Archive for March, 2008

Paul Revere and the Raiders “The Spirit of ’67”

Spirit of 67

Silly costumes aside, the Raiders were one of America’s great rock bands. Their costumes and top 40 pop image kept the band from being taken seriously and a later, 70’s version of the Raiders placed more emphasis on comedy and entertainment than artistic merit. Surely it was one of rock’s hardest downfalls but in their day the Raiders were something special and Spirit of ’67 was one of their unqualified triumphs.

This album was released at the tail end of 1966 and could best be described as the band’s Revolver. Mid period Raiders’ records had the benefit of a strong in-house writing team (Lindsay/Revere) and the production talents of the great Terry Melcher. The hits Good Thing and Hungry are here, and while they are a fine testament to the group’s commercial image, the rest of this record is just as impressive taking on a dizzying array of pop styles without a single stumble or fall. Highlights include the gritty Northwestern hard rock of Louise, which harkens back to the band’s early Oregon days, a jangly folk-rocker Why? Why? Why? that had a strong Byrds feel, reflective 60’s pop in the form of Oh! To Be A Man and the pulsating psychedelia of 1001 Arabian Nights. The band even found time to write Undecided Man, an excellent Eleanor Rigby cop with a prominent string arrangement and dramatic Mark Lindsay vocals.

The last track, The Great Airplane Strike, a minor top 40 hit, was one of the band’s finest ever. Airplane Strike is a hard, lean rocker with powerful, spiraling fuzz leads and Lindsay’s best Jaggeresque vocals. It’s a killer track and while the band would release another good record in Revolution, they never bettered Spirit of ’67. Recommended.

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“The Great Airplane Strike”

:D CD Reissue | Sundazed | 1996 | buy from Sundazed | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1966 | ebay ]

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The Fallen Angels “It’s A Long Way Down”

It’s A Long Way Down

People went crazy in the 1960’s and early 70’s. Great rock n roll was created everywhere, from New York City to Israel, big cities far and near. Rock music was a giant fuck you to the establishment and older generations.

“It’s A Long Way Down” by the Fallen Angels, from 1968, was a product of this revolutionary vortex. It’s a minor masterpiece, with a great cover. This album has been forgotten about, lost in the sands of time, a micro-organism lost in a virtual sea that produced an overwhelming body of music.

The Angels had released an uneven but generally exciting debut album in 1967 and some singles beforehand. There was some great highlights on the debut, but for their last album they produced the so-called Sgt. Pepper of Washington D.C. Just think of the Left Banke, late night, stoned and producing some serious outsider music.

Poor Old Man leads the album off and recalls late period (1968-) Zombies. A great song that gives way to A Horn Playing On My Thin Wall, a masterpiece of underground psych and what makes me believe that rock music is one of the best things that has ever happened to this country. Silent Garden and One Of The Few Ones Left are also strong and recall the good qualities of the great Left Banke. Look At The Wind has a hard, fluid jazzy groove while Something You Can’t Hide is pure paisley pop, a style which many current bands tend to mimic with less than desirable results.

This is a killer unknown 60’s album with a lot of great psych moves. Worth the search!!!!

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“A Horn Playing On My Thin Wall”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2007 | EMI Roulette | ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 1994 | Collectables | amazon ]

Classic Gear: The Theremin

ThereminThe Theremin was one of the first electronic instruments and the only musical instrument that is played without being touched. The looping antenna on the left controls volume, and the straight antenna on the right controls pitch.

When you move your hand closer to the pitch antenna, the sound will rise from a low tone to a high tone, releasing a deafening squeal should you touch it. For the volume antenna, moving your hand closer will soften the sound in amplitude and touching it will cut the sound off entirely. Knobs typically control things like the tuning of the instrument and timbre of the sound (sine wave or triangle wave). For futher clarification, take a look at this short youtube demo.

The device was invented by Russian scientist, Léon Theremin, in 1919 and has enjoyed a life of relative novelty, often relegated to scary sounds records and sci-fi movie soundtracks. It was notably used in the soundtrack of movies such as Spellbound and The Day The Earth Stood Still performed by Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. Other artists have fully exploited the instrument’s expressive range, similar to that of a cello or violin, in classical music (see Clara Rockmore below).

For many years, theremins were available as DIY kits in the back pages of boy scout magazines and music tech rags and thankfully they are still widely available. Robert Moog has long championed this simple electronic instrument and over the years has produced many of the most beautiful models, in completed or kit form.

For those interested in the theremin, electronic music, or great films in general, I cannot recommend the 1993 documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey enough. It is more than the details of an electronic instrument but a story about love, devotion, and art. Highly recommended.

Examples
The most common example of the theremin’s use in pop music is actually not a real theremin. Paul Tanner performed the memorable “theremin” lines on his Tannerin or electro-theremin which was a mechanically controlled oscillator that shared a similar sound to the theremin, but was considerably easier to play. Matched with cellos digging out hard triplets, the Tannerin helped create one of the most interestingly produced choruses in pop history:

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The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations

For Between The Buttons, Brian Jones brought some very basic theremin, reminiscent of amplifier feedback, to this pounding Stones track:

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The Rolling Stones – Please Go Home

The same Dr. Hoffman mentioned above performed theremin for two tracks on Capt. Beefheart’s debut. P.S. if you dig this track don’t miss these videos containing spectacular live footage of the Magic Band.

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Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Electricity

And now, the best for last.
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Louie And The Lovers “Rise”

Rise

A lost and found story. Louie and the Lovers from Salinas, California put out this one record, discovered and produced by the legendary Doug Sahm during his exile from Texas; it barely sold. But Rise was such a strong album, a startling blend of the San Francisco sound, Chicano music, and Tex-Mex country rock, it became an easy target for collectors. Rarer, however, was the fabled follow-up album, lost in a fire save for one cassette and unreleased until Bear Family’s recent offering, Louie and the Lovers, The Complete Recordings.

For a bunch of teenagers recording their first album in one 18-hour session, Rise is a surprisingly solid set of tunes, with a sound as fresh as any of their west coast contemporaries, consistently fine song craft (9 of 11 tracks penned by Louie Ortega), and fantastic vocal performances throughout. You can hear the Lovers’ innocent enthusiasm chiming through electric rhythm guitars and the band’s raw energy is infectious. The Lovers were admittedly influenced by CCR, an unavoidable comparison, but Louie also name checks Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, and Jorge Negrete as early influences on his songwriting.

Rise starts with a bang, the eponymous lead-off track taking off with guitar hook assaults and soaring vocal harmonies. The album’s slower numbers are some of the record’s best: “I’ve Always Got You On My Mind” is a serious earworm and “Driver Go Slow” is a sparse and haunting murder ballad. Upbeat rockers like “Royal Oakie” and “I Know You Know” should have been radio hits, at least in Texas. The album is a powerful grower, its melodies sinking in deep after a few listens, but unfortunately Rise was destined for obscurity.

Regardless of the lack of sales, The Lovers were given another shot at recording an album, this time featuring production from Doug Sahm, Jerry Wexler, and Tom Dowd, along with help from new guitarist John Rendon, steel guitarist Charlie Owens, horn player David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Dr. John on keys, percussionist Joe Lala, and Flaco Jimenez on Conjunto accordion. The selections were more diverse, from Mexican traditionals to sunshine pop and Memphis-powered blues jams (probably Sahm’s ever present musical schizophrenia peeking through). Perhaps the magic from the original sessions had faded, but these tracks are a pleasure to finally hear, with some certain gems in the mix, included in a fine package with excellent liners.

For fans of Tex-Mex and the Sir Douglas Quintet this release is a long-awaited treasure; no doubt essential. Louie would join Sahm’s backing band in the 80s and even perform with the Texas Tornados, most recently appearing with SDQ2 at the fundraiser concert for Doug Sahm Hill in Austin, TX. Hopefully this won’t be the last we hear from Louie Ortega, one of the great voices of Tejano music.

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“I Know You Know”

:D CD Reissue | 2003 | Acadia | amazon ]

:) Original Vinyl | 1970| Epic | ebay ]

J.J. Light “Heya!”

Heya

J.J. Light is actually Jim Stallings, former bassist of the Sir Douglas Quintet, who played on the excellent Mendocino lp onwards. Prior to 1969’s Heya, Stallings released some singles in the early 60’s which are reportedly in a doo-wop style. The notorious Bob Markley had some involvement with the Heya lp, as he supposedly wrote some of the album’s lyrics and coined the J.J. Light name.

Heya is a diverse program that rocks hard in spots but also showcases a unique brand of music that is no doubt influenced by Stallings’ Native American roots. Both Na Ru Ka and Heya combine hard rock and ethnic influences into something that’s new and refreshing. I have heard other reviewers describe Stallings’ music as “hypnotic” though I hear more of a hard rock sound that’s laced with country and folk roots. Sure, there are a few excellent psychedelic cuts that will catch your ear first, like the rollicking It’s Wednesday and the acid fried country-rocker Gallup, New Mexico. The fuzz propelled, late period garage rock track Follow Me Girl is also top of the heap. But folk-rock and country numbers Silently Sleeping and Hello, Hello, Hello give the album its diversity and display a strong Bob Dylan influence. All the above tracks are fine statements indeed, though this album has major grower qualities that might not be apparent upon first listen.

The recent Sunbeam Records reissue (there is also a CD Baby reissue) includes an unreleased 2nd album from 1969 that Stallings had been keeping on a dusty shelf. After his recording career as J.J. Light, Stallings played bass for the band Truth, who released the trippy P.S. (Prognosis Stegnosis) 45. While being a part of Doug Sahm’s band, Stallings and the group also released an lp without Doug’s involvement entitled Future Tense by the Quintet. In it’s day the Heya album was hardly known in the States (it was never issued in the U.S.), so it was somewhat strange when the lp sold large numbers in Europe, Japan, South America, and New Zealand. Definitely a solid 4 star record, Heya is truly a lost gem by one of rock’s unknown legends.

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“Hello, Hello, Hello”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | amazon ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1969 | search ebay ]

The Twilights “Once Upon A Twilight”

Once Upon A Twilight

The Twilights were an Australian 60’s rock group that had a guitar oriented pop sound pitched somewhere between the Beatles and Hollies. Down under they were a pretty popular band, releasing two albums and several charting singles. In the mid 60’s they mixed 50’s rock and British Invasion covers with garage pop/beat originals. Terry Britten, the groups guiding light, began focusing on writing group originals during the second half of the decade. With help from Norman Smith, the Twilights recorded in England, eventually releasing a string of acid pop gems.

Cathy Come Home is arguably the best of these singles and is usually cited as the group’s high-water mark. Other 45’s like Time And Motion Study Man, and Comin’ On Down were near classic efforts though, with a sound rooted in Australia’s burgeoning psychedelic culture. In 1968, the Twilights released their final album, Once Upon A Twilight. Once Upon A Twilight was a critical success though sales were very low, signaling the beginning of a downward spiral for the group. The album is consistent and full of brilliant production quirks, being one of the very few Aussie albums to have a classic British psych-pop sound.

It’s loaded with great songs, standouts being the minor key gem What A Silly Thing To Do (complete with Ringo drum fills and phased wah-wah) and the classic Stop The World For A Day. Even the softer numbers like Bessemae, Tomorrow Is Today, and Mr. Nice work really well, highlighted by very pretty string arrangements and strong melodies. Other worthy numbers are the sitar drenched Devendra, which sounds like a lost Dave Mason Traffic track from 1967, and the dramatic psychedelia of Paternosta Row. On the latter track the band feeds its vocals through Leslie cabinets. The lp’s only daft moment is the horrible cockney country-rocker, The Cocky Song.

Once Upon A Twilight is a classic pop-art album, that’s warm, friendly, and well worth a spin. A near mint original copy can cost you between $150 to $300 and was notable for its elaborate pop-up gatefold art. In 2006, Aztec Music released this great album on cd for the first time, in both mono and stereo sound.

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“Stop The World For A Day”

:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Aztec Music | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | search ebay ]

Double Zappa |FZ| 1972-1972

Waka Jawaka / The Grand Wazoo

A week after the Mothers’ equipment went up in smoke in Montreaux, Zappa got shoved for allegedly making eyes at some fan’s girl. He fell ten feet into an orchestra pit causing injuries that would forever lower his speaking voice a few pitches and confine him to a wheelchair for nine months. During this time, FZ continued recording at the same prolific pace, releasing two mostly instrumental “jazz” records.

Waka Jawaka (1972)
Named for onomatopoeic sound of a wah-wah pedal, Waka Jawaka would make a good starting point for listeners more accustomed to classical or non-pop music. While these records are not without some typical FZ in-jokes and bizarre lyrics, the big-band sound is a strong departure from the previous Flo & Eddie live records. Huge free-jazz inspired jams fill out Waka Jawaka, only 4 tracks in total. The bulk of the album, 17-minute Big Swifty is a masterful group undertaking, with a sharp-as-hell horn line and an ingenious and loping return to form.

For the Zappa Uninitiated: you’ve got to at least try this track below, and catch what must be one of the finest Sneaky Pete steel solas ever recorded. One Shot Deal is a really excellent number, the feel good gem of the album:

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“It Just Might Be A One Shot Deal”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl Search | ebay ]

The Grand Wazoo (1972)
Sincerely a musical continuation of Waka Jawaka, the band sounds even bigger this time out, with swaths of textures echoing ensembles reminiscent of Miles Davis’.  You couldn’t get a gig playing for FZ unless could truly tear it apart, and thru Grand Wazoo’s five hefty songs, each player does. Great examples abound of the definitive Frank Zappa guitar tone, those characteristic lydian solos on effected acoustic guitar: how does he get that sound? I must be honest and admit preference to the rock/pop albums from Zappa more than these “musicians’ music” records. But jazzers go nuts for these two dense lps.

This track was always my favorite, easily the catchiest tune on this set, with sparkling gnarly Rhodes work by George Duke:

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“Eat That Question”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl Search | ebay ]

Skyhooks “Living In The 70’s”

Living In The 70s

One of the hallmarks of truly great albums is that they document the moment of their creation but sound as though they could have been recorded at any time; they transcend the era of their conception but record it perfectly. Skyhooks’ “Living in the 70’s” is such an album.

Straight ahead rock and roll with an eyeliner of glam, “Living in the 70’s” sheds a small but unblinking light on what it was like to be an inner-suburban post adolescent in Melbourne circa 1974. The opening lines of the album sum it up pretty well. “I feel a little empty, I feel a little strange. Like I’m in a pay-phone, without any change.”

Dislocated, disassociated, dissatisfied and slightly disillusioned, the songs on “Living in the 70’s” touch on the emergence of youth sub-culture that was just gaining a foothold at the time. The children of the sixties were waking up, and for the first time they had the guts not to listen to their parents or authority. It’s not the cry of an anarchist punk, but more the shout of “I’m getting my ear pierced and I don’t care what you say!” by a rebellious teenager. Mild, oh so mild, but still beyond what their parents were capable of. This album helped forge a youthful national identity.

Produced by Ross Wilson (ex Daddy Cool) and put out on the emerging Mushroom records label, the production is clean and crisp and captures the state of the songs much as they were when Skyhooks performed them live. Wilson reportedly fought for production duties on “Living in the 70’s” so that the content was not deliberately watered down to suit the “mature” taste of the times.

Filled with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, six of the ten tracks were banned by the Federation of Australian Commercial Broadcasters, which dictated airplay on the commercial stations, but rather than hinder sales, the attraction of contraband was too hard for the kids to ignore and they sent the album to No. 1 on the Australian charts for 16 weeks.

In retrospect it seems hard to comprehend what all fuss was about, but in the political context of the times songs like “Smut” and “You just like me ‘cos I’m good in bed” were never going to be passed by the censors. The ambiguity that 1974 could give birth to the material, yet try to immediately abort it, was due more to the hangover of 20 consecutive years of conservative Government than anything else, but the country would quickly get over its headache and go in for another round of binge drinking at the party of which “Living in the 70’s” was the soundtrack. An Aussie classic!

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“Living In The 70’s”

:D CD Reissue | 2005 | Mushroom | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1974 | Mushroom | ebay ]

The United States Of America (self-titled)

The United States of America

The United States of America album is the product of Joseph Byrd, former FLUXUS member, artist and UCLA instructor who managed to combine experimental art and early synthesizer technology with psychedelic rock in creating this brilliant record. Employing percussion instruments, electric violin and acoustic strings, electric bass, various keyboards, homemade oscillators and ring modulators, and Dorothy Moskowitz’s confident soprano, this record shows surprising pop capability for an avant garde project.

United States of America is a pioneering record and worth your attention. Everybody wouldn’t be expected to sit through campy synth exercises like “I Wouldn’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” but many tracks hold up as strong experimental rock numbers. It’s a must listen for fans of ear candy, or those who love delving into the details. Tracks like the opener, “The American Metaphysical Circus,” feature layers of burbly oscillators, organ, calliope, and sound effects or field recordings. Other tunes tear it apart pretty hard for a guitar-less album like “Hard Coming Love” and some more restrained numbers make great careful listening material like the excellent “Cloud Song.” Dorothy’s vocals are very strong and lead with unexpectedly memorable lines.

The melodies and flow of the record, the sampled recurring themes, and the politically charged lyrics give this album a concept record feel. It was critically acclaimed on its release in 1968 but failed to sell, of course. The band broke up after their masterful debut though Byrd would continue to create experimental music and Moskowitz would eventually sing with Country Joe McDonald.

Sundazed reissued this album in 2008 as a hi-def vinyl LP that came packaged with a repro of the manilla envelope like the original. If this one has been hovering on your list for years, now is the time to pick it up!

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“Coming Down”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]
:D CD Reissue | 2004 | Sundazed | buy from sundazed | amazon]

Fairport Convention “Unhalfbricking”

Unhalfbricking

I can’t tell why I waited so long. After dabbling into the Fairport Convention’s discography with their universally acclaimed Liege & Lief, I apparently had had my Fairport fill. Such a fool was I for stopping there. Unhalfbricking is at once interesting and satisfying, delicate and fierce, joyous and moving. Also, where Liege & Lief might sound saccharine to first time listeners, this one won’t.

This is an album that really appeals to my taste in sound. There’s a quality to some of my favorite produced albums that’s hard to explain. The best description comes from Robbie Robertson, describing the Band’s self-titled 2nd record: a ‘woody’ sound. To me, this descriptor evokes a loose and real recording quality, where the bass and guitar are dry, EQ doesn’t over-shape every sound, and the drums have this warm and hard bite – the sound is so nice you wish you could grab it and hold it in your hand. The hand clapping, for example, on Si Tu Dois Partir (a French language version of Dylan outtake If You Gotta Go, Go Now) and the carefree accordion sound so present it truly warms the heart.

Bob Dylan fans can’t afford to ignore this record. Three tracks come from outtakes that didn’t make his original albums, the others being Percy’s Song (from Times-a-Changin) (maybe the best song on this record) and the Basement Tape’s Million Dollar Bash. Original contributions from Sandy Denny, Autopsy and Who Knows Where The Time Goes, are outstanding. So much spirit in these numbers.

While Unhalfbricking has much more to offer than the 11-minute centerpiece, you’ve got to listen (loud) to the epic track below on your next commute, as it drives through the gamut of style the Fairport Convention honed mastery over, from Sandy’s soothing vocal, the solid ingrained folk background, a slowly building and unbridled groove, with classic Richard Thompson guitar riffage and David Swarbrick fiddling, and a few moments so perfect they’ll run chills through you.

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“A Sailor’s Life”

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Water | buy @ amazon ]
:) Vinyl Search | @ebay ]