The Weekly iPod Shuffle, Episode 2

20 11 2008

ipodclassicbuckleyTime once more for the iPod Shuffle, in which I hit the appropriate button on my l’il ol’ iPod Nano and write down the first twelve songs that come up, then post them here with pertinent commentary. Here’s what came up just now:

1. Our Song- Joe Henry from Civilians

Joe’s Trampoline album is one of my favorite releases from the last 20 years; I can’t recommend it highly enough. However, subsequent album have seen him slowly descend into a sort of turgid jazz-pop hell, full of songs just dripping with echo-laden atmosphere but missing important things like melody and beat and inspired lyrical content. But Civilians, his most recent to date, is a step back from the abyss; Henry writes actual, honest to goodness melodies, and even deigns to speed the tempo up a bit rather than plod, almost as if he’s suddenly interested in making accessible music again rather than experiments in tone and mood. “Our Song” is certainly one of the best track on the album- a heartfelt and resonant musing on days gone by, but there’s enough wit in the lyric to keep it from being a pandering exercise in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. True, it does have that plodding tempo that (I swear) Henry doesn’t use throughout the album, but the melody is strong enough to maintain the listener’s interest. Here’s Henry, in his own words, about this cut.


2. Widow’s Walk- Van Dyke Parks from Song Cycle

Song Cycle is an album that took me years to finally listen to, although I do admire the loopy gifts of the Maestro Mr. Parks very much, especially his efforts as arranger and/or lyricist on other people’s work. His own albums, though, I’ve always found inconsistent, even though they all have their moments. Song Cycle was critically lauded, but a sales disaster so it didn’t stay in print very long, certainly not long enough for me to find without a great deal of trouble when I started collecting in the 70’s, and I never ran across a used copy, so it has gone unheard by me until just recently…and I find it as up-and-down as I do the others I’ve heard. “Widow’s” is a vaguely nostalgic, baroquely arranged, minstrel-sy kind of tuneless tune, if minstrel shows has synthesizers, accordions and mandolins instead of banjos; almost a recitation. It’s more interesting as an abstract thing, an idea, rather than as a song. It’s not one of my favorite cuts on this album. That’s the way it goes on shuffle setting sometimes!

Song Cycle

3. Dreams- Joe Walsh from The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get

When people think of Joe Walsh, if they think of him at all these days (in any context other than the guitar player in the Eagles), they think of “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Funk #49”-style funky hard rock guitar riffing, or to a lesser extent goofy, rubber-faced mugging- but one of the reasons he left the James Gang in the first place was to expand his musical horizons a bit; do quiet, jazzy tracks or big, orchestrated ballads if he chose to and not catch crap from his bandmates…and his first handful of solo albums are laced with examples of this. This cut is one of them- it starts out with a quiet, shuffling rhythm, punctuated by Steely Dan-style keyboard figures and vibes, but then launches into a rock-guitar accompanied chorus of sorts (“…she makes me feel fine, keeps me in line…”), before returning back to the jazz. It’s actually quite melodic, and a very enjoyable track, even though the lyrics ramble from one thing to another and don’t really make much sense- it seems to be alternately a love song, a call to help your fellow man, and an ode to the art of taking it easy. Oh well, nobody expects Dylan from Joe effin’ Walsh anyway. I’ve actually become quite the fan of Joe’s early-mid 70’s output since I’ve grown up and become a theoretical adult; didn’t have much use for it at the time. Then again, I didn’t hear tracks like this one or “Days Gone By” from this album, either- all I ever heard was “Rocky Mountain Way” (the live version) and “Life’s Been Good”.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

4. For Emily (Wherever I May Find Her)- Simon and Garfunkel from Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

A live version of the Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme track which takes full advantage of Art Garfunkel’s choirboy tenor in service of Simon’s somewhat pretentious lyrics. It’s a lovely tune, from an album (S&G’s Greatest Hits, that is) I used to listen to a LOT as a teen.

Simon & Garfunkel – Greatest Hits

5. Walkin’ With a Mountain- Mott The Hoople from Mad Shadows

From Mott’s second Atlantic album, a couple of years before they hooked up with Bowie and became rockstars for a too-short time. Basically a rock-out-with-your-cock-out Chuck Berry-style rocker, and a concert favorite which they performed live until they broke up in 1975. Those Atlantic Mott albums always suffered, in my opinion, from a murky, muffled, shabby sound, and perhaps the best thing Bowie did for them (besides give them “All the Young Dudes”, of course) was open up their sound so people could hear them play.

Mad Shadows

6. Silent Nocturne- the dB’s and Friends from Christmas Time Again

Apparently a couple of years ago the Chris Stamey Band recorded a Christmas album. Then, a year or two later, it was rereleased with extra tracks by Whiskeytown, Marshall Crenshaw, Pete Holsapple, and a bunch of others. Of course I didn’t know anything about it until someone mentioned it on Twitter the other day. This is a lovely solo acoustic rendition of “Silent Night”- I don’t know who’s playing, though. I will assume Holsapple unless otherwise corrected.

Christmas Time Again

7. Anonymous Proposition- Tim Buckley from Lorca

Lorca was Buckley’s first real attempt to escape from the narrow folkie-singer/songwriter bag, writing songs with standard verse/verse/chorus/verse structures, that he felt that he’d been trapped in; he’d been listening to a lot of Miles and other experimental musicians, and wanted to expand his musical horizons. This is a long track, almost eight minutes, and is mostly Buckley crooning come-hither lyrics and long, held-out notes to someone, as guitar and upright bass noodle along behind. Reminds me somewhat of Pentangle, perhaps, especially because of the Danny Thompson-style bass playing of John Balkin, or King Crimson circa Islands, no kiddin’. While this is not a song I’d want to listen to at a party or driving down the highway with the top down, it is a very effective quiet-time, early-morning reflective piece and as such is quite listenable.


8. A Lucky Guy- Rickie Lee Jones from Pirates

One of many beautiful tracks from Jones’ underrated album, and one of the more straightforward, both in subject matter and arrangement; it has a laid back, basic sort of jazz shuffle rhythm, and instrumentation is simple brush drum, upright bass, felt-barely-heard guitar, and piano, along with some wonderful group chorus vocals. Wikipedia says that its snippy lyric is directed at then-boyfriend Tom Waits; I can hear that, sure.


9. Ride ’em Cowboy- Sparks from L’il Beethoven

A musing on the need for persistence in order to achieve your goals in the face of the vagaries of public opinion as only the Mael Bros. can, with a typically heavy dose of the wry and a repetitive, classically-themed arrangement. I’m amazed the Bros. have hung in there as long as they have, making smart, sharp, excellent music in a world which you’d think would be totally indifferent to their charms.

Lil’ Beethoven

10. Which Will- Nick Drake from Pink Moon

I’m sure the majority of you reading this know the frustratingly sad story of the doomed bard of Tanworth-in-Arden, so I’ll spare you the details and merely direct you here and here. This track is from his third and final album, at least the final one to see release while he was still alive, and it’s as spare and bleak as the majority of the songs on that release tend to be, only Drake’s intimate, hushed voice and acoustic guitar, with a neat little hammer-note riff at the base of the song. At least I think that’s what you call it. Anyway, a look at the lyrics reveals, at least as I see it, that he was more than a little frustrated and hurt himself by the lack of acceptance of his art. Pink Moon isn’t always an easy listen; Drake sounds haunted and forlorn on much of it, but it does cast a beautiful, serene sort of spell, if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Nick Drake- Pink Moon

11. Smile- Laura Nyro from Smile

As with Buckley, I’m a fairly recent convert to the music of Ms. Nyro; for decades, I went along with knowing of her hit songs she wrote that were covered by the likes of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Three Dog Night and most famously the Fifth Dimension…but eventually I broke down and picked up the 2-CD collection that Epic put out a few years ago. The most immediate thing I noticed was how much of an influence she must have been on so many singers- Wendy Waldman comes to mind (It’s amazing how much WW sounds like Nyro sometimes, and bear in mind that heard Waldman WAY before I heard Nyro), also Rickie Lee Jones (see above). Unfortunately, I also noticed that I liked the earlier stuff better, the songs I was already familiar with through other artists such as “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Wedding Bell Blues”…her later, more personal work, at least as represented on the twofer, sounded unfocused, self-indulgent, and tuneless, much to my dismay and consternation. However, I liked some of it enough to still be curious, and eventually I ran across a copy of Smile, a 1976 comeback album of sorts for her…and lo and behold, I liked it a lot- it was breezy, melodic and a bit jazzy, Joni-style; experimental in places, sometimes featuring Japanese instrumentation,  but not to the detriment of the song. Even the tracks which I had somehow overlooked on the collection sounded better in a different context. This, the title cut, features what sounds like a koto at various points throughout and sways along with a vaguely funky-jazzy rhythm until about halfway through, when the tempo stops and plucked upright bass and koto and flute play us out till the end. I’m not always fond of this schizo of an approach to song structure, but it works OK here.

Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro

12. Back to the Land- Black Oak Arkansas from High on the Hog

Oh, chillen, back in the day we had this thing called Southern Rock, a down-home countrified version of the recycled blues that the English fellers like Pete Green and Eric Clapton were playing. On the one end of the spectrum, we had the Allman Brothers, and on the other, a thousand nondescript practitioners, mostly on Capricorn Records, like Hydra. Somewhere in between was Black Oak, led by energetic and lecherous frontman Jim “Dandy” Mangrum and his braying Foghorn Leghorn-meets-Jani Lane schtick- they weren’t players on the same level as the Allmans or the Skynyrds, but they could provide an agreeable chugging boogie when necessary. Hog was by far their most successful record, the culmination of a good five or six years of touring and not-bad boogie releases with titles such as If An Angel Came to See You, Would You Make Her Feel At Home?. The reason for this success was the huge hit single “Jim Dandy”, a cover of an old blues tune most notably performed by LaVern Baker, and even though there were no other hits there were some decent cuts, such as this one, a change-of-pace bluegrass-style song about a good ol’ boy, nostalgic for the old homestead. While I like the other change-of-pace track from this one, “High ‘n Dry”, a lot more, this is still agreeable stuff.

High on the Hog

Thanks for making it this far, and just a reminder- click on the links after each review to go to, and if you’re moved to buy, then I get a little cut! Ain’t that cool? Anyway, I’ll be back with another episode next week.


The Weekly iPod Shuffle, Episode 1

13 11 2008

ipodbeegeesIn 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).

Tom Verlaine- Dreamtime

23 09 2008

Released: July 1981

Track List: There’s a Reason, Penetration, Always, The Blue Robe, Without a Word, Mr. Blur, Fragile, A Future in Noise, Down on the Farm, Mary Marie.

Overview: Dreamtime was the second solo album to be released by musician Tom Verlaine, late of the seminal Velvet Underground-inspired art-punk group Television. Television was critically acclaimed and legendary in Punk circles but didn’t sell much, plus the band just wasn’t big enough for the egos and creative ambitions of Verlaine and co-guitarist Richard Lloyd, so they split up in 1978 and Verlaine released a self-titled solo album in 1979, which came out on Elektra and didn’t really cause much of a stir.

Track By Track:

THERE’S A REASON: “Reason” ushers in the album with a staggered, slashing guitar lick that is soon joined in lockstep rhythm by another set of chords, and on top of the whole thing Verlaine sings, in his gulping, Ric Ocasek-like voice about a love interest which fascinates and frightens him all at once. The slight chorus (“You’re my thrill, my dear/but I can’t keep still, I fear”) benefits from a slight rhythmic change which provides a moment of calm before we go back into the rollercoaster of cacaphonic guitar/bass/drums. This track is a real smorgasbord of different guitar sounds; it’s as if Verlaine intends to serve notice that he was gonna play a whole lotta guitar this time out. He didn’t really, as subsequent tracks bore out, but there is a lot of great work just the same, especially on this cut.

PENETRATION is a reggae with a slight 50’s slant to the melody and a distorted clutch of guitar notes accompanying each repetition of a bridge in which he repeats the chant “Deep pulsation/deep penetration”. Lyrically, it seems to be about performance anxiety of a kind, with fear, unease and dread forming a theme which seems to run throughout the whole album with very few exceptions. I’m not usually a reggae fan, but this track does skank along quite agreeably and provides a nice contrast between the chaotic opener and the next track.

ALWAYS begins with a driving drumbeat and a slashing duel between Verlaine’s guitar and Donald Nossov’s bass, and continues on in this vein until the chorus, when it’s joined by chiming piano notes, almost achieving a Springsteen-ish effect, albeit Springsteen produced by John Cale. Essentially a love song, with the singer pleading for understanding and attention from his object of desire, it rides a relentless groove all the way until the fadeout which features some astringent, ringing guitar licks.

THE BLUE ROBE is essentially an instrumental, with a Beefheartian rumbling beat from drums and bass, and Verlaine spraying licks all helter-skelter, singing “Hi-Fi” at the 2:28 mark.

WITHOUT A WORD is another atmosphere piece, a story-song about someone named Laura who seems to be dealing with an unspecified heartbreak:

I’ve been given a fortune
a fortune in lies
so spoke Laura
as she closed her eyes
One by one
the lights are going out
Names are forgotten
There’s darkness in the house

It’s also got one of the more conventional song structures on the album; minor-chord notes and a verse/chorus/verse/repeat chorus until fadeout. Compared to the fireworks on the previous songs, it’s a bit of a letdown but is still a strong enough track with a decent melody.

MR. BLUR seems to find Verlaine snarking anonymously at someone, Lloyd perhaps? Anyway, it’s got a fuzz-tone stop-and-start riff at its center and is driven along nicely by the bass and drums into a relaxed, but insistent beat. Again, nothing really explosive as far as guitar fireworks go, but it’s a catchy tune just the same, almost Cars-like.

FRAGILE brings us back to the unease with a chorus that states

Fragile/Handle with care
I’ve got to face what’s never there

again, the bulk of the lyrics are directed to another affection object, and there’s a feeling of missed connections and miscommunication. Early verses are sung against Byrds-like chiming guitar notes that seem to work against the beat; the chorus, and the second set of lyrics are at a sped-up tempo. It’s an oddly-structured song that works well in spite of this.

A FUTURE IN NOISE has Tom casting invective at a “Graduate of the Reemco School of Numbness…(who) walk(s) in here with your fifteen degrees”, some music biz type I’m sure that drew his scorn. Someone more knowledgeable about Verlaine and the Televison story could perhaps cast more light. Anyway, this is another guitar showcase track as it opens with that classic Television guitar/bass/drum interlocked, dueling structure, and rocks on throughout, especially in the sections in which he sings “I’ve gotta keep about a mile from you…arm’s length, that won’t do” against a pounding tom-tom beat. Verlaine does some magnificent, delirious rave-up licks as the song fades out.

DOWN ON THE FARM is once again back in reggae territory, as Verlaine basically says “I’ve paid my dues, now will you love me like I love you” in a fashion that sounds kinda creepy as sung in his voice. Anyway, it gets away from the reggae beat only on the chorus, as he repeats “Long and lonely years…down on the farm” against a backdrop of guitar pyrotechnics. For some reason, this one reminds me a bit of similar stuff XTC was doing at this time.

MARY MARIE is a gorgeous, atmospheric song with a Duane Eddy-style lick and some felt-more-than-heard organ as its foundation. Mary seems to be a young lady who is determined to carry on despite long odds and no support, and a sympathetic Verlaine works the farm metaphor again in support of this idea. The arrangement builds into a sway-along tempo at the chorus, providing outstanding dramatics throughout. Verlaine once more plays confident guitar solos, especially after each repetition of the chorus and as the song works towards the fadeout. This one’s pretty much my favorite track on the album.

Outro: The record-buying public was slightly more receptive for Verlaine’s sophomore effort- according to Wikipedia it did chart at #177 on the Billboard Pop Charts, something I don’t think his other albums did. Myself personally, I had only read about Televison and Verlaine in CREEM (and was intrigued by Christgau’s remark in his review of the self-titled debut that Verlaine played guitar “…like Captain Marvel”) until pre-Nashville music biz fame Bill Lloyd, who worked in a Bowling Green record store in the early 80’s, recommended this one to me. He was far more attuned to the Punk and New Wave sounds than I, and I knew that he knew whereof he spoke, so I bought it and took it straight home to listen, and was captivated immediately by “Always”, after kinda-sorta liking the first two cuts. Thereafter, I had this one on constant rotation on my turntable. The next year, though, I bought its follow-up Words from the Front, and was very disappointed- the tracks on that one were nowhere near as strong as the ones on Dreamtime, and I lost interest a bit after that, even though I did get the next three releases Cover, Flashlight, and the instrumental Warm and Cool, all of which were better than Words and strong albums overall, Television’s classic Marquee Moon and its underrated, if fractious follow-up Adventure, and the self-titled debut, which didn’t make much of an impression although I didn’t hate it. Television reformed in the mid-90’s, and I duly picked that one up as well, but by then I had lost my enthusiasm for Verlaine’s music and haven’t picked up anything since. He’s continued to record and perform, and I understand some of it is quite good- maybe one of these days I’ll get around to giving it a listen. One thing is certain- I’ll continue to play Dreamtime as much as I’ve played it in the last 28 years, which is to say very often.

Here’s a comprehensive site with a ton of info on both Television and Verlaine.

Please bear with.

14 09 2008

I knew this wasn’t going to be an every day post blog, but even by those standards I’ve been slack in getting stuff done here. Blame outside influences, work, etc.

I have about five albums in various draft stages, and I do intend to get around to finishing them eventually, so I beg your indulgence and hang in there with me; hopefully I’ll get this thing going soon.

The Beach Boys- Sunflower

2 09 2008

Released: August 1970

Track List: Slip On Through, This Whole World, Add Some Music to Your Day, Got to Know the Woman, Deirdre, It’s About Time, Tears in the Morning, All I Wanna Do, Forever, Our Sweet Love, At My Window, Cool, Cool Water

Intro: It’s difficult to imagine now, since decades of critical reevaluation and praise, as well as generations of subsequent musicians singing their praises, how un-hip the Beach Boys were at the post-Woodstock and Monterey Pop beginning of the 1970’s. The Boys’ no-show at Monterey, prevailing musical trends, and  Jimi Hendrix’s famous remark about the Boys being a “psychedelic barbershop quartet” as well as the line in his “Third Stone from the Sun”:  “To you I shall put an end, then you’ll never hear surf music again.” (That turned out to be an inaccurate interpretation of a truncated lyric, but the damage was done), along with Brian Wilson’s disappointed (his very personal Pet Sounds was not a sales success, thanks to Capitol Records’ boneheaded promotion, which included the release of a Greatest Hits compilation that further undercut sales and the legendary drug-addled, star-crossed follow-up SMiLE session crash and burn) withdrawal from principal songwriting (in fairness, he was also busy producing other acts in this period during his more lucid periods)…all conspired to relegate the BB’s to also-ran status. But in the wake of Brian’s post-SMiLE flameout, they were far from idle; the other WIlson brothers, Carl and Dennis, as well as cousin Mike Love and bandmates Al Jardine and Brian’s touring replacement Brian Johnston, did their best to pick up the slack and released several albums in the period immediately preceding this release, many of very high quality. This was the Boys’ first album for Warner Bros., with whom they signed just before their Capitol contract expired. It was the second on their own Brother Records label. They had every reason to be optimistic; with Brian seeming to be interested in making music again, a slew of new studio tech to play with (they even listed most of it in the sleeve notes), a host of new songs either in the can or in the works, and a new record label- but unfortunately the best laid plans just didn’t work out for the group. This album underwent at least two different configurations, both under different titles and both rejected by WB head Mo Ostin before Sunflower, in this format, got the go-ahead. And, it was not a hit, inexplicably reaching only #151 on the US charts, an inauspicious debut to their disappointing (sales-wise) Warner Bros. period. For the whole convoluted story, go here. Still, it got great reviews for the most part, and has become a favorite of many fans, to the point where it’s generally regarded as one of the group’s best albums. Here’s an interesting blog, unfortunately idle since February, about the recording of this album.

Track By Track:

SLIP ON THROUGH: This one launches in without an intro or a count-in, just a cowbell- and slinky-horns-punctuated riff that ushers in the trademark vocal harmonies on the chorus. Dennis Wilson, beginning to assert his creativity in the studio, wrote and sang lead. Lyrically, nothing elaborate- it’s a c’mon and love me type song that does get things off to a rousing start and at 2:17 is just long enough to not wear out its welcome.

THIS WHOLE WORLD: Brian’s first contribution finds him on top of things arrangement-wise, mixing and matching tempos and keys with reckless abandon a la “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. However, this one doesn’t quite have the same depth as earlier triumphs; telling is the first line: I’m thinking ’bout this whole world… and it becomes a McCartneyesque rumination on how much better things would be if we all loved each other, blah blah blah. Based on idle speculation instead of deeply felt conviction, it sums up why so much of his post-Sounds input suffered in comparison. Which is not to say that this isn’t a very good track- it’s one of the best on a very good album, catchy as hell and of course well sung by Brian and Carl and the other fellows.

ADD SOME MUSIC TO YOUR DAY: Take what I said about “World”, and substitute “music” for “love” and you get the gist of this, the first single from the album. Still, this is a clever and often winning song with a drop-dead gorgeous melody, dealing with how much music is/was a part of our lives, as true in 2008 as it was in 1969. I’m especially fond of this verse:

They’ll play it on your wedding day
There must be ’bout a million ways
To add some music
To your day

A winning, warm sentiment, and it’s a goosebump moment when the Boys sing the title in unison as the song winds down.

GOT TO KNOW THE WOMAN: This one’s a wannabe Motown-ish soul stomper, and it does succeed after a fashion. Another Dennis composition, and he does convince as he tells us in no uncertain terms how horny he is for a young lady he just met. It’s on par with previous BBs Motown-ish exercises, like “WIld Honey” and “I’d Love Just Once to See You”.

DEIRDRE: Bruce Johnston’s first contribution to Sunflower proves once more that he could really bring the sap like nothing short of a Vermont maple tree. This is an old-fashioned sounding, golly-gee-whiz starry-eyed love song for the titular inamorata, sashaying along with flute flourishes after each verse and of course the swelling harmonies before the chorus. In many cases, Johnston’s style didn’t always agree with me, but this is a grand and glorious and slightly overlooked track, which has gradually become a favorite of mine (as if you couldn’t tell).

IT’S ABOUT TIME is Carl’s spotlight; it’s a rocking little declaration of self-reliance, punctuated with some twangy distorted guitar licks, kind of a piece with “Got to Know the Woman”. It’s no major revelation, but it is an urgent, catchy tune and fits in very well, keeping the album grounded.

TEARS IN THE MORNING: Johnston’s second contribution is nowhere near as successful as his first; where “Dierdre” at least had a sunny cheerfulness about it, this one’s weepy and self-pitying, and the melody meanders. Very skippable.

ALL I WANNA DO is quite possibly my favorite on this album; its echoey, ghostly vibe and beautiful melody make it distinctive and captivating. Lyrically, it’s simple if not simplistic; the singer is pledging his troth to the object of his affection. But the melody and arrangement- the harmony mix on the lines “My love is burning brightly/like moon and stars shine nightly” is breathtaking- make all the difference. This one’s Brian and Mike Love, with one of Love’s best vocals.

FOREVER once again spotlights Dennis’ songwriting abilities; no less an authority than Brian himself said “Forever has to be the most harmonically beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. It’s a rock and roll prayer.” It’s another pledge of devotion to the singer’s lady love; vocals are most prominent in the mix but there is minimal instrumental accompaniment present.

OUR SWEET LOVE: One line in this Brian/Carl/Al Jardine composition is telling in regards to how desperately the Boys wanted to be accepted by the Love Generation:

I thought about a summer day
And how the time just floats away
Pretty things like incense and flowers
I wanna make them part of
…Our sweet love

Problem is, to the groovy people listening to Led Zeppelin II, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and Let It Be, (the Beatles album, not the Replacements) well, this sort of thing just sounded quaint and old fashioned, especially considering the overly precious arrangement it was given. It’s a nice enough song, and time has been kind to it…but it’s for BB fans only, and there just weren’t as many of them at that stage of the game.

AT MY WINDOW: Brian’s stoned rumination on the birds outside must have caused some askance looks when presented to the others, but the eldest Wilson sibling still had enough mojo to craft a strong, lovely melody for it. It would have made an apropos single in tandem with his equally stoned slice-of-life tune “Busy Doin’ Nothin'”, I do believe.

COOL, COOL WATER is one of the multitudes of leftover song fragments from SMiLE, and while it is fleshed out to an amazing 5 minutes with the help of a lot of studio tomfoolery, it still sounds more like a fragment than an honest-to-goodness complete track. Mostly an a capella dual lead between Brian and Mike, this one has its ardent admirers, citing its “inspired simplicity”… but I have never really understood what all the fuss is about. 

Outro: I was a slow convert to the music of the Beach Boys; as a kid growing up I had heard many of their classic hits like “Good Vibrations” and “I Get Around”, but never thought of them as on a par with the Beatles or anybody like that. They were just a lighthearted AM radio band, as far as I knew. I saw them once in a while in my early teens, in their kaftan-wearing hirsute phase, but paid them no real heed. Then, a chance hearing of 1971’s Surf’s Up track “Feel Flows” on a Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders compilation in my late teens completely threw me for a loop. “Flows” was a druggy, distorted Carl WIlson track that sounded totally unlike anything I had imagined the Beach Boys could sound like, and my notorious curiosity consumed me. That led me to read the up-and-down history of the group, including Brian’s decline and information about a whole bunch of albums (including Surf’s Up) that were out of print and damn near impossible to find anywhere. But I persevered, acquired a couple of band histories, and even eventually acquired nearly all of the post-1965 albums, either on vinyl or in the CD reissues…and truly became born again hard into Beach Boys fandom.  Sunflower was not an immediate favorite; I knew Christgau gave it a good grade but he had a soft spot for the band anyway, especially back in the late 60’s-early 70’s; He even gave 1967’s Wild Honey an A+! Only two or three of the songs- “All I Want to Do”, “Add Some Music”- hit me where I felt it, but after repeated listenings I eventually saw the light and like many I do consider this one of their best efforts. Top five, anyway.

Van Morrison- Veedon Fleece

26 08 2008

Released: October 1974

Track list: Fair Play, Linden Arden Stole the Highlights, Who Was That Masked Man?, Streets of Arklow, You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Sure Push the River, Bulbs, Cul De Sac, Comfort You, Come Here My Love, Country Fair

Intro: By the time Morrison released Veedon in 1974, he was in a bit of a transitional period; his previous studio LP, 1973’s Hard Nose the Highway, had generated a top 40 hit with “Warm Love” but was no album sales blockbuster; critics regarded it as a aesthetic failure in general. His outstanding early ’74 double live set It’s Too Late to Stop Now had restored some of that luster, but it was a set of covers and back catalog tunes, with no new songs to be found. Fresh from a 1973 divorce, and with new girlfriend in tow, Morrison traveled to his home country of Ireland to perhaps reconnect with his musical roots. Muse secured, songs were recorded in late ’73 and early ’74 on both coasts; some with his road band that featured Dahaud Shaar, Jef Labes and David Hayes, and others recorded in New York with session musicians. It was released in October of that year to mixed reviews and underwhelming sales- Warner Bros. didn’t seem know what to think about such a personal and not-quite-radio-friendly record, which frustrated and angered Morrison, who feuded with Warners about how it was (and/or wasn’t, as the case may be) being promoted…then took three years- an eternity in those days- to follow it up. Initially underrated, Veedon Fleece has undergone something of a reappraisal over the years since its release, and now is generally regarded as one the best efforts from his classic period.

On initial listens, this album seems to be a return to the spare acoustic jazz of his Astral Weeks album of five years prior; however, this is the work of an artist who has grown in any number of ways. There’s a depth, scope and facility to VF that isn’t quite there in its celebrated predecessor.

Track by Track:

FAIR PLAY: Tentative piano notes, with brushes on snare and upright bass, introduce the midtempo lead track. It’s a jazzy, folkish cut; alternately a travelogue (the Ireland trip informs this track quite a bit), a love song and a tribute to many of the poets and writers he’d been reading. Yes, this is pretty much the place where all the namedropping started, with the lines

Tell me of Poe
Oscar Wilde and Thoreau
Let your midnight and your daytime
Turn into love of life

although he really didn’t get obnoxious with it for another ten years. To me, it’s evocative of Autumn afternoons, with leaves blowing in the golden sunshine and that feeling in the air…your impression might not be so idyllic, but it’s that kind of a song.

LINDEN ARDEN STOLE THE HIGHLIGHTS is a story song (or is it?) about an Irishman, a hard drinker but also religious sort who was fond of children. Apparently on the lam from some sort of trouble in San Francisco, when he discovers that the “boys” have come looking for him he decides to find them first and kill them before they can do the same for him. The song concludes by summing up that even though he seems to be above the law, he still seems to be resigned to a life of paranoid vigilance, “living with a gun” so to speak. This line deftly provides a segue of sorts into the next song. On the surface this appears to be, like I said up top, a story song (inspired by seeing a poster of a play, I seem to recall reading someone quoting Morrison as saying)…but looking a little deeper I have to wonder if it is also an early expression of another future Morrison preoccupation, that of how the music business and men with neckties have taken advantage of, and continue to seek out new ways to do the same to him. Substitute Van for “Linden Arden” and the “Boys from San Francisco” for the record company business execs, and this makes sense, I believe. Accompaniment for this one is spare, with barely felt upright bass and snare, Labes’ piano and some tastefully added strings towards the end making up the bulk of it. Van provides another impassioned vocal performance; growly at the lower end, falsetto at the end, singing the aforementioned last line with a weary sort of resignation.

WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN? finds Van doing his best falsetto Smokey Robinson impression in service of a track that deals lyrically with themes of loneliness and isolation, reflected in his ambivalence and distaste for the whole rock star scene- something which he had touched upon earlier in Hard Nose the Highway‘s “The Great Deception”.  It’s taken in a sluggish sort of tempo, mostly in a jazz/R&B feel but punctuated with Carl Perkins-like twangy guitar licks that echo the first few lines. There’s a nice part in the middle section that begins with “You can hang suspended from a star/or wish on a toilet roll” that’s carried along by the string section which to that point had been absent. No, I don’t really know what he meant by that line either. Regardless, it’s another atmospheric track which makes up for its paranoid, sour lyric by virtue of its lovely melody and strong arrangement.

STREETS OF ARKLOW is another travelogue; in this one Van’s back to singing about Gypsies with hearts on fire that love to wander and love to roam. Certainly inspired by the Irish trip and the town of Wicklow in particular, it’s given a moody, dark and beautiful arrangement, and it also introduces the secret weapon of this album: the recorder of Jim Rothermel, which dances all around and in and out of the strings and vocals. After all is said and done, this one’s pretty much my favorite track on the album.

YOU DON’T PULL NO PUNCHES (BUT YOU DON’T PUSH THE RIVER) is the album’s magnum opus, and over eight minutes it was longer than any other Van track to date, save for Hard Nose the Highway‘s “Autumn Song”. Concerned with the search for spiritual truth and fulfillment, as embodied by the Van-conceived “Veedon Fleece”, a sort of holy grail stand-in, he begins by addressing his female companion, singing about her childhood; then moves on to reference Ireland once more and the West Coast (of California, I assume, where they lived),  then begins namechecking a seminal influence- the poet, painter, and mystic William Blake, who is described as standing with the Sisters of Mercy, accompanied by the Eternals. I’ve read a little about Blake in my time, obviously Van has read more, I don’t know exactly what this refers to except by association. He went on to do this sort of thing a LOT more in the years to come. The title, it seems to me, refers to the tendency to aggressively seek enlightenment rather than let it come to you naturally, and how pains must be taken to remain patient as you search. The arrangement is an ambitious one, with a rolling, tumbling piano intro, joined by strings and Rothermel on flute. Van contributes some wonderful scatting in the last third of the song, repeating the title several times before the song eventually begins to fall apart, the swirling strings and flutes recede, and he quietly sings the title one last time over the soft string section. It’s quite a remarkable track, influenced by his studies then in gestalt theory.

BULBS was probably the most radio-friendly track on the album; it’s certainly the most up-tempo and positive-sounding, with a sort of Country/Western feel due to the twangy guitar licks that are heard throughout. Lyrically, not so positive- it seems to be a somewhat angst-laden account of burning out and leaving the country of your birth to move to America, something which Van must have spent a lot of time musing upon. It’s another song which seems to be about a character, but could be describing Morrison himself, which could make this another “hate the music biz and touring” type song. Only Van knows for sure. Regardless, the single was not a hit, possibly due to the discrepancy between the lyric sentiment and the upbeat accompaniment. Also, Van showed that he didn’t quite get American sports; he references “kicking off from center field” in the song’s first line, effectively mixing his baseball and football metaphors. Of course, American football teams do technically kick off from the middle of the field to begin the game, so perhaps that’s what he meant. Who knows. This is one of the cuts written for, but left off Hard Nose the Highway.

CUL DE SAC is a rollicking barrelhouse shuffle of a song, featuring the best vocal performance on the entire album from our boy, who scats and croons and yowls and shouts- it’s really something. Lyrically, it seems to be another song concerned with reminding himself to stay grounded and not get caught up in the glamour of the star game, as well as the desire for a place to “take your rest/and hide away”.

COMFORT YOU is a pretty much straightforward pledge of love and devotion to companion Carol Guida (one assumes). It’s another track with an easygoing jazzy shuffle tempo and a nice string arrangement and guitar solo.

COME HERE MY LOVE is another straightforward love song- this time a hushed ballad, lyrically a come-on with a spiritual flavor. It’s mostly vocal, with minimal acoustic guitar accompaniment. The second of the deferred Hard Nose cuts.

COUNTRY FAIR closes the record in pastoral splendor; it’s a quiet, moody, evocative song that reminisces about days gone by, in the setting of a country fair “in sweet summertime”. It looks back with a bittersweet, even regretful, sort of nostalgia- probably indicative of Van’s discontent with his rockstar lifestyle. It’s given another spare arrangement that works wonderfully; mostly acoustic guitar and Rothermel on recorder again, and a sitar-like drone of sorts that barely registers in the background, although there is no musician credit for that instrument on the sleeve. I think this is an overlooked gem, and one of Morrison’s best songs.

Outro: These days, I’m hot and cold on Morrison’s music. Still enjoy the Warners years, but since then he’s emphasized an ordinary R&B sound at the expense of all the other styles he employed back in the day, no folk, no jazz, no pop. Subject matter has grown increasingly narrowed in focus as well; for an awfully long time it seemed like when he wasn’t grumbling about what a shitty place the world and the music biz was, he was extolling the virtues of religious life and the writers and poets he’d been idolizing. At first, it was fine, and the namedropping actually started on this very album. But by the mid-90’s, it had become overdone and annoying. He’s downplayed these tendencies in recent releases, but the music remains uninspired and bland in my opinion. However, there’s no way I can under-represent the enormous effect this album has had on me. In a lot of ways, it changed the way I listened to music forever and opened up a lot of vistas for me that I had previously been unaware of…pretty much your basic horizon-expander. I first spotted it on the album rack at the town drug store in January of 1975; I had some Christmas money left over and was looking to spend it on some new music. Intrigued by the eye-catching cover with its tinted photo of Van sitting in front of a huge mansion he didn’t own and holding two Irish Wolfhounds that didn’t belong to him either, I bought the 8-track (I was having problems keeping surface noise off my records back then, and was buying tapes a lot instead) and took it home. It was very different from anything I’d heard before; I’d previously only stayed within my rock/Beatlepop comfort zone. At first, I didn’t know what to make of it, and didn’t care for it all too much…but repeated listens won me over. I didn’t go on a huge search for similar music, what with the limited reference resources I had then, but I did obsessively pick up the rest of Van’s back catalogue (on Warners, anyway)…and while I came to love many of them, Veedon remained- and remains- my favorite.

Morrison’s people are vehemently opposed to disseminating his work on the internet anywhere except for his offical website so I won’t be posting any sample tracks. If you’d like to hear some, let me direct you to the official site’s Veedon Fleece page; it has lyrics and credits as well as samples. Also helpful when writing this, the VF Wikipedia page.

I don’t plan for all of these to be so long in the future, but you never know. This is one album I’ve wanted to write about in detail for years, and I finally got to do so.

Would you like to do a number with me?

18 08 2008

Hello there, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the first of what I hope will be many blog entries at Johnny B’s Off the Record.

Ready for a rambling and long-winded introductory post? You are? Great! Here we go!

My name is David Allen Jones, and my main gig for over five years has been my (mostly) comics blog, The Johnny Bacardi Show, although I’ve had other outlets for my restless fingers along the way such as the Johnny Bacardi LiveJournal Show (for stuff I didn’t want to put on the main blog- memes, etc.), a short-lived sketch blog, and one in particular which is most germane to this one- my classic-Elton John-themed Solar Prestige A Gammon, in which I took a entirely subjective look at the individual songs that made up what I considered to be the peak years of Mr. Dwight’s career. It was kinda fun, and I got a lot of swell feedback, but by its very nature it was destined to come to an end…and that end came quicker than I expected. I was inspired to do that blog by a handful of other writers that had been doing similar work at about that time, screenwriter Todd Alcott’s looks at the solo work of Paul McCartney as well as his series (still in progress) on David Bowie, Matthew Perpetua’s excellent R.E.M. blog PopSong 08, and Curt Holman’s R.E.M. posts also, and while I don’t think SPaG held a candle to theirs, I am kinda proud of it nonetheless.

Here’s the thing- while I still like writing about comics, I also like to write about music. And since I decided to focus on comics on the JBS, my music writing (outside of the SPaG blog, of course) has kinda fallen by the wayside. I occasionally make music-related posts at the LJ, but I don’t seem to get half the readership there as I do the other (not that I would know- I have yet to figure out a way to track hits on an LJ)…so I do want to continue to do some sort of regular (or semi-regular) music-dedicated blog. Now, for a couple of years there I did a semi-regular feature on the JBS that I called Johnny B’s Mondo Vinyl-O, inspired by the purchase of a new turntable about five years ago (still working, knock wood!). I would write a paragraph of varying length about whatever long-playing 33-13 RPM vinyl record album that I would reacquaint myself with in the wake of the purchase. I’m proud of many of those, about six all total I think, but they were often a bear to write- and I think it was because I was trying to do ten at a time or so. What I want to do here, then, I think, is continue the spirit of the Vinyl-O’s, but not limit myself to vinyl from my collection- which means I’ll be writing about albums that I have on all media: vinyl, CD, Mp3, hell, maybe even cassette and 8-track if I can find any. Rather than do individual tracks a la SPaG, or multiple albums in one long post, I’ll do one album at a time, and try to run down each track on the album with what I hope will be interesting commentary on each. This will not be something I think that I can just dash out, so chances are I won’t be posting something every day- and I hope this doesn’t put anybody off visiting anyway. Just add me to your feed reader and that way when I DO post, you’ll know.

I suppose at some point I should establish my bona fides, such as they are, and this is as good a point as any. I was born in 1960, January of same to be exact(er), and I know this makes me (probably) a great deal older than many of you reading this. To some, I suppose this matters when dealing with popular music, which is, after all, best appreciated and served by youth- or so some think. Myself, I have never subscribed to this theory. But anyway, more on that later. While neither of my parents were musicians, they both loved music and had no problem with buying me 45s to listen to on my little plastic record player I got when I was a toddler. Probably the first record I ever owned was a 45 of “Apples, Apples, Apples” (“Winesap and Jonathan and by gosh, Golden Delicious and Macintosh”) b/w “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” by one Dennis O’Day, so obscure that I can’t find anything via Google Search about him. as well as a 45 of Louis Armstrong’s hit version of “Hello Dolly”…but it was not long after that two absolutely seminal pieces of plastic crossed my path, and I was never the same- my Aunt Lavana’s (more on her later) copy of Meet the Beatles, and the 45 of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. The influence these records had on me was immense. In fact, I got a lot of my self-taught musical education from dear Lavana, still with us to this day- she came of age in the 1950s, loved music, and had a great deal of the classic singles of the era such as “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Bros., “To Know Him is to Love Him” by the Phil Spector-produced Teddy Bears, Dion’s “The Wanderer” (still a favorite), “Poison Ivy” by the Coasters, and many others, which I would play on her single-speaker (but bigger than my little one at home) record player when I stayed with my grandparents while my parents were at work. They all, god bless ’em, saw how much I loved the music so they let me listen as much as I wanted. Upping the ante a bit was the jukebox at the bowling alley  where my Dad was a league bowler- there were tons of great songs on that thing, and Cash’s “Ring” was one that grabbed me and didn’t let go. I was probably 4 or 5 at the time, and for all I knew it was about a house on fire or somesuch (in fact, that may be one way of looking at it, sorta)…but all I knew was that I couldn’t get enough. My Dad got tired of me bumming dimes off him to play it so he bought it for me, and I wore that thing out, along with the Beatles album that my Aunt (who wasn’t as crazy about it as I) had broken down and given to me. And that’s how it went for the next 3 or 4 years, in which I’d hear something on the radio perhaps, or my folks would bring it home, and once in a while I’d get a 45 if I really liked it. Of course, I kept up with the exploits of the Beatles, who were #1 in my heart…I had the bubblegum cards, saw the movies on TV, would make it a point to see them when they’d appear on this or that show (in fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is of seeing the Fabs on the Ed Sullivan Show, first or second appearance- I forget- and being all “wow” and my Mom saying “…so THAT’S the Beatles.”). Of course, other musicians popped up in my radar as well but being 7 years old during the Summer of Love, other than the paper I just didn’t really have any way to get info about them. I mean, I knew who Dylan, the Kinks, the Stones, and the Byrds were, but I did not really go out of my way to try and coerce my folks to buy their records for me. Fortunately, my parents (while somewhat conservative, as small town Kentucky parents tended to be) were at least open minded, and (I think) knew I had a restless, spongelike mind so they didn’t discourage me from reading and listening to what I could, and eventually I started getting an allowance of sorts…and that’s when things got under way.

Another early influence on me and my listening habits was my next door neighbor, Russ Butler. Now, he was several years older than me, and was listening to early 70’s juggernauts like Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin, and he was nice enough to loan them to me so I could listen too. I also joined the Columbia Music Club in early 1972, obtaining many excellent 8-tracks and LPs through them for at least 10 years. Other friends had other records, that they had gotten from older brothers or whatever- first heard Jethro Tull that way, via classmate Mark Branstetter, or Rod Stewart via my friend Teri. It was catch as catch can for a few years. At about this same time, I made another major discovery: music magazines. Now HERE was a way that I could combine my love of reading and my love of music, and find out about new albums and the artists that made them to boot! CREEM, Crawdaddy, Canadian music mag Beetle, Circus, Hit Parader, eventually Rolling Stone,Musician and much, much later MOJO…all fed the fire. My parents would drive north to Louisville to visit friends for several years when I was a teen, and gave me money to shop. I’d buy a paperback book and an album, and this went on for a good 4-5 years. Also, I discovered the used record and tape stores on the Bardstown Road up there, in particular one called Rivertown Records which was STUFFED with fantastic albums of recent late 60’s-early 70’s vintage, and I made many excellent purchases there because they were dirt cheap. Oh, if only I had a time machine. Anyway, that’s the way it went for many years- buying LPs, 8-tracks, and getting tipped off to interesting artists by reading. I also had developed a fascination with the output of one label in particular, Warner Bros./Reprise- they had many fascinating acts on their label, as well as a package design that grabbed the eye as well as the mind of this young creatively-inclined boy. To this day I seek out late 60’s-early 70’s albums by acts that appeared on those labels. Then, as I became mobile, I started driving myself to record shops in Bowling Green (30 miles south), Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, and meeting people like Jeff Sweeney, who’s managed most of the decent record stores in Bowling Green, and Bill Lloyd, who recommended many, many excellent late 70’s-early 80’s albums to this impressionable young man when I’d see him working at Tunetown aka the Emporium aka I’m sure many other names in BG back then. And that’s been pretty much the way I’ve kept up with and discovered new and old music, on through cassettes, CDs, and now the not-as-fulfilling-from-a-creative-standpoint (no packaging!) digital Mp3 format, which compensates with its convenience, when paired with iPods and iTunes and other devices. I can honestly say that my tastes have not calcified over the decades; while I remain devoted to the music of my formative years, especially that from 1970-1975, I have discovered and come to love music from the Eighties, Nineties, and on into the current decade. It’s not as easy now as it once was, though, due to the fractured and fractious, not to mention segregated and segmented, music business today…it seems like there are more and more new bands popping up every day, none of which last very long and a good 3/4 or more of them, when I hear them, remind me of other groups that I’m well familiar with and are better by comparison. Whatever this blog becomes, I don’t want it to be an exercise in nostalgia, so there will be looks at releases from current musicians.

Whew! I know, that was long and winding but take heart- we’re near the end. Anyway, despite my lifelong preoccupation, I never really went anywhere with it- I took only the minimum college English and music courses, and only one Journalism class. I remained a listener only- until I started blogging. I started my first blog to write about stuff I liked, be it film, music, TV, sports or comic books…and indeed spent a lot of time writing about all of them until the birth of the Comics Blogosphere led me to narrow the focus a bit in favor of comics above the others. I have never really considered myself a music critic per se, just an amateur who has absorbed enough Robert Christgau (the Dean, and probably my biggest influence), Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Billy Altman, Lester Bangs and others to be able to regurgitate a reasonably coherent simalcrum.  And that’s what I’m going to do here. This is going to be the music blog that I never thought I had the sand to write. I don’t plan on doing a lot of current events-type posts, or interviews, or anything like that- it’s just going to be my opinions and observations on albums picked at random from my collection. I’m not saying that I will provide anything you can’t get in far more polished and thorough places on the Web, but hopefully I’ll be able to at least hold your attention and get across what I think about the subject at hand.

I hope you’ll all dig it. Look for the first one in the next few days, with any luck. And no, the one I’m holding at left isn’t it, although I’d like to get to that one someday.