Archive for the 'Uncanny Ability' Category

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.

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17
May
19

Television “Marquee Moon”

When I started writing about my record collection back in 2006, I was determined to go from A to Z, so like, I was never going to get to Television—but with this new random system I have, it’s sure taking a long time to get to certain albums, anyway—but maybe that’s good. This one is kind of hard to write about, actually, because it’s maybe one of my favorite 10 (meaning 100) records of all time, and it’s kind of like a force of nature, so it’s a little like you’re photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting someone to pay attention to your snapshot when people have done time-lapse, panorama, satellite, helicopters, drones, parasails, jumping it on a motorcycle, and as they died falling in. So, if you’re reading this, and it’s the highly unlikely case where you’ve never heard this record, either you are going to have such high expectations that it will necessarily stumble, or you’ve hit the jackpot in life—you get to hear it for the first time, and you can only do that once. And then the second, third, etc…

It’s from 1977, I suppose the best year of punk rock, and it comes from the New York punk rock scene, but it sounds nothing like any of the other bands from that place or time, or really anywhere. There had to be a lot of people who hated this when it came out; I bet some were then won over, some weren’t, still aren’t. Bands were playing fast, short songs, for one thing, and these songs are long (longest is almost 10 minutes!) and there are extended guitar solos. It’s complex; it’s practically jazz. It’s weird to think this record came out the same year as Steely Dan’s Aja, but you can’t imagine them on the same plane, much less the same year—but the same people were buying them—and in a way, they are quite similar. Eight songs only, four per side, and one could make a strong argument that if you ranked the songs from best to worst they would line up in the exact order they are on the album—which might seem kind of dismal, except for the fact that they’re all great songs. I’ve definitely listened to side one more than side two—but the one nice thing about that is that I feel like I might still be able to discover something on the second side. The first side is so ingrained in my head nothing less than brain damage is ever going to allow me a fresh listen.

I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics—though, and I’m not likely to at this point. That’s not true, there are a few lines that stick with me—it’s just that I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. But I love the line: “Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops…’” And a few others. I’m not going to talk about the guitars, okay? It just struck me that this could be the ideal record for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and if you wanted to spend a few excessive hours while giving it a few listens, use the internet and try reading all the ways people have used words to try to describe what those guitars are doing. I’m going to make this quick, though, by mentioning the cover photos—first there’s the kind of classic band photo, them all looking like they want to be the next one to make love—but it’s this high-contrast color that makes their hands look really crazy, kind of like one of those early Aerosmith records. I never bothered to look at the photo credits before, and it says Robert Mapplethorpe—I guess that guy knew his way around a camera.Then on the back there’s a photo of something that I’m guessing is abstracted by contrast—it’s credited to Billy Lobo. I think it’s supposed to represent the near death high you get, supposedly, from heroin, but I’m just guessing. Then, the inside sleeve band pic is very odd—it’s a great b&w photo, really, but printed weirdly, so the drummer and bass player have turned into shadows, while the inside of the drums are lit up. That the two guitarists are siting on kitchen chairs facing each other probably says more than bucket of liner notes could. And then, for as much as the photo is obscured in darkness, kind of amazingly you see all these details in hardware, chairs, amps, and shirts—really, it kind of simultaneously demystifies these guys as just regular schmoes, while elevating them to some kind of god love. Depending on who you are, you might focus more on Richard Lloyd’s guitar, or Tom Verlaine’s shirt, or everyone’s hands. I’m torn.

15
Mar
19

Tamiko Jones “Tamiko”

I had never heard of Tamiko Jones when I picked up this record for nothing—I bought solely on the cover, a full size headshot of her, equal parts odd and beautiful, with painted on eyebrows and pale lipstick—kind of a hunting photo, really, with such a limited depth of field that her dark eyes are barely in focus, while her ears are part of the background blur. The stark red letters: “Tamiko” are in a kind of “Exotica” font that led me to believe this record might be in that vein, but it’s not at all—it’s kind of pop jazz vocalist stuff—pretty straightforward, but really nice, and to me has kind of an odd edge that I can’t really place. Sometimes she sounds a little like—it almost came to me—but I lost it. If we’re to believe Internet, she was born in Kyle, West Virginia and raised in Detroit, so it’s safe to assume she must have visited the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, during it’s prime years. It also says she is part Japanese, part British, and part Cherokee. The album has virtually no credits, but some is arranged by Jimmy Wisner, and some by Pete Dino. There is some standard sounding pop orchestra, and then some that sounds pretty otherworldly, with haunting vibes, some pretty prominent flute, and… do I hear a harp? There are some bossa nova songs, probably my favorites here. And a nice version of “You Only Live Twice,” my favorite Bond song (not in part because it makes no sense). A Bacharach/David number, which I always like. Really, I’m pretty captivated by this record, to the extent that I don’t want to ruin the spell by listening to it too many times right now—I know I can come back to it and have the same kind of curious reaction to it—at least I hope so. So I might write about it again.

19
Feb
19

David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”

Pretty much the first 14 years of my life I was dead-set on a future career as either an engineer or a manager—it was all studies, math, things in their place, doing what they were supposed to do—I didn’t waste time, wore socks to bed, pajamas tucked into them. Then I got this record and the next thing you know I saw something in the night sky—and after that, there wasn’t going to be any life for me in which I wasn’t some kind of an artist. That story isn’t exactly true—in fact it isn’t true at all—I really don’t know what happened to me, when, or why—that prevents me from having any kind of normal happiness. I’m just struggling here, thinking about how to possibly write about this album that even comes close to expressing how much I like it. I can say that I love it even more than snow on my eyelashes, sex, beer, and five o’clock on Friday, but all I ever hear from anyone is that it’s not even in their Bowie top five, and the album cover seriously freaked them out, and they like “Rebel Rebel” okay. Bowie fans are probably the hardest to convince, actually. And what do I care? I’m not trying to make people agree with me, after all, and everyone has their favorites here and their particular problems with this and that. Like the way the record ends with, “RockRockRockRockRock”—I mean, kind of embarrassing to me, even. And that opening, mutant wolf howl, and all that sci-fi bullshit. Well, I like that, of course—whenever I take a photograph of a weird landscape that reminds me of the inside album cover, I post it on Instagram and then recite “Future Legend” to Siri and see what she does with it. I mean, I even named my band Love Me Avenue—and don’t tell me there’s another band called Love Me Avenue out there—and if there is, you can speak to my attorney.

But how do I express why I love this record so much? That question has a lot of similarities to trying to explain why a good song is a good song. Maybe I should take a few minutes to see what a few other Bowie fans say about this record (I mean the ones who love it). Is there a 33 1/3 book about this one yet? (Not that I would want to attempt one of those books about this record—I don’t feel like I’m up to that task, and I don’t mind admitting it.) I know someone wrote one of the 33 1/3 books about Bowie’s album Low (which makes me, now that I think of it, want to read that book and revisit Low). I don’t think there is… I look it up, and holy shit! There is a book on Diamond Dogs! It’s only fitting that I listened to this record, just now, sitting under this insane February full moon, and it sounded better than it ever has—and now I see there is a book about it! It came out in… November 14, 2019. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that approximately nine months in the future? Insane. It’s by a guy named Glenn (with 2 n’s) Hendler (with an “e”). What the hell, Hendler? How can you do this to me? Oh, well… that’s okay, and kind of fitting, in a way. I have always felt—and always known—that there is something freaky and special about this record—and it’s almost as if the weird cover, the dystopian sci-fi lyrics, the whole package really, is some kind of smoke-screen for something even more weird below the surface. If we could say what it was, it wouldn’t be below the surface—elusive, unknowable, and mysterious—but, you know, the thing. The reason we’re here. Anyway—so, it’s just kind of fitting that this hopefully groundbreaking and vital text about this record (no pressure, Hendler!) has come out… in the future.

I wish I could remember the circumstances around buying this record, but 1974 is a confusing jumble of memories, a confusing time for sure. Maybe a record that I didn’t understand was the perfect thing. I didn’t understand the cover, with the steel and bronze dog-people. The album folds out and it looks like a scene from Blade Runner, which hadn’t been made yet—there is plenty of room for lyrics, but the only thing printed are the lyrics to the first song, a goddamn poem! (Though I recited “fleas the size of rats…” at every opportunity, for years.) Then I was confused by the song “Diamond Dogs”—why did it sound like the band was playing waist deep in a swamp, and why did I like that so much? And then why did the record shift to a slow song, that sounded like it was from a musical? And then why a song called “Candidate” (not into politics at the time). And then why a (reprise)? (I’m not sure when I was first aware of the pretentious prog-rock bands I listened to around then putting a song reprise on their records, but I’m pretty sure I pulled that same shit in my first band, somewhat ironically.) I liked “Rebel Rebel” (how could you not?)—but why two rebels?

I was pretty much worn out by the first side, and wore out the first side, going back again and again, trying to figure out what it was about this record. Why did Bowie drop the “David” and play guitar, saxes, Moog, etc.—so many instruments—and what in the hell was a Mellotron? Was the bass player really named Herbie Flowers? Finally, after many, many plays, or maybe days, (the days felt like months), I flipped the record, and side two was just so disappointing after side one. It starts with a ballad love song, yuck. But then, a few months, maybe years later, something happened and I liked side two more than side one! This might have coincided with the change in my life where I suddenly liked beautiful songs—was it drinking? Weed? Love? Maybe just the progression of music in my life. A song like “We are the dead” (even slower) was making an impact on me, even though I could only make out about 10% of the lyrics. And then “1984” is like a straight-up disco song (I hated disco, remember?) but there are these little parts that drop out, little lyrical parts, where I’m thinking, how does he even think of stuff like that? And then the song “Big Brother”—which maybe my brain couldn’t even handle at that point. Even now, like 40 some years later, after listening to this record thousands of times, I still can’t even comprehend, put my finger on, even describe, much less figure out, what happens in that song, musically or lyrically. It ends abruptly, too, just blending into, you know, the chant of the ever circling skeletal family. Nothing unusual there.

19
Jan
19

Audiophile “Echoes of the Storm”

This 33 1/3 RPM long playing 12 inch record is a collection of high fidelity recordings of various oddities, pressed into beautiful, translucent, ruby-red vinyl grooves, as heavy as the records the kids are making these days, though this came out in 1956. I’m considering “Audiophile” to be both the artist and the label (from Saukville, Wisconsin!), and “Echoes of the Storm” the title, though that recording comprises Side A of this disc—Side B is titled: “Crazy Quilt” and consists of several tracks: Rotary Saw, Hammer Driving Nails, Water Dripping into Bucket,” “Drums,” and “Music Box.” The last two tracks are undeniably “music”—though I’ll wager they didn’t crack the Billboard charts—and I find the Rotary Saw track not unlike being subjected to the sound of a rotary saw. In fact, if ever I put this side on again, on purpose, it would be justifiable for friends to express concern. Side A, however, is another matter. I love thunderstorms, and this sounds exactly like a thunderstorm, and it’s framed by birds and frogs, and a train rolls through somewhere around the halfway point! There are some pretty good liner notes about serious techie audiophiliac issues, but also composed with a lot of dry humor. It also reveals that the storm was recorded in Milwaukee in June, 1952—and I find it kind of thrilling to know that. The cover looks pretty homemade and it is beautiful. It includes an 8 x 8 inch, what looks like a woodcut, rendering of a storm, with racing clouds, a bent tree, and some really frightening, hairy lightning—all in silver and blue on black. I found myself staring at it while listening to the storm track, and I have to say, I’ll take this over drugs any day. I got a real evening’s entertainment out of the dollar or so this record cost me.

23
Dec
17

The Band “Music from Big Pink”

I can never keep track of the relationship of this record and The Basement Tapes—which came first, or why—which songs are on both records—I think exact same versions, right? It’s way too tiring to look it up and read about it all, even if I did have use of the internet, but I believe this is their first record, and it’s maybe their best—even though I think they were incredibly young at this time—in the pictures on the inside cover they look like teenagers (except for Garth Hudson, who was probably born looking old)—they sound like mature old-timers, which I think was kind of their thing—and they kind of are taking on that look, too—not quite pulling it off—which was kind of the hippie thing of the time.

Anyway, every single song on this record is so incredibly strong that it’s kind of mind-blowing; could these guys possibly have come from another planet, or just Canada? The playing is pretty amazing, too, and the way it’s recorded. It’s one of my favorite records ever for the drum sound. The singing is otherworldly. What did people think when this album came out? Did they think it was put on Earth by angels? I bet it was not thought of highly enough… I bet decades had to pass for it to be fully appreciated. I bet it’s still not fully appreciated. I bet it’s terminally underrated. Not by me. On a list of the 10 best rock and roll records of all time, this one comes in at like number one.

Yet, in spite of having the most pretentious band name of all time, they are terminally under-appreciated—why? I have a few theories. One is: they forever have confused people; they are all from Canada, except for one guy, who is from the South. They are all songwriters, but you can’t really guess which songs they wrote, because they’re not necessarily the ones they’re singing. Three of them are good enough singers to front their own band, but maybe the best songwriter, Robbie Robertson, can’t sing (yet, there was an Andy Warhol 15 minutes there, at some point, where he was the coolest person on Earth). They are more known for being Dylan’s backup band than they are for being “The Band” (but every time I see old Dylan footage, I’m always looking for the fleeting images of these guys). On one hand, it’s a HUGE plus to have songs written and co-written by Dylan on your debut album (not to mention the cover painting)—but as well, they’ll always be in the shadow of Dylan. I’ll always be in the shadow of Dylan. You, reader, despite your lofty aspirations, will always be in the shadow of Dylan. That motherfucker casts a bigger shadow than Jesus and Godzilla combined.

25
Jul
17

Archie Ulm “Archie Ulm at the Yamaha EX-42”

This is apparently a private pressing record from around 1975 of this organ wizard from Milwaukee, Archie Ulm, playing some supper club standards on the Yamaha EX-42, accompanied by percussionist Paul Hergert and guitarist Ar Kriegel. I don’t know anything about the Yamaha EX-42—“an electronic marvel” without looking it up, and I’m not going to (it’s an early 70s big-ass electric organ) which he plays, as well as an ARP Odyssey and a Carnaval electric piano. (The cover photo, of Archie sitting behind a bank of keyboards, is pretty great.) This whole record is a pleasure to listen to, just because he’s taking the organ a little (and sometimes a lot) beyond what you’ve heard anyone do (I think… well, I haven’t heard everyone… but then everyone hasn’t heard this). It’s kind of unfortunate that a lot of songs here are popular numbers (“The Hustle,” “Pink Panther”) that I kind of wish I’d never have to hear again, under any circumstances. (Though I don’t mind so much the “Rockford Files” and “NBC Mystery Movie” Themes.) When he goes off from the familiar parts of the songs, though, it’s pretty amazing and makes you think it’d be great if we could just hear his own compositions, or better quality, less cheesy standards. (“The Cat” is a standout; and he doesn’t hold back.) But you’ve got to make the people happy, I guess, and for some reason the people get nervous when they’re not hearing something they recognize. The cool thing is, because he is apparently satisfying the popular familiarity button, he sneaks in quite a lot of playing that should be making people nervous—because it’s completely insane.




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