THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Fall, 2017 Countdown–All Vinyl Edition)

I’ve been in a vinyl mood this week. I listened to a couple of CDs as well, but, for the purposes of this list, I’m pretending I didn’t. Until the very end at least.

10) Johnny Bond Bottles Up (1965)

I found this at a local antique store (my town basically consists of such) and took a chance. Had to pull Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, which I had used the night before to cure insomnia, off the turntable to make room. One thing is for sure. Johnny Bond was way weirder than Steely Dan.  This album sounds the way the cover looks. What more recommendation do you need?

 

9) Kid Ory The Song of the Wanderer (1958)

And while I was there, I spotted this lovely little item, also cheap. I see a Kid Ory item I haven’t heard for five bucks, I’m gonna take a chance.

Ory was best known as a key associate of Louis Armstrong in the days when Pops was reorienting American music and, by exension, American life. This is not that. What this is, is a very pleasant, lovely and conservative jazz record from the fifties, which breezes along as though Bop and Rock and Roll had never happened, and almost as though the searing early New Orleans jazz scene, of which Ory had been such a vital component, never happened either. Music to read and smile by, then, right up until “The Sheik of Araby” comes on, at which point it is time to stop reading but not to stop smiling.

8) The Atkins String Company The Night Atlanta Burned (1975)

Generally referred to as a “Classical Country” album, with the classical part referring as much to Mozart as Bill Monroe or Flatt and Scruggs. However defined, unique in the annals of American music.

This is a mix of standards and incidental mood music composed by John D. Loudermilk, based on his recollection of an old man from his home town who claimed to have learned scraps of what he taught the young Loudermilk from sheet music he found left in a music case (along with the mandocello the case had been built to protect) which had been rescued from the Atlanta Conservatory of Music after Sherman marched through in 1864 and since been lost again in a hobo camp. Loudermilk was wry enough to suspect every single bit of that might not have been true, but he, Chet Atkins, and assembled session players (including Lisa Silver, Paul Yandell and the legendary Johnny Gimble) made an album that deserved to complete the story. There are a few great albums that stop time, but none of them stop time in quite the same way as this one.

Meaning, gently, gently.

7) Iron City Houserockers Blood on the Bricks (1981)

A crit-fave from the late New Wave/Early Heartland phase of Rock and Roll’s decline. Listening now, it’s a lot easier to hear all the reasons they didn’t make it–lack of distinction in the singing, writing, playing and general Zeitgeist (which is derived from J. Geils and Southside Johnny, who did the same things better)–than why so many people were excited in the moment. This is typical fare, and just fine. But on this and every other side, what I hear most is “almost.”

6) Various Artists Stiff Records Presents:The Akron Compilation (1978)

This was a much better shot at sending Rock and Roll off in a new direction. There’s some failure on this record–songs or sounds that don’t quite finish somehow–but forty years on, it still sounds like something trying to be born on cut after cut. Never released on CD, It’s still the best place to hear every artist here but one. And it’s still the best place to hear that one’s greatest record (which, had it made her the star she deserved to be, might have redefined a lot of things in 1978).

5) The Beach Boys Sunflower (1970)

Commercially, the Beach Boys got swept out with the tide around the latter part of 1967. They kept on making great sides, year by year, but this was probably the best album they made between Wild Honey and Love You…and it doesn’t need to take a back seat to much else that was going on in 1970. I’ll take it over Let It Be eight days a week.

Somebody in the marketing department was either asleep at the switch or having their mind seriously altered by drugs. “Cool, Cool Water,” perfectly fine as a trippy album closer, was the least commercial single ever–and I mean ever–released by a major artist. The B-Side was one of the greatest records of their career–and definitive of the era’s often wistful secret ethos, so often lost among the noise. Sleep does these things. So do drugs.

Then there’s stupidity. For hardcore Beach Boys’ fans, a touchstone. For everyone else, a lost gem.

4) Various Artists Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill  (1985)

I don’t even remember how I first heard about this record, but it’s still my go-to for Kurt Weill, or just the Weimar mood transported.

Boy does it transport to now–even more than to 1985, which I once would have deemed impossible. As often happened with high middle-brow music of an earlier vintage, rock and rollers did better by it than anyone else, in some cases, maybe better than the music deserved. And the truest rock and roller did better by it than anyone. A fine companion piece for The Night Atlanta Burned, which is also born of defeat.

3) Various Artists Beserkley Chartbusters Volume 1 (1975)

Cheeky title for a cheeky collection. Unlike the Stiff label compilation above, this is almost entirely reactionary–rock and roll as it might have  sounded if it really were made by  entirely arrested adolescents obsessed with their older brothers’ record collection. Not without its charms mind you–older brothers tended to have some cool tastes ten years before this happened. I lean towards Earthquake’s heavier take on the whole, but the closest thing to a killer is Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” which almost justifies his rep when he starts speed rapping like the world’s whitest white boy.

There was, so far as I can tell, no Volume 2.

2) Various Artists Less Than Zero Soundtrack (1987)

The sound of rock and roll closing down for good. From here there was nowhere to go but Grunge (and from there, no way to go but the Exit). Afterwards it was every man for himself, but this still sounds of a piece. It’s everything the lame movie it supported wasn’t–loose, funky, cynical to a fault. And, at the last minute when the concept of “Loa Angeles” meant anything, definitive L.A., right up to the living end, when the Bangles show up and stomp all over everybody. Certainly Aerosmith and Public Enemy, who are at their sleaziest and most self righteous, (meaning best) respectively. But also “Goin’ Back to Cali,” which has a claim on being the greatest Hip Hop record ever. And even Roy Orbison and Glenn Danzig, who have claims on being peak Roy Orbison (no more need be said) and the greatest Scott Walker record not made by Scott Walker (who made damn few to match it). Even now, it kinda makes me wonder where the world might have gone if the movie had been better. (I can’t speak for the source novel as I haven’t read it. Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel I have read, I can’t imagine it could have been made into a much better movie.)

1) Marianne Faithfull Broken English (1979)

Disco punk and, to be honest, I never came close to getting it.

Until now.

Maybe I didn’t get it because it turns large swathes of rock and roll–often the rock and roll I love most–inside out. When I’m listening now, Brenda Lee’s throb, always vulnerable, suddenly sounds like its coming from the bottom of a barrel just before somebody seals the lid. Girl group romanticism sounds like it must emanate from the dark side of the moon. The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, out the year before and on my CD player the night before I made the deliberate decision to make this the end of this list, now sounds like the Rape Record record they always had in them–the one where they’re finally so bored they could scream, and, for the last time, do.

Perhaps the news of the moment–rapists/harassers/assaulters being turned up and out everywhere you look–has given a tiny, pitiful bit of context to the rest of us that only a woman who had literally crawled out of the gutter of addiction and homelessness after being the Queen of Swinging London (i.e., the World) to ask “Why’d you spit on my snatch?” without succumbing to self-pity or psychoanalysis (if only because one or the other might kill her), could have comprehended, let alone communicated, at any previous cultural moment.

Anyway, after sitting on my shelf for thirteen years or so (the town’s last vinyl store put dates on their price stickers) the find of the year.

And please don’t think I’m anything less than frightened by it.

2014 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINEES ANNOUNCED

(For my thoughts on the artists I feel most strongly about, you can go here, here and here…Donna Summer has since been voted in)

As always, congratulations to all nominees, even those I don’t love…and best of luck. Nominees are thus:

Nirvana, Kiss, The Replacements, Hall and Oates, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, LL Cool J, N.W.A., Link Wray, The Meters, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, Yes, The Zombies.

My rundown…(as usual, having nothing to do with who I think will get in, just my assessment of how deserving each nominee is)

Indie/Alternative:

Nirvana’s a no-brainer. Kurt Cobain’s suicide effectively ended the rock and roll revolution that rolled out of Fats Domino’s left hand in 1950, threatening the end of hate and war. I blame us, not Cobain, for the ultimate failure but in any case you can’t get much more influential than that.

The Replacements haven’t made much impression on me. Major cool factor going for them but if we’re focusing on cult bands, I don’t really understand why they would be voted in ahead of Big Star or the New York Dolls.

Rap/Hip-Hop:

I put in a vote for N.W.A. last year (they were bound to be edged out by Public Enemy and they were), but I think this is a slightly longer and stronger ballot so I wouldn’t put them in my top five this time around.

LL Cool J has been on the ballot before and he would be a solid pick. I’m going in another direction this year, a little more true old school, but I could easily imagine picking him in another year where there was slightly less competition.

Prog/Art/Whatever:

I like radio-friendly Yes, which is about four songs. Every time I try to go deeper I get lost.

Peter Gabriel brings up one of my pet peeves, which is giving ballot slots to artists who have already been inducted (Gabriel is in as a member of Genesis). If the artist in question is a slam dunk (Michael Jackson say) or at least a truly strong candidate (Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Clyde McPhatter) then I have no problem, but I don’t think Gabriel is in that class. Again, I like his radio hits, some of them a lot. I’d probably vote for him ahead of Yes, but in my own little circumscribed world, that isn’t necessarily saying much.

Classic Rock:

Ah, Kiss. On the basis of “Domino” alone, I will definitely vote for them some day. But they would make it much easier for me if they promise to play “Beth” and “Hard Luck Woman” at the induction ceremony and then get off the stage so Ace Frehley can close the show with “New York Groove.” (And for anyone who thinks I’m kidding, all I can say is you don’t know me very well as yet. They make the decision to stand by what they were best at, I’ll vote for them in a heartbeat.)

Deep Purple have a claim on helping invent/define heavy metal and the “classic” rock format. Thinking hard….

Singer/Songwriter:

At least Cat Stevens is not a cult act in the manner of recent inductees Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits/Laura Nyro/Randy Newman. I mean, he had a string of hits, which is a quality I happen to like in a practitioner of a best-seller genre in a popular art form. But why he would be on the ballot yet again while Jackie DeShannon and Carole King (as a performer) wait in the wings is a mystery.

British Invasion:

The Zombies have been bubbling under for years and at last they’ve made the ballot. I like them fine, but if there has to be another Invasion band in the Hall (and I’m not saying that there does, though I’m also not saying I object, strictly speaking) then I would rather it be Manfred Mann. Or, given the recent induction of the Small Faces and the Faces as a single unit, why not Manfred Mann/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band? That I’d probably go for.

Funk/Disco:

Chic is a perennial nominee and they will certainly get in one of these days. I’m slightly torn on them because I like them in theory a bit better than I do in practice and I have a sneaking suspicion that their admittedly massive influence wasn’t the net positive most make it out to be. A tad detached for my tastes. Put K.C. and the Sunshine Band in this spot and I would be a bit happier. Put Barry White in this spot and I would go “duh” and put a check mark next to his name. His continued absence is bewildering….Still, on the basis of “Le Freak” and all those really great Rodgers/Edwards producing credits…I’m thinking.

The Meters are a group I’ve heard and read about a lot more than I’ve listened to and that’s on me. I should do better by them. Until I do, I’ll take a pass.

Blues Projects:

The Hall loves putting blues acts in the “performer” section of the Hall. This is as good a place as any to renew my call for a “Contemporary Influence” category, which could include seminal acts ranging from Patsy Cline to Herbie Hancock to Peter, Paul and Mary who have had a truly sizeable impact on rock and roll and the rock era generally without actually being rock and roll performers much (or any) of the time (even in the context of my own extremely broad definition of the term). It’s probably too late for that, as strictly blues performers now dot the Hall’s performer roster, as well as Miles Davis (who would have been perfect for the category and frankly still would be). Whether the Paul Butterfield Blues Band would be a true fit for that imaginary category is an interesting potentinal debate. Meanwhile, getting back to reality, I simply restate my previous call from last year: Honor Mike Bloomfield in the side-men category and start using this slot for someone else.

Rock n’ Roll:

Link Wray. Good God yes. And about time.

Top 40 Giants (Seventies/Early Eighties Division):

Hall and Oates are apparently the cause celebre of new Nomination Committee member Questlove, who evidently brought a lot of hip-hop credibility and a sense of Black America’s genuine love for the last of the blue-eyed soul giants to the process. There was a time when I would have seen this as a borderline call at best, but I’ve been familiarizing myself with their box set over the past year or so and, speaking as someone who values “hip hop credibility” about as much as I value “punk credibility,”–i.e, as another term that makes me basically want to swallow my own tongue and choke to death–I’m now calling them a no-brainer and kicking myself for needing to be reminded. Just to prove there is such a thing as personal growth, I should confess here and now that I once took out a contract on their lives when their version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was rising up the charts. Basically I felt they needed to be stopped. Boys, you may not be the Righteous Brothers, but I’m nonetheless officially glad my man Guido never found you. It’s all good now–and he probably would have come after me when he discovered I didn’t really have the ten grand after all.

I was far from the only one who suspected that the announcement of Linda Ronstadt’s Parkinson’s diagnosis might prompt the Hall to continue it’s macabre habit of noticing epic female vocalists once they have an incurable disease. As I mentioned before, at least Linda is getting off relatively easy since it’s only her voice that died, while Dusty Springfield and Donna Summer needed an actual date with the Grim Reaper in order to be deemed worthy. Then again, this is just a nomination. We’ll see how it works out in the end. For what it’s worth, Ronstadt, whose voice was the foundation stone upon which the seventies-era California Rock scene was effectively built, has been eligible since 1992. She should have been in at least fifteen years ago. A lot of people have suggested that if she ever made it out of the nominating committee she would sail to election. Now that this theory is finally being put to the test, I hope I haven’t been truly paranoid all these years in suspecting it wouldn’t be that simple. We shall see.

In summation this is a good batch of nominees though, as usual, I could imagine it being still better. I could easily vote for nearly everyone on this ballot in a given year, especially N.W.A., LL Cool J, Kiss and, of course, Nirvana. As with last year, I’m leaving off the most obvious choice (in this case, Nirvana) on the grounds that they won’t need my support. You can go to the Hall’s voting site here to cast a let-my-voice-be-heard-in-however-small-a-way ballot.

I’m casting mine for Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, Chic, Deep Purple and Link Wray.

 

THE ANNUAL COGNITIVE DISSONANCE INSPIRED BY THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME HAS BEGUN

Always a fun process. Here’s a prime entry from the Chattanooga Free Press which opens with:

“What do Rush, Public Enemy, Heart, Randy Newman, Donna Summer and Albert King have in common? Absolutely nothing.

“That didn’t stop voters from electing them to the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Then goes yaddah, yaddah, yaddah for a bit before this:

“This year’s attempt to appeal to a wider audience means that Flavor Flav, Public Enemy’s wall-clock wearing hype man, who is better known for dating actress Brigitte Nielsen and a series of other trollops and strumpets on various VH1 reality shows, will soon join the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins and Smokey Robinson as a Hall of Fame inductee.”

Just curious, but is the gap between say, Rush (who evidently fit the Free Press’ definition of “rock and roll”) and Public Enemy (who don’t) really any bigger than the gap between Carl Perkins and Smokey Robinson?

It’s fine for anyone to argue in favor of a narrow definition of “rock and roll.” But if someone is going to take the silly side in an argument, shouldn’t they at least strive for internal consistency?

Of course, when you run into talk of “trollops and strumpets,” it’s generally safe to assume gaps in basic logic may be lingering nearby.

I happen to be someone who loves the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as concept and flawed reality. But even if it existed for no other good reason, the annual flushing of The New Reactionaries from their hidey-holes would suffice….

 

THE ICE IS SLOWLY MELTING…THOUGHTS ON THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2013

For those who missed yesterday’s announcement, this year’s inductees are:

Rush
Public Enemy
Heart
Randy Newman
Donna Summer
Albert King

And in the non-performing categories:

Lou Adler
Quincy Jones

Congrats to all. Good year for the seventies and for black artists. And another pretty good year for women. All good signs.

Adler and Jones are solid picks by the Hall’s special committee. Given existing standards, their merits for inclusion are pretty much beyond argument.

As to the performers: Only the long overdue Summer was on my earlier list of the most deserving who aren’t in, but Heart was a very near miss and Public Enemy were first time eligible (hence, I didn’t consider them).

Randy Newman is a solid pick, especially given the Hall’s recent habit of honoring cult-level singer-songwriters (though Carole King’s absence even from the performer’s nominee list year after year still puzzles me no end–she is in as a non-performer). It does bother me a bit that I suspect at least some people are voting for these performers (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro) in hopes that their own hero will look better on the next ballot. Sort of a “if these people are all in, how can you deny X?” argument. That being said, I think Newman is more deserving than the others and, let’s face it, voters have a right to vote however they want for whatever reason.

That leaves Rush and Albert King.

Rush clearly benefited from a long campaign by its passionate fan base, and I like the idea–now incontrovertible–that fans really do have a voice in the process, however small. I’ve been putting together lengthy mix-discs of classic rock staples for the past couple of years and I have to say I don’t really distinguish them from that genre’s average except in terms of longevity. But, hey, the average is pretty impressive, and they by no means lower any existing standards.

Albert King is trickier. While he’s worthy on purely artistic grounds, he’s also one of those artists (like Patsy Cline or Peter, Paul and Mary) who had an undeniably large influence on rock and roll without actually being rock and roll. Because these acts made their important records during the rock and roll era–and, unlike Wanda Jackson, well after that era began–they can’t reasonably (or even unreasonably as in Jackson’s case) be put in as “early influences.”

It may well be that the Hall actually needs a new category for this kind of performer. Albert King is probably closer to being a rock and roller than Miles Davis (who was inducted a few years ago and would have been perfect for this imaginary category) or the others I mentioned, but it’s a little unfair for blues guitarists to be given this path to induction (Freddie King made it on similar grounds last year) when others just as important have little chance even to be considered.

I don’t know what this proposed category should be called, incidentally, (How about just “Influence”) but the idea is definitely worth considering.

 

QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE 2012 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINATIONS…

(NOTE: The Future Rock Legends site has posted this year’s nominees. Please check it out and consider participating in the fan vote.)

You can go here, here and here to see who I think should have been nominated. The only overlap this year between my list and the actual nominating committee’s is Donna Summer so, obviously, she’s a no-brainer. In past years, death worked for the equally deserving Dusty Springfield and the hardly deserving (as a solo performer) George Harrison, so here’s hoping this will be her time.

I also voted for N.W.A. (along with Public Enemy, eligible for the first time), the Marvelettes, Heart and Deep Purple.

For the record, I don’t agree with the folks at FRL that this is an exceptionally strong ballot, especially not given the long list of the more deserving who have once more been left off.

However, I never have a problem finding five worthy candidates.

Heart was close to making my own list and N.W.A. were outside my consideration because they are just becoming eligible, so those were easy picks.

The Marvelettes are not, to my mind, as important as the Chantels or the Shangri-Las to either rock history or my personal pantheon. But they did have Motown’s first #1 hit, made lots of great records and are fully worthy of induction (as is Mary Wells). They are also the only pre-Beatles act on this year’s ballot and that ever more tenuous connection needs to be kept alive until the dozen or so still-deserving acts from that era get their due.

Deep Purple seemed the most worthy of the remaining acts since they did have a certain amount of weight in the early days of what’s now called (rather arrogantly and narrowly) “classic rock.”

As for the rest:

Newly eligible Public Enemy are a virtual shoo-in and Rush will probably get the most public support. I don’t have any problem with these two acts being in, though, to be fair, I probably don’t know enough about either act to truly judge their music.

Reactionaries who dream of a world where we all run back to the tribes tend to have a distancing effect on me.

On the other hand, Albert King and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band seem extremely marginal. If pure blues acts are going to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as performers, I think they should at least be giants in their own field. Not sure that really applies to either of these, though both, of course, made lots of fine music and had a monumental side or two. I’m just not sure history is any different without them.

Chic keeps getting nominated and they deserve to be in, but I would put them a long way behind Barry White and a shade behind K.C. and the Sunshine Band in the disco sweepstakes.

The Meters are fine. I probably should listen to more of their music, too, but I doubt I would rank them anywhere near War.

Kraftwerk represents an area of rock-as-machinery/machinery-as-rock that’s never been my cup of tea, but I find it hard to believe they should be put ahead of Roxy Music (and I’m not even sure I would vote for Roxy Music if they were on this relatively weak ballot).

Randy Newman is fine. His best music is the equal of anyone’s best music (though most of it was made a very long time ago and, for someone who is supposedly uncompromising and iconoclastic there sure has been a lot of inexplicable mediocrity over the ensuing decades). But he’s not as deserving as Jackie DeShannon or Carole King and he represents a disturbing trend of voters seemingly banding together and continually electing marginal singer-songwriters (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro) in hopes whichever one they really want in will be on next year’s ballot.

Procol Harum? Again, I probably need to listen more, but I’ve listened enough to feel pretty confident they aren’t hiding any Sandy Denny or Richard Thompson level geniuses in there. Save them for later. Put the Fairport Convention in first.

That leaves Joan Jett and her band, the Blackhearts. Very tricky case. I like her a lot, but maybe more as an icon and personality than for her actual records. Still, the moment when “I Love Rock and Roll” and “We Got the Beat” sat at #1 and #2 on the singles charts was a great, great breakthrough in the way half of the human race could imagine seeing themselves. And the fact that so many assumed Jett and the Go-Gos were cultural inevitabilities rather than visionaries who–taking very different paths–decoded and blew apart some of the world’s oldest hack prejudices and preconceptions at the exact same moment, has been long since belied by the “inevitable” culture’s inability to produce more than a tiny handful of worthy heirs for either.

So while I would put the Go-Gos in first, Jett’s worthy and I would make her my first alternate, just ahead of Chic.

All in all, this is by no means a terrible list to choose from (there’s never been a terrible RRHOF list to choose from, no matter what you might have heard). But the Hall’s most persistent patterns–inexplicably prejudicing writers and players over the singers who actually gave rock and roll its unique identity, resistance to women who do not long to be part of some boys’ club or other and the preference for cultish white acts (or white liberal approved acts like Public Enemy) over far more significant black ones–all generally continue.

Setting Donna Summer aside, War, Spinners, Jerry Butler, Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt were each big stars in their respective eras and at least matched the artistry of anyone else on this list. Those patterns are shifting ever so slightly, but until they are addressed more thoroughly, the hole in the side of the Hall’s leaking boat will only grow larger.

And given what a great and necessary institution the RRHOF is–and how vital it is becoming to the preservation of rock’s central, somewhat contradictory, idea of bringing the tribes closer together without obliterating their identity altogether, that’s a real shame.