Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Rolling Stones - Around And Around

So maybe you've been wondering, "If this guy keeps saying he's a Stones fan, then why doesn't he listen to a Stones album and tell us what he thinks about it?"  That's fair.  There was probably a time when if I had decided to do a blog like this, I'd have done all my Stones albums first.  I may have even decided to only do Stones albums.  I mean, there was a long period of time where that was almost all the music I cared about.

Then it got to being extremely long periods behind their releases, and even I had to face that they probably weren't going to release anything and that I was pretty sick of upgrading bootlegs every three months with the latest "must have" stereo version of Don't Lie to Me or another multiple disk boxed set of Voodoo Lounge outtakes.  I guess I had gotten to the point where I needed a break.  Not just my usual, "I bought two Stones bootlegs and an album by some semi obscuro band today" kind of break.  A break where I listened to Exile on Main St. once a week still (at least - that's the greatest thing ever), and started listening harder to those albums I bought where Keith Richards was more of an influence than a performer.  Over the last little while, I've been getting that Stonesy Feeling back lately, and I've been playing this German compilation record called Around And Around a lot lately.

I think I'll start with the cover and record on this. The front cover has a nice early group photo where everyone is looking into the camera except for Mick. Mick is looking at the inside of his eyelids. One would think that the photographer would click two pictures of the band, just to make sure that in case they could sell the photo, they could get some decent money for it. I'm figuring German Decca thought no one would notice anyway and they could get the picture for a tall Warsteiner and a shot of Yager instead of spending real money. But the back cover is fantastic!

If I recall correctly, that's from a show in Berlin where they had a riot and the show was cut short so those pesky kids would quit making cops knock of Charlie Watts' cymbals and cracking Keith Richards up. I think this is one of those shows where the rumor was that the girls in the audience left their seats wet (Ooh...salacious!). Anyway, it's a much better picture than the one on front. The record is nice, heavy vinyl and it sounds excellent. It's not quite Audiophile Alert quality, but it beats those US Electronically Reprocessed for Stereo records any day. German vinyl is generally really quiet too, and this record is no exception.

All the songs are from British ep's or singles. So everything here has been released, but it just all seems so coherent here. I'm a big fan of getting a record laid out right and whoever our anonymous compiler was here, they did a great job of getting the best of 1964 onto one record. You could complain about missing something like Stoned or Money, but you can only fit so many songs on a record, and this one gives you I Wanna Be Your Man and the long version of 2120 South Michigan Ave.

You didn't know there was a longer version of 2120 South Michigan Ave.? There is! It's got an extra guitar solo in it (what else would it have?). It's been on bootlegs but this is generally where the bootleggers used to get it from. I Wanna Be Your Man may have been written by The Beatles, but you can't deny that Brian Jones makes that song his. By default you could say it becomes more of a Stones song than a Beatles song, but it's all because of Brian's killer slide guitar.

Did you ever hear The Stones do Under the Boardwalk or My Girl? Sure you have. You probably cringe when you hear them (which is the correct reaction). So if you haven't heard them do Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On you are forgiven for cringing before you hear it. You can rest assured that your cringe is premature, and that The Stones handle You Better Move On so well, that their future selves would think a song like My Girl would be a cinch. Probably a nice little US number 1 summer hit, just like water off a duck's back. Obviously they were wrong on that, but You Better Move On is unbelievably innocent sounding and it really works.

The record opens and closes with it's two strongest tracks. The knock 'em dead cover of Chuck Berry's Around and Around and the Leiber/Stoller penned smash for The Coasters, Poison Ivy. These two songs are driven by Keith and Brian's guitars, and where the former is almost reverential in approach, the latter is less goofy than The Coasters. Not that I mind The Coasters - I think they're GRReeaat! like Frosted Flakes - but there always seems to be a goofiness to them. I think it's one of their better qualities actually, but Poison Ivy seems like a much more sinister girl in The Stones' version.

I know a lot of people complain about the mess the early years of The Stones' catalog can be in general (let's face it - in this digital age it is much less difficult to get the officially released songs correctly), but I've always thought this was a great compilation and party record.  Lord knows there aren't that many great party records these days, and this one fills that need very nicely.

Friday, January 6, 2012

X - Under the Big Black Sun

Under the Big Black Sun is what I think of when I think of X.  I know, for some reason a lot of people seem to think of their first album, or Wild Gift, and both of those are terrific.  Hell, I think all their albums are pretty terrific.  I'm not exactly sure why I like X so much, but I just always have.  I think they appeal to the side of me that likes music that sounds like it's ready to fall apart, like it can't possibly stay up under it's own weight, but John Doe, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake are just such a strong unit instrumentally that they pull off everything from massive riffing to 50's style ballads with an ease that few bands can match.  Doe has always been one of my favorite singers, and Exene Cervenka is possibly an acquired taste, but her voice is pure punk.  X is like everything I like all wrapped up in a weirdly pretty little package.

Under the Big Black Sun kicks off with one of the biggest riff rockers ever, Hungry Wolf.  God, I absolutely love this song!  Doe and Bonebrake lay down a back track that's essentially like a big old Chevy V8 rumbling at a steady 80 mph, and Billy Zoom just stands there and smiles and makes sounding like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck at the same time is just something he does before he goes home and really plays that damned guitar for himself.  I've always liked that about Billy.  It just looks so effortless for him, but man, can he play!  There's no letup with Motel Room in My Bed, either.  Either of those two songs would be absolute killer opening tracks, and both are real statements of purpose - X is here.  X is not fucking around.  X is gonna rock your ass off.

Riding With Mary slows things down a little.  Exene's sister Mary had died shortly before the sessions for for this album, and the album is pretty dark.  It's kind of weird because it's a major label debut, and up until then X hadn't been particularly dark, so it kind of surprises me that the label went with a record that's as dark as this.  It's not depressing or anything, but there's an underlying sadness to a lot of it.  If anything, X always seemed very real to me.  Like you could say "Hi" to any of them if you saw them at the gas station and they'd say, "Hi" right back to you.  I still get that impression from each of them, but back when Under the Big Black Sun came out, people were saying they were going to be a Big Deal in the music world.  Come Back to Me is a real 50's style ballad, sort of like I Only Have Eyes for You, and I can remember people asking what they hell we were listening to when I played this back in the 80's.  Me, I love I Only Have Eyes for You, so Come Back to Me is right in my comfort zone.  I usually get to the end of that song on the album and wonder:

Where the hell is everybody?  This is one of the best albums I've ever heard!  Where are you guys?

Oh, well.  Here it is thirty years later and I still think this is one of the best albums ever, and you guys are still someplace else.  Which I guess I'll have to be okay with.  But that's just the first four songs.  They finish up side one with the title track, which I think is one of their most catchy and memorable songs.  It's another song about Exene's sister, but I'm not sure what their relationship was like.  I think it was generally good if this is any indicator, but Mary and Exene seemed to have a complex relationship.  But that wraps up side one and you'd be hard pressed to find an album with a better side one it.

I'm not going to spend as much time on side two.  Suffice to say, it's as good as side one.  It starts off with Because I Do, which is one of those X songs about flawed people with at least one trait that makes them lovable.  Maybe Exene's sister was like that?  I don't know, but Because I Do is just a little less relentless than Hungry Wolf, but it's still great.  Hey, even I don't need everything to go 80 mph all the time!

I think Blue Spark was the song that everyone was counting on to be a hit, but it wasn't.  It makes me wonder where everyone was, but after not seeing everyone jump on board after side one, I guess I'm resigned to listening to this one on my own.  Side two wraps up with a political statement.  My kind of political statement, too.  Working class drunks have it tough.  Dawn comes soon enough for the working class.  Ain't that the truth!  I'll take the rockabilly goodness of Dancing With Tears in My Eyes any day, too.  The quality of the songs on this album is just so high.  I think if you go see them (yes, they still tour) they'll play over half of this album, and they've got a lot of albums to choose from.

My record is nice and quiet still.  It's one of the ones that only saw action on either my B&O or my current Rega, so it never had to suffer through a friends BSR with a ceramic cartridge or one of my old Duals.  It's got the solid red label with the white boxy Elektra "E," and it's nice and flat and sounds good.  Ray Manzarek really gets a fat sound out of the three musicians that some producers wouldn't have.  Especially with the Punk label on X.  A lot of Punk albums are pretty thin from back then, and while Under the Big Black Sun won't make your jaw hit the ground or anything, the recording is good.  It could have been a major label screw up and came out super clean like so many bands have happen to them, but Ray knew what they should sound like and delivered just what was needed to make one of the best Punk albums ever made.  If you don't have this, you should probably fix that.