OK, I feel like crap, my head's clogged up, I can't hear out of my left ear (the treble ear) -- this is liable to make me cranky -- the perfect way to face a pile of new-to-me Strange Music. Let's begin the assault.
* Oregon -- Witchi-Tai-To, from WINTER LIGHT. Opens with a lotta pretty piano and no real melody. Brewer and Shipley do an amazing version of this Jim Pepper jazz classic on their album WEEDS. There it's a hypnotic seven-minute vocal mantra. Here it's... ? Amazingly trebly acoustic guitar. I guess there's a repeating melody, but it's so LIGHT.
* Oregon -- Deer Path, from WINTER LIGHT. This '70s jazz quartet sounds like an entire orchestra. But the melody's thin. This could be anyone. Nature-identified light New Age. Mildly pretty, inoffensive. Over with fast.
* McKendree Spring -- Equinox/Winter, from SPRING SUITE. Know absolutely nothing about these guys. Opening's at least more rockin' than Oregon, with some nice show-offy violin. Arty, pretentious, symbolic seasonal lyrics, complete with more violin and an orchestra. Rather odd, airy group vocals.
* McKendree Spring -- I Was Born, from SPRING SUITE. What's this? Some kinda country hoedown with violin? Almost rocks. Then a slower group-vocal section. CSNY meets an orchestra. Not terrible, but ... Some OK screechy guitar, and that violin does its job. Synthesizer! Sort of a Native-meets-country sound. They're trying to do a lot -- they never stay still. The guitarist and violinist like to show off. Too bad about the lyrics. Barclay James Harvest with more energy. Nice cover art by Roger Dean.
* McKendree Spring -- The Madman, from SPRING SUITE. The guitar, keybs and violin are all OK. The lyrics are a meaningless muddle. Pleasant in places, but ... kinda naive. And the singing is a little too self-conscious. We're done here.
* Blue Oyster Cult -- Golden Age of Leather, from SPECTRES. How'd these guys get in here? The beer-hall vocal opening's hilarious. After that it's more-mainstream guitar-rock, and kinda dull. Intresting how guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser wrote all this band's most haunting songs.... Some nice guitar work, but it doesn't really go anywhere. For six minutes.
* BOC -- Death Valley Nights, from SPECTRES. At least this has a structure, along with some nice choruses and flashy guitar. And then it's over.
* BOC -- Searchin' for Celine, from SPECTRES. Some OK piano, then some nice crazed guitar in the middle. Eric Bloom's shouting vocals get kinda dull after awhile.... Fades out too soon.
* BOC -- I Love the Night, from SPECTRES. This is nice. They're really pretty great when they've got the whole ominous-mood thing going. This is clearly the haunting class-act on this album. Fades out too soon.
* Van der Graaf Generator -- Boat of Millions of Years, from the REFLECTION best-of. From dark to darker. The only Van der Graaf I've heard before is PAWN HEARTS, which was ... pretty spooky in places. This German best-of covers VdGG's early albums, up to H TO HE WHO AM THE ONLY ONE. This is a spooky, ominous Peter Hammill meditation that seems to deal with Fate, the Future of Man, stuff like that. Wonder who played the guitars? My guess would be Bob Fripp from King Crimson -- who these guys don't sound so far from. You can just barely hear Dave Jackson's sax wailing in the background. Fades too soon.
* VdGG -- Whatever Would Robert Have Said?, from REFLECTION. Channeling David Bowie. But this is angrier and more outraged than I've ever heard Bowie be. VdGG's songs are about the awful things men do because they have to -- because they can't stop themselves. And the horror is: It's all their own damn fault. Nice David Jackson sax, then into a Hugh Banton organ-led jam in the middle. The jamming sections are all very good -- their mix of sax, organ and guitar sounds like no one else.
* VdGG -- Lost, from REFLECTION. Starts with swirly upbeat keyboards, quite unexpected, almost funny in this context. Then a long, tortured meditation on Romance by Hammill, interrupted by dramatic, pushy musical sections. Dramatic, theatrical, musically powerful. These guys were really something. No wonder they never made any money.
* VdGG -- Darkness, from REFLECTION. Opens with wind effects, usually not a good sign. Steadily gains in drama from a hushed beginning. David Bowie meets Johnny Rotten: "Don't blame me for the fate that falls -- I truly did not choose it." The mix of organ, sax and crazed vocal is pretty amazing. Screaming sax from David Jackson. Unique drama. Huge impact. Then cuts off dead. See above notes about "Whatever Would Robert Have Said?" Not recommended listening if you're depressed or suicidal.
* Incredible String Band -- First Girl I Loved, from the RELICS best-of. Only thing to do is lighten up. Weedy Bob Dylan-ish vocals, sweet and affectionate lyrics from Robin Williamson to his long-ago first romance: "You turned into a grown-up female stranger." Nice acoustic guitar, though the tune and vocals meander. One more great line: "Making love to people that I didn't even like to see."
* ISB -- The Hedgehog's Song, from RELICS. Mike Heron is stalked by a hedgehog (his conscience) in this sort of answer song to "First Girl I Loved." If Bob Dylan had been English and CONSTANTLY stoned, he might've sounded like this. Charming.
* ISB -- Way Back in the 1960's, from RELICS. Silly lyrics, great sloppy choruses. Recorded in 1967. These three songs are as good as anything on ISB's THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER. Where'd all this charm go?
* The Enid -- Albion Fair, from TOUCH ME. Ok, I've been waiting for this. The Enid was a late-'70s prog band from England. I don't think they had any albums released in the US. Their founder Robert John Godfrey urged Barclay James Harvest to pursue a classical-rock direction and conducted the orchestra that thrashed around on BJH's early albums -- not necessarily a credit that I'd want to claim. this 16-minute piece starts with almost motionless synthesizers that sound like Tangerine Dream tuning-up. If this is a fair, I'm wondering when the fun's supposed to start.... Finally, five minutes in, a squiggly little keyboard riff gets it going. Signs of life. cartoon-like keyboard riffs, tho pleasant. the B-side to Van der Graaf Generator. Added guitar, lotsa showing off on keybs. There's hope for this yet.... A soundtrack in search of a movie (or cartoon) to accompany. It's getting better as it goes. But it's still soundtrack music, complete with an orchestra. Vaguely Christmas-y sounding. Little extra guitar at the end helps brighten it up a bit, but ... Is this rock and roll? Kinda sludgy and washy, tho not terrible. Harmless.
* Enid -- Dambuster's March/Land of Hope and Glory, from TOUCH ME. Classical tune (Elgar) with LOADS of keyboards, and more structure than "Albion Fair." Little bit of showing off on keybs and guitar. Good Ghod, there's a freakin' HUGE chorus! Doing the Recessional from your average high-school graduation! is this supposed to be funny? It is, a little. take a bow, guys, we're done here.
* Ambrosia -- Nice Nice Very Nice, from their first album. Ok, it's pretty Prog to quote Kurt Vonnegut -- and give him a songwriting credit. Lite but playful vocals. Little synth touches here and there. This could never have been a hit -- it's too clever, and they're bouncing around too much. good proggy sound. Not too far away from Yes. More synth toward the end. Mixdown engineer was Alan Parsons. Very nice. And no, we're not going to play "Holding On to Yesterday"....
* Ambrosia -- Time Waits for No One, from AMBROSIA. Again, not far from a lighter, slightly more commercial Yes. The vocals are clearly their strongest suit, but nice guitar and keybs too. Melodic.
* Chris Squire -- Hold Out Your Hand, from FISH OUT OF WATER. Sounds EXACTLY like Yes! Could swear that's Jon Anderson on lead vocal. Has those nice little bass runs Squire contributed to Yes songs. Nice keyboards from Patrick Moraz. Simplified drumming by Bill Bruford. How'd that orchestra get in here? And the cosmic lyrics you'd expect. But nice. Pretty flute- (from Mel Collins) and-vocals interlude toward the end.
* Chris Squire -- You by My Side/Silently Falling, from FISH OUT OF WATER. More excellent show-offy keyboards from Patrick Moraz, and nice flute from Mel Collins highlight this dramatic, very Yes-like medley. Chris could sing just fine all by himself. A quick 16 minutes. And that's the side.