Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel - Love's a Prima Donna

I remember writing long, long lists of all the bands I "knew" when I was a kid.  All I had to do to "know" a band was to have read about them, or seen their name in The Scene magazine or Rock Scene, or Creem or wherever.  I always made the list with bands I could name at least one song of first, but then it could be pretty much a free for all and I may have just liked the name of a band and read about them or saw them on an ad opening for a band I knew better.  They were just lists, but they were just for me and they were for me to see how many bands I knew and to make sure the top of the list kept getting longer.  I figure I had teachers that thought I was furiously taking notes while all I was doing was thinking, Badfinger sings Baby Blue, Eric Clapton sings I Shot the Sheriff, Sugarloaf sings Don't Call Us, We'll Call You...Tight Kitty is playing a rec center show at the fairgrounds...and I'd write this stuff all down, all day.  Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were one of the bands on the bottom list. I knew they were a band, but I had no idea what they sounded like.

I think I mentioned a friend who's father used to clean the local Capitol Records office.  He used to bring home all kinds of stuff, and it wasn't just on Capitol.  One day we came home after school (my friend's home, kinda my home away from home) and there was a new stack of posters and records on the bottom step going up to my friend's room.  We liked it there, because his parents never came upstairs and we could smoke and drink whatever we wanted and no one seemed to care.  This day, one of the records in the stack was Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel's Love's a Prima Donna.  Well, I "knew" who these guys were from my daydream lists, and I insisted that they had to be cool because they were from England, and since I had read about them (remember, I may just have seen their name in print) then they were cool but WMMS wasn't cool enough to play them.  My friends didn't really go for the college stuff because back then they were really low powered and sometimes they played polka music for hours.  So I said, "after we fire up the Neutron Bong, we gotta play some Cockney Rebel!"  I had already shortened their name, because I knew they would be so awesome.

The cover of this record can get a group of fourteen year old boys interested for at least one spin, so I had that going for me.  I had no idea what was going to happen when the needle hit the record, but I was ready, and like I said, I just knew it was gonna be great.  So we all sat there a little ripped and really only used to pretty polished stuff and Harley's voice comes blasting out of the speakers. Seeking a lo-o-ove. To sha-are my pill-oh. Share my dreams and my undy-ing need.  To be.  Now, Steve Harley kind of made Neil Young sound like singing was his main talent (I like Neil's singing, but it's not his main strength, ya know?) and since the Neutron Bong was out we kind of fell on the floor laughing our asses off at Steve's vocalizations.  After that, things got downright weird.

A lot of the vocals on this record get some really weird treatments, and they go from sounding like The Chipmunks to playing a 45 at 16 RPM (lot's of record players used to have 16 RPM) and then there were strings, and backup singers singing doo wop parts and fun electric guitars and weird synthesizers and lyrics that would have been right at home in Alice in Wonderland.  Things got weird fast, and I have to say, for me this record was love at first listen.  Most of my friends seemed to like it, too.  I say most because when we got older and the drugs got harder (for some of us), there were friends that hated when Love's a Prima Donna got pulled out.  Even when they could look at the great cover, they'd get upset.  Through it all, I loved every minute of that record.  I eventually went and bought my own, after that friend got married, because his wife utterly hated that record and it was banished!  I think she thought it was "Arty Crap" (to borrow a line from Amazon Women on the Moon), and it well may be arty crap, but I still love it to this day.  I don't think I knew of this record until after my History of Rock class, or I'd have brought it in so people could hear some real studio craziness.

So if you ever want a record that sounds like doo wop, overblown Meat Loafy stuff and being trapped inside a bong, you should check out Love's a Prima Donna.  I love it.  The title track is pretty straight ahead, and it's a rollicking piano and killer backing singers.  Love Compared With You is a pretty, mostly conventional ballad.  The best of the weird are GI Valentine, Finally a Card Game and the way over the top Innocence and Guilt.  It used to be I couldn't get enough of this, and I don't play it very often anymore, but I do still play it and I still think it's a really great record.

My record is in good shape.  Like I said, I got it after school was finished so it didn't get too abused.  Besides, thee were a lot of new wives and friends that this record would have been "too weird" for anyway, so mine's looking really good.  I still like the cover and I still think the weirdest songs are the best.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Beatles - 1967 - 1970

Well, with all the hoopla surrounding The Beatles' coming to America fifty years ago and the subsequent British Invasion of Rock N' Roll (which really made things shitty for a lot of American bands), I figured I'd give a listen to one of the very few Beatles albums I own.  I don't dislike The Beatles, I'm just kind of ambivalent about them.  I'll say this much, though; the current generation that has decided The Beatles are "just another pop band" or that there were other bands that were "better" or "more influential" are completely full of shit.  Sure, I like The Rolling Stones a lot more, but I was a little kid when The Beatles were active, and I knew the words to tons of their songs, watched their Saturday morning cartoon and generally just thought The Beatles were great, just like everyone else on the entire planet.  No other Rock N' Roll or popular music icon has come anywhere near the influence of The Beatles. Not Elvis, not Sinatra, not Led Zeppelin, not The Velvet Underground.  So if you're one of those revisionists, just fuck off now.  Like it or not, The Beatles are a one time phenomenon.  No one will ever grab the world's attention like they did, and the reason they were able to do it is because they were unbelievably good at what they did.

I'm trying to remember how old I was when I bought this record.  I think I was in the summer of fifth grade, so that would be eleven, so that should make it 1973, which is actually the year this came out.  There was a commercial on TV for some bootleg collection of Beatles songs called Alpha Omega, and I used to say the announcer's spiel and crack up my friends.  We were stealing beers out of open garages and Blueberry Tiparillo's from the drugstore and hanging out in the woods or in forts that we made.  We'd split a couple beers and start goofing on whatever it was we goofed on, and I can remember a friend named Mark that would always ask me to "do the Beatles guy," and I'm sure my voice was three octaves too high, but I'd say the spiel in my best attempt at a cockney accent.  "Order two-day, The Bee-ulls...Alpha Oh May Uh," and Mark would laugh his ass off.  It may have been funny because I did it so poorly, I don't know.

My mom and dad went out of town that summer for a week.  It must have been around a time when my best friend, Chris was on vacation, because I stayed with Jeff's family.  I don't know where my brother and sister stayed, but I'm pretty sure I didn't talk to them all week.  My mom gave me an envelope to give Mrs. Joyce for letting me stay that had some money in it for my food (and probably her headache because I wasn't nearly as tame as her kids), and she gave me some spending money.  Ten bucks, I think.  To me, that was rich.  The minute I got it I knew exactly what I was going to do with it.  I was going to Daisy Music and buying a real Rock album, the kind older kids bought.  Not some Top 40 album from Woolworth's (with music performed by some faceless group like The Sound Alikes).  I was going to a real record store, and getting something cool.

We rode up to Daisy Music, probably the day my parents dropped me off, and I looked at every record in the store.  I still do that, if I can.  I like smallish stores so that's possible, but I hate thinking that I may have bought the wrong record because I didn't get all the way to the end and missed something I've wanted forever.  So I went through everything, and then I went back towards the beginning and looked at The Beatles 1967 - 1970 and 1962 - 1966.  They were both double albums, but I had ten bucks and I could get either one.  I started thinking about it, and since I was born in 1962 I decided that even though I was buying older music either way, I would buy the more recent collection.  Besides, I like blue better than red.

You may not know this, but back then records were expensive.  I know, if you buy new vinyl now they ain't cheap, but believe me, I never got ten bucks a week for anything.  That's probably how much money my paper route made me.  A few years later I can remember buying six packs of Labatt Blue for $2.22, so when I dropped $6.99 or $7.99 on this it was a major expense for my eleven year old ass, and my mother wasn't happy (she never was when I bought records for some reason).  I could have went to the movies with my friends (and the only movie playing in our theater in 1973 was The Sting, which I had seen, and it was the only movie there for at least a year or more).  I could have done a lot of things, but I bought a double album and blew just about everything I had.

I remember taking it back to Jeff's (I wasn't allowed to go home and hang out in the empty house and back then the neighbors would have come and dragged me out and called Jeff's parents, so I didn't), and his older brother was home. I don't remember his name, but I didn't like him.  He was older and he was totally uncool.  He had a few records, but they were decidedly UN-Rock N' Roll.  But, he had built a Heathkit integrated amp and he had an AR turntable and a pair of Dynaco bookshelf speakers.  So while I didn't like him much, he taught me a lot about stereo equipment and sound in general.  He let us sit in his room and listen to my new Beatles album on his nice stereo, which was probably the only time that record was treated nice, because when it got to my house it got crushed on my GE Portable!

So what do I think of the record after all that?  I guess I gotta say, I think it's not too bad.  I mean, I'm not just ga ga over The Beatles, so for me this and Revolver often seem like all I really need.  I like Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.  They're nice songs.  Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life and I Am the Walrus are the kinds of things Mr. Demkowicz (see my HOF for him) would spend hours playing parts of, and picking up his needle and replaying that part after he explained what studio trickeration The Beatles had invented during the making of those songs.  Sure, they're pretty groundbreaking and they're a part of not only the American psyche, but the entire world's psyche.  Almost all these songs are the kind of thing I probably skip when it comes on the radio, but if someone comes over, it's a great album to own, because people really love it and I genuinely like it.

I'd have liked a little more White Album, but I didn't get to pick this (I'd have loved to have grabbed the handful of songs on that album I really like and put them here so I'd not feel like I should buy that record some day).  There was a time I could listen to While My Guitar Gently Weeps over and over.  I don't know exactly why that was.  It seems like a nice song, but I don't know why I found it utterly profound for awhile when I was a teenager.  That was the thing about my History of Rock class - Demkowicz said The Beatles were the best and he spent a lot of time proving it to us.  I think he may have even said that they were like Beethoven or Mozart.  In 500 years everyone would still love them.  I kind of think Baby Boomers always found themselves as a generation more than the greedy, selfish nitwits I think they turned in to.  Before you get your knickers into too much of a knot, I said As A Generation.  Not as groups of people.  But for every John Lennon there's a dick like John Boehner.  Make that two dicks for every John Lennon.  That's how we got to where we are now.

Man, I'm really wandering here.  Let's get back to my record!  Ya know two songs that I always loved?  Revolution and Magical Mystery Tour.  Hey, what teenager doesn't want to be part of some kind of cool ass revolution that changes the world and makes it fair?  I know I did.  But then again I think I thought a revolution was having long hair, wearing funny T shirts, listening to Rock N' Roll and getting high.  I think most of us kids in the USA in the 70's thought that.  It's too bad that's not all it takes, because I think we could get a lot of people to sign up.  We all work way too hard anyway, and we only live once, so why did we let a bunch of rich people tell us two weeks a year is more than enough vacation?  Man, we're kinda stupid as a species.  Anyway, I love Revolution.  The guitars are great, the sentiment is cool and it's just a killer Rock N' Roll song.  I don't know why I like Magical Mystery Tour so much.  I just do, and one of the things I like most is Ringo's drumming.  I tend to think he's just this side of Meg White usually, but I just love his sound on that song.

Now, I will blaspheme The Beatles a bit and say I don't like Hey Jude.  Or Octopus' s Garden, Across the Universe or even much of The Long and Winding RoadHey Jude is way too long.  I get bored with it.  Octopus's Garden sounds like a kid's song (nothing wrong with children's music, but I'm not a child) and the others just leave me cold.  Then again, there's twenty-eight songs on here.  That's a lot.  That's value for money, but I think the record is pretty full and might sound better a little shorter.  I still like this record quite a bit, overall, so don't think I'm complaining, because I'm not.

Now I know this isn't my original copy.  I had the Apple labels on the poor record I destroyed.  I think around ten years ago I was cleaning out something under my mom's TV stand (probably setting up a new TV or something) and I came across this in the cabinet.  It's in pretty decent shape, a little crackly now and then, but really only noticeable on headphones.  I asked her where she got it and she said, "I think you left it."  There's no way I left it, because I never bought another one, and this one has blue Capitol labels.  I don't care which labels I have, and when push comes to shove other than being a little bass shy, this record sounds pretty darned good, if you ask me.  The cover is nice and I think it was a lucky find.  Maybe mom had a boyfriend for awhile?  Who knows.  But whoever left it there, thanks.  I like it.  Not as much as I did when I bought my own, but I like it just the same and it reminds me of the way my town used to be, and the way I used to be when I didn't have to worry about what would happen if I just spent all my money on records.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

JD McPherson - Signs & Signifiers

Sometimes it seems like all I talk about here are thirty year old records, and that's really not how I spend my time for the most part.  Sure, I listen to plenty of old stuff, but I try to keep up with what's going on.  Not that JD McPherson's 2010 album Signs & Signifiers is exactly new at this point (I think I found out about it in 2012?), but hey, it only sounds really old.  It's actually a pretty recent record in the grand scheme of things.

I think someone told me to check out YouTube for a new band that they thought I would like (I didn't even listen to more than one song when I started clicking on other links).  I've found this is kind of the way I use the internet to find new music.  I click on things until I find something that catches my ear and then I call Music Saves and order it or ask them if they have it in stock.  I think it's around 50/50 that I have to order it.  Which should be expected, because I have a blog about my records that nobody reads, so odds are pretty good that I'm listening to records nobody bothers to listen to.

Which is kind of a shame.  Not for me, but for people like JD McPherson.  If it were up to me, this guy would be huge.  I mean gigantic.  This is the kind of music that spans generations, sounds timeless, sounds like fun and feels like the kind of music that you should be listening to with other people, dancing, drinking, howling and tearing it up on a Saturday night.  I can't imagine that dancing to Kesha (sorry honey, I'm not spelling your name with a dollar sign) is any more fun than dancing to this.  In fact, it can't be half as much fun.  I can see JD McPherson and his band completely owning a small bar, but they could do an auditorium sized show, too.  I can see the dance music that's popular being in big auditoriums, but there's no way they can make it work for 200 people.  You can't jump out of a space egg or ride a wrecking ball in a bar, and really, no one wants you to.  They want you to lean back and tear it up with something like Fire Bug, that's all energy and swinging fun.

I like that about this album.  It seems like the kind of music that feeds off the energy of a crowd, and you might not think that would transfer well to vinyl, but it really does.  I think it's probably one of those pure analog recordings where they band used vintage guitars, amps, microphones and boards to record this.  Which is probably why they sound is so immediate and live sounding.  North Side Gal tears it up just like Fire Bug, but songs like Gentle Awakening and the title track give yo a minute to dance nice and slow.

Much as I like the slow songs, I've always been the guy that asks a band if they'll only play their fast songs when I go see them (if I get a chance).  I can't get enough of the unhinged craziness of Wolf Teeth, or the self assured, I Can't Complain.  How can you?  Stand up bass, one electric guitar, saxophone, piano.  This is the stuff Rock N' Roll is really made of.  These guys can even Stroll with the best of them on B.G.M.O.S.R.N.R.  This is the kind of music that made me jump up and take notice.  This is the kind of music people say never gets made anymore, and then when it's not only made, it's made as well as it's ever been done, the people miss out on it.  I'm not going to rant for two hours why I think that is, but suffice to say that I don't think radio deregulation did anything good for anyone more than a handful of people that just siphoned all the money out of radio and left us with a husk of what once was.  They said TV would kill radio, and it didn't.  But the internet will because the people that make radio great are all selling Real Estate or working for some marketing firm.  It won't be because it's better, because it isn't.  It's just one more thing where you now have to do everything yourself, when in the past it was done for you.

I don't know if this is still in print.  Probably not, but I'd bet you can still get the record if you order it.  It's a nice record.  180 gram (pretty unnecessary if you ask me), and like I said, I think it's an all analog recording, so vinyl is the way to go.  It's got a nice gatefold cover and mine sounds nice and clean.  I like this one a lot! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet

I've got a few copies of this record.  I've got the SACD, which has the speed corrected on it.  It's sped up just a hair, which actually changes the key of the songs, and you can really tell the difference side by side with any of the older records or cd's.  So far as I'm concerned, if Exile on Main St. didn't exist, then Beggars Banquet would be the greatest record ever made, but not by the leaps and bounds better than I think Exile is over everything else ever recorded.  You know all those people that always say Keith Richards is a great rhythm guitar player, but can't play solo's?  Have they not listened to the guitar solo's on Sympathy for the Devil?

I mean, really.  Just listen to what Keith is doing there.  His guitar is stinging and biting.  It's mean, and it's nasty.  It also isn't the kind of solo that you can just pull out and stick over any other song in his catalog.  It fits perfectly on Sympathy, and it just belongs there.  Sure, they did a few great solo's on Get Yer Ya Ya's Out! but Keith just plays with so much authority on this version.  It's like he's just squeezing the Rock N' Roll out of his guitar, forcing it to scream and howl.  I think it's one of the greatest things that ever happened.  Not to mention that everything else about the song is pretty much perfect, too (except that Jean Luc Godard movie about it - Godard didn't add anything worthwhile to it, that's for sure).  I don't think 60's Rock gets any better than Sympathy, and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

It almost gets even better with Brian Jones' terrific slide on No Expectations.  What a shame about Brian.  I'm not gonna get into his accidental death/murder controversy here.  I'm just gonna say that if he could have kept it a little more together that I think that even though I love the years they had with Mick Taylor, I'd be more than OK if Brian had never went away and Mick had never become a Rolling Stone.  Because Brian could leave it all right there on the record when he really wanted to.  I'm glad Jimmy Miller got the squeaking of Brian's chair in the song.  It sounds like you're right there, and right there, right then sounds like a great time to be somewhere.

I remember the first time I heard this, I thought things like Dear Doctor and Prodigal Son were just some kind of filler, but as I really sank into Stones fandom, I really started to see the light on these acoustic country/blues songs.  The Stones were turning me on to something I didn't know (and to be truthful probably still don't appreciate as much as I should), and once I started to get my head around these, I really started to see just how terrific Beggars Banquet really is.

I think I read a review somewhere that called things like Parachute Woman Factory Girl and Jigsaw Puzzle filler.  I'm sorry, but I don't get that at all.  Just like I never understood when people told me that Jigsaw Puzzle was The Stones trying to write a Bob Dylan song.  Really?  Which one were they trying to write?  I'm certainly not the one that sees the true genius behind Bob Dylan, but I've listened to a lot of music and I can't see it.  I mean, it's got a lot of words, and it's got some weird, atmospheric guitars, but did Dylan invent every noise The Beatles didn't make first?  Hell, maybe he did, but I'd rather listen to Jigsaw Puzzle all day than two thirds of Dylan's catalog.  But I suppose that's just me.

If any album ever screamed out to be played on a vinyl record, it's got to be Beggars Banquet.  I mean, the side one opener of Sympathy for the Devil is just stunning, but side two's ultra distorted cassette recorded acoustic guitar of Street Fighting Man is every bit the equal of Sympathy, and there are days when I think it's even better.  Really, when push comes to shove, what can a poor boy really do?  Hey, you can stand up and try, but most of us aren't quite up to changing the world on our own.  If we were, you wouldn't know the names of people like Martin Luther King, because we'd all be doing it.

The song that I have always felt was one I'd really never get to see is Stray Cat Blues, because they had played it in 1969, but really hadn't dusted it off ever after.  But I wound up in the sixth row in Cleveland in 2002, and lo and behold, they played Stray Cat Blues.  And they played the hell out of it!  That's always one of the coolest things - when a band you love decides to play a song you just weren't thinking they'd play.

So like I said, I've got a few vinyl copies of Beggars Banquet.  A London issue and the DMM version Decca put out awhile back, which I've seen some horrid reviews of, but I think those people are picking nits and couldn't tell blindfolded what they were listening to over half the time.  Both records sound good.  I've got a 1986 pressing of the CD, a mono bootleg version (made from a reel to reel source, I'm underwhelmed) and the SACD version from a few years back.  If it's sound quality you want, I don't think you'll beat the SACD (I compared it to an original Decca and I thought SACD won that round).  But the thing is, this is a good sounding record anyway. It's not gonna just blow you away for the sound, it's the songs that are king here, but if it didn't sound pretty damned good in the first place, these songs wouldn't sound so fresh and killer almost fifty years after it was released.  If you don't have it, go get a copy and don't worry about which one it is, because they're all good enough.