Best of The Meters (Reprise 54-076) (1976)

Funky à la Sly/WAR in direct inverse proportion to the imagination shown by the Reprise art department, this odd little Meters compilation cherry picks from only two of their four Reprise Lps, Fire On the Bayou and Rejuvenation–I mean, there’s got to be something worthwhile from Cabbage Alley (1972) and Trick Bag (1976), no? Anyway, the expertly played, sung* and produced** case Best of The Meters sets out on behalf of the years spanning 1974 and 1975 , suggests a band at the very top of its game and makes its lack of mainstream success truly baffling. Maybe it’s just too damn fonky.

Not the kind of record one normally expects at Hythe’s Red Cross for a pound, but there it was this morning along with a warped, mono Beatles For Sale Lp just barely contained by the most raggedy-ass sleeve you’ve ever seen selling for £20, among other like atrocities. Why, Red Cross, why?

*in contrast to the three earlier all-instrumental Josie albums.

**by Allan Toussaint

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Published in: on May 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Beach Boys – “Here Comes The Night” b/w “Baby Blue” (CRB 12-7204) (1979)

Housed in a cute Rene Magritte-aping sleeve, featuring one of Dennis Wilson’s touching final prehumous* recordings on the b-side, starting off with some promising vocoder and pressed on luminous blue vinyl, “Here Comes the Night” was, nonetheless, an inauspicious end to a decade that saw the Beach Boys plumb the very depths of competence. I’d never heard it before, so was happy to part with a pound at the Etchinghill bootfair last Saturday for the pleasure, but truth be told, this sounds more like a Stars On 45-style cover of the Beach Boys than a tune by the actual band. There’s a reason for this.

Drafted in when Brian proved un-up to the task of producing (despite a new CBS contract obliging him to do just that), once and future Boy Bruce Johnston sprinkled a lil’ disco fairy dust on a twelve year-old Wild Honey track in much the same way he’d done with the Chantays’ surf instrumental “Pipeline” two years previously. The original “Here Comes the Night” represents one of the closest things the band produced to an R&B track, hence, I suppose, its nomination for a dance update. Alas, despite a high energy content and fluid bass part, the song is tedium itself, the familiar thump/strings/sheen of disco provided by an array of session musicians. Now, session musicians had featured on some of the band’s best music, but never had they sounded so faceless. The single edit on the b-side features an interesting, burbling synthesiser and makes a little more sense as a song than the 11 minute version, where verses, choruses, backing “oooo’s” come in and out in the most disembodied, arbitrary fashion. And let us be honest, this is not on the funky end of the disco spectrum.

But the similar vintage Four Seasons had managed a few disco hits. The Bee Gees transformed themselves likewise, so why not the Beach Boys? Perhaps because the Four Seasons and Bee Gees were simple vehicles for pop songs, while Brian Wilson & co. were, despite a calculated banality, not so simple; a band identified with, and weighted down by, an ethos/myth that couldn’t accommodate disco glitz. And having capitulated to travelling an oldies route following the enormous popularity of the Endless Summer and Spirit of America compilations, booty shaking in the direction of the Hustle was confusing to say the least. Certainly, this awkwardness, this uneasiness is more than apparent on a contemporary TV appearance, all beardy and dad-dancing, promoting the single (and note Dennis relegated to a ride cymbal!). Trouble was, at least commercially, the disco backlash had already begun in earnest, especially among the classic rock supporters constituting 98.6% of the BBs’ fan base, and fairly sharpish, this late-in-the-day, smacks-of-desperation misfire was dropped from their live set list.

So, Last Gasp for Beach Boy Radio Relevance or once again proof that anything can Go Disco? Answer: Yes.

*as opposed to, uh, posthumous.

Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm  Comments (2)  

Santana (CBS 32003) (1969)

THE FABLE OF THE CRASH PAD HIPPIES & THE SANTANA RECORD

Hippie #1: What do you see when you look at this album cover, man?

Hippie #2: A scary-ass roaring lion, man.

Hippie #1: Okay, like, listen to the album, yeah, and tell me what you think.

Hippie #1 makes his friend a cup of tea (one sugar) and puts the album on; Hippie #2 listens to it, nodding his head appreciatively.

Crash Pad Hippies

Hippie #1: So, what do you think, man?

Hippie #2: Way cool, man. It’s propulsively rhythmic, yet not overbearingly so. Instruments weave in and out of each other in a kind of jazzy, proto-world music stew, the percussion keeps things from getting leaden. Carlos’ lead lines are stinging and he doesn’t embarrassingly overplay like on those jive duets records that shifted a gazillion copies at the turn of the century [Supernatural (1999) sold 27 million units–ed.]–no, here it sounds like a proper, dynamic band. The singing’s fairly characterless (apart from Janis, I think that’s typical of these San Fran jam bands), but it certainly doesn’t jar with the music. The production is rich, especially for the times. In some ways, it represents the ultimate fulfillment of the “Sixseventies” Rock promise (along with the Band, of course), even if a couple of the dudes went on to form Journey.

So where’d you get this record, man?

Hippie #1: There was a stack of Lps left by the toilets at the Wincheap bootfair, including the first five Santana records–well, I’m not proud, so I picked ’em up. None of them were original vinyl or gatefold sleeves, but, you know.*

Anyway, you’ve listened to the music, look at the album cover and tell me what you see now.

Hippie #2: Whoa, man, I’m freaking out. I see two men standing looking at each other with a little guy standing in-between them and another man standing over them and, whoa, two women, in ecstasy apparently, and two dudes with acupuncture needles in their faces and, oh my God, a topless Africa princess with her arms folded wearing a head wrap à la Erikah Badu.

That’s so cool. Is that the music that has opened my eyes?

Hippie #1: Yeah, that and the acid I put in your tea.

And the moral of this fable is: Always make your own tea when you live in a crash pad.

*the part about finding the records was true.

Published in: on May 25, 2012 at 8:53 am  Leave a Comment  

ABBA – Gold (517 007-1) (1992)

I’m not a huge fan of ABBA, but I thought it might be fun to have in the house for parties or surreptitious cross-dress cavorting. Of course, as any thrifty vinyl consumer will tell you, finding cheap-ass ABBA Lps is no huge thing, but finding this particular compilation definitely warranted £1 purchase this a.m. at the Wincheap bootfair. I’ll explain. Released at a transitional time in the music industry where pop records of this kind got, at most, a first press on vinyl before being deleted, there are relatively few ABBA Gold vinyls about — I’ve certainly never seen it on Lp (though, given that it’s sold something like 30 million copies, I’ve seen more than a few on CD). As a result, it’s one of the few ABBA units to hold much value. So, as these things go, it seemed like the one ABBA Lp for me to own.

Published in: on May 20, 2012 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord (SML 711) (1968)

MOODY BLUES MISSING, FEARED UP OWN ASS

(West Hampstead, London, England) — Progressive rock band, the Moody Blues have gone missing without trace leading observers to speculate that the group may have disappeared up its own ass.

“The warning signs were there,” commented producer Tony Clarke. “After an initial foray into relatively faceless Britpop R&B, the Moodies have spent much of the last year or so gazing at their navels; looking for answers, ultimate meaning, ‘first cause’ understanding, you know, that sort of thing.”

“Things had come to a head with the band’s recent expeditions in search of the lost chord,” he explained. “But who knew where it was, let alone where to start.”

Experts point to a number of clues that they fear suggest the solipsistic group may have ventured deep inside its own jacksie in search of this mythical lost chord. “Songs interpolating half-baked poetry, liner notes featuring a dilettante’s instructions on Mantra and ‘Yantra’ along with a general seriousness of purpose all point to a quintet with its collective head completely up its backside,” offered music writer Clifford Snotes.

“And now it appears they may trapped up there,” Snotes added.

“Actually,” he went on, like a spigot in desperate need of a new washer,  “there is a surprising amount of charm in this mellotron-driven psychedelic period piece. The single ‘Ride the See-Saw’ bounces along nicely and, against all odds, the cosmically conscious ‘Om’ has hints of real sunshine pop majesty.”

“It’s just that they generally aren’t as vocally interesting as the Hollies or the Zombies or a musically interesting as the Pretty Things.”

Snotes made several further arguments about the Moodies’ “whimsy”, “pretentiousness” and “ominous glissandi string parts suggesting a dabbler’s understanding of Indian Classical music” that were not very well put, but still proffer the band’s brown eye as its current locus.

Published in: on May 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Donna Summer

Donna Summer. RIP.

Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Saturday Night Fever (RSO 2658 123) (1977)

R.I.P. Robin Gibb

The ultimate charity shop album?

“The next time I see a clean copy of the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack album, I’m going to buy it,” I grandly announced to my youngest son last Sunday; he and I were watching Family Guy whose music is by Walter “Fifth of Beethoven” Murphy and I was inspired. Who would have guessed that only two days later my scheme would be seen to its completion apon alighting the cafe of the Lord Whiskey Cat Sanctuary? Well, it was probably a safe bet: the album sold something like 15 million copies in its first year of release, going on to total 40 million world-wide at present.

While I already have the relevant BGs music on the rather lovely 3Lp Greatest, I have never owned SNF. I say never, in fact I did possess a 3M reel-to-reel version, taped from my friend Tim Tharp back in the day. Along with the track listing, I remember denoting myself as “producer”. I had recorded it, you see.

As it happens, the Brothers Gibb outshine nearly everything else on this double Lp, with only The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” (all 11 mins. of it!) and “Open Sesame” by Kool & the Gang measuring up.  Though not produced or played by the band, session singer Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You” and “More Than a Woman” by Tavares both counts as a Bee Gees songs since they were written B., R. & M. Gibb.

That fact that I couldn’t even remember the other songs, despite playing the record a lot in 1978, goes some way to demonstrating their worth. “Boogie Shoes” falls short of KC & the Sunshine Band’s slight standards being a poppy 12-bar blues more akin to T-Rex. David Shire’s instrumental contributions pale in comparison to just about anything found here, let alone the toothsome stars of the SNF soundtrack. Their presence disrupts the album’s flow, even if they make the point that absolutely anything could “go disco”; this point is better made by the aforementioned Beethoven pastiche.

Alluded to earlier at club Thrifty Vinyl, we have a mixed result then–but at least Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” didn’t make the final cut.

Published in: on May 16, 2012 at 3:58 pm  Comments (2)  

Love For Lydia (DJF 20514) (1977)

Not for me the ultra-bright, arched-back, erected nipple sexiness of Farrah Fawcett-Majors; no, in the late 1970s, my televisual crush was on Mel Martin, titular star of London Weekend Television’s Love For Lydia by H.E. Bates.  As the tragic, wilful heroine, Martin was able to inspire the hopeless sort of longing destined to end in wistful bitterness. So smitten was I that I allowed her to pull the same trick a decade or so later in the TV adaptation of Len Deighton’s Game, Set, Match trilogy and I keenly felt Ian Holm’s betrayal at her hands. Yet despite such a similar and strong emotional reaction, I didn’t realise it was one and the same actress till researching the present record.

The present record being flapper-style jazz played very straight, along with a few string-laden piano instrumentals, which I purchased this morning from the Lord Whiskey Cat Sanctuary Charity shop for a pound.

Published in: on May 15, 2012 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  

The Essential Vic Dickenson (VJD 551) (1977)

Early 50s revival of earlier ensemble polyphony style by Columbus, Ohio-born trombonist-bandleader on the reliable Jazz Vogue label. A lot of avant garde water had passed under the jazz bridge by the time Dickenson came to record these two small group, John Hammond-produced sides (originally issued by Vangard separately as Vic Dickenson Showcase Volume 1 and 2); by and large, however, these revolutionary changes are not reflected in either the repertoire (e.g. “Jeepers, Creepers”) or performances, which favour bluesy and easy swinging melodicism. Nonetheless, the solos are time-stretched in a way that Kid Ory, et al. would never have dreamed in the 1920s; clarinettist Ed Hall shines in particular.

Picked up this afternoon in Hythe, where there seemed to be a lot of mid-century mainstream jazz.

Published in: on May 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tricky – Ponderosa 12″ (12BRW 299 DJ) (1994)

And what of the late-lamented Trip Hop?  To a man (or woman), I think you’d find that each nominal participant dismisses the term out-of-hand.  Unlike Punk, Hip Hop, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Funk performers, all of whom name-check their sub-genre (usually followed by “…will never die!”), Trip Hoppers seem embarrassed by the designation. Maybe it’s because the term was a media imposition, rather than an organic, scene-created slang.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that the performers were largely low-key, skunk-addled, insular types, not given to label foisting or co-operation. Perhaps the style is too ill-defined to constitute a genre.

Anyway, get ready for the Trip Hop revival set for April 2014.

Meanwhile, here’s a Whitstable-thrifted “pre-release, promotional advance copy” of Tricky Kid’s loping, rolling second single. Kook merchant Martina Topley-Bird is the main vocalist inna Mockney Sparra stylee à la Lily Allen, with TK mumbling like a tramp in a doorway, occasionally doubling T-B’s lead. As a woozy groove, it’s not too bad, though hardly singles (or club) material one would have thought and I’ve no idea what the song is about apart from its vague air of menace and paranoia. And “smok[ing] till…senseless”.

Note on Tricky’s press release, Peady’s phrase “totally unique”. Yes, I know promo material is not usually any kind of repository for grammatical correctness, but please, let us never try to intensify a superlative again. Unless we’re trying to be funny.

Published in: on May 11, 2012 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment