Posts Tagged ‘1968

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!

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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.

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.




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