Monday, December 26, 2011

#509: Nothing but the Beast!

It's That Time again. Barring any further miracles, here R the winners of the 2nd Annual TAD Awards 4 the Best Music and Books of 2011. These awards go 2 the stuff that impressed me the most over the past year, no matter how old it is....
I know you've bn waiting 4 this, so let's get right 2 it....
* BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- Easy: The Beach Boys' SMiLE SESSIONS. Gorgeous, timeless music, beautifully produced & assembled, without a single let-down track. Absolutely not an anti-climax, totally worth the 44-year wait. 2 bad it's really from 1967....
* BEST CURRENT ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- I guess by default it's Florence + the Machine's CEREMONIALS, even tho I wasn't knocked-out by every song. But I don't think I listened all-the-way-thru 2 NEthing else that was current all year long, so....
* BEST NOVEL OF THE YEAR -- Also easy: Andrew Foster Altschul's DEUS EX MACHINA. Brilliant & vivid & involving from the 1st pg -- even funny -- with just a slightly weak last couple of pgs 2 mar the story. If you've ever bn wrapped-up in any kind of "Reality TV" show, you'll probly love this book. I had a brief infatuation with SURVIVOR & LOVED ROCK STAR/INXS, so....
* SONG OF THE YEAR -- Florence + the Machine's "Shake it Out," the only song all year that made me laff & cry & clap my hands & shout along. The lyrics R brilliant, the performance is amazing.
* SONG OF THE YEAR RUNNER-UP'S -- Kelly Clarkson's "I'm Already Gone," great vocals, haunting lyrics; Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain," ditto, her whole career's bn worth it just 4 this; The Launderettes' "Red River," the 1st 45-rpm vinyl single I've bought in YEARS; Sara Bareilles's "Love Song," love the choruses & the way she weighs the words "You'll see" at the end....
* BEST MUSIC BOOKS (tie) -- Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY and Mark Powell's PROPHETS AND SAGES. Romano's book is beautiful 2 look at & features a pretty solid, detailed history of progressive rock with just a few minor errors. But there R a lotta people included who I wouldn't call prog (much late-'60s British Folk), & there R areas I wished were in a lot more depth. Hope Romano gets 2 write a sequel. Powell's PROPHETS is a goldmine of data on obscure & overlooked prog albums -- but it's FULL of typographical errors in what seems 2 B Bcoming a British Prog tradition. I hope Powell gets 2 write a sequel 2 -- & I've already offered 2 help him proofread it....
* BEST REVIEWS -- John Clute's 4 books of science-fiction book reviews: STROKES, SCORES, LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE and CANARY FEVER. Great, wide-ranging, cosmic, funny.
* BEST BIOGRAPHY -- Julie Phillips' JAMES TIPTREE JR.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE SHELDON. Tho a little thin on the last 10 years of Tiptree/Sheldon's life, this is an amazing portrait of 1 of the top SF writers of the '70s, a woman pretending 2 B a man, trying 2 get her amazing stories written any way she could.
* BEST REFERENCE BOOK -- Joel Whitburn & BILLBOARD's TOP POP SINGLES 1955-2002, a goldmine of pop-music chart trivia.
* BEST REISSUES (tie) -- WALL OF SOUND: THE VERY BEST OF PHIL SPECTOR 1961-1966 and BE MY BABY: THE VERY BEST OF THE RONETTES. The Spector collection is crammed full of timeless classics, from The Crystals' "He's a Rebel" 2 Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" -- I just wished there were MORE. The Ronettes' best-of isn't all timeless classics, but you can't do without "Be My Baby" & "Baby I Love You," & some of the other trax DO have some of the same massive impact -- especially the wondrous "I Wonder." RUNNER-UP: Neil Diamond's THE BANG YEARS. I bought this just 2 hear the great "Love to Love," which I hadn't heard since about 1974. The package also includes a dozen classic early hits from back when Neil was Really Good, from "Solitary Man" & "Cherry Cherry" 2 "Shilo," that have appeared previously on Neil's GREATEST HITS (on the Bang label), DOUBLE GOLD and CLASSICS: THE EARLY YEARS (on Columbia), which I've already worn-out a coupla copies of. Great stuff, & I'm still a sucker 4 "I've Got the Feeling (Oh No No)."
* MOST OVERPLAYED/MOST OVERRATED -- Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." I know why the rhythm locks this song in2 people's heads -- it locked in2 my head after the 1st couple of listenings & I don't even LIKE it. 4 me, the best thing here is Adele's background singers (which might B Adele herself) chanting "You're gonna wish that/You had never met me...."
* MOST POPULAR POST -- Good Lord, "Back to the Roots!" has 2wice as many viewings as NE other post I've ever done here at the Back-Up Plan. Ghod knows why....
* MOST POPULAR RECENT POST -- "Hot August Night 2!," I guess cos that's what Reality is like, sometimes.... Either that or there's a whole bunch of Neil Diamond fans out there....
...Management reserves the right 2 change these results if something really earth-shaking should alter my consciousness during the last 5 days of the year....

Friday, December 23, 2011

#508: Retrophobia

I'm a sucker 4 nostalgia, so you'd think a book like Simon Reynolds' RETROMANIA (2011) -- about how popular culture & especially pop music celebrates & wallows in its own past -- would B right up my street. But it wasn't.
Doesn't mean you shouldn't track down a copy & read it tho -- especially if you're 1 of those people (like me) who finds that most newer music doesn't seem 2 hit very hard.
Reynolds' thesis is that a majority of pop-music artists R busy getting their inspiration from the past -- & making music that SOUNDS like it's from an earlier decade -- Bcos no1 can imagine a workable future that's NE diffrent from Right Now.
You might want 2 think about this the next time you hear Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" or NEthing by Adele on the radio. What was "Rehab" but an old Aretha Franklin R&B number with updated lyrics? Replace the lyrical content & it coulda come straight outta the '60s. Adele seems almost a throwback 2 those sensitive singer-songwriters of the late-'60s/early-'70s -- Carole King or Laura Nyro, say. Janis Ian, maybe?
Reynolds doesn't critique any particular artists. He's not zinging NEbody 4 some kinda massive artistic Failure Of Nerve. He'd just like 2 hear Something New. & he hasn't heard it lately.
& the problem isn't just in pop music. It takes Reynolds a pretty in-depth, fairly Ntertaining 430 pgs 2 outline this. Along the way there's side-trips in2 other popular art forms showing that EVERY1's stuck -- no1 can imagine a real future anymore. He looks at fashion, filmmaking (endless re-makes), modern classical music, fine art, architecture, even science-fiction writing (more obsessed with what's happening right now than with NE imagined future)....
He also Xamines in-depth dozens of diffrent genres of pop music -- everything from hip-hop 2 techno 2 New Wave 2 rave & punkabilly & something he calls "hauntology" -- which sounds like some of that droning, decaying, spooky stuff that my buddy Gardenhead sometimes writes about over at ASLEEP ON THE COMPOST HEAP (
Reynolds finds Xcellent works & talented artists everywhere he looks. But he fails 2 find what he calls "the rush of the New."
This is a little frustrating, even tho I agree with him & you probly do 2 if you've ever shut off the radio in frustration Bcos "everything sounds the same" or Bcos they're always playing the same old stuff....
But tho Reynolds finds good work in every genre he looks at (& if nothing else this book will give you a list of new artists 2 check out), at times he sounds like those music fans & critics who were eagerly awaiting "The New Beatles" even B4 Elton John came along....
Reynolds stops short at the end of the book from saying that the whole world is "stuck." But that's the picture his book paints. Nobody in the arts seems able 2 break on thru & find something Totally New on the other side. & after the economic collapse of the past couple years, it seems even LESS likely that pop music will Xplode with some new sound.
If something Totally New were 2 arrive 2morrow, I'm not sure I'd B able 2 hear it. & I'm sure I wouldn't B alone. Some might nominate Lady Gaga 4 this; Reynolds refers 2 her as a "cyborg diva." Again -- it's not artists he's critiquing, it's the structure of pop music -- & by Xtension the rest of Reality -- as it is 2day.
There's LOTS more -- how the Internet & YouTube have helped create a reality where pop's complete past is available at the click of a mouse, & how musicians & artists have used that EZ access 2 further borrow & scramble sounds & influences.
There is a GREAT chapter on record-collecting as hobby, obsession, neurosis -- how it can become an anxiety sink, a way 2 shore yourself up against (or block out) the things in life that bother you, how it becomes a place 4 yer mis-directed energy & anxiety 2 go. Reynolds coulda written a whole book on this. I unfortunately have no trouble at all relating 2 this stuff.
There R also some laff-out-loud moments -- Reynolds cracks a great music-related joke on the 1st page that will have all of you out there shaking your heads in agreement. But there shoulda bn more moments like that. Reynolds' side-trips in2 other art forms help bolster his thesis, but the book gets long & kinda dry in places.
I kept reading hoping there'd B a big summation at the end. There isn't.
Hey, the world's a grim place right now. Nobody knows what's ahead -- nothing but big ugly questions nobody wants 2 face. Maybe the 2000's Rn't what we dreamt of when we were growing up. No suprise so many people would rather look backward. Ghod knows I do.
I don't much care if the music I listen 2 is "Totally New" or cutting edge. I'd just like 2 hear some more great new songs. Something that'll stick with me & maybe haunt me 4 awhile.
If you feel up 2 a lengthy, pretty serious, in-depth cultural study, check RETROMANIA out. If nothing else, you'll come out with a long list of new artists 2 track down.
I found a copy of Reynolds' RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN -- a history of late '70s/early-'80s post-punk -- & plan 2 dive in2 it soon. Reynolds sez it's 1 of his favorite musical periods, & it's 1 of mine 2. More soon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

#507: "If We Were Wise"

Can't believe I haven't reviewed Providence's classic 1972 album EVER SENSE THE DAWN in-depth in the 2+ years I've been here at Blogger. Know I reviewed it at my old dead website, & I've mentioned it in passing a coupla times. It's 1 of my all-time favorites.
So, in celebration of Simon Reynolds' RETROMANIA & his pop-music-devours-its-own-past thesis, Merry Christmas....

Providence's EVER SENSE THE DAWN is a sorta kinder, gentler Moody Blues album, released on the Moodies' Threshold label back in 1972. It's the only album by this classical&folk-based Boise, Idaho band -- who strangely enuf have their own Wikipedia page. SOMEBODY out there musta bought the album back in the day....
I'd heard OF the album & band, but I THINK all the music I'd ever heard from it prior 2 1977 was the last 30 seconds of one song, "Fantasy Fugue," played over Boise's KFXD-AM at the end of 1973. But the memory's hazy. I could B wrong about the time. I remember the DJ saying at the end of the track, "I love those people...."
Flash-forward to mid-1977. The 1st time I ever walked in2 the record store where I later worked 4 3 years, I asked the manager if they could order this album. He told me no, it was out of print -- but I could buy his copy ... for $2,000!
Flash-forward 6 more months: My highschool sweetheart gets a spot in the Boise State University orchestra -- where it turns out she's playing viola next 2 a former member of the band! & he tells her he doesn't know where she can find copies of the album either....
A friend of ours named Thom West has a copy of the album -- Mt. Hood on the cover, photographed thru what looks like a sailing ship's porthole. The 6 members of the band R on the back, photographed with their instruments in Boise's Julia Davis Park.
Thom lets me tape the album -- along with some Wings & Who & Wackers trax I don't have -- & the music is way diffrent, not Xactly rock&roll, kinda soft & folky, but with some great group vocals & cool guitar. There's even 1 track that sounds a little like the Moodies. Not bad, definitely something diffrent.
Then there's a rumor that a TINY hole-in-the-wall record store on the east edge of Boise's then-nearly-deserted downtown MIGHT have a coupla copies of the album 4 sale. I go there, & the store is smaller than the 8x40-foot trailer I later end up living in. But they've got lotsa vinyl all right, & after a bit of digging, I come up with halfadozen copies of the album -- at $2.19 each! I keep 1 & give the rest 2 my friends as Christmas presents. Thom gets a new copy, so does his girlfriend Melissa, my soon-2-B-X sweetie Allison, & my best friend Don. I don't remember where the other copy went.
Soon I'm playing the album constantly. Along with Gryphon, it's 1 of my 1st "Strange Music" discoveries. It suits my mood a lot -- laid back, not 2 intense, kinda folky & poetic, & with a little formal classical flavor provided by the group's violin-viola-cello trio.
Tho it's all pleasant enuf, 4 trax R immediate standouts, & I think all coulda bn radio hits. "Fantasy Fugue" is a catchy singalong travel-song that starts with autoharp(!) & builds until everybody in the studio is apparently singing along. "If We Were Wise" is a stark poem about human nature that starts with Bart Bishop's moody vocal accompanied by cello & develops in2 some great group-vocal choruses. Bassist Bob Barriatua's lyrics R the album's best. There's also a great "string break" in the middle section.
"Neptune's Door" is a spritely number about taking things 4 granted when wonders surround us -- it seems like a throwaway at 1st, but sneaks up on you. "The Stream" is another brief, dramatic number with simple lyrics & an Xcellent string arrangement.
"Mountain" is also very pleasant, & in its placement at the start of the record, seems like an Xcellent "settling in" track. There R also a couple of instrumental "sketches" featuring the string trio -- "Sketch Number Two" that leads in2 "The Stream" is especially good.
Only 1 track seems 2 miss what it aims 4 -- the closing "Behold: A Solar Sonnet" seems like an attempt 2 move in2 Moodies territory, with a little more drama, more electric guitar, & a touch of what sounds like a Mellotron. It actually succeeds pretty well until the disappointing early-Bee Gees-like ending.
The songwriting credits were pretty evenly shared. Tho Bishop dominates, Barriatua, guitarist Andy Guzie & the string trio all get multiple credits. The result is a light, airy record that never gets 2 heavy. But there's some obvious talent at work here.
Produced rather sparely by Moodies producer Tony Clarke, the album got a very brief review in ROLLING STONE. I don't know how well it sold -- apparently well enuf 4 Providence 2 get a shot at recording a 2nd album. In an on-line interview a coupla years back, Clarke said Providence recorded an entire 2nd album, scheduled 2 B called HEAVENLY HARMONIES. But he said the master tapes were stolen & never recovered.
Providence was then apparently left 2 beat themselves 2 death on the Pacific Northwest's "boogie" circuit. Their string section -- violinist Jim Cockey, cellist Tim Tompkins & his brother violist Tom Tompkins -- played on vacationing Moodies Justin Hayward & John Lodge's Xcellent 1975 album BLUE JAYS.
Not sure what happened after that, or how quickly. Barriatua went on 2 Bcome a doctor in Portland, Ore. Bishop apparently stayed in music. Not sure about the others.
All I know is I played the album constantly 4 the next few years, say '77 thru '82. If nothing else, it made great background music 4 R group's Xtremely informal get-2gethers. I still put it on now & then & play the high points -- "Fantasy Fugue" & "If We Were Wise" & "Neptune's Door" & "The Stream." I give "Behold" a listen now & then 2 -- I still think it gets across about 8 out of 10 times.
The last time I was back home in Idaho a coupla summers ago, I saw my old buddy Melissa 4 the 1st time in 30 years. She had a copy of this album propped-up on a shelf in her living room. I noticed it at the time, tho I don't clearly remember mentioning it. I think 4 both of us this album summed-up that whole '77-'78 period we went thru. I know it did 4 me.
You may have thot I didn't notice it. But believe me, M, I noticed....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

3 years/500 posts?!

Somewhere around this time about 3 years back, I started posting "shorthand" reviews of off-the-wall music & books at my old dead website.
My son got me started, as a way 2 keep me writing when I was sorta missing my old reporting career -- & possibly just as a way of keeping me writing so that my dream of 1 day writing some kinda Great Novel wouldn't completely die.
After about 8 months, when my old website started developing Major Issues, I moved over here to Blogspot, where things have bn mostly pretty smooth ever since -- despite 1 computer dying (knocking me out 4 2 months), & me being unable 2 connect 4 parts of last March & April....
Along with reviews, I posted some other off-the-wall stuff at that old website -- nostalgia pieces & silly autobiographies, fictional album reviews, & a long rant about Michael Jackson's death & the way CNN reported almost nothing else 4 the next 2 weeks....
Some of that material has bn fiendishly recycled here, heh heh heh. & summa the nostalgia pieces (especially the 1's about early-'70s Top 40 AM radio) I might try re-writing from scratch in the future.
Somehow, I posted somewhere around 225 pieces at the old website in the 8 months I was there. Still not sure how. My all-time record is still 6 reviews posted in 1 day. & when the 7th got sucked in2 the Internet Twilight Zone never 2 B seen again, I knew it was time 2 take a break.
Add those 225 2 the 280+ I've posted here with Blogger, & I'm somewhere past the 500 mark -- closer 2 about 506, I think. I've deleted some updates & other short-term stuff along the way, so this is my best guess. (I might number them from now on....)
Anyway, all this is just an Xcuse 2 say Thanx 4 Reading. I'm still having fun with this, still learning ways 2 mess with the "review" format, still adding stuff 2 the blog. It's still as compulsive 4 me as it ever was. If I don't post something new every couple of days or so I start getting twitchy.
I hope it's fun 4 You Folks Out There sometimes, 2.
It's weird, because I thot I was All Written Out about 18 months ago. But that hasn't bn much of a problem lately....
Thanx 2 all you who read here, & especially 2 The Regulars -- Crabby & Drew & Gardenhead & Rastro (who seems 2 have vanished since he started doin' his Xtremely popular Tumblr site), & Perplexio & all the others who stop in now & then. & 2 ADD, of course, who maybe Knew Not What He Started.
Thanx 2 guys like Mark Prindle & Don Ignacio who set me up with links from their sites early & FAST, Ghod bless 'em both. & again 2 Drew, who's sent me more readers than I can even believe.
& thanx 2 every1 who helped make November my best month ever, with a freaking 1,160 pageviews. Jeez.
I still don't know how many of you folks out there R actually READING this stuff & how many sorta stumbled in here by accident. I'd like 2 hear from more of you.
& then there R all those folks in Germany & Denmark & Russia & the Ukraine & the Netherlands & the U.K. -- somebody over there is sure looking at a lot of stuff. Can't ALL B by accident. There was even some1 from New Caledonia who dropped-in very briefly a few days back.
I'll get back 2 the usual reviews & oddball stuff next, just wanted 2 say thanx 4 making this all worth it. It's nice 2 know there's people out there who R as weird & passionate about this stuff as I am.

COMING BEFORE THE END OF THE MONTH: The 2nd Annual TAD Awards 4 the best Strange Music & Books of 2011....

Monday, December 12, 2011

"December Will be Magic Again"

We here at the Back-Up Plan R THRILLED that R local radio stations Bgan seriously playing Christmas rock&roll favorites this past week. The best of these songs R marvelous oldies & it does yer soul good 2 hear them at least 1nce a year. They really light us up.
Don't know if we've got the Christmas Spirit yet -- it's bn a long time since we felt "Christmasy," possibly as long ago as 1971, but still. If we've gotta choose Btween "Hotel California" & Xmas oldies, we'll take the Christmas songs every time.
Local radio started Thurs nite with Elton John's whirlwind "Step Into Christmas," 1 of his greatest hits -- love the bells & chimes & synths & the cool acoustic guitar. & the whole thing's a great production.
Then we heard John Lennon's classic "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," 1 of the 1st 45-rpm singles TAD ever bought, on green-Apple vinyl, way back in 1971. John was a sentimental guy, tho he denied it, & "War is Over" still sounds great. & how bout that huge Phil Spector production?
We were shocked on Fri nite 2 hear Peter, Paul and Mary's 1962 "A'Soulin," a magical Christmas classic from their album MOVING -- the same album that had "Puff the Magic Dragon." "A'Soulin" is pretty dark & mysterious 4 an Xmas song, but it's also hypnotic & a lotta fun. & the vocals R -- do we have 2 say this? -- just freakin great.
We've even heard Andy Williams' "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," 1 of the best things HE ever did. His voice is so rich, from that '50s "crooner" background he came from -- & the song conjures up images of happy shoppers & good-natured holiday bustle ... so you KNOW it's a fantasy. But it's a good 1....
Also heard the Carpenters' heartwarming "Merry Christmas, Darling," a real classic from 1971. Their Xmas album, A CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT, has a lotta great stuff on it, if you can get past the fact that it's THE CARPENTERS. Best of all is "It's Christmas Time," which starts as a wonderful intimate Karen Carpenter-with-piano miniature & then turns in2 a huge production with chorus & orchestra. It's really moving. 1 of their best ever.
Our local classic rock station also played Cheech and Chong's hilarious "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" -- not a song, but freakin great anyway. Tell your kids Mom & Dad (or Grandma & Grandpa) useta talk like this sorta....
& on Sun nite, 1 station unXpectedly bashed out Darlene Love & Phil Spector's glorious "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." You've heard it even if you don't think you have -- it played under the opening credits of the movie GREMLINS some 30 years ago. It's from Spector's acclaimed CHRISTMAS ALBUM that we here have never heard. But if that's a sample....
Haven't yet heard Kate Bush's gorgeous "December Will be Magic Again," & don't really Xpect 2, but it would do the American public a lotta good 2 hear it. Also haven't heard the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy's Christmas," a terrific 1967 masterpiece that -- in its 6-minute long version -- was to us the 1st real "rock opera."
When TAD was a kid, his favorite Christmas carol was "Carol of the Bells," possibly Bcos when those choral vocals start building up it sounds like some kinda wild windstorm comin on. But he's heard so many versions of it since then that it's kinda lost its attractiveness.
These days he leans more toward the almost supernaturally beautiful "O Holy Night" -- when it's done right it puts a lump in his throat & a tear in his eye every time.
Hope yer local music-providers R playing something good 4 the holidays.
NEbody out there heard Barbra Streisand's hilarious version of "Jingle Bells"?
...& we personally don't care if we ever hear "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" EVER again....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Awds and Enz

We're all agreed that Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" is the most overplayed, most overrated song of 2011, right? It's also the most downloaded song of the year, according 2 iTunes. & it'll probly clean-up at the Grammys, which I think is 2 bad.
There's no question Adele can sing, & I can understand why the rhythm locks the song in2 people's heads -- it locked in2 my head after a coupla listenings, & I don't even LIKE it.
4 me, the best thing in the song is Adele's background singers going "You're gonna wish that/You had never met me...."
BUT. Has NE1 heard what I assume is her follow-up, a little number called "Set Fire to the Rain"? I heard it 4 the 1st time Fri nite at work, & it's pretty great. I was grabbed immediately by the drama, & it's got great choruses. I'm looking 4ward 2 hearing it again.
It even makes up 4 "Rolling in the Deep"....

Seattle-area radio has Bcome a little more boring. Over Thanksgiving, the good folks at "The Mountain" 103.7 FM -- which had Bcome my favorite local station -- went from their fairly-wide-open lotsa-new-stuff format 2 Bcome a 2nd-hand album-rock/oldies station just like the rest. I haven't heard the Cowboy Junkies do "Sweet Jane" in a coupla weeks. But I've heard LOTS of what the Other Guys play. 2 bad.
So instead I've stumbled over Seattle's "Click" 98.9 FM, which claims 2 play "Modern Music" -- which can B NEthing from Coldplay's latest stuff (yeccch) 2 Adele 2 Florence + the Machine (including something that I assume is from their 1st album LUNGS, a kinda raucous number called "Dog Days Are Over"), 2 Mumford and Sons ("Little Lyin' Man," "The Cave"), 2 "oldies" from Third Eye Blind & Fall Out Boy & All-American Rejects.
It ain't all great, but some of it ain't bad, & at least they IDENTIFY everything they play, so.... I might get dragged in2 current music yet, kicking & screaming all the way....

Currently re-reading rock critic Robert Christgau's ANY OLD WAY YOU CHOOSE IT (updated edition, 1973/2000), a collection of his early writing that I wasn't that impressed with the 1st time around. But coming on top of David Browne's FIRE AND RAIN (see review below), it has some nice critical counterpoints 2 Browne's work. Good pieces on the Monterey Pop Festival, how much Christgau hates the Eagles, Wilson Pickett, Tom Jones, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jethro Tull, the Beatles (2gether & apart) & lots more. Worth tracking down.
Am also re-reading Frederik Pohl's THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS (1978), a memoir of his life in science fiction up 2 that time. Great stories about editing the old GALAXY magazine, being an agent 4 most of the SF writers in the field back in the '40s/'50s, editing a magazine at age 19(!), etc. Also a diffrent sorta look at The Futurians than Damon Knight did in his Xcellent (tho 2-short) book on the group (reviewed elsewhere on this blog).
If you wanna C what the 92-year-old Fred is up 2 these days, his blog is at

Be-Bop Deluxe -- Maid in Heaven, Kiss of Light, Sister Seagull.
Gong -- Master Builder, Radio Gnome Invisible, Flying Teapot, The Pot Head Pixies, Zero the Hero and the Witch's Spell.
NOTES: More & more "Maid in Heaven" sounds like a lost classic that cuts off 2 abruptly. If you're a fan of flashy guitar & Roxy-like group sound, you should like this.
By the time of "Kiss of Light," Be-Bop had apparently smoothed-out a little, away from the flashiness. "Sister Seagull" has some nice stratospheric gtr, but not enuf of it. All these R from RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE/THE BEST OF. Why Rn't "Heavenly Homes" & "Crying to the Sky" on this CD, instead of the clanking & chugging "Ships in the Night"? (Best thing on that is the sax solo.) At least they included the brilliant "Sleep That Burns," the best thing Be-Bop ever did. I assume if they'd tossed in NE of these, then you'd have more than 1/2 of the SUNBURST FINISH album -- & then they wouldn't B able 2 sell you that 1. SUNBURST FINISH is well worth tracking down NEway, if you're in2 flashy gtr & lotsa drama....
"Master Builder" & "Radio Gnome Invisible" R both good waking-up music, nice sax by Didier Mahlerbe & spacey synth from Tim Blake on "Builder." "Flying Teapot" is a very nice riffy-jazzy-floaty 11-minute piece with silly chanting vocals that get really rhythmic & catchy, taking off from the phrase "Hava cuppa tea, now have another one...."
By the time I'm into "Pot Head Pixies" & the 9-min "Zero the Hero and the Witch's Spell," the silly lyrics & vocals start 2 make a kind of sense -- I'm starting 2 LIKE the silliness rather than Bing faintly annoyed. "Witch's Spell" has a nice long, spacey closing riff that unfortunately cuts-off abruptly. All these R from ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF GONG.
These guys ain't bad. I kinda like this. My Ghod, R the drugz finally kicking in?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bill-paying music!

Oh, those tough fiscal days of the month, when you're bashing onna calculator & scribbling figures in yer checkbook, hoping you'll have enuf $$$ left after paying the bills 2 actually buy food. Or, this month, 2 squeeze-in Christmas.
Might wanna put some music on. Loud is good. Something 2 drown-out the sound of your checking account emptying with a flush -- a giant sucking sound like the entrance 2 a black hole. Fast is good, so you get it all over with quick. & silly is good, so you can maybe avoid facing the fact that you have a grand total of 29 cents left 2 yer name til next payday.
Or maybe you'll start laffing & look up & realize that as long as you gotta roof over yer head, food in the fridge, & heat in the house, the rest of it doesn't really matter that much....

Florence + the Machine -- Only if for a Night, Shake it Out, No Light No Light, Seven Devils, Heartlines, Spectrum, All This and Heaven Too, Leave My Body, Remain Nameless, Strangeness and Charm, Bedroom Hymns, What the Water Gave Me (demo).
Be-Bop Deluxe -- Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus, Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape, Maid in Heaven.
Gong -- The Pot Head Pixies, Tropical Fish: Selene, Flute Salad, Outer Temple, Inner Temple, Eat the Phone Book Coda.

I remain impressed by Florence + the Machine, & especially by their powerful choral vocals that save even the weakest songs on their latest, CEREMONIALS (2011) -- of which there R only a couple. "Only if for a Night" has nice choruses & the sound of church bells ringing that sounds like it was taken from 1 of my favorite movies ever, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL.
I only played "Shake it Out" 3x on Tues aft, but I still think it's the best thing I've heard in years. Course I was hooked on it as soon as I heard the line "I can never leave the past behind." Luckily, the rest of the lyrics R freaking brilliant too.
"No Light, No Light" is my choice 4 the next single -- tho it has an almost-conventional breakup-song-type structure. Some of the same power of "Shake it Out" & "What the Water Gave Me."
"Seven Devils" sounds like some kinda gothic horror-movie soundtrack, & not in a good way. "Heartlines" has nice choruses, & "Spectrum" has a great "say-my-name" chorus. "All This and Heaven Too" also has nice, powerful choruses -- it's these vocals & choruses, along with the often pounding drums, that gives these songs such power. "Bedroom Hymns" has Xcellent keyboards, good chanting vocals, more pounding drums, & almost overpowering choruses; it coulda gone on longer.
The demo of "What the Water Gave Me" is quite a bit diffrent from the released version -- some of the lyrics R diffrent, without as heavy or moody an impact. Otherwise, all that's missing is the huge, booming, gothic-spooky production.
What I get as Florence's message from all these dramatic, booming, heavy, dark songs is that life is hard & love is WAY harder -- but worth it, even if you can only connect 4 a little while.
So maybe paying my bills on-time is somehow a noble & worthwhile thing 2 do. Onward.

Have always loved Be-Bop Deluxe in theory. Flashy guitar & dreamy, futuristic topics with Roxy/Bowie-style vocals -- OK, I'm listening. I always thot their SUNBURST FINISH (1975) was 1/2 of a REALLY GOOD album.
But their early "Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus" seems kinda simple compared 2 their later stuff. "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" is pleasant ... but there isn't enuf flashy guitar in it.
"Maid in Heaven" is more like it. Suddenly there's a whole 'nother level of electricity here -- sparkling electric gtr runs, & generally just LOTS more rifferama gtr. Some Xcitement! That's what I want! There's a near-Roxy sound. But it's 2 short, & it ends 2 abruptly. But I'll havta listen 2 more of this. All from RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE/THE BEST OF.
So maybe I'll just stylishly glide my way thru a check 2 Capital One. & then 4get 2 sign it....

Gong. Yes, well. I've said B4 that mayB I'm just 2 STRAIGHT 2 fully appreciate these hippie sillies. Ghod knows I've tried. & their post-Daevid-Allen almost-jazz-rock SHAMAL (1975) has some very nice atmospheric stuff on it. & Ghod knows it's more ... uh ... sober. I've had a copy in the house since '78.
But their earlier "classic" period that gets all the raves? Well, I ain't heard all that much. But I'm trying 2 fix that.
"The Pot Head Pixies" has Xcellent-as-usual sax from Didier Mahlerbe, & the group's usual silly vocals. "Tropical Fish: Selene" has more Xcellent sax & some pleasant, spacey riffing -- + Gilly Smith's spacey wordless vocals. "Flute Salad" has, of course, Xcellent flute, again by Mahlerbe, & some very spacey synth from Tim Blake. "Inner Temple" has some nice percussion effects at the end. "Eat the Phone Book Coda" has some Xcellent drumming from Pierre Moerlen & some tight group riffing.
It's tough 2 Xcerpt this stuff out, Bcos everything flows 2gether. All these R from ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF GONG, which I'll B Xploring more of, especially the longer, spacier, jammier, riffier trax (allegedly). 4 me, Mahlerbe's great sax & flute work make this band, at least during their earlier "classic" period. That musta bn some great acid they were on, back in the day.
If I write-out a 29-cent check 2 Bank of America do ya s'pose they'll get off my back 4 awhile....?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

1970: A book report

by little TAD, age 11 in 1970


I liked this book. But that doesn't mean I think it's REALLY GREAT or anything like that.
If you're a fan of any of the pop stars that Mr. Browne's book follows, you'll obviously want to read it. There's some good behind-the-scenes information about the chaos surrounding Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's recording of DEJA VU, their second album. And you'll learn a lot about James Taylor's struggles on his way to stardom. There is quite a bit about the stresses Simon and Garfunkel went through while recording BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER -- a lot of it probably won't be new to big S&G fans.
But Mr. Browne doesn't add much behind-the-scenes info to the stories you've probably already heard about the Beatles' recording of LET IT BE.
As a recounting of what these four acts did back in 1970, this book is solid, clear, vivid, detailed and enjoyable. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments. And there is a truly unbelievable amount of drugs consumed by the people in this book.
But the ending is disappointing, and I think I know why.
How much you get out of this book will I think depend on whether you think the year 1970 itself is a "lost story," as Mr. Browne says he does in his Introduction.
I turned 11 years old in the summer of 1970 and was vaguely aware of most of the big events mentioned in this book -- the Kent State shootings, Charles Manson's murder trial, the US invasion of Cambodia, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the breakup of the Beatles. It wasn't really that long ago, & I think most of these events are unlikely to be forgotten by folks who were around at the time.
And if the book is intended for younger audiences, I'm not sure Mr. Browne makes connections that would make a younger audience care.
I kept waiting for Mr. Browne to find some deeper significance in these people's stories, some deep inner meaning to be found by looking back from 40 years later -- but Browne doesn't do it. He doesn't find any bigger meaning other than showing in his "October 2009 Coda" that most of the players survived it all and went on to other things. Life went on. I'm not sure that's enough. I wanted it all to mean more.
Nobody reads history primarily to make sure all the facts and details are right -- they all seem to be right here, though occasional words are dropped and one minor player is incompletely identified the first time he's mentioned.
Written history is about trying to find a context or a meaning for what happened. I don't think Mr. Browne found the big picture he was trying to show. Or maybe he did and I just can't see it. I don't get his "lost story" theory. I don't see what was supposed to be here that people might have missed.
BUT: If you're a fan of any of these artists, FIRE AND RAIN is worth checking out. There's some things in it even big music fans probably don't know:
* I didn't know early-'70s singer Rita Coolidge was one of the many factors that helped break up CSN&Y.
* I didn't know singer-songwriter Carole King got BOOED when she toured with James Taylor (usually as his opening act) while James did concerts in support of his SWEET BABY JAMES album. Despite all those great '60s hits King co-wrote ("The Loco-Motion," "One Fine Day," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," etc.), she was virtually an unknown to audiences, a year away from her own breakthrough album, TAPESTRY. King also gets one of the big laughs in the book when someone calls in a bomb threat to one of her and Taylor's shows.
* I didn't know Stephen Stills played piano on Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy," one of the first 45's I ever bought.
* Maggie and Terre Roche (later of the Roches) first met Paul Simon by auditioning for a songwriting class that Simon taught. He let them take the class for free, and later produced their first album, SEDUCTIVE REASONING.
There's a lot about social and student unrest in FIRE AND RAIN, and there's a long section about the Kent State shootings. It's also interesting -- apart from CSNY's "Ohio" and Graham Nash's "Chicago" -- how far AWAY these artists were from depicting social unrest or registering protest through their music. They didn't exactly reflect the turbulent times, musically. Taylor was depicted at the time as sort of an alternative to unrest -- music to chill-out by. As Mr. Browne notes, "Not everyone was enthralled by this."
To sum up: If you're a fan of any of these acts, this book is worth reading. You may also be interested in the way the cast-members cross paths and appear on each other's songs. There's some really good writing about David Crosby recording his rather free-form first album, IF I COULD ONLY REMEMBER MY NAME. The book wasn't enough to make me a big James Taylor fan -- I still think he has maybe three great songs in his career. But the in-depth looks at the artists' various albums are valuable, and Mr. Browne nails S&G's underrated "The Only Living Boy in New York" when he calls it "one of their most magnificent creations."
FIRE AND RAIN also comes in a very 1970ish-style book cover, which I don't think does it any favors.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"The Man With the Child in His Eyes"

Back in my record store daze, I had a manager named Robyn Royball (who helped get me hired) who was a big across-the-board pop music fan -- BIG Tom Petty fan, British pop & new wave bands, 10 c.c., Ramones, Cheap Trick, Hollies, like that. Also a big booster of women artists -- BIG Chrissie Hynde fan, just like I was. Liked Fleetwood Mac but couldn't always figure what all the fuss was about. Knew a lot about a lot, like the rest of us at the store. Also a big enuf fan 2 turn people on 2 stuff that was good 4 them.
Don't know how we got on the subject, but at 1 point she tossed me a tape of Kate Bush's 1st 3 albums + stand-alone singles. MayB it was cos I picked up a copy of Kate's 1st, THE KICK INSIDE (1978), & said something about always wondering what the British child-prodigy (helped along by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour) was like.
& Robyn said "Oh, she's GREAT. She's AMAZING. I'll make you a tape...." That would B Robyn....
Somehow Robyn squoze 3 albums (KICK INSIDE, LIONHEART, NEVER FOR EVER) + 3 uncollected single-sides on2 a 180-minute cassette (remember those? Ever have 1 that didn't break?) & I got sucked in2 it almost immediately. I was amazed by Kate's singing & keyboard-playing & her spacey adventurousness. & I ended up buying all the albums & singles anyway. Most of 'em were only available as imports.
I say I was sucked in "almost" immediately. 1 of the big knocks against Kate on this side of the pond is that her voice is "too weird" -- 2 high, sometimes almost shrieking. I think 1nce you adjust 2 her voice you don't even notice the high notes NEmore. & I think KICK INSIDE leads-off with 1 of its weakest trax, "Moving." Maybe it was the whale sounds that put me off....
But after that the 1st side coulda bn minted in gold -- with the gorgeous, moody "Saxophone Song," the upbeat "Kite," the women's-mystery "Strange Phenomena," & the wondrous, perfect, brief miniature "The Man With the Child in His Eyes."
Ah, I've got it! I wondered what Kate was like cos Robyn & I had both heard (over&over while working in the record store) Pat Benatar's version of Kate's "Wuthering Heights." If you kept Kate's sometimes a-little-loopy vocals & added Neil Geraldo's guitar pyrotechnics from Benatar's version, then the song'd B perfect! ...I thot back then. Now I think Kate's version is sorta ... modest. She coulda shrieked even higher.... & summa the lyrics were pretty great: "How could you leave me/When I needed to/Posess you/I hated you/I loved you too...."
I wasn't that thrilled with the 2nd side of KICK INSIDE -- "Feel It" was embarrassingly sensual, "Them Heavy People" sounded kinda preachy, others fell flat. But the intimate closing title track was great. & the guys from British rock band Pilot (Ian Bairnson, guitar; David Paton, bass; Stuart Eliot, drums -- also the instrumental core of the Alan Parsons Project) made sure the music hit hard; Andrew Powell's strings & production added nice studio polish.
So I listened more. LIONHEART (1979) was Kate's difficult, rushed 2nd album. She's mayB a little Mbarrassed by it now, but there were some great things on it: "Wow"'s story about what stardom is really like is pretty hilarious, & Kate's singing is great; "Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake" has some nice drama; "In Search of Peter Pan" is pretty; & "Symphony in Blue" is a nice positive opener. The spooky closer "Hammer Horror" is about the only thing on the 2nd side that I can stand. But there were some nice production touches here & there. Just maybe rushed a bit.
Kate co-produced NEVER FOR EVER (1981), & it's more solid. & MUCH more adventurous.
"Babooshka" opens the album with a rush of loopy energy in a song that seems 2 B about an affair -- Kate had never bn this outgoing B4. "Delius" is 1 of my favorites -- a moody, summery picture with a lotta sound effects & neat instrumentation. "The Wedding List" is an ironic scream, if you're in2 irony. "Infant Kiss" is a bit like "Feel It" -- a bit uncomfortable. Peter Gabriel guests on "Breathing," a dramatic tale of the bombs dropping as told by a baby still inside her momma's tummy. It's pretty unnerving.
There were some things I didn't care 4 -- "Army Dreamers" is pretty downbeat, "Violin" is feverish, almost outta control. But all the songs were pretty wild. I was looking 4ward 2 more.
Robyn saved the best 4 last -- 2 of the singles made me a permanent fan: "December Will be Magic Again" is just glorious, a gorgeous Christmas song that'd make a great video -- you can almost see Kate floating down thru the sky atop a snowflake, waiting 2 land on the "icicled roofs" of her song. The stark "Empty Bullring" is Kate alone at the piano telling a brief story of a relationship falling apart. It's freaking brilliant.
From then on, I was on the lookout 4 more music by Kate Bush.
But the record store job ended. B4 that, the company had $$$ troubles & the store had nothing good or new left 2 sell, & Robyn & I both got cranky & said mean things 2 each other. I didn't leave under the best of circumstances....
Years later, I tripped over a Kate best-of called THE WHOLE STORY that features summa the above + 2 more great songs, the intense "Running Up That Hill," & the vivid & hypnotic "Cloudbusting," another song that'd B perfect 4 a video. You can already see it in your head....
While in Turkey I grabbed a copy of Kate's THE SENSUAL WORLD, mainly 4 "This Woman's Work," an intense & hypnotic piece that I 1st heard in a John Hughes movie, SHE'S HAVING A BABY. The song works as a metaphor 4 a lot of diffrent things -- I think there's a lot of pain in it, & now it's hard 4 me 2 even listen 2. When my son was 2 years old it was his favorite song in the whole world.
A few years back I got a copy of Kate's CD-era best-of, THIS WOMAN'S WORK, which features mosta the songs mentioned above. It's worth tracking down, tho I didn't like the sevral re-mixes included in the package. The originals R good enuf 4 me.
If she'd come along earlier, I think Kate woulda bn classified as "art rock" or Prog. I haven't heard much of her more-recent work. But I never woulda heard her at all if my old boss Robyn wasn't such a big music fan. I owe you, RR....