Friday, September 30, 2011

The Police - Reggatta de Blanc

When was in high school, these guys were the coolest damned thing in the world, I swear. I don't know why, but pretty much everyone listened to them. Some people thought they were a Punk band, and I'll admit trying to use them as a gateway drug to get people interested in more Punkish music, but I never really thought of them as a Punk band. They were always more of a band that should have fit in well with the Classic Rock of the day, and helped Classic Rockers bridge the gap into real Reggae. The Police certainly seemed closer to getting a Rock friendly sound with a reggae feel than, say The Rolling Stones. Don't get me wrong, The Stones are easily my favorite band in the world, and I'll write about them here, but they don't always seem to get their views of reggae across well. The Police just seemed to be operating in some weird reggae/rock world that almost anyone could enjoy.

I know that they have lost a lot of their luster from back then, but if you ask me, they had five damned great albums in five years. At the time, I thought every album just got better and better, but in retrospect I think they regressed from record to record. But that's probably just because I'm an old fart now. I don't think that means I think Reggatta de Blanc is their second best album, but then I don't think it means I don't think it is, either. I just think it's an interesting record. Mine's a promo, and it's super clean. I think most of my Police albums are promo's, and I don't remember why.

I have to say that they definitely started each side off with the best song on the side, which was probably smart, because then people will flip your record over. If you think that's not the way people listened to albums, then you're wrong. If side two sucked, you just never listened to it. but when side two had a crackerjack like Walking on the Moon opening it up, then you'd flip it over every time. Side two also has The Bed's too Big Without You, which had everything a good Police song should have - crisp guitar, tasteful bass and really great drumming. I think it's interesting that the music coming into the beginning of the decade found it's way to where The Police were. They were one of the last bands that I remember having big hits, but still getting some play on college radio.

That's a pretty fine line to ride. The underground Rock Snob doesn't like to share, and the above ground civilians don't like things that aren't familiar. I think The Police did a nice job on this album of coming up with songs that could get them some airplay, keep their core fans, and grow the fan base all at the same time. That's pretty impressive. Message in a Bottle still gets airplay, deservedly so. Contact seems to be half the blueprint for Synchronicity, so I was pretty bummed when that came out and people said they hated it. It was all laid out right there in 1979, so I never understood the bitch about that.

I like this album. It's the kind of record you can enjoy by yourself, and you can play it when friends come over and it's still enjoyable. Try doing that with a King Crimson album sometime.

Artful Dodger - Babes on Broadway

Artful Dodger is one of those bands that people that grew up in Cleveland in the 1970's often have ingrained in their Rock N Roll DNA. It's not a bad thing to have ingrained in your Rock DNA, either. They were a good band that just never caught a break, even with the backing of what seemed like every teenager in Cleveland, and the biggest radio station on the planet, WMMS. I guess some things end up working out, and some things don't. What's great to me, is that this band in particular sort of belongs not just to a time, but to a place. That time and that place are both long gone, but this little band from Fairfax, Virginia can kind of help you get back there if you were from there, and they were good enough that even if you weren't from that time and place, the music is pretty damned good.

Babes on Broadway isn't Artful Dodger's best album. In fact, it's probably their worst, but it's still a good record. I gave it to a girl named Sue for her fifteenth birthday, and I'd bet she doesn't have it anymore. But at the time, she seemed genuinely happy that I'd try to give her a record I liked a lot in the hopes that she'd like it. Remember when I said "every teenager in Cleveland" was into these guys? Maybe it was just some of us. But damn it if we weren't loyal! I remember a series of shows over a weekend they called the Dodger Blitz (WMMS was as subtle as a drunken bull), and Artful Dodger played Spanky's out West, The new CSU Arena downtown, and I think some bar out East, unless it was the Agora. I saw all three of those shows, and I think I still have a button. One of their other records I'll tell you about some of the things that happened that weekend.

But not right now. Right now I want to tell you that even though this wasn't the most beloved Artful Dodger album of them all, I belove it quite a bit. I gave away my copy to friend, thinking I could just go get another one, and they were out of print. Here in the Cleveland area, that meant that if you find one, you were gonna pay $25.00 for it. I remember just hoping I'd run across it at an out of town used record store for a dollar, but that never happened. All you people out of town were keeping your copies, I guess! So I saw this one at a Record Exchange on the west side, and they wanted 25 bucks for it. Back then I used to buy jewel cases from them all the time, and when they decided to get out of the vinyl business and start carrying video games, I noticed they were selling any record for a dollar. Babes On Broadway was still up on the record shelf that went around the store, and I asked the kid behind the counter if it was a buck, and he says "Yeah. You want me to get it down?"

Hell yes, I did. I had checked it out before and it was clean enough that if I had paid $25.00 for it, I wouldn't have hated myself, but for a dollar, I knew I was in all the way. I couldn't wait to get home and hear Who in the World and Can't Stop Pretending. I'm not always a big ballad guy, but Who in the World is one of the great make out songs of all time. Can't Stop Pretending was a catchy little rocker that everyone seemed to like, and the title track was just one of those songs that I couldn't understand why it wasn't the biggest thing on the planet. I still don't know. I'd be a lousy program director I guess, but Babes on Broadway is just one of those mid tempo rockers with just enough guitars and effects that it just fits right in my wheelhouse and I just completely love. Where this may not be their best album, Babes on Broadway may very well be their best song. At least to me.

And I think that's what's important about my records. They might not mean anything to you, and some of them don't mean anything to me (eventually those get tossed out), but on a rainy day like today, I was really glad I have a copy of Babes on Broadway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wild Flag

So I think you can tell I'm not a kid when you look at the records in my record collection. But I really do try to keep up, but I just keep up with what I'm interested in. No one sends me free records and I'm fine with that. I actually like to go shopping for records, and I always have. When people just give them to me, I don't seem to get as interested.

On an old blog I deleted awhile back I picked Sleater-Kinney's The Woods as my album of the year. I hadn't really listened to them before that, and someone told me I should check that out because Carrie Brownstein is a kick ass guitar player. I figured what the hell, I may as well check it out, because they'd be a band that would be easy to trade back in if I hated it. Well, I didn't hate it. I loved it. I thought Carrie was more than just a kick ass guitar player, and I thought Janet Weiss sounded like a train hauling ass through a tunnel on the drums. So when I heard that Carrie and Janet were forming a new band after the apparently pretty amicable breakup of Sleater-Kinney, I figured I was in for sure.

I don't know what I think of the album cover, and I gotta say, colored vinyl would have made it much cooler, but if I were a teenager, I'd have hung the inner sleeve on my wall, thus proclaiming Carrie Brownstein one of my true Rock N Roll guitar gods (I suppose goddess in her case, but she'd have been there next to Rick Derringer and Steve Howe, for sure). Do you know why she's smiling in this picture? Because she can jump five feet in the air while making a hellacious racket on an electric guitar.

Getting to the album - Wild Flag is a band effort. Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole add the second guitar and more lead vocals and keyboards respectively. Timony's guitar isn't as tuned down as Corin Tucker's was in Sleater-Kinney, but there's still plenty of bottom end on this. My favorite thing about the album (besides Carrie's guitar) is that these are songs that don't seem half baked, or disconnected from each other because one seems to be Mary's or one seems to be Carrie's. They seem like a team effort, and Wild Flag sounds like a band with a purpose and not just a vanity project. I wish more songs had the attitude of Romance. It's fun. There's catchy sing-along parts and cool keyboards and it just sticks in your ear all day. By the time I'm done listening to it I've got the volume knob cranked to ridiculous levels because it just hits all the sweet spots, and the louder it is, the harder it hits them.

Future Crimes has this great guitar/keyboard part that is just begging to be played loud in a little bar, and Short Version is an electric guitar fan's dream. It's not some classic rock wankery, it's noisy and busy and coupled with Weiss' drumming it just packs an awesome wallop. Ending with the damned near epic Black Tiles is perfect. Maybe it's not a Sleater-Kinney album, but that's okay. It's a terrific first album, and even though all the reviews keep calling them a "supergroup," I think it sounds like a band that knows what it wants to be, without a bunch of egos getting in the way. This may be my favorite album of the year when all is said and done, but even if it isn't it's my favorite album I've bought lately.

Well, maybe second favorite. But that Pagans album cost me a lot of money and part of the reason it's loved so much is I couldn't believe I found it! Rock on, Wild Flag. Oh, and I hear it's Carrie's birthday today, so happy birthday!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Neil Young - Decade

I first owned this on an 8 track tape. It was actually two 8 tracks, and I think I got it from Columbia House. I remember when I was 16 we went on vacation in North Carolina, and my dad let me drive the rented motor home one day. I drove it like 500 miles that day, and I don't care what you think, that's a long day behind the wheel (and I still drive a lot for work, so I know). I had all my 8 tracks, and my dad really generally hated Rock music, but he let me play my tapes because it actually seemed to matter to me what music we were listening to. I think dad could take or leave Neil for the most part, but some of the softer songs seemed to keep him happy enough. But I had no idea he was paying that much attention until right after the part in Campaigner when Neil sings, "even Richard Nixon has got soul." My dad laughed and said, "I like Neil Young. I think he knows more than you think."

Now I'm not sure what the old man meant by that, but I think it was obvious to him that I liked the noisy stuff like Cowgirl in the Sand and Like a Hurricane more than songs like Campaigner or For the Turnstiles. I still like Neil at his more noisy, but I always remember my dad when I hear Campaigner, and sometimes I play that side just cuz I miss him.

Nowadays I've traded in my cd version of this album and I've got a really nice vinyl copy. Three record sets were expensive in the 70's, so it was nice to find a decent copy of Decade at a garage sale a few years ago for a quarter. I mean it was really decent! It plays fine, and I'm gonna trade it in sometime soon and some record store around here will make a few bucks off it for sure. I paid a little more for the copy I'm keeping, but it's a real peach.

There was a time when I was a teenager that I thought Neil Young was almost godlike. Then he got real weird and released Trans and that International Harvesters crap, and I tuned out. I was fine with my cd of Decade and my vinyl Live Rust and that was all the Neil I needed. I've since been moving back into my Neil is awesome mode, and Decade is really one of the reasons why. I always loved Walk On, and On the Beach used to be an expensive album to get if you could find one, and Cowgirl in the Sand is still one of my favorite songs ever, even though it's like an hour long.

It's kind of funny that this album was so important to me when I was a kid, and as I've been getting into Neil again lately, it's still an easy "go to" album for me. Yeah, I've got On the Beach and After the Goldrush and other albums, so I can play the "proper" versions if I want, but I like the way the songs go together on Decade. I like that Love is a Rose is followed by Cortez the Killer and I love how Neil tracked side four, with Ohio, Soldier and then Old Man right in a row. I may decide I'm bored with Neil again someday, but I'll probably never get tired of Decade. I can't think of many other albums that bring me a sense of nostalgia, but also seem to have something for me right now like this album does. Maybe it's because the more the world changes the more the same old bullshit floats to the top, but then again maybe Neil really did know more than I think he does.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eddie and the Hot Rods - Teenage Depression

This is another album I found out about from a friend's older sister. My friend Dave and I were caddies for a couple of summers, and lemme tell ya, that was some seriously good money! On days when we only felt like carrying 18, we'd generally head back to his house and listen to records and smoke. We liked bands like Angel and Bachman Turner Overdrive but in 1976 we were 14 and starting to branch out a bit. Dave's sister had some cool records, and Eddie and the Hot Rods were two of her coolest. She had the first ep, Live at the Marquee, which had a killer version of Bob Seger's Get Out of Denver on it. We listened to that a lot, and then shortly after finding that one, she had this new album, Teenage Depression. Teenage Depression was different because it had more songs, and they weren't all live. I think we found a fanzine with a review of the album, and like with damned near every band in the 70's they'd say, "it's good, but you need to see them live." Well, when you were 14 and lived in the suburbs in Ohio that wasn't gonna happen. Those little bands played in bars, and you had to be 18 to get in most bars. Some of them you had to be 21. So the records are what we had.

So I didn't actually own this one until Captain Oi! rereleased it in 2000. Ya know what was cool about that cd? It had that live ep included, so I got Teenage Depression and I got Get Out of Denver, and that was really great. I loved the sound of the guitars and I especially liked the broken glass on the title track (a trick that generally hooks me to this day). I had no idea what Pub Rock was, and I certainly didn't know what Punk was, but the appeal of tight, fast songs like Get Across to You and the killer hook in Double Checkin' Woman just stuck in my head for decades. I could have ordered the record, but I just don't do that very often. I like to find the records I buy, so sometimes I do without. I really shouldn't have done without on this one. I still love it to death, and it's not just nostalgia. I hate when the only thing a record has going for it for me is nostalgia. This one has a little nostalgia, but mostly I just think it's a killer album.

The one thing that bums me out about the British Punk scene is how quickly the kids disposed of great bands like Eddie and the Hot Rods and Dr. Feelgood. These are great songs. They're tight, they're fun and they're raucous. What more would you want from your Rock N' Roll?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Slammin' Watusis

OK, so in 1988 I was 26, married with a second kid on the way and working on the night shift in a printing factory. I ran big machines that put magazines together. Actually, I ran any of the machines that did that, but I was still pretty early on in that phase of things so I was the third shift guy that put the covers on the books. In doing this, I worked pretty much hand in hand with the guy that did the mailing end, and he ran the stuff that put labels on the books. We talked about music all night. I'm not kidding. Music. All night. Last night, the night before, tonight and tomorrow night. George and I would grab Hit Parader's and cut out pictures of metal bands and hang them all over out machine. It was actually pretty cool looking. I liked Metal in the 80's, but not like my first love, garagey punk, lo fi noise. Which brings me to Slammin' Watusis.

We used to either get lunch at 3:30 AM or we'd get off work at 11:30 PM, depending on how things were going. We'd go listen to cassettes or college radio, and WCSB played all sorts of odd stuff at night. I can remember there was a guy that would play Some Sex now and then and I loved the plodding bass and drums, the loud assed guitars and saxophone that was all over the place. I suppose it's mostly early hardcore punk, but that sax just adds a texture of weird to it that I find really appealing. We'd be out there drinking beer by the little cluster of pine trees with the trunk lid up on one of our cars and the stereo blasting (I locked my keys in the car once, with the stereo blasting, and had to call the cops to open it for me), with a huge cloud of smoke hanging in the trees. George and I pretty much called the shots on music, so no one else would give me any crap for cranking up Slammin' Watusis when they came on, but I'm pretty sure no one liked them.

I never could find any of their albums, but last year I found the first one, with Some Sex on it and I bought it instantly. I think it's a solid blast of noise, but my wife and the cat hate it (she says the cat hates it, I'm not so sure). I can't recommend this to everyone, but if you thought Roxy Music should have played ten times louder and faster and got a singer that could yell you might find this enjoyable. I'm really glad I found it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Peter Case - Wig!

I really like Peter Case. I know his time in The Plimsouls is what he's best known for, but his solo stuff is always a treat. The guy has consistently made great music for decades now, and The Plimsouls are really just a brief period in his career. This album came out in 2010 on nice 180 gram vinyl with some extra songs to download as mp3's. The recording itself is kind of a lo fi affair, but if you ask me, that's usually the best way to go. I think I actually hear real life in a kind of lo fi way, so a recording like this sounds like I'm in the same room as the band. That's what it's all about, right?
I've always liked the fact that Case seems to be able to put a whole album's worth of decent songs on his records. He never has a "one side and done" record, and Wig! is more than decent. It's entirely fun to listen to the whole way through, with serious subjects like health care and shelter for the poor and relationships and a revisit to Old Blue Car and Case just kills every song. I think this was easily my favorite album in 2010, and if I ever own a radio station, I'll make all my DJ's play Peter Case songs. One day, when Peter is 75 they're gonna finally trot him out for a Grammy and the 20 somethings of that era will fully embrace him. That's bullshit because he deserves some support right now. If you like lo fi bluesy goodness, you'll love this.

Did you ever read This is Not Pitchfork?

Well, that up above is not a Pitchfork. It's a strange Russian tractor. But This is Not Pitchfork is a pretty fun page where a woman with far better writing skills than me goes through her record collection. Unfortunately, she stopped and went to Tumblr in 2009 or so, so there isn't much new stuff. But she's exactly my age, from the US and from the north. Granted, she's from a big city and I'm here in Cleveland (or close enough), but I like the way she reviews her records. You may not get any idea what the record is all about, and I like that. I mean, if I decide to review Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, I may hardly mention the music at all. Why should I? They still play every song on it on oldies radio all the time. Everyone is familiar with it. But it's interesting to get a different take on it, like what was happening when it was popular. It's interesting to me, anyway.

So if you get time (and really, if you're reading my blog you've apparently got plenty of time), check it out. I'm mildly inspired by it. Hell, someone should take its place, and I'm someone.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Solar Fire

In 1973 I had no idea what Progressive Rock was, and quite frankly, I didn't care. All I knew was when my friend Chris' sister Marcy got this album I couldn't hear it enough. I'm the oldest of the kids in my family, so I kind of glommed on to the older siblings of my friends to get some kind of direction when it came to music. Marcy (probably unknowingly) had a record collection I envied very much when I was 11, and this was the album I envied most of all.

I bought my own. Several times. I've worn this record out at least five times. The last copy I got before I found it on CD was one my brother got me for Christmas. I told him to get me that album, my reason being that mine was trashed, yet again, and it was apparently out of print. I don't know where he found it, but he did, and I still have it. I've got the CD too, but the record is better.

I love the whole album, but Saturn, Lord of the Ring/Mercury The Winged Messenger is easily my favorite. I'm not a big instrumental music kind of person, but Mick Rogers' guitar solo on that one made him my very first guitar god. I can actually just listen to it in my head any time I want because I've played it so many times. I'm pretty sure this one is just ground into my psyche and nothing can change it. I think that based on my love of this album, I can actually listen to some of their later, considerably crappier and way more boring attempts at hitting the Top 40 with songs by Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. In the great Progressive Rock Pantheon I doubt this album scores all that highly, but on my list of records I can't live without, this is probably in my top ten.

Yeah. Really.