Posts Tagged ‘Questions

22
May
20

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.

09
May
20

Richard Harris “A Tramp Shining”

Even though “MacArthur Park” is Richard Harris’ most well-known song, I’ve heard this album less than his other ones, for some reason. I guess this was his first solo album. I’m not sure how he and Jimmy Webb got together—I’m sure Jimmy Webb’s version is in his memoir, which I’d like to read sometime. It’s no surprise that all of these songs are really catchy, quite romantic, and a little corny. I mean corny in the best way—or at least in the way I like. I know this kind of somewhat overblown, baroque, romantic, pop song is a bit much for some people, but you’ve just got to let it wash over you. If you allow it to, this music can really fill some missing part of whatever might be missing, for you. I don’t know who I’m talking to, here—any fans of this stuff know what I’m talking about—though I’m guessing almost everyone I know resists it. There are little “interludes” between a lot of the songs, which is a nice touch. Pretty much all of the songs, maybe all, have some heavy-duty string arrangements, and there are also some first rate LA studio musicians playing. I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Webb’s songwriting—so that’s primarily where it’s at, for me. And then, it’s Richard Harris’ singing—his super-dramatic style, that pretty much takes it over the top, and then some.

Like the rest of the Richard Harris records, I’m going to include this as a regular listening one—and I’m sure in time I’ll develop some favorites among some of these songs, though they’re all good. Right now, I’ll say, “If You Must Leave My Life” is right up there. “MacArthur Park,” though, really is a masterpiece. There are two types of people in the world, those who think it’s a masterpiece, and those who can’t stand that song (and while I respect your opinion, I wildly disagree). If you haven’t heard it in awhile, your memory of it might be that it’s like 20 minutes long, but at just over seven minutes, it’s incredibly economical, in that there are four distinct parts to. It really is kind of amazing. I guess one thing that does bother people is that they have no idea what the crucial part of the lyric means: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” The confusion here always baffled me. Are you familiar with the the phrase, “I love you?” Now there a is real mystery, but you don’t hear people whining, “what’s that mean.” “Someone left the cake out in the rain” means: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.” Well, plus more. Like with “I love you”— how there’s something behind that, which means much, much more—the same is true with the lyrics of this song. What’s with people needing to have everything spelled out of them, anyway? It’s not something you reinterpret with clunky explanations—it’s something you feel.

28
Mar
20

Matt Dennis “Welcome Matt”

I kind of expected the worst from this record, pop music corny-ness, and it is pretty friendly, but also, it kind of strikes me as odd, how it’s recorded—Matt Dennis’ smooth, crystal clear voice is recorded so loud relative to the orchestra—he sounds more like he’s in the room here with me than if he was in the room here with me. Maybe that’s how pop vocalists were recorded in 1959, and I’ve just listened to so much Sinatra everything else sounds kind of crude in comparison. I’m not sure, though, as I don’t listen to a lot of comparable stuff. Maybe this reminds me a little of someone like Mel Tormé? Anyway, good songs, some standards like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “Cheek to Cheek,” and there’s a particularly nice song called “Home” that I’m not sure I’ve heard by anyone else. Then there’s “Welcome Mat” by the man himself—it’s a little goofy. The version of “My Blue Heaven” sounds really weird to me—like he’s flattening the end of each line—maybe that’s a style. Maybe that’s how the song was written. I don’t know know—I wish I knew more—I’ve got more questions than answers about this one. But I like it. My favorite, though, is “A Cup of Coffee a Sandwich and You”—a song I’ve never heard before, and probably for good reason—it’s insane. I mean, a sandwich? I guess the idea is, the simple things in life are good enough for him—but then where does that put “you?”

The cover particularly cracks me up—it’s a photo, taken in an actual apartment, of Matt Dennis in formal wear entering, carrying a welcome mat on which “Welcome Matt Dennis” is crudely rendered. There’s a woman standing there (who presumably put out the mat) who looks either annoyed or overwhelmed by the Matt Dennis sex appeal. Her long dress is an odd design of brown and gray plaid—it’s a really weird print for a dress—I have no words for it, I’m no expert. It looks like some kind of curtains or a tablecloth, to me, more than a dress, but what do I know? She’s wearing more pearls than can possibly be healthy—which are kind of overwhelmed by the plastic doorbell, peephole, and three brass doorknobs also visible in the photo. I mean, there was absolutely no art direction involved at all here (other than that cheesy “Welcome Matt”)—which, when I think about it—makes it actually more interesting than if a lot of care was taken to make it look not weird. I miss these times, from the past, when things didn’t have to get worked over and homogenized by a team of boring, frightened, accountants. When a doorstop was a doorstop, and “I love you” meant… Okay, maybe I should just stick to talking about the cover art, here.

28
Feb
20

Big Bay Band “Heathsville”

This is one of those records that makes no sense, as nothing on the front cover, back cover, or label matches up that well—you’d almost think it’s in the wrong cover, but the songs actually match up. According to the label, it’s “The Big Bay Band,” who sound to be an accomplished swing band, and do put some flair into some of these songs. Of course, some of them are too corny and unlistenable, but others, like “I’ve Got the World on a String” are pretty inspired (well, it’s a great song). The cover is a $1.98 photo session out in the woods with three women holding up various horns, jubilantly. If you squint, they actually look like zombies in a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Only the closest woman’s grin gives it away—not zombies—jubilant. Which makes me think about all the people who have been playing zombies, or extras as zombies. It’s probably a little harder than it looks, to get the facial expression and the movement just right. Though it’s beyond me, at this point, why anyone cares.

25
Feb
20

Wang Chung “Points on the Curve”

For some reason I decided to put on this Wang Chung record—maybe because there’s a boat on the cover—though most of the cover looks like the green, gridded drafting table it was designed on. I guess you could say that’s “cutting edge.” Or just ugly. The picture of the guys on back look exactly like some people I knew in Kent, Ohio, where I was living in 1983, when this came out—guys who were in new wave bands who really had the hair thing going on. I did not like those people. Wang Chung has a massive hit (you remember the one) which you could not escape, for awhile, so I despised them. But listening now, I don’t mind this record at all—well, especially this first song, “Dance Hall Days”—which must have been a hit, as well, right? I feel like I can see a movie scene when I hear it—one of those movies starring Rob Lowe. The record is on the Geffen label—does anyone else get totally creeped out by that old (I noticed it’s totally different now) Geffen logo? For some reason it just makes me think of slimy dudes snorting coke—no good reason for that—it’s just that the little ball with the ridge on it—just perfectly evokes expensive drugs. At any rate, it’s funny how a lot of music you revere from the past, if you listen to it now, sounds totally different. Like, The Clash sound just like Bob Seger. And this Wang Chung doesn’t sound nearly as bad as I remember—well, at least not this “Dance Hall Days” song, which I’m liking right now. Also, it’s nice to see the lyric sheet, because I always thought he was singing: “We were ghouls on Christ”—like, I don’t know—kind of about Christian zombies? But now I see what he actually says is: “We were cool on craze.” Which makes less sense? A guy in my high school was nicknamed “Craze,” but chances are the Wang Chung songwriters didn’t even know him. But I’ve got it—seeing how there are as many slang words for blow as Eskimos have for snow, it’s understandable that I wouldn’t have been familiar with “craze.” Big, big difference there, in meaning, then, from being kind of Christian Goth to being skeezy, coke-fueled Geffen zombies.

24
Feb
20

The Young Gods “The Young Gods”

I thought this record might be contemporary—even though it’s not 800 gram vinyl and a triple album with no information whatsoever—because the cover is really effective at looking exactly like the name “The Young Gods” is carved into a rock face, like you can almost taste it. But on back there is a date: 1987—which means over 30 years old—kind of shocking. There are three stick figures carved into the rock on back, which I think indicates either there are three members of the band… or something else. This record actually sounds like the Mid-Eighties to me, I can’t exactly say why. It kind of reminds me of a band my contemporaries might have had back then—heavy, noisy, yet sparse, a little corny, industrial, and the singing is this guttural style I’ve heard a lot of—which always makes me want to say: “You don’t have to be so guttural.” But I guess they want to get across the idea that this is Satan speaking. Ever since that Exorcist (1973) movie, we’ve had to entertain this idea that that’s what Satan sounds like (okay, well, maybe it comes from way back, even). Oh, wait, there’s lyrics—in some language that looks like French, and English next to it—that’s kind of cool. I had just assumed that I couldn’t understand the lyrics because I can almost never understand lyrics. There is indeed three band members, simple credits: vocals, samplers, drums. What’s that mean, samplers? It that like a Whitman Sampler? Is this music, essentially, cream filled chocolates, live drums, and Satan? 1987—I wonder if they ever played on a double bill with Sonic Youth? I wonder if they’re still around, still playing, and if so, do they still call themselves The Young Gods, or The Old Gods, (or Thee Olde Gods)—or maybe something else entirely?

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

05
Feb
20

The Best of Perez Prado

I don’t know anything about the history of the mambo—I could read some stuff on the internet and repeat it here—or you could tell me what you know over cocktails some evening. I don’t know, I don’t see myself starting to drink, but if I find myself reading stuff on the internet and then repeating it, I might just might, sitting glassy-eyed on some pirate’s shoulder. Perez Prado was Cuban, then moved to Mexico in the Forties, and was instrumental in mambo becoming hugely popular. The back of the record says he’s the “King of the Mambo.” Of course, Elvis was called the King of Rock’n’Roll—but we know it was Chuck Berry. I’m wondering who this record, from 1967, was for exactly, because by 1967—well you know what the kids were listening to. There is a popular and fun—but definitely corny—side to this music, and I’m thinking the same people buying this are the people who were buying the big-selling records that thrift stores just still can’t seem to get rid of. It’s hard for me to listen to the songs on this record without seeing the movie scenes (even if not exactly, specifically) they are attached to—or imagine someone eating some kind of Jello salad and drinking a whiskey sour. Though some of the songs—or more likely, parts of some songs, I can listen to the music being played—sometimes with a lot of style that makes me wonder what the life of the musicians was like. There’s some incredible bits, here and there. Or what was Perez Prado’s life like? Is there a movie about him? There has to be, right?—I’ll see that, sometime.

10
Jan
20

Gil Evans “The British Orchestra”

Up until now, Gil Evans didn’t crack my top ten Evanses—somewhere behind Bill, Bob, Dale, Jeff, Robert, etc.—a formidable list, sausage or not—Monsieur Jeffrey being the one I’ve met, and my hero. Bob (the sausage king) not to be confused with Robert (The Kid Stays in the Picture). Dale, the only woman here, partner of Roy Rogers (see: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich). Bill and Gil both played piano, were important collaborators with Miles Davis—of course it gets confusing if you’re just not a jazz enthusiast or record collector. I count myself as someone with an encyclopedic gap of knowledge about just about everything, jazz included. Though I’ve spent hours and hours listening to Bill Evans—never get tired of that stuff. Gil, however, I know nothing about—I picked up this record with my fingers, put it on. The label says: Mole Jazz, it’s a British pressing, recorded live, March 14, 1983. I could probably tell you where I was on that day—Kent, Ohio, Spindizzy Records—listing to the new shipment of British punk and new wave records, not liking much. I probably wouldn’t have given this much of a chance either, since the first track is pretty guitar heavy, and guitar jazz just put me off for the longest time. I’m still pretty much on the fence when it comes to electric guitar jazz. Maybe I’m on the fence with jazz in general. I’ll wake up every morning at 4 AM and turn on WKCR, and sometimes it’s jazz that I love, and other times I’ll be kind of blocking it out until I realize how much I hate it, at which time I’ll say: “Why would anyone play that on purpose?” I think what it comes down to is that in general I don’t like “jazz fusion”—it’s just not my thing. I know that’s a huge generalization, but there you go. Any time I hear an exception, I’ll be glad to point it out. I’ve listened to this record a few times now, and all this nonsense I’m writing is my way of not having to write anything biographical about Gil Evans (you can easily go elsewhere for that). And also not have to make any decision about this record. There are four long instrumental songs, all live with a large band. The second one, “Friday the 13th,” is a Thelonious Monk number, and my favorite—probably because it sounds like a Thelonious Monk composition, and reminds me of him—not only my favorite jazz musician, but my favorite musician, ever. As far as the rest of it, there are moments I like, but entirely too much saxophone here, guitar there—so, the closer it sounds to noise (seemingly formless and chaotic) the more I like it, and the closer it gets to rock (the dreaded rock, the insipid), the less I like it.

17
Nov
19

Mott the Hoople “Mott”

My random system for picking records to write about landed on this one, which I may have touched on before, and hopefully will again, since it was such a huge record in my life. Then a couple of days later, in a thrift store, I saw this British pressing with a totally different cover—not that rare, or anything, but I’ve never seen it before, in person, somehow. This is the cover with a die-cut head-shape hole (which, I’ve read, was the bust of Augustus printed on transparent plastic! That part now gone. Also, why?)—and inside, a kind of amazing photo collage. The cover also looks like it was half spray-painted this shade of day-glow pink I didn’t think existed in 1973. I still prefer the US version, which is nothing special—four Seventies rock guys standing there with some stage lights—it’s almost comic in its datedness—but for me, pure nostalgia in its magic. I’ve forgotten a lot of my childhood, but I remember Scott Suter telling me to buy this record—we were in 7th Grade—and I did, intrigued by that band name that made no sense. The opening piano on “All the Way from Memphis”—that weird sound, something off about it, almost like the tape is slowed down or slightly manipulated (I’ll read about this somewhere, someday)—it just burned an indelible memory in my brain, and when I put it on now, it takes me right back there. There are a handful of things like that in your life—usually music is involved—and so I value those things like nothing else.

I think Mott the Hoople is the only band whose last two records are their best two, and it’s somehow not coincidental that they were named “Mott” and “The Hoople,” or that they came out in 1973 and 1974 (the two best years of popular culture, at least in the century surrounding my existence). In a way, they were both last records, because this is the last one with Mick Ralphs, who went directly from this to forming Bad Company. “The Hoople” is both remarkably the same and different than this record. I’ve long struggled and finally given up trying to pick my favorite of the two. Both versions of the band are great all the way through, but it’s Ian Hunter who’s at the center of the mess. It’s hard to make any sense of that guy. You can hear the Bob Dylan influence in everything he does, yet he sounds nothing like Dylan. I’ve gone through periods where I thought he was someone else in disguise, or even thought he was actually a woman. The conclusion I’ve finally come to is that he’s the most normal guy in the history of rock’n’roll, and also the strangest. It turns out it wasn’t Bowie who was the space alien, it was Ian Hunter. Though he might not be a space alien, but instead a ghost, or an android. I did something I never do, last year, and went to see an aging rock band live show—which was Mott the Hoople (with three of them from the ’74, “Hoople,” record) and so I did see the 80 year old Ian Hunter in person, and sure I was a few seats away, but it was like, next stop, Jesus. So the mystery just deepened (also hope—for what one can do at 80 years old).

A funny thing about this record is I’ve just kept listening to it over the years, never really got tired of it (though I don’t, you know, play it to death). When I was a lad, I liked the songs that rocked out more, while the ones with those alienating words (Hymn, Ballad) in their titles put me off a little. Now, those are my very favorite songs, just beautiful slower rock songs, with fairly incredible lyrics, worth checking out, if you never have—songs that I will most likely listen to again tomorrow, and next month, and early next year. Those, along with “I Wish I Was Your Mother” are now my favorite songs on the record. The whole thing is listenable, and also quite an oddity. The best rock music, for me, has always been that which is, how would you say it? Ill-fitting. Also, Ian Hunter’s voice, that’s just going to be knocking around in there, in my skull, like a cave painting, for the rest of my days, and after that, who can say.




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