In an attempt to revive this dormant blog, lying fallow because I just can’t seem to get the time to really get deep into writing about this or that album or music in general these days, I thought I might try something different (for this blog, anyway): I thought each week I could set my Mother Box (my iPod, OK?) on “shuffle”, post the first 12 songs which come up, and comment on them. This might turn out to be as labor-intensive as the single-album posts, but nothing attempted, nothing gained, right? If nothing else, it might spur me to change the music on the ol’ iPod more often.
Are you ready, Steve? Aha.
Andy? Yeah! Mick? OK.
Alright, fellas, let’s go!
1. Every Time We Say Goodbye- John Coltrane from My Favorite Things
Reflective instrumental, from a song by Cole Porter. Coltrane plays his usual smooth, assured sax, and there’s a nice piano piece by McCoy Tyner. Not the most celebrated track on this very important Jazz album, but it sounds good to me, and conjures up Autumn in my mind, for some reason. I’m not what you can call a huge Jazz aficionado, and a lot of the more free-form and smooth versions just sound cacophonous and bland, respectively, to me- but Coltrane and Miles rarely let me down.
2. If You Love Someone Set Them Free- Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles
This is from Sting’s first solo album; got in the mood to hear it a while back- I had it on cassette in the late 80’s, and actually wound up liking it very much for a while there. It’s more jazzy and tuneful than much of his Police stuff, and it’s more diverse and interesting than many of his stuffy and self-important subsequent albums. Of course, this was a BIG hit single; as I recall, I liked the video that accompanied it, as directors Godley & Creme worked out their fascination with isolating each person in the shots and doing a different video editing trick with them. No, I don’t know what the process is called. The track itself is catchy in its vaguely funky way and makes it easy to ignore the easy greeting card platitudes of the lyric. I think Omar Hakim is the drummer on this; I always liked watching him play in his loose-limbed, energetic way.
3. Elenore- The Turtles from Happy Together: The Very Best of the Turtles
While I’ve been a fan of the work of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, aka Flo and Eddie, as I discovered them via a 1-2 punch of getting their self-titled second album and the Mothers of Invention’s Fillmore East June 1971, I didn’t really get interested in their previous group, the Turtles, until relatively recently. After acquiring a best-of, then watching the 1991 documentary DVD, I was amazed to discover how many songs they did that I remember hearing and liking as a kid growing up in the late 60’s, but didn’t know who did them, such as “You Showed Me” and “She’d Rather Be With Me”. Anyway, I did know that the Turtles did this track, and it’s a good one- even though it has a most crass backstory. Seems that White Whale records were consrtantly pressuring Kaylan to write another hit followup to “Happy Together”, and the increasingly-psychedelically progressive-minded band didn’t want to (the old familiar refrain)…but finally Howard relented and locked himself in a hotel room with a bottle of something (I forget what, he related this story on the DVD) until he finally worked this one out, and decided to be as snarky and sarcastic as he could be in doing so (and if you’re familiar with Flo & Eddie, you know that they could be very sarcastic when they chose to be), hence the lines such as “…and you really do me well” and the celebrated “pride and joy et cetera” in the chorus. White Whale didn’t notice any of it, released it, and were temporarily happy when it shot right up the charts. And rightfully so- it’s a great song.
4. Sparkle Up- The High Llamas from Hawaii
For those of you who wish that there were more albums like Pet Sounds available for purchase, then Hawaii is the album for you- it’s as if Sean O’ Hagen somehow reached into Brian Wilson’s head and siphoned off a generous portion of his mojo, it’s just that eerily similar. This particular track is an instrumental which glides gently along, working in strings and horns and a cascading guitar figure, even incorporating the James Bond theme at one point, and beginning and ending with space noises on a synthesizer. It’s lovely and pleasant, but after a while it gets a little monotonous, which perhaps signals a need to learn when to finish a cut, something I assume he’s worked on in the 12 years since this album was released. This is the only High Llamas album I have.
5. Sunshine- Sparklehorse from Good Morning Spider
It’s kinda hard to describe the music that Mark Linkous makes as Sparklehorse; at the root of it is folk-rock of a sort, but it’s enhanced with a lot of studio trickery. It’s tender and delicate when it needs to be, and sometimes harsh and dissonant…but for me it’s usually always very listenable and often moving and I have yet to hear a bad album from this guy. This is a loping, quiet sort of track with a beautful melody accented with acoustic guitar, piping synths and a frail, hoarse vocal from Linkous. Features the voice of Vic Chestnutt on an answering machine towards the end. Seems to be a rumination on mortality.
6. Small Blue Thing- Suzanne Vega from Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega
An acoustic track from her self-titled debut album, in which she seems to be flashing on a childhood memory and relating it to how she is regarding something or someone in a self-absorbed fashion, as a “small blue thing” if you will. It’s pleasant but forgettable with some very 80’s keyboards present in the background for color. For some commentary on this track go here. It would be a few more years before I really got interested in her music.
7. Done Changed My Way of Living- Taj Mahal from The Natch’l Blues
This, boys and girls, is the blues. From Taj’s second album, released at the tail end of 1968. If you’ve never seen Taj on the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus from that year, then you’re missing out on something wonderful. I wonder if Bob Dylan had this track in mind when he wrote “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” for Slow Train Coming.
8. Lay Down and Die- The Bee Gees from Cucumber Castle
I really hadn’t heard very much by the Bee Gees prior to the 70’s R&B and Disco stuff that defined them for so many people; I probably heard 60’s popsongs like “I Started a Joke” and “Gotta Get a Message to You” on the radio, but as a kid growing up I didn’t listen to the radio all that much and they didn’t leave an impression if I did hear them. It wasn’t until Main Course and “Jive Talkin'” that I really was made aware of the Brothers Gibb, and honestly, I wasn’t a fan until many years after their mirror ball heyday, when I started appreciating quality stuff like “Nights on Broadway” and “Stayin’ Alive”…which is not to say that I was led to purchase. Hearing a cut on oldies radio stations every so often was fine with me. Eventually, though, I ran across a copy of their second album Idea, from 1968, in a box of yard sale stuff and since it had a Klaus Voormann cover, I figured that alone was worth the price of a dollar. When I played the album, I was surprised to be greeted with some very nice British (OK, Australian-ish) folk-pop-rock, closer to the Beatles and the Hollies than anything else. After that, I have kinda-sorta been picking up thier pre-funk albums when I get the chance, and this particular track is from their fifth official release, 1970’s Cucumber Castle, unusual in that it was tied in with a TV special that I’ve never seen. It was on YouTube briefly, but has apparently been removed. Anyway, if that wasn’t enough, warbly-voiced brother Robin Gibb had left the group shortly before they recorded the album for a solo career which lasted about one record. but did compete with Cucumber on the charts. This track is a Roy Orbison-style ballad with a Beatlesque piano (think “Hey Jude”) chugging away in the background and martial drum rhythms throughout. It’s quite good, actually, and I’m really surprised at how much I’m liking the early Bee Gees stuff that I’ve discovered so far.
9. Flying to Morning- Rosebud from Rosebud
Rosebud was a West Coast folk-rock group that was assembled by ex-Modern Folk Quartet member and Tim Buckley producer Jerry Yester, and his wife Judy Henske, who had released a well-received album in 1969 titled Farewell Aldebaran on Zappa’s Straight Records label. When keyboardist Craig Doerge came along, they decided to start a group, and Rosebud was the result. Their debut album, from whence this track came, was released on Warners in the early 1970’s. Of course, by the time I discovered this group in the mid-70’s via that company’s Loss Leaders compilations, specifically the lovely track “Lullabye II (Summer Carol”), they had broken up (Henske/Yester, and by extension the group as well) before they could even tour in support of it. Here’s the whole story. Anyway, this is a decent track, the album closer actually, which features soaring strings and Henske’s powerful vocal, a little huskier than Grace Slick’s perhaps, and which she sometimes let get the best of her.
10. One of These Days- Paul McCartney from McCartney II
Recorded at home, a la McCartney (his solo debut) but with more overdubs and a few more synths, McCartney II was Paulie’s first release after his 1980 Japanese pot bust and the dissolution of Wings. The album’s closing track, it’s a winsome little acoustic guitar ballad, with BV’s by Linda (her only appearance on the record, believe it or not), expressing the wish to stop, one of these days, and smell the roses so to speak. It’s enjoyable enough, but not especially melodically memorable, and is easy to forget when the record’s over.
11. Iceberg- 10cc from How Dare You!
A 20’s-30’s jazz-style ditty from the last 10cc album to feature all four original members, and typically, it ‘s a skewed-perspective lyric, written from the point of view of a stalker to the distant object of his affection. Queen used to do this kind of song (stylistically, not subject-wise) on their early albums. It’s very catchy; those guys were pop geniuses in my book.
12. Ripples- Genesis from A Trick of the Tail
Trick was the first Genesis album after Peter Gabriel left the band; even though Gabriel was responsible for a lot of clever stuff, the other guys in the band were no slouches either, and the result took a lot of people by surprise at how wide-ranging, tuneful and well-played it was. “Ripples” is not about cheap wine, but is actually a rumination on aging, and has a beautiful melody even if the song itself is a little overlong.
And that’s it! I’ll try to do this again next week. Thanks to Michael for the inspiration (and the pic).