Archive for October, 2007

Black Sabbath “Black Sabbath”

Black Sabbath

“In the beginning, there was nothing. And then Black Sabbath said “LET THERE BE METAL!” (had to quote this guy). But considering, before this self-titled destroyer was unleashed, the closest things we call metal are a handful of Yardbirds and Zeppelin tracks and Iron Butterfly, Sabbath really did spawn a whole new genre, in Satan’s name.

Just imagine as a kid in 1970, heavy into tracks with overdrive guitars, you put this on the record player, we hear burning leaves, a distant church bell, a rising storm, the ungodly slow crunch from the band kicks in with scary timing, a whole new sound. We’ve just spun Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath from Black Sabbath. Sick.

The album is rooted in hard rock and the blues still, of course. The Wizard is a smokin’ workout with a harmonica lead and Ozzy’s characteristic vocals. N.I.B. is easily another defining track for early metal. There are some more period piece numbers too, such as Evil Woman. It’s still got the heavy detuned power chords and shredding, but there is a bluesy beat to it with a poppy chorus. They take it down almost all the way to folk on the intro to Sleeping Village, before their instrumental assault extending into the 10-minute Warning.

Black Sabbath would go on to release a solid string of excellent records (their first four the best), including the tour-de-force, Paranoid. I chose to review this one today because it has the scariest cover. Happy Halloween!

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“Black Sabbath”

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Harry Nilsson “The Point”

The Point

I wish I could say I grew up with this record. I can’t say whether I would appreciate it more or less having discovered it in my 20th year or my 10th. Regardless, Nilsson’s kid pop masterpiece is a delight to hear on first discovery or nostalgic relisten.

Piano and bongos open up the groove before Nilsson begins to speak. “Everything’s Got Em” is a wonderful, catchy opener. Each track is bookended with Harry’s comforting narration, audible sips of water sips and page turns providing homey color. The story is a fable. Oblio, the only boy in town without a point on his head. After multiple listens (a must have record for road trips) you may catch yourself singing the narration as much as the songs “…you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.”

The orchestration: piano, clavinet, mandolin, pizzicato strings, mellow percussion; every rhythm on this record interlocks in the most satisfying way. Nilsson crafted a pop sound with a hint of jazz that you’ll find nowhere else. “Think About Your Troubles,” “Are You Sleeping,” and “Me And My Arrow” are tracks that you will never forget.

There was a cartoon movie version of The Point (DVD), with Ringo Starr’s voice, but I find it to be a let-down after hearing the album. I suppose you have to see the movie first to enjoy it. I’ve always dreamed of a redone animated film of The Point, using something like the knitted style shown above, as a visual accompaniment to the album. It would have to be quite a work of art, thinking of that, to approach the genius of this record on its own.

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“Think About Your Troubles”

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The American Dream (self-titled)

Todd Rundgren produced this lost Philadelphia band’s only album back in 1970 off the Ampex record label. The American Dream’s album blends power pop, lite psychedelia, blazing hard rockers, folk-rock and roots music effectively throughout its 12 songs (almost 50 minutes of good music!).

Key influences are not a surprise, as listeners may hear strands of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, the Nazz, and the Beatles. The playing is full of youthful energy and the band manages to balance out hard rockers with attractive folk-rock power ballads. Raspberries has a slight psychedelic hangover, as it begins with a phased drum intro and showcases some wigged out guitar playing. Other quality songs like the Other Side, Storm (full of great Beatles-like melodies), I Ain’t Searchin’ and I Am You are predominately acoustic, tastefully arranged and have some great hook laden CSNY harmonies. Good News, a song that begins with a telephone conversation, eventually segues into some pretty country-rock harmonies. It’s a typical relationship hard rocker in which the band humorously shouts out “don’t be a jerkoff” at the end of the chorus. The third track of the original lp is the real highlight of this very solid collection. Big Brother has classic late 60’s psych lyrics (“listen to the words he is saying, conjuring the games he is playing”) and intense early Who power chords (it really sounds like an excellent Nazz outtake) that make it a real killer and a treat for fans of British rock.

The American Dream stood out from the local crowd with their strong, exciting songwriting and 3 guitar lineup. From this point, my knowledge of the American Dream ends. Can anyone provide further info on this great lost American band? Were there prior or post American Dream bands and did they release any singles or albums?

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“Big Brother”

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Todd Rundgren “Something/Anything?”

Something /Anything

Released in 1972 as Todd Rundgren’s 3rd solo album, all the parts were played and produced by Runtgreen himself, excluding side 4 which was performed with a backing band. Though most of it would feel about right on Lite 97, there’s no denying the cool, and when people doubt you for throwing it on, they miss the point.

The big hits here are “I Saw The Light,” easily recognized from pop radio, and the beautiful Nazz redo, “Hello It’s Me.” Electric bass guitar, piano and electric keyboard, clean drums, a variety of percussion instruments, large-scale vocal layering comprise some elements on these familiar, warm tracks. Furthermore, some rockist yelps in “Slut” and “Piss Aaron” and straight up weird songs like “I Went To The Mirror.” It’s a long double record, so we have tracks like the vocoded “Breathless,” the Wurlitzer (?) led “Carousel Burnt Down” with its psychy meltdown. Elsewhere: bits of dialog and blubs, tricks with analog tape, all sorts of things you would do with a pet project, I guess.

This is one of those records that if trimmed from a double album to a single album would have been utterly perfect.

Todd Rundgren is a gift to the history of recorded music and we better just buckle down and get used to the record. The Beach Boys are universally cool now, so there’s no reason to deny this light pop masterpiece. Previously we covered Todd’s brilliant A Wizard, A True Star.

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“The Night The Carousel Burnt Down”

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The Smoke (self-titled)

Smoke

This was a Michael Lloyd studio band that released just one album which mysteriously appeared in 1968. The Smoke’s self-titled album is a much better soft popsike record than Lloyd’s earlier release, the October Country LP (which is also worth seeking out).

The above record was created while Lloyd was in between stints with the crazed, ill-fated West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. The Smoke dedicated this obscure release to Stuart Sutcliffe and the band cannot help but pay homage to their obsessions, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. There are no duff tracks on this soft pop masterpiece which was housed in a beautiful white jacket that recalled the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine album artwork. Cowboys and Indians led off the program with buzzing organ and a nice brief guitar solo. It’s been suggested that this was Lloyd paying tribute to his idols The Beach Boys and their legendary Heroes and Villians single.

Self-Analysis is really weird in a British psych pop sort of way with lite orchestration, perplexing lyrics, probing John Lennon-like vocals, and some beautifully sharp melodies. One song, Fogbound, even had commercial potential, with a to-the-fore horn arrangement and “Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds” quotes during the fade out. Two other masterpieces on this album are October Country and Odyssey. October Country is driven by harpsichord flourishes and a peculiar intensity while Odyssey is suite-like and full of beautiful, complex passages.

Fans of the Left Banke, Millennium, and Sagittarius really need to own this lost classic.

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“October Country”

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Shoes “Black Vinyl Shoes”

Black Vinyl Shoes

Black Vinyl Shoes is one of the holy grails of underground power pop. This album was recorded and released in 1977 but sounds much closer to early 70’s power pop giants the Raspberries, Badfinger and Big Star.

Shoes released their solid, underproduced debut in 1975 (Un Dans Versailles) and have some earlier recordings circa 1974 reissued years later as the double As Is disc. Most people if any, remember Shoes for their great songs and lo-fi production, which I have to say sounds much more authentic than 90’s bands Guided By Voices and Sebadoh. The group hailed from Zion, Illinois and were fronted by Jeff and John Murphy. Many of their earlier albums were recorded in Murphy’s living room making the production rough and ready. Fans consider Black Vinyl Shoes to be their peak, a private press album that eventually saw a larger indie distribution due to local popularity. The fuzz guitar riffs and underproduced but smooth harmonies would resonate with 80’s rock pioneers REM and the Replacements.

Garage and psych fans will find much to love about this highly influential cult record. Many of the tracks here sport huge fuzz guitar riffs and solos (check out Tragedy and the brief Boys Don’t Lie). The band also conjures up a lean, icey hard rocking sound that fit in nicely with the punk era, as heard on Do You Wanna Get Lucky?

But when it comes down to the wire, many of these songs display a dominant Beatles influence with plenty of boy meets girl lyrics and catchy guitar hooks. One mini classic, Not Me bears this out, and is highlighted by some ghostly vocals and great surgical fuzz guitar riffs. This album is a cornerstone for early indie rock and a monster power pop album that really deserved a richer fate.

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“Not Me”

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Roy Wood “Boulders”

Boulders

Roy Wood is one of the architects of ELO and The Move, and possessed some of the most eclectic tastes and interesting ideas of any pop artist in his time. Boulders, his self-produced 1969 (though released 1973) solo-outing combines the hard rock of The Move with Roy Wood’s classical tastes, satisfying pop composition skills, and studio wizzardry.

A fantastic listen from start to finish. “Songs of Praise” might throw off casual ears with layers of harmonized vocals, but throughout the record the dubbed vocals are played almost as masterfully, though more humorously to be sure, as our old friend Nilsson. There’s the brilliantly produced “Wake Up,” with double-tracked acoustic guitars in stereo, flutes, cello, best of all: percussion from a puddle of water! Elsewhere we hear sped up and slowed down vocals, plentiful horns and woodwinds. Delicate sleigh bells and shakers, tiny mistakes, xylophone accents; there are a million precious details. It sounds as if Wood had picked out toys and instruments from the studio like it were a candy store. Additionally, it gives the feel of a fellow finally getting the control over the studio he’s always needed, and just having a blast with it. It is comforting in a strange way to know the record was designed entirely by Roy, making each ornament of sound stand out a bit more.

Despite Roy’s legacy of music in other projects The Move, ELO and Wizzard, I consider Boulders to be his finest work. Roy writes to us on the sleeve of the recent reissue and asks that we not distribute this album illegally online. Boulders is a brilliant listen and is truly worth your money.

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“Wake Up”

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Buffalo Springfield “Again”

Again

Buffalo Springfield recorded three albums from 1966-1968 and the first two are essentials. Again is their 2nd and affords some improvement over their near perfect debut. This is the group that launched the careers of Stephen Stills and Neil Young; Buffalo Springfield is a must for fans of Manassas, the Byrds, CS&N, Neil Young. At times, it’s almost as if they were all the same band.

Neil’s “Mr. Soul” is like the Byrds and the Stones with Neil Young on vocals, a great song along with the orchestral “Expecting To Fly.” “Bluebird” sounds like a CS&N preview with its hard riffin’ acoustic guitar lead, solidified by its postscript: an acoustic ‘take two’ on the track, genius. “Hung Upside Down” is a great track that caught the attention of Colin Blunstone (check out his rendition here). “Rock and Roll Woman” is total Manassas preview material and Neil closes it up with the lovely “Broken Arrow,” maybe the nicest track (and certainly most interesting, with its sound collages) on here. There are different directions on Again, but its all still cohesive enough to contain some magic.

What really drives this record for me is the rhythm section. That plucky electric bass and the punchy airless drums, it’s just the sound you want from the rhythm section on any rock record. If all you know of Buffalo Springfield is “For What It’s Worth,” get your shit together and find this record. (Don’t settle for Retrospective.)

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“Bluebird”

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Sir Douglas Quintet “Mendocino”

Mendocino

You could never judge The Sir Douglas Quintet by their name. It was picked out by a manager that wanted to give the boys an English vibe, pretty common practice in those days considering the influence of The Beatles. Thing is, there’s no name that could ever define the eclectic hodge-podge sound the Sir Douglas Quintet consistently rocked for a good 5 or 6 years after 1969. Well, except maybe ‘Doug Sahm.’

Mendocino is not only a great introduction to SDQ and Doug Sahm’s music, but its own style of music all together. Texas music was a result of a great cross section of western musical styles, including tex-mex, cajun, polka, country, rhythm and blues, rock, and the San Fransisco sound. Doug Sahm was probably the first musician who was legitimately steeped in all of this and couldn’t control himself from playing it all at once.

As for the tunes on Mendocino, there are nary a miss, but not exactly a first-time winner. I mean this album will have to grow on you before you can really enjoy it. Once you get the hang of the sound you’ll be ready for the whole Little Doug discog. Crossroads is an easy one to get into fast, as is the SDQ’s biggest hit: She’s About A Mover, featuring the classic Vox Continental organ lead from Augie Meyers. Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy is a great illustration of a Texan’s view of the late 60’s scene in SF (and a microcosm of the album in general). I’ve got a big soft spot for some of the more subtle numbers as well, like I Don’t Want and I Wanna Be Your Mama. The seven bonus tracks included on the CD reissue are all keepers too; check out Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day.

All in all, this is an exceptionally strong album, and one you won’t regret picking up, after you give yourself some time with it. A real good grower.

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“Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City”

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Flower Travellin’ Band “Satori”

This was Japan’s premier hard rock group. They recorded several albums during the late 60’s and early 70’s though Satori and Made In Japan are their very best works. Satori is one of hard rock’s great lost records that finds common ground with Monster Movie era Can, the Stooges’ Funhouse, MC5’s High Time, Blue Cheer’s Insideoutside and Guru Guru’s self-titled 1973 lp. It’s an album that weds bludgeoning guitar riffs with philosophies from the Eastern world. Some have even gone as far to say that had Buddha formed a hard rock group, it would most likely resemble the music played by the Flower Travellin’ Band.

Funny notes aside, the band also has one foot firmly planted into the space rock era, meaning Satori will also appeal to listeners smitten by the sounds of Ash Ra Temple, Popol Vuh, Faust, Amon Duul and Embryo. Joe Yamanaka, the lead vocalist comes across as an underground Robert Plant, and by the time Satori Part 2 kicks in, your head will be blown off clean. This track has some of the deadliest eastern guitar riffs known to man and it’s held down by a heavy blues back beat. Yamanaka shouts, “There is no up or down” throughout this beautiful display of chaos. It’s really that good, and unlike anything I have heard before or since. Map begins softly but kicks in with some intense guitar playing and the kind of youthful vigor that’s only associated with teenagers.

Satori is the kind of record that unites punks, prog enthusiasts, metalheads and psych/garage fans. Its guitar playing is laced with eastern drones and Yamanaka’s strangulated vocals transcend the era, making Satori truly original and essential for any serious rock fan.

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“Satori Part 2”

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