Saturday, December 30, 2006

Abbey Road (1969)

"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" Objectively speaking, there is no song title of the past 50 years more common than "I Want You." It's a simple and potent formulation, assertive rather than passive. Giants of this planet Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Savage Garden, Elvis Costello, even the Troggs and Spiritualized, stand with the Beatles, here, each with their different song and the same title. As you see, the Beatles have added extra copy with their parenthetical. For that matter, so has the King himself, Elvis Presley, with "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." Not to mention the downright wordy "If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right." You may suppose that all these latter open the door for variants and you are right: try this on for size: Bread, "Baby I'm-A Want You." Andy Gibbs, "I Just Want to Be Your Everything." Hey, why the fritch not!?! Thanks to technology, I can name-check the Barking Spiders with pinpoint accuracy. Check it OUT: Lobo's over-under Bread parallel of the time, "I'd Love You to Want Me." Various (and sundry!) "I Just Want to Dance With/Make Love to You/Walk You Home/Hold Your Hand" permutations. Also, "I/I'd Still Want You/Your Love/Sex" flavors from a whole new crew: Hank Williams, Chic, Chris Isaak, George Michael. Iggy's & all the vast ranging covers of "I Want to Be Your Dog." Sly wants to take you higher, the Jackson 5 want you back, Merle Haggard is always wanting you, Lou Reed says he wants to boogie with you, Nat King Cole (ever the dapper gentleman) wants to thank your folks, and Randy Newman wants you to hurt like he does. Frank Zappa's "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama"? Would that be going too far? This one goes on a long time and ends suddenly. Plus the coda.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rubber Soul [UK] (1965)

"Drive My Car" Bob Dylan and marijuana: Meet the Beatles!!! Now, granted, it's arguable that much of any such encounters were lost on Paul "Michelle" McCartney, as opposed to John "Nowhere Man" Lennon. (On the other hand, don't forget which one of them it was who more often did not leave home without it. Shout-out to Merle Haggard and Ray Charles while I'm at it.) But there's not much point going down that road even if, on the cover, Ringo didn't seem to know what he was doing there. The "Run for Your Life," "Girl" Lennon is still plainly in evidence as well. Furthermore, I happen to think "Michelle" is a very fine song.

Gas Station Cassette 1-3

In memory of some favorites who passed away this past calendar year.

Gas Station Cassette 1: Arthur Lee
Gas Station Cassette 2: Desmond Dekker
Gas Station Cassette 3: Grant McLennan

Two more still to come, when time allows. More information in comments.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Help! [UK] (1965)

"Help!" Pretty much the end once and for all of Beatlemania -- I happened to see the movie at the time in a theater packed with squealing, screaming girls -- this version of the album takes the transition a step further: "I've Just Seen a Face," the #12 track here, kicked off the version I knew of Rubber Soul, which it's fair enough to call the first post-Beatlemania album. So some cognitive dissonance here, but overall an improvement on what they offered us in the U.S. Once again my favorites tend to be what did not get overplayed on the radio: "I Need You," "Another Girl," and "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" limn an interesting array of opposing teen heart throb scenarios. "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is tender and gorgeous. "Act Naturally" gives Ringo a nice star turn. This is one of the good ones.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Hard Day's Night [UK] (1964)

"I Should Have Known Better" I'm hanging a "[UK]" off this because a lot of the Beatles CD re-releases tend to go with the original UK and Beatles (or at least Beatles handlers)-approved tracklists. For anyone steeped in the US releases, the differences are often quite remarkable, even unsettling. This slice of prime Beatlemania, for example, packs an even greater punch in the authentic-like version. While unfortunately lacking "This Boy," it dispenses with any and all cheesy orchestral scoring bits and proceeds directly to an astonishing series of songs, the best of them the least of their hits, if they charted at all: "I Should Have Known Better," "If I Fell," and "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You." You don't even have to like the movie.

More information in comments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Psychocandy (1985)

"Just Like Honey" Before there was My Bloody Valentine, before there was Yo La Tengo, before there was Spacemen 3 and all its progeny, there was this debut by the Jesus and Mary Chain, which advanced by a factor of light years the combination of bludgeoning roar with impeccably pretty melody, the latter generally pushed way high into the treble. Even as the body trembles absorbing the power, the mind and heart are pleased by sweet song. Drug use advised, refreshingly and openly. What's not to like?

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Loveless (1991)

"Only Shallow" At the time this came out, many descriptions of My Bloody Valentine pegged them as loudest band ever in concert. You felt the music more than heard it, word went. Earplugs advised. You can hear that here, for sure, and at whatever volume suits you. As with any of the delightfully labeled shoegaze bands, feedback and dense walls of bludgeoning roar largely set the tone. But then the wispies, the creamy filling of shoegaze, float through for purposes of contrast and inflection: strange little guitar noises, breathlessly lovely melodies, open-mouthed sha-la-la vocals that whip around the mix like shreds of paper caught in the wind. After several years of such insinuation, and compulsive listening, it finally becomes a favorite. A "classic," even.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Freedom (1989)

"Wrecking Ball" I don't know about you, but by the time this came out I had about had it with Neil Young and his zany career across the '80s (not that that made David Geffen's lawsuit any less idiotic). Trans? OK, sure. Good songs. But the Shocking Pinks? Landing on Water? This Note's For You? No, no, and no. Maybe it was Geffen after all. Whatever. Something straightened him out. This marked the beginning of a resurgence from which he still enjoys momentum. The songcraft that had deserted him returned. He engaged the world again. He meant every word, and practically every word hung from a lovely melody and/or treaded rock-solid underpinning. It's as if the way ahead simply crystallized for him one fine day.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991)

"Shake" Where do you put this? Hip hop, I suppose, but this is no kind of rapping that any Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg would ever let get down on tape. It samples Spandau Ballet and prays sincerely, even searchingly -- and to God. P.M. Dawn auteur Prince Be heaves a dirigible's worth of self-pitying sighs. It's not hard, in other words. It's about as soft as you can get. But the tracks are perfectly gorgeous, keyboards harnessed shamelessly to amazing effect. Prince Be's soliloquies meander and find their points, alternating from shallow to profound and back to shallow again. Sometimes he's even funny. And -- is this what makes it? -- the rhythms are irresistible right along. Weird, but good.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Oh Mercy (1989)

"Political World" Of all of the many hyped Bob Dylan comebacks (has he been with CBS/Sony et al. the whole way?), and setting aside the real ones, I think this is my favorite. With Daniel Lanois producing, it has a nice exploratory feel. All the songs are interesting, some find their way to happy places. It also has one of my favorite Dylan howlers: "Disease of Conceit," in which we are told, as if with brows furrowed, that scientists have been hard at work attempting to figure out conceit, but -- no luck so far. My favorite Dylan howler is on John Wesley Harding: "he said with his voice." He said with his voice. Oh lord.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Values (1979)

"I'm Bored" With all the throttled energies and pignose squalor, and the bright production slavered on top of that, plus the uneven songwriting, the sounds here enter into an interesting state of tempered mediation, a kind of chamber music. Rocks nicely in a small space, say at a gallery opening. For his first persona, Mr. Osterberg has selected the classic and durable loser w/ low self-esteem, who triumphs via rock 'n' roll, innate integrity, and sundry. He's only five foot one. He's got a pain in his neck. Nothing comes his way. Winning moment: [in front of a guitar solo] "All right doll face come out and bore me."

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lust for Life (1977)

"Success" Whatever changed about the recording strategy between that last one and this got it just right. This feels like songwriters and a band liberated from a heavy burden. Maybe that was The Idiot? Dostoevsky to Irving Stone, metaphorically speaking, with all the attendant loosening corner-cutting and living the good high life. Entirely a blast of fresh energy, even the weirdly dour "Turn Blue." Go directly to the call and response at the end of "Success" if you don't believe me. And never has poetic justice ever been sweeter than when the title song became the theme for Carnival Cruises, and a sports anthem to boot, following its utterly perfect deployment in a trashy Scottish movie about heroin addiction. Trainspotting. Don't miss it if you can.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

The Idiot (1977)

"Dum Dum Boys" Iggy's country album, recorded in Berlin, and produced once again by David Bowie, who once again evidently can't help making the sound sludgy. Doesn't really matter. As with Rubber Soul/Revolver, Ramones/Leave Home/Rocket to Russia, or King of America/Blood and Chocolate, it comes with a companion album released closely in time over which the faithful disagree. I go with Rubber Soul, Leave Home, Blood and Chocolate, and Lust for Life. That said, there's nary a miscue here on the first (vinyl LP) side -- which includes both "China Girl" and "Funtime," a couple of snowcaps right there. Then comes "Dum Dum Boys." (But go ahead and skip "Mass Production.")

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Raw Power (1973)

"Death Trip" Aficionados will appreciate the decades-overdue remix supervised by the Ig himself over the weird (make that rank amateur) treatment from David Bowie the first time around. Me, I always appreciated the songs themselves more than anything. They remain ferocious even in Bowie's teacup. Of course the remix is going to bring that out bigger and badder than ever, and so it does. It can right pin you to the wall. I'd like to think that if the job had been done properly first time around, the Stooges might have started crowding Led Zeppelin in the arena megaspaces. But then I remember that this was also when the principals became heroin addicts.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Complete Fun House Sessions (1970)

"1970 (Take 5)" For this mammoth and epic undertaking there are many people to thank. First, of course, the Stooges: Iggy Stooge (nee James "Jim" Osterberg, later Iggy Pop), vocals; brothers guitarist Ron and drummer Scott Asheton; Dave Alexander, bass; and Steve Mackay, tenor sax. Thank you. All of you. Then, to Rhino Records, who along about the turn of the century exhumed the tapes and went to work, putting it ALL together. Thank you. And, finally, to misha4music, who made it all possible -- for me to hear, that is (this and a lot more!). Thank you. Enjoy.

More information in comments.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Foundations of Funk: A Brand New Bag (1964-1969)

"Mother Popcorn (Live)" When the history of 20th century music is written a hundred years from now, James Brown is going to be on the short list. He worked at a continuing high peak for practically 30 years, innovating, experimenting, discovering. Fresh as a farmer's market, the music he produced is also demanding, for performer and listener alike. They're not kidding when they call him the hardest working man in show business. But the rewards unfold and unfold and unfold. Here is the essential core, as good a starting point as any. As necessary as anything in his canon. Worth it at twice the price. Really, words fail.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tapestry (1971)

"It's Too Late" Carole King never married Brian Wilson and Brian Wilson never committed suicide and I don't think anyone like John Turturro or Bruce Davison was ever involved, but in every other way Allison Anders's movie Grace of My Heart is true to the marrows. This is what comes of a lifetime of cheap mythologizing. What people used to forget (or never knew) about Carole King is the first chapter of her career as one of the finest songwriters to come out of midtown's Brill Building. But, that said, Edna Buxton's Grace of My Heart could not possibly match this, if only for "It's Too Late," the saddest song ever to sell by the millions. "Oh, the water Let it run all over me And it stoned me to my soul." That's a Van Morrison song, but it describes perfectly the experience of hearing "It's Too Late" the first thousand or so times.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Court and Spark (1974)

"Help Me" Joni, as her friends call her, rockets out of folk and briefly goes pop before veering jazz and, ultimately, to points within and beyond. But here is where it gets as good as it ever would, as far as I'm concerned (though Hejira, in yet another vein, is not far behind). This too is pure pop music for now people. For me, like William Carlos Williams and his red wheel barrow, so much has depended upon "Dance with the lady with a hole in her stocking." That moment and the song it comes from, "Help Me," along with "Free Man in Paris," are the tippity-top of the uttermost top for me. But then everything else here (save, perhaps, "Car on a Hill") is nearly as stellar. "People's Parties," "Trouble Child," "Down to You": all plumb the depths of a world with no SSRI antidepressants to shore up the levees. Drugs get you through times of no money and all that. Sometimes it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and sometimes like being at a rotting mellow LA party, but all wacked and perfectly goofy and loose and confident in oneself. And always, always bursting with terrific vibes.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blue (1971)

"The Last Time I Saw Richard" Awww, this is the sad album, and you can tell she'd been crying a lot. Either that or she had a terrible head cold, on some of these tracks. Fuck everything is her basic attitude and her most redeeming and exasperating feature. She blazes through the miasma with an iron spine, her songwriting and her singing both at a place where everything she touches turns gorgeous, and the sad stuff stays close to sad. She avoids (or shreds, or kicks ass of, or something) self-pity here in a way that she never quite could again. They're not all hanky moppers either, and it lives now forever pressed into vinyl, digitized, and played frequently at all hours of the day or night.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ladies of the Canyon (1970)

"Woodstock" Synchronicity. Just as Canadians Neil Young and most of the Band began to administer life lessons in their different ways to American boomers, fellow countryman Joni Mitchell comes along to round off some of the points. She settled in Laurel Canyon (Frank Zappa: "where the rock bands all live together"), warbled around, and became an amazing songwriter. Amazing singer too. Before it all went to her head, she was a pretty cool self-involved West Coast kinda chick, frolicking through the fun of "Big Yellow Taxi," laying down fat harmonies on the title song, and trumping all comers when she plays the plaintive card with "The Circle Game." This is solid.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

60 ≤ 90

Low on short songs? Here's a bunch. None longer than 1:30, each a separate track.

1. Alain Goraguer, "Les Hommes -- Le Grande Co-Existence" (1973) This could be the most beautiful thing here. From a nice OST, La Planete Sauvage. (1:15)
2. Alice Cooper, "Titanic Overture (196xx.. (1969) Titanic is right, and way ahead of Lou Reed. (See below.) (1:12)
3. Alice Cooper, "Street Fight" (1972) Wild!! (0:53)
4. Angry Samoans, "Lights Out" (1982) These guys are funny. (0:52)
5. Archie Shepp, "Keep Your Heart Right" (1966) (1:18)
6. Beach Boys, "Don't Talk ... (Vocal Snippet)" (1966) This could be the most beautiful thing here. (0:56)
7. Beatles, "Her Majesty [W- Final Chord]" (1969) Closure. (0:25)
8. Bernard Herrmann, "Finale" (1951) From The Day the Earth Stood Still OST. (0:30)
9. Bessie Jones, "Sometimes" (1961) You know this from Moby. Winning lyric: "I'm going over here." (0:56)
10. Black Flag, "Wasted" (1978) Wow, nice job. (0:53)
11. Bobby Fuller Four, "Eastwood High Dance Radio Spot" (ca. 1965) (0:53)
12. Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, "The Sound of Music" (1967) Cracks me up every time. (1:19)

More information in comments.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Roman Gods (1981)

"The Dreg (Fleshtones-77)" More overwhelming garage power, albeit necessarily retro due to the circumstances of Keith Streng's and Peter Zaremba's later births. The Fleshtones deliver. From the first track onward this gem rolls in and through like beautiful bad weather. Shambolic, impulsive, unpretentious. Vocals the mumblingest and/or yelpingest, heavy guitar like steamroller peeling you off the pavement pancake-style, or barbed wire sting, and vibrating, shuddering, pulsating fuzz everywhere. Everywhere. Rebels. Rebels. Revolt into style. Turn it up. Turn it UP.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Black Monk Time (1966)

"Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Choice" If I didn't know better, I would swear time travel must be involved with the Monks. I understand they were five U.S. servicemen just off their hitches, that this was recorded in Berlin, and that it's basically their only album. I come to it nearly 40 years late, so call this an early flush of enthusiasm if you like. Here we have raw, amazing, original, powerful stuff, so far ahead of its time that I doubt the parents of any of them have even met yet. Absolutely ranks with 13th Floor Elevators or Lollipop Shoppe/Dead Moon, and miles ahead of Chocolate Watchband or Seeds or Mysterians. It's hard not to be excited.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Zen Arcade (1984)

"Pink Turns to Blue" The early stuff by Hüsker Dü, especially the debut Land Speed Record, often didn't get past an onslaught of unlistenable sludge. But then something shifted. A handful of singles and EPs came along that increasingly showed songwriting chops and a unique sensibility, using point of view, dramatic tension, even melody, to inflect and texture the trademark flying-V giant roar. I suppose nobody should have been surprised when one of the premier hardcore bands of the time proved capable of a tender, beautiful, harrowing, bludgeoning, and always interesting double vinyl concept LP. But everyone was. It was about the last thing anyone expected -- which is only one of the features about it that make it so sweet.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Don't Tell a Soul (1989)

"Rock 'n' Roll Ghost" It's fair enough to call this Paul Westerberg's first (or second, or third) solo outing. Viz., the cover. Me, I don't go that route, and I don't see the break until the next one, All Shook Down. Meanwhile, for any number of purely personal reasons, this is one of my favorite Replacements albums. Westerberg goes wading hip-deep into the swamps of bathos and comes back with a bunch of beauties: "Back to Back," "We'll Inherit the Earth," "Achin' to Be," "They're Blind," "Rock 'n' Roll Ghost." Did I say hip-deep? He had to be in it up to his neck.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pleased to Meet Me (1987)

"Alex Chilton" Dead horse metaphor alert: So where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls Just the beer light to guide us, So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands? All of a sudden the referents aren't so clear now are they? Sooner or later, from Hootenanny to All Shook Down, you have to make the call. Where does it all go wrong for the Replacements? This has to be a candidate, but come on. Bob Stinson or not, Westerberg's songs carry it -- no matter how coldly you might want to reduce the band to journeyman/faceless status. Hey, Chris Mars is at the top of his game. Winning lyric: "Jesus rides beside me He never buys any smokes."

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Tim (1985)

"Kiss Me on the Bus" Expectations for the Major Label debut ran high, but these guys were never going to be stars. Nobody wanted it enough. So, like a sports team on a losing steak, here's where they started to tear apart at each other. Overlooked by all of them, maybe, was the incredible run they were on. This was at least their third great one in a row. Some, even in retrospect, sniff that it's a notch off, but to me it feels loose and warm and fun and stuffed with inspiration. They whip up the most beautiful little bittersweet things: "Kiss Me on the Bus," "Here Comes a Regular, "Hold My Life." They go to the roar dependably on "Bastards of Young" and "Left of the Dial." And shot through all of it, that sad, hangdog personality, radiating pain and sweetness with his darts of line and melody, whom we would soon know as Ziggy Stardust. Er, I mean, Paul Westerberg.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Let It Be (1984)

"Unsatisfied" Most consider this far and away the best Replacements, which is interesting given the KISS cover, the instantly outdated "Answering Machine," and throwaways like "Gary's Got a Boner" and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out." But what's good here is not merely good but magnitudes of superlatives: amazing, awesome, unparalleled, hairs at the back of your neck, however you want to put it. "Unsatisfied" takes a respectable shot at anthem for a generation. "Androgynous" is as fresh as a minute ago and 6,000 years in the making. "We're Comin' Out," "I Will Dare," "Sixteen Blue" -- for that matter, "Answering Machine" -- all of them. Timeless. Searing. Poignant. Dramatic. Real. Don't let the shambolics fool you.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Hootenanny (1983)

"Take Me Down to the Hospital" Glory days, glory days. Except for "Johnny's Gonna Die" I never much cottoned to the debut, and Stink was for the laughs. But this is where the legend of the Replacements locked down: the sound of a band furiously trying to escape collapse, the collapse itself at some of the shows, the brilliant nights, the many and various excesses, sets of some or all spontaneous covers, Bob Stinson in a dress, Tommy Stinson the perennial Boy Wonder, and the whispers and hints of Paul Westerberg, said to be one of the Great Ones. The only thing left was the watchful wait for fame.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Shake Some Action (1976)

"Shake Some Action" I appreciate that the Flamin' Groovies rocked a heckuva job Brownie harder when Roy Loney was at the helm. But this outfit is so blamed sweet, and not half bad when it's time to rock -- how could it be otherwise with Dave Edmunds producing? I found this in a cutout bin in 1979 and have not been without it since. The songs are short and to the point, a splendid mix of covers and originals. Rockers and ballads. Bloozy. Pop. Rock'n'roll. Seamless. Every harmony, every ringing chord. I play the whole thing all at once. It's a big gulp. Save some for tomorrow. No, I'll get another one tomorrow. LOUD.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Legendary Hearts (1983)

"Bottoming Out" Continuing, moving forward with a newfound songcraft that hit its peak on the following New Sensations, the music here is organic and discovered, rich and yeasty like a stout. Fernando Saunders finds his amazing trademark loping bass guitar voice and Lou Reed puts it to good use in some of his most moving and confessional work ever. The Happy Heterosexual loves his wife, he loves his motorcycle, but he's been maybe drinking a little too much lately. Elsewhere, as on "Martial Law," there's a band reaching heights no one suspected it could reach, kicking it out like a homerun derby, stroking the sweet spot over and over -- "unconscious," I think they call it in sports. Nice to see Reed so relaxed that he's actually funny. That alone is worth the price.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Blue Mask (1982)

"Heavenly Arms" All lingering doubts about his VU origins evidently clarified, Lou Reed here re-embraces the "2 guitars bass drum" aesthetic that would see its apotheosis on New York, first matches himself against the amazing Robert Quine late of Richard Hell's Voidoids, and continues the breathtaking balance of acute takes on crude lizard-brain human behavior and sensation (as in "The Gun" or "Waves of Fear," see also Street Hassle) against achingly beautiful, emotionally naked tilts at all of the sweetness in life. Which here includes spiritual connection to poet Delmore Schwartz, membership in the I Remember JFK Boomer club, and, of course, the Happy Heterosexual at his ease, with his rooftop garden, longing for the embrace of the woman he married the previous Valentine's Day.

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Coney Island Baby (1976)

"Coney Island Baby" Pretty weird for Lou Reed, but -- no wait, I can't do that every time. I usually think of this as one of his most unfairly overlooked. Fallout from Metal Machine Music, I presume. But it's so self-evidently authentic and straight from the heart that at first you can't believe it. That goes for at second and at third too. You keep thinking it has to be a put-on. Then the title song, the last one on the album, sends all those arrows into your heart. Winning lyric: "I wanted to play football for the coach." It's for real. No it's not. Yes it is.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Transformer (1972)

"Perfect Day" Pretty weird for Lou Reed, but there are a lot of albums you can say that about. This features and was carried by his one hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," which sets the tone as Reed, with David Bowie parked at the board for inspiration, attempts a gorgeous pop-song extravaganza like Ziggy Stardust. But his way. Which means there's no shortage of drugs, drag queens, prostitutes, boys hitchhiking, etc. So is it all a big joke? You might think so. But even as the earnestness in "Vicious," "New York Telephone Conversation," or especially "Perfect Day" obviously plays for laughs, underneath it feels so genuinely sincere and heartfelt that sometimes in spite of yourself it's touching, like the effect of the final scene in City Lights. You know what they say about cynics and sentiment.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Morrison Hotel (1970)

"Waiting for the Sun" Thing about the Doors was, they always did amount to more than Buffoon & the Wanna-Be's. Granted -- "Celebration of the Lizard," "The End," "When the Music's Over," maybe even "Light My Fire" -- Jim Morrison often put himself center stage. (All those songs, btw, particularly "The End," have their points, but that's another discussion.) The last two Doors albums are their best because the buffoon finally figured out he had a pretty good band back of him and that they all did better as a unit when he let them take things out, musically speaking. By that time, playing the blooz had to look a damn sight better than the bubblegum they'd been purveying in their mid-period. And so it was.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Benefit (1970)

"With You There to Help Me" In retrospect, I came to appreciate the first two albums (and Mick Abrahams, and Blodwyn Pig) more than this, but I got off the Jethro Tull bus pretty quick anyway. By the time of Thick As a Brick I was gone and I haven't looked back. Except for the hit, "Living in the Past" in 1972, which like this album is songful and introspective and comes with odd and surprising colorations and not a gesture wasted. No histrionics, in other words, all that energy instead compressed into the songwriting.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Uncle Meat (1969)

"Sleeping in a Jar" The big kahuna, more or less. Billed as soundtrack for a long-delayed movie I have never seen (I sat through 200 Motels, thank you), I think the real movie should have been a document of each moment of this album as its final versions were recorded and/or mixed. The cuts from live venues to studio bits and back again, the severe juxtaposition of musical styles, the multiple tracking – it's constant and seamless and often very beautiful. But a movie like that is no doubt difficult so we'll just have to make do with this very fine album.

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More Zappa on the Internets

Just noticed that there seems to be a spate of Zappa posts recently (via totally fuzzy):

9 boots (including Apocrypha, a 4-CD box) at Hipidetripi
Another boot at A Pound for a Brown (name likely from an Uncle Meat track, which makes this a good bet for checking back)
Overnite Sensation at RokanRoll

Lumpy Gravy & more, eventually the whole discography, at LinkWorld
Apocrypha also available at The Sky Moves Sideways

Monday, September 18, 2006

We're Only in it for the Money (1968)

"Flower Punk" There are those who will tell you this is the best album Frank Zappa ever made. I'm not so sure about that, but it's probably his funniest. Sending up the hippies ("my hair is getting good in the back"), bringing in Eric Clapton just to exclaim, "God, it's God, I see God!" (a joke that now requires too much explanation), the cover art literally turning Sgt. Pepper inside out (which anyone would have to admit was more effective in the big vinyl LP w/ gatefold package), and no less than nine songs clocking in under 2:00 (three of those under 1:00), this thing romps with no stops, holds, or limits. Concept with purpose. What an idea.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Absolutely Free (1967)

"Plastic People" More of the same and just as good, maybe even more so for being concentrated onto a single (vinyl) disc. It's worth noting that the legendary Plastic People, of the now Czech Republic, took their name from the Zappa song here. And while we're on the Czech Republic, I was amused and amazed when Vaclav Havel paid a visit to the Clinton White House in 1998 and made a special request of meeting Lou Reed. Reed may even have performed for Clinton and Havel, I can't remember. By then Zappa was nearly five years dead from cancer, the more's the pity.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Freak Out! (1966)

"Who Are the Brain Police?" I've noticed an interesting paradox among fans of Frank Zappa. Many times their interest seems to start in their adolescent years and wanes as adulthood arrives. My own run starts about here and concludes with Fillmore East: June 1971 and/or 200 Motels. I am only now willing to listen to later releases that many consider essential: Apostrophe, Over-Nite Sensation, Joe's Garage, etc., etc. But I don't think anyone can disagree that practically everything Zappa did that mattered was charted out in this auspicious debut: the sophisticated experiments with improvisational jazz, modern classical musical forms, and studio effects; the lancing of all pretension, mocking hippies and "straights" equally; the generous and rich humor; and yes... Ppppppptth! Braaaapp! Hukkk-hukkk-kkkchh! It's all here.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Are You Experienced (1967)

"Third Stone From the Sun" Everything you have ever heard about Jimi Hendrix is true and if you are not yet familiar with his debut I almost envy you for all the pleasure and surprises that await you. For me, hearing this for the first time (waybackwhen), I was surprised by the melodicism of the songs and the emotional punch of Hendrix's vocals. But the real point, of course, is the sonics on display, which live up to all advance billing.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

"Ballad of a Thin Man" Such a painfully obvious all-timer that it's easy to mistake having heard of it for having heard it. By far Bob Dylan's best pure explosion of words, the shards of meaning slash across one of his better (and, again, arguably his best) musical outing. Even "Desolation Row" is at least 75% joy, and that's nearly 10 minutes right there. Plus don't forget, from Freewheelin' to Love and Theft (and likely Modern Times), the one thing that always saves Dylan's ass -- above and beyond his murky commitment to Jesus the Christ -- is how comically funny he can be and how long he can sustain it. BTW, I remember a bitter rebuke from the journalist who was the target of "Ballad" that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine along about 1976. Oh don't go there.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Out of Our Heads [US] (1965)

"The Spider and the Fly" Somehow just owning this felt illicit and transgressive and darkly mistaken. So Goofus starts out strong. The album came in a batch of record club LPs. My brother and I hadn't given much thought to how the only place we could play them was on the living room console. Consequently, we never heard it as frequently as I would have liked, meaning only once or twice a day. Thanks, Gallant. But with everything so neatly compressed, focused and tight and funny and knowing, and good in every way at anything it attempted, the bad messages even so were impressed deeply upon me. Can't be a man if he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me. This may be the last time I don't know. Gonna hitchhike 'round the world, etc. Goofus, on points.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971)

"Right Off" This one's durable, always sounds fresh and you can play it twice or more daily and it only gets better. It's a wonder that I ever stop listening to it at all. The first (vinyl) side, aka "Right Off," cooks up a funky stew that stretches forever. John McLaughlin shines as always with Miles. The flip, "Yesternow," is based on an almost self-consciously ugly bass figure that may or may not continue for the entire 26 or so minutes. The merry crew travels to many a tidy harbor and through storms at sea. Then, if you're anything like me, you always jump when James Earl Jones starts yapping, because you always forget that he does.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)

"That's What You Always Say" This is the first record I ever heard called grunge (or grungy?). It's also the loudest band I've ever seen, edging Motorhead and Metallica. Our ears're bleeding and our amps're smoking People say it hurts we know they're not joking. That's not Dream Syndicate, it's a Minneapolis band, but that's what seeing Dream Syndicate was like. Better to stay at home and play the album. It works even at the lowest volumes. And the highest.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Before and After Science (1977)

"King's Lead Hat" The ideas of ambience and the Oblique Strategies deck of cards really entered the picture at least two years earlier with Another Green World, often characterized as his best album. So it's no surprise that this is shot through with quirky and lulling abstractions of sound that look forward to the plink-plonk/empty spaces that would largely dominate the rest of his career. They slow the proceedings here, but that said, it must also be noted that the proceedings here are fine enough to overcome anything.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)

"Third Uncle" Brian Eno's career as pop star, which lasted about as long as a college education, held such promise that I've periodically carried a grudge about the ambientitiousness of what followed and prevailed. Sure, I like Music for Films. I like Music for Airports. But I love this early stuff: the mid-'70s wacked-out, always melodic verse-chorus-versus pure pop magic, which he really attacks, bends and mutilates it every which way, just like you're s'posed to. I'm pretty sure that's a manual typewriter on percussion in "True Wheel." The crazy saxophone charts on "Fat Lady of Limbourgh" are as overweeningly plump as promised. And "Third Uncle" rocks like a mother, all tight forward propulsion momentum. Then you start to notice the jokes.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Low (1977)

"Sound and Vision" We all liked The Man Who Fell to Earth so much that David Bowie went ahead and used it for the covers of two albums that otherwise had little to do with the movie. This one was recorded in Berlin, with both Brian Eno and Iggy Pop -- Eno as co-auteur and Iggy as co-vocalist on one track. Of the three (or four?) collaborations between David Bowie and Brian Eno, Low was first and best. Ideas crackle and the band is tight, and if both sputter some on the second (vinyl LP) side, mostly instrumentals, it's more than redeemed by the seven gems on the first (vinyl LP) side. That would have made an A+++ EP in anyone's book. What's more, The Man Who Fell to Earth was a fine, fine film.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Aladdin Sane (1973)

"The Prettiest Star" By this time David Bowie was everywhere at once, his face the ubiquitous inscrutable mask we've come to expect. Signifying like a power station, but with his best profile to the light always. Mike Garson -- the piano player, who is insane -- is the key here. His crazy playing highlights and unifies and even blunts Bowie's already strained chronic bad habit of incoherent, usually very silly persona hopping. Somehow, the sheer explosive musicality of the sound, the songs and the playing, redeems all the nonsense. Here is a man who has painted a red and blue lightning bolt across his face and never cracks a smile. Imagine how hard we could be laughing. Remember W.A.S.P.?

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