Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sounds of the Summer - A Report from Eulipion #70888675309

 Music has been my refuge for as long as I can remember. As an only child I figured out how to get comfortable spending time alone though the radio and my growing record collection provided windows into other realities and dimensions. Likewise, my continuing involvement with music is not objective, but immersive. I "live there". Rahsaan Roland Kirk identified this part of the population as the "Eulipions" - the poets, artists and musicians. No need to have a card or badge, nor attend monthly meetings. It's a big club.

Yet, to those who "get it" there is no need to explain. For those who don't get it - there's always stuff to do like walking around looking at trees or something. For the music obsessives there is never a dull moment. Always something new to hear - to learn. As my interests and tastes have expanded over the years I have come to the conclusion that one lifetime just isn't enough. Here's hoping for reincarnation, as Roger Miller once put into song.
Well, unless human beings ever get the chance to be downloaded from one lifetime to the next - with no memory lapses or meltdowns - I reckon any time spent above ground is the bees knees.

Kinda like last time, I wrote and re-wrote several attempts at a "new entry" only to find myself disappointed and confused about what to write. So, instead I'll do a "What I listened to Last Summer" kind of a report. And, as it happens - there's a few good vibrations to pass along...................

First of all, the new Ron Howard Beatles' Movie - Eight Days a Week - was really fun to see. I actually went to a movie theater showing with a few members of a great band I play with and we just had fun geeking out on Beatlemania in general. To get psyched up I played a few live Beatles albums:

The Hollywood Bowl album was the very first Beatles record I ever owned. It was the "new release" when I officially became a Beatles fan - I remember the in-store displays at the shop where I got it with my pops in New York City. So even though the songs were live with lots of girls screaming, I never had time to form an opinion on the merits of the performances, etc......It was a BEATLES album, it was NEW and therefore - beyond criticism in my young mind.

Ditto for the Hamburg 1962 album. The sound quality was obviously funky as could be, but I really loved all the wacky antics, between-song banter and general sense of wild abandon captured before the Beatles hit it big across the world. As a kid, I also grew up hearing about my father's time in the army and how he was stationed in Germany in the same years as The Beatles' famous tenure there: 1961 - 1963 (or thereabouts). Of course, Dad was nowhere near Hamburg, but that didn't stop me from wondering what if he had taken a trip up there and stumbled into a club with those lads onstage who once would become famous. Instead, he went to Italy on his leave time and I never did get any good stories out of him about his time there. Oh well.

Anyway, all this Beatles hubbub got me thinking about Ringo again - what a great drummer. Obvious, of course. It is fascinating to consider how much Ringo contributed to the way drums (and music in general) sounded on record. Take a look at these photos of Ringo in the recording studio:

The top photo shows Ringo in 1963. The bottom is Ringo six years later in 1969. Not only is his drum set different, but notice the amount of microphones in both pictures. In 1963, I can only see one overhead mic and one mic set a bit in front of the bass drum. In 1969, there's now TWO mics on the bass drum (with padding inside) and goodness knows how many other spot mics (looks like the tom toms are mic'd underneath the drums - how weird!).

In those six years, the way popular music was recorded would cause ripples right down to the development of better home listening systems and hi-fi gear. A tell-tale sign is that microphone pointed directly at Ringo's hi-hat cymbals in the 1969 picture. As popular music gradually shuffled toward a modern, DISCO drum beat - the sound of loud hi-hat accents would play a prominent role in defining what that genre sounded like (apart from everything else). And, whether we like it or not - that dry, disco drum sound would dominate recorded music for years - maybe it still does.

Those loud, chirping hi-hats would, when cut to vinyl, give trouble for folks who hadn't invested in more sophisticated cartridges for their turntables. So, gradually people started to get the sense that their record players were bad and not compatible with modern music. If more people would have upgraded the stylus a few notches above what they had used for years, there might not have been so many who jumped at the Compact Disc as an immediate improvement in sound. Such was the case in my family. As much as my Dad loved music, he never upgraded that needle on his turntable. So, by the time I heard my first CD - it knocked me for a loop because the sound was so clean! I'm sure I was not alone, of course..........

When the Beatles albums started coming out on CD in the late 80s I was all psyched until I discovered the first four albums would be MONO only! To think of such a thing happening now is absurd. I grew up on the stereo albums and no matter how much I tried to convince myself to love those mono CDs I just didn't. It is astounding to realize this situation would not be rectified until 2009! In the meantime, it would also be The Beatles to lead me back to vinyl. In the mid-90s I ordered a stereo UK copy of A Hard Day's Night from a Goldmine magazine ad.

 The sound blew me away so much I was literally jumping up and down in front of the stereo laughing like a fool! Now THAT'S what I'd been missing all those years! Yet, as I'd come to realize - the compact disc also brought in a flood of music that had no chance of being reissued on vinyl anytime soon - and with some fantastic surprises!

See, in the current climate of "everything is on youtube now" - the way CDs brought rare music back into the shops is something current listeners might not understand. Case in point:  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
 Amazingly, I found a UK MONO pressing of this wild album at a flea market when I was about 12 years old. It totally blew my mind! Yet, my record was kinda chewed up. Didn't stop me from playing it often enough, though I sure would liked to have bought a new copy. That was certainly not an option in the 1980s. When I saw it had been reissued on CD in 1991 I nearly fainted! What was better - the first part of the CD release was made up of an alternate, mono mix of the ENTIRE FIRST SIDE of the LP. WOW! I certainly never heard that before. It was like getting a pristine sounding bootleg included along with the legitimate album on one disc.

So, CDs were a very welcome format despite some of the sonic limitations folks have been complaining about lately. Like any format, so many variables can determine how the music sounds. I have plenty of CDs that sound great and I wouldn't part with them for any vinyl counterpart. It just takes time and little research to find the best versions of music you might like. For instance, I've been making some headway with my 78 collecting lately:
When browsing around ebay for 78s I noticed this Little Walter disc had great songs on both sides - two I especially like. And the price tag wasn't so bad for a VG disc. It plays decently enough and I can add it to my esoteric collection. I managed to "mod" a Pro-Ject turntable with a motor pulley unit to make the thing spin at the proper speed (along with the right type of stylus for the Ortofon cart that was installed) so I am 100% ready for the big shellac throwdown! Heh. I'll leave the heavy collecting to others more obsessed than me. I sure like having a few nifty specimens to mess around with now and again!

I also got into a new (to me) German band from the 70s / 80s era called Novalis. The record pictured at the top was rescued from a Goodwill and is my favorite so far - titled "Visionen". It's an all-instrumental album whereas the others feature vocals in the German language. Very progressive stuff and how can you say no to a great looking record label like "Brain"? I could get addicted to this stuff, easily!

A couple of new colored-vinyl reissues walked in the door this summer as well. The Silver Apples record sounds great though I don't have an original to compare. The reissue was beautifully put together by Jackpot Records who seem to be making a play for the reissue market (though somehow there is a Universal Music logo on the thing as well). Jackpot also put out the early Wipers LPs with nice tip-on sleeves and well-pressed vinyl.

The Judy Henske / Jerry Yester "Farewell Aldebaran" reissue is also not to be missed! Excellent sound and a nice package (complete with booklet with new interviews and pictures). For this title I do have an original copy and I can report this new reissue gives the original a run for the money. I think the CD version also has some bonus tracks so I reckon that will end up in the mail somewhere along the way too. Well worth the listening time to hear this excellent, groundbreaking quirky classic!
 Some new sounds have hit the turntable as well - such as the new Ryley Walker LP - "Golden Sings That Have Been Sung". A good friend hooked me up with this along with the record pictured below:
 This project was titled "Electric Ladyland Redux" - a re-recording of the entire Jimi Hendrix classic by various new bands. Now, I will admit to being one of the more skeptical listeners when it comes to projects like this, but one earful blew any skepticism right out of my skull! A major highlight was the excellent cover of "Voodoo Chile" by the band All Them Witches. These folks NAILED this track - just perfect. The overall sound of the record and pressing quality is top-notch as well. Available from Magnetic Eye Records.
I found this Rainbow Jackson album - Perpetual Summer - in a thrift store. It happens to be #171 of a limited edition run of 500 pressed. Had no idea what the music was like, but I took a chance since it looked interesting. Very good melodic / indie / hard rock. Good playing, solid songs and a pretty radio-friendly sound. This band is from LA and I'd check them out live if I ever see 'em in this neck of the woods.

The other night I had fun doing some extreme genre-hopping between Black Sabbath, Skeeter Davis and John Hiatt. Three of my favorite records by anybody. I may be in the minority, but I tend to like Sabbath with Dio singing more than Ozzy (though Ozzy's voice is so iconic on those classic albums - can't deny that). For me, though, Dio remains in the top 3 of my favorite metal / hard rock singers of all time. Sometimes he's #1.

Skeeter Davis, likewise, is one of my favorite country singers. Of course I am biased a bit since she was a part of the NRBQ extended family (being married to Joey Spampinato for a good number of years). I really enjoyed reading her autobiography "Bus Fare To Kentucky" years ago and have a number of her albums in the stacks. RIP Skeeter!

And the last album pictured is the great John Hiatt comeback album of the late 80s. The story behind "Bring The Family" is so unlikely - he'd burned every bridge in the years leading up to this record and, newly clean and sober, was given one last chance at a record deal. Not only does he deliver, but he starts a run of albums with songs so brilliant it's mind-boggling. Like this one - if this song doesn't getcha you must have a HOLE in yo' SOUL!
John Hiatt will serve as the link to Part Two of What I Listened to This Summer following shortly. There's more to tell especially with reasons to keep Compact Discs on your radar - fantastic sounds to be had for cheap out there, people! Until next time - keep listening!!!