Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Soft Boys Reunion Rarities

Generally speaking, reunions do not excite me. The 2002 Soft Boys reunion was not an exception. Don't get me wrong, I bought the excellent reunion album, Nextdoorland, making a special effort to buy it on LP because it came with a bonus live 7" single, and picked up the mail-order only Side Three. But I wasn't really clamoring for a band reunion because Robyn Hitchcock's solo albums suited me just fine, and in truth any song on Nextdoorland could have easily slotted into his previous effort, Jewels For Sophia, or for that matter 2006's Ole! Tarantula. Any of the guys other than bassist Matthew Seligman were likely to show up as guests on a Hitchcock solo album anyway.

While the resultant material broke no new ground, it was very good. There was no way the band was going to produce another masterpiece on the order of 1980's Underwater Moonlight, recorded when the band was young and hungry (and actually a band). But the new material has a lot going for it, with the warm feeling of a bunch of old friends re-discovering why they got along so well in the first place.

This was a reunion that succeeded in part because it was so unnecessary. Very often the prospect of a band reunion is exciting because the members have done little worth bothering with since the band broke up. The resulting reunions are often disappointing because that trend continues after the band reforms. The Soft Boys reunion was not burdened with any of that kind of baggage, and succeeded marvelously on its own terms.

"Narcissus" comes from the mail-order only Side Three, while "Only The Stones Remain" comes from the live 7" included with vinyl copies of Nextdoorland, and shows the band to be in just as good form as they were back in 1980.

Richard & Linda Thompson - Sunnyvista

Sunnyvista is one of the most commercial sounding albums of Richard Thompson's career; it is also one of the few that is currently out-of-print. The bright, shiny surfaces of Sunnyvista are belied by Thompson's usual downcast lyrics, and the obvious irony of the cover art. Sunnyvista is a good album with some good songs, but it is hard to escape the feeling that there is something not-quite right about it--the whole project feels much like the mortician's art of painting smiles on a dead man. After this album's commercial failure Thompson would never again release an album with such obviously commercial production, presumably having realized his audience consisted mainly of those who prefer their doom and gloom straight up with no chaser.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Plimsouls

I've already covered Peter Case's first band, The Nerves, and his solo career, so here's something by his second band, The Plimsouls. This song originally appeared on a cassette-only compilation, and much later on Rhino's out-of-print Plimsoul's...Plus CD. It's hard to imagine why the band would have chosen to relegate a song this good to obscurity. It may not be the equal of "Zero Hour" or "A Million Miles Away," but with some of Peter Case's most soulful vocals and some nice Byrdsian guitars, it's pretty darn good.

Anyone know if the band's 1998 reunion album, Kool Trash, is worth picking up?

My friend Adam just pointed out to me that A Cappella Books recently published Peter Case's memoir of his early years in music, As Far As You Can Get Without A Passport. It looks interesting.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Forever Changes - My Take

Guy's post on Forever Changes got me thinking about my own history with the album, so much so that I decided to write my own post on it. I was a junior in High School when I first learned about Forever Changes from a well-worn copy of The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. In his five-star review of the album, Dave Marsh described Forever Changes as an "indescribably essential…soundtrack to an LSD movie." That sounded like something I should hear.

Unlike Guy, I didn't feel let down when I initially heard the album, but that could be because I was predisposed to like it by all the positive press I had read in advance. Also, I was already a fan of neo-psychedelic acts like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, Robyn Hitchcock, and others on whom Forever Changes had been a catalyzing influence, so I had some context in which to understand the album.

That is not to say that everything about Forever Changes went down easily for me. I had been at least partly indoctrinated into the ideology of punk rock, and had developed a healthy distrust of anything that came out of the sixties. It struck me as vaguely pathetic that so many of my peers listened to nothing but "classic rock" while ignoring the indie rock bands I was devoted to. But I reserved my most severe judgments for those 60s rock acts that had the audacity to stick around into the 80s in order to tell the kids how much cooler everything was back in the 60s. I vividly remember once wiping a giant booger on a Starship CD at a record store, and justifying my obnoxious behavior by saying "anyone who buys that crap gets what they deserve." I was quite the young charmer.

Tracking down a copy of Forever Changes wasn't as easy as it should have been. None of the record stores in my area stocked it. I found a copy of Rhino's Best Of Love compilation at Tower Records in Washington D.C., and later an Elektra repressing of Forever Changes by special order. The first two Love albums were much harder to track down, but eventually I found servicable used copies of them as well.

Forever Changes had a huge effect on me. I spent hours transcribing the lyrics, then studying and attempting to interpret them much in the way I was being taught to interpret poems in my English Literature classes. The novel construction of the songs floored me. I was especially impressed with the way Lee used the anticipated but absent last word of a rhyming couplet to begin a subsequent line in "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale" and the double tracking of contradictory lyrics on the "The Red Telephone." Despite lyrics like "the snot has caked against my pants, it has turned into crystal," it was clear to me that there was more than a bunch of drugged out, hippy nonsense going on here.

The syrupy strings and the mariachi flavored horns that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Whipped Cream and Other Delights didn't phase me (although it did freak me out a little bit when I heard Johnny Mathis on the radio and thought it was a lost Forever Changes outtake). I probably figured the easy-listening influence was subversive or ironic, or something. The thought that maybe Herb Alpert's music was cooler than I was willing to admit didn't cross my mind at the time.

I eagerly re-purchased the album when it was first released on CD in the late 80s. I looked forward to hearing the album's lush string arrangements in "master-tape quality" on a medium that would provide "perfect sound forever." Now that was a disappointment! The CD had a loud 10 kHz "buzz" throughout the entire program that made it unlistenable. When I asked the record store owner what was wrong with the CD he told me that the buzz was a flaw on the master tapes, only you couldn't hear it on LP because the medium wasn't "resolving" enough. Even at 18 I wasn't going to fall for that. Fortunately Rhino did a much better job with their recent expanded, remastered edition, and the Sundazed vinyl re-issue is nearly the equal of an original LP pressing. Either is a very good way to experience the album.

Forever Changes is the quintessential "lost classic," never mind that it has been rediscovered enough times that it probably should be awarded gold record status. Its musical influence has been huge, even if no one ever created anything quite like it again.

But setting aside questions of musical influence, Lee's career would have a profound effect on future generations of musicians in a way that is rarely acknowledged. Elektra president Jac Holzman once famously said of Lee:
"Arthur was, and perhaps still is, one of the smartest, most intelligent, and finest musicians I have ever met in my entire career of making records. As large as his talent, however, was his penchant for isolation and not doing what was necessary to bring his music to the audience. His isolation cost him a career. Which was a shame, because he was one of the few geniuses I have met—in all of rock 'n' rolldom."

Thus, Lee's career became the model for any number of indie-rockers who mistakenly believe that sabotaging one's career and reluctance (or inability) to cultivate a mass audience is proof of musical genius. Fortunately, Lee left behind some great music as legacy.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

New Contributer Alert

Thanks to our new contributer, Guy, who wrote the fantastic essay on Forever Changes below. Forever Changes has long been one of my favorite albums, and reading Guy's essay brought back my own memories of searching for the album. It's hard to believe this classic album was once hard to find; today it is available as an expanded CD from Rhino, and on LP from Sundazed.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Forever Changes

“They’re locking them up today.
They’re throwing away the key.

I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?”

Years ago, I attended a record swap meet with the intention of acquiring copies of MC5’s Kick Out The Jams (then out of print) and Love’s Forever Changes. First, a bit of background – my adolescence consisted of haunting groove bazaars and bending the ears of long suffering merchants about the very nature of "cool music." Copies of Raw Power, Too Much Too Soon and White Light/White Heat were mustered. Inquiries concerning The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Gants, The Amboy Dukes, The Fugs and – of course – Love ensued.

The extremely freaky gent at the specialty booth sported a caftan and a graying Prince Valiant 'do. Although he had not seen a gatefold copy of Kick Out The Jams in several months, he assured me that it was, in fact, "cool." He did have, however, on the premises, several unopened copies of Forever Changes ("really cool") with which he would be willing to part. I had heard Love’s roiling "7 And 7 Is" and "My Little Red Book" on Rhino’s Nuggets reissues. Attracted to their Stone-d rancor, and by the conventional wisdom that Forever Changes was Love's masterpiece, I pegged the disc to be a punky brawl – one that spilled out of the garage into the street.

Immediately upon returning to HQ, I slapped my New Favorite Record onto the turntable.

Ahem…

It didn’t Rock. Not even in the very slightest. The GaragePunkSound was nowhere to he heard. Strings and frills fluttered, voices sighed, mild-mannered trumpets subtly trilled and the meek (not Joe Meek, either) inherited The Earth. Indeed, the record seemed to have a lot more in common with Les And Larry Elgart or The Tijuana Brass than it did with The Stooges. Foiled Again! After a few more half-assed listens, I swapped Forever Changes to my neighbor and its sad Muzak was marked as a scam run down on the smartypants intelligentsia. Nothing – nothing – on this platter seemed to matter.

Many years later, I was consuming a meal at The Kentucky Fried Chicken in Woonsocket. Bathed in fluorescent unholy glow, I became aware of a strange rooty toot toot sound floating over the Formica tabletops – something odd and familiar. Great Guns! The Colonel was beaming "Alone Again Or" over the speaker system. Between soporifics from The Doobie Brothers and Peter Cetera, Harlan Sanders had managed to slip a little Love. Moreover, instead of sounding slight and sugary, the music was now eerie and powerful. Such a perverse portent was unmistakable. It was necessary for me to give Forever Changes another spin.

Over the ensuing decades (!) Forever Changes has become a favorite listen. Its’ sinister sun baked vibes never fail to violate the imagination. I’m sure it holds an esteemed presence in the canon of many a hipster, most of who were equally bewildered upon initial encounter.

Forever Changes is thorny enough to dictate its own terms. It obstinately refuses to 'rock,' choosing instead to decorate its sound with oddball pops. The melodies are eccentric and the lyrics, when not obscure, are hostile. Punks find themselves at a sneering tea party where sharp chicks trade in-jokes. Those lonely fan boys who endlessly search for those extra-special girls wind up with blackened eyes and split lips. Arthur Lee was no-one’s pal. Try to follow his verses and he’ll give you headache. Attempt to speak his tongue and he’ll kick your ass. This would explain the time required for Forever Changes to work its’ weird glamour. Like Black Monk Time or Charles Laughton’s silver screen séance, Night Of The Hunter, Forever Changes demands capitulation from all. Man, that’s a scary thought.

One of the consequences of listening is the inadvertent construction of a new vocabulary. Forever Changes can serve as a template for dozens of styles of undiscovered pop – most of which lurk beyond Joe Hipster. The jaunty horns of "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hildale," act as conduits between both Strawberries – era Damned and Burt Bacharach. "Alone Again Or" enables the Tropicalia Collages of Os Mutantes to seem less intimidating to rookies. "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This," all crystal plink-a-plunks, has obvious precedent in the works of Nelson Riddle. Finally, those who have withstood the muted menace of "Live And Let Live" will absorb the cinemelodrama of Jimmy Webb or Scott Walker without fear.

I’ll wager there are dozens of regulars whose unsuspecting minds were blown, sooner or later, by Forever Changes. I’d also be willing to speculate that mastery of such a bizarre work allowed for experimentation with soundtracks, EZ-Listening, Jacques Brel and mariachi bands.
"By The Time That I’m Through Singing
The Bells From The School Of War Will Be Ringing
More Confusions, Blood Transfusions
The News Of Today Will Be Movies For Tomorrow
And The Water’s Turned To Blood
And If You Don’t Think So, Go Turn On Your Tub."
PS -- In 1985, an uncensored copy of Kick Out The Jams materialized in the knock-off bin at the Cumberland outpost of Ann & Hope. It went home with yours truly for $0.89. Pursuit of The Dictators Go Girl Crazy commenced forthwith.

The Beeds

I can tell you very little about The Beeds, much of what I can say about them is nothing more than informed speculation based upon a minimum of available facts. I suspect The Beeds were a studio collaboration between Norman Marzano and Buddah Records regular Jimmy Calvert. Marzano was a Rhode Island native who along with Vini Ponica and Peter Andreoli had a minor with the original version of "Mr. Lonely" as the Videls. He was also a member of The Tradewinds (the studio band that backed Joey Levine up on the big Ohio Express hits).

In 1968 The Beeds released a single "You Don't Have To"/"Run To Her" on Team Records, a label distributed by Buddah, and another single "Love Hurts"/"You're Wrong" in 1971 on Buddah itself. They may have released more music, but I can't find any evidence of it. "Run To Her" is their best known song, having shown up on Mindrocker and Rubble compilations (for those who don't know, the Mindrocker and Rubble compilation series are for people who bought all the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations, but still need more garage rock).

"You Don't Have To"/"Run To Her" is listed as "A Product of Kasenetz/Katz Assoc." but the songwriters Calvert and Marzano are credited as producers. I have no idea how directly Kasenetz/Katz were involved with this music, if at all. The music is not exactly standard Super K bubblegum, but it isn't radically dissimilar either. "Run To Her" has a little bit of a garage rock sound, while "You Don't Have To" sounds more like bubblegum-soul. If anyone knows more about The Beeds, please share your knowledge in comments.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

David Marks – The Moon

If my record collection had to be pared down to a single decade, the 60s would most definitely be at the top of the list. The 70s would probably follow next, and it would descend chronologically down to today. Yes, I realize even contemplating this scenario pushes me into ‘hopeless record geek’ territory - but this reverence for music produced during the sixties is based on things other than my prized gold label copy of Forever Changes, the Dylan catalog or the advent of the fuzz pedal and the Marshall stack.

Rather, it’s based on the overwhelming quality and creativity of music produced during this decade, not only by the well-known but also the not-so-well-known artists, and what at times seems like an inexhaustible supply of overlooked gems. These unheard gems are what keeps this period alive and fresh and fuels more than a handful of devoted fans and reissue labels alike.

The subject of a soon to be released biography “The Lost Beach Boy”, David Marks (pictured center) was the rhythm guitarist in the Beach Boys from 1962-1964. He entered the line-up at the early age of 14 and can be heard on influential hits like Surfin USA, Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe and In My Room. At the ripe age of 16 he left The Beach Boys to found Dave & the Marksmen, the first of his many projects during the 60’s. After playing in house bands on the Sunset strip, Marks went on to form The Moon.

The Moon was a supergroup of sorts and included Matthew Moore from Matthew Moore Plus Four who can be heard on the White Whale comp In the Garden doing their version of Codeine, drummer Larry Brown from Davie Allan & the Arrows who are best known for their great fuzz contributions to various biker flick soundtracks, future producer/engineer Andy Bennet and bassist David Jackson from the almost forgotten folk-rockers Hearts and Flowers.

Using bandmate Larry Brown’s newly built Continental Sound Recorders, the band must have set some kind of record at the time by clocking over 500 hours recording their debut Lp. The album is full of psychedelic flourishes including harpsichord, sitar, string sections, backtracking and the occasional birdcall.

Completed in the fall of ’67 and released the following year on Imperial Records Without Earth sold poorly and was given little promotion and the band never played a single live date together.

The baroque-styled Without Earth and the more mature and accomplished follow-up, but less intriguing The Moon have been reissued on one cd by Rev-Ola. Opinions on The Moon and their importance in pop history vary, but one thing’s for sure: “Someday Girl” can comfortably sit next to other baroque pop classics from the 60’s.

From Without Earth and David Marks' website , a slice of Southern California circa ‘67.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Billy Bragg - Valentine's Day Is Over

If you bought the two recent massive Billy Bragg box sets issued in the U.S. by Yep Roc you would certainly own all the Billy Bragg most people would ever need (outside of his collaborations with Wilco). But you wouldn't have everything. Bragg's Peel Sessions CD is currently out-of-print, and for the most part the songs from it did not make it to the box sets, neither did most of the material from the still-in-print Reaching To The Converted compilation.

The Peel Sessions CD is worth hunting for because it contains some stripped down versions of songs from Talking With The Taxman About Poetry and Worker's Playtime, giving you an idea what the songs would have sounded like if Bragg had stuck to his initial "one man Clash" aesthetic.

Bragg's earliest material showed him to be both an effective political agitator and chronicler of heartbreak. But the brutal, heart-on-sleeve honesty of his early songs, coupled with a lack of sympathy for their female subjects, made some of the early songs seem to border on misogyny (e.g. "The Saturday Boy," "The Man In The Iron Mask"). Later material like "Levi Stubbs Tears" and "Valentine's Day Is Over" proved that Bragg could write equally well about heartbreak from the female perspective, and brought an added dimension of empathy and compassion to his work. Listening to this song, written from the perspective of a long-abused woman finally working up the courage to kick her tormentor to the curb, still gives me chills. The lyrics are even more brutally affecting in the stripped down Peel Sessions reading.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Banana Splits

Conceptually, if not aesthetically, I consider The Banana Splits perhaps the purest expression of the bubblegum idea. Let me explain what I mean by that: with their simple three chord structures, catchy and repetitive hooks, and lyrics that use nursery rhymes or children's expressions as sexual double entendres, the hits of The Ohio Express and The 1910 Fruitgum Co. are probably the purest expression of the bubblegum musical aesthetic. But setting aside aesthetic considerations, bubblegum music can also be thought of as being driven by the desire to shift artistic control away from the performer to the producer in order to maximize efficiency.

Think of it like this: back in 1964 The Beatles had a pretty good thing going, cranking out several albums and numerous hit singles, and shifting gazillions of units per year. In the U.S. Beatle albums were slap-dash affairs that cobbled together singles and tracks from the U.K. albums. As a result Capitol always had some new Beatle product ready to hit the shelves. That is until the Beatles decided they wanted more control over their product, and worse decided to get all "artistic" and weird and take an entire year to record a single album. By 1967, The Beatles--and other rock acts demanding artistic control over their musical output--had become inefficient revenue streams for music producers. Additionally, The Beatles artistic "growth" left a hole in the market for simple, catchy music directed at a pre-teen market.

Producer Don Kirshner recognized that gap in the market and appreciated the concept of efficiency, so he created the Monkees, the so-called "pre-fab" four. The idea was solid; actors would be hired to portray the musicians, while recordings would be left to studio pros that wouldn't spend a lot of time fiddling around in the studio, and songwriting would be done on spec by Brill building pros like Neil Diamond. The concept was almost Fordian in its efficient distribution of labor. But the actors and musicians cast as the Monkees quickly developed their own artistic ambitions, and became difficult to work with.

But Kirshner was a very bright man who recognized that performers--in the traditional sense anyway--were not a necessary evil. So he had the even better idea of creating the cartoon rock band The Archies. In terms of allowing the producer artistic control, the Archies were the perfect vehicle. Cartoon characters were not likely to get all uppity and decide they had to spend a year in Abbey Road Studios to record a rock opera.

Like the Monkees, the Archies concept allowed for multiple revenue streams; a television series, record sales, band paraphernalia, marketing deals (and of course there were already the comic books). But one major revenue stream was noticeably missing from this equation--you could not send cartoon characters out perform live shows. Kirshner would later try to correct that oversight (with limited success) by creating a harlequin-costumed band called the Klowns, who were cross-marketed with The Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus (and featured lead singer Barry Bostwick). (More on The Klowns another day.)

But the folks at Hanna-Barbara had perhaps the greatest bubblegum idea of all time in the Banana Splits. The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was a loopy, psychedelic, kiddie TV show that featured the characters Fleegal, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky dressed in costumes designed by Sid & Marty Krofft. The Banana Splits concept had it all. It allowed for complete control of the musical output by the show’s musical director, Mark Barkan. Barkan hired some of the best people in the business to provide the Splits music, including Al Kooper, Gene Pitney, Joey Levine, and even Barry White. Hanna Barbara also struck a major cross-marketing deal with Kellogg's, who not only sponsored the series on television, but also distributed some of the music via their cereal boxes. But the Splits concept was most brilliant in that it allowed for revenue not just from one touring band, but multiple touring bands. Because the characters performed in costumes, it was no problem to have multiple Banana Splits acts on "tour" at the same time. And since the performers were doing nothing more than pretending to play to pre-recorded music tracks (they didn't even have to lip-synch!), they could be paid next to nothing.

So this is why I consider The Banana Splits, conceptually if not musically, the ultimate bubblegum act. Setting aside these considerations, the Splits music was also pretty swell, and has enjoyed some influence over the years. The Banana Splits theme song "The Tra La La Song" was covered by The Dickies, "I Enjoy Being A Boy" was covered by They Might Be Giants, and Michael Stipe has reputedly declared The Banana Splits to have been a bigger influence on his music than The Beatles.

According Wikipedia (the world’s most reliable source of information about everything): "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour is tentativly [sic] scheduled to be released on DVD in 2007." Let’s hope the person who wrote this has better inside information than spelling.

A bootleg of all the released Splits recordings appeared in 1995 on the "Hollywood Library" label.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Editor's Note

The Dennis Wilson post below is the first on this blog by someone other than myself, and it is only appropriate that it come from my long-time friend and co-conspirator, Peter Hennig. As Peter describes, we have literally been friends since pre-school. I suspect the initial reason for our friendship was the fact that we shared a common first name, but love of music has been the primary bond we have shared over the years.

So thanks to Peter for the first of what will hopefully be many posts by people other than myself on this blog. I was a little surprised that Peter would post on Dennis Wilson without mentioning my similar magnetic effect on the fairer sex, an oversite I am sure he will correct in a future post.

The photo above was taken circa 1986, that's Peter on the far left and me on the far right. Between us are Tim Hitchcock and Kyle Happersett. The photo was no doubt taken by Liz Hamel. Peter looks a little tired because he had probably just spent the past half hour listening to me rant about Hüsker Dü having "sold out to the man" on Candy Apple Grey.

BTW, now that I have actually heard it, I no longer consider Goat's Head Soup to be unlistenable garbage.

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue

Pete and I go way back. So far back that I hardly have any memories from those pre-school days. But the oldest memories that standout most certainly involve some discussion or other over music. In those days it was mostly talk of the latest new wave offerings, with maybe some talk of which Stones or Genesis Lps were worth seeking out. Since Pete had pretty much memorized the Rolling Stone Record Guide by age twelve, he was able to say with authority such things as "Goats Head Soup is unlistenable garbage." As a matter of fact, he’s probably solely responsible for that particular record not finding it’s way into my collection until 20 some years later. Which is rather odd since I had long since filled in my Stones collection. Boy, I must have been feeling particularly masochistic that day when I finally spent actual money on an album that I knew would have been better off never released.

But we certainly had a common thirst for music back then and here it is some 25 years later and I’m writing a post for his – laugh, what else? – music blog. Who wouldda thought?

So, enough reminiscing – I’m sure there will be more of that - but onto the music.

I don’t consider myself a Beach Boys fanatic and heck I don’t even own The Pet Sounds Sessions but I do consider Pacific Ocean Blue an important part of the Beach Boys legacy. Dennis Wilson crafted a uniquely individual set of songs while maintaining the distinctive harmonies that made the Beach Boys’ sound instantly identifiable. Pacific Ocean Blue has sadly been out-of-print for many years, but vinyl copies can still be tracked down relatively easily although a quick glance on ebay shows prices at least double of what I remember only a few years ago. So if there’s any correlation between rising collector’s prices and the list of reissue candidates...? Well, one can hope.

And yeah, it is a lot better than the in-print Goat’s Head Soup.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Opal - Happy Nightmare Baby

I've kind of danced around posting something by Opal, having featured a couple things by Kendra Smith, and a cover of "Fell From the Sun" by The Pale Saints. Despite a slender--and it has to be said, spotty--discography, Opal is a band that casts a long shadow due to the exceptionally high quality of their good material. Nothing by the band is in print at the moment.

David Roback (formerly of The Rain Parade) and Kendra Smith (formerly of The Dream Syndicate) and drummer Keith Mitchell formed Clay Allison and released the spectacular single "Fell From The Sun" in 1983. The band soon changed its name to Opal and released two EPs, before releasing their sole LP, Happy Nightmare Baby on the SST label in 1987. Rough Trade later compiled the contents of the single and EPs on the Early Recordings LP.

Happy Nightmare Baby is a somewhat uneven album compared to the uniformly excellent material the group released previous to it. The album kicks off with a nice T-Rex tribute, "Rocket Machine," but things quickly get a little too "weird scenes inside the goldmine" for my taste on the awful second track, "Magick Power." Lyrics like "I'm a vampire, so is she" may have some appeal to Anne Rice fans, but I find their conjunction with the Ray Manzarek styled organ playing extremely off-putting. With such a wretched second track the temptation to lift the needle from the groove before the third track even starts is strong.

It would be unfortunate to do that however, because despite the slightly too-evident Doors influence that pervades the album, most of the rest of it is quite good. Especially strong is the title tune, "Happy Nightmare Baby," a psychedelic update of the Appalachian murder ballad. The song brings to mind such traditional fare as "Knoxville Girl" with a woman tripping on LSD as the deranged protagonist.

Kendra Smith left the band and recommended Hope Sandoval as her replacement, and the band either broke up or changed its name to Mazzy Star depending on how you look at it. And just as David St. Hubbins once observed that there is "a fine line between stupid and clever," Mazzy Star proved there is a fine line between drowsy and narcoleptic.

Richard Thompson - Dad's Gonna Kill Me

Richard Thompson has posted a very powerful song about the Iraq War, "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" over at The Huffington Post. Thompson has clearly been reading a lot of military blogs of late. The song is only available as streaming content at the moment, but hopefully it will be featured on his upcoming album Sweet Warrior. Thanks to Adam for pointing this out to me.

I have a lot more to say about Richard Thompson, who is one of my all time favorite recording artists, but that can wait for another day.

Update: Thompson has made the song available for download on his website, and it looks like it will be featured on Sweet Warrior.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Collector's Choice Music

I complain a lot about music that should be reissued, so I wanted to cast the spotlight on a label that has reissued a lot of formerly rare albums, Collector's Choice Music. In the course of going through my record collection and looking for out-of-print music to post here, I've discovered that a lot of the records that I spent years searching for have been reissued by Collector's Choice. Here are a few of them:

Sammy Davis Jr.: Sings The Complete Dr. Doolittle. I used to have a super-cool girlfriend. On my 27th birthday this chick gave me a mint copy of Sammy Davis Jr. Sings The Complete Dr. Doolittle, plus a copy of George Jones' autobiography, I Lived To Tell It All. She must have noticed that I had spent months drooling over a copy of the record at Footlight Records in New York City, but had always balked at buying it due to the high price. Where I come from, when a woman gives you birthday presents like that, you have to marry her--so I did.

Duke Ellington: Afro Bossa, Plays Mary Poppins. You would think that an LP of the Duke Ellington Orchestra playing the music from Mary Poppins would be a sad reminder of a great band's past. You would be wrong. The album is actually a tribute to the incredible arranging talents of Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Afro Bossa is one of the very best Ellington albums from the LP era.

Phil Ochs: Tape From California, Rehearsals For Retirement/Gunfight At Carnegie Hall, All The News That's Fit To Sing, I Ain't A Marchin' Anymore. I paid way too much for a sealed copy of Tape From California at the over-priced Orpheus Records in Washington, D.C. But for years it was the only copy of the record I ran across, so I have no regrets. It's nice to see that Collector's Choice has made Ochs' difficult to find (and sometimes difficult to listen to) A&M albums available on CD.

The dB's: Stands For Decibels/Repercussion, Like This, Christmas Time Again. You might be thinking, "Collector's Choice has the dB's? But I thought they were an oldies label?" If you are thinking that, wake up you senile old coot! Collector's Choice is an oldies label. The dB's are oldies, and so are you. The dB's music is older today than the music that was featured on Happy Days or Sha-Na-Na in the 70s. So sit on it, oldster. The dB's albums have been in and out of print for years, it's nice to see they have found a home at Collector's Choice. I would like to see them reissue the currently out-of-print Sound Of Music too.

Oh-Ok: The Complete Recordings. This is the kind of thing that is surprising to find in print. Oh-Ok featured Lynda Stype, Linda Hooper (Magnapop) and Matthew Sweet. They released a couple EPs on the dB label before splitting up. This CD combines the studio records with some live material.

Let's Active: Cypress/Afoot, Big Plans For Everybody, Every Dog Has His Day. Okay, Let's Active's music is pretty easy to find on LP, still it's nice to see it kept in print. I'm guessing someone at Collector's Choice has an 80s-southern-jangle-pop fixation.

Richard Lloyd: Alchemy, Field of Fire. I can still remember how psyched I was when, after years of searching, I found a mint, white-label promo of the former Television guitarist's solo debut, Alchemy. (In fact, I can remember it quite clearly because it happened this past Saturday). White-label promos are more valuable than ordinary record pressings (or at least they used to be). Aside from mere fetishism, there is a good reason for this: they tend to be the most minty-fresh used records available. Promo records were typically the first done in a pressing, so worn-out stampers weren't used to press them. And perhaps more importantly, the fact that it's a white-label promo means the record likely belonged to someone in the music industry, which in turn means it was never played much (if at all) because--as a rule--music industry people do not actually like music. For these reasons, white-label promos tend to be highly prized by audiophiles and other people with more money than common sense.

Alchemy is a very interesting record. The music isn't much like that of Lloyd's former band, and Lloyd isn't much of a singer, but the album sounds like a rough blueprint for much of the alternative/college rock music that followed during the 80s. I'd be willing to bet Michael Stipe wore out his copy. Drug problems kept Lloyd inactive for several years until he released Field of Fire.

Tom Verlaine: Tom Verlaine. Tom Verlaine's first solo album does sound like his former band, Television, only not as good without Richard Lloyd to serve as co-lead guitarist. It's still a very good record though.

Collector's Choice has a ton of other reissues in print that are worth checking out. But good luck navigating their website.