Saturday, January 26, 2013

Paris - Big Towne 2061

I was 14 in 1976.  I'm pretty sure I thought I knew everything about everything, but music in particular (I'm pretty sure when you're 14 that's the way it is, and then you slowly forget almost everything so that by the time you're old, you feel like you hardly know anything).  I'm pretty sure that my musical knowledge at the time had no idea that this was the band Bob Welch formed after he left Fleetwood Mac.  I don't think I knew who Bob was.  I had seen the first Paris album at the record store, and I liked the logo, but I hadn't bought it yet.  I think I heard the song Big Towne 2061 in the middle of the night while I was listening to a college station, or maybe even WMMS late at night.  I loved the beginning of it, because I liked the Prog Rock style keyboard that just goes whoooossshhhh at the beginning of the song, and then there's the sort of reggae-ish guitars that come in.  I think it's one of those songs that I heard once, and then got a bug up my ass that I absolutely had to have it, and now almost forty years later I'm still listening to it and I still think it's a great album.

Well, maybe it's not great, but it's really good.  I remember this guy that used to drag his whole stereo around to parties about two years later, and he would bring a crate of records and just play like one song off an album, then play another one.  I thought it was stupid.  I mean, he had like a Pioneer SX 1080, which was the size of a fuckin' TV (well, it was big!), and then he had some Realistic Mach I's (maybe some big assed JBL's, I remember they were heavy), plus his turntable.  I remember it had an S arm, so it was probably some kind of Japanese thing with a Shure cart on it.  He'd drag this whole rig to anyone's party, and eventually I think he started a DJ business.  People used to think he was awesome, but he never had anything I even figured I'd buy.  He was like the radio with no commercials, and since he only had one turntable (at the time) there was always a pause while he got the next record on.

So anyway, I'm digging through his crate one night, and he used to tell me, "No one ever wants to listen to the songs you pick.  You never pick things people can dance to and you never pick anything they already know."  Hey, I know that (but I'll argue the dancing part), but I never asked for more than one or two songs in a whole night.  I mean, I had to listen to Ted Nugent and Boston, so it only seemed fair that I should be able to pick something else!  But I remember digging through that crate of 70's top ten albums and coming across the only other copy of this album I had ever seen outside of a record store!  I looked up and said, "Hey!  You gotta play something off this!"

He says, "I don't think I really listened to that one.  It's kind of old now.  I don't think anyone will like it."

I'm insistent, "No, I promise.  I'll pick a song the girls will like and keep dancing to and it won't bring anyone down."

He looked like he'd heard that before, but said, "OK.  One song."

So I picked a song called 1 in 10.  It's kind of a dancey thing that foreshadows Bob's breakout French Kiss album (I have that and we'll talk about it someday).  But anyway, the girls did keep dancing, people thought it was something new and told Mr. DJ Guy that he had the greatest record collection ever, again.  But I got a little validation that I could, on occasion, pick something that everyone could enjoy.  I could never be a fun DJ unless it was in a situation where it was just people going to check out the music I was playing, and then I might botch that up and play something else anyway, because I only like to play whatever strikes my fancy at that moment!

I think Paris was a pretty good project for Bob.  It never took off (I did get to see them live, though!), but the handful of people that bought Big Towne 2061 seem pretty happy with it.  Soupy Sales' kid Hunt plays drums on this, and Glenn Cornick from Jethro Tull plays bass and the cool keyboards throughout this.  Bob had hit on something with his standard power trio adding some cool keyboards, and Rush would become huge when they added the keyboards a year or so later.  I'm not saying Bob Welch was a major influence on Rush, but maybe he was.  Bob always had weird subjects like aliens and fantasy worlds, so the guys in Rush may have heard what these guys were doing.  But it made for a good branching out from Prog Rock for me, since I really liked that kind of stuff when I was younger than 14.  There was just enough of that there for me on Big Towne 2061, and just enough plain old Rock, too.  I bet this will always be an album I dig out.

I'm thinking at some point I replaced this, because my record is super clean and most of my records from when I was that young got pretty killed by my cheapo BSR turntable.  If mine didn't kill it, then someone else's did!  So it's nice and flat and sound terrific.  Considering how Allmusic gives this a whopping two stars and doesn't even bother writing a review for it, I bet it's worth about three dollars.  Which is kind of a shame.  Bob Welch was pretty damned good and it's too bad more people didn't notice him.

Oh yeah - that's fifty posts!  So that means I don't have to check and see if I've done one before.  So who knows, I may go on some kind of binge and just write about Neil Young or The Pagans for a month.  You never know.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Doors - Morrison Hotel

When I got to high school, I seemed to need to get a New Favorite Band, as it was pretty clear that Yes wasn’t quite going to cut it with the ladies.  Besides, I was trying to find something really cool.  The kind of band that when I was talking to people older than me would be impressed that I knew inside and out, and loved, and that people my age and younger would be impressed in my devotion to a sort of unheard (at least anymore) kind of band.  I don’t know why I decided The Doors would fit that bill, but until I really got into Punk, they bridged the gap between Yes and The Sex Pistols nicely for me.  I think this was the first album by them I bought, and Morrison Hotel is still probably what I consider to be their best album.

What ended up happening is that about the same time I got into The Doors, everyone my age started digging them.  So much so that by the time I was a senior, Danny Sugarman wrote a book about Jim Morrison and The Doors were actually selling more records than they ever had.  So for me, The Doors were like one of my first pet bands that went out and got uber popular.  I kind of dropped out of that fandom when I got married (pretty young by these days standards, but if it were 1929 I’d have had a long bachelorhood!).  Mostly because I slowly decided Jim was kind of an idiot, and I felt that way for a long time.

But time heals and all that.  So right now I’m listening to the same copy of Morrison Hotel I owned in high school, and it must have come into my collection after I bought my first Dual turntable, because it’s in great shape.  I’m listening to it the way I listened to most of my records at home, on headphones.  I used my speakers a lot too, but I loved my headphones.  They were some kind of Radio Shack branded things  made by Koss.  I had them for years and they were pretty good.  I just got a pair of Grado’s  and there’s probably no comparison, but I’ve got to say that the bite to Robbie Krieger’s guitar that just pierces through everything is really satisfying.  Especially at the moment.  I really didn’t listen to these guys anymore for years and years, but I never got rid of their records because I paid for them with my own money back when it was damned hard for me to come up with record money, and I hoped that some day (like today maybe) I’d sit down and listen to some Doors and hear some of what made me really think these guys were the shit.

I’ve really got to think a lot of it had to do with Robbie’s guitar.  Sure, I probably haven’t let Roadhouse Blues play all the way through on the radio in 20 years, but man, I just played it twice!  That guitar sounds like a switchblade through a leather jacket.  It’s just a great noise.  I think it’s part of being an American kid to feel that I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer is one of the most profound statements in Rock for at least a few years.  I guess we called this stuff “classic” for a reason back then.  Robbie kills it on Peace Frog, too.

Ray Manzarek has to get some credit, too.  I know, he can be hard to take in interviews these days (I’d rather hear him talk about X but he only talks about The Doors), but he sounds pretty cool on this record.  He plays nice blues piano on The Spy and he’s a little understated with that merry-go-round gimmick he could get going sometimes.  I tend to think that John Densmore was certainly as good a drummer as you were gonna find anywhere back then, and I really like how he holds Queen of the Highway together.

Now, the big star is always Jim Morrison with these guys, and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that for a poet he was a pretty good rock ‘n roll singer.  I think a lot of people in that field are much better writers (at least of rock songs), and his poetry seems more than a bit pretentious to me (but seventeen year old me would have wanted to kick my ass for that).  But Jim had a great voice for a rock ‘n roll singer.  As Cheetah Chrome would have put it, he had balls.  I mean, Maggie M’Gill is a pretty pedestrian little blues shuffle, and Jim’s lyrics are mediocre at best, but I think it’s every bit as great a way to end the album as Roadhouse Blues was to open it.  It’s all Jim that propels it to something else, and I have got to give the guy credit for that.

My record is in nice shape, too.  It’s not an original pressing, it has a butterfly label instead of a red one but it does have the nice gatefold sleeve.  You can hear a little surface noise.  Maybe I need to clean it, but the jacket is pretty much perfect.  No seam splits, no mashed corners.  I did a good job taking care of this one since 1977 or 78!