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Gibson Bros. “The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing”

There was a time (in the late 1980s, I guess) when the Gibson Bros were my very favorite band, and I suppose one moves on, but I’m still quite fond of them. I have a number of their records on vinyl, CD, and cassette. This 1990 release might be their most bizarre record, and funniest. It’s all over the place, from an intro by a radio DJ that sounds kind of manufactured, but might be real—as well as some other collage songs that seem to be constructed from roughly recorded bits, and found sound pieces. I’m not going to try to explain the Gibson Bros for people who aren’t familiar with them—it would be too daunting of a task, and I’d get it wrong and just confuse you. You’d be better off getting confused directly from the source—that is if you can find this record (there’s always the internet). It’s a great record, at any rate, and would be the perfect one to clear the room at parties—I’d be all about that if I was still going to, or throwing, parties. You put this on to find out what people are made of.

The two “Bros”—at this point—are Jeff Evans and Don Howland (who both have gone on since to similarly hard core, country blues roots music that is seriously informed by punk rock—apart from each other). They are pictured on the hilarious album cover, sitting with 40s of Colt 45 and Olde English 800, looking through the legs of a stripper, who is looming over them. It looks exactly like a low-budget imagining of a stripper bar scene, which it is—meant to illustrate the title song, which is nearly as funny as the cover. The two sides are subtitled “Homes” and “Abroad”—the latter being live recordings (though I think the first side also has live tracks, or who knows what). Anyway, taken as a whole, this album really captures the essence of the Gibson Bros—especially the more bizarre and inscrutable spectrum of their art. I can’t really pick out a favorite track on this record—I find it works best as a whole. Also, of note, Jon Spencer plays on the live side. Between the three of those guys, you’ve got a lot of bands and almost-band projects that approach the blues in a way that some purists find offensive or annoying—but I really appreciate, as I think their their take on the music is to get at the essence of it by finding the insanity at the heart of the best of what’s out there—with equal parts dumbness and intelligence, and never too far from humor.


The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz

This is a 1973 box-set of six records, a nice overview of jazz history, with a 50 page booklet. I mean, it would be sad if you were a jazz fan and it was the only record you had—I mean, if it was the only music available (most people have no records). I bought this at a library book sale for nothing—not a library copy, but one donated to the library, virtually unplayed. It’s fun to listen to from end to end—a few of the artists I know very little about—and it also has a few of my favorite recordings. The most exiting thing for me about finding it, though, is my personal history with this collection.

In 1981, I moved into my first apartment, in Sandusky, Ohio, an old place across from the public library. I had no TV, maybe a radio, and an old record player. I made a point of not moving my record collection with me, for some reason—I guess I had the idea of reinventing myself (at the age of 21!)—or maybe I wanted to proceed with a fictional, experimental persona—which I guess is pretty much the same thing. I didn’t want my my record collection (which I stored at my parents’ house) to dictate my identity. When I turned 21, I began work in a full-time job, and every paycheck I bought a different kind of liquor. I cooked, and drank, and started work on a novel, while only listening to music from the public library—trying out a lot of stuff I had no idea about.

I checked out this jazz box-set and played it over and over, trying to remember who was who. Most of the artists I was hearing for the first time. Most notable of impact on me were the Thelonious Monk tracks. I may have heard a bit of his music before, but never made note of it, but he’s prominent here, with six tracks, the first being “Misterioso”—which was one of those musical experiences—you might only have a dozen in your lifetime this big—where everything changes. I’d never heard anything like that. I would never be the same. Nothing would ever top that, for me… except, three songs later… his version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” with his quintet—and then I believe my head melted. What was that? What was that I just heard? Were you even allowed to do that? If Thelonious Monk was allowed to play that song that way (I mean, it’s the Smithsonian!), then what wasn’t possible? I haven’t been the same sense, and for that I’m grateful.


The Cramps “Psychedelic Jungle”

I use a random number generator to pick what record to write about next, and today it landed on this one, which is highly appropriate for Halloween! (I don’t make this stuff up, as much as it might sound like it. Alphabetical, right there between Crabby Appleton and David Crosby.) Actually, I was surprised I hadn’t written about it yet—well, I have, but not on this site. It is one of my 10 favorite records of all time, and I don’t mean the 100 that I say are my top 10. It’s definitely the best LP to come out in the wasteland of the Eighties (1981). The album cover is just a fisheye photograph of the band in a spooky attic (or your mind) but it’s just kind of the perfect album cover. The first time I saw The Cramps (can’t remember the year or where!) is one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. As a band, they’re basic and inevitable, as if they have always existed, generation after generation after generation. It’s hard to describe the position they occupy in my brain. It’s like they are extreme at the edges, and there’s no middle ground. On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 and 10 being both the best and worst) they get all 1’s and 10’s. Not for the squares.

This is their second LP, but it was the first one I heard, and I remember when—it was one of those experiences that are rare—when you hear something and can’t believe what you’re hearing—it makes no sense based on previous knowledge. Ron Metz (drummer for The Human Switchboard) played it for us in his apartment in Kent, Ohio, summer of 1981. He found it baffling—this is when punk and new wave was getting faster and poppier and louder—and this was the slowest, most droning, most minimal thing I’d ever heard. Ron put the record on at 45 RPM, just to try it, and at that speed it sounded like normal music. But it’s not normal, and that’s what makes it great. You don’t want to get to know these people. They sound like they might legitimately drink your blood—they must be either a cult, on drugs, or some form of un-human—likely all of those, to some degree. Or maybe it’s all an act, in which case, it’s more fun to just be scared.

There are 14 songs on this record and they’re all excellent. Half originals, and half covers—by people (until I heard this) I’d never heard of. I couldn’t tell which were which, and for years paid no attention to that. It all sound like The Cramps, and no one else. The originals are by Poison Ivy Rorschach and Lux Interior. She chews gum while playing guitar, and I maintain is the coolest person in the history of rock’n’roll. Lux Interior was a local guy, from near Kent, apparently from a normal family, if such a thing exists. He definitely went over to some version of the other side—that shadowy, depraved region of no return. Nick Knox was the most minimally extreme drummer I’ve ever heard. And then, on this record, Kid Congo Powers joined them—the only person to ever play guitar with The Cramps and The Gun Club and Nick Cave (the Rolling Stones probably should have hired him).

“Caveman” and “Can’t Find My Mind” were always my favorites—two of the most druggy extreme songs you’ll ever hear. “The Natives Are Restless” is almost shocking in how upbeat it is—the most danceable song about cannibalism I’ve ever heard. I think ultimately my my favorite part of this record are the first two songs, which—both fit the whole perfectly—and sound like nothing else on the album. It starts with “Green Fuz” (a cover, originally by Green Fuz, naturally). And then “Goo Goo Muck” (Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads—it’s very much worth finding that version!), which has my favorite guitar solo of all time. The way those two songs work together, the atmosphere they create, and the world they introduce you to, and the way it sets up the rest of the record… It’s kind of like reliving, all at once, the first time you did all those bad things that are going to send you straight to hell.


Eddie Schwartz “No Refuge”

This record came out in 1981, in an uncomfortable space between classic rock and new wave—which reminds me of people like Graham Parker and Joe Jackson and Herman Brood & his Wild Romance—nothing wrong with all that stuff, I just can’t listen to it. All I know is when I see any date after the mid-Seventies, the odds grow exponentially greater, the later it is, that it’s going to be unlistenable. The title song does sound like it could have been the title track for a movie with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, thus adding, at least, an element of comic relief. A quick glace at the internet tells me that’s just my imagination, but also that Eddie Schwartz wrote Pat Benatar’s 1980 single “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”—a song that always made me uncomfortable—but it’s catchy, famous, part of the larger culture—so that’s impressive. His voice reminds me of someone, but I can’t place it—it’s an interesting voice. He’s Canadian, and I’m guessing you could have seen some energetic live show back when the record came out—if I was there in the club, in close proximity with a woman I had a crush on, was 21, and drank enough Crown Royal, I might have gotten emotional over songs like, “Spirit of the Night,” “Tonight,” “Heart on Fire,” “Auction Block,” and “All Our Tomorrows.”


Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra “Town Hall Concert Plus”

I’m not sure where I picked up this record—I’m guessing they pressed a million of them and you can find it in a thrift store—and if you do, buy it. It sounds great—even this copy, that looks like a truck drove over it, is very fine. This is a live Louis Armstrong record from 1957, that doesn’t really sound live—I mean that in a good way—a lot of live records strike me as a kind of compromise—in that you’re not there seeing and hearing the performance live—and the sound isn’t as good as a studio record. I’m just not a fan of the “live record”—with a few notable and major exceptions. It’s funny, I was just out walking and a guy rode past me on a bicycle, playing music so loud I could make it out, and it was: “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!” Ha, that’s the part I heard (I suppose the guy could have had, like, a loop of that playing, the weirdo.) That’s an Emerson, Lake & Palmer record, which I believe is a triple album, with songs that are way, way too long. I make fun of that band, a lot, but I did see them live once, in Cleveland, late Seventies, I think—and they were pretty great. It’s not every day you get to see a guy act like he’s having sex with a Hammond B3 organ.

That was a diversion, but anyway, as good as some of these live rock acts were in the Seventies, I’m sure it would have really been unforgettable seeing Louis Armstrong, at any point in his career. You might not directly hear it, but all popular and rock music owes everything to him. All good songs on this record, and the orchestra—all excellent. From the credits, it seems to be a mishmash of live performances—but it comes across a pretty uniform. Maybe I should read the extensive liner notes. Half of the text is a quoted introduction by Fred Robbins, when he introduced Louis Armstrong and orchestra at a Town Hall show in 1947, NYC. It’s a pretty inspired statement—part of what he said is similar to what I just said, above! So, six of the songs are recordings from that concert, and the rest are various other numbers—they seem to be well selected. His fine rendition of “Pennies from Heaven,” that starts out the second side, it occurred to me, is so great, you could drop it into any movie, or any situation, at any point, and it would both change everything and make it somehow better. And that includes my afternoon, today.


Charley Collins “Charley Collins & Friends”

“What can you say about Charley Collins?” That’s what it says on the back of this 1974 LP on the Royal American label. It goes on to say he came to Nashville in 1967, and lists the people he played with, some big names in country music. The black and white cover has that flash-photo crime look, kind of harsh. I presume it’s Charley Collins—he’s wearing a suit and tie and is sitting on an iron bench, painted white—taken outdoors at night. He looks like he might be your pastor, or high school principal. I put it on, not expecting much, because I’m not a fan of bluegrass music, sorry to say—but by the second song, this record has won me over. Even though it’s jaunty and twangy, as bluegrass music is, it immediately gets to me—I guess there’s just a realness to it, and a soul, that I can hear right through my speakers. I guess what’s not so important is the kind of music you like, or your preconceived “standards”—what really matters is the music itself, and you might find yourself in love with any music, even that which you don’t understand.

I especially like the songs with singing, which is Charley, along with J.T. Grey, and “Oswald.” There are credits on the back, along with eight small photos of the musicians on this record, in the studio. As far as I can tell, they’re all first-rate. I notice there is a signature, in black pen, “Oswald”—under the photo of Pete “Oswald” Kirby. It’s signed, nice! So I looked this guy up—he was also known as “Bashful Brother Oswald” (born, Beecher Ray Kirby), a musician from Tennessee who popularized the use of resonator guitar and Dobro. He played with Roy Acuff (as did Charley Collins) and was a session musician. I got that from the, you know, internet. He did record a couple of solo records, apparently, so I’ll keep an eye out for them, as well as more by Charley Collins. I mean, I have no idea where I got this one, even. It’s like someone breaks into my apartment at night and puts them in with the other records, which, I suppose, is better than the other way around.


Jackie Gleason “The Torch with the Blue Flame”

I grew up thinking of Jackie Gleason as this corny guy on TV, until I saw The Hustler (1961), after which I could never forget that complex, melancholy Minnesota Fats character. I started noticing these “Jackie Gleason presents” mood music records in thrift stores a couple of decades back and realized they are actually really good. They also have some seriously insane titles (like, “Opiate D’Amour” and “Music to Change Her Mind”), and great covers (some would be worth buying for the cover alone), and there are a lot of them. I used to have a few. The cover of this one is a striking photograph of a young woman with flame-colored hair and a blue dress I can’t even begin to describe, reclining on a scratchy blue couch and satin blue pillow with a bundle of what one can only assume are love letters. I was immediately attracted to this record because (besides the cover photo) it’s a little odd, a UK pressing, with a very flimsy, glossy cover, and really heavy vinyl. There are four more songs than on the US version, I believe. I could play this record all day if I had turntable that kept repeating it. It’s got to be the most smooth and mellow record I have. It’s just really low key, but still has personality. There’s some really nice vibes on most songs, some muted horns, and just a nostalgic, romantic feel, overall. A lot of songs I know, some I don’t, but sound familiar. If I ever start dating again, I’ll be all set—all I need is a full bar, a round waterbed, and a love-light.


Isaac Hayes “…to be Continued”

I picked up this record recently—I’d seen it before, but thought it was an Isaac Hayes jigsaw puzzle. Just kidding. The cover is made to look like a puzzle that hasn’t been completed (pieces missing), while the back is the finished version. It came out in 1970, a year before the “Shaft” soundtrack record that everyone has. It starts out with a quiet monologue, very atmospheric (there are crickets chirping), that sounds like it could have inspired Barry White. Then, my favorite song on the record, “Our Day Will Come”—which I didn’t recognize at first, this is such a super dramatic version of it. Issac Hayes does not hold back on the drama. This song was recorded by a lot of people—I looked it up and got sidetracked. It was recorded by everyone from Ruby & the Romantics to the version that played at your wedding. I haven’t heard them all, but I’m guessing this one is right up there. Next, there’s an 11 minute version of “The Look of Love,” another song I love. I grew up in a time with Burt Bacharach songs playing all the time, it seemed like, and I’m still fond of those songs, but I like the Isaac Hayes versions of Bacharach/David songs as much as anyone’s.

Side two starts out with “Ike’s Mood,” which then runs into a 9 minute version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”—one of the most recorded songs of all time. It’s funny, this record has only two vinyl, song division grooves in it, one on each side—so it’s like a four song album! The length of the songs kind of make it radio-unfriendly, I suppose, though of course they’d release, shortened, single versions of songs. I wonder if there were, like, late-night, soul stations in Memphis who would play the long versions? I was 10 years old at this time, which would have been more or less the time I went around with a little, plastic transistor AM radio. The music station I could get in was CKLW out of Detroit, or Windsor, a top 40 station that played a lot of Motown. I remember the jingle “CKLW—the Motor City!”—and I remember it being very pop oriented, short, energetic songs, though it was also the first place I heard The Temptations “Ball of Confusion,” which felt epic, but was actually only four minutes long (I bought the 45, and this was also 1970). Anyway, I’ll have to try to look into what radio stations were playing what—like the long versions of these songs—in the early Seventies. I don’t know where you’d hear this record. You’ll hear it, now, in my apartment, if you come over on a date (that is, if I ever start dating again), because this has got to be the ultimate make-out record.


Glen Campbell “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

I was not a fan of Glen Campbell as a kid, as he was all over the radio, and I’m sure I first heard the song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” every morning on the kitchen AM radio while I choked down my Crunch Berries and dreaded the day ahead. So this great song, by one of my favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb, had a real hill to climb. Grade school, 8 a.m., Crunch Berries, over-played county song. Now, of course, I love the early morning, am nostalgic for grade school and the kitchen radio, and somewhere along the line I became a fan of country music and Glen Campbell. Can’t eat the Berries. I suppose the first time I realized this was a great song was when I heard Nick Cave do it—a super over-the-top version. (There’s a song on this record called “Bad Seed”—I wonder if that influenced his band name?) Not long after that, I heard another fine version by The Mad Lads, on this huge Stax collection I had. And then I heard Isaac Hayes’ amazing 19 minute version, which might be my favorite at this point—but you know, I want to hear them all (there’s like a million).

I’m not crazy about this album, but it’s okay—some of is a bit country on the corny side for my taste. “Hey Little One” is a nice song, as is “My Baby’s Gone.” I can do without the Paul Simon. If you can’t find this record in a thrift store, you aren’t looking. I like the over, Glen with his guitar case on a bench in a bus station (on his way to Phoenix). In the picture on the back, he looks more ready for lunch than sad, as intended. But he’s got a wristwatch with one of those bands that are wider than the watch face—remember those? You might have to be 50 or older to remember that style, but that reminds me that I did have such a watch band—they kind of seem absurd now, but cool, as well. Of course, this was before watch faces got as big as dinner plates. I wonder if I could find one of those, though… Just shopped for 15 seconds—Etsy, $53. Okay! (Next time I see a dude around town with one, I’m gonna stop and talk.)


Albert Hammond “It Never Rains in Southern California”

The first two songs really remind me of some old Cat Stevens songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s just that I haven’t been able to listen to a few of those songs since they were playing all the time at at job I had in 1982. No fault of either of these guys. The third song reminds me of a Mott the Hoople song, at least the beginning of it—so I like that better—and the line: “California tastes so good/like coffee should/I can’t put it down” speaks to me. The next one is a corny folk-rock song that I find a little annoying. The last song then, starts out: “Anyone here in the audience/with a pad that I can crash in?” It’s a begging song!—from the perspective of the “poor musician.” First verse asking for shelter, second for food, and third for love—though it’s hard to be sure if that means “love” or merely sex. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume he’s asking for a place crash, something to eat, maybe some booze or drugs, hot sex, and true love. I mean, if you’re putting it in a song, why not? If you get half of that, it was worth it.

On the other side, then, is the hit, the title song. So, this is another song that brings back eating cereal at the breakfast table before school, this would be Junior High or so. I had no idea Albert Hammond is who was responsible for another of these 1973, Ohio, AM radio, 7:30 a.m. flashbacks. Plus, I never had any idea what it means: “It never rains in Southern California… but it pours.” Offhand, I’d say it means it’s always sunny, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a broken heart—but I’m not even sure, because there’s a part about not getting enough to eat, again. Then there’s a song called “Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels” which is about exactly that. Then “Down by the River,” which is not the Neil Young song from a few years earlier. This one is jaunty (sounds kind of like Tommy Roe) but I suppose that’s ironic because the lyrics are actually pretty grim—it’s an environmentalist song, and doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The next song is kind of beautiful, but lyrically grim, again—I’m not sure if it’s about a relationship, or general problems with being a person, or maybe trying to cover both at the same time. The last song is quiet and melancholy, nice—it sounds a bit like a Beatles song that slipped out the back door. Overall, I feel like this is an impressive work, even as dated as some of it is, and there’s some fine musicians playing, and I like that I could spend more time trying to figure where he’s coming from on some of the songs, but for whatever reason, I find some of it unbearable. I’m sure this is someone’s favorite record of all time, and I don’t mean to say you’re wrong—it’s just that it’s simultaneously too weird and not weird enough for me, if that makes any sense.

I knew nothing about Albert Hammond, so I thought this record would fill in a bit of that missing part of my past—and it does a good job of that. It’s got one of those covers that annoyingly opens sideways, so that you can tack it vertically to your wall—just in case you want a tall, black and white photo if this good-looking, kind of hairy, guy with his shirt open, a small medallion, and leather pants that just keep going. So the internet tells me he’s from England and this was like his first record, hadn’t had a big hit at the time they recorded it, so some of these laments about being a hungry musician very well might be literal (and if you want to take it metaphorically—about love—aren’t we all). He’s only in his seventies now, and still out there playing, sounds like, at press time. He recorded a lot of records, wrote a lot of songs, and I’m sure has fans all over the world. I’m glad I could finally shine some light on this missing piece of the big puzzle. What you’ll find, I think, is generally—if you keep looking—is that you (meaning all of us) don’t know half of about 99.9% of the world. Old records are out there, and they’re for you.

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November 2020