Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jimi Hendrix - Stone Free

Someone told me I don't like Classic Rock the other day.  I think that's not exactly true.  I think I don't like modern Classic Rock radio.  I think I don't like it because when I listen to music, I don't just listen to a ten or twelve year time span.  I also think that some music is of a time, and it belongs to that time, and it should stay in that time.  Think about it - what fifteen year old kid these days needs to know that Styx or Bad Co. even existed?  Hey, you can give me a hard time about Grand Funk or BTO, but I'm not asking anyone to play their songs three times a day anymore.  Plus, a lot of what I think of as a classic is often just something overlooked, or forgotten.  I was the generation that coined the term "classic," and we weren't referring to Styx or Boston.  We were genuinely happy to hear an old Yardbirds song, or something by Jimi Hendrix.  These musicians made music we felt shouldn't ever be forgotten.

So that's how I end up thinking about this oddball Jimi album that came out in 1980.  It's a UK budget series and I'll bet it still cost me top dollar since it's an import.  Now, I'm not the biggest Jimi fan.  All my Jimi records are some kind collection, and none of them are his original albums.  Some day, I might fix that, but it's been okay for me for a long time, so things may never change.  I was a senior in high school when I got this.  I think it was at a really cool old place that used to be in Parma.  They carried a lot of imports back then and I'm pretty sure this is where I'd have bought it.  I know I bought it for two reasons:  Stone Free is my favorite Jimi song by a long shot, and I just absolutely love the cover.  What got me thinking about it was that back in April for Record Store Day they made a big deal about releasing a 45 with Stone Free on it, and the big selling point is that it's in mono.  BFD.  I've had the mono version of Stone Free since 1980, because that's what they chose to put on here.  It sounds great, so I can see unearthing it, but I'm good with this album.

I'm mostly good with this album because for some reason it sounds really great!  I love the way this record sounds.  Considering the source material probably isn't original masters or anything like that, this record just has a really black background and a nice, balanced attack that lends itself well to letting the neighbors in on your fun.  They'll appreciate you, because this record is also a bunch of well chosen songs that someone actually thought about how they would work together.  I've always thought that the flow of the songs on an album can make a good album a great one when they work together and sound like they all belong with each other, and Stone Free just really works for me.  I mean, it's got Castles Made of Sand, Crosstown Traffic, Ezy Rider and two Bob Dylan songs - All Along the Watchtower (you know it's the best version, even if you're a big Bob fan) and The Drifter's Escape (which I don't know where that came from, but it's cool).  But every song is a keeper, including a blistering version of Johnny B. Goode that's live from somewhere.  I'm sure you can look it up on the internets.  I'll tell ya, the guy that put this together must have actually talked to me at some point, and he took notes and made my record!

There used to be a stereo store in my town and I think I had just taken my Dual turntable in to get a new cartridge that was better than the 12 dollar Audio Technica that was there when I bought it.  I think that's when I figured out that this record sounded better than a lot of my other ones, and I think this album is one of the records I took to Audio Craft in 1982 when I bought my first really decent stereo.  Unlike today, there was no internet where people with no stereo at all made fun of your "entry level" stereo even though they had never heard it.  But I liked the guy that ran the little stereo store in town.  He didn't last long, and he even sold records, but he showed me how to mount a cartridge and was the first person that proved to me that a better one was worthwhile.  This record really benefited from that better cartridge.  It sounds like a brand new record even almost 35 years later.  I think it's really good.  You should get it if you come across it.

*A little edit - some of the songs are a little less awesome in sound quality, but most of this record always gets me to to go, "man, this sounds great!"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Steppenwolf - Live

I just bought this the other day while I was in Windsor, Canada.  I don't usually write about something I just got, but I just never owned it because pretty much everyone in my junior high school never owned their own copy of this.  We shared the same copy that the school library had, and believe me, Steppenwolf Live was absolutely the heaviest album our school had.  It well may have been the only Rock album.  So every study hall we'd go down and get it out and put on these godawful headphones and sit around and listen to it.

I remember the old record player.  It was a Califone.  I think it was a Rheem/Califone.  My hot water tank is a Rheem, so it only makes sense that they used to make record players and sell them to schools.  I'm pretty sure the players lasted for at least forty years, but any record payed on them was pretty much beat to death before you even flipped it over.  Ours had a little pod that came out and four kids could plug in headphones and listen to the same record at the same time.  I think they went so far as to cut the wires going to the speaker to make sure no one disturbed other people in the library.  So that's where we'd go, into the library and pop on set of phones and break out some Steppenwolf!

We had a smokestack out behind the school where we'd sneak out and smoke in between classes.  But before school I used to meet people at the Fairgrounds or at the Masonic Temple behind the school.  It was right around this time that all of us started smoking the evil weed, and it was always fun to get high and then go to school.  So we'd smoke a J and go hang in the library and listen to Steppenwolf.  I remember thinking that John Kay was probably a brilliant man because I thought Monster was real poetry.  I don't think that anymore, but I do think Kay was better than a lot of the bands of his era, and he doesn't get much credit for anything other than inspiring people to ride motorcycles.  Maybe some of his lyrics sound kind of cliche these days, but we really did think about the draft.  We thought about it a lot.  So a song like Draft Resister really kind of opened our eyes a little bit.  I think I once told someone, "Why should I go fight for my country in Vietnam or something?  My family is peaceful, I should stay here and fight to make the people that want to send us to wars go fight them themselves.  I don't want them here anyway."

Man, I remember that didn't go over very well with some parents.  But all of us knew that the kid down the street or an older brother was in Vietnam, and all of us had seen the devastation to a family when that kid didn't come home.  I used to go door to door with petitions and hang out in K Mart's parking lot getting signatures for a lot of things, like ending the draft, lowering the voting age and lowering the drinking age (my sentimental favorite).  I think that stuff worked, because I was one of the first graduating classes that just had to get a Selective Service number (which terrified me enough).  So yeah, these days maybe Steppenwolf sounds a little corny with their protest songs, but they were better at it than a lot of other bands were.

Now, getting back to junior high, weed and the library - I remember more than one occasion when we'd be kicking back, enjoying the buzz and digging Steppenwolf for the billionth time, and one of us just blurting, "Sookie, sookie, sookie, sookie, sookie sookie soo!"  Man, all of a sudden all the kids in the library would start laughing and the librarian, I think her name was Mrs. Morton, would come over and rip the needle of the record with a screeching "rrrrriiiiipppppp!" sound, and whisper/shout at us to "Be quiet or you'll all sit in separate corners with no music!"  Man, that would make you feel stupid, lemme tell ya!

So I bought this the other day at Dr. Disc in Windsor.  I was flipping through the recent arrivals bins, and there was a pretty worn looking copy (not as bad as the one I used for a picture - that looks more like the library's copy!), but it says Made in Canada and it looks like a pretty early Dunhill Canadian pressing.  Inside the back pocket of the cover another, older record store wrote 4.49 on it.  I remember a lot of used record stores used to do that.  They'd open the sleeve and tell you how much the record was.  So I was thinking, "Man, this is the second store (at least) that this record has wound up at, probably isn't worth a second look," but the records themselves are in audiophile sleeves and they look very rarely played.  The cover just wasn't stored in a bag, so it's got some ringwear.  Now, I buy records to play, not to admire from a distance, so things like primo records in so-so covers don't bother me.  When I got home I found my new Nagaoka MP110 cartridge waiting for me, so I mounted that sucker, and popped in my new record.

I'll say this - if you want a cartridge for 100 bucks, you'll probably like this one a lot.  I'll also say this - Steppenwolf Live is a great record.  Yeah, it's definitely of an era, but the crunchy guitar on Magic Carpet Ride and the ten minute long version of Monster are just really cool.  A couple songs are actually studio recordings, but so what?  They still sound great.  The band was tight and just ramshackle enough to make things worthwhile.  I'm glad Dr. Disc had it.

By the way, Dr. Disc is a really cool store for Canada.  They don't have as much cool Detroit sounds as I'd hope, but they always seem to have four or five albums I want, and their prices are way better than most Canadian record stores I've been to.  The guy that's always in there when I've been there is super friendly, and if the store isn't busy he'll talk your ear off!  But I like that.  I like record store people that don't try to make you feel insignificant (you know, like High Fidelity) and I like guys that don't mind saying, "I never heard the band you're talking about."  Since when is it a crime to not know something?  There's like 100 billion records on the planet, and no one has heard them all.  So if you go to Windsor, stop in and buy some records or cd's.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Plimsouls - Everywhere at Once

1983 was a long, long time ago.  I had been at the Press (not the old newspaper, that's just what we called where I worked) for a year and my oldest son was a year old and I had been married for less than that.  I think we lived in an apartment building, but we may have still been in my wife's mom's basement.  I think it was the basement.  I had a '70 Torino I bought from a friend for 75 bucks over two paychecks (150 dollar car, so you know it was nice!).  It had a 351 Cleveland and a posi rear end.  It flat out hauled ass, but it was pretty beat up.  We used to take her mom wherever she needed to go, and I paid her about 2/3'ds of my pay for rent and took her wherever she wanted to go because she couldn't drive.  I remember an uncle staying there and I was going to a concert with a woman I had known since Jr. High, and my wife was going dancing with her friends and we were going to meet up at the bar down the street after the show.  The uncle said we'd never make it.  It's 2013 and I'm still married to the same girl, so I don't feel bad about telling him he should mind his own business and only talk shit about things he knew (I may have told her mom that, but I wanted to tell him, and at that point in my life I was pretty chippy when I was pissed, so I think I told him).

You know what The Plimsouls had to do with that?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  I didn't have this album then.  I wasn't buying many records for the first part of the 80's because I didn't have any money and Reagan and his cronies were real tough on the minimum wage crowd, lemme tell ya.  I think I got this in the mid 90's on cd.  I've got a really clean vinyl version of it, too.  It even has the original paper sleeve, which has the lyrics and some cool neon greenness to it.  The one thing I don't like about this album is that the drums sound like 1985, and unfortunately this was released in 1981.  None of that matters, though.  The songs are all top notch and you can tell through the shiny production that these guys were just killer.  Which leads me to a question - If this kind of production can't be overlooked, then why do I have to listen through the added layers of hiss and clipping to get to the "killer catchy pop sensibilities" of a band like Times New Viking, but the truly great songwriting and execution is much easier to hear and enjoy here?  Why is that, some of you critics out there?  Why is made up lo fi better than too much studio sheen?  I think it's because if you compared the two bands live, The Plimsouls would make today's lo fi popsters sound like amateurs.  I may not be enamored of the way this sounds, but there's no denying that Shaky City, How Long Will It Take and A Million Miles Away are really great songs.  Songs as good as anyone was doing in 1981, and songs that still sound great today.

Like I said, I've got a really clean copy of this.  I think I bought it used six or seven years ago, then found another one to replace that one more recently.  I think it's one of those records someone got as gift or something and never played.  Either that, or it's like some people with reel to reel decks used to do - they'd buy an lp, record it and then sell it back to the record store or at a garage sale someday.  Thanks, person that did that or didn't like good music.  Whatever the reason for me getting a minty fresh copy of one of my favorite records of all time, I really appreciated your lack  of effort where this record was concerned!