Posts Tagged ‘1971

01
Mar
19

Mountain “Flowers of Evil”

The guitars on this record just won’t quit. They may well outlast the demise of almost everything else on the Earth. In some future time, just after the cockroaches have even finally all died out, those guitars might still be going. But it’s just one guitar, right? Do I have to look this up? Sometimes I want to deal with a record just at face value, which is why I so enjoyed staying at various cabins in the “North Woods” where the internet is just a rumor, yet they have an old hi-fi and a stack of moldy LPs. This one has everything you need, pictures of the four guys in the band and simple descriptions of the instruments they play (guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keyboards), songwriting credits, some lyrics, but like a lot of older records, no date. (It’s from 1971.) Great front cover black and white band photo—the guys wearing their best stuff, but trying to look casual, and like the photographer was able to expend exactly one photo. On one guy’s shirt it says “Gerken”—but I think that was written there by the former owner of this LP—Gerken is a company that moves dirt from point A to point B. Or it could be a misspelling of gherkin, a type of pickle. Or it could be an obscure weed reference. Or the former owner’s name. At any rate, any of those things could explain the condition of this record (dirt, weed, pickle juice)—it’s close to unplayable. There are also liner notes explaining how side two—which is live—is really long (almost half an hour) which—considering that it was not really recommended making LPs that long due to diminishing sound quality— is really not all that bad sounding.

There has been nearly a half century of guitar heavy rock played, recorded, performed, and practiced by too-loud-neighbors since this record came out, which is a staggering amount, enough to sink the world and float the Titanic. So it’s kind of hard to appreciate what was likely the mind-blowing and groundbreaking nature of the hard rock this band was playing—but it’s just really difficult to put into perspective. I could probably enjoy it more if the record didn’t sound like it was being simultaneously murdered as it played. To be fair, I looked for some stuff on the internet, and there is some really great old footage of them playing live, and I very much enjoyed that. The guitar player and singer, Leslie West, is a big, sweaty guy, and really fun to watch play. I always love when a guitar player makes his guitar look like both a toy, a weapon, and an unwanted growth he’s trying to eradicate. I also really like certain guy’s names that are more often women’s names—not the unisex names, but the ones that kind of throw you off, like Leslie and Tracy. I don’t know why that’s important—and why names are important—but it is and they are.

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20
Feb
19

Jefferson Airplane “Bark”

The art department did a good job on this album cover—it totally fooled me. I am not that familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s discography, so when I saw this odd album cover with a fish head, I thought that someone had scrawled “BARK” on the cover just so they’d remember what it was—but it’s actually the album cover—very good job of replicating a black marker scrawl. (I was not, however, fooled into thinking it was an actual fish wrapped in paper—if that was the case I would have smelled it long before seeing it.) So apparently the original album cover looked like a shopping bag (or was a shopping bag) brown paper, with a “JA” logo meant to replicate the “A&P” grocery store logo—which would mean very little to people now—I barely remember that logo. Or maybe they still use it? Are there still A&P stores? Anyway, it’s a weird choice, but these were out-of-control San Francisco hippies and releasing an album in a shopping bag is probably very mild compared to the ideas they probably did have but someone with relative sanity stepped in. So I don’t know when this glossy replica of a fish wrapped in paper came out, but it’s a really good album cover, and even better is the lyrics “flyer” inside (in pink, what is meant to be, I guess, butcher paper). Each song title gets a different font (this is long before “font abuse”—and subsequent font sanity). It’s nice to have the lyrics, very readable (it folds out to 12×24 inches)—but then even better, on the other side is a kind of concrete poetry thing, titled with crudely cut out paper bag paper letters: “What you can do with the bag”—below which are about 100 or so suggestions about what you can do with the bag. I can’t type it all out since I don’t have the “good speed” they had when they composed this thing, but I’ll read over it quickly and tell you my favorite(s).

Fans of this band’s history will probably correct me, but this seems to be a later version of JA—some band members changed, I guess—but still well before the dreaded “Jefferson Starship.” I’m wondering now if they’re really dreaded (my memory, of back then, was dreading them—but now I do like a lot of stuff I once hated). But what I’m wondering is if they almost called themselves something else, like what’s between an airplane and a starship? Maybe a dirigible? Could they nearly have been temporarily named Jefferson Zeppelin? I was playing this record the other night and I felt like either it was really fucked up (the recording, or the actual vinyl) or my stereo was fucked up, or my needle, maybe, or maybe it was me because the apartment was 80 degrees. Or maybe a young Tom Cruise was in here fucking with my equalizer. It seems like every song was written by a different band member, but I’m not going to go through them one by one. I’m not going to say life it too short for that—it isn’t—but February is too short. The one song that kind of freaks me out though is “Feel So Good”—and I can’t really put my finger on why, but it seems to bring back these strong memories of how intimidating the Seventies were—when everyone over the age of 12 had a moustache, and people wore hats and scarfs, and the cool guys had little leather satchels tied to their belts—and what was in them? Suddenly everyone was several inches taller (shoes and hair) and you could see the ocean in their blue eyes, and they knew something they weren’t going to tell you, and somehow there just seemed to be more people than ever with wide gaps between their two front teeth. All that from that one song, for no good reason, either.

I really do like this record—I don’t mean to be negative about the fucking up sound—I actually like that, a lot. Just to be clear. (But is she singing in German on this one song, over a background of tortured ghosts?) And I like the all-over-the-place-ness of the record—which maybe has something to do with all the songwriters present—it’s like everybody gave it a shot. Maybe there’s a song by the guy who brings the acid over, and one by the guy at the deli. Some day I’ll put all these JA names together, in a proper order, and associate them with faces and instruments. I love the scenes of them playing at Altamont in Gimme Shelter (1970)—they are all both really intense and like just normal cats. Plus, didn’t one of them get punched by one of the Hell’s Angels? And then I’m especially fascinated with Grace Slick—even through all the concert footage, records, and reading about her, I could never get a sense of what she’s all about—like she’s just outside any kind of personal reference (comparison with another person). Maybe I’m wrong about that, and she’s just kind of like a cross between someone and someone else, but I guess I want to believe she’s alone in Grace Slick-ville. This record is kind of growing on me, actually—I might have to write about it again, later, and I can do that, because I make the rules here. Here’s a fine example of what you can do with the bag: “Call it Chester… call it loose… call it nester… call it Goose.”

16
Feb
19

Traffic “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”

This is another band that I always mixed up with every other band from the late Sixties and early Seventies whose name was one, everyday word. This is a really enjoyable listening record, though, and it would probably have been in my high school record collection if I was a little older, but in 1971 I was still in my bubblegum period. Who am I fooling, I’m still in my bubblegum period. I believe I wrote about an earlier Traffic record on this site—but I’m not going back to look—maybe later. This version of the band is a six-piece, and they use the variety of instrumentation well (the usual, plus really prominent additional percussion, saxophone, and flute)—while managing to keep a fairly minimal sound, which means no one is horribly overplaying. No one sounds the least bit in a hurry, either, which I quite appreciate at this juncture. There are only six songs on this record, the shortest being over 4 minutes. The longest, which is 12 minutes, is the title track, and it’s such a nice song, it feels half as long, and I could have listened to it twice as long. I have no idea what the hell it means or what it’s about, and after reading something on the internet about where the title comes from and what it refers to, I still have no idea.

The album cover is another die-cut atrocity (pretty much all album covers that aren’t the usual square shape are atrocities)—it’s supposed to look like a cube, but of course wouldn’t even fool or impress even the most stoned among us. If you’ve seen one painting depicting a blue sky with misty clouds above a black and white checkered floor, you’ve seen them all. I probably made one myself in high school art class. Even on back, with the band photo taking up most of it, the dumb black and white checked floor cuts their feet off (just not really thought-out at all). Most likely everyone who has ever rented an efficiency apartment in a college town has had that very black and white checkered floor, and depending on your level of making peace with the past, just this graphic will either depress you or fully nauseate you. The only good thing is that the inner sleeve (in this used version) is still intact and matches the shape of the cover. Also, the band photo on back (should have just been the cover) is pretty amusing, the six guys standing there, either looking at the photographer, or each other, or laughing, or serious—seems like it could have been the first of this style of band photo—though it was probably the ten-thousandth, or so (and of course has been emulated millions of times since). One odd detail, the guy who is either the sax player or is just wearing that sax strap around his neck to attract girls (I’ve been guilty of that myself) is holding, in his left hand, what looks like a cordless phone—you know, an old one, gray plastic, with a long antenna—something that’s beyond dated now, of course, but did it even exist in 1971?—I guess it had to, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but I sure don’t know what.

Side two starts out with the one bummer song on the record, which made me feel like I was watching the local blues rock band at the county fair (not a lot of fond memories there—the fair yes, the bands no). The last song on this side is another extended one, and it starts out with a really inane art rock feel, with the singer repeating “rainmaker, rainmaker” over and over until you expect to see little fairies dancing in your room—and then just when you’re about to throw a shoe at the turntable, they suddenly shift gears and it goes all abstract and dissonant to the point where you think it’s just falling apart—but then settles into a moderately funky groove—it plays out the rest of the song like that, fading out way too soon, actually. I really wish the whole second side would have just been this for 26 minutes. These guys—when they’re not piddling with the wizard bullshit—can play.

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

05
Aug
18

Link Wray “Link Wray”

Maybe this is the first Link Wray record, as it doesn’t have a title other than “Link Wray”—though, didn’t he put out records in the 50s?—and this looks seriously 70s, but there’s no date on it (the only thing I’m going to look up, once I’m reunited with the internet, is the dates each of these records came out). Anyway, here is another reminder to look more deeply into the early work of people you feel you have an idea of what they’re about; I’ve always been a Link Wray fan based on the few songs I know, and his sound, but really know very few recordings or anything about him. This record is on Polydor so he must have been well known enough, plus the cover is unusual in that it’s his head in profile, but die-cut along his face, and it opens that way. I thought the record companies reserved the fancy, die-cut covers for well-established gold sellers. Upon opening, a small photo is revealed—of a ramshackle structure, crudely painted with the sign, “Wray’s Shack 3 Track”—which is, according to the credits, the studio where the record was recorded, in Accokeek, Maryland. It would have been interesting to have been a neighbor to Link Wray and “The Family”—the credited musicians, several of which have the last name Wray. One name, Steve Verroca, plays drums, and also has half the songwriting credits. It makes me wonder when, if, and how the decision was made to call the band “Link Wray” and not something more band-like, such as “The Family” or “The Accokeek Noise Ordinance.”

09
Dec
17

Townes Van Zandt “High, Low and In Between”

At some point a decade and a computer or two ago I downloaded a metric ton of Towns Van Zandt records on my computer, and then for like a decade of playing random iTunes it seemed like the “shuffle” had some kind of TVZ preference—almost like it was a bug (these things MUST get built in by bored computer dudes, right?) So I’d get like about 25 percent TVZ, it seemed (I didn’t actually keep track and calculate actual percentage—because I’m not crazy). It got to the point where it was making me hate TVZ and deleting these songs, when what I should have done is stop listening to shuffle and listen to more records. I knew that, but still have a bad taste in my mouth, so it was like eating spinach (assuming you don’t like spinach) to put this record on. Naturally, listening to TVZ on vinyl is an entirely different experience, and I kind of feel like those people who eventually tried spinach and found it to be wonderful. But maybe this is just a good record, too—it seems to be a reissue of a 1971 album (if I’m reading my Roman numerals correctly) on Metamucil-colored vinyl, and the cover photo is presumably of TVZ (but it could be anyone) (snapped through the dirty window of a pickup truck with an Instamatic and no flashcubes)—asked to pose next to the back wall of a 7-Eleven while taking out the trash after second shift.

There is a liner note insert—though I’m not sure if that’s technically correct (maybe liner notes have to be on the back album cover and be possible to read without a magnifying glass and a day off)—by Colin Escott, who, if he hasn’t already, should write a book about Townes Van Zandt—he’s got a good start, here. It looks like some interesting stuff, though, and I’ll read it later. Right now I’m enjoying this record on a sunny Saturday morning, so cold out that they had to use the Kelvin scale. This is without a doubt my favorite TVZ record I’ve heard to date (though, I don’t know if you can count the virus-infused stuff in my iTunes, anyway). Good songs, all written by TVZ—good playing on all—and his voice has a happy and carefree quality, but not without the undercurrent of sadness you always hear from him. For some reason there’s something about the quality of his singing that always makes me think of him as a friend.

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.




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