass Onion” – I hear the groans, but I can’t argue with never getting tired of this song—it’s pure pleasure—just the sound, those strings, all of it. Some Beatles fans hate it because it makes fun of them, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re destined to be a very angry, old, white man.

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?

24
Jan
18

The Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”

I was excited to see a Flaming Lips record in the rustic cabin, because I think they intrigue me but I’ve never settled on forming a real opinion of them—first of all, I always get them mixed up with that other band with “flaming” in their name, and the band with “lips” in their name, though I’m sure none of these bands are anything alike. This is the one with that guy, Wayne Coyne, as the main guy, who I think I might recognize if I saw him on the street—he’s got a distinctive look which kind of reminds me of Toecutter from the first Mad Max movie (which is a weird person to take your look from—I think most people would go for Max, or “The Goose,” or Bubba Zanetti—but not Toecutter). This is a band I feel like I could have been in—or a band I was in could have been similar—I mean in just going on and on, evolving, but staying in their own world, to some degree. Internet tells me they formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City, and I started a band in 1983 in Ohio, which was one of the bands I was in that I felt could have gotten a record contract, all that nonsense (of course, I quit after a year, so I would have just been that guy who was in the first version and disappeared, anyway). I think I saw a documentary about The Flaming Lips, or maybe it was just some extended interview with Wayne Coyne, but anyway, from what I remember, they have some kind of hangout or headquarters in OK City, with people coming and going, and lots of music and creativity—it was kind of inspiring, though I wondered if there was any way into that world, or if it was kind of insular (because of how famous they are now), and I really wondered what this Wayne Coyne is like. I also wonder if, in a band like that, where there are other longtime members and creative forces, it gets kind of annoying when there is this very distinctive “main guy.”

This record is great, I’m really enjoying it. I suppose if someone had asked me if I was a fan of this band I would have said yes (before saying, “Well, I’m not sure, actually”)—so it’s no surprise. This is pop music, but I guess it’s verging on, or in some cases is fully what people call “psychedelia”—which, I think, often gets mixed up—I mean as a musical style—with a larger category of psychedelia, which would include all psychedelic art, and also lifestyle, drug use, etc. This record sounds pretty timeless to me, like it could have come out when there was a lot of psychedelic music in the Sixties, or the Seventies, or essentially any time since. This, however, came out in 2002, a date which now means nothing to me culturally, even though it’s now officially long ago. This album was “remastered” and re-released in 2011. I’m assuming remastered because it was originally a CD only?—or maybe because it was originally mastered poorly? The whole remastering thing kind of freaks me out, but if it sounds good now, it sounds good, which it does. The cover is a drawing of what looks like Gumby, but with a cropped head (haircut) and sprouting legs from his legs—and pink. I’m assuming this is a pink robot, and there is a small girl confronting him, and I assume that’s Yoshimi.

I suppose I should listen to some of the lyrics, since there’s a sheet and I can follow along, and I’d enjoy listening to it over, and it seems like there might be a theme here, or maybe this is another one of those “rock operas.” Okay, I can’t really get into the lyrics—that wasn’t a good idea. I mean, the lyrics are fine, they’re good, but I’m not in the mood to become immersed in a story that’s quite literally about a Japanese girl and some evil pink robots. It reminds me of what I don’t like about a lot of science fiction, and that’s the science fiction. Not that that’s the only thing here, there is also much about love, human relationships, and that’s all timeless. There’s something else, too, between the lines, in the synthesis of it all, but I don’t have the patience for that. I’ve got wood to chop and stack. But before I go, I want to re-emphasize—there is some weird and beautiful music on this record, and it could he the start of me venturing in the direction of being the huge Flaming Lips fan I always should have been.




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