Thursday, December 29, 2011

Producers and their shelf-life: Brian Wilson, Jimmy Miller, Producers in General and more thoughts about SMILE vs. Smiley Smile…………

Years ago, when I was in high school, I used to love hanging out at the library in my school since they had a super cool book in the stacks. It was called “Making Music” and it was edited by Beatles producer George Martin. Here’s a picture:
Nowadays it would be a great description of how things used to work. For me at the time it was a window into better understanding how the music I loved came into being. Fact was, since the book was in the reference section of the library they wouldn’t lend it out so I HAD to read it in the library. Anyone who really knows me won’t be too surprised by this admission of supergeek behavior. It would be a few years before I got anywhere near a real recording studio, but the credits on the albums I listened to had me wondering what the roles of the various people were – engineer, producer…..what did it all mean? More fascinating information came in the form of The Beatles Recording Sessions book which appeared in my freshman year of college (and, yeah, I spent plenty of time sitting in my dorm reading that thing too!).

Both of those books helped me to understand a little better what a Producer does, so I started paying more attention to how records sounded and who was listed as the producer in the credits. It was especially interesting to me when a particular group changed producers – more often than not, the same group of musicians could sound really different when working with a new producer at the helm. Ever hear any of Aretha Franklin’s sides when she was recording for Columbia in the early 60s? Pretty flat-sounding stuff. She wouldn’t really become ARETHA FRANKLIN until she jumped ship to Atlantic Records with Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd at the helm. The Atlantic team really knew what to do with her – how to present her best artistically and commercially.

 I had originally wanted to write an entry extolling the virtues of the great record producer of the 60s and 70s, Jimmy Miller. I was listening to a record he produced that was knocking me out yet again, but I realized his name probably just didn’t mean much anymore to the general public today – certainly not helped by the fact that he passed away awhile ago. Also not helped by the fact that his last significant productions happened back in the 1970s. But what glorious productions they were! When The Rolling Stones reissued “Exile on Main Street” last year to general fanfare, hoopla and media bombardment I kept thinking about the contributions Jimmy Miller made even beyond the control booth. How many people know that it was Miller, not Charlie Watts, who played the drums on “Tumbling Dice”? Yeah? Yeah! Actually – Exile was near the end of the golden era for Mr. Jimmy (immortalized in the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – yeah? YEAH!). The main thing I wanted to mention in a public place was how, in my view, Jimmy Miller damn near SINGLEHANDEDLY saved the Rolling Stones from passing into 60s Pop has-beens when he produced the 45 single of “Jumping Jack Flash” for them in 1968. No way in hell the Glimmer Twins had that up their sleeves – it was a pure Jimmy Miller deal from soup to nuts. Anyway – if you want to know more about this Jimmy Miller guy, check out this link:

Really – a hell of a producer in his heyday. One of those rare guys who – if you see the name listed on the back of a record jacket, it is probably worth checking out the music even if you’d never heard of the group before. But the idea of “heyday” – this word seemed to naturally spring to mind when reflecting on the role and/or shelf-life of the average music/record producer figure. Maybe a quick refresher course on what a Record Producer is/does would be a good idea…………….

In the golden age of recorded music, studios were places where the machines lived. Tape machines, consoles, microphones, various compressors and other outboard equipment. These tools were usually only manipulated by a person known as “The Engineer”. The engineer’s job was to capture the sounds made by the musicians on magnetic tape. The Producer, on the other hand, would determine the quality of the sounds, the music being recorded and how all of that would be presented to the record company for whom they worked. However involved in the finished product the singer/artist was depended upon all sorts of variables – relationship to the producer, technical ability – but it was rare for the artist to be calling the shots in the studio. Sometimes producers could be obnoxious autocrats. But, in the end, they were the ones responsible for the finished musical product.

 Also – the best producers could coax more exciting performances out of the artists they worked with. The word “catalyst” could be used here. And, of course, each producer had the potential to have a unique sound – one that made their productions stand out (and hopefully in a good way). The penultimate example of this might be Phil Spector. For him, the recording studio itself was an instrument of expression. And his records don’t sound like anyone else’s.

However, Phil Spector had his “heyday”. From the early 60s to the early 70s. Times change, technology changes. Where Phil was cutting edge in the early 60s – his sound became yesterday’s news by the mid-70s. Some producers can ride the waves of technological change better than others. Some leave a greater personal imprint in the music they oversee than others. In the case of Jimmy Miller – the sound of his productions was less distinctive. His influence was more on performance and overall presentation of the material. Some folks call this the “transparent” approach.

One thing’s for sure though – producing records can be a lot of work and a lot of pressure. I don’t know if there are any bootleg recordings that highlight Jimmy Miller at work in the studio – I certainly never heard any myself. But there ARE plenty of legitimate (and otherwise) recordings of Brian Wilson at work in the studio in the 1960s. Pet Sounds sessions. Good Vibrations sessions. And now – The Smile Sessions. The story goes that Brian Wilson became so overburdened by the pressures of this ambitious project that it caused him to abandon the whole approach to his craft that he spent years building up. And quite an abrupt and jarring change in style it was, too. The material that was to make up Smile – after many months of recording – ended up in a remade rush-job of two weeks spent recording at his home studio. The public was expecting the sophistication of Good Vibrations on a whole LP record. What they got was a cartoon-like version that sounded like an amateur home recording (which is EXACTLY what it was).

Since my last posting on Smile vs. Smiley Smile I have since taken delivery of the new Smile Sessions boxset. While I haven’t plowed through everything there, I have come away with a new understanding of the music and the complex story of its creation. I have to agree with Beach Boy Bruce Johnson who, in the liner notes, relates that Smile – had it been finished – would have been more suited to release as a Brian Wilson solo outing perhaps on the classical branch of Capitol Records. But the problem with that was Brian’s instrument at the time was the very commercial Beach Boys. I think maybe Smile, had it seen release in 1967, would have been tamed of some of its wilder moments, but still would have had plenty of advance-guard sensibility to up the ante on what a pop group could do in a recording studio. The story of why Smile was abandoned as a project is understandable. Lawsuits with Capitol, ambitiousness of the project outstripping the available technology – it all makes sense.

What didn’t make sense was Brian Wilson’s choice to walk away from a signature production style for his group. A few other factors to consider…….

A. In 1967 – pop groups who didn’t play the instruments on their own records were under heavy criticism. It wasn't acceptable to merely sing on your records (as the Beach Boys had done for many years by that point). That was the domain of The Monkees – who, no matter how enjoyable they were, were essentially a pre-packaged entity. The Monkees did not have the same street-cred as the Jefferson Airplane, dig?

B. The Beatles – who had also become ambitious in the recording studio – had stopped performing live. The Beach Boys couldn’t walk away from touring even if they wanted to and needed to have new material that they could perform live if need be. Those Smile arrangements would have been hell on them in a concert hall.

C. The above realization necessitated the move to a more band-friendly production style. Unfortunately, it bore only a casual resemblance to what Beach Boys records of the past sounded like.

D. The possible inspiration of an unlikely source: Jan and Dean’s predicament courtesy of Jan Berry’s accident in April 1966 which left Dean in control of keeping their “group” name alive……how he tried to do this was…..
……….to record an album’s worth of material in his primitive home studio which he eventually released as a “Jan and Dean” record on his own private label – a charming, lo-fi masterpiece called “Save for a Rainy Day”.

It still sounds a lot like a Jan and Dean record of the era even though it had no input from Jan Berry who was in a coma the whole time. No lie – it sounds a lot like a poor man’s “Pet Sounds”, but despite the cheapnis factor it’s a really enjoyable little record! It really had no right to be as good as it is, but any fan of the Beach Boys needs to hear this. Sundazed put a reissue out in the 1990s. Highly recommended. Alright, here's a sample:

Could it be that Brian Wilson, who upon hearing this “Jan and Dean” record, figured “if Dean Torrence can do this in his garage – why can’t I?” Hey – it’s conjecture, but go ahead and track down “Save for a Rainy Day” and compare to what Brian Wilson was doing with Pet Sounds – Smile and (ultimately) Smiley Smile. The “heyday” of the old Beach Boys sound was ready to pass on. Consider this though…………..

If 1967 represented a total confusion for the Beach Boys – we could argue that the official release of the July ’67 Heroes and Villains 45 was the point at which Smile became a lost cause – by the summer of 1968 the new Beach Boys single was “Do it Again”. And, in fact – that record had a pretty new and updated sound for the group. But, of course it was a new era for rock music. One that had moved on from the surf and car image the Beach Boys rode to success. These days “Do it Again” has a reputation as a classic Beach Boys song, but upon its release there must have been an anticipation for a return to better times that, at least in the USA, just didn’t happen until the release of the classic material on the now-famous Endless Summer compilation in 1974. The Beach Boys never stopped trying to record new material after that, but their bread and butter remained as a celebration of those golden days under the tight direction of Brian Wilson.
I really wonder if any of this will matter worth a toss as technology continues to change the creation and consumption of music in modern times. Well, kids – there once was such a person as a Record Producer……………

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More Multi-Colored Vinyl!

This is, unfortunately, NOT in my collection (yet). A legitimate 60s-era Japanese RCA Jefferson Airplane compilation LP on super-psychedelic colored vinyl. Wild, eh?
Moby Grape 45!

I have a whole series of Beatles 45s on different colors - a few samples here - too lazy to picture them all! Nothing too outrageous, but nice!
Forgot I had this Rolling Stones red vinyl 45!
Another Beatles 45 from the same series.....
13th Floor Elevators 1st LP reissue of dubious extraction. This is nicer to look at than to hear. Better to track down the Sundazed mono reissue LP for best sound from this classic!

What is it with RED vinyl? This is a Canadian-only issue of "Who Are You". This sounds pretty good, actually!

Supposedly, The Pineapples were a great band live. Never saw them though I still may get the chance as they're still making music. The tunes on this 45 are a good example of pre-Nirvana alternative rock - NYC style! This was their only release on Kokopop (a subsidiary of the famous NYC-based label Shimmy Disc).

This was a recent score. A colored-vinyl 45 exclusive of Mojo Magazine in celebration of the release of The Beach Boys Smile Sessions. Only found in the magazine - really sweet, actually!

I sure like this purple vinyl ELO 45! Sweet Talkin' Woman on side A - Fire on High on side B. Way cool!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ahm seein' COLORS!

           As a way to make this blog more personal I decided to change the blog banner image to a picture of my own turntable and nifty color vinyl LP (okay, so the one that I'd had up I nicked off the internet - I'll fess up). I'm not the greatest photographer in the world, but I like what I did enough to use it here. This got me to thinking about all the neat color vinyl LPs I have in my collection - actually not that many and, more often than not, pretty common! Color vinyl is fun and seems to be making a comeback with vinyl in general. There's lots of old reissues and brand new releases that feature exciting colors these days. Here are a few from my archives..................enjoy!

This Grand Funk record looks kinda yellow here, but it's almost gold colored in reality. Too bad my copy is kinda trashed, but it still looks nice!!
New-ish Meat Puppets release. Great album too. Can't go too far wrong with anything by the Meat Puppets.
Rykodisc put out a series of vinyl LPs on clear vinyl. This looked best when I held it to the light. This particular record was the first official Hendrix BBC sessions release (before it reverted to the Experience Hendrix estate).
The above three records are original issue Flaming Lips LPs in their color incarnations. Silly me - I should have kept collecting this band on vinyl. Their more recent releases are pretty collectable. I have no idea if these are as collectable - fun to look at though!
This was the last new Elvis Presley LP released right at the time of his death. Believe it or not - the really rare issue of this record is, in fact, the BLACK vinyl issue. Blue is common. Still - nice to look at!
Some Rolling Stones records. The top two are 12" singles. The one directly above is a Japanese reissue of "Out of Our Heads" - US version. Too bad it sounds awful (mint record - bad mastering!).

Some relatively common Beatles color vinyl albums.

Rhino reissue of Nazz Nazz. Now, the original CSG Records issue was also put out on red vinyl - that would be a cool score! Maybe someday............

Sundazed reissue of the great (Jan) and (mostly) Dean cult-classic "Save for a Rainy Day". Really beautiful looking records! Interesting music too - I'll have to do an entry on this record sometime soon since it has an interesting history!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dave Brubeck - Adventures in Time

I must have been about 13 years old. I'd been playing drums since I was about 8 or 9 (can't remember). My Grandmother gave me this Dave Brubeck record. I didn't really appreciate it at first. In fact, it wasn't until a few years later when I saw Dave Brubeck on TV - it was a concert from the 80's on PBS - not the classic quartet, but still Dave kicking ass regardless. That was when I "got it". Watching the interplay between the musicians, the skill and exciting spontaneous nature of the music-making - THEN I went back to this record.

Funny - this was not a "proper" release from the heyday of the classic Columbia-era quartet, but a compilation album with some live tracks in place of the more popular studio versions of songs. The unifying theme to the record (released in 1972 as a double LP) was to focus on tracks featuring odd time-signatures. "Take Five" was perhaps the most famous example of Brubeck stretching beyond the usual pulse of 4 or 3 (the composition's title referring to the meter of 5/4 the song moves in). But "Take Five" was merely the tip of the iceberg - how about tunes in 7/8, 9/8, 10/4? How can those odd meters possibly even swing? Well, the whole group does indeed swing, but special mention must go to the great drummer Joe Morello. Just even thinking about Joe Morello's superb style of playing makes me smile.

Adventures in Time, being a double record, had a great inside panel of liner notes with the right time signatures listed by each song. In one case, a nifty suggestion was added next to "Blue Rondo a-la Turk" in 9/8 - how to count this? Try one-two/one-two/one-two/one-two-three. It follows the melody perfectly. This blew my mind! Really helped me to understand how to approach unusual time signatures as I imagine it did for a lot of people, actually.

I know most folks reference the studio versions of "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a-la Turk", but on this album live performances are used (no credits about when or where these took place). For me, these are the definitive versions - the studio cuts sound TAME in comparison. The versions on this record are rollicking and extended with all sorts of great interplay - and much quicker tempos! This collection has never been issued on CD (as far as I know) - maybe the live cuts have been added to CD reissues? I wouldn't know - sorry to admit I don't own much Dave Brubeck on CD. In fact, I really need to add more titles to my shamefully small collection - at some point I will profile another Dave Brubeck Quartet favorite - "Jazz Impressions of Japan".

For now, though - this album is still the tops for me. I even like the quasi-psychedelic cover art. In fact, here's the back cover:
Man, I could keep going off on how much I dig Dave Brubeck, Joe Morello, Paul Desmond and Eugene Wright - but do yourself a favor and check some of the great vibrations these guys put down for us all!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Move over Smiley, a new SMILE has arrived!

Note: This is my "official" ode to SMILE - and I don't even own the new box set yet! Someday..........

With the newly released Smile Sessions treasure-trove, Beach Boys fans are given another opportunity to re-evaluate the meteoric rise and spectacular crash of California’s greatest myth-makers. If the group’s only contribution was to set the California Dream to music, as their early car and surf hits did so well, the Beach Boys would still be considered a major cultural force of the 1960s. Add to this the great myth-within-the-myth of “The Greatest Unreleased Album of All-Time” and you’ve got a truly special situation on your hands. Smile’s failure to launch in 1967 has given rise to all manner of theory and armchair psychology – predictions about what could have been if only the record was finished and released on time to compete with the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album. Many hold the opinion that Smile would have wiped the floor with Pepper in terms of artistic achievement, which could very well have been the case.

 But I really wonder if it would have made that big of a difference. It is very likely that Smile would have been a critical favorite, yet a commercial flop much in the way Pet Sounds was perceived as such in those days.  And it certainly would have been nearly impossible to perform this music live. (Listen to period performances of Good Vibrations – they sound anemic. The Beach Boys didn’t really figure out how to do the song justice in concert until about 1968 when they started augmenting their basic lineup with backing musicians to beef up the sound). What is so alluring about Smile is what it came to represent – the unattainable peak of the frustrated artist cruelly cut down in his prime – stymied by primitive technology, lawsuits and infighting – not to mention the dangerous side-effects of mind-bending chemicals. A tragic fall from grace. Smile’s non-appearance also marked the beginning of the general dispersal of the throngs away from the Beach Boys’ lure. Plenty of great music would follow, but not with the magical qualities that had been the group’s trademark sound under the leadership of Brian Wilson.

Those magical qualities are to be found on the Smile tapes – as odd as the music is in many respects, that “magical quality” is still present. Only in a very few isolated circumstances would that magic reappear on future Beach Boys releases (best heard on the classic track from 1971 “Till I Die”). But it would never return in full force. This is what is most apparent to listeners who hear the original Smile Session tapes. Yes, the music is weird, but not in an unfamiliar way – in fact, the effect is quite brilliant and not unlike the style that Brian Wilson pioneered on the “Good Vibrations” single. Are there any “hit songs” on the record? Well, maybe not (aside from the obvious inclusion of “Good Vibrations”). But the material does have obvious CLASS and artistic merit – something that is not immediately apparent on what was sent out as the replacement in September of 1967.

The old story of how Smile was too weird to lay on the Beach Boys fans – as being a legitimate reason for its non-appearance in June 1967 – can’t be taken very seriously if one gives even a cursory listen to the record that came out in its place. If Pet Sounds was deemed “too weird” by the car and surf set, I cannot begin to imagine the outright indignation Beach Boys fans must have felt when playing Smiley Smile for the first time. How the group ever convinced Capitol Records to release that album is beyond my understanding. And, for the official record – I like Smiley Smile a whole lot. On its own terms it’s an interesting and rewarding album to listen to. But it does stand alone in the Beach Boys catalog as being the Mystery Turkey from Mars.

The overall listening experience of Smiley Smile is so weird – it’s actually a bit unsettling. Fans at the time must have been either convinced that it was a terrible joke or that something seriously wrong happened to these guys. The record was so out of step with the hitherto-accepted Beach Boys image (and sound) it could be argued that it was as rebellious as the Beatles Butcher Cover fiasco in its own way – perhaps WORSE since the release of Smiley Smile derailed the group’s popularity in a way that baby dolls and butcher meat certainly didn’t for the English fabs. The Beatles’ surrealistic psychedelia was, for the most part, whimsical – the Beach Boys psychedelia (as presented on Smiley Smile) was………kinda disturbing, really.

However, I have a theory about Smiley Smile that I’ve never encountered from any of the Beach Boys experts (at least the ones I’ve read). I think it was a gross miscalculation on the part of the Beach Boys in terms of how the record would be perceived by their fans. Consider this pattern:   From the album Surfin’ Safari up through Pet Sounds, there were some, for lack of a better expression, “off the cuff” releases the Beach Boys set loose on their fans in those years:  Beach Boys Concert, Beach Boys Christmas Album, Beach Boys Party! – these were all quickly thrown-together affairs tossed out onto the market in between the “serious” productions. And consider all the wacky moments found on the “serious” albums :  Brian and Mike Love having a scripted mock-fight in the studio, Our Favorite Recording Sessions, Bull Session with the Big Daddy? Remember these little nuggets of weirdness? What were they doing on those records? Are they supposed to be funny? Were they ever? Hmmmmm.

Could it be that the Beach Boys just figured Smiley Smile would be accepted by the fans as a “Beach Boys Pot Party” record? Did they even know just how wacky the record really was? Were they too close to it – in the way the Beatles were too close to the in-jokes in the Magical Mystery Tour movie to notice how incomprehensible it was to the general public? Although the Beatles movie was pretty obscure and impenetrable for most folks to appreciate – at least they were not known for being film-makers. And the music on the MMT album did not sound out of place with the rest of the Beatles catalog up to that point. Smiley Smile was a sore thumb – and there was no logical excuse for this coming from a group known for giving much more care and effort into their work for the most part. To expect the fan base to embrace Smiley Smile – especially as some sort of “sane substitute” to the Smile album! – was, I think, a bit much to ask on the Beach Boys’ part. It cost them dearly.

And if it were only that one record it could have been a different story. Yet – the shift away from that “glorious Brian Wilson sound” was, essentially – a permanent one. Now, of course, there’s no way the Beach Boys would have been selling as many records in 1969 if they put out something that sounded, sonically, like “California Girls Part Two” – the sound of popular music had changed (the shift to stereo being one example). Whether or not Brain Wilson would have been able to lead the group through the stylistic changes of the late 60s and early 70s – in an obvious commercial way – is, I believe, quite debatable. My point is – Smile was not simply abandoned by the Beach Boys on purely artistic issues alone. The path the group took – as a more democratic unit, as opposed to following Brian Wilson’s lead – would never yield either the artistic or the commercial appeal of those golden years between 1962 and 1967.

A major question remains for me : How much were the Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, 20/20 albums a reflection of democratic decisions on the part of the Beach Boys as a whole or were they still the reflections of Brian Wilson’s artistic choices? All of those records were released with production credits assigned to “The Beach Boys” instead of “Brian Wilson”. Yet, it has been argued that some of the sonic change was attributed to Brian Wilson’s ideas – the out-of-tune piano on Wild Honey, the snarky organ sounds on Smiley Smile. These abrasive kinds of textures would re-appear on later Brian Wilson-led records (The Beach Boys Love You album is the premier example of this).

It seems to me that when Brian Wilson pulled the plug on the Smile sessions it was a conscious decision to lay aside the familiar trademark sound he became known for – that glorious, warm “Phil Spector” approach. If we can argue that Smiley Smile was the result of purposeful artistic choices (instead of simple laziness), what has to be confronted is the proposition that Brian Wilson made a conscious decision to embrace a sort of avant-garde minimalism approach to his music. Was it commercial? Oh, hell no. Interesting? You bet. Just not AT ALL what anyone would have expected from a Beach Boys release – and certainly not as a logical successor to Pet Sounds.

Finally, with the official release of the Beach Boys version of Smile, fans can get a glimpse of what could easily have followed in the wake of Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations, at least from a musical point of view. And maybe after sifting through the many discs of Smile pieces, outtakes, sessions – we, as listeners, might be able to feel ready to move on – just as Brian Wilson did – to consider the merits of all the records from Smiley Smile forward on their own terms. Because, in the end – had Smile actually arrived on schedule in 1967 it is still likely that we would have had Wild Honey, Friends, 20/20 and Sunflower anyway. Maybe without any of the Smile-castoff tracks perhaps, but I would reckon in very similar form nonetheless. It’s just a hunch, but I suspect that Brian Wilson would have liked to conclude his “golden-sound period” with the bang of what Smile promised to be instead of unveiling a new and decidedly less-commercial musical style (in very raw form) as the substitute. I’m glad he’s finally gotten the chance to give listeners the opportunity to hear the results of all that hard work. It’s what we’ve been waiting for all along. Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Warning: Mindless Hippie Music ahead!

        For people who know me, yes – I have a soft spot for some gen-u-ine good ol’ psychedelic type hippie rock music once in awhile. There are some great psychedelic groups to plunder – KAK, Silver Apples, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Thirteenth-Floor Elevators. One psychedelic unit that brought the genre to the masses was the Jefferson Airplane. Maybe they weren’t the weirdest of the bunch, but they did have the biggest psychedelic hit records this side of “I am the Walrus”. Hit records can buy a little record company respect. Just before the Airplane morphed into the Starship in the early 70s, they designed and ran their own boutique record imprint distributed through their longtime corporate label RCA. Kinda like how the Beatles had Apple, the Airplane had GRUNT. Grunt records became the home for the Airplane, later the Jefferson Starship and all the off-shoot groups from Hot Tuna to Marty Balin’s Bodacious BF (actually a great record if you can find it!). To kick off their launch of GRUNT in 1971, the Airplane hosted a now-legendary party to showcase the various acts they had signed to their label who were soon to be releasing product. This was mainly for the (still barely) underground press who, if the recollections from Lester Bangs himself are to be believed, essentially went wild for a few days on the expense account of said Airplane.
    As could be expected, GRUNT never really produced hits for any acts besides the Airplane/Starship. Some records were more commercially appealing than others, but there was at least ONE (heh) record that could very well be considered the poster child for why the HIPPIE ERA NEEDED TO END. Ironically, this group was called ONE (or the number “1” – it’s hard to say). At this point I will defer to the author of the “official” Jefferson Airplane biography Jeff Tamarkin (his book is called “Got a Revolution” and is great reading actually!). He has a website devoted to extended anecdotes of stories told in the book, but in greater depth. YOU MUST READ THE ENTRY FROM HIS WEBSITE ABOUT THIS RECORD BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO HEAR THE ACTUAL MUSIC!!  (start now……….)

…okay – now that you’re primed to want to hear this silly album so badly, click on the youtube link below. Do not have any potable liquids in your mouth when listening to the music on this link since it could create a violent gush from your nose accompanied by maniacal laughter. Ready? Go ahead…………..

      There you go – I swear, no matter how bad my day is, if I hear this stupid song I cannot help but laugh like the village idiot. Thank you Paul Kantner for whatever reason you had to get behind this crazy record – whether intended to be funny or not, it hits SO MANY marks for me on the stupid-o-meter I can’t stand it. This is so dumb not even Cheech and Chong could have scripted something like this. Really – just the first 30 seconds of this track have me doubled-over with tears rolling down my cheeks guffawing like a galloping calliope down Shakedown Street with a band of multi-colored bearded whole-grain munching tree-huggers. It’s like : “Get the robes – get the sacred candles – prepare the holy Kool-Aid and get ready to meet the FINAL DESTINY !!” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA – only in California, right? Cult madness. But what’s really scary about this record is that the music was created by a large number of very competent musicians who decided that joining some group fronted by a guy named Reality D. Blipcrotch was a REALLY GREAT IDEA. I could be at the most serious occasion imaginable – I could be ready to meet the Pope and if I stop and think to myself about this song I would be fighting to suppress a giggle fit of monumental proportions.

         As funny as this record is to me, there’s a genuine creepiness about it that’s hard to deny. So creepy that I haven’t been able to sit through the whole thing at one shot. I can only deal with it in small doses. I really wonder if Kantner didn’t go out of his way for this wacky band for no other reason but to prove that there were indeed weirder people than him on the planet. Anything he’s ever done before or since looks positively sane and commercial next to Mr. Blipcrotch. I have to confess – I don’t actually own an LP copy of this record. I’ve only ever heard the tracks off u-toob. Scarier to confess that I would probably snap the record up in a heartbeat if I ever ran into it at a shop or record show.

        Speaking of which – this could be a motivating force to get me down to the WFMU record fair this weekend in NYC. I haven’t been there in ages and it’s one of the last great vinyl events to speak of in these dark times. Well, wherever you find reality – just remember you are …… ONE  of a kind!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In praise of the 45 RPM 7-inch single!

In the days before the mp3 download, the most popular format for people to have their favorite hit songs at their disposal was the 7” vinyl 45 RPM single. Well, at least from about 1955 to about 1999 or so. Many singles had unique information on them – often quite different from the same songs as they might appear on a 331/3 LP. Some of it had to do with timing (the radio edits would be shorter to accommodate the time constraints of AM radio play – something that wouldn’t really be challenged until the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”) – many times it had to do with mixing – especially in the MONO era. Until the 1970s, the mono single mix was the HIT mix. AM radio was mono – stereo 45s wouldn’t make sense until stereo FM radio broadcasts were more common by the early 1970s.

Singles were also a relatively inexpensive investment. I have some old 45s with stickers on the sleeves with price tags of 49 cents on them – not bad. However, depending on the record company – your 45 single might not last through repeated plays because – there was also a prevailing attitude towards popular music of the time – that it was * gasp * DISPOSABLE. Yes, folks – some record companies argued the point that since singles were a reflection of popular tastes which were bound to change – the fans would only play the songs so many times before getting sick of song A and moving onto song B for the next few weeks and so on. Because of this idea – some record labels pressed their singles not on nice durable vinyl compound, but on something much less durable called STYRENE. This material is very brittle and can only withstand so many plays before it starts decaying. And when that happens the sound gets all fuzzy and yucky and you gotta find another copy! Of course styrene was a much cheaper alternative for the record companies to expensive vinyl compound – you get the drift.

Unfortunately some pretty big companies used this trashy garbage to press their 45s on. Columbia, CBS, Epic, London are just a few that cut their costs using styrene. That means records by the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkle, the Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones are usually found in secondhand shops in totally burnt and useless condition. Even looking at them doesn’t always prove if they’re good or not. They might not be scratched, but if played with heavy stylus pressure a few good times – it’s a goner. This can make collecting 45s very frustrating indeed. Ah, but when the unthinkable happens and you score a good sounding copy of a hit record you love – it almost wipes out all the transgressions and headaches these little beasts can cause you.

It’s been a long time since I dragged out my 45s, but it happened again last night. I wish I could invite you all over to hear just how freakin’ amazing 45 rpm vinyl can sound when the planets align and you find a great specimen to illustrate the point. There’s almost no logic when it comes to 45s. I’ve purchased 45s that looked mint and played like poop and conversely some real shaggy dogs I’ve taken a chance on that can leave you sitting in front of the stereo with your mouth open and you’re thinking “How can this thing sound THAT GOOD?”. Yes – it took me three good attempts at buying different copies of original pressings of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” to finally find …THE ONE. And when it plays – look out! The great 45 RPM experience is, invariably, a MONO experience. Punchy, bassy, ballsy in-your-face goodness is what a sweet mono 45 disc can deliver as ONLY a mono 45 can deliver, people.

So here’s a list of some knee-kocking, socks-rocking, “Oh, Hare Krishna is this a GREAT sounding record!” 45s as you’re ever gonna hear:

1. Rolling Stones  - Tumbling Dice – 1st issue mono 45. There is only one way to feel the glory – LOUD!!

2. Tommy James and the Shondells – Crimson and Clover – mono 45.
You..have..not..lived…until…UNTIL…you..hear THIS MIX on the 45. Really….really.

3. Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly. Why, for the love of God did they issue this on the Greatest Hits album in re-channeled fake stereo? The 45 is a religious experience.

4. The Beatles – She Loves You – on the SWAN label. No issue, analog, digital, British, Chinese, Japanese, I don’t care what it is – this track never sounded better than on this US pressing. Whoever cut this record from the master tape deserves a medal at least. Listening to any digital version of this song is like playing the game of “Lets count all the edits, kids!”. Not the 45. Why? I DON’T KNOW!!! AHHHHRRGGGH! Buy up every copy you find before they’re all GONE. Only pressed in 1964……if only the original Capitol 45s sounded this good. And, er….they didn’t – had to wait for the 70’s and 80s reissues for better Beatle sound.

5. I Can See For Miles / Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand – The Who – US Decca 45. The A-side is a stone groove in mono. The B-side has this unbelievably crisp and ringy finger-cymbal hit that comes smacking out of the grooves so hard you’d swear it was none other than Allen Ginsberg risen from the dead and playing (with unusual restraint) in your very living room! Its like outta NOWHERE and wham! Where’d that friggin’ thing come from? – wow! Ah, the song itself is kinda wimpy – ah well. Better head back to the A-side……..

6. (I Just Wanna) Testify – The Parliaments – mono 45 on Revilot (that would be the record label – never heard of it? Well, by the stamp in the deadwax it appears that the record was pressed by CBS and you guessed it – styrene! But for some dumb reason it’s not a problem on this record – NO LOGIC I tells ya!). My copy looks like hell and is sooooo sweet and PHAT sounding – oooh. This is the sound of the FUNKA…before the DELIC!

7. Pictures of Matchstick Men – Status Quo – the mono Cadet Concept 45. Lots of groovy phasing only on the mono 45. My copy looks even worse than my Parliaments 45 and is like Psychedelic GOD on record! Go figure.

8. I’ll Try Anything – Dusty Springfield – UK mono Philips 45. Wicked-deep bass. This record packs a whollop and, yes she may be long gone now, but Dusty’s voice still makes me swoon. Blimey!

9. Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five – I went out of my way to find a mint original copy on the Double Shot label for this. The best Yardbirds copy record ever. And a very hot-cut record it is too, but in a good way. The drums just gallop out of the speakers and knock you right over. Great psych-punk rave-up music!

10.  Where’s the Playground Susie – Glenn Campbell – ha ha, just kidding. Yes I own this record, but I think only Ceriello will get the joke here. I can note that my copy features the rare Capitol “target” label design with the ultra-rare Capitol dome-logo printed on it – a very rare combination that lasted for only a few months in the year 1969. If you have any Beatles 45s on this label variation you can send them to me since they’re not worth as much as Justin Bieber CDs……heh heh heh!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Get in the Waaay-Back machine!

How far back can we go? 1800's? 1700's? Renaissance? Medieval chanting? I like to see how far my ears can stretch - time-wise, genre-wise, tonality-wise. So I have this ongoing thing about so-called "Classical" music. I don't know what it is. I'm just as likely to listen to Theolonious Monk, The Beach Boys or even Black Sabbath. But there's a lot of other vibrations out there. So that's where I've been placing my ears a bit lately. I know I put some of those vibrations here, but I decided to create a whole new space for that bag and here it is if you're so inclined to check it out:
I'll still be whippin' some other grooves on you here too - so check in at both places if the spirit moves you. Bright Moments!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tonight's Jazz Forecast calls for Weird Noises

Few things get music buffs more worked up than the controversy over the word JAZZ. I once had a teacher in high school tell me that anything recorded after the Original Dixieland Jazz Band wasn't really jazz music (I think he was serious!). Charlie Parker was called "Anti-Jazz". So was John Coltrane. Now, as far as I'm concerned - the real "anti-jazz" goes by the name of Kenny G and if your haven't read the now-classic editorial on that guy by Pat Metheny you haven't lived. You can dig it up on the net somewhere - it's a hoot!

Anyway - jazz gets a bum rap even, inadvertently, from some of its biggest supporters. Maybe that explains the poor attention this beautiful American art form gets in its own country. One of the last great exponents of jazz in the 20th Century took the music to the world stage, both literally and figuratively. Unfortunately too many folks these days lazily lump the efforts of the various members of Weather Report into either the dreaded "Fusion" category or - worse still - try to blame these guys for pushing the music closer to that evil cousin of real jazz - SMOOTH JAZZ. (Now I happen to believe Mavis Staples when she says "The Devil don't HAVE no music." But I think, if push came to shove, the guy with the pitchfork and horns would probably pick "smooth jazz" as the soundtrack to his environment!)

So, I'm going to shout it for the world to hear:  WEATHER REPORT is NOT "Smooth Jazz"!! Good melodies? Yup. Commercial appeal? It their time, yep. Smooth? No way. In fact, if musicians tried to do today what Weather Report did in the 70s they'd never get as much attention. Josef Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and company were serious sound freaks. They were constantly searching, trailblazing and just plain throwin' it down night after night. Witness the clip below from Montreaux 1976. Zawinul is at the helm of a bank of analog keyboards AND an antique thumb-piano AND running sped-up tapes of what sounds like indigenous chanting from......who KNOWS where.

So - is it World Music then? I don't know. I just know it cooks and it ain't smooth. Lots of Weather Report albums can be had for cheap - some more interesting than others. None should be ignored. If you ears can dig the sounds from the clip - watch the rest of the concert. Dig that young punk on the bass - Jaco had just joined the band and was a few years away from becoming engulfed by his personal demons - he's at the peak of his badness here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Do the voices you left behind still hear YOU?

Guitarist John McLaughlin once wrote a piece of music in memory of John Coltrane called "Do You Hear the Voices You've Left Behind?". When it was released in 1977 on McLaughlin's "Electric Guitarist" solo album - John Coltrane had been departed for ten years. Yet his influence on music was arguably at an all-time high - perhaps moreso than in his own lifetime. My question, of course, intends to bring the issue up to date.......

My own appreciation of John Coltrane and jazz in general started as more of a calculated pursuit. Essentially,  I came to jazz as an outsider. There was a little appreciation of “swing” music from my folks – Benny Goodman and the like. Actually, my Grandmother gave me my first Dave Brubeck record (her brother John was a pretty decent clarinet player so I’ve been told), but that’s for another entry. Serious jazz is something that I read about first and then went out of my way to explore on my own. A huge influence on me in my formative years was a little monthly magazine my folks gave me a subscription to called Musician Magazine. From about 1984 ‘til it folded in the early 1990’s I read this religiously. Popular artists could be on the cover (Michael Jackson), but just as easily the cover might be graced by the likes of Miles Davis or even …………………………………………..………………………JOHN COLTRANE.

    For the July 1987 issue, Musician Magazine put Coltrane on the cover with a long feature story in memorial to the anniversary of his passing 20 years earlier in July 1967.  That article, complete with remembrances from Coltrane’s peers and contemporaries, made a deep impression – enough for me to rush out and grab the first available piece of Coltrane I could find. It just so happened that, at the time of publication, Coltrane CDs had not yet been issued (they were about to be…) so I checked out the vinyl bins at the local mall chain store (still stocking vinyl in those days) and came up with

……..EXPRESSION – the very last of Coltrane’s recordings on the planet. I had no idea what I was going to hear when I brought that thing home. In retrospect, I’m glad it wasn’t something even more OUT like “OM” or “Interstellar Space” – Expression was OUT, but actually kinda gentle if that makes any sense. Even still – I think I must have sat in front of the stereo with my mouth wide open. It was like getting a great novel and reading the last chapter first – I had to claw my way back to the beginning to figure out what the heck was going on in this music – FAST!

    Inside the record jacket was a little insert from MCA records (MCA owned the Impulse catalog in the 80s) with a listing of other jazz records available. The Coltrane list was ENORMOUS. This guy put out all these exotic sounding records………Africa Brass, Kulu Se Mama, OM, Meditations, Interstellar Space, Sun Ship……on and ON! And that was just his Impulse output (he cut records for other labels too – WHEW!!!). This was going to be a lifelong journey (and it still is).

    Once the CDs were released – it was like sonic potato chips for me. Thank goodness I was working part time and the discs were given budget prices (since they were reissues, basically).  Coltrane became my first jazz obsession. I immediately dug his tone – clear, strong – a little biting, but oddly warm. Got to hear some of the classics – A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things, Giant Steps – all the while I had this sense of urgency about the music. Coltrane was a “no BS” artist – every record was an important musical message – not in a preachy or even philosophical way, but in an intuitive, abstract way. Listening to Coltrane opened me up to lots of other music – jazz and otherwise.

    Here’s a link to the first track off the Expression album I mentioned above.

Although there’s a lot of free blowing going on, there is a really beautiful melody that the piece is based on which is stated at the opening of the track and later at about 1:26. Coltrane left a lot of music behind for all to hear, but there’s something bittersweet about the music on Expression. I don’t know if I’m projecting my own ideas on the music, or if its something Coltrane himself felt – there’s a sadness amidst the searching. I guess the music makes me wonder if Coltrane knew he wasn’t going to live much longer beyond these sessions.

    From what I can gather, it seems that there was quite an appreciation for all things Coltrane in the years after his death well into the 1970s. Even today, I would imagine that many tenor players still feel his influence even if indirectly. It’s kind of like Hendrix and guitar players – impossible to escape the influence even if you have a totally different and unique style. But I wonder how many young folks are digging into the Coltrane catalog anymore. There was a lot of media attention in the 80s and 90s with the CD reissues. Will Coltrane still be heard in the Age of the Download?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keep an Ear on Summer...........

Like most folks, I go through phases of listening to certain stuff. I became a stone Beach Boys freak in the 90s – certainly with the help of the great 1993 Box Set “Good Vibrations”. I have a number of CD “box sets” – most of which haven’t gotten a lot of play over the years, but the Beach Boys one was in heavy rotation through the 90s. A few years prior to this (1990) Capitol put out all the individual Beach Boys albums on 2-fer CDs (two albums per disc) – and plenty of bonus tracks! Got those too. Along with mono LPs (where necessary) I figured I was good to go – until……..

Some online research led me to discussions about Beach Boys CDs released in Japan in the late 80s as part of a series titled “Pastmasters” (see photo). No bonus tracks here – only one album per disc – why the fuss? Sound quality. Seems that the 1990 US 2fers, though generous with music, were subjected to no-noise processing. Nothing too drastic, but still there.

What’s no-noise? Remember cassettes? Remember how you could record a tape with a “dolby” switch on or off. Dolby was an attempt to filter out “tape hiss” while retaining some high frequency information (the highs – cymbals, etc…..). The option must have had its supporters since it was a standard feature of every decent cassette device of the time. To me, it sounded like wool sweaters over the speakers so my dolby switch was more often “off” than “on”.

Well, the 1990 Beach Boys CDs had no-noise built into them. While not obnoxious it was there (put there by mastering engineers – not on the original tapes). How could a person know – how could you compare? Seems that the Japanese “Pastmasters” CDs had the advantage of being made from straight dubs of the original master tapes. This was good since no-noise was not used, but not optimal since the discs revealed any wacky problem that surfaced with the original master over a 20+ year period of storage, use and misuse. It can be cringe-inducing to hear massive tape drop-outs and damaged tape sections from classic Beach Boys songs (these issues are also usually resolved by competent mastering engineers which is why they’re not heard on most official releases). Japan must have been in a hurry so they got the master tape dubs warts and all. I’ll bet quite a few people were upset with these “defective” discs – if they only knew!!!

Truthfully, most people wouldn’t give a toss about any of this. But I ended up with one of these things as a fluke – found the “Friends” album from the Pastmasters series for about $8. I actually didn’t like it as much as my green-label Capitol reissue LP from the 80s, but I kept it. Little did I know it basically revealed the sound of the master tape the LP was cut from. (Mastering engineers can make all sorts of sonic changes when transferring a master tape to either vinyl or CD – sometimes the results suck, sometimes the results improve on what the master tape sounds like – I have good story that illustrates the second possibility for another time……..)

Imagine being invited to a recording studio to hear the master tapes of  (insert your favorite band here)’s albums straight off the analog reels. Would you? Depends how obsessive you are, of course. So, I’ve managed to track down a few of these Pastmasters beasts and they are interesting (and pretty good sounding).  * Note – this scenario only applies to the Beach Boys titles in this series. I have no idea if other Japanese Pastmasters CDs of other bands were made from master tapes. * They can be difficult to bump into, especially at reasonable prices.

The other night I pulled out a few discs to do some shoot-outs with the 1990s 2fer discs of the same material. For some reason I decided to plop earphones on. Although I already knew about the differences (and could hear them) the headphone approach highlighted the no-noise processing of the 1990 discs very well. Want to hear for yourself?

Legally I can upload brief sections of songs for such a purpose – so that’s what I did. If you’ve read this far down the page and you’re still willing to take the plunge……..see if you have some headphones or earphones handy. Plug into your computer and open the two links / windows side by side. About the first 7 seconds of “Keep an Eye on Summer” – from the 1990 CD and the Pastmasters CD.

     1990 version:

     Pastmasters version:

What can you expect to hear? Start with the 1990 version. Sounds okay, right? Listen to that bass guitar intro again – hear how that sounds? Alright, move to the Pastmasters clip. Same intro – your should be able to hear the attack of the bass strings a little better defined here. If you listen close, you’ll also hear some tape hiss right at the beginning of the song (and surrounding those initial bass guitar notes). On the Pastmasters version you will also hear a crisper sounding snare drum and some faint bass-drum hits back there. The bass drum sound, though pretty quiet on the Pastmasters version, is essentially inaudible on the 1990 no-noised version. Crazy, huh?

To my ears, the sound of the Pastmasters version is fuller and more dynamic overall  - the 1990 version sounds “squashed” in comparison. Is one better than the other? I dunno – just different. Subtle maybe, but – it all depends how obsessive one might be. Happy listening!!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Seek, Listen, Vibrate & Eat Cheeseburgers...........

    Albert Ayler put it succinctly as the title track to one of his last (and sadly misunderstood) albums – “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe”. I think Albert pretty much covered a lot of philosophical ground with that statement. And, of course, I happen to agree with him. Not in some witch-doctor, shamanistic sense, but in a more profound and subtle way. I would propose that a fair number of folks on the planet find comfort and strength in music on a daily basis. Sometimes the right piece of music heard in the right circumstances can alter the path of a day that has pointed to “Misery” on the Crap-o-Meter of life at least towards “tolerable” and sometimes better.

    Rahsaan Roland Kirk had his own term for this phenomenon – he called it “Bright Moments”. Under Kirk’s usage and (loose) definition, one could certainly have plenty of Bright Moments that were not necessarily musical, but considering his own hyper-allegiance to the overall experience of “sound” there is little doubt music was a key piece of the overall puzzle picture.

    Getting the chance to hear live music is especially gratifying – particularly if the performance is good and the music inspired. Live performance can even elevate music beyond what an “official” recorded version conveys. When I saw the Who in 2002 at Madison Square Garden they played “You Better You Bet” – an okay song on record, not one of the best in my opinion, but live – it rocked! A good musical performance should be like that – a sonic magic show.

    Listening to music at home or in the car is a different experience. Mainly, these days, it’s more of a private affair. Like reading a book – it’s you and the art confronting each other. That’s when more subtle information is shared. Those experiences where you go “wow! I felt that once!” or “How come I never thought to use those words….” The cross-over country singer from the 60s – Roger Miller – is a primo example of someone who came along at the right time to put lots of ironic, yet common, ideas that people have floating around in their brains to expression through songs. Like the song “The last word in lonesome is me” for example. Did you catch that? Clever guy that Roger Miller, eh?

    Sometimes its not even words – it could just be a sound. Like the sound of a hit record from the 70s that you haven’t heard in 20+ years – it can transport you back to a (hopefully) happier time.  A bunch of years ago, oldies stations started playing that song “Sweet City Woman” like it was 1974 all over again. Goofball song, but heck – I was singing along. A few months ago I broke out some Ornette Coleman records I hadn’t played in awhile. It was like meeting an old friend. I have those reactions and I’ll bet plenty of other folks do too (well, maybe not with Ornette Coleman exactly….. heh heh).  I call these people “Sound Freaks”. Rahsaan called them “Eulipions”.

    Rahsaan continues to be a major source of inspiration. Not the least of which in terms of attitude towards music. He was a jazz musician, yet he hated the label “jazz” preferring to call his music “Black Classical Music” which I can totally dig. But he had the right idea. Music is music is music. It’s the vibration and the intention of its creator that matters. People that create music from a purely selfish and materialistic point of view create cold and nasty music. Sun Ra knew that. If music is good it reaches your heart and uplifts you – even the blues. ‘Cause the blues understands your feelings – happy and sad and all points in between. The brilliant NRBQ guitar-slinger Steve Ferguson called it “Humanistic Music” – the good stuff.

    I don’t know where I’m going with all this except to say I had a good journey with a fellow “Eulipion” today that involved music, philosophy and good cheeseburgers – a winning combination in my book. Our time on the planet is so short – the Benevolent Creator (upon bestowing free-will to all of us) gives us challenges every day – sometimes ones that seem too much to bear (and trying to do it alone CAN be too much to bear). But the gift of music can pull us through and be a connecting point to like-minded people so we can relate to each other.

    The summer is officially here. Time to give thanks, recharge spiritual batteries and explore the sounds around us – composed and non-composed. Seek, listen, vibrate and pass it on if its good to you……………….

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Back to STEREO!

You know, there may come a day when I’m ready to concede to the ipod /hard-drive /music-server model with my music collection. I have moved relatively few times in my life and even moving my record collection from one place in my house to another can be an arduous task. There’s a lot to be said for the portability of new music hardware devices.

But that’s not what floats my boat for, what is, essentially – my hobby. Some people build model airplanes, trains, gardening, golf – I dunno. For me it’s music – in all its weird and wonderful forms. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that I am a “format junkie”. I have 8-tracks, open-reels, 45s, etc….. and I love comparing sound quality amongst different formats (or even pressings of LPs). Think all copies of the Beatles White Album all sound the same? Guess again! Some people collect stamps – I do the music thing. Whatever.

Problem is – physical music products are slowly starting to recede from the main marketplace. I ended up at fairly big shopping mall this weekend with my family. It’s a big one with lots of shops – no place to park – not very far from New York City – that kind of place. The only store I would bother to spend time in was the Borders and – guess what? GONE! A big American shopping mall – and you can’t purchase physical music products there (or books for that matter).

So I realize I am like a hobo yodeling in the forest here, but I’m gonna do this anyway………there’s nothing like owning a nifty, old fashioned stereo to play your physical music products on. And chances are, for not much money – you can have something better than an ipod with a docking station – at least in terms of sound. Here’s what you can do:

Check out ebay. Look for an integrated amp / receiver that’s in decent shape – from the 70s or 80s. Don’t be afraid of Japanese products – in fact, that’s generally good stuff from this era. You could probably get something even at 60 watts per channel. Heck – try to find something with inputs for a turntable – hey, you never know!

Then, look for some vintage speakers. You want something with woofers no smaller than 8 inches. 10 inch woofers will do you – at least in a smallish room. Got a big room? Get some speakers with 12 inch woofers – if you want to hear bass, you’ve got to move some air. Like what? KLH, Advent – shop around – get something half-decent. Don’t skimp too much on the speaks, man.

Then – get a CD player. Just about any SONY will sound light years ahead of an ipod. Want something really fun? Get a first edition SONY Playstation 1 – make sure it has RCA outputs on the back of it. I got one for $10 at a Goodwill. Naw, you don’t care about playing games on it – you just want it to play music. Those things sound real smooth for some stupid reason. G’head – find one somewhere and give it a try. Don’t pay stupid money for these though – keep looking at yard sales, Goodwill, etc……..

THEN – go to Amazon. There are plenty of third-party sellers selling used CDs for a few dollars a pop – great titles. And what’s awesome about used CDs – chances are they won’t skip or do anything weird a used record or tape might do. It’s gonna sound – like NEW. Really want to have some fun? Go to the music prompt on Amazon, and type in “Original Album Classics”. SONY has box sets of albums from everyone from Miles Davis to Spirit – several “albums” in one box – and here’s the best part: CHEAP! What? You never heard of “Spirit”? Well, for $20 you can own ALL FIVE CLASSIC SPIRIT albums on CD from this series – NEW. Those discs sound great. Way better than MP3 downloads and, here’s the other great part, CHEAPER than MP3 downloads of the same material. Your ears will thank you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Keith Moon - A correction.......

Back in November, there was a great article in the New Yorker Magazine by James Wood about Keith Moon. It was great to read a scholarly, yet impassioned piece about one of my drumming heroes. I would post a link to the article, but you would have to get an online subscription to read it (the buggers!). I'm sure if you really want to read this thing, you can dig it up somewhere and it's worth seeking out if you're a Keith Moon fan.

In the article, Woods makes an interesting comparison between Keith Moon and Glenn Gould (the eccentric pianist from the classical realm). Lately I've been digging some Glenn Gould - and he was a pretty weird character, but I don't think he ever threw any TV sets out of hotel windows. Now, I understand that Gould cut his performing days short (due to a phobia about performing in front of an audience) and focused on recording. Keith Moon certainly had a (relatively) brief experience as a performer also, but that's where the similarity would seem to end. I'm no expert on Glenn Gould, but to me there might have been a better analogy to the classical realm for Keith Moon.

(And here it is) : With all due respect to Mr. Woods, I propose that Keith Moon was (to the Who and the concert audiences) more like THE CONDUCTOR than any given performer. From my understanding, it was mainly THE CONDUCTOR that classical audiences went to "see" - they were the ones that would put on "the show". The Conductor of any given orchestra determines the tempo, the pacing, what details are given attention to in any performance - AND has the option to earn "style points" with the audience while doing their business. Toscanini, Stokowski, Reiner, Bernstein..........these are just a few of the more popular conductors of the last 100 years in classical music. They all drove their orchestras like Keith Moon drove the Who - with taste, class and balls! Audiences would not want to take their eyes off the conductor. Likewise - in any given live footage of The Who you've ever seen, do you really watch anybody else in the band besides Moon? Check out this great clip of the Who live in 1970. I dare you not to look at Keith - it's impossible. His performance is riveting - he determines the pace of the music which happens to be  - hit the ground running!! This was traditionally the first song of any given Who set of the era. Truly brings a tear to the eye - they're not making them like this anymore, folks! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


My ode to the Kinks………

     It must have been a few months ago – I found myself browsing through music magazines in a Borders and chanced upon a feature story on Ray Davies that utterly shocked me. I didn’t buy the magazine and I can’t exactly remember which one it was – it may have been a recording magazine of some sort since the story focused on the closing of noted Kinks recording studio “KONK” in London. The closing of professional recording studios is nothing new given the current state of the music industry and the economy in general these days (even Abbey Road has been threatened lately…….). What shocked me were the pictures of Ray sort of schlepping around the (very empty looking) studio, moving carts of equipment down hallways and looking generally pretty sad. Now, it’s possible Ray may have been playing it up a bit for the camera, but there was just a look of defeated resignation on his face that was ………… awful, really.

    Now, I’m not about to start pissing and moaning on about “poor Ray” – I’m sure he’s managed decently enough financially (I would bloody well HOPE so, anyway). But it seems to me there’s a rather conspicuous absence of any real ongoing appreciation for the Kinks these days. Essentially there were only four major English bands from the 60's that made serious ripples :  The Beatles, The Stones, The Who and The KINKS. Beatles are still popular, Stones are still stoning away, Who music can be heard on CSI – where’s the LOVE for the KINKS??

    The last time you could see the Kinks live was in 1996. That was the last year they released any new material – and this was even on a “live compilation” disc. The last totally new Kinks album was released in 1993. Uh, that’ll be 20 years ago in TWO MORE YEARS. Now, since that time Ray and brother Dave have had solo shows going on – Dave suffered a stroke a few years ago – Ray got mugged in New Orleans before that, but they’ve both survived and managed to make new music despite the adversities – just not TOGETHER, as THE KINKS.

    Recently, there have been overtures coming from Ray about getting the Kinks back together, but Dave’s not biting this time (the legendary feuding continues……..). Now, don’t get me wrong – I have a lot of respect for Dave and I’m sure he’s got some darned valid reasons for holding his ground. And, dammit, I respect him for that in an era of the “lame sellout” mentality we’re in nowadays. But, how shall I put this……it all makes me want to stand up and shout: “HEY! REMEMBER THESE GUYS?? THEY WERE PRETTY BLOODY AMAZING!! FOR GOD’S SAKE – GOD SAVE THE KINKS, ALREADY!!”

    I only saw the Kinks live once. 1985 - Eisenhower Hall - West Point. They ROCKED! It was a great show – Ray even jumped into the crowd and grabbed a girl and started dancing in the front row at one point – it was classic. I totally regret not seeing them at least once more. Over the years my appreciation for their music has grown – all the different eras – the snotty garage sound of the early days, the wistful & pastoral mid-60’s Waterloo Sunset period – heck, even the weirdo 70’s concept albums have some stellar moments (I’ll recommend “Schoolboys in Disgrace” in particular as a “lost classic”). And lets not forget those great late 70’s, early 80’s hits (wouldn’t you loved to have written a song like “Better Things”?).

    Last night it was the “Muswell Hillbillies” album – there are some truly sublime moments on that record. Oklahoma USA? Have a Cuppa Tea? You can download the whole record for eight bucks on amazon – when was the last time a record knocked you on your ass – do yourself a favor a score a copy of this – good for whatever ails ya. Have a cuppa tea, fer chrissake have a cuppa tea…….

    I posted this video on my facebook the other day:
– a live TV rendering of “The Village Green Preservation Society” from 1972. Now, I know this song (and the album of the same name) like the back of my hand, but watching this clip I was stunned at how LITERATE and INTELLIGENT these lyrics are. Well, it wasn’t a big hit song, yet still I can’t help wondering – could a major music act get away with something like this today?

    Alright – now its your turn – what’s your favorite Kinks song? Any albums you’re missing? Do yourself a favor and pick one up, download it, whatever……….. GOD SAVE THE KINKS!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rock and Roll Radio

I was searching all sorts of useless info on my computer last week when I came across an Obit from last summer announcing the Passing of Stew Schantz. many people over the age of 35 back home in the Hudson Valley area would know Stew as either the man who put the K in K-104 (befor that they actually called themselves WSPK ten forty seven no kidding) and getting them away from an AOR format to a top 40 hit music format. Of course there is the rival 101.5 WPDH Listeners who will remember Stew as 1/2 of the "Stew and John" Morningshow with John Steffanci, this twosome invented the "Roofathon" which started atop the roof of 7-11 on route 9 which is still an annual event by the Mighty PDH.
Here is my beef, nowhere on WPDH web site or the WSPK K-104 site is there any metion of Stew or an in memoriam, sadly he's forgotten. It seems this is Radio in our millenium,it bears no heratage, theres no history or respect,and sadly at many of these stations there are no personalities on the air anymore. Here in Myrtle Beach my former program director at Y-103 back in the early 90's works for multimedia doing the morning show on the Talk station WRNN, however his voice is heard all evening and literally all weekend long as OTTO on classic Rock Wave104. I recently asked Dave about that and he laughed,Otto has a last name it's Otto Mated. in other words just a voice no person. There was an incredible Rock Station here WKZQ many years ago it 102 then 101.7 and it currently broadcasts on the 96.1 , when I was a kid I dreamed a dream to one day DJ and WKZQ alongside such legends as Mixon Dixon and Cazey Quinn because this station was for lack of a better word awsome. nowadays it's in the same building as wave 104 and they only play extrememly new songs by very new bands, though heavy it's one flavor while Wave plays the same Led Zeppelin tune (Black Dog) all day long, and neither will play a new album by a classic band...the current "Voices" are not memorable,there is nothing for them to strive to be the best of.
It seems to me that my Generation is the last to know Free Form AOR radio, stations that needed to earn our loyalty, DJ's we still remember by name (even if those powerhouses could care less) I remember Rock n Roll Radio and sadly Rock n Roll radio doesn't rememberJoey Ramone let along the BS'er Billy Smith ,Mixon Dixon, Stew SChantz, Joe Obrien, and among the living Saturday nights will allways be Dr. John Baron. Whatever happened to the Spirit of Radio that Rush sang about, Lest we forget where we first heard many of the greatest rock n roll ever....and who introduced it to us...this is Rock n Roll Radio Rock on

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I didn't know Classical music was broken.............

NPR posed the question "How do we fix Classical Music?" and left the window open for folks to comment. A kind of democratic "What should be done about this?" deal. Though I believe the intended question really was - how can the "Classical" music world entice more people to listen - perhaps beyond the comfort zone of popular music? There are some interesting observations and theories. The LP cover above is an example of my own quest - I found a stone mint copy of this great Richard Strauss record at a thrift store this week for 50 cents! Old classical vinyl is plentiful and cheap and often can be found in beautiful shape. It's not all home runs, but for the price one can afford to experiment a little.
Here's one of my favorite responses on the NPR site:

            "G.B. Shaw said the greatest ideas are born as blasphemies and die as dogma. So it goes with the innovations of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. There is a young generation of musicians and listeners who are ready to be transported by anything, if it's compelling. The only real difference between a "composer" and a songwriter is in the degree of challenge the composer is willing to issue to a listener. Contemporaries freaked out over Beethoven's late quartets, and they were right to! It's audacious stuff. Today it might sound more familiar, unless you really listen to it. A composer asks to be really listened to. That's the only distinction I can make between popular and classical music. So compose what you love and expect us to really listen."

       A poster using the pseudonym  "Opervati" wrote the above quote and I think it's quite an astute observation concerning what composers might expect from listeners. Here's a link to the rest of the article - enjoy!