Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Death of Samantha - If Memory Serves Us Well

I love bands from Ohio.  I mean, I live here and I like to be a part of my local community, and I kind of consider the whole state my community.  I think a lot of us here are like that.  We're definitely Homers.  I mean, our sports talk stations ignore national stuff, even big stuff like the World Series or NBA Finals for the most part, so that we can analyze whatever the most crushing needs of The Browns are in the upcoming draft, or why The Indians should just break down and buy that one big bat.  If the World Series is The Yankees and Dodgers, we'll mention it, but always quickly change it to whatever is going on locally.

I love that about Cleveland.

I like sports, but music is definitely my passion.  I love Rock N' Roll.  I love guitars.  I'd have been bored out of my skull if I had been born into a world where there were no distorted guitars.  But I got lucky, and I'm here now, and I live in a city where there's always been some flat out great bands.  Yeah, you've never heard of them, but the bands in Ohio are as good as any bands from anywhere, if you ask me.

So I've had the recent Death of Samantha retrospective album for a little while now, and I've only got one of their ep's so this has been a welcome addition.  These guys were all over in the second half of the 80's around here.  They were really popular on the live circuit, but WMMS was in a tailspin around then and too busy with their heads up Michael Jackson's ass to bother blowing away N.E. Ohio with Death of Samantha.  WCSB played them, and that was good enough for me.  Hell, back then I was really mostly into The Stones, so I didn't care if 'MMS played anything other than The Stones, because I could listen to the new music I liked on college radio.  Those were pretty great days, even though I was really broke with a young family.

So Death of Samantha probably left a bigger footprint than most of you are aware of.  Doug Gillard is pretty well known for playing in Cobra Verde and Guided By Voices, along with John Petkovic (who writes for The Plain Dealer these days).  One of the things I never liked hearing about a lot of Cleveland bands is how they're some kind of avant garde Art Rock.  This happens a lot.  Their live shows were spectacles, but there's a lot of bands in Cleveland and you need to set yourself apart somehow.  Having a great show to go with your great songs doesn't make you Art Rock.  I just don't like that label.  It makes me think all the people in the audience are beatniks or some other beret wearing hipster doofus type of crowd.  Cleveland crowds respond to passion and we drink beer and liquor.  Turn it up and bring some fun and we're on board.  We don't have to call it anything but Rock N' Roll, okay?

I don't know if anyone reading this (I have a worldwide range, but it's only like six people, I think) will know any of the songs I'm going to mention, but it gives you something to check out on Youtube then, doesn't it?  So what's this record all about?  It's Death of Samantha getting together in 2011 to rehearse for some reunion shows.  This record is a recording of the rehearsal sessions, so these are new performances of old songs.  But they're live, so it gives a nice immediacy to everything.  There's plenty of crunchy guitars, David James on bass and Steve-O on drums are a really solid backbone and Gillard's guitars are fantastic.  Petkovic's lead vocal range is as limited as ever, but he knows what he can get away with, and he stays far, far away from where he doesn't belong.  What more could one ask from a Rock N' Roll band?

The songs here are all top notch.  I shoulda went to this show, cuz they were on the money, man!  We kick off with Coca-Cola and Licorice, complete with some clarinet strangling, and plenty of weird guitar playing.  It's a great song, and only one of many on this two record set.  I don't want to just start listing great songs, because you can just look up the track listing on AllMusic or something.  Savior City, Geisha Girl, Amphetamine - in a just and decent world these would be songs everyone knows.  They're certainly good enough.  It's a real bummer that we live in a world where Rosenberg Summer and Yellow Fever aren't talked about at least as much as what The Pixies have done.  don't think I'm all down on The Pixies or something, because I like them a lot.  If Memory Serves Us Well is just certainly as good as any albums they ever made.

The biggest omission the world is making is not think that Blood Creek is anything short of one of the coolest, best Rock songs ever recorded.  It's one of those songs I can listen to all day.  It's probably a good thing that I haven't got this in a digital form because I'd probably only listen to Blood Creek for a week.  It's just such a great riff, and it closes out four sides of great Rock N' Roll.  If you haven't heard these guys, it's not your fault, but you should really check them out.  If Memory Serves Us Well is a great place to start.

Since I bought mine new, it's obviously in good shape.  The pressing is nice and flat, there's a spot of distortion here and there, but I'm listening with headphones while I write this, and it's mostly dead quiet.  I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory

I haven't decided what record to write about for this post.  But I'm working on it.  The thing I've been thinking about lately is exactly why do some people seem to think that it's important to have an extremely diversified collection of music.  I've heard some people say their tastes are eclectic, just because they have some Iron Maiden albums next to their Can albums and their Herb Alpert albums.  I'm not saying it's impossible to like very different types of music, but I just find it a little more unlikely than the internets would have us believe.  It's part of the whole critical listening process that us people in the collecting community are often so proud of mentioning.

Now, the idea behind critical listening is something I understand.  I realize that essentially it means that I'm making a decision that one piece of art (music's the only art I'm comfortable being critical about) is more worthwhile than another piece of art.  Obviously, other people will agree, while others disagree.  That's pretty much half the fun of interacting with other people that like the kind of art you're interested in.  I've got a nephew (nephew-in-law?) that doesn't collect music in any form.  We were someplace where we were listening to the radio in the background and a Stones song came on and I said, "Cool!  I love this song."

He said, "Yeah, this is pretty good."

I asked, "What kind of music do you like?"

He replies, "Oh, I like all music."

Now to me, this is the worst.  How can you genuinely like all music?  We talked about that a little, but I could tell that it's really just not important to him what music is playing.  We saw a band that played 90's hits, and he danced with his wife to all those songs, and they seemed to like the nostalgic aspect of those songs. Maybe those kinds of songs would be his "favorites," I'm not sure.  I'm not sure because I think he puts equal value to every song he hears.  Now, you can admire that if you want to, but I'm actually very glad I listen to music differently than he does.  I don't think The People on the Bus is as worthwhile to listen to as say, Magic Bus by The Who.  I understand that I'm not a four year old, and I understand that when I was four I thought The People on the Bus was a terrific song.  So is it a worthwhile song?  Yes, for children.  It's like a crayon.  A crayon is great to get a child interested in art, but as that child gets older, hopefully he sees that paint conveys more emotion than a crayon does.

I heard something by Florida Georgia Line the other day.  I did it on purpose, and I have to say, that was a mistake.  It was a mistake because I don't think all music is good.  I think some music is bad.  Listening to Florida Georgia Line was like huffing gasoline, or eating paste, or maybe listening to Rush Limbaugh.  I could feel myself getting dumber just listening to this.  Every second, I felt dumber.  I felt like I was wasting my time.  I'm a musical snob, for sure, but I can see the joys in a stupid song.  I love songs like Wooly Bully and Louie, Louie.  Some songs are just fun.  But some songs are mind numbingly stupid and sound like they've got paid product placements in them.  I mean, there was a time when a corporation wouldn't want anything to do with a song, but now it sounds like Ford, Chevy and Dodge are competing with Budweiser and Miller to get mentioned in some stupid song about looking at a teenage girl's tits.  Ugh.

Which got me to thinking about something that's almost universally loved (at least by people in my general age range), and I came up with Creedence Clearwater Revival.  In particular, Cosmo's Factory.  These guys had like a two year smash of a career.  They completely ruled the singles charts, and their albums were really solid.  The kinds of albums a real Rock Snob could get behind.  It kicks off with Ramble Tamble, which I suppose is kind of just a jam more than a real song, but it's a great way to start an album.  CCR sounds like an American band, and their brand of roots music isn't an act or a facade, these guys know why the guitars need to wail right here, and the drums need to pound right there.  CCR works in Cleveland as well as it works in Baton Rouge. They're the kind of band that just sounds like what we all want Rock N' Roll to sound like, no matter what part of the country we're from.

The thing with CCR is that they were a truly great singles band, and I know a lot of Rock Snobs scoff at that kind of success, but their albums, at least during the time when they were ruling the world, are even better than the singles.  I mean, Cosmo's Factory has five Top 5 singles.  Think about that.  Five Top 5 singles, and this isn't a Greatest Hits package.  Sure, that means you've heard Lookin' Out My Back Door and Up Around the Bend enough that they're burned into your psyche, but How great a world is it when Run through the Jungle is the kind of song that hits number 4?  The argument can certainly be made that it's a better one than we have now.  The thing is, the charts can have bands with good music on their albums, but for some reason we've decided we don't want that anymore.  I dunno.  If all albums were as solid as Cosmo's Factory, maybe I'd just like everything, too.  But all albums aren't even close.

My copy is a late 70's pressing.  I'm sure older pressings have more "bloom" or some other bullshit than mine does, but you can crank it up and hear a little of the passing of the years through my record, but I love the way it sounds, and I love the cool inner sleeve with their catalog on one side and their faces on the other.  It's a nice copy of a great record, by a great band.  There's not a bad second on it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

So have you ever watched videos of people looking at their records?  You may think, "Rick, that sounds really fucking stupid."  You wouldn't be wrong, but what's the difference between someone making a video and showing you some new records they just got, or talking about some records they like and writing about their records in a blog?  Really, not that much when you come to think of it.  I started this project mainly just to make sure I keep writing things, using paragraphs, spelling words and generally not turning into one of those IT guys that can only spell or communicate in acronyms. So before you go giving these people a hard time, remember, they're just having some fun with their stuff and lets also remember that those of us that collect records have had some serious issues in the past:

Guys that collect records are notorious for not having girlfriends or wives.  Many of those that did have ended up choosing records over that life.  C'mon, you've met them so don't look at me like that.

Guys that collect records often have all the social skills of a ten year old with a new toy he doesn't want anyone else to touch.  They also often don't understand why people might not give a shit who Robert Ludwig is.  Or what a matrix number is.  Or any number of the little bits of minutiae that give record geeks a hard on.

Guys that collect records often have serious issues with body odor.  Every record show I've ever been to, some cat smells like he doesn't wipe his ass or bathe, and I'll be damned if that dude isn't always following me or just ahead of me.

So we shouldn't be throwing any stones near our incredibly fragile glass house, ya know?

Anyway, I was down a YouTube rabbit hole watching people show off their newest records and I had a pretty entertaining time of it, actually.  Especially with the kids.  The kids are teenagers or young adults, and it's really pretty cool to see just how excited they get about something like finding a Rolling Stones Let It Bleed album with the poster (and to be truthful I don't have one of those, so I'm a little jealous!).  You just go to YouTube and search on Vinyl Community and there's tons of stuff to sit and watch.  The common thread is that everyone is really into records, and the size of the collection doesn't matter.  You can have thirty or 30,000.  All you have to do is hold up your record and go back to kindergarten and do the whole Show and Tell thing.  I'm often very surprised at how much the kids know about Classic Rock and first pressings, label variations. One girl held up a Columbia Two Eye label and called it exactly that.  I didn't know anything about that kind of stuff until I was in my twenties.  I kind of wish the kids would listen to more new stuff, but maybe that will change as they make more money?  New records are expensive, but then again some of the old stuff they dig up isn't exactly cheap.  But I'm not gonna complain about kids listening to records.  Or showing them off on YouTube.  I think it's pretty cool, and they meet other people that like their records.  So good for them.

All of which has nothing whatsoever to do with the first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album.  I know I said Damn the Torpedoes was his masterpiece, and I stand by that, but man, I'll tell ya, when this came out in 1976 and I first heard it wherever it was I first heard it, I was really excited about these guys.  I mean this is kind of a scattershot album, but I have loved Breakdown since the day I first heard it, and I still love it. I remember my friend's dad that had a real, honest to goodness, badass stereo in his basement had a little Datsun B210.  That's the little car my friend always tried to get, because he had a killer Pioneer under dash stereo cassette and a bunch of Jensen Coaxials wherever he could fit them in.  Man, Breakdown would just shake the paint off that little car when my friend cranked it up!  That used to be a lot of fun!

I think this record got more play than it might have otherwise just because Breakdown and American Girl were just instant favorites for everyone.  I don't think the rest of the record really holds up to the standard set by those two songs, but Strangered in the Night, and Fooled Again (I Don't Like It) were just good enough to garner some airplay and keep the sides on turntables.  I don't think anyone thought Tom Petty would still be selling out anyplace he wants to this far into the game, but it really doesn't seem like that kind of success couldn't have happened to a nicer, harder working guy that knows how hard it is to make it in Rock N' Roll and also appreciates the history of the genre.  I mean, for me the guy gets into a sameness after Damn the Torpedoes that I'm just not interested in, but he was a new Classic Rocker at the time when it was starting to look like there might not be any of those anymore.  So that's pretty cool.

Well, that was a rambling, mostly incoherent little essay, but that's okay.  I tend to look at these like the kind of things I'd say if you were here listening to records with me and you couldn't figure out how to get a word in edgewise.  Not so much different than the YouTube people, is it?  Except I probably take up less of your time!   But back to my record - I've got an MCA Super Saver pressing, but it's really in great shape, and the vinyl is actually pretty heavy, flat and quiet.  If you're looking for this album, you should be able to get one of these for five bucks or less.  I had an earlier pressing long ago, but it had some issues that I think were related to the pressing plant not quite using enough vinyl to stamp the record.  The first song on both sides was really bad!  This one has been a nice replacement, though.  I hope I come across one of the YouTube kids listening to it and enjoying it.