Monday, June 30, 2014

Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers - Bongo Fury

Man, I have some strange, strange stuff on my record shelves.  I don't know where or when I got this.  In fact, I have several Zappa albums and I really only remember how three of them came into my possession. This one, with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart just doesn't seem like the kind of thing I'd expect me to have.  Yet here it is.  In terrific shape, even.  As I listen to this, I'm not sure I've ever played it before.  I doubt that, because I think I've played every record I own, because I think it's stupid to just hoard the damned things.  Records are for listening to, and I don't feel the need to save every record from the garbage pile, nor do I buy records I just think I should have.  I should have records that make me happy, and I shouldn't have records just because someone else thinks they're important.  So I'm kind of surprised this oddball thing is on my shelf.

It starts off with a live track with Captain Beefheart called Debra Kadabra.  I'm not exactly sure what the good Captain is on about, but he's on to something.  He's ranting over some kind of weird beats and guitar blasts. I can't imagine anyone ever walking around trying to hum these songs.  I mean, every time it gets a little melody or rhythm going, they completely change things up or Captain Beefheart howls about some new thing.  But then Frank starts riffing a little and we get into Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy, which is sort of what I expect from Frank.  It's got some odd time signatures in parts, but lyrically it's about a groupie.  FZ has done some of those songs better, and some worse.

The album is mostly live and part studio, and I kind of like how they just decided that that's the way it was going to be.  Why does a record have to be one or the other, or even live on one side and studio on the other?  It still works out to be a pretty weird, but pretty listenable blast of weirdness.  It came out in 1975, when I was 13.  I wonder what I'd have thought of this back then?  I know 13 year old me would have absolutely loved Advance Romance, because right now much older me is really getting into it.  I have no idea what the vocals are on about, but Frank tears some ass on his guitar, which is always a good thing.  It's a really long song and it's real weird, but the line, half an hour later she had frenched his fry is gong to have me chuckling to myself all night long.  I'm enjoying it.  Especially the stupid shit about cupcakes and muffins.  I'm assuming that we've morphed into Muffin Man, which has some more blistering guitars on it.  I think I'm all in on this one.

Mine had a promo sticker on it, but it fell off.  It didn't leave a mark, but I'll keep it in the record bag. There's a corner bump, but otherwise the cover is pretty nice.  The record sounds terrific.  It's flat, dead quiet and ya gotta love those old DiscReet labels.  I really wonder where I got this from.  I wonder if it was a gift, or one of those times where I bought a bunch of records and thought I had listened to everything, but I missed some (I've missed some great bands for years because I did that - more on that some other time).  I'm glad I dug this one out!

Monday, June 23, 2014

801 - Live

When I was a teenager I used to go to downtown Cleveland once in awhile for a special record shopping trip.  I bought what I thought were the weirdest and hardest to find titles back then after a ride on the RTA Rapid Transit (the rest of the world calls them trains) and then a few blocks of wandering around.  I always went by myself because I'm pretty insufferable to go record shopping with.  Depending on the size of the store, I may decide I need to flip through every single record to make sure I don't miss the one record I've been looking for for ten years.  Plus, I'll talk to the store employees, other customers and generally be hours later than I said I would.  Hey, it's as good as (or better) than going to the bar so far as I'm concerned, and I like the bar a lot!

So I think I was about fifteen when I got this.  I went down to one of the downtown stores and flipped through everything and I think this was just in the import section, which back them may or may not be sorted in any way, depending on the size of the section.  I don't remember this being in a huge import section, but I remember it being a nice, diverse section of the store.  I looked at the cover and I just loved the grainy shot of the headstock of the bass guitar and pretty much nothing else.  I knew that Phil Manzanera was the guitar player for Roxy Music, and especially when I was a kid that meant total Guitar Hero to be in a really cool band that was big in England but mostly unknown in the US.  Except here in Cleveland because WMMS championed Roxy Music before most other markets in the US.  So I figured I'd take a chance on this, because I knew that Eno was also involved in Roxy, but at the time I don't think I much appreciated what he brought to the table.  Anyway, the back cover had pictures of the guys playing and they looked like what I thought a jazz band would look like if they weren't all really old.  I always wanted to like jazz some day, so I thought this might be some kind of gateway record into that world for me.

So I rode home with it and read what little text there was on the cover over and over and just couldn't wait to hear my new record.  I didn't have The Beatles' Revolver album so I didn't know if Tomorrow Never Knows was some weird outtake song or what, but I couldn't wait to hear it.  I had heard Baby's on Fire a few times on the radio, and I wondered how that would come across live.  I figured I'd either flip my wig over this, or I'd hate it, and I figured the big money import price was an exciting gamble.

When I got home I listened to it, and the beginning of the first side is something that I just always hear in my head these days.  It's just really quiet and I'm sure the band is kind of just getting situated to start, but the opening of Lagrima has these two little notes on the keyboard that almost sound accidental, but they also remind me of a train whistle kind of far off in the middle of the night.  I love that sound.  We lived near enough to railroad tracks that we could hang out by them, but just far enough from the intersections that the horns didn't wake you up or anything.  I loved hearing them late at night when I was a kid, and I still love the rare times I actually hear a train in the distance these days, though trains hardly ever blow their horns anymore.

Lagrima segues into Tomorrow Never Knows, and the songs become a little more structured.  Trust me, they're all kind of weird, especially with Eno singing.  For awhile I thought maybe he left Roxy because he wanted to sing more, but I think that's just a leap of my teenage imagination.  He's pretty cool because he sort of talk-sings like Lou Reed did but he actually sings a little more.  The more this record played, the more I knew it was going to be one of my favorites forever.

The odd thing is, this really still is one of my favorite records.  It's one of the reasons I still buy records because I like the cover.  It's adventurous, it's musically tight as can be, and while it isn't a jazz album in any sense of the word, it's definitely not just some more of the same old choogle that I love so much.  I love the weird lyrics to Miss Shapiro.  I used to love playing their cover of You Really Got Me for my friends, especially after Devo's first album came out with its killer cover of Satisfaction.  I mean, this was what I thought sophisticated Rock Music was all about.  I thought I was unbelievably cool for having found it.

Then years later, when I found the CD (and gave my import vinyl record away), I took my purchase up to the cash register and the clerk says, "Wow!  I didn't know this came out on CD.  I love this album, it's a total classic."  I'm thinking, "Bullshit.  I'm the only person in the world that's ever heard this!"  So I enjoyed that for years and then the internet comes along and apparently this is a slightly above ground semi classic record. Huh.  Who'd a known?  It's a truly great record that I think I'll never get tired of.

So you're saying, "Hey, Rick.  You said you trade this away and have it on CD now, but I see a record up there at the top of the post!"  Well, I was in Ithaca last week for a day and I found a neato record store called Angry Mom that I can highly recommend to you.  I think this was seven bucks.  The cover looks a little loved, but it still had the original sleeve and it plays pretty damned nicely.  It's got someone else's clicks now and then, but I think they can become mine.  The record is nice and flat and the guy that rung me up said I'd like it, especially if I never heard it.  I told him I've owned a copy since like 1977, and he called me an "early adopter."  I asked if it was popular and he said he doesn't keep them in stock that long when he gets one, but they're kinda few and far between.  I liked the store a lot and bought several great things there. I hope I can go back some day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I used to be in my early twenties and I had a job that paid very little, and a wife and a kid.  It was the early 80's and I had always enjoyed the Punk Rock that I've mentioned here in previous posts, but I always had a fondness for hard, fast heavy rock that had nothing to do with Punks. Maybe it's growing up in the Midwest.  I dunno.  It's just that I've always liked the hard and heavy, but I kind of have my limits.  It's so easy to just laugh off heavy metal, especially the metal of the 80's, but there was some pretty kick ass stuff back then, and when my record spending allowance was incredibly meager, I managed to buy a few metal albums that I'll stand behind to this very day.  I have some that are less great than others, but then again, there's no accounting for taste, and I think if you've seen much of this blog you'd agree that hyperlinking the term there's no accounting for taste and using this blog as the link would get your point across quite effectively.

Anyway, back when I had to work all three shits in a week and often stood next to the same one or two people for twelve hours a day, we'd sit and talk about music and movies mostly, and we'd get pretty in depth and go on and on all day.  Metal wasn't a joke then.  I don't think the genre has aged well (have you seen That Metal Show?), and I think it's a young man's game (again, have you seen That Metal Show?  I think there are usually three females in the audience), and I think older men just look funny with their thinning, super long hair and weird, apocalyptic, demon-y and generally laughable lyrical subjects just come across more as kind of sad than kind of fun.  Maybe it's just me, but c'mon, when you're fifty I just don't believe you'd rather stir up some demonic trouble more than you'd rather just go home and have a beer and hang out with your wife.

Man, metal is tough for me to stay on track with!  So I was saying, way back in the 80's in Cleveland, we were one of the cities to get Z-Rock. It only lasted maybe a year, in like the mid 80's, but it was enough that in that period of time, Cleveland was pretty into metal, and so was I.  I was a lousy metalhead, though.  Just like I was a lousy Punk.  I never dressed right, and I never cared.  Some of the true powerhouse metal bands I essentially ignored, like Slayer or Venom.  I really liked this album by Saxon, though.

I still think there's a lot of good on this record.  It's not so much like a metal statement or anything, it's kind of like the direction I'd have expected a band like UFO to go.  It's harder and faster usually, but it's also just a really catchy album.  I still have no idea how old a sixth form student is in school, but I'm assuming like a high school senior, and Sixth Form Girls is a song about young girls in the proud tradition of The Standells' Dirty Water.  Sure it's ten times faster, but the girls still want to go out and party.  I like it.  It kind of reminds me of a less salacious Motorhead song.  I mean, there's not just a mindless, chunky riff with some screaming on these songs, like a lot of 80's metal wound up being.  Heavy Metal Thunder is another fast and furious one.  It's about getting ROCKED.  It's essentially an updated version of any song about Rock N' Roll and that's always cool by me.

Dumb as metal bands can often be, I thought Saxon did a decent job with a song about JFK's assassination on Dallas 1 PM.  It could have been really stupid and totally missed the point, but I think the music playing behind the broadcast we've all heard (at least if you're my age or older) is cool, and helps make a decent artistic statement.  Saxon may have looked like a dumb metal band, but they weren't.  They were a solid hard rock band, at least for a little while.  I had wished I knew the title track when I was in high school, because it was just the kind of song that everyone partying in a car would have been able to get behind, ya know?

My record is in great shape.  I think it only saw play on my old B&O turntable and my current Rega.  It's not an amazing audiophile recording, but it sounds good loud and the record is quiet and flat.  The cover is black and shiny, but when I look it up online it's usually white.  That's probably the import or the CD version. I'd bet you can get this really cheap, and even if you don't like heavy metal, I bet you'd end up liking this record.