Posts Tagged ‘pop

08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

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28
Apr
18

Manu Dibango “Soul Makossa”

This is a curious record because I don’t know what to make of it, but my first impression is that every song is good, while sounding nothing like the one before it, or anything I’ve had on my turntable in the last 15 days. The cover has a kind of bizarre photo (as if the camera is pointed up from the belt-buckle level) of a black guy with a striped shirt and sunglasses playing a horn (some kind of straight saxophone?) who I can only assume is Manu Dibango—who the record label tells me wrote and arranged all the songs—as well as penned the liner notes. The label is Atlantic and the year is 1972 (a year I’m quite fond of, and just got fonder). On the cover there is also a little gold box containing bold letters: “THE ORIGINAL”—implying what? That there are pale imitations out there that one must be aware of, deal with, and fend off?

The liner notes provide clues about this music we’re listening to, but I’m not going to sit here and retype the liner notes, but it’s briefly about how the music has African roots but is influenced by all kinds of other music, and ends by saying, “I am told that in the United States our music is now called “Black Ivory Soul.” So there you go. He also credits eight musicians and lists what they play and where they’re from, which includes: Guadeloupe, the River Congo, Cameroun, and France. There’s a picture on the back of five guys playing music in a place that looks like the end of a closed off tunnel.

The first song, “New Bell,” is an irresistible, driving dance number, or in my case, a song that compelled me to find something to make rhythmic percussion sounds with, which, as long as no one else is listening, I can get away with. There are some far off vocals, not in English, so it left me wondering what the title referred to. “Nights in Zeralda” perfectly evokes nights in Zeralda—which might refer to a neighborhood in Algiers, or perhaps a very special lady. “Hibiscus” really slows it down, and it’s even kind of melancholy, or dire, or at least very serious. It means you’re going to get a drink and turn the record over, for “Dangwa,” which could refer to the flower market in Manila, or someone or something I don’t know about, and I’m not going to know until someone tells me. This is a strange song, since it starts out with an intro, kind of evocative of something, and then it takes you somewhere entirely else. “Lily,” then, is a three minute story song—at least it sounds like a story—it could be about a lady—or it could be a very condensed epic movie.

“Soul Makossa” starts out sounding like a familiar James Brown song, then doesn’t, and it’s just a really happy, four and a half minute repetitive, funk, dance number, with more of this very crystal clear sax (it’s on every song). I really like the sound of this horn—it’s hard to explain what’s so good about it—it’s fairly obvious sounding, yet there’s a little subtle something, maybe some kind of blatant feeling that seems less blatant in the context. Maybe the internet will tell me more about “Soul Makossa”—and it turns out there’s quite a story—which you either already know, or can read about for yourself—but since I find this kind of thing irresistible—okay, so someone started DJ-ing this 45 in New York in 1972, and then a guy heard it and played it on the radio, but since it was impossible to find, like 23 bands did covers of it. Eventually Atlantic records saw dollar signs and released it. The other interesting thing is how many bands used the repetitive vocal line (wordplay on “Makossa”)—you can start scrolling down that list, but make sure you don’t have anywhere to be.

Finally, “Oboso” closes out the record, and it’s again a pretty jaunty tempo, funky, repetitive funk number, this time with far off horn and some up front psychedelic electric guitar. I think Oboso might be a name, and interestingly, it occurs to me that it’s also the word “Toboso” without the “T.” Toboso is a town in Ohio, and a name that I eventually used for my publishing company—it’s a long story, how it came to that—and ultimately an incomplete one, because I never did look into the origin of that as a place name. I mean, there’s Dulcinea del Toboso, a character in Don Quixote, and I suppose people may have been more literary minded back when they were naming towns and all, because there was no TV, and yet people had to have something to do in the evening, when they came home from chopping down trees and killing the native people—but now I’m on a tangent that’s not doing anyone any good.

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.

31
Jan
18

Captain Sensible “Sensible Singles”

Apparently someone staying at this “North Woods” cabin was into alphabetizing the record collection because this one was on the shelf right next to Captain & Tennille. I’ve never heard it or even knew it existed—but I know Captain Sensible as the bass player from The Damned, and I always thought he had the best punk rock name of all. Also, great style. Apparently this is his collection of his singles, hit or otherwise. I imagine he’s got an entire career I don’t know about, and unfortunately I’m not going to get much info off this album cover—there are no song credits or performance credits. He’s got a pretty good band, anyway. He does thank them, kind of; in the crude past-up photo of him on the back cover, wearing a sailor suit with women’s jewelry, in a drawn-on speech bubble coming from his mouth he’s saying: “Thanks to all the nutters who contributed to this vinyl masterpiece…”

The front cover is a huge, garish photo of the captain, painted on in places, with a crude painted tropical scene background. He’s wearing ridiculous sunglasses (or maybe they’re painted on) that look like vinyl records. And of course his captain’s hat. I wonder if he’s making fun The Captain (of Captain & Tennille)? Interestingly, this record is on the same label (A&M) as Captain & Tennille (at least the record I just listened to). Some of these songs are great, some inspired, and some are total rubbish. Which is exactly what I said about the Captain & Tennille record, essentially. It might sound like I’m trying to see how many times I can write Captain & Tennille while writing about Captain Sensible, but no. I just don’t know what to make of this record. He’s got some serious songwriting collaborators: Rodgers & Hammerstein (well, that one’s a cover) and Robyn Hitchcock! The rest I don’t know, but I’ll look them up later. I’ve got to read an interview with Captain Sensible—or maybe there’s a documentary about him somewhere.

Okay, this song, “Wot”—I remember this one, kind of a mindless disco number, repeating over and over, “Say Captain, say WOT!”—about one million times, or until you’re about ready to throw something. But I like it—it kind of reminds me of an Ian Dury song. “Martha the Mouth” is a really nice song—really good pop hook, and I’d love to be able to understand the lyrics. This is a record in which a lyric sheet would be welcome. “Stop the World” is a kind of “white funk” song—which reminds me of Royal Crescent Mob, from Columbus, Ohio. Didn’t they have a song, or album called stop the world, or something? “Glad It’s All Over” is another good one, and “It’s Hard to Believe I’m Not.” These songs sound like hits—in some kind of parallel universe maybe? “There are More Snakes than Ladders.” “I’m a Spider”—serious hit song with a chorus that goes: “I’m the spider, deep inside ya.” I don’t know. Insane. There could be a serious Captain Sensible rabbit hole out there. Enter at your own risk.

31
Jan
18

Captain & Tennille “Love Will Keep Us Together”

I was kind of excited to put this one on, as I’ve never been able to bring myself to pick it up at a thrift store because of the bludgeoning familiarity of that title song, and the hideous cover—which is actually a pretty great album cover with beautiful dogs, one of whose head is bigger than Toni Tennille’s. And her teeth (TT’s, not the dog) are amazing and not airbrushed looking. The Captain is wearing some horrible sunglasses and an expression that looks like he’s barely able to hold back from punching the photographer. Tennille is actually wearing bib overalls, and a shirt that looks like it was sewn from someone’s kitchen curtains.

I did not realize that Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote the title song, which had to be one of the biggest songs of the year (1975), and it’s a good enough song, I guess, that I get some genuine nostalgia from it. It’s interesting, it seems like their official name is “Captain & Tennille”—though he’s known as “The Captain”—and also, his real name is Daryl Dragon. If your name was Daryl Dragon—if you were that lucky—wouldn’t you go by Daryl Dragon, and not some cheesy stage name like “The Captain?” (Though the captain’s hat is a nice touch, for anyone.)

Tennille and Dragon wrote a few of the songs, together, and separately, and there are also some Beach Boys present (a nice cover of “God Only Knows”), and Bruce Johnston’s “I Write The Songs”—which was a monster hit for Barry Manilow—and so bland that I never really thought about it—but hearing Tennille sing it kind of highlights the lyrics, since it’s obviously written from the point of view of a man, who claims to now be “very old,” and maybe even God—I mean, it’s supposed to be metaphorical, right? He wasn’t really writing a song, as God, I don’t think? It does say, “I am music, and I write the songs”—but if “music” wrote the first song, who wrote music? (If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so heavy that even He Himself cannot lift it?)

Most of the record is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable, and I’ll probably not be compelled to pick up a copy. If you never have to hear the song “Broddy Bounce,” consider yourself lucky—I thought the room had been invaded by animated trolls. And “Disney Girls” isn’t much better. For me, the real standout on the record is “The Way I Want To Touch You,”—written by Toni Tennille—I mean, it’s kind of sexy, even, if kind of dumb, but has that really killer chorus, “you are sunshine, you are shadow” etc. That takes me right back to somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but I was maybe drinking grape Kool-Aid, or eating Lucky Charms (saving the marshmallows for last), newly in love, and there was an AM radio playing.

28
Jan
18

Depeche Mode “Some Great Reward”

I picked out this one because I thought it was another robot vs. humans album cover, but it’s not a robot at all but some kind of elevated industrial tower structure, with a huge factory building in the background. In the foreground there’s a young man and woman in wedding attire—it would not be outlandish for me to believe this was an actual wedding photo—kind of an “alternative” one, the romantic embrace in front of an intimidating industrial backdrop rather than a pond with flowers and swans. If you think about it, it makes as much sense—though what it means in this setting, I can’t tell you. On the back is a sliver of a different take of the same photo, with a quote: “The world we live in and life in general.” SO… there you go. Means absolutely nothing. Or maybe not—on the song “Lie to Me”—“lie to me/like they do it in the factory/make me think/that at the end of the day/some great reward/will be coming my way.” Marriage, the factory… you’re smart and cynical enough to know it’s all a load of bollocks. But you can still dance.

I am familiar with Depeche Mode, of course, but I’ve never listened to them. This record came out in 1984, and is on Sire, which was a label I saw a lot of in the 80s. In 1984 I played in two bands, was in school, and had two jobs, so I feel like I missed popular culture entirely—no TV, no movies, very few new records. I stopped being caught up on new records coming out, though I’d heard earlier Depeche Mode and didn’t like them, as at that time I was turned off by anything I thought was remotely pop music, and also stayed far away from anything remotely “electronic” or that even employed synthesizers. I had gone through a “progressive rock” phase in the Seventies, but when punk came around I rejected all of that. But that was just another phase, of course. Now I don’t reject anything, necessarily, and like to take everything in with an open mind if possible, but actually seem to like less music than ever—so essentially, I guess, I’m more opinionated than ever.

On one listening I can tell there are some very hook-y pop songs here, some of which would probably resonate with me after repeat listenings. Remember the old days when you’d buy maybe one record a week or month, that first listening, so exciting, and then you’d try to hold off a few hours for the vinyl too cool down, or until the next day for the next listening, and when the songs would start to take hold, due to familiarity, it would be like a new record. And then you could go deeper, with the lyrics, maybe. I don’t know, but I don’t think people listen to music like that anymore—well certainly not on computers. This record sounds pretty much exactly like I thought it would, so I guess I know what Depeche Mode sounds like, and I’m not going to like them any more now than I ever did. Whenever I look up bands, I’m kind of surprised to see that they’re still playing, but then, why not? If you can make money at it, why would you stop doing that—to work at a haberdashery? Of course—stay in the band! Just try to stay away from the drugs!

Okay, one song here really grabbed my attention so I’m listening to it over. It’s called “Somebody”—nice song title. It’s the least electronic song on the record (which no doubt is why it grabbed my attention) with just acoustic sounding piano and singing (and some tapes of background noise, sounds like people at park). It starts out with some syrupy sweet sentiment that leads you to believe it’s going to drop the irony bomb in about three minutes. But here is the surprise, it’s actually sincere all the way through—but with reservations, questioning, not having it all figured out, but trying. I could paraphrase some of the lyrics, but I kind of hate when people writing about records do that (I know, I did it earlier), and this one works better as a whole. I’m assuming you either know the song, or know how to use the internet and can listen to it if you want to.




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