Monday, October 27, 2014

Andy Pratt - Andy Pratt

I was at work today talking with a guy that I work with who's getting pretty close to 70.  I don't know why he's still working, but I think he really enjoys what he does and he's good at it, so why not keep at it?  Part of me thinks he should step aside and let someone else who deserves it have his spot, but I don't spend much time thinking about it.  We actually have a lot to talk about because he still listens to a lot of Rock N' Roll, and I know pretty much all the bands he likes and he's still interested in new bands, to some extent. So it was a pretty pleasant morning at work.

One of the things we talked about was how scattered new music is today.  He calls it all "Indie," because to him that's pretty much everything that isn't some old Classic Rocker putting out a "pretty good for a dude in his 70's" kind of album.  I was trying to gauge what slightly more obscure things we might have in common and I mentioned Andy Pratt.   I was kind of surprised that he said he'd never heard of him.  He's the kind of guy that has plenty of solo Jon Lord things and oddball things like that, so I thought that he might have heard of Pratt, since he had an AOR kind of hit from this first self-titled album called Avenging Annie.  He especially likes those keyboard and piano heavy things, so I figured there was no way he hadn't heard this record, but I might as well have asked him to name the song by The Clash that we heard at lunch after a crappy Foreigner tune he recognized (and rightfully called shit).

I think Avenging Annie is one of the first times that I found out that not everyone liked what I did.  Or at least didn't fall in love with the songs I did.  I think the last time I was surprised that I had it all wrong on the popularity of something was when I took a friend to see The Dirtbombs.  I bought tickets ahead of time because they were playing a really small place.  I thought it would sell out instantly, but there were less than 100 people there.  So my friend not knowing about Andy Pratt just reminded me that when I talk about music I really need to pay attention to my audience, but like I said, I didn't think Pratt was that far underground.  I probably bought this when I was fifteen or so, so I think I was probably okay to think that he might have heard something by a guy that almost charted a song.

Which led to a brief conversation about this record and then we talked about listening to records with other people.  He agreed with me that people just seem to pretty much listen to music all by themselves these days.  I think there's merits to that, in that a lot of younger people don't seem to give a shit what anyone else likes, because if they want to listen to Iron Maiden and Katy Perry in the same playlist, it doesn't bother anyone else, and it's more like reading a book.  No one cares if you're reading Steinbeck or Nora Roberts.  Because you're not bothering anyone anyway.  But you also don't really get to meet people and get to share your knowledge with theirs.  Sure, that can lead to some group thinking snobbery, but so what?  That's the best kind of snobbery and group think.  It's certainly better than starting a new war for some bullshit thinly veiled reason that's hiding the fact that the people starting the wars are getting rich while poor people's kids get killed.

Which is way off track.  We were talking about how we'd get together with people specifically to sit and listen to some music.  Maybe four people and everyone would bring a record.  He used to have a thing you could plug four sets of headphones into, so if he was working nights his friends could hang in the apartment and not disturb the neighbors.  If you've never done that, you have no idea what you missed out on.  That was really pretty cool.  We did it mostly in the school library, but I did that in a friend's house too.  People didn't just stick one ear bud in their ear and share the other one with a friend.  I mean, what the hell is that?  Why bother?  That's like I watch the first half of a show and you watch the second half and we say we watched it together.  It's a lot of fun to hang with friends and just play a couple of records.

Andy Pratt wasn't the kind of thing I played with most of my friends because they had no idea who he was, but they would recognize Avenging Annie because if we were driving around I'd usually say, "Hey, cool song. Crank it."  The rest of the record is a kind of oddball, sort of folky, sort of depressing kind of thing.  But it's not like the guy's Gilbert O'Sullivan or anything like that.  I think he may be a little too clever sometimes, and his falsetto can be a little dated these days, but at least Pratt is differentWho Am I Talking To is pretty catchy and not as depressing as Inside Me Wants Out, which is lyrically as messed up as you would expect.  It's kind of a heart on the sleeve affair, and it's definitely a product of the 70's.  It's the kind of record no one would make today, because there's no reason for ProTools or massive drums.  I think maybe I think it's kind of like more highbrow Elton John.  Or like maybe is Elton had used Frank Zappa as a producer.

Sittin' Down in the Twilight is what I'm thinking of there.  Sounds like a big trombone blasting away and some funky piano and super high vocals.  It's pretty cool.  It's completely dated at this point and I don't know if someone new to the game could really appreciate it.  Especially since that song is followed by a dirge about hunting a deer.  Or getting married.  It's about something.  Probably how everything ties together.  Lot's of acoustic guitar fingerpicking and deep, slow, "Oooh, ooooh, ooooh" backing vocals.  Yawn.  A really bad way to end a pretty good record.

Mine's in great shape.  I hardly ever play it.  Probably because the last song is such a drag.  It sucks all the energy you were feeling right out of you!  The record itself is nice and flat.  I think I probably had my first Dual when I got this and it didn't get ruined by my junky BSR.  Which, lets face it, if I had changed the stylus more often, the BSR would have just been a noisy turntable.  Some things you just have to learn.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Artful Dodger - Artful Dodger

I have mentioned the occupation of Music Critic here before, and I think you may get the idea that I have kind of a love/hate thing going there.  I suppose that would be accurate.  I really like some of them, and I really wanted to be one for a bit, but it must suck to wake up and have to listen to ten new records every day, so no wonder half the time they like stuff that sucks.  They can't all be Lester Bangs, and even Lester liked some really shitty records.  There's got to be some kind of filters for me though, and I still prefer to read about music and then buy it than to just listen to it and then buy it.  I do both (and I also buy records just because I like the cover), but reading a review is still my favorite way.

The first record I ever bought that way was Artful Dodger's first album.  There's a freebie rag in Cleveland called The Scene, and while there have been others, The Scene has been around since I was in elementary school.  It's not anywhere near as cool as I thought it used to be, but it does a pretty good job of keeping up with the arts and local politics from a slightly left (uhh...Rock N' Roll maybe) kind of perspective.  So I still grab them, but I don't think it's the be all and end all of coolness I thought it was when I was 13.  What I'm slowly getting at is that there was a guy named Mark Kmetzko and he wrote a review of the first Artful Dodger album.  I think Mark eventually became the senior editor or something like that at Scene, and that's cool but he was still just a guy writing record reviews so far as I know when he wrote his little 250 word review of just another band's first album.  This came out in the fall of 1975 (I had to look) and that should put me pretty firmly into something like seventh grade.  I read Kmetzko's review and I hadn't heard a single second of their music, but I went out and bought their first album immediately.

Now, I bought it immediately because I had the money right then and there and he said this was a really fantastic record.  I didn't know him from Adam, but it was important to me to use some kind of filter, like a reviewer to help guide me to buying better records than my friends did.  So I bought this.  Little did I know that it would become pretty much Cleveland's favorite album ever.  I'm not kidding.  People from here that are my age think this is about the greatest thing that EVER happened.  I'm included in that group and I have no reservations about being a big Artful Dodger fan.  Mark Kmetzko was right on the money here, and I think for years if he didn't show great enthusiasm for something, then I probably just ignored it.  Because Mark really got it right for me  on this one, and I knew then that I could count on other people to steer me right.  That opinion changed shortly thereafter, but I learned quickly what kinds of music Mark and I agreed on, and his reviews pretty much turned into gold in my pocket.  It didn't matter if he liked something or not.  He was consistent and I could use his opinion as a tool, and I wish that today I still had a guy like that I could turn to.

Now, in 1975 I was a swimmer first, and a kid that wanted to just sit and listen to records second.  Swimming was definitely number one back then whether I  liked it or not.  The one thing about swimming is that practice consists of going back and forth all night long, and man can you get songs stuck in your head perfectly when you do that.  I'd hate waterproof music devices.  It's just better to do it yourself.  I don't know how many records I owned in 1975, but it wasn't that many, so  believe me when I tell you that every song on this record was gold to me (they still are).  Even songs like Waiting Place (which kind of fades in after Think Think).  If you ask me I'll tell you that there isn't even a wrong note on this record.  I mean, it's about as perfect as it gets.  I remember one time my dad was driving us to swimming practice and It's Over came on the radio.  One of the coolest things about that song is the sound that Steve Cooper got on his bass.  He had a sound that still seems kind of acoustic to me, but it's got an electric feel that makes it seem like he's always got it really under control. Billy Paliselli sounded a little like Rod Stewart, but I didn't care.  I thought it was hard to tell a solo Rod Stewart song from a Faces song back then, but I didn't have any trouble telling Artful Dodger apart from anyone.  I'm wandering here - getting back to dad - he kept pissing me off because I wanted to hear It's Over on the radio in the car on the way to practice and really feel it so that I could take it with me in my head to the pool, and dad kept saying, "Did he say it's over, she's breaking my ORT?"

It didn't matter how much I tried to reason with him that it was "heart and certainly not ORT, because that's just stupid."  Dad just kept it up and it messed up the whole thing for me.  I probably still managed to play that song in my head up and down the pool, but I still remember just how frustrated I was with the old man for blabbing during my song.  It's weird how I remember something like a car ride to the YMCA for swimming practice.  I'm sure we did it hundreds of times.  Looking back, Paliselli really does sing "ORT" and not "heart," but that's Rock N' Roll, ya know?

For years the only way to get this was on vinyl.  If you had heard it back in Cleveland in 75 you'd have thought these guys were about as big as anyone, but as soon as you left the WMMS and M105 reaches, you didn't hear Artful Dodger at all.  Which is a shame, because songs like Wayside, It's Over and Think, Think are just the kinds of songs that could have made the charts and still maintained their cool to be played on the cooler Rock stations.    The love of Clevelanders managed to get this pressed on CD by Sony for a short time.  I just happened to walk into a store I never shopped at and just noticed the first album on CD.  When I bought it, the guy said he ordered ten of them and mine was the last one and he had sold them all in two days and already couldn't get anymore.  Mine's got some weird defect that looks strange but doesn't affect the play at all.  So I've got the CD and the record.  The record has a textured cover that's flat and not glossy, and you can tell Sony didn't have the original art and copied a vinyl cover and shrunk it down.  Between the texture and the crappy copy you can't read anything on the cover.  But just the fact that it exists at all makes a lot of people really happy.

My record is in great shape and I probably bought a new one after high school.  I think there's a click or two on side two, but it's a record and shit like that happens.  If you ever come across one of these, it's kind of considered and under the radar Power Pop classic these days.  I don't know why they call it Power Pop (I hate that term) because we just called it Rock N' Roll back then, but whatever you want to call it, this first Artful Dodger album is a terrific record.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Grand Funk - Caught in the Act

Sorry I haven't  been around in awhile, but I've been busy and then when I haven't for some reason this has felt a little like work.  Which is weird, but its had me thinking about some things like music and work and work and music together.  Which you might think I'd be like, "music and work are awesome!" I don't exactly think that, though.  I mean, I like that I'm generally able to listen to music at work, but I don't have music as my job.

There was a time when I thought music would be my job.  I figured I'd be a DJ on the radio, or a music critic.  I really thought those might have been the greatest jobs that ever existed, but I slowly started thinking that there was no way I'd ever want to do either.  I think there were a couple of things around the time I was about 16 that changed my mind.  First was Steely Dan's song, FM (No Static at All).  The line where Donald Fagen sings, Nothing but booze and Elvis and somebody else's favorite songs really went a long way in making me think that a DJ can't possibly love music the way I do.  I don't want to listen to someone else's favorite songs.  Sorry, but you guys really have shitty taste in music.  I suppose I don't really mean that, but can you imagine how utterly detached you must be to sit around and play the same shitty songs over and over all day, every day?  And pretend that you actually like that song by Styx?  Fuck that.  I would hate to make it so that the music I love became actual work.  I told a guy on a message board that was a DJ that he couldn't possibly like music anymore, since he had to play crap like Nickelback and whatever other rock is supposed to pass for "hard" these days (don't the guitars all sound shitty?  Like Grunge tone with the attitude taken out).  He was pissed, but I stand by it.  No way you can be a DJ on a commercial station these days and still love music.  I can't imagine even kind of liking the job, since they want you to essentially shut up and get to commercials.

I remember the local college station used to occasionally use regular citizens (mostly alumni, but not necessarily) to do some shows in the summer.  I was friendly with a few of them, and had conversations about maybe doing a summer show.  I was mostly interested because I wanted to do a Rolling Stones 24 hour marathon show, which would have been pure badassery, believe me!  The thing is, I found out that my other shows would have to follow their playlist.  Now the playlist was pretty good at the time, and there was certainly a lot of leeway, but this wasn't like some college stations where it's pure free form.  They said you actually had to take and play requests once in awhile, and I thought that was just bullshit.  I thought of calling my show The No Request Show as a way to get around it, and then I'd take the calls on the air and it would be like, "Hey man, can you play The Cure?"  and I'd say, "Sure!  Here ya go, all cued up and ready just for you!"  Then I'd play some geezer music like Bob Seger or The Gates of Delirium by Yes.  I wanted people to ask for Led Zeppelin so I could really piss them off and play something like Carole King instead.  I never really followed up on that, though.  I went on the air on a couple of marathons and brought some cool bootlegs to make the show a little better, but I just didn't want to be told what to play, or even have a plan.

Music critic was a bigger letdown.  I didn't know that I was one of the only people that paid attention to who actually wrote the reviews.  I mean, someone that pans a band I really like can be useful to me if I know that they just don't like certain things I like.  So I always thought everyone paid attention to those things.  Maybe people just indulged me for years and let me prattle on about music just to be nice.  But I eventually figured out that getting free records meant you actually had to listen to some of that crap and say what you thought of it.  I would have had so many reviews that just said, "Yuck" that they'd have quit sending me records and I'd have lost my awesome gig at Rolling Stone in two months.  So I don't want this thing to ever feel like work.  Which means I may listen to things by the same bands sometimes.

Besides, I like a lot of stuff like Grand Funk.  I'm so uncool I even think Craig Frost really added a lot to their sound, so if you were listening to my radio show back then, you'd have very likely heard the live version of Inside Looking Out or Black Licorice from the live Caught in the Act album right alongside Radio Clash and I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea.  Because that's what I like.  I don't care that most Grand Funk fans think Elvis Costello blows.  I think it goes the other way, too.  So my radio show would have pretty much only worked for an audience of one, ya know?

Man, I'll tell ya though, I think this Grand Funk album is just fantastic.  Yeah, it's big 70's bloat rock, but it's so good!  Mark Farner and Don Brewer have great voices for this kind of music, and like BTO when they need a shot of Shit Hell, they can just let Don sing a song like We're an American Band and it's time to party!  It's like when CF Turner sings Let It Ride.  Two hours of that would be too much, but Grand Funk plays to their strengths and maybe it's the Midwesterner in me, but I love it.  I especially love side 3 where they play three songs in a row off the We're An American Band album and they just bring the house down.  They really do help you party it down.

I remember a friend back in my late 20's that said he was going to get a Grand Funk album and he wasn't sure which to get and I told him to get this one.  He came in to work the next Monday and just raved about it.  I had been listening to it since I was a kid, and he was just like, "who did you know that turned you on to this stuff when you were a teenager?"  I just said that I thought this was what teenagers listened to, and this was just good enough to stick.  He really liked Shinin' On and Gimme Shelter.  I told him Gimme Shelter was a good Stones cover, but that he really needed to hear Johnny Winter And do Jumpin' Jack Flash.  I don' t know if he ever did.  He got Jesus and married some girl that was deeply religious.  He was pretty lonely and I heard he had a garage sale and sold all his records and cd's because she only likes religious music, and at that pretty much only in church.  Bummer.

Anyway, obviously I didn't spend too much time talking about my record, here.  Suffice to say that it's pretty kick ass, but there are two things I'd have changed.  Drum solo - I'd have edited the hell out of it.  They just aren't that cool, ya know?  And what is up with side one going into side two?  Why does Closer to Home fade out, then you flip the record over and it fades up for a few seconds and then goes in to Heartbreaker.  Which by they way, isn't Heartbreaker just too fucking cool?  I saw these guys once, and believe me, that one brought the house down.  It's just everything big 70's Rawk should be. Anyway, the intro is twenty fucking minutes long, so they could have cut some of that and done a better job with the songs.  I think that as far as the 1970's double live album goes though, this is definitely one of the best.  It's what concerts really used to be like, and they were fun.

I think I've got an early pressing.  It just says Grand Funk on the cover instead of Grand Funk Railroad.  The records are cool and have neato custom labels and they're pretty quiet and play nicely.  I don't know if any versions of this would actually be collectible because if the generations that have followed us find out about music by reading the music critics that I never could have been (partly because my reviews are awful, which is why I write about other stuff more) all seem to have hated Grand Funk.  Let it be known here and now though, that these guys were HUGE and deserved  being huge.