Archive for the ‘ Sunshine ’ Category

Sagittarius “Present Tense”

Present Tense

Sagittarius is the project (and zodiac sign) of one Gary Usher, collaborator and friend to Brian Wilson and producer of Notorious Byrds, and the ambitious Curt Boettcher, another Beach Boys coconspirator and genius behind the legendary Begin album by The Millennium.

Basically, they are companion albums, released in the same month in 1968, where most recommend starting with Begin and expanding into Present Tense. Some will find this album a bit twee for their tastes, and it is very hard to take seriously on first listen. But a little effort in putting it on, and it won’t take long before the album reveals itself to you. I find Present Tense to be almost a little better put-together than Begin. Realize though, that you’re not going to win points pumping this album full blast; maybe this is an album for headphones on the train, or a light rainy day.

Usually, I would balk at posting a track called “Song To The Magic Frog;” I have to though as it well represents the album. The instruments are eq’d with fairy dust it seems, and nice orchestral touches. “Will you ever, will you ever know” sounds to me like a classic Curt Boettcher melody, and though this is a Gary Usher project, Curt’s prevailing influence is unmistakable. The vocals soar on “Another Time” and it’s near the top, but I promise you that it is worth growing with Present Tense and all of its loveliness.

It’s only a matter of time before some director includes some of this Curt Boettcher madness in a popular film and all this soft California sike blows up. Included here from the bonus selections is the single version of My World Fell Down, with the preserved musique concrete bridge that Clive Davis urged removed from the album version.

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“My World Fell Down”

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The Family Tree “Miss Butters”

Miss Butters

It’s great to see an album like Miss Butters finally getting the reissue treatment it deserves. The Family Tree was the product of the genius of Bob Segarini, and their only album is a fantastic and interesting conceptual piece with tunes as memorable as any Broadway musical (only really cool).

This record is a must for any Nilsson fan, not alone for some of the similar feels, it was recorded at the same studio as Aerial Ballet, using the same arranger for orchestra parts, same producer, and Harry even wrote a track. A Nilsson album in spirit, but unlike anything he was capable of creating. The Miss Butters recording is superb in its production, the equal of any Beatles record, and soars with string arrangement, backing vocal, and complex song structure.

Previously, Miss Butters was presented in an unapproved stereo mix on vinyl. The CD reissue has remastered audio from the master tapes presented in original mono (and really, really nice sounding). This is a masterful reissue from Revola for a record that truly deserves it. Bravo.

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“Any Other Baby”

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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 Paupers “Magic People”

Magic People

In 1967 the great band from the North released their debut record. The Paupers, along with the Guess Who, were one of the first Canadian bands to capitalize on the British Invasion. They started releasing singles in 1965 with a lineup consisting of Denny Gerrard (Bass), Skip Prokop (Drums), Bill Marion (Guitars) and Chuck Beal (Guitars). Prokop and Marion handled all the songwriting chores on their first clutch of singles.

Their early sound was a classy mixture of roots music, blues and folk-rock (think early Byrds or Lovin’ Spoonful crossed with the Blues Project circa 1965). The band began rehearsing 14 hours a day, honing their setlist and evolving into one of the tightest bands around. They hit the hip Yorkville District of Canada, playing to packed out venues daily and in return this gained them immense popularity. Rumor has it that the Paupers blew the mighty Jefferson Airplane off stage one night. In 1966/1967, Bill Marion exited the band for reasons unknown, prompting the Paupers to recruit Adam Mitchell. Mitchell (guitar and vocals) proved to be an excellent songwriting partner for Prokop, and at this point the band set out to create their debut lp.

Magic People has a good mid 60’s sound and is anchored by the band’s folk-rock leanings. There are a trio of good psychedelic sunshine pop fuzz rockers on the record. These songs, Magic People, It’s Your Mind and Think I Care, are highlighted by Prokop’s distinct drum patterns, special guitar effects, and great raga soloing. The only dud on the album is One Rainy Day, which is a jaunty good time Lovin’ Spoonful rocker. The remaining six songs are good to great folk-rockers, that recall the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Beau Brummels. The catchy You and Me feels like a throw back to a 1965 Byrds or Brummels folk-rock sound. Tudor Impressions is excellent, reflective, and abstract, including horns, sparkling accoustic guitars and a Beach Boys-like harmony pop ending. Black Thank You Package and My Love Hides From Your View have a great outsider feel. Black Thank You Package has a distinct, exciting intro and a catchy chorus while My Love Hides is an absolute haunting masterpiece of acid-folk.

Later on in the year the band would play at the seminal Monterey Pop Festival. Everything that could go wrong for them did. Band members took doses of acid that were way too strong and had equipment/sound check problems. Thus, it was the beginning of the end for the Paupers, a group of individuals who had began with so much promise. In 1968, beneath all the internal turmoil, the Paupers were able to squeeze one more lp out. Ellis Island is a little mini psychedelic gem and fans are strongly urged to check this great album out as well.

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“My Love Hides From Your View”

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The Zombies “Into the Afterlife”

Into The Afterlife

A rare and welcome treat from the Zombies’ archives, and a continuation of the wonderful box set, Zombie Heaven from the Big Beat label. This brand new release is a compilation of mostly unavailable tracks recorded by different incarnations of the Zombs during the unsure period of time after they broke up and before their next projects. This is what I live for!

The tracks have been packaged almost in album form, with the sleeve appearing to be a Ninja Turtle fan’s watercolor homage to Odessey & Oracle. It’s nice to pretend that this could indeed be the follow-up release to the Zombies’ fantastic final offering, but what we have instead is really a collection juxtaposing three distinct post-Oracle projects: Rod Argent & Chris White (who were recording demos trying to figure out how to be Argent), Neil MacArthur (Colin Blunstone’s alter ego), and The Zombies themselves.

Rod Argent & Chris White’s demo material on this record was never meant for release, they were just stretching out and trying to figure out how to expand their sound. But you can hear the Zombies songwriting still lingering in there. Unfortunately, you can’t hear the Zombies voice in there; Rod’s lead vocal on She Loves The Way They Love Her sounds like a karaoke mishap compared to Colin’s take on his brilliant One Year. Still, this material is indispensable to fans of the Zombs and Argent as a bridge between both groups.

The complete Neil MacArthur recordings on this disc are seriously awesome. It kicks off with the psyched out and groovy remake of She’s Not There and a version of Buffalo Springfield’s Hung Upside Down. Harry Nilsson’s Without Her gets a fitting redo as well as the classic Never My Love. Don’t Try To Explain and World of Glass both point to what Colin would achieve a year or so later with One Year and his subsequent solo career.

While all these recordings were going on, Time of the Season was becoming a big hit and efforts were made to eek a few more singles out and cash in on the success, known as the unreleased RIP album (available on Zombie Heaven). An interesting mix on this record, Walking in the Sun, has been reconstructed only with Colin’s vocal, original backup vocals, and an orchestral arrangement. If It Don’t Work Out, the official final single from the Zombs is presented with orchestral overdubs as well and in Going To A Go Go we can hear the hard-working Zombies exercise their chops. If you love the Zombies you need to get this brilliantly satisfying rarities release.

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“Walking In The Sun”

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Ellie Pop “Ellie Pop”

Ellie Pop

Some rock collectors/fans consider Ellie Pop’s only album a mid 60’s classic. The sound is straight out of 1966/early 1967 (though this album was released in 1968-) with strong Beatles influenced melodies and harmonies. Other comparisons that come to mind are a guitar oriented Association (with more balls!) or the Merry-Go-Round, on their less trippy, Beatles inspired material.

There are no psychedelic freakouts, distorted vocals or backward guitar solos on this record. It’s a straight up power pop/pop record, with the occasional odd time signature and plenty of good song arrangements. The production is not as pristine as say the Left Banke’s debut, so the playing and the record itself sound rough or crude at times. The songs reward with repeated listenings though, and the Fab Four injected Whatcha Gonna Do is a personal favorite (those Yeah Yeah Yeah’s are straight out of the early Beatles songbook). Oh! My Friend has a vibe similar to Rubber Soul’s downbeat folk-rock numbers, sad and moody but a worthy song nonetheless. Can’t Be Love is also very good, with some strange twists and turns and excellent thick guitar riffs that hum like a Mustang engine.

No Thanks Mr. Mann is as psychedelic as this record gets, a classic 60’s character sketch with some superb harmonizing and frantic guitar playing toward the end. While the Beatles comparisons are inevitable, this record is still original and very solid. It’s definitely near the top of the heap of Mainstream (record label) releases.

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“No Thanks Mr. Mann”

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The Beach Boys “Love You”

Love You

This is my 2nd favorite Beach Boys record. But damn if I didn’t have to work for it. When you are a Beach Boys nut, everything you read about this record makes you want to conquer it, but it simply isn’t possible your first time through.

On around your 5th time you start to get the hang of the songs. Clearly you are already digging I’ll Bet He’s Nice, easily the stand-out track with its chirpy, whirring, bubbly synth attacks, and maybe even laughing along with Johnny Carson, which the Boys actually got to perform on the late night show! When you hear it the 6th and 7th times, you’ll be by yourself and it’ll be during a nap, but it is at this point that The Night Was So Young and Airplane stuck in your head. Even the album opener should start to resonate with that Love You warmth around now.

10 plus listens and you’ll be tired of Pet Sounds. Even Let’s Put Our Hearts Together is starting to sound good and you simply love Dennis’ I Wanna Pick You Up and Brian’s soaring Love Is A Woman. It takes getting used to, but Brian’s ragged voice and the orchestra of synthesizers on this album weave a sonic and melodic tapestry as retro, textured and beautiful as its quilted album cover.

You can ignore 15 Big Ones (the album packaged along with Love You as a twofer), in fact I would recommend searching for Love You on vinyl so you don’t have to deal with it. Actually, there is one magic take on Big Ones: Had To Phone Ya.

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“Let Us Go On This Way”

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The Beach Boys “Today”

Today

This is the kind of record you can find in the bins mint for under $5. Just look at it! Even record dealers don’t realize this little brown album is a crown jewel in the Boys discog, the real precursor to Pet Sounds.

Summer is here, and you are going to want to play some of this Beach Boys music, but you don’t want to just throw on Good Vibrations, you need something earlier, less recognizable but that still rattles everybody’s Beach Boys bone. The track you are in search of is Do You Wanna Dance, sung by Dennis Wilson and kicking off this great set, sure to get your pool party started.

Maybe you’d end up skipping to Dance, Dance, Dance with its gnarly bass and twelve-string guitar lick, but you’d be missing the endearing Don’t Hurt My Little Sister and the harpsichord-led When I Grow Up (To Be A Man). Touches of the Pet Sounds orchestra abound, pick them out on your own! I love these teenage songs so much, but the real gems on here are Please Let Me Wonder (featuring Carl’s sincere but silly “I love you” at the fade out) and Kiss Me Baby (kiss a little bit, fight a little bit, kiss a little bit, whoa baby 4x).

It’s a great record and even better that (on compact disc) it’s coupled with Summer Days (and Summer Nights) featuring the fantastic songs Girl Don’t Tell Me, Let Him Run Wild, Summer Means New Love and more!

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“Please Let Me Wonder”

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The Left Banke “There’s Gonna Be A Storm”

There’s Gonna Be A Storm

Noted as one of the trailblazers of baroque pop, the Left Banke,  known for their huge hit ‘Walk Away Renee’ were original twee. Think of a classical Zombies, harpsichord instead of wurli with dramatic classically-influenced arrangements.

‘Pretty Ballerina’ is their lesser but still well-known hit, and the singing is drop dead gorgeous. Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin) was one of the most under appreciated rock vocalists of his generation and his tender delivery, combined with the delicate string arrangements assured ‘Ballerina.’ Michael Brown wrote great melodies, lyrics tuned to the woe of teenage heartbreak.

Key tracks include ‘Shadows Breaking Over My Head,’ ‘She May Call You Up Tonight,’ ‘I Haven’t Got The Nerve,’ ‘Barterers And Their Wives,’ ‘There’s Gonna Be A Storm’ etc. The 2nd half of this collection covers the material surrounding the Left Banke’s unfortunate demise.

Only a country-rocker falls flat on a completely solid album that many people call baroque pop. Their second album Too, is respectable but lacks the fire of the debut and does not benefit from Michael Brown’s absence. Essential stuff!!

For the complete recordings of the Left Banke in one package, get this.

‘Desiree’ plus ‘Men Are Building Sand’ would be part of the excellent follow up record, Montage.

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“I’ve Got Something On My Mind”

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The Zombies “Odessey and Oracle”

Odessey and Oracle

Forty years ago today, if you were listening to music, Sgt. Pepper was on the turntable. It’s the album that fueled the 1967 Summer of Love and it’s the true nexus of all of this music. The hard working Zombies were in the studio at this time, beginning work on their intentional swan song LP, the beautiful, unforgettable, essential Odessey and Oracle. There’s no doubt these boys were spinning Lonely Hearts while they were recording at Abbey Road.

From the Mellotron, brass sections, to Argent’s other keyboard work, the interesting (and warmly sparse) production overall, Sgt. Pep’s impact on music is crystal clear from the very beginning; these are the days when the studio became an experimental playground. But enough about the monster. The truth is, it owes more to Pet Sounds anyways.

Care of Cell 44 is a sleeper hit, and a beautiful opener. The kind that makes you flip it back to Side 1 when it’s over. The best part about the Zombies, they’ve got soul. This isn’t an experimental record, there are rhythm & blues roots in it. Even the softer fare takes it home like in Brief Candles and Maybe After He’s Gone. Tunes like A Rose For Emily (named after a short story by perhaps our best American writer) would hint at the masterpiece to come shortly after from lead singer, Colin Blunstone, whose voice is unmatched.

I wont go on much more, except to say that if you haven’t heard this, you are in for a treat. Maybe you won’t love it at first, but one day you will miss it dearly. It deserves a digipak reissue akin to that of the new Kinks VGPS package. Honestly, I would listen to any millisecond recorded at these sessions! Would love to see that for next year. But just get it any way you can.

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“Changes”

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