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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