Archive Page 2

29
Aug
17

Sarah Vaughan “Send In The Clowns”

As much as I like Sarah Vaughan, and as much as I like clowns, and as much as I like the year 1974 (when this was released), you’d think it’d be an automatic home run. But no. First of all, I was never crazy about the song, “Send in the Clowns,” and here is a kind of cloying version that sounds more like the lame 1980s than ’74 (and interestingly, Sarah Vaughan also released a record called Send In The Clowns in 1981). The very next song, though, is a nice soul song (I’m not going to list all the songs here, but okay, I especially like this one: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”). Then the next one sounds like it could accompany a Blaxploitation movie. The next one is another smooth soul number. Then another one that’s more smooth than soul, but it’s okay. Side two is all really pretty good, though the last song is just way too much—it sounds like something from a live review in a very big supper club or small casino. It’s not pleasant. But really, the rest of the record is growing on me. I think this is one of those rare, but not unheard of, “skip the first and last song” LPs.

The album cover, put out by Mainstream Records, has the same exact picture on front and back, which I find just really unforgivable—I mean, why? You have the opportunity to put a full-color, twelve inch by twelve inch piece of art into the world—put a picture on the back of Sarah Vaughan applying makeup, or removing it, or cooking breakfast, or drinking tea, or a picture of your cat, or your kid’s art, or your laundry—anything but the same photo that’s on the front cover! The picture, of a clown, I’ve always assumed is Sarah Vaughan in clown makeup, but really it could be someone else, like maybe a clown. Anyway, as far a clowns go, it’s not too gnarly, but as far as album cover pictures go, it’s disturbingly gnarly. She’s wearing an odd clown suit, of which I think there is some significance, but I can’t find an example in the many, many, many, many clown images on the internet, so I just don’t know. Maybe someone will fill me in. She’s drinking from a straw, from a glass/cup/coconut concealed behind a paper umbrella. I don’t know, the whole combination of things is really kind of odd and unpleasant, though I can’t really put my finger on why. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Also, she’s not just a clown, but a man clown. But do clowns even have a gender? I mean, what are they, really? But anyway, this song, by Stephen Sondheim, isn’t about clowns, literally—duh. The lyrics are great, actually, but I’ve never heard a version of this song (and there’s been like a million of them?) that I liked. I don’t like the song. Maybe if there’s a version out there sung a cappella by Gilbert Gottfried, I could warm up to that.

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23
Aug
17

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin IV”

I’ve got a new random number system for picking out records to write about, by the way, so there is no other reason for me putting this one on than that, though I still do thoroughly enjoy it—one of the more overplayed rock records of all time—every time I hear it. I don’t really need to talk about the songs or the music with this one, do I? My dream would be to meet someone who has never heard this record, then play it for them a few times while we talk about it and I take notes. But in what cave am I going to meet this person? My favorite song, no hesitation, is “Misty Mountain Hop”—one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs—especially the, “Baby, baby, baby do you like it,” part.

One of the funniest things is the disagreement over the title of this 1971 LP, the band’s fourth. I’m calling it, here, Led Zeppelin IV, as that, I think, is the most common way to refer to it, and what Wikipedia calls it. Discogs, however, insists that is has no title, which I guess is technically correct, but to call something “Untitled” strikes me as asinine, and that goes for anyone who has an artwork or something without a title, because then “Untitled” becomes the title and it’s no longer untitled. So please, people, title your shit. It just occurred to me, that since I’m writing about this now, in 2017, I may as well assign it a new title, and maybe it will catch on. I’ll think about this as I proceed.

I’m sure the album cover is considered some kind of a classic album cover, but I never liked it (except for there being no words on it), but when you open it up and look at the entire composition—the bleak landscape on the left, and crumbling wall with the painting hung on it in the foreground—it’s really pretty great. So I guess in that sense, I like it, which is more than I can say for the stupid stoner drawing on the inside, with a wizard standing on a rocky cliff looking down on a town (or maybe on a small, ragged figure of indeterminate gender, in the foreground). So little have I ever cared for this drawing, I feel like this is the first time I’m really looking at it. How many bags of weed have been consumed while the intricate, unrealistic rocks have been examined for hidden images and meanings? However, I just noticed, for the first time, that little white goat, grazing on an elevated plateau. I’m pretty certain the answer to the mystery lies there.

Okay, I’ve got it. Since this might be the most “Speenish”—(i.e., my last name, as an adjective, meaning the distillation of the R. Speen essence (sometimes, though not to be, confused with patchouli and burning sage))—of all popular rock ‘n’ roll records, I’m going to officially, as of this date forward, name this record: Led Zeppelin Speen.

22
Aug
17

Tom Waits “Foreign Affairs”

This is the first Tom Waits record I ever heard in my life (though I’m sure I must have heard a song or two, here or there, somewhere, but I don’t remember). It was in the attic of 4 Costley Court, Kent, Ohio, sometime in 1983, and I put the record on but little did I know the turntable was on 45, instead of 33, and I listened to the entire first side without realizing it was on the wrong speed. So my first conscious impression of Tom Waits as a singer was that he did kind of an offensive, comic impersonation of a black, woman jazz singer. I soon realized it was the wrong speed, but even so, it took me a long time to get used this record on the correct speed. At the time I thought Tom Waits’ singing voice was among the weirdest things I’d heard on a record.

The record belonged to Tom Strange, and I bought it from him. The other thing I bought from him was his acoustic guitar, and after countless moves across and back the country, I still have and engage with them both. I’d take them both to the ends of the earth, if there was such a place. Maybe it means something, those two things. Maybe I should be dedicating my life to playing songs like these. All great songs on this record. For a long time I called it my favorite Tom Waits record, and though it no longer is my favorite, it will always have a warm place in my heart because it was the first.

The noirish black & white cover photo is TW and a mystery woman, enveloped in shadows. She’s got more rings than fingers, a cigarette, and a passport. For some reason, I realize now, I thought for years it was a bottle of Passport Scotch. I guess that just shows that my head was more into traveling via liquor than streamer ship. The back is just TW, taking over the cigarette, and in a cute pose, looking like a 25 year-old heart-breaker. The record came out in 1977, so do math if you want to. There’s a lot of really nice nightclub sounding jazz playing on this record, and Bette Midler sings on one number. The lyric sheet is typed out with no caps, and even though you can make out every word he sings, you could read the lyrics like a pulp novel if your record player was broken. “Licorice tattoo turned a gun metal blue scrawled across the shoulders of this dying town…” You get the idea. I could probably benefit by typing out the entire lyrics—it would likely be a more fruitful next few hours than the sick dreams I’ve been suffering with, through long, terrible nights. I can only hope some of this record will go into my dreams.

21
Aug
17

Lionel Hampton “Apollo Hall Concert 1954”

If you believe the title of this record, and why not, it’s a live recording of Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra from 1954 at Apollo Hall. There are some audience noises, but not so much that it’s annoying. I find live rock records almost unlistenable (except maybe in a ironic, comic way) due to the crowd noise, dumb shit said between songs, and the sped-up, adrenaline (or coke) fueled versions of songs. Maybe I’m kinder to live  jazz because I know less about it; I can’t confidently tell a good performance from a bad one, but I guess I definitely like some much more than others—performances, musicians, and songs. My dad had a lot of Lionel Hampton records (not this one, but it inspires nostalgia, nonetheless) and my parents played them, so did I, so I kind of grew up listening to him. For whatever reason, vibraphone is my favorite instrument, or second to piano. In some extensive liner notes on the back of this album cover, the anonymous author goes on and on about how popular Lionel Hampton was at this time. As familiar as I am with his music, I know little about him, so maybe I’ll read more—but some other time. The liner notes just about put me under, just now. I’m still reading, actually. It’s a good record, though the last number kind of bums me out—too loud, fast, energetic, crowd-pleasing—though I’m sure if I was seeing it live in 1954, I’d be into it. The liner notes didn’t do much for me either, though I did like this line, when talking about the importance of rhythm: “Rhythm, which exercises a similar intoxicating effect to a glass of good, heady wine, but which leaves no unpleasant hangover.”

20
Aug
17

Ramal LaMarr “Omens, Oracles & Mysticisms of Dance”

It’s not easy to find anything about Ramal LaMarr on the internet, and though, of course, I could dig deeper, I’m not sure if I want to, because I’m looking while listening to this record and starting to get the heebie-jeebies, because it sounds a lot like the music one would listen to while performing human sacrifices. I don’t know why I think that, really—I must have seen too many human sacrifice movies, though I can’t recall ever having seeing any. That level of creepiness is not my thing, really, though it’s kind of fun thinking about in relation to this record. The cover looks creepily homemade, with cut-out images of a belly dancer and a guy (Ramal?) who is wearing what looks like some kind of Satanic garb. The images seem to have been cut out with a very sharp knife (sharp enough to cut out a human heart?) and placed on a background that looks like a wall mural for a Middle-Eastern restaurant. There’s a feeling of finality to it, like the name of the album sounds like it could be his first, second, and final record all in one. Also, it’s very long, like nearly an hour in length, which… I guess if you’re in the middle of a human sacrifice you don’t want to have to stop and turn over the record.

Though maybe I’m overthinking things—the internet says he put out a couple of records after this one, and they all do have “dance” in the title; maybe this is essentially belly dance music. Which is what it sounds like, though on the sinister end of that spectrum. It’s from 1983, and the label is “Lotus”—out of Milwaukee. It’s instrumental, consisting mostly of synthesizer and percussion. Credits indicate that Ramal LaMarr plays everything except “Zills”—which are credited to “Chandrani”—who I’m guessing might be the belly dancer on the cover. Besides synth and bass, there are Arabian Drums, Kanoon, and Mbira listed. A few songs end with a really kind of creepy and ominous gong. As I listen to the whole record again while typing this, it’s actually starting to grow on me; it’s somewhat soothing on one hand, and kind of trance-inducing on another, and kind of anxiety producing on another. I know that’s three hands—thus the anxiety, I guess. But really, I could see this as really good music for writing, making love, or preparing an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner while the in-laws sit nervously in the next room sipping Brandy Alexanders, wondering just who their daughter got herself mixed up with this time.

18
Aug
17

Blood, Sweat and Tears “Child Is Father To The Man”

Blood, Sweat & Tears is one of those bands whose name is as familiar as my own, yet I know absolutely nothing about them. I picked up this record somewhere, perhaps with an idea I might remedy that situation, despite the gnarly cover with the band sitting on hard chairs in a dark room, holding on their laps, child size adult versions of themselves. It must have been a good day in 1967 at Columbia Records’ art department. It looks kind of like a nightmare you’d have after watching a good episode of “Wild, Wild West.” This band has a long history I’m not going into (or even read about) but this was their first record and Al Kooper was a major part of this venture, along with some other familiar names, and horns. Apparently they re-formed and re-formed over the years, and a version is still out there; the list of “past members” on Wikipedia looks like some kind of joke (I mean, maybe it is—there are far too many names for me to count—it’s insane), and one wonders if BS&T holds the record for most “past members.”

The music is good, I’m surprised at how much I like it. Maybe the truly frightening album cover is a difficult blow to recover from. Good playing throughout, and solid songs, most of them by Al Kooper, one by Steve Katz, and also songs by Tim Buckley, Harry Nillsonn, Randy Newman, Carole King and Gerry Goffin. My favorite, as of 10:21 this Friday night in August, is “So Much Love”—which I just listened to over three times, like I’m 12 years old or something.

 

 

07
Aug
17

The Association “Goodbye, Columbus”

This is a soundtrack record for the 1969 movie, Goodbye, Columbus which features some Association songs, much of it corny and dated sounding, and kind of great if you’re in the mood. “Dartmouth? Dartmouth!” is a groovy number if you’re looking for something for your dance party. The movie, which I’ve seen parts of on TV (worth watching, for me, because I love Richard Benjamin) is based on the book by the same name, Philip Roth’s first. I’m kind of unclear, and not patient enough to figure out, the references in the book, movie, and on one track of this record to Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State University, but it’s kind of annoying. I’ve read a couple books by Philip Roth, which were great, and I plan on reading more, but not this one. I’ve got a complex relationship with Columbus, Ohio, where I first went to college. I used to be a big fan of Ohio State football, but when I went to school there, I became disillusioned by the football players (who were now (then) the same age as me). I kind of knew this one guy, Art Schlichter, who has kind of an amazing and tragic story (well, you can read about it, if you’re interested). The Buckeye’s beloved coach, Woody Hayes, was fired that year after he punched a player on another team. The whole sports thing kind of crumbled before my eyes. Though now, almost 40 years later, despite rejecting sports on almost every level, I’m once again a huge Ohio State football fan, and anticipate the coming season more than seems healthy. I dropped out of school after two years and attempted to walk across the country. That didn’t go well. But anyway, that was my first “Goodbye, Columbus”—though later I returned to that town, following there the first woman I was in love with. At one point we were engaged to be married, but that didn’t work out, and I’ve yet to be married. So that was kind of my “Goodbye, Columbus” the second time. Though—you guessed it—I returned once again, and tried to go back to school—which didn’t go well at all, and I then swore off college. So, yeah, number 3. If I wanted to get ridiculous, I could subtitle yet another chapter of my life “Goodbye, Columbus”—about my short but intense liaison with a woman who happened to share a name with that city, movie, and this record. She was the love of my life, at least at that time—until she crushed me like a grape with wine written all over it. I guess I’ve digressed a little bit here, and kind of didn’t pay attention to side two, but I suppose it was okay, not bad music to inspire wistful reveries.




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