Albums Uncategorized

Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music (RCA CPS2-1101) 8-Track

I must once again beg the indulgence of Thrifty Vinyl readers and contributors, and on at least two grounds, to allow me include this unusual piece. First of all, and most obviously, this is not a vinyl issue but rather that most denigrated of music delivery systems: the 8-Track tape; at any rate, it is an analogue artefact. Secondly, it is not a recent purchase but one I bought it over fifteen years ago. I can vouch that it was purchased at a thrift store, a Salvation Army on Columbus, Ohio’s south side, for 50 cents. Having left my player in the States (along with several Beatles 8-Tracks, which I sold to Used Kids Records), my Stereo 8 copy of the Lou Reed shibboleth (look it up: an excellent word) currently resides with other nick-nacks and googahs on the bookcase above my computer. It from from this aspect that Metal Machine Music looked down on me and the temptation was simply too great after coming away from the Ashford boot fair this morning with nothing worthy of a Thrifty Vinyl blurb (only Peter Brown’s “Crank It Up [Funk Town]”, a mediocre TK Disco 12″). The defence rests.

The fact is, I haven’t listened to Metal Machine Music since coming to the UK thirteen years ago, but I remember it as quite listenable, in a post-rock ambient way, despite its notorious reputation. Sonically, the tape was surprisingly resonent and with the added bonus of the 8-Track’s permanent loop, I reckon it was an ideal MMM experience.

8-Track tape cartridge packaging is as poorly regarded as its sound quality and here is no exception. Reed’s pseudo-scientific epigrams (“*The Amine B Ring”, “An Electronic Instrumental Composition”, “*dextrorotory components synthesis of sympathomimetic musics”) seem even more incongruous in micro point sizing.  And please note the RCA SPECIAL VALUE! hype on the spine. Really, you’ve gotta laugh. At the time, MMM was issued on RCA’s classical music Red Label imprint (though the 8-Track doesn’t seem to be) to distinguish it from Reed’s rock output; not that the photo of Sister Ray in what looks like his live album studded leathers and a Sally Can’t Dance blonde dye job particularly helps.

Anyway, I’m tempted to pick up the recent vinyl re-issue.  What d’ya reckon?

Albums Classical Soundtracks

Walter Carlos et al.- A Clockwork Orange/Music from the Soundtrack (1971)

IMG_1597Carlos, still in the initial flush of the Switched On phenomenon, provides suitable menace and black humour to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian horrorshow. Alternating between pippy Moog versions of the classics and orchestral versions of other classics, the soundtrack accurately sums up the perversity at the heart of the film culminating in an unsettling (and very fast) version of the William Tell Overture. Things go all Daft Punk on the reworking of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (listed as “March from A Clockwork Orange”) wherein Rachel Elkind’s “articulations” are synthesised in a very “One More Time” way.

The album was edited by John Wood and supervised by producer/Zelig-figure Joe Boyd, a fact which didn’t merit mention in Boyd’s entertaining and warm-hearted 60’s autobiography White Bicycles.

The book and movie were influential to my teenage self, giving me and my friends both vocabulary words to baffle elders and justification, on literary grounds, for our loutish anti-social behaviour (tho’ we were sensible enough to do it when no-one was watching).

Albums Compilations

Billy Joel – Now Playing (CBS BJ1 Demonstration Only – Not For Sale) (1979)

NB: Only those Billy Joel diary entries relevant to the Lp Now Playing have been selected for this piece–Editor.

December 15, 1971 Dear Diary, My brilliant first album, Cold Spring Harbour came out last month and has been getting real life reviews.  I have to say I don’t understand half of what these schlubs say so I have resolved to buy a dictionary and increase my vocabulary.  The first word I’m going to look up is: “trite.”

Summer 1972 Dear Diary, Is FM Radio the coolest or what?  Where else could you hear my awesome, edgy, pro-drugs character study “Captain Jack”? With words like “junkies”, “closet queen”, “masturbate”, “pot”, and “get you high”, I’m like a suburban Velvet Underground without the musical muscle or lyrical compassion.  And unlike Lou Reed I can actually sing–ha, ha!

P.S. Songwriting tip I picked up from Bob Dylan: To show you’re really superior to your subject matter, start each new stanza with “So you…” and then list all the stupid things that your subject does. This week’s dictionary word: “condescending”.

November 2, 1973 Dear Diary, In the future, I think the title track of Piano Man will be seen as my “signature piece”.  In fact, as I can secretly reveal to you, dear Diary, “Piano Man” is somewhat autobiographical, being as it is about my time spent at the Executive Room piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard where I brought joy and light to patrons’ meaningless, depressing lives with tours de force like the “Root Beer Rag” (I’ll put that on my next album to show my “diversity”!)–really, they couldn’t get enough of me.   And I loved the way I flipped around “gin and tonic” to “tonic and gin”, that lyrical twist is what great songwriters do (and it made it rhyme!!). Dictionary words: “overblown” and “Elton John”.

September 1974 Dear Diary, I heard “Cat’s in the Cradle” on the radio and if that’s not Harry Chapin, somebody’s ripping me off.

October 11, 1974 Dear Diary, Street Life Serenade came out with a big, fat message to the Music Industry: namely, “Fuck You!”  That’s basically what I’m saying in “The Entertainer” because the Music Industry made me edit “Piano Man” for radio play.  Even counting Upton Sinclair with The Jungle, has anyone ever skewered an Industry (whether Music or Otherwise) so comprehensively as I’ve done there?  I don’t think so, and the Music Industry had better change and pronto or they’ll get another of my devastating depth charges.  Dictionary word: “petulant”.

May, 1976 Dear Diary, My fab new album Turnstiles was released with the gorgeous ballad “I’ve Loved These Days” on it.  It’s the gorgeous ballad that Paul McCartney wishes he’d written, if he hadn’t already written many better ones.  There’s another song on it called “James”; it’s probably about my son, or something.  “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” is my homage (you see, dear Diary, the dictionary doesn’t contain all mean words!) to Phil Spector, it’s not a “total rip-off” (even I know what that means!) like some people have said. Dictionary words: “insipid” and “unctuous”.

July, 1976 Dear Diary, I was telling the wife that, based on years of dictionary work, I’ve come to the conclusion that I get a lot of bad reviews and that it’s time I name and shame these bozos (the so-called “music critics”) by reading bits of reviews out in concert and then tearing them up.  And then maybe writing a song about it.  Anyway, after about 45 mins. when I was just getting warmed up on the subject, my wife starts telling me, apropos America’s Bicentennial, about Daniel J. Boorstein’s book, The Americans – The National Experience and how it compels us to see again, ranged in order, the whole mass of attitudes and mechanisms that arise from American difference. I stopped her right there. I told her that I didn’t want clever conversation, just someone I can rant at.

October 1977 Dear Diary,  I heard “Bat Out of Hell” on the radio and if that’s not Bruce Springsteen somebody’s ripping melodramatic early-period Billy Joel off. Dictionary: “pastiche”

November 1977 Dear Diary, A bad day. I was so stoked that I’ve sold about a billion copies of The Stranger then my wife has to go and totally ruin everything!!! She goes, “Billy, you’ve written your first standard” about the song “Just The Way You Are” [see July 1976 entry–ed.]. My first standard? Hasn’t she been listening?!! Uh-umm (clearing throat noise): “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”, ever heard of it? “New York State of Mind”? Hello? Etc. etc., etc., etc. (times a million!). Diary, I’m so mad, I want a divorce right now, but I’m so busy, what with promoting a billion-selling album, I might not get around to it until July 20, 1982.  BTW, I love the Fender Rhodes on my album–I defy anyone in the 2000s to say it screams 70s middle-of-the-road cheeze. And how about that song “She’s Always A Woman To Me”?  Can you believe, dear Diary, that it’s about a transvestite? Anyway, my performance is so utterly unique that it will take about 33 years for anyone to cover it properly, i.e. exactly the way I did it.

Summer 1979 Dear Diary, CBS are releasing a compilation album (my first!) in England called Now Playing with some of my best-loved favorites (though, oddly, nothing from my last record 52nd Street, but thank God they didn’t put anything from Cold Spring Harbour on it–that album was a real stinker-oo!).  It’s a Promotional, For Demonstration Only, Not For Sale album destined to become a collector’s item worth literally tens of dollars (like that stupid label-mate Elvis Costello’s Live At the El Mocambo Club record–speaking of which, I think I’m going to do a “new wave” album next, I bet I can be way more “petulant” than stupid Elvis Costello.) and definitely not the sort of unloved record that someone will find in 30 years time at a thrift store in, say Whitstable, Kent for a pound.  [That’s enough Dictionary–ed.]


12 inchers

Maximum Joy – Why Can’t We Live Together 12″ (GAR 1/12)

The presence of Paul “Nelly” Hooper and Dennis Bovell on this 1983 12″ was enough to convince me to part with fifty hard-earned English pennies.  Stick with Timmy Thomas’ conscious original or Sade’s slinky cover from a year later.

In answer to your question: Because you insist on making sh*t, over-produced, poorly sung records.

Albums Disco

Chic – Real People (1980) and Sister Sledge – Love Somebody Today (1980)

How much Chic is too much Chic?  If you like Rogers, Edwards et. al, there’s nothing particularly wrong with these records but I’m coming to the conclusion that Chic magic is best experienced 12 inches at a time.  Real People opens with an instrumental fusion piece called “Open Up”; after that we’re on familiar territory, a couple self-empowing disco numbers whose syncopated fade out choruses go on for at least a minute too long, followed by a kiss-off ballad.  While Chic’s outward style is firmly entrench in the party ethic of the late 1970s, lyrically, the band contrarily trades on the hippy dream of peace, love and understanding and a boiled down/updated version of 40s crooner romance.

There are likewise few surprises among Love Somebody Today‘s solid tracks and, perhaps inevitably, nothing as attention grabbing as “We Are Family” with the added pall, on a couple songs, of an adult easy listening vibe, reflected in that gross Lady’s Knitware Journal cover. There was a copy of the post-Edwards/Rogers Sledge record from 1981 All American Girls in the same boot fair batch, but I thought I was pushing my luck as it was.

Having said that, I’m looking forward to compiling a best of The Chic Organisation Ltd. Productions when I get King of the World by Sheila and B. Devotion, 1980 being my cut off point.

Albums Folk Jazz

John Martyn – One World (ILPS 9492)

My previous experience with John Martyn is not a happy one; I got Solid Air, a reputed masterpiece, when it was re-issued on CD in the early 2000’s only to find it pretentious, distractingly sung and, ultimately, unlistenable.  I got rid of it after a couple years of periodically giving it it’s fair shakes.

One World (1977) is a different kettle of mixed metaphors. How to even categorise this slick, rhythmically complex album?  And what was it doing in a pile of crappy easy listening records at the Ashford boot fair for 50p? I can’t answer the latter but as to the former, we could judge it by its A-list players and call it: folk (Dave Pegg, Martyn himself), pop (Stevie Winwood), outernational (Morris Pert, Rico, Lee Perry) or jazz (Danny Thompson). It is none of these: it is something altogether different or, rather, it sounds like a blend of all of them with added electronica (via extensive but judicious use of Echoplex [no, not that one] looping on the big man’s guitar). The album’s vocals, such a bugbear for me on Solid Air, are a particular revelation; alternately gruff and sweet, Martyn seems to have absorbed by this point more swing and nuance, even mimicking Perry’s cadence on the co-written “Big Muff”.

An atmospheric gem of a record.

Albums Compilations Disco Funk

Kool and the Gang – Twice As Kool

Whenever I hear Kool and the Gang on oldies radio, I always think, why don’t I have any in the Asbo Library?  It turns out there’s no good reason and I figured I wasn’t going far wrong with a 1983 double Lp subtitled The Hits of Kool & the Gang, especially as it set me back only 50p. And though I didn’t expect it from this UK capitalise-on-their-recent-string-of-pop-hits best of, I could’ve used a few more from their early 70s pre-Doedato/James Taylor records (no, not that one), which are highly regarded by Soul Jazz types. Often the hits album signals the end of the chart reign; it wasn’t quite the case here, they still had a couple more monsters (1984’s In the Heart and 1985’s Emergency which included “Joanna” and “Fresh” respectively).

Incidently, saw tha Gang at the Ohio State Fair in 1988 and they were still awesome.

Albums Classic Rock

Deep Purple – Made In Japan (Purple TPSP 351) (1972)

If I may, this record is so conceptually perfect that rational criticism becomes superfluous: Everything simply sounds like you want it to; shrieking vibrato vocals, deep rumbling organ, furiously fast guitar runs, face melting bass and drums just this side of in-control, all played loud and fast. Made In Japan has the best version I can imagine of “Highway Star” and if the lengthy drum solo (“The Mule”) after “Smoke on the Water” was a bit of cruel vinyl programming, we can all be happy that at least the rest of band did lines, bong hits and got blow jobs in the meantime. Even the stage patter is legendary: “You’re only 4’6″, I wouldn’t worry about it” and [to the sound man] “Can we have everything louder than everything else?” are but two off-mic gems. To top it all off, the day glow orange and red rising star iconography in the inside gatefold is perfect for separating out your stems and seeds. In a word: Fuck yeah.

Amusingly, there’s a File Under POPULAR: Pop Group advisory at the bottom of the inner gatefold. Was it ever actually filed thus?

Albums P-R-O-G spells Prog

Yes – Relayer (1974)

I confess a genuine like of Yes and have owned several of their Lps up to and including Tormato (1978), but for some reason never managed to get hold of, let alone hear, this one, even during a particularly manic “Yes Phase” during my sophomore year of high school. So it was up to my old friend, the Ashford Boot Fair, to heave this up (along with several others) for only 50p.

There are precisely three songs on this album.  They includes long, technical, virtuosic, sometimes quite unpleasant, instrumental guitar passages enlivened with harsh effects. These are interspersed with bleating or, alternately, dreamy vocals.  So far, so Yes.  The bass guitar, however, is less pronounced on Relayer and the keyboards, by then-newbie Patrick Moraz, more colour washes than melody.  Indeed, apart from the concluding section of the side-long and uncharacteristically martial “The Gates of Delirium”, melody rarely rears it’s pretty head, submerged, as it is, by riffs and flash and bludgeoning. Perfect for teenage boys to memorise and badger friends with: “You gotta hear this bit, man, it’s my favourite bit,” etc. etc.

I have always liked Roger Dean’s muted, somewhat washed-out gatefold cover, definitely more Middle Earth than Outer Space.  Apropos Wilberforces’ comments on record labels, check this baby out:

"Sixeventies" Rock Albums Americana

Eagles – Their Greatest Hits (1976) and One of These Nights (1975)

Can 29 million people be wrong?  Well, yes and no, but Eagles’ best of album, originally released in the celebratory year of America’s bicentennial, captured the country’s zeitgeist as well as any. Despite its gross heresy, and though they are no doubt direct musical descendants, I rate Eagles’ version of “Cosmic American Music” as more successful than critics’ darling Gram Parsons in terms of style, execution, ambition and, especially, singing.  I would further argue that it’s only snobbery that prevents this view from being more widely held; and I’m sure Henley, et al are crying all the way to the bank about it.

I’d only resisted owning Eagles albums because of their absolute ubiquity on FM radio when I was growing up–I was moved to take the plunge when on a quickie thrift store sortie to Demelza House in Hythe before the lad’s football match this morning. Both Georgia O’Keefe-alluding sleeves are matte finished, embossed first editions–how could I resist?

It’s funny, but in these latter days, as a result, I’m pretty sure, of Their Greatest Hits programming, Eagles are effectively perceived as Don Henley’s and Glenn Frey’s eyrie (with Joe Walsh in for comic relief), but on One of These Nights the pair sing only half the songs with the rest by now ex-Eagles Don Felder, Randy Meisner and (former Burrito Brother) Bernie Leadon. It must be said, that, for all that, it’s a relatively weak record.