Friday, January 30, 2015

The Reigning Sound - Time Bomb High School

I saw a post on a message board the other day where someone was asking if any really great music had been released in this brave new century.  I'm not sure what exactly they mean by really great, but to me that's music that I'll listen to the rest of my life and I'll feel lucky to have been on the planet when a person could go find that music.  Granted, that's going to be pretty much everything for future generations, but it's getting so hard to find something new to listen to for most people.  Mostly because most people don't want to read about music, talk about music, daydream about music and think about getting home so they can listen to music on their stereo, with a little volume behind it so that it sounds real good and hits them in the gut when it's supposed to.  For the people like me that think about listening to music all day, trying to decide what new records to buy isn't a chore, it's fun.  Buying new music and going home to listen to it is the most fun in the world sometimes.

You don't get that with a download.  I think what you generally get with a download is buyer's remorse.  Like maybe you picked the wrong file to download.  That kind of sucks.  Especially because there really is great new music to find and listen to, but it just isn't out there where we all hear it and even those of us that don't daydream about music all day can ask our music geek friend "who sings that really cool new song?"  That's a shame.

It's a shame because right now I'm listening to what I consider to a great record.  Really though, how many great records are there?  Exile on Main St. and then there's everything else.  In the everything else category there's a lot of things that are more than worth your time, but that's a lot of records to sift through!  I'm really glad I managed to find The Reigning Sound's Time Bomb High School, though.  I'd have loved this album in 1975.  I'd love this album in 2025.  It doesn't matter when something comes out to me when the songs are as good as the songs on here are.  I always hate when I read that The Reigning Sound is some "Garage Rock" band, like they're trying to compete with high school bands of the 60's.  They couldn't be more different.  The Reigning Sound has kind of morphed into Greg Cartwright and whoever he wants to work with, but the band on Time Bomb High School is top notch.  High school kids can't pull off pretty songs like Dressy or I Don't Believe without coming across as schmaltz.  Few bands have the dexterity and skill to keep slow songs interesting enough to make side one of an album pretty much the "Slow Side."  It's usually a good idea to make side one the "Fast Side" if you're so inclined to split the sides up like that.  Then to close the side with a Rolling Stones song like I'd Much Rather Be With the Boys is probably generally considered crazy.  It's an unheralded song from an overlooked and frowned upon album, but The Reigning Sound makes it as good as I think it's ever going to get.

Flip the record over and things speed up a little.  Stormy Weather is a great side opener, with big guitars and great backing vocals. Maybe the songs on this side are pretty much a bunch of three chord rockers, but since when did that become something that shouldn't be celebrated?  My dad used to hate this kind of stuff (or so he said) but the song Time Bomb High School is exactly why they made Rock N' Roll in the first place!  This is the shit, goddammit!  This is why you bought your fucking record player!  Then to get hit in the face with Reptile Style right after?  Holy shit.  If they made a 45 of Time Bomb High School b/w Reptile Style they'd pretty much have made the greatest single ever.

It doesn't let up, it blasts through all the way until the end.  I think it's really something that these guys made a record like this.  this could have easily been my Friday night go to album every weekend in high school.  If I couldn't find a ride or anyone to hang with and it was one of those stuck at home on a Friday nights, side one would have been the greatest thing in the world to listen to while I drowned my sorrows.  If I was waiting for my ride so I could go out and party my ass off, side two would have revved me up like I had a lawnmower pull cord sticking out of my back.  This is just the kind of record that is plugged right in to wherever Chuck Berry and The Stones were plugged into when they made their best music.  It's a shame that everyone doesn't listen to this, because it's a great album.  Not just really good, but I'm writing this almost thirteen years after the release and I'm still as excited to hear it as I was the first time I heard it so long ago.  I'm not kidding.  I absolutely love this record.  Every single song.

I bought this one new, so mine's pretty perfect.  It could be a little quieter in spots, but I really don't have any complaints.  I love the way it sounds, and the songs are just so good I'd probably listen to them over a tin can and string system and still get enough of the Rock N' Roll out of it to make it a favorite of mine.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Cretones - Thin Red Line

I talked about Linda Ronstadt's Mad Love album awhile back (it was pretty brief, use the label column on the right if you want to read it) and I mentioned that on that album Linda did three songs by a pretty unknown band called The Cretones.  Well, I was at My Mind's Eye the other day and I found a promo copy of it for two bucks!  How often do you find an album with three songs that Linda Ronstadt saw fit to include on an album for two bucks?  Not very often is the correct answer.

So The Cretones - Thin Red Line came out in 1980.  So did Linda's Mad Love.  You would think this might be a real boon to The Cretones' career, but I think what happened was that these became Linda Ronstadt songs in the ears of the public, and I think the record labels were suitably impressed enough to let the band record another album, but they were a little late for the flash-in-the-pan that was late 70's Power Pop.  Then again I think everyone besides The Knack managed to miss that boat.  Cretones' guitarist Mark Goldenburg played on Linda's Mad Love and then went on to play with Jackson Browne, and had some hits for other people.  Unfortunately, The Cretones kind of remain a footnote in Rock history.

I suppose being a footnote is what most of my favorite bands end up doing.  I don't get it, to be truthful.  I don't go out of my way to find weird music that no one has heard, but then again I certainly don't go out of my way to buy music I can hear anywhere, anytime.  Sure, I have some super big selling records and have written about some of them here.  I'm always surprised when something that I think is fantastic, the kind of thing I couldn't live without and no one reads that blog entry.  There's not a ton of stuff about The Cretones online (and lord knows someone coming here for solid information is gonna leave sorely disappointed!), so I'll actually be easy to find with a search engine.  No one will see it, though.  Because unfortunately, I seem to listen to things no one else gives a shit about.  Toss in the fact that I'm a lousy writer and it's a double whammy of shitty writing and obscure music.  In 1500 years someone will look back and say, "Hey this guy and the music he liked was brilliant!" but for now, well I think it's more likely that in 1500 years this stuff will all have just been forgotten and overlooked for 1500 years, perched on the precipice of remaining forgotten for another 1500 years.  I mean, I'm barely a footnote of the blogging world, and I'm doing my best be be less relevant every day!

I'm going to sit and listen to my Cretones album again anyway.  When I listen to them, I think about the things I really loved in 1979 and 1980, like The Doors, Bowie, Sex Pistols and The Tubes.  The Cretones really don't fit in that group.  I still loved Yes and The Cretones don't fit in with them, either.  I think they fit in with my love of things like Artful Dodger, though.  The keyboards sound pretty dated these days, but I guess back then they sounded really new.  The guitar sound is generally good, like on Everybody's Mad at Katherine, but there's still some kind of weenie-ish keyboards in there.  I'm good with it, though.  It's there, and it's not going away and I like the song anyway.  It's mid January and there's plenty of grey skies and snow here and while I listen to this the first thing I think is that I'd like to go drive around on a sunny day with the windows down.  That's pretty cool.

Linda Ronstadt must have really like the end of side one and beginning of side two, though.  That's the run on the album of Justine, Mad Love and Cost of Love.  Those are the three songs she put on Mad Love, and I see what she liked about them.  She really didn't change much, and The Cretones don't sound like amateurs or like they did this on a shoestring budget.  Linda used a crack band (as usual) and while they aren't the whole difference, Linda liked these songs, and it shows.  She's ten times the singer Mark Goldenburg is (pretty astute of me, eh?) and here on The Cretones Thin Red Line these songs just lack a little of the punch Linda was able to get out of them.  Then again, Linda uses Rosemary Butler for backing vocals, and that takes real confidence.  The Cretones versions of these songs are really good, though.  They're the best three songs on the album, but the thing is, the rest of the album is good.  So I'm conflicted as to whether Linda ends up ultimately helping or hurting The Cretones.  Could these songs have pushed through without Linda?  It's hard to say.

I think a song like Thin Red Line would have done pretty well on a college station that was playing new music but not concerned with pushing the envelope.  We have one of those around here, and I like them now and then.  Everything doesn't have to be so out there different and shock me, or sound like nothing I've ever heard before.  I've got room in my record collection for craftsmen, and that's what The Cretones were.  Maybe they weren't Rock Stars, but they were good at writing catchy songs that made Saturday afternoon a little better.

Now, the thing that most sets The Cretones apart is the song Hey Mrs. Peel.  My dad got me to start watching The Avengers, and I am a huge fan of Diana Rigg in general and Mrs. Emma Peel in particular.  So anyone else here in the good old USA that liked that show is automatically Okay By Me.  Once again, we're looking at a good song.  A great subject, but how do you write about Mrs. Peel without either creeping or being a geeky fanboy?  You have to do it like The Cretones did.  With a little panache.

Thin Red Line is a good album.  It's not some undiscovered unique take on Rock N' Roll that is going to change your life.  If you find it in a used bin for two bucks, you should get it, though.  Because it's good and you should have room for good records.  Mine is a promo copy; the cover is a little bent in spots but the record looks and sounds like it was hardly played, if at all.  I won't look for a better copy, but I also won't be getting rid of this one anytime soon, either.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Roxy Music - Manifesto

I realize that it seems to be the consensus that this is not a good Roxy Music album.  I totally disagree with that.  I think this is a terrific Roxy album, and I always have.  Maybe because they hadn't really released a new album since I started liking them.  maybe because my first Roxy album was Viva! and it had been three years since they released a new record, which back in the 70's made you wonder if maybe they hadn't just broken up.  So when this came out, I was excited and I bought it before I ever heard a single song.

I know that it's popular today to call that "blind buying," but man, that's just a stupid way to look at buying records if you ask me.  I knew who they were, and I had liked every record they had made so far, and I was sure that this one wouldn't be any different.  I mean no different in my appeal, but I knew it would push their sound to another direction (fortunately for me, it wasn't Avalon, which is a real snoozer).  I remember putting this on my turntable and loving how the sides were split up as East Side and West Side, instead of Side One and Side Two.  I mean, how artistic of them!

The sparse, slow opening to Manifesto that just slowly adds instruments to the slow, funky jam hooked me immediately.  This was the kind of stuff my friends that complained I listened to too much "harder, faster" could mellow out to, and I wouldn't fall asleep.  It's interesting to me that the opening song of the side, and the closing song, Stronger Through the Years, both have a slow, jammy instrumental feel to them.  Brian Ferry certainly has plenty to sing in both of them, but I just loved the fact that it seemed like the side opened and closed with extended instrumental parts.  They're actually shorter parts than I remember, but then a record is only twenty minutes a side or so!

I think Angel Eyes was a single in the US, and I think that they used a different version on the cd releases.  I like the record much better.  I think Trash is a suitably punkish bit of weirdness and I can remember playing this side while I got dressed in the morning before school.  At least i was getting dressed to get ready to go somewhere.  I think in 1979 we had something like 186 school days and I missed over 150.  I didn't like going there.  I had better things to do.  this caused me to eventually have to go back after my friends all left, but I had a job anyway and that was a big chunk of my school that last year.  Plus, I met my wife then, so things worked out really well for me (my undying gratitude goes out to Ron Schuff and Tom Madzy for seeing past my teenaged assholiness and finding a way for me to get a diploma).  What a great side, though!  I think back then for awhile I even wanted to live on the East Side of Cleveland because I thought it would be cooler than the West Side (wrong!).

The West Side of the album is a little more danceable, and I can remember that I used to have a portable radio/cassette player and I taped this record and played it on that little boombox in the first car my wife and I owned.  There wasn't a radio in it, and I bought it from a friend for 75 bucks out of two paychecks.  It was a real piece of shit 1970 Torino, but it had a 351 Cleveland and a Posi rear end and would just light 'em up if I wanted it to.  We'd put the radio in the back seat and blast Ain't That So (which was kind of like the songs on the East Side), and I know my wife really liked Dance Away, which was a real, blatant attempt at American Top 40, but I don't think it really made it that far up the charts.  In fact, outside of me playing my cassette or the record at home, I hardly remember hearing this album at all.  I played it a lot though, and I'll bet that my friends think it was a bigger hit that it was because I played it so much!

We used to play softball every weekend.  We'd have total coed games, and no one ever kept score.  We'd get a keg or just cases and cases of beer and go out and play for hours.  A lot of the people actually were on "serious" softball teams and played in leagues, but Sunday's were for fun.  I remember people liked my little boombox, a Panasonic mono thing with like an eight inch woofer and a one in tweeter on it.  You could heat that thing all over the field, and the batteries lasted forever in it.  It just worked better than those big, bulky things that were icons of break dancers of the late 70's, early 80's.  That big woofer just whomped out the sound!  I think I probably played this pretty constantly from 1979 right through about 1982.  It was just the kind of record I could listen to all the time, and listening to it now reminds me that I should probably play it a little more often.

I've had mine since 1979, so it's made a few moves, but I think it always got played at least on my old Dual so it seems to be in pretty great shape.  Maybe partly because of that old cassette?  I don't know, it's in real good shape though.  Nice and flat and plays nice and quiet.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dr. Feelgood - Down by the Jetty

So a recent post on one of Crabby's blogs got me thinking I should say something about Dr. Feelgood's first album.  I suppose I have albums that there's no way I could really live without, and i think I'd put Down by the Jetty up there with any of my absolute favorites.  This came out in 1975, so I was thirteen.  My friend Dave's sister is the one that owned this, I think.  I can't see where Dave or I could have possibly heard of Dr. Feelgood back then.  I'm sure she had this, played it and we just lost it over this.  I can remember that Dave and his sister lived in a house where the upstairs was sort of an attic, but they were all finished in that neighborhood, and Dave's sister had the part over the garage and kitchen, and Dave had the part over the bedrooms and living room.  I think we had to go through the house to get in to Dave's room, but his sister could use those steps, or she could access her room through the garage steps, too.  So I think she chose that section of the attic because while it was smaller, it was easy to get in and out unnoticed any hour of the day.

I can remember sitting up in Dave's room smoking Kool's and listening to Dr. Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods and thinking we were just about the coolest kids on the face of the earth.  It felt like we were the only ones that knew how great Wilko Johnson was, and I can remember some weird teenage game where we talked shit and acted like this guy that had no idea who The Big Figure was had to be some kind of loser square (in case you're a loser square, The Big Figure is Dr. Feelgood's drummer).  Man, that's mostly embarrassing to think about how we could act, but I think talking shit you don't really know about is part of growing up.  Well, it is if you're an asshole like me, anyway.

So Down by the Jetty kicks off with this brutal guitar track called She Does It Right, and it really took me a few years to understand that Wilko Johnson could make it sound like he was playing rhythm and lead guitar at the same time.  I wish I could have seen a video of them back then.  I've seen some on YouTube that show Wilko and John Sparks, the bass player, flanking singer Lee Brilleaux on either side, pacing back and forth to the rhythm of the song in a menacing fashion, while Brilleaux sings and plays harp in a suit that looks like he's on a three day bender that's resulted in more than one bad decision,maybe some fights, and at least one night sleeping outside.  On the cover they look like they could be in Cleveland up by the lake in late fall. It looks cold and windy and it doesn't look like they come from a pretty place, even though they have the water right there.  Maybe that's part of their appeal to me; they look like they come from a place where I fit in.

You might think this kind of revved up blues really wouldn't be the kind of thing a thirteen year old would like, but man, I still can't get enough of Wilko's guitar sound on songs like Roxette or Keep It Out of Sight.  It's just really aggressive, and I was never a really aggressive person or anything, but this was the kind of music I could see my mom liking, if it wasn't so aggressive.  So I think Dr. Feelgood was one of the first bands that I had wanted to play for her so that I could see her not really like it, but maybe not quite know why (I was a real smartass and shocking mom was always okay by me back then).  The thing is, I never owned a copy of this.

I don't think I ever owned it until the mid 90's, maybe even early 2000's.  I found it on cd and if that's how you find this, then buy it.  It's an excellent sounding cd and it's every bit as great as it ever was.  It's in mono but that just seems to add to the menace.  I know right when I got it that I was really excited and hoped I'd think it was half as good as I remembered when I thought back to Dave's old room.  I think Cheque Book might have even made it onto this cassette tape we made once.  it was called Rick and Dave's Raving Faves.  We used his sister's cassette deck because she had a real stereo.  Probably something like Pioneer or Akai back then, and we probably should have found an 8 track recorder because we didn't know anyone with a cassette deck until we were sixteen and I installed a Pioneer Super Tuner underdash FM/cassette player in my friend's first car.  I don't know how that fell to me.  I don't know much about cars, but I bought stereo magazines and wanted a nice stereo real bad, so I guess I probably said, "How hard could it be?"  I know it took all day, but it actually looked pretty good!

Dave and I talked about that tape last year when I saw him.  He said it's possible that he still has it in a box in his attic or maybe even at his sister's.  I'd love to see what songs we had on there!  I know we thought that if we could play that over the air that we'd be the biggest radio station in the world.  But ya know what?  I still think Dr. Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods are truly great bands.  I think they're why I was so ready for Punk when that hit and a teenager in Cleveland, Ohio might be able to hear them.  I think Dr. Feelgood did a whole lot to shape how I listen to music and how I try to find music.  I thought that the kids that were just happy with Elton John or their brother's Beatles records were just working on finding their way to their own music, and I didn't realize for a long, long time that most people aren't going to put any effort into finding anything other than the most popular music.  Hey, I know that if you're actually reading this blog, then that's not you (in fact, you're really on the outskirts of things if you're reading this - you've possibly just given up!), you obviously dig around hard to find something new.  I applaud you for that, and I hope you buy records because you like the cover or someone told you they thought you'd  like it for whatever reason, be it because they think you listen to weird music or they listen to weird music and think you should join them.

I'm really getting off track here.  Down by the Jetty was reissued on vinyl last year, so I got one of those.  It's a very basic package, just like the original.  No download card, no lyric sheet.  The record could be a little quieter but it's still fine.  In fact, if you want the best sound on this, you probably should look for the cd.  The thing is, you don't need the best sound here.  Wilko's guitar cuts through.  Brilleaux's decadence rises to the top and The Big Figure and John Sparks hold this all down like seasoned pro's.  Down by the Jetty is truly one of my favorite albums.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wussy - Left for Dead

I generally seem to have a New Favorite Band all the time.  The Stones are just my favorite band, but I have other people come in and out and as Mick Jagger put it, "steal my heart away," at least for a few months at a time.  There's a bunch of them and some of them are still active today, and others are now defunct.  These bands give me every bit as much pleasure and enjoyment as Bowie, Steely Dan or The Yardbirds, it's just that hardly anyone ever bothers to check them out.  I could go on a rant about radio consolidation (someone disagreed with me on the state of music/radio and said it was shitty music, not smaller playlists and only playing the same old hits that killed that goose), but I'm not gonna get on about that.  I'm just going to talk about my current New Favorite Band, Wussy.

First off, ya know what's cool? Wussy is from Ohio. There are a stunning amount of great musicians and bands in this state, I'll tell ya.  We may have some lousy sports teams, but you never lose with good music, and we have that in spades.  Wussy is from the other end of the state, down in Cincinnati and while I'm not thrilled with a lot of the southern part of my state for the most part, they hold up their end of the musical deal really well.  I'll talk about some other bands I love from around there eventually, but for today, let's talk about how I started listening to Wussy.

Over at Rock Town Hall there's plenty of people that don't just lament that guys like Roger Daltrey or David Gilmour are old enough to be retired if they hadn't already not lived a life of leisure.  The average Townsperson (what someone who participates there becomes) is well versed in the Classic Rock canon, the Punk/New Wave movement and most manage to continue to give a shit about what they can hear today from people they've never heard before.  We don't always see that in internet forums these days, and that's why I like that blog.  Anyway, one of the Townspeople that goes by Oats has mentioned Wussy a few times, and people have linked to Robert Christgau wearing a Wussy T shirt.  Christgau has pretty uniformly loved all of Wussy's albums but even with a Townsperson and "The Dean of Rock (or whatever Christgau calls himself)" telling me that I need to check out Wussy, I pretty much figured I have a long enough wish list of things and besides, I can be funny about how I get around to listening to the recommendations of others.

I don't know why, but sometimes people will tell me to check something out, and I just won't.  I go about finding music the ways I usually do, or I ignore one person and listen to another.  I think maybe sometimes I may check something out that wasn't a specific recommendation, and if I'm not head over heels in love with it, I kind of hedge my bets.  I'm not saying that's what happened here.  I think Oats has generally pretty compatible tastes with me in a lot of areas, so I'd take his suggestions pretty readily.  We disagree on some stuff, but I think it's more he doesn't like some of the noisier racket I like instead of me not liking things he likes.  So why didn't I check out Wussy?

Maybe because I hate their name.  Maybe I thought Chuck Cleaver didn't look Rock N' Roll enough?  I don't know.  Like I said, sometimes I'm just funny about how I decide what new things I'm going to listen to.I can be like a toddler, I guess.  what I mean is if you've ever known a two year old, then you've heard, "No!  I do it myself!"  I suppose I should work on that.

I first saw Left for Dead at Music Saves after a Record Store Day.  They had a few of them left over.  The album cover is a robin's egg blue, and the artwork just looks kind of girly to me.  Now, girly is fine with me, because there's a woman in the band and why shouldn't they recognize that?  I like a lot of women musicians, but there are some that just don't resonate with me, like Kate Bush or Sarah McLachlan.  There's people that I think have otherwise good taste in music that can get all caught up in that stuff, and with the cover of this album looking the way it does, I was leery.  Sure, you can ask "Why don't you just YouTube them?"  I don't because I just don't want to, that's why.  So after a month or two past Record Store Day I'm noticing that the copies of Left for Dead have dwindled to exactly one.  So if I want it on vinyl, I'm thinking it's time to get it or forget it.  So I bought it.

When I got home and put it on, by the end of Killer Trees, I'm kicking myself for not having done this at least a year or two ago.  These guys are right up my alley, the kind of thing i can listen to all day.  When they're slow, like on the Chuck Cleaver opener Trail of Sadness, it takes me some time to appreciate it.  I'm totally okay with that, because usually if I love a song right off the bat, I end up getting tired of it.  When I need to spend time with something before it really clicks with me is when that song really gets under my skin.  Most of Chuck's slow songs are like that to me, so he must really be doing something right.  Trail of Sadness really lives up to its title, too.  It's a really sad song and reminds me of a friend from a long time ago.

The whole thing isn't just a downer, though.  I mean, Wussy can get pretty melancholy and really doesn't trade in happiness and bubblegum for the most part, but they aren't a bunch of depressing hacks, either.  It takes until the second side, on Sun Giant Says Hey for a "stupid happy song" (as Jawbreaker might have put it).  This song has everything that Wussy does well in it, though.  Distorted guitars, Chuck Cleaver's wobbly voice and Lisa Walker's voice an unlikely seeming, but perfect sounding counterpoint.  I'll tell ya, if you want to get me to like something, have two singers each singing something different at the same time.  It confuses me, but I just think it's a great trick that always works on me.

This isn't just the Chuck Cleaver show.  Lisa Walker actually probably sings more of the songs than Chuck on this record, and man, did she bring her "A" game.  Rigor Mortis is great, and Lisa's phrasing is really cool.  Jonah is a pretty great song about a couple "getting to know each other, in the back seat of your van" and I'm not sure if it's autobiographical or not, but it's the kind of memory that anyone should be able to share.  My favorite two songs are Killer Trees and Melody Ranch.  Both are a little more uptempo, with plenty of distorted guitars and weird lyrics by Lisa.  I think when I got this album I played it every day for a month.

So, my record is in great shape as I bought it new.  It's on baby blue vinyl and the record goes really nicely with the cover.  Not everyone thinks of things like that, ya know?  So often you get something like an orange album cover with a dark blue and yellow splatter vinyl, like they just said, "whatever color, just make it a color other than black."  I like when people think about the whole thing.  Mine would be even nicer if I hadn't dropped the cover when I was cleaning it in the kitchen and crumpled a corner.  Oh well, it's still a really great record!