Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring Break

Thanks for checking in here, but I won't be reviewing any Strange Music for awhile.
I've been posting pretty steadily here since last June, but it's time for a break.
I have another book project I should finish that I keep putting off, because I don't want to face it -- even though it would only take a couple weeks to finish. And I've been trying to get the book written since 1977.
It's also been awhile since I've listened to any music FOR PLEASURE, rather than concentrating on whether it's WORKING or if I can make any snarky comments about it.
Lately Sunday album-review-days have been coming around too fast, and what's always been fun before has started to seem like work -- self-imposed, but still work. I still have a lot of new-to-me music piled up to listen to here, but nothing I'm too excited about, to be honest.
I've been pretty dissatisfied with almost all music and books lately. I think I'm getting stale.
I've also noticed -- especially since getting this new laptop in February -- that the Internet and especially Facebook are great time-wasters. And I continue to put projects off.
So I'm gonna try to unplug and do some other stuff. If I can't resist commenting about something, I'll post it here, and I'll probably still post Political and Silly stuff on Facebook, but I'm gonna try not to spend ALL DAY doing it. (That's been happening to me a lot, lately.)
I'll clear my head out, and then hopefully come back here fresher and more enthusiastic. And maybe I'll be able to pile up more new stuff while I'm gone.
I don't plan to be gone too long. I'll probably be back before you even realize....

Sunday, April 16, 2017

All the way 3!

Once again, complete album reviews. Because it's Easter, and I'm a glutton for punishment.

Some folks think Genesis's SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973) is one of the best, most consistent progressive-rock albums ever. We'll see.
It's certainly one of the LONGEST single albums -- two crammed-full sides totaling more than 50 minutes, tho this may just be due to Peter Gabriel's notorious wordiness. Let's find out.
* Dancing With the Moonlit Knight -- Opens with a-capella PG vocals and delicate guitar, gentle keyboards. PG sounds a bit like Peter Hammill here. The lyrics are the usual hazy, poetic stuff these guys did. Musical support gains in force as it goes, leading into a guitar-keyboards duel.... Do I catch a brief riff stolen from Renaissance here...? Lyrics seem to be a critique of British consumer society.... Wish Tony Banks would lay off the Mellotron, but the production is clearer than on their earlier albums, you can actually HEAR stuff.... Devolves into keyboard and guitar atmospherics at the end.
* I Know What I Like -- Yeah, I think we've all heard this before. This is nice and pleasant enuf, and it deserved to be a hit in England, but I'm used to hearing the version Phil Collins sings on the live SECONDS OUT double-album....
* Firth of Fifth -- Used to the SECONDS OUT version, where Tony Banks's opening piano solo is moved to the middle, where (to me) it works much better. But this version should have led-off this album. After the piano solo, it's rather hazy and pastoral, despite the story being told. The musicianship is quite something, and unlike on NURSERY CRYME you can HEAR everything clearly. This is very nice -- nice quick-stepping mid-section. Tony's keybs give way to Steve Hackett's ghostly guitar solo. These guys had talent. Tony's end-solo is actually faded out because this track's already gone on over 9 minutes....
* More Fool Me -- What's this? The drummer sings? Yes, Phil Collins on lead vocals -- and it's a very delicate, quiet lead vocal. This is a nice contrast from "Firth of Fifth." Hushed, modest. ...Oh, then it opens out ... a little.... Nice side-closer -- acoustic, brief.
* The Battle of Epping Forest -- Opens with martial drumming and piping. Then it's Punks versus Mods in London! Too bad Pete mumbles and rushes the vocals. Nice keyboard breaks, as always. Considering this song is about a rumble between two street gangs, it's pretty delicate. And it runs almost 12 minutes. Is that because PG's lyrics for this take up most of the second side of the lyric sheet? Nice stuck-up vocal by PG as he imitates a reverend.... Then he sounds like Dave Cousins from the Strawbs.... Long journey for not much. Least impressive track so far.
* After the Ordeal -- Opens with extensive keybs and guitar.... Pretty, kind of aimless. This could have been a shorter album with some editing. LOTS of guitar -- a pretty instrumental, but....
* The Cinema Show/Aisle of Plenty -- Hypnotic guitar work by Steve Hackett. PG's grumbling vocal is nothing much. Seems like a romance story at first, but then -- where the heck is this going? Nice atmospherics.... Then multi-part wordless vocals, very pretty.... Moves into more ghostly Hackett guitar, then a tasty keyboard theme that starts out pretty dinky and gains in power -- 'til Banks starts showing off.... There's a lot of messing around on this album, as if they HAD to get every tasty instrumental lick in, or thot they weren't giving their fans enuf value for the money. This would have more impact if they skipped the pretty-but-aimless spots.
...The "Aisle of Plenty" section continues the consumer-society critique that started the album. It's brief.
And that's all. Overall? Nice instrumentals, guitar and keyboards the strongest point. If they were more direct, they could become a big success. It's obvious they've got talent.... Above average, but this album is not going to change your life.

OK, The Turtles PRESENT THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS (1968): On this album, a late-'60s pop band well-known as consummate singers, players, etc., impersonate 11 different OTHER bands, and POSE as those bands inside the cover. These guys were real professionals and wrote almost all the songs, so this should be a lot of fun, and a pretty high-concept package for the late '60s. Supposed to be a forgotten classic. Includes 2 actual chart hits! Onward.
* The Battle of the Bands -- Introduction is sorta-garage-rock with horns. Written by Harry Nilsson and producer Chip Douglas (who produced the Monkees and others). Big production. Over fast.
* The Last Thing I Remember -- Dreamy, spacey late-'60s psych, obviously composed under the influence of evil Drugz.... The vocals almost spiral out of control. Nice harpsichord! probably shoulda saved this for later on the album.
* Elenore -- Ha ha. Always loved this. It's just freakin' perfect, even tho the lyrics are a joke. These guys were geniuses.
* Too Much Heartsick Feeling -- Uh oh, it's Country. Badly sung, off-key Country. And it works. Funny. This could be Roy Clark or somebody like that. Big production, for a country weeper.
* Oh, Daddy! -- Narrated cheerfully by a guy stuck in prison for doing something bad. Then turns into a sorta Dixieland singalong. Nice, and ... uh ... disturbing.
* Buzzsaw -- This seems to be a surf instrumental.... Lotsa fuzz-bass and heavy organ. OK, not an instrumental. But definitely Surf. The Beach Boys wish they coulda done something this demented in 1968. Fades out too soon.... Quick side.
* Surfer Dan -- Now THIS is Surf. With more undercurrents of Drugz: "He's so ripped he can't see you go by." This could be straight out of 1963, except for the lyrics....
* I'm Chief Kamanawanalea (We're the Royal Macadamia Nuts) -- Ha. Nice drumming.... A little early in history for tribal chanting. But it's over with quick....
* You Showed Me -- I've always hated this. Thot it was gloppy and not rock and roll. Tho it IS beautifully sung. This is an old Byrds song, written by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark. Nice subtle use of synthesizer.
* Food -- An ode to some of their favorite foods, followed by an Alka-Seltzer commercial. Pretty silly.
* Chicken Little Was Right -- Pickin' and grinnin'.
* Earth Anthem -- Opens with gorgeous acoustic guitar and horn, and breathy vocals. Gets better and more moving on repeated listenings. Nice closer.
Overall: Lotsa talent. Maybe if they coulda recorded something longer than 2 or 3 minutes they woulda outlasted the '60s. They said they were frustrated that nobody noticed their more adventurous work, but this album has some nice, silly, adventurous stuff on it. Not a bad comedy record.

BONUS TRACKS:
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band -- Joybringer, from SOLAR FIRE (1973). Was a Top 10 hit in England. Supposedly based on Gustav Holst's "Mars" theme from THE PLANETS, if anybody cares. Nice keyboards from Manfred. Pretty lively -- livelier than anything I heard on MM/EB's GET YOUR ROCKS OFF (1973). Nice guitar and vocals from Mick Rogers. Ends too soon. Wonder why radio never plays this? It's easy enuf to get into.... Possibly because the title isn't even listed on the album cover....
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band -- Father of Day Father of Night, from SOLAR FIRE. Bob Dylan allegedly wrote this? But it runs 9 minutes.... This is a way bigger, grander production than "Joybringer." The lyrics are pretty simple. After the verses it takes off into lengthy guitar and keyboard variations. The later guitar riff is VERY familiar from somewhere else, but I can't place it. Later, Manfred brings in some of that nice icy-cold keyboard sound he sometimes gets, as on the much-later "Stranded" (on CHANCE, 1980). Quite a show-offy piece here, in several different ... movements. Prog fans will like.
* U.K. -- Thirty Years, from U.K.'s first album (1978). For guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who died earlier this morning. I don't think I've heard this in MORE than 30 years. Overlooked at the end of Side 1 of this band's first album. Opens with exquisite acoustic picking, followed by a sorta strained John Wetton vocal. Moody, dark, atmospheric, long opening section. Then opens out into louder and more adventurous work, with herky-jerky rhythms, superb Bill Bruford drumming, and more excellent Holdsworth guitar work.
...OK folks, I'm done for today. More full albums next Sunday. Or maybe ALL ALAN PARSONS! ALL INCREDIBLE STRING BAND! ALL ELO! We'll see what I'm up for....

Friday, April 14, 2017

The story so far

Here's a quick overview of the best new-to-me music I've heard during my continuing re-investigation of progressive-rock/Strange Music over the last six months. Unfortunately, there isn't much of it. And you don't want to see the list of the worst stuff....
* Argent -- Dance in the Smoke, from their first album (1970). Excellent mantra-like piece, builds in intensity as it goes. Their later "Lothlorien" is also good -- nice light touch on these tracks. Guess they got heavier and more obvious later....
* Camel -- Go West, DUST AND DREAMS (1991). The album is a gorgeous soundtrack to Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH. "Go West" is beautiful, moving, great guitar -- maybe better than "Mother Road," the next track on the disc and the only thing off this that I'd heard previously.
* Be-Bop Deluxe -- Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape, from LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE (1977). To be honest, the lyrics go right past me, but Bill Nelson's guitar solo and Andy Clark's keyboards light this song up. Very nice stuff.
* Starcastle -- Shine on Brightly, from CITADEL (1977). Not too Yes-ish. Nice and sparkly.
* Gordon Giltrap -- VISIONARY, PERILOUS JOURNEY. Excellent instrumental progressive-guitar-and-group work, supported by the duo Edwards-Hand. Nice mood music. (Edwards-Hand weren't worth hearing on their own....)
* John Martyn -- May You Never, Solid Air. Smokey British electric-folk from Nick Drake's friend and neighbor.
* Renaissance -- Island, from their first album (1969). Gorgeous vocals from Jane Relf, an edited version could have been a hit. The rest of the album, eh.
* Osibisa -- first album (1970). Nice tribal drumming and upbeat happy tunes, they sounded like no one else.
* Byrds -- The World Turns All Around Her, from TURN! TURN! TURN! (1965). Another overlooked great from Gene Clark ("I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better").
* Linda and Richard Thompson -- The Great Valerio (live), from Linda's best-of DREAMS FLY AWAY (1996). Stark, dramatic live solo-vocal-and-guitar piece, even MORE intense than the studio version on R&L's I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT (1974).
* Stackridge -- No One's More Important Than the Earthworm, from EXTRAVAGANZA (1975). Silly lyrics get a big Pink-Floyd-style treatment. Impressive. Written by former King Crimson singer Gordon Haskell.
* Jade Warrior -- WAVES (1975). Very ... uh ... discreet ambient instrumentals, sort of an Environments mood-music album. Still not sure about the fake-whale-songs at the end of Side 2. So quiet and pleasant it almost fades into the background.... Betcha Brian Eno heard this at some point.
* Jethro Tull -- Slow Marching Band, from THE BROADSWORD AND THE BEAST (1982). Excellent miniature, builds nicely, ends at just the right spot, doesn't overstay its welcome.
* Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood, Michael Shreve -- GO (1976), Side One. As spacey as WAVES, only more upbeat, with Winwood adding occasional funky vocals and keybs. Good synth work. A nice surprise. Need to get back to Side 2 someday....
* Synergy -- CORDS (1978), Side 1. Distant, icy, spacey, ominous synth work. Quite a contrast to Larry Fast's earlier, warmer albums SEQUENCER and ELECTRONIC REALIZATIONS FOR ROCK ORCHESTRA.
* Van der Graaf Generator -- REFLECTIONS early-best-of. Haven't gotten all the way through this. Knew VdGG was different and intense from hearing all of PAWN HEARTS (1971), which is a spooky record. This is also spooky, dark, gothic, grim, intense. Well worth hearing, but you probably won't be singing along with it....
* Gentle Giant -- I'm Turning Around, from THE MISSING PIECE (1977). Nice gentle love song, sort of a follow-up to their excellent "On Reflection" (on FREE HAND, 1975).

Planned for Sunday morning: Complete listening and off-the-top-of-my-head reviews of Genesis's SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973) and the Turtles' BATTLE OF THE BANDS (1968). Bonus tracks may follow, time permitting....
Also planned for the future:
* ALL ALAN PARSONS! Got half a dozen albums piled up to listen to and review previously-unheard parts of....
* STILL MORE REALLY BAD PROG! I promise. The things I go through for you people....
* ALL KEYBOARDS! Ghod knows how I'm gonna describe this....
* ALL RICK WAKEMAN! Ditto....
* ALL JAZZ-ROCK!
* ALL MOODIES' SOLO ALBUMS!
* ALL INCREDIBLE STRING BAND!
* ALL ELO!
* ALL GENESIS!
...and Ghod Knows what else....

Sunday, April 9, 2017

All the way 2!

Once again, reviews of complete albums -- because it's Sunday, I'm a dummy, and I haven't had enuf coffee yet.
First up, Renaissance's ILLUSION (1970).
ILLUSION shows Renaissance in transition from their original lineup to the one that became moderately famous in progressive-rock circles in the mid-'70s. Headed by ex-Yardbirds Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, this classical-rock-folk band recorded their first album in 1969 (reviewed last Sunday in "All the way"), and then started this follow-up. But the band was already falling apart.
Keyboardist John Hawken is replaced by Don Shin on one track here, and on another piece there's an almost-entirely-new lineup. This album also marks the first appearance of acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford and Cornwall poet Betty Thatcher -- who would both be part of Ren over the long haul.
So this album is sorta a patchwork. It's copyrighted 1970, but one rock-and-roll reference book claims the album was only released in West Germany that year, and not issued in England until much later. Plus one track included here ("Face of Yesterday") was re-recorded later on Illusion's pretty-great OUT OF THE MIST (1977). And Illusion was basically the first version of this band, minus Keith Relf. You can see how confusing this all gets....
Enuf background. What does it SOUND like?
* Love Goes On -- This is already lighter than the first album. Airy la-la-la group vocals and strummed guitar, then picks up a bit as Jane Relf sings the lyric. Not rock and roll, way closer to what they used to call adult-contemporary back in the '70s. Pleasant, harmless -- and really short.
* Golden Thread -- Opens with long show-offy piano. If the first album had a flaw, it was mainly that the band had too much room to play -- and no idea how to fill the space. The shorter, more structured stuff was better -- like "Island." This drifts into airy piano-and-wordless-vocals stuff, sounding like the NEXT Renaissance album, PROLOGUE (1972), which includes none of these people. Three or four minutes in, Keith Relf starts singing. He's OK, but they're so much better with Jane singing. ...Pleasant, harmless, a little long.
* Love is All -- More light, airy pop-song stuff. The lyrics are hippy mush. Not much of a debut for lyricist Thatcher.
* Mr. Pine -- This is the track with the mostly-new lineup. Sounds unfinished. The opening is hippy blather, under-produced, almost laughable. The keyboard-led mid-section was recycled note-for-note in Renaissance's later "Running Hard"! ... Develops into a four-part suite. Doesn't seem like it was worth the trouble. These folks had talent, the question was how to channel it.
* Face of Yesterday -- The version on their later OUT OF THE MIST is a small masterpiece. This seems a little too delicate. Some extra added subtle electric guitar that mainly just calls attention to itself. Jane Relf's vocal is a little unsure. The later version is in a lower key and just seems more confident. This isn't terrible.... Maybe my problem is this just doesn't rock enough. It's pretty, tho.
* Past Orbits of Dust -- This closer runs 14 minutes. Keyboardist Don Shin takes the spotlight from the start. Vocals are rather low-key. This is looser and more relaxed than the rest of the album.... This riffs along in its nice, harmless, electric-piano-fueled way ... but then there's a Drum Solo. But at least it's brief. This has a little rock power behind it -- or at least as much power as you can get out of an electric piano, which ain't much -- but not TOO much, that would be rude. Uh oh, then there's a sorta spacey bass solo.... So a spacey riffer that stretches on for 14 minutes. Not bad, and they've got talent, but....
Is that all? Oh well, as Gentle Giant once said, "We didn't know what we were doing until our fourth album."

OK, next up, the Stories' first album (1972).
I picked this up because Stories later released a semi-classic English pop-rock album ABOUT US (1973) which had half an hour of pretty great stuff on it -- punchy, catchy, melodic, memorable pop songs. Best were the dramatic "Please Please" (which would still sound great on classic-rock radio), the sweet shoulda-been-hit "Love is in Motion,'" the mysterious "Words," and the wistful "What Comes After." But the group was breaking up at the time -- half the album is merely average, and some tracks are just filler. Oh, and the Number One 1973 hit "Brother Louie" is on there, too.
Keyboardist/songwriter Michael Brown started with The Left Banke back in the '60s. Singer/bassist Ian Lloyd had a spotty solo career and sang backing vocals for bands like Foreigner. Onward....
* Hello People -- Opens with sweet piano and Ian singing in a lower key than usual. This is a plea for brotherly love and peace -- still works today. Slowly gains in punch as it goes. Ian sounds pretty relaxed. ...OK, doesn't get that much better....
* I'm Coming Home -- Basic homecoming lovesong. Features Mike Brown's ragtime-ish piano that sometimes appears on ABOUT US. OK, not stunning.
* Winter Scenes -- Brown and Lloyd wrote all the songs. This is a lighter wintry mood-piece. More nice show-offy piano in the middle. So far this album seems much more modest and lower-key than ABOUT US.
* Step Back -- Little more of a rock punch here. Still nothing magic yet.
* You Told Me -- Basic breaking-up lovesong with added strings. Nice light touch here. Could grow on me.... That was a quick side.
* St. James -- Rockier. Some OK tho brief show-offy guitar from Steve Love in the middle. Ian sounds a bit off-key in places. Gains in catchiness as it goes.
* Kathleen -- This is lighter, moodier, more contemplative. They have a pretty good touch with the lighter stuff. Some nice harpsichord from Brown in the middle. Seems like ABOUT US played-up their strengths -- here they were still finding out what those strengths were....
* Take Cover -- This is heavier. Added guitar and keyboards and more vocal harmonies really make a difference. And then it's over, too soon.
* Nice to Have You Here -- OK, this is a little soupy. Too much mournful keyboard.
* High and Low -- Big finish? Not really. OK choruses, but not a total success. More grandiose piano. Brief attempt at a big coda.
Overall: Promising, but probably not worth the cash. Go get a copy of ABOUT US at Goodwill and pick out your favorite parts.

BONUS TRACKS:
* Turtles -- Earth Anthem, from BATTLE OF THE BANDS (1968). Wow, cosmic! Opens with gorgeous horns and strummed guitar, followed by nice breathy vocals. Builds with a choir and strings. They may not have been entirely serious, but it works. "This is not an island...." Still perfect for Earth Day. Ends a little anti-climactically....
* Dukes of Stratosphear -- You're My Drug, from PSONIC PSUNSPOT (1987). XTC in disguise. Not bad. Very 1968-ish psychedelic. An impressive reproduction, especially the phasey spaceship-"whooshing" sounds....
* Dukes of Stratosphear -- Shiny Cage. OK, the last one was good enough, we'll try this ... which isn't that different from other XTC I've heard....
* Byrds -- The World Turns All Around Her, from TURN! TURN! TURN! (1965). Oh yes. This is great. So nice you'll want to hear it twice. How about that Gene Clark?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Twofer

Today only -- two posts for the price of one....

THE DUMBEST SONGS THE RADIO STILL PLAYS
After a month of off-and-on listening (mostly off), here's more than a dozen of the dumbest songs I heard that Seattle-area radio still insists on playing. And Michael Jackson and the Eagles aren't mentioned once!
- Elton John and Kiki Dee -- Don't Go Breakin' My Heart. Yeccch. The worst thing Sir Elton's ever done. The moment when he officially started heading downhill. Kiki had a couple good songs -- this wasn't one of them.
- Pat Benatar -- Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Yeezus, haven't we gotten over this S&M fantasy yet?
- Madonna -- Like a Virgin, Material Girl. I'll bet Madonna barely remembers being a virgin. And "Material Girl" is unfortunately perfect for the money-grubbing society we live in today. Yes, I realize it's kind of a joke. It also kind of isn't. That's why it's ... uh ... post-modern. Whatever.
- Rick Springfield -- Jessie's Girl. God, 1980 is getting so tiresome.
- Toni Basil -- Mickey. Ugh. Weirdly, Weird Al Yankovic's "Ricky" is what I remember instead....
- Devo -- Whip It. Biggest penis metaphor to make the charts since Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." And so what?
- Hall and Oates -- Maneater. Yurg. These guys had talent, but not on this. This is a big S&M/domination fantasy, too.
- Soft Cell -- Tainted Love. 1982 has always confused me....
- Human League -- Don't You Want Me? Same thing here.... But they were way better when they were only "Human"....
- John Cougar Mellencamp -- Jack and Diane. Ugh. Who wants to be told it's all downhill after 16? A mean trick to play on teenagers.
- Wham! -- Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Still waiting for the George Michael nostalgia wave. You KNOW it's gonna happen....
- Kim Wilde -- You Keep Me Hangin' On. The Supremes and Vanilla Fudge got there first, so who needs this? Kim's "Kids in America" is an early-'80s classic, though. How come nobody ever plays THAT anymore....?
- Tiffany -- I Think We're Alone Now. Tommy James and the Shondells did some GREAT stuff. So there was no need for this. Or Billy Idol's "Mony Mony." Or Joan Jett's "Crimson in Clover." I can wait for a cover of "Mirage."
Sorry I couldn't find any more outrageous examples in a month of listening. I EXPECTED to. And Ghod knows I tried.... Seattle is still the worst-programmed radio-market I've ever lived in....

One thing leads to another....

THE RETURN OF CD'S AT WORK
I get sick of Seattle-area music-radio in less than 5 minutes. I got sick of listening to news-radio this week too, so a few days ago marked the reappearance of CD's at work for the first time in months. I use old-school soul and R&B as a soundtrack because it keeps me moving and keeps my energy up. Here's the playlist for the last few nights:
* Tower of Power -- Down to the Nightclub, You're Still a Young Man, What is Hip?, So Very Hard to Go.
* Al Green -- Tired of Being Alone, I Can't Get Next to You, Let's Stay Together, Love and Happiness, I'm Still in Love With You, You Oughta Be With Me, Call Me, Let's Get Married, Sha-La-La, Take Me to the River, Love Ritual, L-O-V-E, Full of Fire.
* Marvin Gaye -- What's Going On?, Inner City Blues, Trouble Man.
* Spinners -- I'll Be Around, I'm Coming Home.
* Dramatics -- Whatcha See is Whatcha Get.
* Timmy Thomas -- Why Can't We Live Together?
* Funkadelic -- Can You Get to That?
* Brothers Johnson -- Strawberry Letter 23.
* Sly and the Family Stone -- Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin, M'Lady, Sing a Simple Song.
* Bill Withers -- Lovely Day, Ain't No Sunshine, Grandma's Hands.
* Booker T and the MG's -- Time is Tight, Hang 'Em High.
* Gladys Knight and the Pips -- I Heard it Through the Grapevine, The End of Our Road, The Nitty Gritty.
* Earth, Wind and Fire -- Serpentine Fire, Fantasy, Getaway.
* Neville Brothers -- Hey Pocky Way, Bird on a Wire.
* Junior Walker and the All-Stars -- I'm a Road Runner, I Ain't Goin' Nowhere, Anyway You Wannta, Nothing But Soul, Shotgun, Shake and Fingerpop.
* Temptations -- Get Ready, Ain't Too Proud to Beg, I Know I'm Losing You, I Can't Get Next to You, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, My Girl (a capella).
...This will probably continue. It keeps my mood up, and customers seem to like it. One guy was thrilled to hear Tower of Power, even tho he mis-identified them as Chicago. Hey, they both had horns....
Only complaint: The Temptations' ULTIMATE COLLECTION has the studio version of "Get Ready," rather than the live hit version. The choruses still sound pretty great, tho....

PLANNED FOR TOMORROW starting around 10 a.m.:
"All the Way 2!" -- Renaissance's "transitional" 1970(?) album ILLUSION, and the first album (1972) by Stories, headed by Ian Lloyd and Michael Brown, who released the pop-rock semi-classic ABOUT US in 1973. Bonus Tracks may follow, time permitting....

Sunday, April 2, 2017

All the way

This is an experiment in which your clueless reviewer will attempt to play and review 2 or 3 entire albums ALL THE WAY THROUGH, which I'm told is a unique new way to listen to music -- a method I haven't thot of in years. Should also be a challenge in light of my short attention-span and tendency to stop listening to something as soon as I get bored.
First up:

Renaissance -- (first album) (1969).
But first, some background: This classical-folk-rock band was formed by former Yardbirds singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty. Their first album -- produced by another ex-Yardbird, Paul Samwell-Smith (who later produced Cat Stevens, America, Jethro Tull) -- wasn't a huge success, tho they issued a follow-up, ILLUSION, a year later. Then the band fell apart, and Relf was later electrocuted. By the time Renaissance's third album PROLOGUE came out in 1972, their line-up was completely different, tho McCarty kept writing songs for them, and these are included on PROLOGUE and 1973's ASHES ARE BURNING.
The original lineup (tho with McCarty now on acoustic guitar and vocals, John Knightsbridge on elec gtr, and Eddie McNeil on drums) reformed as Illusion for OUT OF THE MIST (1977), the best Renaissance-style studio-album that band never did. They followed-up in 1978 with ILLUSION, which was quieter, and the lyrics were forgettable.
Renaissance continued into the 1980's with a string of albums, the best and liveliest of which seems to be LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL (1976). Some of their studio work is rather stiff and self-conscious, tho "Rajah Khan" on PROLOGUE is great swirling psychedelic noise, and "Northern Lights" on A SONG FOR ALL SEASONS (1977) is a charming lovesong.
Whew. OK, onward....
* Kings and Queens -- Pretty gutsy, leading off your debut album with one of its longest songs. It needs to be a killer. Not sure this one is. It was included on that WONDEROUS STORIES 4-CD "history" of progressive-rock that I grabbed a few years back, in an edited version (I think), and I wasn't impressed then. And this runs almost 11 minutes....
Opens with some quick grand-piano moves and other attempts at drama, then moves into a more bass-heavy, driving approach. That's the first four minutes, and nothing's happened yet. Then Keith Relf starts singing, symbolic lyrics vaguely applicable to today's political situation. Some nice keyboards by John Hawken.
Then they slow it down a little. More drama, more show-offy piano. So far, Hawken's riffing piano is the best thing here, tho Relf's singing isn't bad. Nice riffing, and McCarty's a good, dramatic drummer. Getting better as it goes, gaining in drama just by the playing and singing, without the extra atmospheric messing around. But not a total success.
* Innocence -- The lyrics are kinda silly late-'60s hippy mush, and Relf isn't a strong-enough singer, but again Hawken's keyboards are strong. He's clearly the star here. This is quieter than the first track, tho not as memorable.
* Island -- At last, Jane Relf starts singing. She has a high, clear voice that's captured beautifully on OUT OF THE MIST. This song has some of that album's magic. Hawken breaks loose for a classically-inspired keyboard solo in the middle, which ain't really necessary. A little overdone, but OK. Edited, this could have been a hit. Nice, soft symphonic-rock. The best thing here.
* Wanderer -- More showing-off by Hawken. He's great, but was this group formed just to show him off? They get better every time Jane Relf sings, but this is actually over too fast.
* Bullet -- 11-1/2 minutes. More piano-based drama, followed by group chanting and silly lyrics. Keith picks up the harmonica, making this a classical-folk-blues jam. And he's OK on the harp. And there's still too much dramatic messing around. If these folks could have focused a bit, they might have been awesome. Long bass solo.... More atmospheric messing around at the end, no real ending.
Overall, eh. "Island"'s the best thing here, an edited version would be great.

Next:
Richard and Linda Thompson -- I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT (1974).
True Confessions: For the longest time I couldn't HEAR these folks. Bought their ISLAND YEARS best-of a few years back and couldn't get into a single song, not even the heavy-guitar outro on "Calvary Cross," not even the pretty-great "Dimming of the Day." Don't know what I was thinking. But they were SO DOWNBEAT! This surprised me, because I love Fairport Convention, where Richard's downbeat vocals and loud guitar were a key part. Even grabbed Richard and Linda's SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS a few years back and couldn't get into THAT, even with all the marriage-breaking-up drama included.
Then awhile back I heard Richard's LIVE (MORE OR LESS) while browsing at Tacoma's HI-VOLTAGE RECORDS and was knocked out. (Of course everything sounds better on THEIR sound system....) Course LIVE is rare and they didn't have a copy to sell me, but most of the songs I heard are on BRIGHT LIGHTS, so we'll see how it holds up....
* When I Get to the Border -- The usual great vocals and stinging guitar I expected, plus half of Fairport Convention is on this album! And Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland from Gryphon! Now that I have a decent turntable that plays albums at the right speed and a stereo with actual bass and decent speakers, it makes a big difference to the listening experience. Before, I thot this was kind of a lame song. Instead it's a decent bouncy-enough album-opener.
* Cavalry Cross -- The usual grim stuff, with nice stinging guitar. Too bad this is edited for vinyl, no big guitar-explosions finale.
* Withered and Died -- The title sounds just like Richard Thompson, only Linda sings it! And she sounds just like Sandy Denny! Pretty downbeat, tho not depressing.
* I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight -- This sure contrasts with "Withered and Died," and the horn-band adds charm. Richard's lyric is pretty twisted and funny, too. This is nice, tho it could maybe have been lighter and more fun....
* Down Where the Drunkards Roll -- More of Richard's low-life obsession, tho of course Linda sings it beautifully and the acoustic guitar's just fine. Ends too soon.
* We Sing Hallelujah -- Downbeat holiday song, with added recorders.
* Has He Got a Friend for Me? -- Lonely, downbeat dating song, with nice acoustic guitar and recorders. Linda sings it beautifully, tho she threatens to hang herself in the second verse....
* The Little Beggar Girl -- Cutesy, knowing, Cockney-sounding madrigal with great lyrics: "I love takin' money off a snob like you...."
* The End of the Rainbow -- Stark, depressing lullabye, beautifully sung by Richard.
* The Great Valerio -- Stark and dramatic, just Linda's vocal and Richard's acoustic. There is a stunning live version of this on Linda's best-of, DREAMS FLY AWAY.
Overall: Stark, dramatic, icily controlled. Impressive, but definitely not light listening.

Time to lighten up. Next up, Crack the Sky's LIVE SKY (1978).
Don't know much about these guys, except their live "Lighten Up McGraw" is a rockin' classic, and they do a loopy live "I Am the Walrus," too! Their only studio album I've heard bits of, SAFETY IN NUMBERS, seemed a little self-involved and seemed to strain for dramatic effects.
* Hold On -- Opens with flashy guitar, and a riff straight out of "Lighten Up McGraw." Clever lyrics.
* Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight -- More flashy guitar, followed by dreamy verses. OK, not great. After a strong opening, the audience drifts off.... Then an upbeat ending, but it takes a long time to get there....
-- In the interest of time, I'm going to skip "Lighten Up McGraw," but trust me it's great. You should track it down. Great funny lyrics, nice choruses, great guitar, driving attack.
* She's a Dancer -- "McGraw" goes directly into this 9-minute track. The lyrics are ... slightly funny: "When I look into her eyes, I can see through his disguise, but am I surprised?" When there are no lyrics, these guys again seem to be relying heavily on their guitars to create the drama their songs seem to need. There's a long break with more show-offy guitar here. They are better at playing than at song-construction.
* Ice -- 11-minute guitar showcase. Nice, atmospheric, icy. These guys had some talent -- the key might have been channeling it into some more concise forms.
* Surf City -- No, not THAT "Surf City." Not when the second line is "Here come the sharks." Includes more flashy guitar and riffs from "God Save the Queen" and "The Lone Ranger Theme."
-- I'm gonna skip the encore, "I Am the Walrus," but it's a lot of loopy fun, and almost as weird as the original.
...OK, I'm done for today, folks. Thanx for sittin' in.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Anti-social media

I've mentioned before that our next-door neighbors are spies. But now its gotten worse.
Over the last couple weeks, they have allegedly started a "real-estate agency" in the duplex-apartment next door. In their garage/office, to be specific.
This wouldn't be so bad, but now we have five cars parked next door, crammed into a space for two cars in the U-shaped driveway. Which we also have to use.
So now we have to compete with being blocked in our own driveway while the young entrepreneurs next door meet and plot their future world real-estate domination.
This was so much easier to deal with when they were just spies.
The Girlfriend first thought these folks might be a challenge when out of nowhere they presented us with a fruit basket for Christmas.
We didn't know them that well. Said "Hi" to them a couple times -- that was about it. And suddenly they said they wanted to thank us for being "such nice neighbors."
Mm-hmmm.
We promptly re-gifted the fruit basket ... because that's what you do with gifts you don't really like, need, want, or plan to use. Right?
Besides, we'd already figured it was probably bugged.
I suggested we give them a couple gift-coffee-cups we had gathering dust here, but The Girlfriend suggested our still-new neighbors weren't "that kind of people."
Just because the cups had The Undertaker from WWE fame on them, I couldn't see why they were inappropriate. What kind of people WERE our neighbors, I wondered?
The woman claimed to be a real-estate agent, though she dressed rather severely -- more like a dominatrix. The guy claimed to be "in security." They were friendly enough for busy, ambitious folks in their mid-to-late 30s. And they did have real-estate signs in the back of their mini-van.
But. They kept very strange hours, always leaving in the middle of the night and showing back up two days later. And they were awfully quiet.
The Girlfriend was the first to suggest they were spies. They were so low-key. Evasive, almost.
When they suddenly started packing up the van and disappearing for a day and a half -- repeatedly, but never at any set time -- I started suggesting they had urgent meetings with Fearless Leader.
We started wondering if they had giant, sensitive electronic ears placed against the adjoining wall of the apartments, listening to my Strange Music-playing sessions on Sunday mornings, or overhearing our tasteless jokes about What Kind of Woman Would Actually Go to Bed With Donald Trump?
I wondered how long it would be before the black helicopters started circling the house....
But now is actually worse. And weirder. After one recent traffic jam in the driveway, The Girlfriend suggested gently to the spies (or whatever) that they might actually be able to fit their five vehicles into the available room if they all pulled straight in rather than just parking every-which-way.
They ignored her.
One of the spies (or whatever) showed during a recent downpour that she can't even back out of the driveway (which is on a hill) without spinning her tires, losing traction, and almost wrecking her van. They continue to park whichever way is quickest and best keeps them out of the rain.
It could be worse. At least they aren't drug dealers. There isn't an endless parade of vehicles swinging through at every hour of the day and night.
And they aren't religious fanatics. They aren't beating a drum and singing "Kum-Bye-Ya" over there.
And if it's a sex ring ... well, they're awfully quiet.
Have I noted that -- except for one -- all their cars are the same ominous dark-gray color?
I figure they're undercover Trump campaign workers, gathering information, trying to keep in touch with the street, seeing what The Common Man really thinks about the new regime.
Good luck with that. I don't think they'll get much feedback. Not with those thick Russian accents....

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The latest rock 'n' roll fake-news

In honor of April Fool's Day:
* The three surviving members of Pink Floyd have decided to reunite for one last album.
Bassist and former leader Roger Waters announced today that the iconic '70s classic-rock band will team up to record ANIMALS 2, a sequel to their angry 1977 faux-punk-rock record ANIMALS.
In a nod to George Orwell's classic satirical novel ANIMAL FARM, the earlier album metaphorically looked at humanity as being composed of Pigs, Dogs and Sheep -- which were also the song-titles on the album. The often-cynical Waters joked that the new album would be a "kinder, gentler" look at mankind -- and said proposed song-titles include "Cowsies," "Horsies" and "Kitties."
Waters also promised the new album would feature more "killer" Dave Gilmour guitar solos. Classic-rock-radio programmers immediately took notice.
The new album will mark the first time the three remaining members of Pink Floyd have recorded together since 1982's downbeat THE FINAL CUT, an album Waters admitted they'd all really rather forget about -- even though he wrote almost all of it.
* A noted music-producer admitted this week that all current pop music is "faked" by a small group of singers and musicians at a single New York City recording studio.
"Adele, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga -- it's all the same people," claimed producer Eric "Bad Boy" Baddeley in an interview with the current-music website MEANINGLESS. "There's a reason it all sounds the same -- DUH!"
* Sir Paul McCartney has finally admitted that talented-but-tragic early-'70s British pop band Badfinger was really the Beatles in disguise.
"We just wanted to see if we could make the magic happen again," McCartney told DATED magazine. "We'd been taking ourselves too seriously, 'ya know. We just wanted to have some laughs -- get that old rock-and-roll feeling back again."
But McCartney said the public called the band's bluff -- Badfinger's singles were so popular, a band of that name had to be put on the road, and that's when the project spun out of control.
Music-biz pros liked the "band," too -- '70s singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson had a Number One, Grammy-award-winning hit with Badfinger's song "Without You," allegedly written by band "members" Pete Ham and Tom Evans.
McCartney said the song was actually written by John Lennon.
"Yeah, that was about a bust-up he had with Yoko," the Beatles bassist said. "But John thought it was a little too slushy and sentimental, too melodramatic 'ya know, so he didn't want to put it on one of his solo albums. I dunno -- I woulda sung it. I've always liked slushy, sentimental melodrama."
* Beatles drummer Ringo Starr has admitted the REAL Paul McCartney died in 1966 -- just like conspiracy theorists thought at the end of the '60s.
"We really WERE trying to send messages on those later Beatles albums," Ringo said in an interview with the webzine PAST IT. "We were all in shock. We didn't know how to handle it."
Ringo confirmed that all the "Paul is Dead" "hints" on late-'60s Beatles albums were planted there by the surviving band members -- on purpose.
"That line in 'A Day in the Life' -- 'He blew his mind out in a car,' that's EXACTLY what happened," the all-star drummer said. "We just thought we were on God's biggest roll -- and then THAT happened. There's no way to recover."
The Fab Three ended up hiring a dark-haired, left-handed bass-player who could sing a little -- and that lookalike has been "playing" Paul ever since, Ringo claims.
"Even his wife Linda never knew he wasn't REALLY Paul," Ringo said.  
* Sammy Hagar has suggested touring again with Van Halen -- with David Lee Roth along as a dual lead-vocalist.
Lawyers involved in the matter said the explosive line-up will never take the stage -- mainly because Hagar and Roth have already started arguing behind the scenes about who will be allowed to hog the spotlight the most.
Asked for comment, whiz guitarist Eddie Van Halen merely rolled his eyes heaven-ward and suggested that maybe his ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli would be willing to step in as lead singer.
Bertinelli couldn't be reached for comment, as she was busy touring with Heart.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

All Styx! -- with no coffee!

OK, I've been hyping myself about this for weeks. Some say '70s Chicago-based stadium-rockers Styx were occasionally "progressive" -- they even get a chapter to themselves in Will Romano's prog history MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY. I'd say they were a pop band with delusions of grandeur. Sometimes a pretty good pop band -- I still love "Lorelei," "Fooling Yourself" and "Why Me?" And I've many times rolled down the road with "Come Sail Away," "Grand Illusion" or "Blue Collar Man" blasting on the stereo.
But they were often kinda sucky -- like on the hideous PARADISE THEATER. Not a single good song on there. And I heard that album to DEATH back in my record-store days.
And I need to be in a great mood to really ENJOY them. I'm not in a great mood this morning. But this will be a half-hearted attempt to see if they ever did anything else as good as those first three songs I named.
Let's get rolling before I chicken out.
* Crystal Ball, from CRYSTAL BALL (1976). Heard this for the first time ever just a couple nights ago on KZOK, Seattle's only classic-rock station. Guess they do sometimes play something unexpected. Didn't even realize this was Styx until they got to the big opera-like choruses, which are a dead giveaway -- very late-'70s, tho not unpleasant. This is all sweetness-and-light early, then Dennis DeYoung messes around on keybs in the middle, then some heavy guitar, and then Tommy Shaw's kinda uncertain vocal. Then back to that big chorus. Not bad, certainly not boring or overplayed. But it meanders. and it coulda gone on longer....
* Shooz, from CRYSTAL BALL. Jazzy up front, then some show-offy guitar. James Young takes over -- this is more rocking than the title song. But not better. Put on your rock and roll shooz. Maybe too early to get this loud? Kinda cheezy, tho it might be OK live.
* This Old Man, from CRYSTAL BALL. More sweetness-and-light, this time from Dennis DeYoung. Deep and Significant, keeps trying to slip into their overblown "Suite Madame Blue." One little man as symbol for this great nation, etc. The lyrics are nothing much, the playing is bloated. I'm about 35 years past being able to hear this stuff with an open mind. More melodrama? No thanx, I'm trying to quit. Ends with Significant blowing-wind noises.
* Claire De Lune/Ballerina, from CRYSTAL BALL. They got the nerve to re-arrange Debussy's "Claire De Lune"? For a Big Closer, "Ballerina" is standard stadium-rock, and DeYoung sounds so pompous! Some OK flashy guitar, but. Then some operatic, "Bohemian Rhapsody"-style vocals, which became these guys' calling-card. 1976 was a great music year? Sure.... Well, at least it didn't go on any LONGER....
* Light Up, from EQUINOX (1975). BIG drama, lots of swirling keyboards up front, then a loopy keyboard hook. I take this to be an ode to using illicit substances to help upgrade the concert experience. Or the life experience. The singing is a little too operatic. Amazing how that stuff grates so quickly....
* Mother Dear, from EQUINOX. The group vocals on the verses sound oddly like ... The Who(?) to me, then they swing into a pretty great driving hook-chorus ... then they make it a song to Mother(?!). Lotta dicking around on keyboards -- cut out the wasted time and this coulda been a hit.
* Lonely Child, from EQUINOX. Uh-oh, look out. It's a wedding proposal disguised as a power ballad. Some Ok tho brief guitar. The singing is ... very over-ripe and studly. Ugh. Hope the proposal was rejected. the things I go through for you people....
* Sing for the Day, from PIECES OF EIGHT. Hadn't heard this in a thousand years. Very sweet, with more of Tommy Shaw's non-operatic vocals. But some of the lyrics: "As your surrogate leader I'm bound in your search for the truth"? The other lyrics are way more down-to-earth. Nice folky approach, and the keyboards are just bouncy and light enough. They don't overdo here, there's a nice light touch. These guys did have talent, no denying it. But it's about what you DO with it....
* The Message, from PIECES OF EIGHT. Swirling synth noise. A brief set-up for the next track.
* Lords of the Ring, from PIECES OF EIGHT. Pomp and circumstance. James Young has been taking voice lessons from Dennis DeYoung. And that's too bad. This is a Dungeons and Dragons-fantasy song -- power, glory, mystery, belief, faith ... Valhalla, I am coming.... And there's lots more of those operatic group-vocals.
* Pieces of Eight. This just in: Money won't buy you happiness. Deep. More operatic vocals? You got 'em. A swim through the ocean of these guys' souls will scarcely get your feet wet. Who are they trying to warn? Must be themselves. You know, these guys would have been better if they hadn't written lyrics. they don't have much new to say. And there's that show-offy grand piano piece at the end. Which is there why?
* Aku-Aku, from PIECES OF EIGHT. Album closer is brief, tho pretty. there's not much to it.
* Castle Walls, from GRAND ILLUSION (1977). Hadn't heard this in years. Wanted to see if it was as overdone as I remembered.... Not bad, but everything devolves into Pomp And Circumstance and The Meaning Of Life. Which is great if you're 18 years old....
* Grand Finale, from GRAND ILLUSION. The Showbiz glitz takes over, which seems appropriate.
* Boat on the River, from CORNERSTONE (1979). Low-key, modest. Acoustic, with what sounds like an accordion, and a tuba harrumphing away in the background. I've always thought Tommy Shaw wrote the best stuff for these guys. This is sorta a depressed German-beer-drinking song.
OK, I've done as much as I can take. the best Styx impression I've ever heard is by Kansas -- "Reason to Be" on their MONOLITH album. They've got the style down, and even the silly singing. But it works. If you're a fan of either of these bands, check it out. And someday soon I'll do an "All-Kansas" post....
...Oh, and coming soon, I may actually listen ALL THE WAY THROUGH a few albums, if I can keep my short attention span under control. A shockingly new way to listen to music, so I've been told....

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Politics -- who needs it?

Hey, I'd prefer NOT to be political. But things have gotten too weird.
After years of reporting on local and state politics for small-town newspapers -- which was fun at times -- I pretty much gave up politics when I retired. I didn't even bother voting from 1998 to 2016, because I figured Washington state (being liberal) had my interests covered. Of course, Washington sometimes goes way TOO liberal. In Wyoming, I voted to keep up my end as The Loyal Opposition so the state didn't go too far to the Right.
I wasn't thrilled with Obama. I thought his health-care plan was too damn expensive and the penalties if you didn't join up were ridiculous. I was to the point where I didn't believe a word he said.
But now things are even weirder.
Why is it so hard to come up with an affordable health-care plan that works for everybody, covers everybody, doesn't include outrageous premiums and big penalties -- and doesn't lead to a bunch of men sitting around trying to decide which women's health concerns SHOULDN'T be included in a package of health-care essentials?
Given enough time, the problem could be solved. If everybody involved could stop being so GREEDY and maybe try to do something GOOD for the country. Why is that so hard?
Why are we so judgmental about people we've never met, don't know, can't imagine what their lives are like? When did Americans become so hateful? Any country that would consider separating parents and kids at a border crossing would be OK with putting seniors out on a chunk of ice to fend for themselves, or hauling off anyone we don't like to a prison camp.
I thought we were better than this.
OK, so tighten entries and visas, fine. We're already in charge of that. But have you ever seen a wall people couldn't climb over or find their way around? Did it help the Chinese that much when the Mongols came to visit? People still got out of East Germany.... People are still getting out of North Korea....
Muslim ban? Hmmm. Interesting that Saudi Arabia isn't on that list, when a dozen of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. But it makes a good list for focusing anger -- identify the group, criticize the group, segregate the group, make the group disappear.
And where are YOU from?
Tighten vetting for visas? OK. But I've seen how tough and expensive it can be to get into this country legally, and how long you have to wait. How could we make it tougher for people seeking asylum or just relief and freedom? Do we have to waterboard them to prove their allegiance to the U.S.?
And I am stunned by how many people think that pompous blowhard in the White House is working for THEIR interests. What do you have in common with that vain, self-centered millionaire, "the deal-maker"? Get it into your heads, folks -- he's only working for HIS OWN interests. Unless you're a white guy with lots of money, or a woman he can grab, the Prez has NO USE for you. You're just getting in his way. I'm sure he thanks you for your support. But if you stop supporting him, watch out for the backlash.
I don't see how the Prez supports any Republican agenda. Except maybe for more jobs (?), lower taxes (? we'll see), and keep the strangers out. Oh yes, and let's ID and segregate anyone we don't like, anyone we think is Different. Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims. Women too? LGBTQ?
I'm looking forward to his tax-reform plan, which I'm sure will include big cuts for his corporate cronies. Then who's gonna pay for that $54-billion increase to the military? We are.
Haven't seen much in the way of more jobs. That Carrier AC and heating plant he crowed about is laying people off. And if you think the economy's recovering -- it's a damn slow recovery. It was under Obama, too. Keep saying it will happen and maybe it will...?
I want to hear more about his infrastructure rebuilding plan, too -- it's long overdue. Obama wanted to do the same thing, but of course Congress shot him in the face on that one. You can only do so much by presidential order, without the help of Congress. And right now Congress can't agree that the sun's going to come up tomorrow.
That's about it for now -- except for all you folks who think the new Prez is just great and he's doing exactly what you wanted. Or at least he WOULD be if the Evil Liberal Media would stop giving him such a hard time.
If you think the media is the enemy of the people, who are you gonna turn to when you want to know what's really going on? The Prez? Oh yeah. You're SURE to get the real story there.
To those who support this self-centered money-grubbing moron and his Nazi advisers, you'll still be saying he's your man and it's all for the best when they haul you off in trucks to that relocation camp that's probably in all of our futures. You're all a bunch of Let's Pretenders from straight out of the 1950's, and I wish you'd all shut up and THINK. For at least a minute or two. That's more than you've thought up to now.
Hate mail can be left in the comments section below.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New turntable!

OK, got a new turntable, an Audio-Technica, from Tacoma's HI-VOLTAGE RECORDS. The old $20 Goodwill turntable was dragging badly, and I was tired of hearing stuff play at 30 rpm's. Plus our cheap tissue-box speakers didn't put out much bass.
Now, with the turntable hooked-up to the CD player's way-better speakers, you can actually HEAR things. Including some bits I don't think I've heard before. And it was pretty cheap, too!
I'm still testing it out. So....
* Argent -- Dance in the Smoke, from their first album (1970). Even cranked up, the CD player's speakers perhaps show the limits of 1970 recording technology. I still love this song, and it still builds nicely in its hypnotic, mantra-like way. But it should be louder, stronger. So I'll crank it up to 11....
* Starcastle -- Shine On Brightly, from CITADEL (1977). I like this, and the speakers really bring out the trebly tones. Nice. But the following "Shadows of Song" still sounds like a not-very-inspired Yes song. "Can't Think Twice" is a step up, though it still sounds like Yes. And "Wings of White" is even MORE commercial-Yes-sounding.... Even so, a quick side, and fairly painless.
* Greenslade -- Melange, from their first album (1973). Found a $3 water-damaged-but-playable copy of this at HI-VOLTAGE. OK bubbly keyboards and bass, with airy wordless vocals, OK background music if not exactly stunning. Hadn't heard them since 1981, couldn't remember what they sounded like. Not bad....
* Alison Moyet -- Where Hides Sleep?, from ALF (1983). Moody, synth-washy, dreamy, occasional sparkly keyboards. Alf's vocals build in drama.... Fades out too soon.
* Alison Moyet -- All Cried Out, from ALF. You can sure tell this is 1983. Heavy beats, lotsa keyboards, takes a long time to get to the vocal.... But I like her throaty vocal -- she sounds a little like Annie Lennox. The lyrics are kinda clever.... Kinda slow and predictable, tho.... In a PLEASANT way....
* Jane Siberry -- The Waitress, from NO BORDERS HERE (1984). Silly, annoying song about OCD. Is this New Wave? I read somewhere she did some rather Strange stuff later....
* Jane Siberry -- I Muse Aloud, from NO BORDERS. Too much coffee, Jane. Metallic, computerized sound. The lyrics are a little silly. Her voice is a little whiny. Am I being a snob? $2 at Half-Price Books. Whadda ya want for $2?
* Jane Siberry -- Mimi on the Beach, from NO BORDERS. This starts off a little too cute, but it gets better as it goes -- tho I'm not sure I can take 7-1/2 minutes of it. Her voice sounds a little like Lisa Loeb, and when her band is permitted to up the drama it gets better. The choruses are pretty good, tho they're not repeated often enough. Mimi's going surfing, and I expect disaster....
* Jane Siberry -- Map of the World (Part 1), from NO BORDERS. Airy vocals and drumming.... Very lite album-closer.
* Osibisa -- The Dawn, from their first album (1971). Have wanted to hear this African/West-Indian band ever since seeing the flying-elephant album-cover artwork in Roger Dean's book VIEWS. Opens with dawn-in-the-jungle noises and a brief narration. Then light drumming and nice airy flute, leading into a heavier groove, joined by bass and organ. The organ ROCKS. Then guitar solo with more drumming and chanting. Nice, and VERY different. Tony Visconti produced. $1 at Half-Price.
* Osibisa -- Music for Gong Gong. Nice riff, excellent horn work. With a killer guitarist they could almost be Santana. More good organ work. Bet they were great live. This has a solid beat and some force. Makes me wanna dance around the room....
* Osibisa -- Ayiko Bia. More great riffs, this time with lots of chanting. Solid, involving. That's the whole side. This was well worth a buck.
* Osibisa -- Akwaaba. Nice riffs with solid horn and organ work. Lively. Good happy music. Guitarist Wendell Richardson is pretty good. So why didn't these guys get rich?
* Osibisa -- Phallus C. Their singing is actually their weak point, tho I rather like their chanting. But they sure can play. More great low-key organ work here from Robert Bailey. And some nice sour baritone sax from Loughty Lasisi Amao. Not to mention the guitar. And the great drum riffs. This is good stuff -- they sound like no one else. Worth tracking down.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

All over the place

* Bat for Lashes -- Lillies, from THE HAUNTED MAN (2012). Know next to nothing about Natasha Khan and the folks who help her here, except that I heard a couple trax from this album on the rock critics' radio show SOUND OPINIONS a few years back, and liked them. Am reminded very much of Kate Bush. Nice, though dark.
* Bat for Lashes -- All Your Gold, from THE HAUNTED MAN. This has a different, lighter feel. Not as dramatic. But still disturbing. And her vocals and the drumbeats keep building. Nice little ornate musical touches here and there add to the build.
* Bat for Lashes -- Horses of the Sun, from HAUNTED MAN. Chanting and drumming. Very nice early-morning wake-up music except for the drums, which tend to pound and echo. OK, no real ending.
* Bat for Lashes -- Oh Yeah, from HAUNTED. More Kate Bush-like sounds, with drumming and keybs. OK, but not different. I'd like to hear something more from her. Disturbing, eerie synthesizer tones. we may be done here.
* Joanna Newsom -- Bridges and Balloons, from THE MILK-EYED MENDER (2004). All I know about Joanna Newsom is she plays harp and piano, and that Gardenhead of the late, lamented music blog ASLEEP ON THE COMPOST HEAP once called Newsom's CD after this, YS, one of the very best of the 2000's. What a shock to hear she sings like an 8-year-old girl! This is cute and charming, and like the Incredible String Band never happened. But if she keeps singing like this, I'm not going to get far....
* Joanna Newsom -- Sprout and the Bean, from MENDER. That voice.... This is pleasant morning music, harmless. And she plays that harp like a guitar. She doesn't sound like anyone else. But....
* Joanna Newsom -- Inflammatory Writ, from MENDER. If an 8-year-old girl performed this at a piano recital it'd be charming. And ... uh ... precocious. But for a woman in her 20's(?) ... well, I just wonder what's wrong with her. Her lyrics are cute, but....
* The La's -- Son of a Gun, from their only album (1990). This is a little more like it, tho simpler than Newsom or Khan. Nice guitar strumming, light vocals. Then it's over.
* The La's -- I Can't Sleep. Heavier. I can't sleep either. Heard about this album on SOUND OPINIONS too. Another critics' baby. I probly shoulda known better. OK harmonies, nice guitars, closer to rock and roll.
* The La's -- Timeless Melody. Reminded of Bare Naked Ladies. Very pleasant, nice vocals. Songs on this album are nice, upbeat, mostly very short. Simple, basic, happy rock. When the guitar gets heavier, it gets better.
* The La's -- Liberty Ship. Now they could be the Turtles, almost. Their CD has NO information about the band, tho four producers are credited. I infer from the London Records label that they were English. Who is this L.A. Mavers who wrote all the songs and got a 6-point-type credit? And who played the instruments?
* The La's -- There She Goes. yes, the song that Sixpence None the Richer later made a hit. They had good taste. And this sounds almost exactly the same, only with a guy singing. This is very nice, with nice Byrdsy guitars. And it's over too fast.
* The La's -- Doledrum. Now they could be XTC. Nice, tho.
* The La's -- Feelin'. Pleasant. Slightly heavier guitars. Their songs are over too fast.
* The La's -- Way Out. OK, mildly jumpy not-broken-hearted lovesong. But it's time for a coffee break.
* The La's -- Looking Glass. OK, this runs almost 8 minutes, so we'll see what they can do with some room. ...More guitars, but more mournful. Not sure there's more impact, but all these songs are worth hearing. Maybe the first real keeper of the morning. ...Speeds up kinda pointlessly at the end. No big impact.
* Dusty Springfield -- Son of a Preacher Man, from DUSTY IN MEMPHIS (1969/1999). I've always hated this. It's sleazy and smarmy, and she sings it mostly like she's embarrassed, except from the middle on. Course it's well-produced.
* Dusty Springfield -- Just a Little Lovin' from IN MEMPHIS. Can't argue with the lyrics, but it's SO 1968 that it makes me laugh.
* Dusty Springfield -- So Much Love, from IN MEMPHIS. yes, she sings beautifully. I can go back to '66 with PET SOUNDS, so I'm not sure why I can't go back to '68 with this. Except this is way closer to Burt Bacharach than the Beach Boys....
* Dusty Springfield -- Willie and Laura Mae Jones, from MEMPHIS. This is more like it. Better. Gutsier. And she sounds more relaxed.
* Dusty Springfield -- In the Land of Make Believe, from MEMPHIS. Another mushy love ballad, beautifully sung.
* Dusty Springfield -- Little by Little, from VERY BEST OF (1998). Above-average 1966 album track. Made Number 17 in England. Missing that extra touch of magic.
* Dusty Springfield -- I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten, from VERY BEST OF. Only version of this I know is by Tracey Ullman. The piano makes me laugh, and it's a LONG way to that first chorus, but the drama here really works. And the strings later are a freakin' knockout. Fades out too soon.
* Dusty Springfield -- You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, from VERY BEST OF. This is a huge melodramatic piece of cheez. And I've always loved it, especially those killer choruses. Crank it up!
* Badfinger -- Apple of My Eye, from their first BEST OF (1995). This is a low-key second-string classic, the band's mournful farewell to Apple Records. Could maybe have used more crashing drama. And it's over too soon.
* Badfinger -- The Name of the Game, from BEST OF. Just want to note that this slodgy George Harrison-produced version is way weaker than the Geoff Emerick-produced version included on Badfinger's later VERY BEST OF....
* Badfinger -- Suitcase, from BEST OF. Several of this band's better songs were about their career, like "Some Other Time," "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch" and "Rock of All Ages." This is an OK stripped-down on-the-road rocker.
* Gentle Giant -- I Lost My Head, from INTERVIEW (1976). The usual pretty, intricate, ping-pongy music up-front. I admit I miss these guys. And I've never heard any of this album before. ...This is built like their earlier "Peel the Paint" -- the softer, delicate stuff up-front, followed by the rockier, relatively "simple" stuff later. Derek Shulman's wailing vocals backed by jumpy instrumental support. Not bad, if not a classic.
* Gentle Giant -- Interview. Pretty rockin' (OK: discordant, jarring) for these guys. Autobiographical. Did they really think they didn't find their direction 'til their fourth album? That'd be OCTOPUS, right? yeah, I didn't really know what I was doing 'til my fourth book.... Lots of jumping around as the track develops....
* Gentle Giant -- Give it Back, from INTERVIEW. About average, for them. More of this later. Now time for a potty break. I'll try not to pee on myself....
* Roxy Music -- Sentimental Fool, from SIREN (1975). The ghost of Eno haunts the opening. Yeezus, no wonder this takes 6 minutes.... On the opening verse, Bryan Ferry almost sounds like Sandy Denny! Nice choruses, tho. And nice sax from Andy Mackay, as usual. This would be better if Eddie Jobson's synthesized noise didn't drag it out.
* Roxy Music -- Whirlwind, from SIREN. Wonder if anybody's ever told Bryan Ferry he can't sing. Or even hold a tune. Doubt it. Nice guitar from Phil Manzanera. but we're done here.
* Roxy Music -- She Sells, from SIREN. ...Until I heard the piano hook at the start of this. Rocks. More good guitar. Try at another hit single?
* Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- Count Me In, from THE TEN BEST OF (1997/2005). Always loved this. yes, it sounds thin. But it's also cute and catchy and clever. Along with a sternly-worded warning about how copying or downloading music illegally is stealing from the artist, Capitol/EMI include NO information on the CD about the artist, songwriters or producers. Didn't Al Kooper and Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett have something to do with this music? No clues from the CD package.
* Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- She's Just My Style, from BEST OF. Worthy of the Monkees. And funnier.
* Adrian Belew -- Joan Miro's Procession Through the Insides of a Purple Antelope Across a Sea of Tuna Fish, from the DESIRE OF THE RHINO KING best-of (1991). yeez, it took me longer to type the title than the song is. Screechy violin and electronics with rudimentary drumbeats. Noisy. The weirdest thing I've played this morning. Odd, he's such a good guitarist with King Crimson....
* Gentle Giant -- Funny Ways, from PLAYING THE FOOL/LIVE (1977). This is a freaking knockout! Long, creepy, atmospheric, with an unnecessarily rocking mid-section tossed in just to wake the audience up. the drama just keeps building. By four minutes in, it's a masterwork. And it'll make your skin crawl.
* Mannheim Steamroller -- Toccata, from FRESH AIRE III and AMERICAN GRAMOPHONE SAMPLER III (1984). Nice keyboard riff. After a dozen listenings, I guess this is starting to grow on me a little. But they aren't Gryphon.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Pibroch"? Depends.

The song title above is pronounced "pee-break," as all Jethro Tull fans will know. And today's post is for the gentlemen in the audience.
Guys. Does your pee-er ever get confused -- like it won't go where you want it to go unless you guide it?
Uh... I'm talking about in the bathroom, while sitting on the potty. I've gotten to the point where I have to guide and hold the little guy where I want him to go ... or else I end up peeing all over myself.
I'll wait for the laughter to subside.
This has started to be a real issue with me. I have officially gone from middle-aged into Alzheimer's. Twice. In the last two weeks. Messed up two pairs of sweats.
The Girlfriend thinks this is hilarious. And she does the laundry anyway, Ghod bless her.
I guess I COULD go back to peeing standing up, and make a bigger mess ... just not on ME.
But this never USED to be a problem. Used to be I could just point the pee-er in the right general direction and gravity would take care of the rest. But now, thanks to those mysterious growing-older bodily changes, it's like he doesn't want to come out. Or he's too cold. Or something.
Yesterday, sitting on the pot, doing my business. The process gets started, and it's trying to be Spring here, despite the pouring rain, and I'm a little groggy, but my eyes are itchy, so I reach up to rub them, and ... well, you know the rest.
WTF? True, this is a very minor problem, and I can adjust, but. Does this ever happen to anybody else? (You guys, I mean.) And what new bodily horrors can I expect to experience in the days ahead? (If you have warnings for me, go easy. I've got enough to put up with already.)
Meanwhile, a brief playlist for those more challenging potty-time trips....
* Jethro Tull -- Pibroch.
* Boston -- Foreplay/Long Time.
* Beatles -- Revolution 9.
* Rolling Stones -- Goin' Home.
* Iron Butterfly -- In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.
* Love -- Revelation.
* Yes -- Close to the Edge.
* Jethro Tull -- THICK AS A BRICK (CD).
* Jethro Tull -- A PASSION PLAY (CD).
* Nektar -- REMEMBER THE FUTURE (CD).
* Yes -- TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS (CD version). 80 minutes of un-interrupted soundtrack....
* Yes -- YESSONGS (CD). How much time do you NEED?
* ELP -- WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS TO THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS....
This post is for The Girlfriend, who told me I should write about it. While choking back her laughter.
...And if there's anyone out there waiting for any other funny horror stories from this same general area, well ... you're NOT going to get them.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Other voices

Another dull Monday night at work. So when the news started repeating itself and business got slow, I started twiddling the radio dial looking for something listenable in the pathetic lowest-common-denominator programming that is Seattle-area radio. And I wasn't surprised by what I heard.
If this continues, I'll have to start taking CD's to work again. And then I'll crank up the music and ignore customers, because that's what always happens.
Every time an overplayed song by a "classic rocker" came on last night, I jotted down OTHER great songs by the same artist that the stations could have played if they'd been a little more open-minded. Again, this isn't a scientific study, just a suggested playlist generated by a couple hours of bored listening. Stations included a "mix" of the 80's/90's/now, "Seattle's only Classic Rock station," one of those "We play what we want" stations, an alleged "oldies" station (KJR/"The Jet"), and two others aimed at 18-to-35-year-olds. And the playlists were all very similar. Unfortunately.
So try any of these alternatives and thank me later....
* Rod Stewart -- Handbags and Gladrags, Mandolin Wind (this took a LONG time to grow on me).
* Fleetwood Mac -- I Know I'm Not Wrong, Why?, Sisters of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Straight Back, Eyes of the World, Brown Eyes, Never Make Me Cry.
* Yes -- South Side of the Sky. (They actually play "Changes" here -- in fact, local radio turned me on to it....)
* Led Zeppelin -- Carouselambra, Hey Hey What Can I Do?
* Eagles -- The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks, James Dean, Outlaw Man, Seven Bridges Road.
* Boston -- Used to Bad News, Hitch a Ride, A Man I'll Never Be, It's Easy, My Destination.
* Rolling Stones -- Street Fighting Man.
* Madonna -- The Look of Love, Dear Jessie, Oh Daddy.
* Prince -- Anotherloverholeinyohead, Sometimes it Snows in April.
* Foreigner -- Rev on the Red Line, The Modern Day, Blinded by Science.
* Rush -- The Camera Eye, Mystic Rhythms (live), Manhattan Project, Force Ten, Show Don't Tell. (I'd add "Time Stand Still," but they actually play it here....)
* ELP -- Fanfare for the Common Man, Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression Part 1).
* Eric Clapton -- Let it Grow, Another Ticket.
* Journey -- Daydream, People and Places, Troubled Child, Something to Hide.
* Police -- Omegaman, Secret Journey, On Any Other Day, Does Everyone Stare?
* Joe Walsh -- Rivers (of the Hidden Funk), Meadows.
* Grateful Dead -- Passenger, Uncle John's Band.
* Billy Joel -- Travelin' Prayer, The Entertainer, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.
* Genesis -- Inside and Out, Vancouver, Like it or Not, Afterglow, Your Own Special Way, Madman Moon, You Might Recall.
* The Who -- Daily Records, Another Tricky Day, Slip Kid, Blue Red and Gray, The Kids are Alright, Disguises.
* Heart -- Rockin' Heaven Down, Mistral Wind, Soul of the Sea.
* Kansas -- Journey From Mariabronn, Questions of My Childhood, Miracles Out of Nowhere, The Wall, Cheyenne Anthem, What's On My Mind, Reason to Be, Back Door.
* Queen -- Rock It (Prime Jive), It's Late, Death on Two Legs, '39, The Prophet's Song, The Show Must Go On, I'm Going Slightly Mad, Need Your Loving Tonight, Save Me.
* Aerosmith -- Seasons of Wither, Big Ten-Inch Record.
* Elton John -- Ego, Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, Gray Seal, Grimsby, Sick City, Teacher I Need You, Have Mercy on the Criminal, Elderberry Wine, Don't You Wanna Play This Game No More (Sartorial Eloquence).
* Supertramp -- Just Another Nervous Wreck, Child of Vision, Babajii, From Now On, School, Crime of the Century.
* Paul McCartney and Wings -- Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five, Mrs. Vandebilt, Let Me Roll It, Medicine Jar, Venus and Mars Reprise/Spirits of Ancient Egypt, Picasso's Last Words, Magneto and Titanium Man, Call Me Back Again.
* Paul Simon -- American Tune.
* Simon and Garfunkel -- The Only Living Boy in New York, For Emily Whenever I May Find Her, Keep the Customers Satisfied, Punky's Dilemma, A Simple Desultory Philippic.
* Pat Benatar -- Hard to Believe, Precious Time, Wuthering Heights.
* Tears for Fears -- The Working Hour.
* Pretenders -- Time the Avenger, Kid, Hymn to Her, Human, Stop Your Sobbing, Lovers of Today, Mystery Achievement, 2000 Miles.
* Moody Blues -- Simple Game, Peak Hour, Time to Get Away, Twilight Time, Voices in the Sky, The Actor, Don't You Feel Small?, Lovely to See You, Never Comes the Day, Eyes of a Child Part Two, Gypsy, Out and In, Watching and Waiting, It's Up to You, Our Guessing Game, One More Time to Live, You Can Never Go Home, For My Lady, You and Me, Land of Make-Believe, Meanwhile, Nervous, Veteran Cosmic Rocker, In My World, Blue World, Meet Me Halfway, Running Water, It's Cold Outside of Your Heart, Sorry....

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How much do you want to know?

Maybe I've read too much about music. Good thing I found this book on the "Clearance" shelf.
Tim Morse's CLASSIC ROCK STORIES (1998) had the potential to be good -- telling the real stories that inspired the classic rock songs we all know. But the book's thin, only 200 pages (some of which are less than half-full), and it turns out some of the songs came from ... nothing much.
And though Morse includes a list of sources for his information, I'm more surprised by some of his quotes that aren't credited. Pete Townshend's comments on "Substitute" are straight out of a hilarious review Townshend wrote for The Who's MEATY BEATY BIG AND BOUNCY best-of that ROLLING STONE published back in 1971. Stevie Nicks's comments on "Go Your Own Way" sound like they came from an excellent Daisann McLane profile on Fleetwood Mac, "Five Not So Easy Pieces," that RS printed in late 1979.
Other good quotes are credited -- Neil Young's comments on "Ohio" and "Heart of Gold" both come from Young's liner notes for his DECADE best-of. Mick Fleetwood's comments on Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" and "Sara" come from FLEETWOOD -- one of the best rock-star autobiographies.
There are some good quotes that I've never seen anywhere else. Paul McCartney speaks for a lot of songwriters when he says "I use these things (inspirations) like a painter uses colors." You'll be surprised that Cream's "Badge" could have come out of the silliness George Harrison describes here.
Steve Miller's quote about how his early singles did on the charts made me laugh. Linda Ronstadt has a good story about "Heat Wave." Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ed King has a neat story about how the band recorded "Simple Man."
There are quotes from Led Zeppelin that are informative about how their music was put together, even if the quotes aren't revealing about where the songs came from. Same could be said for the Pink Floyd quotes.
In fact, that's the whole problem. This book barely scratches the surface about where these songs came from. There's a whole lot more that could have been done here.
In a section called "Really Deep Thoughts," you'll find out many of these songs didn't come from much deep thinking. I'd rather have the mystery. I'm not sure I want to know that "Running on Empty" came from Jackson Browne driving around with no gas in his car while he was recording THE PRETENDER.
At some point, no matter what the song meant to the songwriter, a piece of music becomes a screen onto which listeners can project their own stories, images, fantasies, wishes, dreams. And that becomes the meaning. Compared to that emotional meaning for the listener, the "real" story can hardly measure up.
But I wish Morse had been able to assemble some better, more involving Real Stories.
Also: There are silly little errors a good proofreader should have fixed:
* CSNY's "Our House" was really written by Joni Mitchell? Really? On the CD reissue of CSNY's SO FAR best-of, the credit's still going to Graham Nash. And frankly, the song isn't good enough or clever enough for Joni to have written it. Sorry, Graham. Though I'm sure it was about their domestic lives together....
* Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff" was on 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD, not THERE'S ONE IN EVERY CROWD.
* Neither Steppenwolf's first nor second albums were released in 1973. They were up to at least seven by then.
* The Doobie Brothers' producer's name was Ted Templeman, not Templeton. But the story about how the Doobies' "Black Water" first came out as a B-side is a good one. Though brief.
* Paul Kantner's name is spelled wrong. Twice.
This book's good for about an hour of browsing if you're into classic rock. Did I learn anything new? No, not much. But I wish it had been different....

Monday, March 13, 2017

Two dozen bad Strange Music albums

From the reblime to the subdiculous. Here's a list of 26 bad Strange Music albums that I somehow managed to listen to all the way through. In descending order of awfulness. Cringe in horror with me, and watch out for these.
* Gentle Giant --THREE FRIENDS (1972). Not truly awful, but very disappointing. "Schooldays" is haunting, "Peel the Paint" does just that, "Mister Class and Quality" is OK. But the album is short a couple songs. There should be more here. Side 2 is barely 14 minutes long.
* Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- WORKS VOLUME I (1977). Four long sides, three great songs! Defines "waste." Picks: The great "Fanfare for the Common Man," "C'est La Vie," "Piano Concerto, Third Movement." But the rest is real crap.... ELP's LOVE BEACH is worse than this? Not sure I'd survive it....
* Steely Dan -- GAUCHO (1980). The gorgeous title song and "Third World Man" make the cut. The rest is boring and lazy, barely able to rise above its drug-induced lethargy. Their worst, by far.
* Caravan -- CUNNING STUNTS (1975). "Dabsong Conshirtoe" has a sweet opening and almost everything else a fan would want -- except a decent ending. "Show of Our Lives" is sludgy. And it's the second-best thing here. Not enough of Pye Hastings' funny songwriting to save this. Their only appearance on the U.S. charts. BETTER BY FAR and THE ALBUM are even worse, but I couldn't get all the way through them....
* Gentle Giant -- GIANT FOR A DAY (1978). Once I thought this was the worst "prog" album ever. Boy was I wrong. First side has some nice, gentle love songs. But it's miles less adventurous than their best work.
* Rare Bird -- EPIC FOREST (1972). "Birdman" and the title song are prog classics. The rest is absolutely flat, with no inspiration or life. Available now for 99 cents at a Goodwill near you....
* Renaissance -- PROLOGUE (1972). "Rajah Khan" is a swirling psychedelic classic, so brave and noisy that it almost makes up for the rest -- which is VERY polite middle-of-the-road pop.
* U.K. -- DANGER MONEY (1979). "Rendezvous 6:02" is a pretty mood piece. "Nothing to Lose" sounds like a warm-up for Asia, where bassist/singer John Wetton would go next. The rest is heavy-handed prog doominess. No fun.
* Renaissance -- ASHES ARE BURNING (1973). "At the Harbour" is a stark death-at-sea piece, unlike anything else they ever did. "Can You Understand?" and "Ashes are Burning" both sound WAY better on their LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL. The rest are polite-pop leftovers.
* Yes -- TORMATO (1978). Yes on speed. "Release, Release" is almost good. "Madrigal," "Onward" and "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" are almost not-bad. But they're so BUSY! Too many notes, Mozart....
* Wigwam -- LUCKY GOLDEN STRIPES (1976). Following up the classic NUCLEAR NIGHTCLUB with edited studio jams and half-baked songwriting. "Tramdriver," "Wardance," "International Disaster" and "Never Give You Up" aren't terrible. The rest is pretty lame.
* Hatfield and the North -- (1st) (1973). Richard Sinclair's vocals are always good to hear, and his occasional lyrics are whimsical and fun. But the fragmentary songwriting doesn't build, nothing leads anywhere, nothing's delivered with any force. Lightly pleasant, but airy, meandering.
* Genesis -- DUKE (1980). "Turn it On Again" is as "good" as this gets. The rest is muddy, sludgy, endless. And also their U.S. pop-chart breakthrough....
* Strawbs -- GRAVE NEW WORLD (1972). "New World" is shockingly bitter. "Oh Me, Oh My" is a brief, funny piece about pop culture and fashion. The rest is overdone, humorless, overbearing. Come back, Rick Wakeman....
* Barclay James Harvest -- THE HARVEST YEARS 2-CD best-of. "Taking Some Time On" is an excellent basic rocker, "Ursula (The Swansea Song)" is a sweet, catchy love song. "Poor Wages" and "Brother Thrush" are charming, innocent early stuff. "Mocking Bird" is a pretty song swamped by an orchestra. The rest is aimless and overwrought. And there's a LOT of it. And if you want to know how bad the Alan Parsons Project COULD have been, check out the hideous, endless "Dark Now My Sky" and "She Said." What were they thinking? The worst best-of ever.
* Pink Floyd --  A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS (1968). Lotta noise here. But except for departed leader Syd Barrett's chilling closer "Jugband Blues," nothing will hold your attention. Or stick in your memory.
* King Crimson -- ISLANDS (1972). "Sailor's Tale" has an interesting, banjo-like guitar sound. But the rest is too mellow, too quiet, too stuck-up arty. "Ladies of the Road" breaks out -- but it's pretty embarrassing. Album closes with an orchestra tuning-up. Their worst.
* U.K. -- NIGHT AFTER NIGHT/LIVE (1980). Former prog supergroup profit-takes by dumbing-down formerly good songs in front of an oblivious audience. Sad.
* Beach Boys -- FRIENDS (1968). Only the wordless "Passing By" makes it. The rest has a TM/India undercurrent ("Anna Lee the Healer," "Meant for You"). Couple Dennis Wilson fragments are passable. Brian Wilson's solo spot is disgraceful. "Diamond Head" and "Transcendental Meditation" are worse. Lazy.
* Barclay James Harvest -- XII (1978). Absolutely flat pop songs, no inspiration or magic anywhere. Beautiful album cover.
* Barclay James Harvest -- OCTOBERON (1976). ROLLING STONE once called them "morose progressive rock," and they were right. Want to see how much you can take? Try "Suicide." And don't blame me afterward....
* Gong -- EXPRESSO II (1978). Steve Winwood and Allen Holdsworth try to liven up this jazz-rock background music with no foreground. Titles include "Sleepy" and "Boring."
* Gong -- GAZEUSE!/EXPRESSO (1977). As I was saying.... Zzzzz.
* Pat Metheny -- ZERO TOLERANCE FOR SILENCE. The melodic-jazz-guitar master cranks it up to 11. No melodies, no tunes, just wailing feedback. Around the fourth track he adds acoustic guitar for contrast. Why'd he bother?
* Cromagnon -- CAVE ROCK (1969). Music for the Zombie Apocalypse. Alien folk ditties, some guy SCREAMING in a bonfire or rockslide for five minutes, a tribe of cave men chanting around a fire, dinosaurs stomping across the land as volcanoes erupt in the background. Not music -- an "Environments" record. "Thanks" to Crabby for inflicting this on me.
* Borbetomagus -- (1st) (1980). New York punk-jazz. Screaming noise, though the two saxophonists can REALLY blow. They HAVE to, to be heard over the rest. Cars rev up and drive through the studio, guitars get sawed in half, chipmunks get chopped up in blenders -- no melody or structure to any of it. Good luck.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

TAD's Top 100+ Strange Music albums

OK, here's 105 or so above-average "Strange Music" albums I've been able to get all the way through over the years, in more-or-less descending order of quality. And ranking them wasn't easy. With commentary....
* Beach Boys -- SMILE (1967). Way ahead of its time. "Surf's Up," "Cabinessence," "Heroes and Villains."
* Gryphon -- RED QUEEN TO GRYPHON THREE (1974). Best all-instrumental prog album ever. "Lament."
* Gryphon -- TREASON (1977). A kinder, gentler Jethro Tull album. "Spring Song" should have been an art-rock landmark.
* Caravan -- FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP IN THE NIGHT (1973). Gorgeous swinging big sound, silly lyrics. "Memory Lain," "The Dog," "Be All Right," "Surprise," "Hunting...."
* Yes -- YESSONGS (1973). So great you can throw one record away and not miss much. "Close to the Edge."
* Nick Drake -- BRYTER LAYTER (1970). Gorgeous, heartbreaking urban folk. "Hazey Jane II," "At the Chime of a City Clock," "Northern Sky," "Fly."
* Moody Blues -- THE PRESENT (1982). They should have retired after this. Mellow, nostalgic, their best. "Blue World," "Sorry."
* Group 87 -- (1st) (1980). Second-best all-instrumental prog album ever. "One Night Away From Day."
* Providence -- EVER SENSE THE DAWN (1972). A kinder, gentler Moody Blues album. "Fantasy Fugue," "If We Were Wise," "Neptune's Door."
* Renaissance -- LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL (1976). Beats their studio albums to death. "Can You Understand?", "Running Hard," first three minutes of "Ashes are Burning."
* Beatles -- ABBEY ROAD (1969). Complex enough? Side 2 suite.
* The Who -- WHO'S NEXT (1971). If only for Pete's synthesizer work....
* Beach Boys -- PET SOUNDS (1966). Bad for parties, you can't dance to it.... "God Only Knows," "Here Today," "Let's Go Away for Awhile," "Trombone Dixie."
* King Crimson -- YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE best-of (1976). This will Change Your Life. And the booklet of press clippings and diary entries is amazing.
* King Crimson -- THE GREAT DECEIVER/LIVE 1973-74 (1992). Better than any of their studio albums from the time. "Doctor Diamond," "Larks I and II," "Talking Drum," "Fracture."
* Gentle Giant -- PRETENTIOUS best-of (1978). Really their best, missing only "Think of Me With Kindness." "Raconteur Troubadour," "Pentegruel's Nativity," "The Advent of Panurge."
* Caravan -- CANTERBURY TALES best-of (1976). The 2-disc Decca album is actually stronger than the 2-CD best-of with the same title, which is also recommended.... "For Richard," "The Dog," "Memory Lain," "The Love in Your Eye," "Nine Feet Underground"....
* Illusion -- OUT OF THE MIST (1977). Best studio album Renaissance never did.
* Fairport Convention, etc. -- FAIRPORT CHRONICLES best-of (1972). Brilliant electric folk. "Come All Ye," "Listen Listen," "I'll Keep it With Mine," "Tale in Hard Time," "Meet on the Ledge," "The Way I Feel."
* Genesis -- A TRICK OF THE TAIL (1976). Gorgeous pastoral mood-music. "Ripples," "Madman Moon."
* U.K. -- (1st) (1978). Crashing drama. "Time to Kill," "Mental Medication," "In the Dead of Night."
* Moody Blues -- A QUESTION OF BALANCE (1970). "It's Up to You," "Question."
* Moody Blues -- TO OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN'S CHILDREN (1969). Distant, icy, haunting. "Gypsy," "Out and In," "Watching and Waiting," "Eyes of a Child Part 2."
* Fleetwood Mac -- TUSK (1979). Hazy, atmospheric, haunting. "I Know I'm Not Wrong," "Sisters of the Moon."
* Kansas -- LEFTOVERTURE (1976). Great balancing act. That they couldn't keep up. "Miracles Out of Nowhere," "Questions of My Childhood," "Cheyenne Anthem," "The Wall," "What's On My Mind."
* Queen -- A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1976). Arty enough for ya? "'39," "The Prophet's Song," "Death on Two Legs."
* Happy the Man -- CRAFTY HANDS (1978). Gorgeous waterfalls of melody. "Wind-Up Doll Day Wind," "Service With a Smile," "Open Book."
* Camel -- NUDE (1981). Pretty gorgeous. "City Life," "Drafted," "Captured."
* Clannad -- MACALLA (1986) -- Dark, with enough drama to vary the mood. "The Wild Cry," "Indoor," "Blackstairs," "Journey's End."
* Moody Blues -- DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED (1967). Can't beat the songs on Side 2. "Peak Hour," "Time to Get Away."
* Moody Blues -- LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER (1980). "Meanwhile," "Nervous," "Veteran Cosmic Rocker," "In My World."
* Justin Hayward and John Lodge -- BLUE JAYS (1975). "When You Wake Up."
* Caravan -- BLIND DOG AT ST. DUNSTAN'S (1976) -- High-quality end to a career. "All the Way," "Can You Hear Me?"
* Sky -- SKY2 (1980). You really CAN throw one side away and miss nothing. "Vivaldi," "Fifo," "Watching the Aeroplanes," "Scipio."
* Camel -- THE SNOW GOOSE (1975). Beautiful mellow instrumentals. "Flight of the Snow Goose," "Rhayader," "Rhayader Goes to Town," "Preparation/Dunkirk."
* Dire Straits -- MAKIN' MOVIES (1980). Cinematic. "Romeo and Juliet," "Hand in Hand," "Expresso Love."
* Al Stewart -- MODERN TIMES (1975). Smooth and consistent. Side 2's perfect.
* Wigwam -- NUCLEAR NIGHTCLUB (1974). "Bless Your Lucky Stars."
* Camel -- ECHOES best-of (1993). LOTSA great stuff here, tho the commercial stuff is a waste....
* Grace Slick -- DREAMS (1980). You want drama? Check this out. "Full Moon Man," almost everything else....
* Suzanne Vega -- (1st) (1985). Folk music? Crystal-clear production, so sharp it hurts. "Cracking," "Freeze Tag," "Small Blue Thing."
* Strawbs -- STORY IN MUSIC best-of (1981, Italian import). Some of their best stuff is here, including their best moment ever, the angry live "Where is This Dream of Your Youth?"
* Steve Tibbetts -- YR (1980). Rockin' instrumentals from a Minnesota guitarist. Best: The opening guitar-meltdown "Ur."
* Glass Moon -- (1st) (1980). Genesis should have sounded like this when they went commercial. "Solsbury Hill," "Sundays and Mondays."
* Yes -- GOING FOR THE ONE (1977). "Wonderous Stories," "Turn of the Century."
* Hollies -- ROMANY (1972). Atmospheric, moody, spacey. Not a bunch of commercial sing-songy wanna-be hits.
* ELO -- TIME (1981). Cheezy sci-fi future, full of filler. And you'll love it. "Twilight," "The Way Life's Meant to Be," "Yours Truly, 2095."
* Gentle Giant -- FREE HAND (1975). Starts and ends weakly, but the middle's great. "His Last Voyage," "On Reflection," "Time to Kill."
* Rush -- CHRONICLES best-of (1990). So good you can almost throw the first disc away. "Time Stand Still," "Force Ten," "Manhattan Project."
* Caravan -- WATERLOO LILY (1972). Jazzy. "The World is Yours," "Aristocracy," "The Love in Your Eye."
* Pink Floyd -- DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1973). I don't play it much, but it's genius....
* Sally Oldfield -- WATER BEARER (1978). Gorgeous LORD OF THE RINGS-style music, with a Middle-Eastern undercurrent. Title song, "Songs of the Quendi," "Land of the Sun," "Fire and Honey," "Night of the Hunter's Moon."
* Space Art -- A TRIP TO THE HEAD CENTER (1976). Best synthesizer album ever. "Speedway," "Odyssey," "Watch It."
* Alan Parsons Project -- THE INSTRUMENTAL WORKS (1988). Predictable but gorgeous. "The Gold Bug," "Where's the Walrus?"
* Camel -- BREATHLESS (1978). Side 1's great, Side 2's spotty. Title song, "Echoes," "Down on the Farm," "Summer Lightning."
* Moody Blues -- EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR (1971). "Our Guessing Game," "You Can Never Go Home," "Story in Your Eyes."
* Al Stewart -- YEAR OF THE CAT (1976). Cool and distant. "Flying Sorcery," "Lord Grenville," "One Stage Before."
* Dire Straits -- LOVE OVER GOLD (1982). More dramatic soundtracks. "Telegraph Road," title song.
* Jethro Tull -- SONGS FROM THE WOOD (1977). They shoulda been a folk band. "The Whistler," "Ring Out Solstice Bells," "Fire at Midnight."
* Genesis -- AND THEN THERE WERE THREE (1978). Moody-Blues-ish. "Undertow," "Deep in the Motherlode," "Down and Out," "Burning Rope."
* Hawkwind -- HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL (1974). Heavy space-rock. "You'd Better Believe It," "Lost Johnny."
* Jefferson Starship -- FREEDOM AT POINT ZERO (1979). Great science-fiction chorales. "Fading Lady Light," "Things to Come," "Awakening," title song.
* King Crimson -- RED (1974). "Starless" is probably their greatest piece ever. Title song's no slouch, either.
* Kate Bush -- NEVER FOR EVER (1980). Peter Gabriel reincarnated as a woman. "Delius (Song of Summer)," "The Wedding List."
* Kate Bush -- THE KICK INSIDE (1978). Brave and sweet. "The Man With the Child in His Eyes," "Saxophone Song," "Strange Phenomena," "Kite."
* The Jam -- SETTING SONS (1979). New-wave concept album about the end of the world -- or today. "Private Hell," "Little Boy Soldiers," "Thick as Thieves"....
* Pete Townshend -- PSYCHODERELICT (1992). Whadda ya know? A rock opera! "Now and Then."
* Pink Floyd -- WISH YOU WERE HERE (1975). Talk about distant.... Nice textures, though.
* Pink Floyd -- THE WALL (1979). "One of My Turns," "The Trial," "In the Flesh?"
* Pink Floyd -- PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN (1967). Psychedelic. "Flaming," "Chapter 24," "Bike," "Astronome Domine."
* King Crimson -- DISCIPLINE (1980). Great hypnotic meshing guitars. "Frame By Frame," "Elephant Talk," "Indiscipline."
* Amazing Blondel -- FANTASIA LINDUM (1972). Taking you back to 1600. That's a concept. Whole first side, "Three Seasons Almaine," "Toye," "Safety in God Alone."
* King Crimson -- STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK (1974). "Great Deceiver," "Fracture."
* Moody Blues -- ON THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM (1969). "Lovely to See You," "Never Comes the Day," "In the Beginning."
* Love -- FOREVER CHANGES (1967). Spotty, but some wondrous stuff here, with gorgeous horn and string backing. "You Set the Scene," "Maybe the People Would be the Times," "Alone Again Or."
* Pink Floyd -- ECHOES best-of (2001). Not everything you need to hear, but close. "High Hopes," "One of These Days," "Jugband Blues," "When the Tigers Broke Free," "Keep Talking." But where's "On the Turning Away"?
* David Sancious and Tone -- TRANSFORMATION (THE SPEED OF LOVE) (1976). The side-long title track will Alter Your Mind. There's also a gorgeous piano piece, and a wild Hendrix impersonation....
* Dixie Dregs -- DREGS OF THE EARTH (1980). Nice show-offy instrumentals. "Hereafter," "The Great Spectacular," "I'm Freaking Out."
* Rush -- MOVING PICTURES (1981). "The Camera Eye," "Red Barchetta."
* Alan Parsons Project -- I ROBOT (1977). "Some Other Time."
* King Crimson -- LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC (1973). Mixed too trebly, but there's some good stuff here. "Easy Money" is raunchy and funny, "Talking Drum" is pretty amazing, "Exiles" is moody. The rest sounds better on the GREAT DECEIVER box.
* Beatles -- SGT. PEPPER (1967). I don't play it much. But still....
* Camel -- DUST AND DREAMS (1991). The actual songs are strong. The rest is dramatic soundtrack music for Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH.
* Yes -- DRAMA (1980). "Tempus Fugit," "White Car," "I Am a Camera."
* Mark Knopfler, etc. -- LOCAL HERO soundtrack (1983). "Going Home."
* Camel -- RAIN DANCES (1977). "Unevensong," "First Light," title song.
* Jethro Tull -- STORMWATCH (1979). "Dark Ages," "Dun Ringill."
* Caravan -- CARAVAN AND THE NEW SYMPHONIA (1974). "For Richard," "Virgin on the Ridiculous."
* Kevin Ayers -- ODD DITTIES (1976). Great silly fun.
* Synergy -- SEQUENCER (1976). "S-Scape," "Icarus," "Classical Gas." Melodic synth music.
* Gryphon -- RAINDANCE (1975). "(Ein Klein) Heldenleben," "Wallbanger."
* Camel -- I CAN SEE YOUR HOUSE FROM HERE (1979). The commercial stuff's annoying, but there's also gorgeous stuff like "Eye of the Storm" and "Who We Are."
* Rick Wakeman -- WHITE ROCK (1976). Olympics soundtrack had more energy than anything he'd done in awhile....
* Pete Townshend -- ALL THE BEST COWBOYS HAVE CHINESE EYES (1982). Damn, he's wordy. But the second side's pretty great. "Slit Skirts."
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band -- CHANCE (1980). A mechanical sound like nothing else. And then there's "Stranded"....
* Fleet Foxes -- (1st) (2008). Acoustic-folk meets the Beach Boys' SMILE. "Blue Ridge Mountains."
* Florence + the Machine, CEREMONIALS (2011) -- Pounding, booming empowerment songs. Throw the photo booklet away. "Shake it Out."
* Can -- ANTHOLOGY (1993). Some truly twisted stuff here. "Father Cannot Yell," "Uphill," "Mother Upduff."
* Supertramp -- CRIME OF THE CENTURY (1975). "Dreamer," "School," title song. Kinda mainstream, but it least it ain't BREAKFAST IN AMERICA....
* The Move -- MESSAGE FROM THE COUNTRY (1972). The heavily-produced stuff is AMAZING. The fake-rockabilly throwbacks are just odd. Title song, "Do Ya?," "Tonite."
* Al Stewart -- 24 CARROTS (1980). Smooth, consistent, underrated. "Rocks in the Ocean," "Running Man," "Mondo Sinistro."
* King Crimson -- IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING (1969). Half sounds like Heavy Moody Blues. But "21st Century Schizoid Man" sounds like nothing else. Ever.
* Camel -- THE SINGLE FACTOR (1982) -- Half a great album. Second side is pretty amazing. First side plunges off a cliff.
* Spirit -- 12 DREAMS OF DOCTOR SARDONCIUS (1970). Opens and closes strong. Middle gets weird. "Nature's Way," "Nothing to Hide."
* King Crimson -- FRAME BY FRAME 4-CD best-of (1991). The edits hurt, but there's some great stuff here. And the booklet that goes with it...."Sleepless," "Barber Shop," "Sailor's Tale," much more.
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band -- ANGEL STATION (1979). First side's solid. Then it starts to wind down.... "Belle of the Earth," "Don't Kill it Carol," "Hollywood Town."
* Kinks -- VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY (1968). Modest, quiet album about small-town English life. Title song, "Days."
* Mike Oldfield -- TUBULAR BELLS (1973). Have heard this way too much.
* Alan Parsons Project -- TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD (1980). Smooth, predictable, almost dull. But then there's "The Gold Bug"....
* Weather Report -- 8:30/LIVE (1980). Yeah, it's jazz-rock. But a lot of it REALLY MOVES. "Bahia/Boogie Woogie Waltz" is supreme noise.
* Van der Graaf Generator -- PAWN HEARTS (1971). Spooky.
* Sky -- SKY3 (1981). Kinda dull, but. "Meheeco," "Connecting Rooms."
* Journey -- DREAM AFTER DREAM (1980). Spacey, atmospheric soundtrack. A little short. Steve Perry doesn't sing much.
* Gong -- YOU (1974). "Master Builder," "A Sprinkling of Clouds."
This list will likely be revised, rearranged and expanded in the future. I'm sure I must have missed something....
COMING SOON: A much shorter list of the worst Strange Music albums....