Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grand Funk - We're an American Band

I think this is the first time I ever saw a record on colored vinyl.  I was 11 and it was summer time and you know they played We’re an American Band at the Longbrooke pool where I could pretty much always be found, even though I didn’t live there, on an almost constant basis.  I think I had a Berea News paper route so I finally had some money and had started buying albums.  My friend Stub (that’s what we called him) had just bought it and we listened to it on his dad’s old AR mono rig.  That thing was hi as fi could go, if you asked me.  Anyway, Stub had just got it and was telling me it was a gold record.  I probably called him a liar!  Everyone knew records were black!

It was such a cool thing, though!  That record came in a shiny gold laminate kind of cover and it came with four stickers that looked sort of like the label, a finger pointing right at you in a very 70’s bit of design style.  I had to have one.  Even if I only liked one song on the album I had to have it.  So I collected a few houses and went to either Daisy Music or The Shoppe (maybe even Grant’s?) and bought myself a copy.  I couldn’t wait to get home and check it out.

When I go there, I went in my room and opened it up, sliding out the cool stickers and immediately sticking one on the first of four stupid places to waste my stickers on (I don’t know what it was, probably my brother).  Then I slid the record out, and…and…THE DAMNED THING WAS BLACK VINYL!  Man, was I pissed!  I remember talking to some record store owner shortly thereafter (probably the Daisy Music guy, he taught me a lot about how to behave in a record store and such) and that’s when I found out what limited editions were.  It took me decades to come across one that looked like Stub’s, but I finally found one, with all four stickers.  I think it ended up being free because I bought a stack of used records all at once and  I got a break on the price at Jerry’s in Pittsburgh.  This one plays nicely, but it has some crackles in between songs I could do without but it’s better than it would have been if I had gotten a gold one in 73, that’s for sure!

So as far as the music goes, I still think it’s a pretty terrific album.  I think Don Brewer and Mark Farner both have great voices for big, lunkheaded 70’s Rawk, and they wrote some catchy stuff that a kid could always get behind.  Mom and dad hated it, and this album has Craig Frost adding some half decent keyboards so even my inner Yes fan was treated to some cool solo’s on songs like Black Licorice.  Which back then I thought was probably kind of a socially unacceptable thing, but I wasn’t sure why.

I think Creepin’ kind of helped shape a lot of my views about music at that time.  I didn’t mind long songs, in fact I think I kind of liked them better than short radio hits.  It was really cool to hear WMMS or WNCR play Creepin’ or the even better side two opener The Railroad late at night when I was supposed to be asleep.  Those songs sounded like what I thought older kids would listen to.  At least the ones that I thought would be cool.  I may have been wrong.  I don’t know.  I know it seemed like no one read Creem anymore when I got older, and Rolling Stone hated these guys, so I was probably wrong.  I know that when Punk was blowing my mind I still liked Grand Funk, and the people I met that liked Punk hated Grand Funk.  So I don’t know where they really stand on the Rock N’ Roll scrapheap, but I think they were pretty swell.

I always thought Walk Like a Man should have been the second single from this album.  It may have been for all I know, but I always thought Don Brewer just sang his ass off on that one.  He sounds like a MAN.  No prissy little rocker, he sounded like a dude that your old man would call mister.  At least he did to me.

So my vinyl could be a little less noisy, but it’s not irritating and I’m really glad to have a gold one, finally.  I’m also just going to leave the stickers be this time.  Now that I think about it, those things used to be everywhere.  They were on school lockers, inside bathroom stalls, on stop signs and metal doors – they were ubiquitous.  I bet if I think about it, I’ll notice one, or at least its remnants, somewhere around here before too long.  I actually got to see these guys eventually, and they were great.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story

Ya know, Rod Stewart had a real, real good run going in the beginning of the 70’s.  I know he became the butt of some crude jokes when he “went Disco” and he never really recovered from that stuff with the cool kids.  Maybe it was because he was just this close to being mentioned in the same breaths as The Stones, Beatles and Dylan, and he just started kind of losing direction shortly after, and then instead of just losing direction the dude jumped off a cliff into a mountain of money.

I’m trying to think of when I first got this album.  I think it was the late 80’s, on cd.  I had friends that had this, and I had some other Rod Stewart albums, but it’s not like they didn’t play damn near the whole thing on Cleveland’s radio stations.  I think I found my vinyl copy of this in the 90’s at a flea market or a used record store that’s long gone.  I remember just grabbing it because it was cheap, and then one day putting it on the old B&O and wondering what the hell happened between the vinyl version and the cd.  The vinyl I have is a red label Mercury on Energy Crisis weight vinyl, but man, does it sound great!

I’m a sucker for a great, dry drum sound.  I like it when drums sound just like they do if you’re in someone’s basement and they’re banging away right in front of you.  Mickey Waller is a shambling mess that sounds like he’s gonna lose the beat at any second, but he never quite does and he gives Rod and the band a terrific, wobbly foundation that reminds me of a getting a good drunk on and being a little unsteady, but happy and more in control that people suspect.  A tricky balancing act indeed, but everything just works perfectly here.

What I find interesting is that the best songs here are written or co written by Stewart, but most of the songs are Stewart’s interpretations of songs other people wrote.  It seems kind of strange, especially coming from an era where it was really expected of people to write their own songs.  Maybe Rod didn’t have much in his tank, but three of his songs here are three of his all time best.  Sure, if you’re my age you can live without hearing Maggie May again, but the way it jumps off the record makes it sound as fresh as it did coming out of mom’s AM radio in her ’65 Valiant (sure, it sounded like crap but I was 8 and it was good enough for me!).  Then there’s the “wow, that’s (high school) deep” of Mandolin Wind and the “man, that sounds like a (college aged) great trip” of the title track.  That’s three songs that have held up for over forty years and they still, even after all these years, sound like they were recorded just yesterday.  That’s craftsmanship, and maybe Rod couldn’t do it prolifically, but when he was good he made it count.  Rod’s true claim to fame may be that he can be a brilliant interpreter, but at least here the three very best songs were his.

As far as the record goes, I wish the cover weren’t perforated.  Mine is still attached, but barely.  It’s still in good enough shape and I’m not looking for another one, but still…The record itself is almost as flexible as a Dynaflex disc, but it sounds terrific.  The blend of the acoustic guitars and drums with electric bass and guitars has such an open quality that it’s like you can reach out and touch the space between the instruments.  The whole thing sounds like the band is in the room with you, with a beautiful stereo separation that presents a soundstage producers don’t seem interested in presenting anymore.  Maybe it’s because everyone listens to music with earbuds or near field in front of their computers, but when I hear something like this I have to think that we aren’t exactly hearing recorded music as well as it can be done these days, and I’m not bitching about compression and loudness.

Usually when I decide to give something an Audiophile Alert I check online afterwards to see if I’m alone in this opinion.  It turns out that there are a lot of people that prefer the red label Mercury pressings to Mobile Fidelity vinyl and gold cd’s.  So you should be able to find the best sounding copies of this album easily for less than ten bucks!