Thursday, December 22, 2011

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John...Fag of the highest order...Did that matter to me?  Nope.  When I was younger I used to swim competitively.  I was really good, and I'm not kidding.  We  used to swim all over at least a five state area, and that meant other guys on the team often had to bring their friends, brothers or sisters that didn't swim along to the meets.

This one definitely goes out to K.D.'s sister.  1973.  Youngstown State University.  I'm looking at a three or four hour wait to swim my next event, and we're decades ahead of an iPod, so I'm trying to find someone with a boom box .  K.D.'s sister turns out to be just that someone, and she's listening to Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  Do I think this is a good thing?  Probably. She was a Stone Cold Fox, and I was at least three years younger than her.  Her friends were awesome, and just as gorgeous, if you asked me.

So their 8 Track of the moment that I remember was Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  I knew Bennie and the Jets, and I was way cool with that.  I also knew Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting.  This was one of the first times I actually felt like I could talk to some girls about music and maybe stand my own ground.  I've mentioned before that a lot of my earlier influences on music seem to come from females, and I felt pretty comfortable talking to K.D.'s sister and her friends while she blasted this in an area where we didn't have to line up, sweat, or just be.  She found a spot where she could just be beyond cool with her friends, and guys would find her and her friends.

So I felt pretty lucky being able to barely talk about how much I liked Elton John.  I liked him a lot, but back then it wasn't like he was Manfred Mann or something.  But to girls, he was something along the lines of the late 50's Elvis.  I'm not kidding, he was truly revered by teenage girls, and if you were a teenage boy, he was one of the artists you might want to get in line with.  And I did.  And it was easy.

I mean, c'mon.  This is a truly classic album of the Classic Rock variety.  Let me lay it out for you.  So you're too young to drive, but you're old enough for a boombox (which used to be no big deal until they turned into suitcases), and you can buy your own 8 Tracks.  So you can rock with your friends most anywhere, but to smoke and stuff, a quiet stairwell  is best.  So that's where the kids go, and they listen to whatever the person with the boombox listens to.  If it was a girl, it was often Elton John, and the nice thing about Elton was that he could rip off something as cool as Bennie and the Jets or Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting with the same ease as some sappy crap like Candle in the Wind.  So Elton was one of those artists that almost everyone liked.

And Goodbye Yellow Brick Road wasn't some some bullshit double live album.  It was two solid lp's of studio work.  I'm pretty sure it had four hits on it (back when one was enough) and then it had this amazing knack of sticking with you even if you were way older than the days of wishing K.D.'s sister would notice you.  I can remember more than one friend letting this one rip loud and proud on a SuperTuner from the first notes of Funeral for a Friend ( if that isn't enough to make the album worth buying right there, then I don't know what is), all the way through Harmony years later when we started driving in cars.It's a timeless kind of album, and maybe it's kind of a shame that there isn't a record like this for teenagers to listen to now.  It's certainly full of adult content (Sweet Painted Lady, anyone?), but there's a vibe throughout the whole thing that this isn't a collection of songs, but a whole piece of work that spans two records.

This is one of those albums I can let nostalgia take over for the days when I thought K.D.'s sister and her friends were the living end because they loved Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Bennie and the Jets so much, but then just a few years later I can remember thinking Funeral for a Friend and Love Lies Bleeding (which never got any airplay) were real Rock Statements.  I mean, I can remember talking to adults that thought Grey Seal and Harmony were songs that we probably weren't even getting the half of, and they were the kinds of things we should have got out of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  I love that almost 40 years later I still think this is the kind of album that I find fascinating on so many levels.  They may be the same levels as in the 70's but as much as I like this album, I think I like it best with other people, or through other people's ears, maybe.

What a pinnacle achievement.  Elton really did it on this one.  I think this might be one of the greatest Rock albums ever.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Keith Richards - Talk is Cheap

So I finally get to a Stones related post!  You may have thought I was full of it when I said I was a Stones fan and got this far without talking about one of their records, but I'm going to start here, just outside The Rolling Stones, but also kind of right at the heart of the band.  I'm also going to add a new label, Audiophile Alert because there are some records that people just wouldn't expect to sound as phenomenal as they do. I won't put a Steely Dan album in that category, because everyone knows they sound great, even if you don't like the music, but a record like this one can just slip by and never quite get its due.

So in 1988 I was pretty hard into my fascination with The Stones, which had started about 1982.  I was working in a printing factory and by this time I was probably solidly on third shift, putting covers on books on a machine that confounded damn near everybody but just seemed to make sense to me.  The guy I spent most of my night next to ran the part of the machine that put labels on books, and we talked music non stop all night, until lunch, when we listened to music and burned one at lunch, then we'd come back in and talk music until morning when it was time to go home.  There was no Internet per se back then, so The Stones' Dirty Work album wasn't as despised as the Internet makes it out to be.  It wasn't great, but it wasn't awful (and I still say that).  So Keith Richards' first solo album was something I was looking forward to, partly because I knew Keith would blow away Mick's She's the Boss album, and partly because I knew Keith wouldn't have those shitty sounding drums that were on Dirty Work on his solo album.

There used to be a store called Maximum Compact that I bought cd's at back then.  It had a selection only beat out by My Generation, but when it came to Rock, they were the same.  I went in the day this album came out and bought it, and the distro guy had just walked out the door after dropping off a big stack of Keith Richards promo posters for this.  I managed to get one when I bought the album, and the owner said he was gonna give them away to anyone that bought the album until the guy came back and picked them up. It's really cool, and I still have it.  I took it home and made a cassette of it on my first listen to take into work that night.  I loved it.  I mean, I really loved it - like a Stones album kind of love.

Keith's backing band was the cream of the crop of American studio guys.  Steve Jordan helped write the songs, and Waddy Wachtel picked up all the right parts when Keith tries to play with no hands.  These guys sounded like they recorded the record live, and they sounded like they'd done this together forever.  The music has Keith's timeless style, in that it sounds like it could have been written and recorded today, or forty years ago.  The songs are among Keith's best of his later career and he sings much better than I think people expected.  The song that was supposedly a slap to Mick's face is You Don't Move Me, and if it is, it's not terribly cruel, it's more like he's disappointed in his friend (I mean, Mick foisted Primitive Cool on the world, so Keith could have been a real dick).  The rest of it is really just a bunch of loose, fun Keefchords with lyrics about girls and relationships for the most part.  I Could Have Stood You Up certainly doesn't break any new ground, but in 1988 no one could pull off a 50's rocker like Keith.

I suppose one of the only things I don't like about this is that Mick might have been able to really come up with some magic vocals on a few of these songs, like Take it So Hard, which coulda been a contender in the Stones' canon, and it's great here, but maybe with The Stones' touch it would have been even more.  Then again, without The Stones being in the state of disarray they were in, maybe these songs never would have happened.  The album ends really nicely, with a terrific ballad, Locked Away, which seems to be the kind of song Keith seems suited to sing in his dotage.  But after the mellowness of that song fades, the guitar rumbles, the snare drum strainer shakes under the power and then the drums and bass kick in on It Means a Lot and Keith leaves with a forceful statement.

It Means a Lot is one of those Keith songs that begs to be cranked up, pump your fist to and just get your ass rockin'.  Did I say Locked Away sounded like a good way for Keith to spend his dotage?  Well, it's pretty apparent he's nowhere near that on this album.  In fact, he's rocking as hard as ever, with a monster, big, fat riff that when Waddy Wachtel got to play it washed away all his memories of getting a softie on for Linda Ronstadt (who this blog loves, by the way), Stevie Nicks and James Taylor.  Here, the whole band just gets to rip it up on a loose, riff based groove that just kills it.

So if I'm talking about this cd, what's the Audiophile Alert for?  You've got to hear this on vinyl.  You can hear the snare drum strainer vibrating when the drums aren't being played, you can really close your eyes and "see" the soundstage in a way that just doesn't happen on the cd.  Songs like Struggle and Whip it Up just jump off the record and it's really something.  I talked to someone about a year or two after I had owned this on cd, and they were telling me it was one of the records they were taking with them to audition a new pair of speakers with.  I told them they could borrow my cd, and they said, "I've got the cd, but the record is a big improvement."  I was kind of a slow convert to the cd anyway, but I'm no Luddite and I want to have the best sound for my favorite guitar player ever, so I started scouring the bins.  It took a long time, but I found one that looked like it had been opened and played maybe once.  It was probably in the 90's by the time I found it.

Had I found this in 1988, I may have almost skipped the entire cd era.  Yeah, it's THAT GOOD.  The wax is flat and super quiet and the soundstage is spectacular.  Maybe it's because Keith is such a veteran of the analog days, and maybe it's because the vinyl companies were trying to come up with what they may have perceived as one of the last of an era, and they made sure to do everything right.  Whatever it was, if you find a nice copy of this on vinyl, I wholeheartedly recommend grabbing it.  The music is great and the sound is spectacular!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Be Bop Deluxe - Futurama

Wow, my counter spun over 1000 hits, and they're mostly not mine! Thanks for reading, or I suppose by looking at the logs not cussing too much when you find out I didn't give you a copy of Neil Young's Decade for free. I kind of figure you can buy your own music. You're welcome to come over here and listen to it, but records are pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things, so buy your own.

Anyway, I have no idea where I got this. It's in a hard plastic sleeve like libraries used to use, but it's a British pressing, so I'm sure it's not from a library. It has a "3" sticker on it, so maybe I bought it for three bucks, or someone at some time did. Like I said, I don't remember buying this one. It's in nice shape, and plays wonderfully, which is nice because it gets pretty quiet in places. I don't remember ever hearing it at anyone's house when I was younger, but I do remember a guy that I knew that liked Crack the Sky and Be Bop Deluxe having Live! In the Air Age and playing that for me a few times. A couple of the songs from this album are on that one, so maybe that's why I bought this.

Bill Nelson is the guitar player and songwriter for Be Bop Deluxe, and I lean towards him being better at the guitar than most of his other duties as bandleader here. He's an okay singer and the lyrics are generally pretty good, especially because these guys could get labeled with the dreaded Progressive Rock label, which has never really been something that bothers me. Sure there's some beyond pretentious artists in that style, but no more so than the Punks who thought they were "taking back rock n roll," as if it needed to be taken back from anyone.

I generally like this album, and other than Jean Cocteau I enjoy it because the guitars are pretty frantic, and like on Stage Whispers, Bill's guitar does not lie. In fact, I kind of wish I had heard this back in 1975 when it came out, because I'd have fell for the this guitar does not lie, the great deception is not my achievement lines totally. I would have found that really deep, man. Because I was 13 and I really thought Rock 'N Roll was gonna change the world. The great thing is that Bill's guitar is busy not lying all over the place on this album, and he can really wail.

I think Maid in Heaven is probably my favorite song on the record, because there's lots of room for Bill to stretch out if he wants, or play a nice, fat riff if he wants. It's pretty short, too and that tends to hold my attention. The next song is Sister Seagull, which starts off like an old Black Sabbath song, with a nice big riff and lots of cool guitar playing throughout it. It's not quite as heavy as Sabbath, but it's fun.

Be Bop Deluxe is certainly at their best when Nelson is tearing things up, and he's not shy and he'll throw a couple hundred notes at you every time he gets a half a measure to squeeze them in to, but he's not overbearing. He's just really fast. He's got good taste, though. It's not like this sounds like a music lesson or anything. It's not much of a dance album either, but it's a nice way to kick off a cold afternoon of listening to records.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Allman Brothers - Beginnings

Man, this dude's gettin' all Classic Rock on us, man....

Sorry, that's the way it goes. I'm old, and I've got a lot of these Classic Rock things, and the fact is, I would like to make sure that the new stuff I write about gets a fair shake and I don't look at what I said about a record in five years and hate myself for it. But this is a good one, I promise.

I bought this copy of Beginnings - The Allman Brothers Band probably just a year or so ago. I had it for a long, long time, but mine was partied out, and partied out bad. Wanna know what I mean? Go look for a used copy of this. It will be beat to snot! Really, it's funny. This is one of the most partied out records you'll ever find, I swear. I don't know why, other than it was a relatively cheap way to get the first two Allman Bros. albums. I suppose it was a gatefold as well, which led to uses that went beyond just holding the records. So finding a used copy that sounds great and costs five bucks or so, takes some work. Keep at it, and you'll find one. Mine has the yellow ATCO labels, so I don't think it's an original pressing (I think those had Capricorn), but it sounds pretty terrific.

The great thing about this album is that when the kids my age got old enough to get into The Allman Bros., this was in print. It consists of their first two albums, The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South. Now, I'm not a huge die hard fan of these guys, and for me the first album was the best, the second was really good and then they kind of lost me. So this was like the only deal a record label ever gave fans back in the 70's. $6.98 list for these two great albums? No wonder it had so many kids digging it. I used to be able to tell from a glance over at a person's record crate how we were gonna get along, because number one, if this was in front it usually meant that the person A - Liked guitar bands, and B - Alphabetized their collection (a pet peeve of mine - I hated when people would say, "Grab this record" and I had to look through every album to find the one they wanted).

Getting to the record, man, these dudes were just way ahead of the curve when it came to jamming. I really can't stand pointless noodling and guitar wankery, but Duane Allman and Dicky Betts don't just blast away to hear themselves. They find out what the song needs and they put it there. Dreams I'll Never See is so cool. I can remember just spacing out to that one, and then the bass riff to Whipping Post would fire up and inevitably some zonked out friend (or me) would jump up and just spin that volume knob up to 11 faster than anyone would have thought possible.

I still think Whipping Post is their best song, and this is the best version. They can stretch out too long in concert for me. It might be cool when you're there, but it doesn't work for me on records. Besides, Whipping Post is a pretty brutally emotional song, and five and a half minutes is enough, especially if you're having the kind of day (or week or whatever) where that song really hits home. It's always a killer song, but have one of those bad fights with your woman and you'll really understand Gregg Allman when he lets loose with that Sometimes I feeeel...

Idlewild South is a great album, too. I can remember that BLF Bash or Len Goldberg would play Midnight Rider in the middle of the night, and I would stay up when I was really young and listen to my headphones and hope they'd play it. I still love it and I can space out pretty good while I'm listening to it. The whole first side is like an AOR staple. It's got one of the few instrumental songs I really like a lot, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and I think that's saying something. I can listen to instrumental songs, but not a whole albums worth or anything. But with these guys you can hear so many different layers of music going on that it's hard not to get wrapped up in it.

If you don't have this, you should really consider it. Sure this kind of music can get bloated and boring fast, but these guys are the best, and they don't let that happen here. These albums are beat to crap for good reason, because they're great and you can listen to them over and over without getting sick of it. If all the 70's Southern Rock were this good, I'd be a big fan.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

David Bowie - Pinups

I really loved David Bowie when I was in high school. I still really love the guy, but I can remember arguing music (as I was wont to do back then) and really getting a lot of shit for liking, "that fag." So not everyone liked the guy in suburbia, but I did, and a lot of my friends did (when I get around to Ziggy I'll have a story for ya). Pinups wasn't exactly a smash hit, and I think it was kind of the record that separated the people that had Ziggy Stardust and maybe Hunky Dory from the mildly obsessed Bowie fans of which I was one of.

Pinups is a really accessible album, and even though the whole thing is covers, there's not many musicians that can cover a song like Bowie. He can take a signature song by someone, and twist it around until it's a Bowie song. He almost always seems to get it when he covers songs. Way back in 1978 or so when I was really getting into this album I had heard The Easybeats and Pretty Things, but just in small pieces on weird radio shows. To me, Friday on My Mind was all Bowie, and so was Rosalyn. I loved (still do) those songs and thought they were just a killer way to open up an album side.

My favorite song on the album is Sorrow, and I had never heard The McCoy's version. I don't think I heard it until I was in my 30's, and I essentially hated it. It wasn't the version Bowie had in mind (which was The Merseys), but in my mind, Sorrow is a Bowie song, and one of the best Bowie songs at that. The other one he just owns is See Emily Play, and I like Syd's Pink Floyd so that's saying something. Bowie just seems to be able to keep the weird just under the surface so the song has some room to breathe.

The record itself is a Dynaflex, and I like it. It sounds terrific but I can totally understand the detractors of those types of records. Some of them sound like hell from the get go, and they seem more fragile than standard records so they can get noisy fast with less than careful handling. I've even still got the original inner sleeve, which has a couple of pictures of David in a suit with a saxophone. The front cover is pretty iconic, with Twiggy and Bowie in their makeup masks. One thing I really like is that the record tracks songs right up against each other, so there's hardly a break. Which means when one song ends, the snare crack or guitar riff of the new song just sticks in my memory so when I hear Rosalyn on the radio (once in a very great long while), I immediately hear the controlled chaos that's the beginning of Here Comes the Night, even if they don't play it. Which leads me to what is obviously Bowie's favorite song on the album, Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

I can say that because it's the only song the lyrics are included for, and it's the only song with a pause before it. It always seemed obvious to me, but a friend of mine always said that was just a guess and he probably liked The Who and Pretty Things better because he included two songs by them, but I've always felt that asking the guy that mastered the record to put a pause in front of the last song spoke volumes. I assume that Where Have All the Good Times Gone is Bowie's nod to nostalgia. That's the song that reminds him of those old clubs and people and that's the song that puts him right there in the days before he was famous. Kind of like Sorrow puts me right back in the days before a driver's license among friends was common. Pinups is a terrific album. Not many people can pull off a bunch of covers, and Bowie doesn't miss a step.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Reigning Sound - Break Up, Break Down

I really love The Reigning Sound. I think they're my favorite of Greg Cartwright's bands, because they play more different styles than The Oblivians or The Compulsive Gamblers did. I love this album, but I hate this record.

Whaaaaat? You say? I hate it. Really. It pisses me off.

Why? Because it sounds like shit. The sibilance and distortion of the vocals is absolutely unbearable. My cartridge is aligned quite nicely, thank you, so let's not go there. But I'm gonna keep the record because I love these guys so much. And, luckily, the cd sounds fantastic.

The thing with this album is that when it came out it was a much more low key affair than Cartwright had been up to, so I had heard bad things. All those bad things were stupid. The songs here were easily the best Cartwright had ever done, and they still stand up with the best he's done since. I could listen to I Don't Care all day. The lyrics are deceptively simple and heartfelt, and if this isn't the best way to handle a break up, then that song hasn't been written yet (and it really hasn't - blame her and get a new girl is still the best remedy).

The best song on the album is Take a Ride. It's just nothing but sad and the music is perfect. It's one of those songs that when I hear it I think, "This would be a good song to get to listen to right before I die." But then I start thinking I'd like to listen to a whole bunch of things on that day, and I'd like to make sure I get in one last spin of Exile on Main St. I know, that's kind of morbid, but Take a Ride is about your last ride and while it's sad, it's not depressing. That's a fine line to walk when you're singing about dying, cuz let's face it, dying just isn't all that appealing.

The album as a whole isn't overtly concerned with Big Things. Waiting for the Day is a happy song that follows Take a Ride, and while it's kind of an I'll Be Your Doormat kind of song, Cartwright sounds like even though he's a doormat, he's okay with it. As Long is another doormat song (Greg is a total lost cause on this one), but the country shuffle and wailing steel guitar just bring this one home in such a winning way.

There's not a lot of really great albums to cry in your beer to. There's a lot of great songs, but a whole album of crying in your beer is hard to take. Break Up, Break Down is the kind of album Waylon Jennings or Merle Haggard used to make. The kind of album that can turn into parody and stereotype if not handled just so. The Reigning Sound nail it on this, and make a classic American record for the ages.

Now if only Sympathy for the Record Industry could press a record!