Sunday, January 30, 2011

Currently reading....

...Joe Boyd's WHITE BICYCLES (2006), about 130 pgs in. Boyd was probly the top producer of British folk-rock acts in the late '60s/early '70s. He produced Fairport Convention's 1st 5 albums, Nick Drake's 1st 2, the Incredible String Band's 1st 1/2-dozen, + Pink Floyd's 1st single "Arnold Layne," etc. The book's a memoir about what those times were like. Should B great.
However, if U're intrested in this book, U should know that it takes awhile 4 Boyd 2 hit his stride. I suggest you start on Pg 92, at the start of Chapter 12, where Boyd Dscribes in Dtail the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan & his backing band were allegedly booed 4 "going electric" & playing 2 loud. Boyd was a sound mixer & backstage assistant at the festival.
Tho the scene may not B as dramatic as some have written, there's plenty of drama NEway, & Dylan's mgr Albert Grossman & folksong-collector Alan Lomax do end up wrestling just off-stage. & there's Lots More Drama....
There's some good & funny stuff in the 1st few chapters 2, as Boyd Dscribes touring around Europe w/ jazz & blues greats -- including a just-off-stage showdown w/ jazz sax legend Coleman Hawkins about Hawkins' apparently lifelong inability 2 keep 2 a schedule....
I'm hoping I'm just getting in2 the Good Stuff with this. I promise a full review when I'm done....

JUST FINISHED: Jim Garrison's ON THE TRAIL OF THE ASSASSINS (1988), a book about his investigation (as New Orleans District Attorney in the mid-'60s) in2 the Kennedy assassination. The book led 2 Oliver Stone's film JFK. Not only is the book shorter & EZer 2 follow than the movie, it's also WAY clearer & more dramatic.
This book will convince U that a team of CIA Cold Warriors, anti-Castro Cubans & others within the gov't could've teamed-up 2 kill Kennedy, leaving Lee Harvey Oswald as the fall guy.
Why was JFK's parade route thru Dallas changed on the morning of the event? How could as bad a marksman as Oswald have hit his target 5 times in 6 seconds with an archaic rifle -- with a gunsight so far out of whack he shouldn't have hit the broad side of a barn? Could a witness really have seen Jack Ruby drop-off a man with a rifle at the Grassy Knoll 30 mins B4 the parade started? & how did the New Orleans DA get sucked in2 all this?
Not all the drama's in trying 2 reconstruct a possible conspiracy: Garrison's office staff gets infiltrated by the CIA, his Kennedy files get stolen, he gets dragged in2 court 2 face charges in an attempt 2 discredit him....
Even if U're not a "fan" of conspiracy theories, it's quick & compelling reading. Everybody knows by this late date that the assassination was a gov't conspiracy NEway: The feds should release all the documentation just to confirm our worst fears....

COMING SOON: MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY, a sorta illustrated history of progressive rock....

Monday, January 24, 2011

Through the past, brightly

"I don't know what I'm doing. But I can't stop doing it." -- Patti Smith on her early attempts at writing poetry.

I never was that big a Patti Smith fan. I thot "Because the Night" was a great song that shoulda been a MUCH bigger hit, but when I heard the rest of her EASTER album it just seemed really loud & kinda sloppy to my untrained 18-year-old ears. The couple times I heard RADIO ETHIOPIA it just sounded like a mess. Patti might even agree.
But back in my record store days we useta play the heck outta the 1st side of her WAVE album, with the shoulda-been-hit "Frederick," the mysterious "Dancing Barefoot," & the intense "Revenge." I certainly knew her reputation & respected her as a poet & performer, if not as a singer, & Todd Rundgren's production on WAVE seemed 2 add just the little bit of commercial flavoring she needed 2 get across. But the album didn't sell millions, & Patti retired 4 1/2 a decade 2 become a Mom.
I wanted 2 love her book JUST KIDS, a memoir about coming of age hungry & struggling in New York City in the early '70s. I still think the 1st 1/2 or so of the book is well worth reading. But I think this book about her lifelong friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is very much a rose-colored-glasses trip back in2 her past. Nothing wrong with that -- but if you get this book Xpecting some of the passion of the angry punk-poet of the late '70s (like I did), you'll B disappointed. It ain't here.
Mapplethorpe is 1 of the 1st people Patti meets after her escape from South Jersey 2 New York in the summer of '67. They scrape by, living on the street or in the world's smallest hotel rooms, doing odd jobs & relying on friends, working part-time & struggling 2 create their art. When Robert 1st starts taking pictures, Patti is his model. Later she is his muse. & he continues 2 take her picture up 'til his very last photo of Patti & her infant daughter, shot while Mapplethorpe was dying from AIDS complications in 1989.
These early stories of their life together -- the 2 "obsessed, work-driven wallflowers," lovers at 1st & later best friends -- is by far the best part of the book. Seen clearly & perhaps only lightly romanticized, these stories of the pair struggling 2 find their own voices & figure out what they were put here to do are at times beautifully written. & it's all as clearly depicted as if it were happening right outside your window. Smith makes being homeless & hungry in New York City sound almost fun. This 1st 1/2 of the book seems very light-hearted in its clear-eyed optimism.
The book is also livened-up by a series of cameo appearances by Todd Rundgren, Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Salvador Dali, Jim Carroll, Sam Shepard, Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult, & tons more.
There are also occasional moments that made me laff out-loud -- as when Patti admits that SELLING all the free records she got 2 review back in her rock-critic days earned her more $$$ than the actual reviews did when they got published....
But the story I was most intrested in starts fading out 1nce Patti starts performing on stage, reciting her poetry & eventually singing with the backing of guitarist Lenny Kaye & pianist Richard Sohl, later adding guitarist Ivan Kral & drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. After playing at CBGB's, the Patti Smith Group signs 2 Arista Records & Robert takes the cover photo 4 Patti's 1st album, HORSES.
But Robert has mostly drifted out of her life by then. He was already well into some much darker stuff. As his collages & photography veer more in2 a gay lifestyle & S&M imagery, Robert goes his own way & Patti goes hers.
Robert's illness & death just over a decade later is the shortest but most painful part of the book. Smith says there are many other stories she could have told about her life with Robert, but this book is the story she chose.
Overall, JUST KIDS is a cool, distanced, mostly dispassionate look back at a friendship that lasted more than 20 years. I think if Patti had written the book in 1989 right after Robert's death, we might have gotten a much different book. & if she'd written the 1st 1/2 of it in the late '70s at the height of her success -- when she really was the angry young punk-poet of the moment -- we might have gotten a much more passionate book. This reads Xactly like the kind of book a settled, comfortable woman in her early 60's might write, looking back over a tumultuous but successful artistic career.
But the whole book is sort of like a Mapplethorpe photo, like 1 of his famous flower shots, or the photo of Patti on the cover of HORSES -- everything is brilliantly lit, everything is very precise, everything is perfectly in its place. I would have welcomed a little more mess.
Even the New York streets -- tho they're sometimes full of rats & piled-up with garbage -- are brilliantly lit and clean. Neat. It couldn't have been this neat in real life. But the rough edges, like much of the pain in this story, have been buffed away so you hardly realize they're there. Patti Smith, back in the day, used to be ALL rough edges. I don't Xpect her 2 act like a 25-year-old 4 the rest of her life, but....
You should read the book anyway. Some of the writing's beautiful. & there's a lot of love in it....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Update 14

Currently reading Patti Smith's JUST KIDS, the 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir about her early days in New York City, living with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, getting her poetry together, & meeting folks like Todd Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepard, Salvador Dali, Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Kaye, Jim Carroll, Johnny Winter, etc. So far it's vivid & involving & at times beautifully written. Smith makes being hungry & homeless in New York sound almost ... fun. I promise a full review when I'm done.
It's not music-related, but Robert Graysmith's ZODIAC UNMASKED (2002) is pretty good if you're into true crime or police-procedurals. Graysmith -- who was an editorial cartoonist with the San Francisco Chronicle when the Zodiac murders started in the late '60s -- does not know how to keep himself out of the story, & he doesn't always completely identify the people he quotes -- the book coulda used a little more editing; they shoulda hired me -- & he sometimes hypes things just a little.
But the MASSIVE amount of detail included about how the police homed-in on one suspect as the possible killer is quite impressively presented by Graysmith. There was a lot of material to keep track of. I've got about 100 pgs 2 go & I don't want any1 2 spoil the ending 4 me....
I've started posting again over at THE GAS NAZI!, beginning with my recent efforts 2 cut back on my massive caffeine habit, which was messing me up at work & probly everywhere else 2. Not sure if any1's intrested, but there it is. & if there's $$$ in it, I am of course available 4 public appearances & talks about How Too Much Caffeine Screwed Up My Life.
More soon....

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A peek into the mystery....

Jonathan Cott was 1 of ROLLING STONE's secret weapons back in its early days -- a guy who could bag an interview with John Lennon or Mick Jagger, or reach out to non-rock figures like conductor Leonard Bernstein, pianist Glenn Gould & organist Virgil Fox. Well-read & with a headful of esoteric knowledge, Cott sometimes bounced off his interviewees theories & quotes from Hasidic rabbis, Buddhist monks & Sufi mystics.
BACK TO A SHADOW IN THE NIGHT (2002) collects over 30 years of Cott's interviews & music writing, & some of it's pretty great. The 450-pg collection leads-off with 2 of the funniest, most relaxed, most down-to-earth interviews with Lennon that I've ever read. They show him as just a normal guy whose songs happen to have been heard by millions -- relaxed & at peace, & with no obvious axe-grinding going on. The 1st interview was done during the recording of the WHITE ALBUM in 1968. The 2nd interview was done just days before his death.
Some of the other interviews are nearly as good & as funny. Ray Davies of the Kinks is nearly as amusing as -- & more befuddled than -- Lennon. A 1978 interview with Van Morrison is a bit more about putting his career in perspective. The Jagger interview is also pretty light-hearted. 2 interviews with Bob Dylan R almost entirely inscrutable, naturally.
A theme develops during these interviews -- all of these songwriters have only the sketchiest sort of handle on what they do. For most of them, the creation of music is almost as big a mystery to them as it is to any fan.
"I don't know what we're doing at all," Lennon says. "I didn't know what I was saying, I just write them (the songs). Really, I just like rock and roll."
Asked about water imagery in his lyrics, Morrison can only respond: "I've never thought about it. ... It's whatever it means to you. Something I wrote 10 years ago means different things to me now. It means what it means now. I've forgotten a lot of this."
Lennon, Morrison & Davies all describe songwriting not so much as something they create, but more as a place they go into, & then bring back a report of what they saw, of what it felt like.
Tho this is my favorite part of the book, there's lots more. There's a whole section of interviews with & profiles of classical & avant-garde artists -- Bernstein, Gould, conductors Pierre Boulez & Michael Tilson Thomas, Steve Reich, Harry Partch & more.
Classical organist Virgil Fox is hilarious -- larger than life & totally immodest, proud & confident after "wowing the teens at Fillmore East" with a program of very loud Bach organ works: "Just tell 'em what I did, baby!"
There's also a hilarious write-up on Norman Greenbaum & how his 1 huge hit "Spirit in the Sky" supposedly ruined his life. Only Greenbaum woulda followed-up a Top 3 hit with a song called "Canned Ham." But has anyone else out there heard the great "California Earthquake"?
Summa the off-the-wall stuff is pretty great 2. Cott gets an interview with grumpy old Harry Partch, who invented & built his own huge instruments to play his strange music, which included lyrics from hobo graffiti that Partch saw while spending a decade bumming around during the Great Depression.
Cott does detailed appreciations of Stravinsky, Frank Zappa's hero Edgard Varese, Kurt Weill, Charles Ives, & the 12th Century nun, abbess, healer & composer Hildegarde of Bingen.
Some parts of the book coulda been longer: The only real "review" in the whole volume is a rave about Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' GREATEST HITS, written as if it was meant 4 Greil Marcus's STRANDED (a book about what albums 2 dozen rock critics would want with them if they were stranded on a desert island) -- altho the credits don't say so, & Cott's review just scratches the surface of the work done by the man who Bob Dylan 1nce called "America's greatest living poet."
There's also a short section at the very end about "music for dreaming" -- mostly about George Harrison's/The Beatles' "Long Long Long" (from the WHITE ALBUM). Cott coulda done a lot more in this area, there havta be a few more songs that qualify. (1 of my favorite dream-like songs ever is Camel's ghostly "Spirit of the Water.")
Overall, pretty great. Some of the comments in the interviews made me laff out loud. & summa the other stuff Xpanded my knowledge in areas where I'm pretty ignorant. Worth tracking down....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prog Rock 101

To pass a boring nite at work, I tried 2 come up w/ a "core" list of essential progressive rock songs -- trax that could stand as top-quality Xamples of the genre, a list that could serve as a starting point 4 Bginners who R intrested in the field, if there still R such people.
At 1st I tried 2 limit the list 2 101 songs (thus "Prog Rock 101"). But of course I couldn't do it. What follows is what I came up w/ after a coupla hrs of thinking & a quick run-thru of the collection. This list is hampered by all the stuff I haven't heard (early ELP, early Genesis, etc.) & my back-assward biases on some artists (Yes, Genesis, Renaissance). Items marked w/ a * indicate songs I'd drop from the list if I discovered a better Xample.
These weren't all hits or overplayed -- tho there R some overplayed classics included here. This list is based more on quality & impact (radio play, sales). & I snuck summa my obscure faves in. But popularity sure ain't everything, & just cos it's prog don't make it great: I personally think Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" is an ugly & stupid song, but millions seemta love it. See what you think, & who I've 4gotten....

Yes -- Your Move, Roundabout, The South Side of the Sky, Close to the Edge (live), Starship Trooper (live), America (long version), Going for the One, Wonderous Stories, Turn of the Century, Leave It.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- Lucky Man, From the Beginning, Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Parts 1 & 2), Fanfare for the Common Man.
Moody Blues -- Tuesday Afternoon, Nights in White Satin, Ride My See-Saw, Question, The Story in Your Eyes, You Can Never Go Home, You and Me, The Voice, Your Wildest Dreams, I Know You're Out There Somewhere.
Pink Floyd -- Flaming, Astronome Domine (live), *Money, Us and Them, Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Run Like Hell, High Hopes.
Jethro Tull -- *Aqualung, Fat Man, Teacher, Living in the Past, Thick as a Brick (opening), Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day, One White Duck/Nothing at All, Baker Street Muse, Songs from the Wood, The Whistler.
Genesis -- Supper's Ready (live), Firth of Fifth (live), Madman Moon, Ripples, Your Own Special Way, Afterglow, Inside and Out, Vancouver, Abacab, Like it or Not, You Might Recall....
King Crimson -- 21st Century Schizoid Man, Epitaph, Fracture, Red, Starless, Frame by Frame, Sleepless.
Gentle Giant -- Knots, His Last Voyage, Pentegruel's Nativity, Funny Ways (live), Think of Me with Kindness.
Kansas -- Song for America, Carry On Wayward Son, Miracles Out of Nowhere, Journey from MariaBronn, Reason to Be.
Procol Harum -- A Whiter Shade of Pale, Shine on Brightly, A Salty Dog, Wreck of the Hesperus, In the Autumn of My Madness/Look to Your Soul/Grand Finale (live).
Rush -- Closer to the Heart, Time Stand Still, The Camera Eye, Force Ten, Freewill, Distant Early Warning, Manhattan Project, Mystic Rhythms (live), Red Barchetta, Tom Sawyer.
Styx -- Prelude 12/Suite Madame Blue.
Electric Light Orchestra -- Can't Get it Out of My Head, Twilight, Mr. Blue Sky, 10538 Overture (live).
Alan Parsons Project -- The Gold Bug, Some Other Time.
Supertramp -- Dreamer, *Bloody Well Right, Crime of the Century, Give a Little Bit, Babajii, From Now On.
Caravan -- Memory Lain/Hugh/Headloss, The Dog the Dog He's at it Again, For Richard (live), All the Way With John Wayne's Single-Handed Liberation of Paris.
Camel -- Never Let Go, Rhayader, Rhayader Goes to Town, Flight of the Snow Goose, Unevensong, Breathless, Echoes, City Life, Drafted, Sasquatch, Manic, Eye of the Storm, Who We Are.
Mike Oldfield -- Tubular Bells (single version), Ommadawn (Part 1), Incantations (Part 1).
Renaissance -- Ashes are Burning (opening, live), Northern Lights, Rajah Khan.
Kraftwerk -- Autobahn.
Gong -- Wingful of Eyes.
Soft Machine -- *Moon in June, *Slightly All the Time, *Out-Bloody-Rageous.
Strawbs -- Where is This Dream of Your Youth?, Hero and Heroine, Down by the Sea.
Barclay James Harvest -- *Mocking Bird, Hymn, Ring of Changes.
Led Zeppelin -- Carouselambra, The Battle of Evermore, Over the Hills and Far Away, Stairway to Heaven.
Queen -- The Prophet's Song, '39.
The Nice -- America.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band -- *Blinded by the Light, Stranded.
Peter Gabriel -- Family Snapshot, In Your Eyes, Shock the Monkey.
Al Stewart -- Roads to Moscow, Nostradamus, Modern Times, Year of the Cat, Flying Sorcery.
Coheed and Cambria -- The Road and the Damned.
Roxy Music -- The Thrill of it All, Love is the Drug, Over You.
Spirit -- Nature's Way.
Journey -- Daydream, People and Places.
Jefferson Starship -- Freedom at Point Zero, Fading Lady Light, Save Your Love.
Clannad -- The Wild Cry, Journey's End, In Fortune's Hand.
U.K. -- Time to Kill, Mental Medication, In the Dead of Night suite.
Kate Bush -- The Man With the Child in His Eyes, Cloudbusting, Running Up That Hill, This Woman's Work, Empty Bullring, December Will be Magic Again.
The Move -- Message From the Country.
Justin Hayward and John Lodge -- When You Wake Up.
Grace Slick -- Full Moon Man.
Vangelis -- Alpha.
Gryphon -- Lament, Spring Song.
Happy the Man -- Wind-Up Doll Day Wind, On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs.
National Health -- Tenemos Roads, Binoculars.
Synergy -- Warriors, S-Scape.
Nektar -- Do You Believe in Magic?, King of Twilight, It's All Over, Fidgety Queen.
Focus -- Hocus Pocus, Hocus Pocus II.
Hawkwind -- You'd Better Believe It.
Be-Bop Deluxe -- Sleep That Burns.
Illusion -- Everywhere You Go, Candles are Burning.
Sky -- Vivaldi, Toccata, Watching the Aeroplanes, Where Opposites Meet.
Tangerine Dream -- Monolight.
Group 87 -- One Night Away From Day.
Love -- You Set the Scene.
Scarlet Rivera -- Day of the Unicorn.
Jade Warrior -- A Winter's Tale.
Steve Tibbetts -- Ur.
Rare Bird -- Birdman, Epic Forest.
Wigwam -- Bless Your Lucky Stars.
David Sancious and Tone -- Transformation (The Speed of Love).
Glass Moon -- Solsbury Hill, Sundays and Mondays.
Providence -- Fantasy Fugue, If We Were Wise, Neptune's Door.

...OK, that's 60+ artists & over 200 songs. Who or what did I forget? & where to start cutting....?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The World is Yours, Part 2

It's back 2 Bizness As Usual here at the Back-Up Plan. The Holiday Rush is apparently over, & traffic 2 this site has reverted back 2 the more-normal dozen or so visits per day. My thanx 2 those who still browse here. Were those 80 or so visits per day I was getting 4 awhile just Bcos it was the holidays & folks hadda lotta spare time? & how 'bout all those visits from Denmark? 4 awhile the Danes were giving my American readers a real run 4 their money.
NEway, my thanx 2 all 4 yr support, & it would B great 2 actually HEAR from some of U....
& now, back 2 1 of my musical obsessions: Caravan. (Bet U thot I'd never get back 2 them....)

From THE WORLD IS YOURS best-of: Waterloo Lily/Any Advance on Carpet?/Bossa Nochance/Virgin on the Ridiculous/For Richard (live)/Keeping Back My Love/No Backstage Pass/Stuck in a Hole/The Love in Your Eye/The Dabsong Conshirtoe (live debut recording)/A Very Smelly Grubby Little Oik/Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'.

The 2nd 1/2 of Caravan's 4-disc best-of isn't as intresting 2 me as the 1st 1/2 was, but that's probly just Bcos I'm pretty familiar w/ the band's later works. I think that overall the later songwriting & performances R stronger. Almost all the later Caravan Classics R included here, most in the best available versions -- "Memory Lain/Hugh/Headloss," "The Dog, The Dog, He's at it Again," "A Hunting We Shall Go," "For Richard (live)," "All the Way with John Wayne's Single-Handed Liberation of Paris," etc. If U're a fan of melodic prog w/ catchy melodies & songs U can sing along w/ -- as well as some great, driving riffs -- these songs could change yr life.
But it's also EZer 4 me 2 pick at summa the choices, 2 whine (as w/ NE best-of) about all the great things that Rn't here & should B. But I'll get 2 that later....
"Waterloo Lily" is jazzy & silly, & highlights the band's ongoing hilarious but charming obsession w/ fat women. It also features bassist Richard Sinclair's Xcellent laid-back vocals & a nice jazzy organ midsection by Brit Steve Miller. From the album of the same name, this sounds better than I remembered.
"Any Advance on Carpet?" is a nice, jazzy organ&guitar instrumental -- definitely sounds like a backing track 4 something, but it's nice & bouncy.
The version of "Virgin on the Ridiculous" included here has some spirited viola-playing from Geoff Richardson, & guitarist Pye Hastings' usual relaxed vocals -- but I miss the orchestra & chorus from the original live/New Symphonia recording. This picks up in the instrumental midsection, but doesn't have the push & weight (swing?) of the original.
"For Richard" still sounds great -- as wistful in the opening & as forceful in the last 1/2 as ever. & the great riff that takes up the whole 2nd 1/2 is probly Caravan's most rockin' moment.
"Keeping Back My Love" is an outtake from CUNNING STUNTS that woulda improved their weakest classic-period album. But parts of it sound like sections of earlier Caravan songs, most like "Memory Lain" & at least 1 other 1 I can't place right off. A re-written version of this under the title "Behind You" was later included on their un-distinctive 1977 album BETTER BY FAR on British Arista.
"No Backstage Pass" is a pleasant but not outstanding Pye-vocal ballad. "Stuck in a Hole" is an upbeat single w/ a catchy chorus. All this stuff from CUNNING STUNTS sounds better than I remembered.
The BBC recording of "The Love in Your Eye" included here isn't bad, but it's thin compared 2 both the studio original & the New Symphonia/live version. There R 2 versions of "Love in Your Eye" in this package, & neither R as good as what was already available....
The 15-minute version of "Dabsong Conshirtoe" here is also a BBC recording, apparently the live debut of the song. Compared 2 the studio version, there R some bum notes & Pye's vocals R a little shaky -- but bassist Mike Wedgwood's singing is pretty strong. But then it turns rather unpleasantly heavy a few mins in -- the charm of the original was its jazzy lightness.
"A Very Smelly Grubby Little Oik" -- Now this is more like it. Still sounds great. & it's REALLY silly.
Their version of Kevin Ayers/Soft Machine's "Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'" is the best previously-unreleased track in the whole package -- the wildest, loudest thing they ever did, straight outta 1967 Soft Machine, very loud & screechy & totally unlike NEthing else Caravan ever did. Recommended to Rastro & NE other big Soft Machine fans out there....

COMPLAINTS: All of Caravan's very best work coulda bn collected on 3 discs w/ the 4th saved 4 the best outtakes & live trax included here.
NOT IN THE PACKAGE: "Songs and Signs," "Surprise, Surprise," "Be All Right" in the freight-train-like original studio version, the charming original live "Virgin on the Ridiculous," the superior original studio "Love in Your Eye," the superior original studio "Dabsong Conshirtoe," "Can You Hear Me?" None of Wedgwood's songs R included -- "Chiefs and Indians" woulda bn a nice addition.
WASTED: "C'thulu" & mosta the live trax listed above.
FORMAT: Can I note how much I hate Decca/Universal's hardback-book-style CD collections with the booklet built-in & the jamming plastic clips & the CDs that sometimes fall out? I've hated this format since the Moody Blues' TIME TRAVELLER collection & Decca hasn't improved it. This 4mat might B cheaper 2 manufacture than a proper box, but it isn't BETTER.
OVERALL: This is in more depth than the previous Decca 2-disc best-of, CANTERBURY TALES, & if U buy this cheap (like I did) U can skip IN THE LAND OF GREY AND PINK (it's all here), & could put off FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP IN THE NIGHT & their 1st album, most of which R also here. & the booklet's pretty informative. I'd still recommend this package 2 fans. But it otta B perfect....

COMING SOON: Camel's RAINBOW'S END best-of....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Our Degeneration"

This is a little late, but whatthehell -- Welcome to 2011! And to Hell with Getting Old.
& to celebrate the New Year, here's a song for our times....

(What follows is published with apologies in advance to Pete Townshend, one of the few people in the world who's older than me....)

People try to put us down
(Talkin' 'bout our degeneration)
Just because we can't get around
Songs we like seem awful ... old
Just don't stick me in the ground 'til I get cold
This is my degeneration
This is our degeneration, bay-bay....

Why don't the punks just fade away
And go and listen to Lady Gaga all day
'Bout to have a heart attack from my frustration
Think I forgot my medication
This is my degeneration
This is our degeneration, bay-bay....

(INSERT rudimentary not-very-flashy electric guitar solo HERE.)

Let all those punks just fade away
And listen to Justin Bieber all day
My legs and my feet have lost all sensation
Can't even remember how to spell 'degeneration'
This is our degeneration
This is our disintegration, bay-bay....

Talkin' 'bout our d-d-d-d-degeneration....

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Story In Music

Y'all should check-out Rastro's history of "La Historia De La Musica Rock," the series of Spanish-import best-of albums that hit the cheapo cut-out album bins big-time early in the '80s. His post is informative & funny & a pretty solid piece of pop-culture history -- it's at
His writeup reminded me of my own little imported musical discovery a little later in the '80s....
The city: San Antonio, Texas. Time: Summer 1983. Looking as always 4 good music on a budget, during a browse thru a distinctly non-flashy-looking Target store (possibly 1 of their 1st?), I get distracted by a coupla big square bins fulla cheap cassette tapes, marked at $3.99 or less.
The wife & I laff over summa the junk that's Nded up here from the past few years, but then I manage 2 scoop up a copy of Pete Townshend's ALL THE BEST COWBOYS HAVE CHINESE EYES 4 $3.99 & figure it's worth it just 2 hear "Slit Skirts" again.
Then I stop laffing & start grabbing & piling-up tapes.
The tapes R in the bin spine-up, so all you see at 1st is the artist's name & the album title. Just B4 giving up, I spot some tapes with weirdly shaded-in artist's names, the lettering almost psychedelic in appearance: The Byrds, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead....
There's a bunch of them. I grab 1/2adozen or so that R closest 2 my musical intrest -- old hits & spacey stuff. They look cheap, almost like bootlegs, not much in the way of flashy art & graphics. But they seem 2 B legit. & you can't beat the prices....
Turns out these R parts of the "Storia E Musica" artists'-best-of series released by Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri out of Milan, Italy. 1nce you pop them open they seem pretty legit -- the Byrds & Dylan releases both have the CBS logo on them, others seemta have the appropriate record-co emblems. & they SOUND fine....
But these R pretty unlike any best-of's I'd seen released in the US.
The Dylan package I grabbed 2 hear "Like a Rolling Stone" & "I Want You" again, + the whole 1st side dated back 2 his pre-electric period, the classics from Side 1 of his American GREATEST HITS that I always refer-2 as SCREECH ALONG WITH BOB.
But this tape was where I 1st heard the great "Subterranean Homesick Blues" & the amazing "One of Us Must Know" -- why was this song never a hit? It's as forceful as "Like a Rolling Stone" & no way does it wear out as quickly as "Positively 4th Street"....
I grabbed the Byrds' best-of 4 the hits & so I could hear "Chestnut Mare" again 4 the 1st time in years -- but "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" was a great suprise & somehow I had never heard the beautiful "Ballad of Easy Rider."
At $3.99 per, I couldn't complain about the quality.
Others were cheaper. A best-of by The Strawbs made me a fan. Before grabbing the tape all I knew about them was they were a little folky & Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman started out with them. Tho it wasn't all stunning, summa the Strawbs stuff knocked me out. It started with the jokey "Part of the Union," then went thru summa their more avg folky work w/ occasional high points like the great group-vocal choruses in "I'll Carry on Beside You," & the completely over-the-top melodrama of "Hero and Heroine."
But Side 2 got 2 the real good stuff -- a live recording of an intense folk-based # called "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus," followed by another live track -- a long, angry keyboard workout by Wakeman on "Where is This Dream of Your Youth?"
I decided I'd havta look in2 these Strawbs. & 2 this day I still can't find a vinyl or CD copy of the live "Man Who Called Himself Jesus," which is NOT included on their live album of the period, 1970's JUST A COLLECTION OF ANTIQUES AND CURIOS.
The tapes were pretty generous w/ the tunes -- most acts got 12 songs -- but the songs coulda been taken from anytime in the artist's career. The best-of package 4 Poco featured a cover photo of the "Crazy Love"-era band, but the trax inside were from the early '70s. Great stuff, 2 -- "A Good Feelin' to Know," "Here We Go Again," "And Settlin' Down".... Not sure what folks in Italy knew about country-rock, but still....
Inside the packages, if you were lucky you got song titles, composer's credits & timings. Sometimes there was even an indication of what year a song was released. But that was all. Sometimes you didn't get even that much.
Summa the other tapes I couldn't quite hear yet or eventually gave up on. Soft Machine's best-of had a lurid pinkish photo of organist Mike Ratledge on the front, & Xactly 3 trax inside: Robert Wyatt's 19-minute "Moon in June" offa THIRD, & the later "Teeth" & "Chloe and the Pirates."
The Grateful Dead's package had a leisurely 13-minute live version of "Truckin'" along with some other stuff, but I was disappointed. Not even "Uncle John's Band"? This was from a period when I still thot the Dead were sposta B "spacey." Or at least adventurous. Or at least something other than a psychedelic jugband. Not that there's anything wrong with that....
John McLaughlin's set hadda coupla trax offa each of the 1st 2 Mahavishnu Orchestra albums, then some later solo trax. It took me another 25 years 2 begin 2 B able 2 hear that stuff, but I gave it a try....
Weather Report's package I gave up on even sooner -- possibly immediately after I discovered that "Birdland" was basically easy-listening jazz & not even as intresting as Manhattan Transfer's vocal version. But now I'm bummed Bcos I'm positive that the original version of "Boogie Woogie Waltz" was included on the tape -- & I love the live version on their 8:30 album, so it would B cool 2 compare the 2 at this late date. Back then I likely asked myself how any jazz piece with such an uncool title could possibly B NE good?
There were lots more Storia E Musica tapes in that bin by artists I wasn't intrested in -- so disintrested that I can't remember who NE of them were, now. Nothing 2 suprising, I'm sure. Course it was a long time ago.
I've still got the best of the tapes, especially if they've got songs I can't find NEwhere else. Still hanging on2 the Dylan, Byrds, & the Strawbs of course.
& of course it's bn YEARS since I've seen any other tapes in the series on sale NEwhere. In fact, it's bn years since I've seen cheapo cassettes on sale, Xcept inna coupla drug stores or truck stops.
Anybody else out there ever stumble over these cassettes?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Best Music of the '00s?

You all know how up-to-date I am: NOT AT ALL. My "current music" sense froze-up sometime around 1989, if not earlier.
& yet as near as I can tell, I purchased, borrowed, overheard or otherwise obtained more than 2 dozen then-current albums & CD's over the last decade.
This MUST qualify me 2 write a "decade's best" post, since practically every other music blogger I read regularly has been posting something of that sort over the past week or so -- the guilty parties know who they are. 1 of them took a YEAR 2 count down his Top 20 of the Decade....
Many of these CD's from the decade-past were grabbed by me 4 just 1 great song or 2, & more often than not I NEVER got all the way thru them -- Avril Lavigne's LET GO, Anna Nalick's WRECK OF THE DAY, Jewel's THIS WAY, Train's DROPS OF JUPITER, Bowling for Soup's A HANGOVER YOU DON'T DESERVE, U2's HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB, etc.
The list below is in no way intended 2 represent The Best Of The Decade -- in no way am I even remotely qualified. Let's just say it's a handful of CD's issued during the past decade that mostly held my attention from start 2 finish. Altho a few of them DIDN'T....
* Jordin Sparks: 1st (2007) -- Solid, entertaining, enjoyable over&over, covers a variety of pop/urban/R&B/hip-hop, & man can she SING. Only a track or 2 miss at all. "Tattoo," the quiet & intimate "Worth the Wait" & especially the brilliant, dramatic "Now You Tell Me" R classics. No idea what she's done since....
* Fleet Foxes: 1st (2008) -- SMILE-era Beach Boys meets early '60s folk music. "Blue Ridge Mountains" is still my favorite, & summa the lyrics R a little silly -- but I love the way the songs flow in2 each other, & the 1st time I listened 2 this, I played it straight thru 2wice more. It's bn a LONG time since NE music's affected me enuf 2 do that. Only 1 dud. & man can THEY sing. Has there bn a follow-up?
* Brian Wilson: SMILE (2004) -- Brian's voice is shot, but the rest of this was an amazing re-creation. & the songs we hadn't actually HEARD B4 were pretty freakin' GREAT, especially "On a Holiday" & "In Blue Hawaii." Musically gorgeous. & like a lotta fans, I'd bn waiting 30+ yrs 4 this. But I'd still like 2 hear the original....
* Bare Naked Ladies: ALL THEIR GREATEST HITS (2001) -- Sure almost all the songs came out in the '90s, but the collection was released this decade, & a coupla songs R brand new, so whatthehell. They coulda included almost all of 1998's brilliant & hilarious STUNT, but they held off -- I missed "I'll Be That Girl," "Light Up My Room," "Alcohol," "In the Car," "Who Needs Sleep?," "Never is Enough," "Some Fantastic".... But what's here is pretty great, especially the new&rockin' "It's Only Me," the cover of Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," the charming "If I Had $1,000,000," & the outrage of "Brian Wilson." & the live version of the moving "What a Good Boy" is an amazing performance.
* INXS: BEST OF (2002) -- Same rules apply here, only moreso. If "Elegantly Wasted" had been included, this woulda bn perfect. As is, "Disappear," "Mystify," "This Time," "Don't Change," "Bitter Tears" & 1/2adozen others R all killer. & "The Gift" is great noise.
+ Keane: HOPES AND FEARS (2004) -- 4 great songs here: the hit "Somewhere Only We Know," "This is the Last Time," the dreamy "Your Eyes Open," & especially the wailing "Bend and Break." But the rest drifts. & the follow-up, UNDER THE IRON SEA, had an Xcellent opener that was over WAY 2 quick -- then it plunged in2 some murky art-rock w/ Xtra guitar. I wanted the bouncy piano-based pop band back.
+ Fleetwood Mac: SAY YOU WILL (2003) -- Thank Ghod Lindsey Buckingham was still following his weirdness just like in the old days. There is some truly strange, twisted, wonderful stuff here. Check out the chaotic "Murrow Rolling Over in His Grave," "Miranda," the spooky "Red Rover," the 6-minute epic "Come," the sinister "Peacekeeper." I wasn't that impressed by Stevie Nicks' work -- she's often needed an editor -- but her title song is charming, & the transformation in2 the children's chorus at the end is magical.
+ Norah Jones: COME AWAY WITH ME (2002) -- The hits got overplayed, but "Shoot the Moon" is marvelous & "The Long Day is Over" could Bcome a jazz classic.
+ King Crimson: THE POWER TO BELIEVE (2003) -- Powerful & super-efficient, but not life-changing. "Level Five" is massive, forceful noise. "Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With" is hilarious.
= Coldplay: A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD (2002), X&Y (2005), VIVA LA VIDA (2008) -- Pretty good singles band. "Clocks" is great, "Talk" is marvelous, & the title track of VIVA LA VIDA has bn slowly growing on me since I 1st heard it. But what's all the fuss about? When they're good they sound as anthemic as U2. When they're less inspired, there's no reason 2 listen 2 them at all -- RUSH OF BLOOD has 10 REALLY dull songs on it in addition 2 1 great 1.
I heard some other stuff. Thanx 2 my son I got all the way thru Coheed & Cambria's album that had "The Road and the Damned" & "Feathers" on it -- I've forgotten the name of the album (NO WORLD FOR TOMORROW?) -- but Xcept 4 those 2 Xcellent songs, I didn't like it all that much.
Animal Collective's MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION (2009) had some nice keyboard-wash sounds & group-chorale vocals, but I couldn't seemta find a handle 2 pry my way into it -- maybe it's not 4 me. Television Personalities' MY DARK PLACES (2006) was WAY more primitive than I Xpected -- intresting, but not the pop band I'd Xpected. Imagine a not-as-sweet Brian Wilson at his most childlike....
I occasionally listened 2 the radio. I thot the single of the decade was Sarah McLachlan's "Stupid" -- it spoke 2 me onna lotta levels. Runner-ups included Matchbox 20's "Unwell" & Linkin Park's "Numb" (it was that kinda decade 4 me) & "What I've Done," Outkast's "Hey Ya," My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers" ("scare the living shit out of me...."), Jewel's "Standing Still," Bowling for Soup's "1985," Coldplay's "Clocks," U2's "Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own," Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," Train's "Drops of Jupiter," Anna Nalick's "Breathe," Liz Phair's "Extraordinary," Blue October's "Calling You," Five for Fighting's "100 Years," Nickelback's "Photograph" (appealed 2 my nostalgic side), The Killers' "Mr. Bright Side," Green Day's "Holiday" (do they sound JUST LIKE the Sex Pistols on this 1 or is it just me?) & that high-speed remake of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" by that band who's name I can NEVER remember... & probably at least a few other things I can't remember right now. I hate getting old, can't remember SHIT.
Please feel free 2 respond with your choices 4 The Best, or your Top 10 Reasons Why This Post Was A Bad Idea....