THE LAST TEN RECORDS I LISTENED TO (Summer 2020, Countdown)

Another all-vinyl edition….

10) The Miracles Greatest Hits From the Beginning (1965)

Even after the old three record Anthology from the 70’s and one of the greatest box sets ever from the 90’s, this is still part of every basic record library. Nowhere else can you experience the unadulterated joy and pain of the young Smokey Robinson quite so purely or all at once or so connected to his (and Motown’s) doo wop roots. When you’re listening, it’s impossible to believe that he actually got better.

9) Various Artists Atlantic Jazz: Kansas City (1986)

This was part of an extensive series the Atlantic label issued in the 1980’s to exploit their considerable Jazz catalog. It’s the only one I picked up along the way and this is probably only the second time I’ve listened to it. Put it this way: It has me considering tracking down the whole series.

8) Burning Spear Rocking Time (1974)

This is the album Winston Rodney released just before his monumental Marcus Garvey which, especially in its double-cd tandem Garvey’s Ghost (which Greil Marcus once called surf music with slave ships on the horizon, a description that will never be bettered) is one of the essential albums of all time. My copy’s on the original Studio One label and I can’t say whether the scratchy quality is from a primitive recording or just crappy vinyl. Somehow it adds to the music’s ghostly quality. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the nerve to listen close.

7) Jerry Butler The Best of Jerry Butler (1970)

A talisman of my life. If more people could say the same, the world would be a better place, because from this distance the Iceman sounds like a man trying to heal a world that pointedly and specifically refused the medicine and opted for nihilism instead. Wonder how that’s working out…

6) Jackie Wilson Jackie Sings the Blues (1960)

A recent discovery and a miracle. The only overlap with his various excellent comps is “Doggin’ Around.” I always wondered what a whole album of Jackie in “Doggin’ Around” mode would sound like. Now I know: Epochal.

5) Various Artists Less Than Zero Soundtrack (1987)

A trash metal soundtrack to a desultory movie about a desultory time, broken by occasional nods to nascent hip hop…And elevated to permanent relevance by two startling sides: LL Cool J’s sly, menacing “Going Back to Cali” and the Bangles complete re-imagining of Paul Simon’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” as a hard rock anthem to die for, both of which evoke the hellish landscape of 80’s America far better than the movie did.

4) Various Artists Beserkley Chartbusters Volume I (1975)

The most famous power pop compilation from the most famous power pop label. Not bad but I can never help remembering that Raspberries had already taken this concept as far as it could go so it mostly makes me want to listen to Raspberries.

3) Jefferson Airplane Volunteers (1969)

This has been in heavy rotation on my turntable of late. I can’t imagine why. What with the proof that 1969 never really ended because we never really resolved its contradictions all over the news yet again maybe I keep thinking that if this is never going to provide the answers it will at least lead me back to a clarification of the questions. Not bad for a bunch of Limo Libs. Still the first album I’d play for a youngster who wanted to begin understanding the Sixties.

2) Spirit The Best of Spirit (1973)

They made good albums, but this is still my go-to, maybe just because, in 1979, when I bought it, it was the only thing available in the malls of America. Or maybe just because it’s great on its own. They didn’t really need conceptual LPs. They were a conceptual band and they had that one quality that makes any artist prone to being under-appreciated: There was no one else like them. Get your ass to the animal zoo indeed.

1) Dusty Springfield Golden Hits (1966)

One of these days I’m going to start a category for Perfect Albums or maybe just Perfect Things. This might be Exhibit A. My copy survived the Great Jefferson Arms Apartments Flood of 1981. (Fair enough as the flood was technically started by me–personally I blame whoever reversed the threads on the hot water handle in the bathroom sink, which made it a dangerous proposition to leave for work when the water had been cut off in the middle of shaving. Probably because they were shutting down a flood somewhere else in the complex….And I thought the roaches were bad before! I did feel bad about inadvertently terrorizing the cocker spaniel next door. The cute girl who owned him was at work too.) I could afford an undamaged cover now I guess, but somehow it would feel like messing with karma to replace anything that has spent forty years making me smile.

‘Til next time….Hope this Popsicle stand hasn’t burned to the ground by then!

THE LAST TEN FILM NOIRS I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (May, 2020)

[NOTE: Except for Body Heat and The Maltese Falcon, all of these films can be found on the three box sets put out by Turner Classic Movies, entitled Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I, II and III. Get them all if you can.]

Okay, I didn’t do one for March…or April…or May. But I haven’t fallen too much further behind so let’s get going!

April 10-Murder By Contract (1958, d. Irving Lerner, 2nd Viewing)

In all honesty I watched nearly every film on this list because they were part of my numerous Film Noir box sets and when I watched them the first time they kind of all ran together. That happened again, but I can remember certain details. In this, the big detail I remember is Vince Edwards’ contract killer moving up and up the ladders, showing no emotions whatever….until he realizes his next victim is a woman. He’s got a thing about killing women, but there’s no big scene where he explains it all so instead of the usual mush we just get a tension snake coiling ever tighter and not a trace of sentiment. Wheeeee!

April 11-The Burglar (1957, d. Paul Wendkos, 2nd Viewing)

Okay, why I might watch it again: Jayne Mansfield, proving she really could have been the next Marilyn Monroe with the right support. Plus Dan Duryea in a rare non-villain role and an able cast of crime faces, blending with the night.

April 11-The Mob (1951, d. Robert Parish, 2nd Viewing)

Can you buy Broderick Crawford as the good guy? You can if he has to go undercover and pretend to be the toughest of the bad guys in order to haul them in. Memorable tension between Crawford and Neville Brand’s genuine, soul-of-evil-down-to-his-toes, bad guy. You watch enough of these in a row and you begin to understand why a Monroe or a Mansfield stick out. Without the bombshell figure and platinum blonde do, it’s hard to make an impression! I mean, I don’t even remember if this had any women in it at all.

April 12-Drive a Crooked Road (1954, d. Richard Quine, 2nd Viewing)

This has a woman or two, but the real reason to watch is for Mickey Rooney’s one of a kind performance as the schlub who falls for one of them…falls so hard that he ends up being roped into a scheme to drive the getaway car for her bank robbing boyfriend. Complications ensue. The Mick handles them all without a trace of his trademark manic energy but with a lot of understanding of what makes such a man tick. This one I remembered. The ending is almost as desolate as In a Lonely Place, with which I imagine it would make a fine double bill, if anyone could take that much tragedy in one night.

April 14-City of Fear (1959, d. Irving Lerner, 2nd Viewing)

Vince Edwards is back as another ice pick…but this time he’s a thousand times more dangerous because the heroin (or is it diamonds? honestly I forget, but anyway its a lotta dough on the hoof) he thinks he’s heisted is actually a sealed container filled with a deadly radioactive substance called Cobalt-60. Plus he’s a sociopath. Fun times in the Naked City! Did I mention that these are all quite good? They are, but it takes a Jayne Mansfield or a Mickey Rooney to etch them in the memory.

April 15-Nightfall (1956, d. Jacques Tourneur, 2nd Viewing)

Jacques Tourneur, Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith plus a David Goodis source novel…You can bet I had high hopes for this one and it delivered. I don’t exactly remember how it delivered, but I think they ended up in the snowy woods somewhere which was a refreshing break from all the urban grime. Really, that cast, I’d go anywhere with them. Did you know Anne Bancroft could fill a sweater as good as anybody? I didn’t. I didn’t even remember that from the first time I watched. It’s like I’m getting old or something.

April 16-Pushover (1954, d. Richard Quine, 2nd Viewing)

Kim Novak. Boy could Hollywood dream up those bombshells! Plus Fred MacMurray playing both sides of that fence only he ever seemed to know even existed. More twists and turns than a rattlesnake in a leaf pile. And Kim Novak. How come that never happens anymore?

April 17-Body Heat (1981, d. Lawrence Kasdan, 4th Viewing)

Okay, there had to be one “neo” in here. Why not the best? Poor Lawrence Kasdan. From here there was nowhere to go but down and, despite some fine subsequent films, down he went. I mean “You’re not very bright. I like that in a man.” Where can you go from there? In the running with Key Largo for the best Florida movie ever. (Helps if you shoot it here folks. Really it does.) Kathleen Turner smoked so many holes in so many screens she immediately turned to comedy (at which she also excelled) to save her career. I mean, she saw what happened to Gloria Grahame, right?

April 19-The Maltese Falcon (1941, d. John Huston, Umpteenth Viewing)

Okay, there had to be one “proto” in here. Why not the best?

May 2-Human Desire (1954, d. Fritz Lang, 2nd Viewing)

This is part of another project I have in mind centered around Gloria Grahame so I’ll keep my powder dry for now. Suffice it to say, GG was the real reason films like this demanded a name and this was one of her finest, most complex, performances. The French did a version first (Renoir even). I haven’t seen it. I’m sure it was wonderful. But it didn’t have Gloria Grahame, who didn’t need tight sweaters to strike deep into the heart of man.

…Til next time

THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (February, 2020)

Running behind again, obviously, but here goes (I may do one for March just to catch up. We’ll see):

February 10-Witness for the Prosecution (1957, d. Billy Wilder, Umpteenth Viewing)

For one of Billy Wilder’s fetching entertainments but mostly for one of Charles Laughton’s great fun showcases. He gets to play a barrister…who’s just had a heart attack! Double the fun for real-life spouse Elsa Lanchester as his now-domineering, now-conspiratorial home nurse. Everyone else, including Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich, are turned into bystanders, but really it doesn’t matter.

February 10-Eraser (1996, d. Chuck Russell, 4th Viewing)

I wasn’t in a heavy mood so decided to re-visit this one from the nineties. By this time, Ah-nold could do these in his sleep but he gave them what he had and the ones that worked, like this one, worked pretty darn well. I had forgotten Jimmy Caan’s really despicable bad guy and just how shockingly gorgeous Vanessa Williams was and now that I remember all these things I think this one will go into semi-heavy rotation. Perfect popcorn movie and, really, from the nineties onward, what else is left?

February 13-Clear and Present Danger  (1994, d. Phillip Noyce, 3rd Viewing)

Okay, are we getting an idea that I wasn’t exactly in a heavy mood in February? This one still plays well. Harrison Ford’s lock-jawed good guys never get old with me. I wonder if he’s still the all time box office champ? I’d hate to think somebody replaced him because whoever it was or is or will be, they won’t be as good.

February 13-The Racket (1951, d. John Cromwell–Nicholas Ray assisting, 2nd Viewing)

Because I have about eight or nine box sets of films noir sitting around and, every once in a while, if I’ve been eating too much popcorn, I figure it’s time to pull one down I haven’t seen in a while: Go to my “no comfort” zone so to speak. This is a good one. Robert Ryan’s the bad guy, Robert Mitchum the good guy, Lizbeth Scott the dame. It’s all very atmospheric and corrosive and convincing. You could watch this straight through and almost convince yourself some bad guys get what’s coming to them! Not a bad feeling to have actually…while it lasts.

February 16-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, d. Alfred Hitchcock, Umpteenth Viewing)

For Peter Lorre’s unmatched villainy. For emotional resonance I actually prefer Hitchcock’s 1956 remake (Hitch and I are in the minority among film buffs but there it is). This one moves along, though, and nobody could bring dimension to a terrorist the way Lorre could (hell, he was coming off giving dimension to a child molester in M, this was child’s play). His reaction to the death of his faithful female assistant, the one true believer among his cabal, is one of Hitchcock’s few truly moving scenes and the only one that is bound to make a sane person uncomfortable. The victimized family is likable in the stiff-upper-lip style of old fashioned Britain, the one that was going to always be in 1934 and ceased to exist within a generation. You can observe the depth of the fall by contrasting Leslie Banks here to the likes of Tony Blair or Boris Johnson.

February 16-Breakdown (1997, d. Jonathan Mostow, 3rd Viewing)

Okay, it’s back to popcorn by the bucket. But this one has a genuinely disturbing edge for anyone who has ever been stranded a million miles from nowhere without a cell phone (and this was made at the last minute before everybody had one). Kurt Russell’s too good an everyman (after James Garner the best Hollywood ever had) for this not to feel more plausible than it has any right to–and too good an action hero for Mostow’s impressive action sequences to go to waste. Better than I remembered and I remembered it getting under my skin.

February 17-Under Siege (1992, d. Andrew Davis, 5th Viewing)

For the scenery chewing by everybody except Steven Seagal (who thankfully doesn’t try), for Andy Davis’s always great action scenes and to watch Erika Eliniak come out of that cake.

February 17-Tight Spot (1955, d. Phil Karlson, 2nd Viewing)

For Ginger Rogers’ last great role, in which she cast back to her pre-Fred, Anytime
Annie (“the only time she said no, she didn’t understand the question”), days of the early thirties. B-movie master Phil Karlson keeps things crisp and tight. Brian Keith has a good early role and Edward G. Robinson a good late one. Nothing new really, but everything is in place, including a couple of good plot twists you might recognize without necessarily seeing them coming. Nice to remember how often Hollywood could do that once.

February 18-The Three Musketeers (1993, d. Stephen Herek, 3rd Viewing)

For a slick and satisfying update of the indestructible plot. For Rebecca DeMornay, who I’ll watch in anything. For Tim Curry’s great Cardinal Richelieu. And to once again wonder whatever happened to the delight that was Oliver Platt. You have to put up with poor Chris O’Donnell’s drip of a d’Artagnan, but it’s worth it. I was clearly on a 1990’s kick in this little stretch and I’ll pause to note that these modestly performing action films are miles better than the CGI-blockbusting head-pounders of the new century. It’s amazing how soon we forget.

February 19-The 39 Steps (1936, d. Alfred Hitchcock, 5th Viewing)

To see if I could get through it this time. For some reason this one always puts me to sleep because I have trouble following the plot. To be fair John Buchan’s novel had the same effect when I read it. I could sense I should be getting more out of it, but could never put my finger on what I was missing. Anyway, I finished it, but I nodded off at least twice. I’m not sure that should be happening in a thriller.

Great poster though! They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Til next time!

THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Spring 2020, Countdown)

10) The Prisonaires, Five Beats Behind Bars (1979)

The Prisonaires assembled in the Tennessee State Pen in the early 50’s. Their leader, Johnny Bragg, was a decade into his sentence after being convicted on six counts of rape at the age of seventeen. “Just Walking in the Rain,” a song the illiterate Bragg composed and gave a co-credit to a fellow inmate for transcribing the lyric, found its way to Sun Records and Sam Phillips after a local radio producer sent a tape of a show Bragg and his prison vocal group had performed in gaol. To hear the song now is to be caught between the last rock and the last hard place: Is this the pure expression of the soul of a rapist, or the spirit of Jim Crow being brought to its knees? The question haunts, because Bragg’s vocal is probably the most delicate ever recorded. Let out of prison on the strength of his musical ability and success, he was soon thrown back in for being caught riding in a car with a white woman: A violation of parole and never mind that she was his wife. Here’s the kicker, though. The whole thing is up to that standard, which leaves us with another question: If he’d never been in prison, would Johnny Bragg be as well known as Clyde McPhatter or never heard from at all?

9) Steely Dan Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)

To be honest I’ve never been able to attend any of their other albums all the way through. This was one of the great debuts, though, and everything they would ever be.

You could even argue that everything they would ever be was in the first two sides, which were only “Do It Again” (a huge hit) and “Dirty Work” a non-single which has never been off the radio, whether because or in spite of vocalist-for-hire David Palmer coming as close to the spirit of Johnny Bragg as any white man who never saw the inside of a jail cell could is another question to keep you up nights while you’re trying to figure out what the crit-illuminati saw in the rest of the story.

8) Various ArtistsEasy Rider Soundtrack(1969)

If I’m being honest, I prefer listening to the soundtrack, which I’ve done three or four times, to watching the movie, which I’ve done once.

If I’m being further honest, it’s really too bad the Band’s version of “The Weight” couldn’t be used. If they had to go with Smith, they should have just put their bombastic hit version of “Baby It’s You” in the movie itself (and no, I have no idea if they had even recorded it yet). Worth all the meandering to hear Roger McGuinn close down the proceedings–and the 60’s–by reading Dylan and a version of his own self-composed title track that adds depth and nuance to the great version he did with the Byrds for their Ballad of Easy Rider LP, which is way better than either this or the movie.

7) Fairport Convention Fairport Chronicles(1976)

From 1968 to 1972, from whence the music here is drawn, Fairport and its off-shoots (Fotheringay, The Bunch) made music to equal anyone alive and this is the best of it, brilliantly programmed and sturdier than time, Stonehenge or the digital recording industry which never caught up with it. Richard Thompson was the stable genius, Sandy Denny the mercurial, self-destructive one, and for a time, they held the center of Britain’s best-ever collective of folkish musicians. It all went the way of dusty death, of course, but nothing’s ever beaten it and no CD comp comes close.

6) The El Dorados Low Mileage – High Octane: Their Greatest Recordings (1984)

Of all the bottomless rock ‘n’ roll genres, doo wop is the deepest. The El Dorados were one of the hundred or so 50’s era vocal groups that managed a hit (“At My Front Door”) among the more than ten thousand who made a record and God knows how many who tried. I’ve got a few dozen comps by the style’s “one hit wonders”….and every one of them is magnificent. Is it an accident that Black America’s tendency to ruthlessly compete against itself (on the way to competing with the world) has produced so much fine culture, and that the self-defeating tendencies of ruthlessness have forced so much of it to remain in the shadows? I don’t know…but I’ll never get tired of trying to figure it out.

5) The Clash London Calling (1979)

Did anyone else ever make a double LP where every song rode a killer riff? I don’t just mean a catchy riff, like Tusk or the White Album, but a killer riff?

If somebody did, please let me know. I mean even Exile on  Main Street lets up for a song or two and Prince, well he would always start noodling after a while when you gave him that much space.

Not this. This keeps punching from beginning to end and also flows like water. For that, I can forgive the politics being a tad naive, even for 1979. Wish I could feel that way again, so this wouldn’t carry the weight of a lost time and it wouldn’t give me a sense of peace it was never mean to convey. But so it goes.

4) Joe Tex I Gotcha (1972)

Yeah, Joe Tex, who was he anyway. He’d been making records since the 50’s, had a string of hits since the mid-60’s and in 1972, this got lost. Christgau gave it a B- (and didn’t grade the next item here at all). I’m not sure anybody else mentioned it at all. Too bad. Shame on them. The man who helped invent Southern Soul and get it on the charts was still going strong. This was as good as anything released in it’s year. If Otis Redding or Al  Green had done it, it would have been slavered over. But then, the white boy illuminati never did have room for more than one black southern male genius at a time. Heck, if Otis hadn’t died, I bet even Al would have been put on hold. You know that’s how it was, because this is as good as Al Green.

3) Joe Tex From the Roots Came the Rapper (1972)

So is this, which came out the same year, and without a big single (like I Gothca‘s title track), got even less attention.

Interesting that Rap became the dominant musical form of a subsequent age without ever challenging the limits of what Tex did in the early 70’s. The only people who really responded to his mix of country, soul, R&B, pop crooning and high comedy were record buyers. Plus maybe the black women he spent his career mocking, celebrating and humanizing by turns. Nobody ever got to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doing that. If somebody ever does, it will be this guy.

2) Dion and the Belmonts 24 Original Classics (1984)

There have been a lot of ace Dion comps, up to and including his box set. This double-LP is the best (released on CD some time in the Dark Ages but evidently long out of print).

More than almost any other comp of its kind, it traces a journey–from the scorching, white hot doo wop of his youth through his dalliances with folk rock, heroin addiction, singer songwriter sensitivity, rehabilitation and a return to roots. There was more to the man to be sure–Christian music, a series of blues albums (which I really need to get hold of), and a standout version of Nick Lowe’s “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” that might be my favorite of anything he ever did. But while I’m listening to this, I can’t be convinced anything’s been left out.

1) The Four Tops Greatest Hits (1968)

The Tops can sustain a much longer comp. Their three-record vinyl set is one of the strongest in Motown’s old Anthology series and I’ve got a 50-side double CD that does’t quit. But this straight hit between the eyes is one of life’s perfect things. I wonder how many people feel the desperation in something as jaunty sounding as “I Can’t Help Myself?” And how many think Levi Stubbs was a second-stringer based on his uncanny ability to shield them from the point? Although if you start obsessing on “Reach Out I’ll Be There” or “Standing in the Shadows of Love” where the desperation is impossible to miss–or run from–you can understand how they came out confused.

til next time…

THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (December 2019 and January 2020)

December’s always a good time for revisiting old favorites so there was a lot of that…Excluding re-watches of Gettysburg and A Perfect Murder, both of which I’ve commented on several times in the past here, and Knives Out and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which I hope to be commenting on in my At the Multiplex category soon!

December 16-The Thin Man (1934, d. W.S. Van Dyke, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because it had been a while, and, when it’s been a while, it’s even more marvelous than when it hasn’t been a while. “You got types?” “Only you my darling.” Who doesn’t want to spend time with that? William Powell and Myrna Loy were always priceless. And here, at the beginning, even the mystery part was good!

December 22-The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, d. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, Umpteenth Viewing)

Truth be told, I like at least a couple of other versions just as much, but there’s a lot about this one that can’t be beat, starting with Olivia De Havilland, Technicolor and Golden Age Hollywood, all at their most ravishing. The costumes alone would make this worth regular viewing. Interesting at this distance to note that Old Hollywood has become nearly as mythological as the Robin Hood tales themselves. Perhaps more than any movie of its era, this one carries a tinge of melancholy–where else can one count the cost of so many things modernity has destroyed in one place? Errol Flynn’s offhand charm, De Havilland’s impeccable grace, Eugene Pallette’s foghorn voice, Basil Rathbone’s swordsmanship, Claude Rains’ arched eyebrow. Which of those things could even be faked now, let alone replicated? And who would dare leave them in a movie if the world permitted them to exist in the first place? We are further from them than they were from the Crusades that started this whole thing….at least the other fave versions (with Richard Todd or Patrick Bergin) don’t beat me over the head with that mournful stick!

December 23-The Big Heat (1953, d. Fritz Lang, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because it’s the greatest of all thrillers: peak Lang, peak noir, and the shock of its  mostly unseen violence still strikes deep decades after Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch have become film school exercises. And because I’ve shown it to several friends, male and female, down through the years and the response to Gloria Grahame’s entrance has always been the same: Who is that?

December 24-The Mark of Zorro (1940 d. Rouben Mamoulian, Umpteenth Viewing)

The Adventures of Robin Hood put me in a swashbuckling mood, so why not? A lot of the elements are the same. Zorro’s just Robin Hood gone to Spanish California after all and never mind Basil Rathbone with a sword, it’s even got Eugene Pallette as Friar-Tuck-of-the-West. But it’s not lesser. Tyrone Power was Flynn’s only match for this sort of thing and the story’s just as good, as are the direction, script, and overall Old World craft. It moves! No better way to say Merry Christmas to yourself!

December 24-Duck Soup (1933, d. Leo McCarey, Umpteenth Viewing)

Unless maybe it’s this. After all, even Flynn or Power against Rathbone is no match for Chico vs. Harpo! With Groucho as the referee. I hadn’t watched this for years and I was a little trepidatious because the last time I tried to watch A Night at the Opera, I didn’t make it half-way through. I was probably just in a bad mood because this one had me rolling again. And was it the most significant historical cultural achievement in the year Hitler rose to power? I don’t know but I sure don’t like to think about what sort of response we’ll have when he comes ’round again. Hail Freedonia!

December 25-The T.A.M.I. Show (1964, d. Steve Binder, Umpteenth Viewing)

Reviving a Christmas tradition from the days when this was only available on bootleg video cassettes. I only have two standards for American film-making: this and The Searchers. There are at least a half-dozen performers here who would have been the best thing ever if only James Brown hadn’t showed up. That includes the Rolling Stones, who “won” the argument over who was going to follow who.

December 26-Sabrina (1954, d. Billy Wilder, Umpteenth Viewing)

Roman Holiday was such an across the board success Audrey Hepburn was bound to be the point of whatever she did for the next twenty years, let alone her next picture. One of the many things I really like about this charming trifle is that Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, who famously didn’t get along, had an odd kind of on-screen chemistry, while she and Bill Holden (who was enough in love with her to promise he would get drunk in every port in the world if she didn’t marry him, a promise he kept after she told him not to be silly) had none. It works so well for the improbable story that I sometimes wonder if Billy Wilder saw how the land lay and planned it that way.

But you can have a lot of fun watching it even if you don’t know any of that. I promise!

December 29-Witness (1985, d. Peter Weir, Fourth Viewing)

A modern updating of Angel and the Badman that’s just as great as the original. Possibly Harrison Ford’s finest hour and peak 80’s Hollywood even if they had to import an Australian director to pull it off. It has grown with time. The only reason I haven’t watched it more over the years is that it was the last movie I saw in a theater with my mother….maybe enough time has passed for the association to soften. In any case it’s a great movie. How Hollywood kept Kelly McGillis from becoming a star would be a real interesting story for someone to tell. I guess keeping her name and face off posters that promoted the feakin’ soundtrack was a start.

January 1-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, d. Peter Hunt, Umpteenth Viewing)

For Diana Rigg, a bunch of great action sequences, a thousand small touches that enhance the atmosphere of a satisfying formula and to remind myself that George Lazenby may not have been Sean Connery…but he came closer than anyone has since.

January 3-Day of the Outlaw (1958, d. Andre De Toth, Second Viewing)

The greatest weather movie ever? Maybe. I can’t think of a better one and it’s certainly in the DNA of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Where Eagles Dare and Runaway Train among many others. Turn the central heat up full blast and you can still feel the Wyoming winter biting into your bones. The atmosphere is intensified by Robert Ryan and, especially, Burl Ives, who provide chilly performances to match the mood. For a surprise, Ryan is the sort of hero and Ives the definite villain while Tina Louise gets a turn that suggests Gilliagan’s Island really was beneath her. The rest of the cast is impeccable, including David Nelson, Ricky’s now forgotten big brother, as The Kid torn between two strong men, nagged by the idea that he may have chosen the wrong one. De Toth’s final western and one of Golden Age Hollywood’s finest….about which I’ll have more to say when I do my Non-canonical Golden Age westerns some time in the new year.

…Til then!

THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Winter 2019, Countdown–Another All Vinyl Edition)

10) Various Artists  Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (1972)

Ain’t it beautiful? The (reissue) cover, the concept, the overkill, the noise. Although some of these records were big hits, by the time Lenny Kaye got the idea to gather them all together in one place, there was at least some danger of them being forgotten. A bazillion spin-offs later (including three box sets put out by Rhino which, yes, yes, I have) and there are probably a thousand or so records that deserve to be forgotten but can’t be as long as somebody, anybody, is consumed by the desire to prove they can dive deeper into obscurity than you in search of a lost aesthetic that really should be ruling the world. This is still the best of the lot. I used to think I would change a cut or two, but time has only elevated it. It’s all emblazoned in my brain now. I wouldn’t change a thing.

9) Various Artists Super Girls (1986)

Okay, this I would change….a little. One last gasp at putting out a definitive girl group set, sans Phil Spector, in the vinyl era. There is plenty of great music, but the set is schizophrenic: girlish pop mixed with some hard-core R&B numbers that happened to be sung by females, with the unclassifiable Jaynetts and Shangri-Las thrown in for good measure, not to mention Brenda Lee. The schizoid problem, incidentally, would not have been solved by more Spector (the Paris Sisters are here and they only point up the set’s split personality.)

I’m glad to have it and all…but, pulling it out for the holidays, I was reminded why it never went into heavy rotation back in the days when vinyl was still king at my house. It surges….then it flags….then it surges..and you think, less might be more?

8) Various Artists 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits (1967)

This doesn’t flag. I’m not sure it was the set it might have been (a couple of re-recordings…the Platters’ side is early, pre-fame) but it’s stellar just the same. I mean, that early Platters on “Only You” isn’t just a valid take, it’s a killer.

And don’t covers sometimes make a difference? Somehow that beautiful combination of colors that Columbia Records put together to promote their recently acquired King Records catalog always creates the right mood for me. I feel like I’m in a smoky corner waiting for the floor show on the wrong side of town in 1954 from the minute I see it on the shelf.

7) Graham Parker Howlin’ Wind (1976)

I’m always surprised to rediscover, yet again, that this isn’t a punk record. England, 1976, scenester, cultish following. How can it not be punk or at least “punkish”?

It’s always better for the distinction. Really , if you aren’t the Clash, I’d rather you not be punk, or, God forbid, punkish. Just my personal prejudice. And, every time I put this on–once or twice a decade–I swear I’m gonna get to know it better.

Maybe this will be the decade it really happens.

6) Paul McCartney and Wings Band on the Run (1973)

Okay, this one….I’m really going to devote myself to knowing this one better. Because I really want to know if “Let Me Roll It” constitutes an act of arrogance or subversion. I mean, one day, Paul McCartney woke up and said You know, John’s been a bit mean about me of late, so I think what I’ll do is, I’ll make a record in John’s signature style but, instead of just making it a parody or something, I’ll actually do John better than John can do John. I’ll not only do the singing and writing part of it better, I’ll even do the angry bit better. And I’ll leave it there as a reminder that John can only be John, but I can be anybody. 

And I’ll let the world sort out whether any of that makes it worth a single hit of “Jet,” delivered straight to the veins without any jingling intervention by the radio.

Yep, I definitely need to listen more.

5) Toots & the Maytals Funky Kingston (1975)

I’m starting a little project of finishing off collecting the LPs listed on Greil Marcus’s Treasure Island recommendations from his 1979 illuminati standard Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. One way to keep myself (and my pocket book) interested is by listening to a lot of the ones I already have. This one–which I’ve had forever but somehow never acquired an intimate knowledge of–was a revelation. It’s been released in various forms on both vinyl and CD, but I can’t imagine any lineup beating the one I have. Toots Hibbert was/is frequently compared to Otis Redding (for whom I’ve been developing a whole new appreciation I’ll probably need  to write about in the future) but I hear more Ray Charles myself. That’s hardly a bad thing, especially since reggae puts even more structural limits on a singer than southern soul. I don’t count it a coincidence that Toots joined Ray in bringing whole new worlds to John Denver’s “Country Roads.” Call it the vision thing.

This one’s going into heavy rotation.

4) The Maytals Do the Reggae 1966-70 (1988)

In vinyl days (which I’m happy to say are coming ’round again), this was always more my speed. Maybe it still is, even if I’m never convinced I’ve comprehended a single word.

Roots reggae at it’s Leslie Kong-produced peak, then, and, of course, I don’t mean I failed to understand it. It always sounded like a soundtrack for the horror stories my missionary parents used to bring home from reform schools (or, in my dad’s case, prisons) filled with the wretched of the modern earth.

3) Dave Mason Alone Together (1970)

Weird album. Loved by some, dismissed by others, the crit-illuminati couldn’t get a reliable read on it and, despite my innate desire to confound the confounders at every possible turn, neither can I.

It fits the tenor of its times: Bloozy, Anglo, Laid Back Cali, uncredited Eric Clapton sideman-ship floating around in there somewhere. I can’t really make sense of it. But what do I know? The Dave Mason I loved was the one who had a big pop hit with “We Just Disagree,” which still makes me smile and remember–I like the rest but in thee end it just makes me shrug, no matter how much I want the worlds to collide.

2) Warren Zevon Stand in the Fire (1980)

One of the greatest live albums ever recorded. Performance freed up something in Zevon that rarely got loose in the studio. His vocals were better, his bands were tighter, even his lyric improvs were better. (Has there ever been a leap of faith into a dark zone that landed more beautifully on point than changing the line after There’s a .38 Special up on on the shelf from If I start feeling stupid I’ll shoot myself to And I don’t intend to use it on myself?) No, of course there hasn’t.

Bonus tracks later added to the CD only subtracted from the overall effect. It’s perfect as it stands, from the opening title track (written for the tour) all the way down to a “Bo Diddley’s a Gunslinger” that links the album to the history of the world and, unimaginably, tops the original.

1) War Greatest Hits (1976)

Was it really possible to sum up the entire decade, and all the decades to come, in 1976?

It was, but you would never have known it without these guys. Without them, it all just felt incoherent.

In a generous mood, I try to believe “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” was/is the record that best defined my beloved 70’s. But in my heart I know it is/was “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” even if my only cavil with this mind-bending album is that it substitutes the powerful hit single version for the long version that’s too harrowing for words.

Til next time then!

THE LAST TEN BOX SETS I LISTENED TO….(11/19)

This is a variation on The Last Ten Records I Listened To. Usually I just blend the box sets in with everything else, but I was on a roll this summer and listened to a whole bunch at once and, well, box sets are different. It requires a whole different level of engagement to really listen all the way through. I doubt this will be a regular feature, but I thought it would be fun to do it at least once….

10) Smokey Robinson and the Miracles The 35th Anniversary Collection (1994)

Well, might as well start at the top. Most of this is genius, and the filler is all atmospheric enough to prevent the long journey from taking any serious side trips. Smokey was an almost purely positive life force, so his turn to melancholy in the mid-sixties carries extra weight. If he was worried…

The contemplative man who emerged in the 70’s and basically invented and named a radio format (Quiet Storm, which was black American culture’s last attempt to assimilate without being overwhelmed or bought off) is a bit underrepresented here. But there are other ways to experience that. This gets the whole story in and it never flags.

And oh by the way: That’s the greatest cover any box set has ever had. I smile just thinking about it.

9) Louis Armstrong Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: 1923-1934 (2000)

Louis’s revolutionary period, expertly limned. The amazing part is that it barely scratches the surface–he moved and resettled boundaries in myriad ways (playing, singing, performing, fronting, supporting, clowning, on an don) and, while this could hardly cover everything it is a fine introduction and a great way to hear the whole period all at once without giving up a month of your life.

8) The Byrds There is a Season (2006)

My version of the greatest box set ever released would be everything the Byrds recorded from the Preflyte sessions through Notorious Byrd Brothers (after which they became a very different band via numerous personnel changes). This isn’t that, but the back end holds up better than you might think. As long as Roger McGuinn was involved (and he always was) there was always the chance for a brilliant moment or two to break out and a lot of them are captured here. And the early stuff isn’t less brilliant for being only a glimpse of their Cosmic significance, which, among American bands, was matched, oddly enough, only by Louis Armstrong’s early Hot Fives and Sevens and a few 70s era funk bands (Sly and the Family, War, maybe P-Funk). Greatness is a matter of opinion…but the Cosmos abides.

7) Dwight Yoakam Reprise Please Baby (2002)

Very few modern country singers are worthy of a four-disc box and some who are (John Anderson, Patty Loveless) have never gotten one. That makes this one a Godsend. Dwight walked a narrow line between trad-country relevance, hat-act commerce and his own unique brand of Americana which could be as slick as he chose to make it without ever being fake. I’d fault this amazing set only for not including “South of Cincinnati” the killer from his first album which is one of the loneliest songs in the genre that defines lonely.

6) Duane Allman Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective (2013)

My Mother’s Day collection…not because my mother listened to much of this music (though she might have liked a lot of it if she had) but because it’s been the accompaniment for the annual drive to her grave site for a few years now. Poignant even in its fiercest moments because, unlike so many of his death bound contemporaries, the Skydog sounded like he had all the time in the world. (BTW: I once read that Keith Richards claimed a line in “Brown Sugar,” the Stones’ unadulterated celebration of slave rape, wasn’t “scarred old slaver” but “Skydog slaver,” because Duane was hanging out in the studio when they recorded the song. It wouldn’t surprise me if this quote were accurate. The lengths to which a Yank or a Brit will go to slander a southern white man in the name of comradeship know no bounds of decency or sense.)

5) Booker T & the MGs Time is Tight (1998)

One of the things that has surprised me about the latest narrative of Stax being represented as a place of peace and harmony in the sixties when it really wasn’t is how surprised everybody is (though I suppose it shouldn’t if I recall my own definitions of a conservative being someone who always believes the first thing they are told and a liberal being someone who always believes the second thing they are told…as long as it contradicts the first). The music–stripped down to its basics here by the label’s immortal house band–was pure tension. “Melting Pot” sure, but it was always boiling. It’s not everybody who can get me to listen to four hours worth of instrumentals without once looking at the clock. A few jazz masters and these guys. That’s about it.

4) Elvis Presley The Gospel Masters (2009)

A reminder that Elvis recorded more religious material throughout a superstar career than anyone (Al Green beat him, but only by going into the ministry full time–and giving up his superstardom). The sessions from the fifties, plus those for his first two full gospel albums are all here and impeccable. The later sessions (some spread across his secular albums, others collected on his final gospel collection from the early 70s) aren’t as consistent but they are way more hit than miss. He recorded his first gospel LP in a single night-long session that might be the finest of his, or anyone’s, career and “Reach Out to Jesus” from the mid-sixties is my pick for his greatest single vocal. When you remind yourself that this is only a sliver of his career, you remember the answer to so many otherwise vexing questions–well, he’s Elvis.

3) Rick Nelson Legacy (2000)

The career-spanning box everybody had been waiting for, mostly because, whether the records sold or not, there was no fall-off in quality from beginning to end. I listened to it on the road this summer and it makes for great driving music (probably even better if you manage to get out of Florida, or whatever state you live in). His Dylan was better than his Fats Domino…but then again his Dylan was better than almost anybody’s Dylan. He was a musical equivalent to James Garner. Admired, even beloved, but never quite given the credit he deserved because he made it look/sound as easy as breathing.

It ain’t.

2) The Cadillacs The Complete Josie Sessions (1995)

This one had been sitting around the house for ages, so I took it on the road, too–then still didn’t get around to listening until a month or so after I got back. As usual with the Bear Family there are a lot of extra takes that slow the momentum a bit. But those who have been arguing for years that they are a Hall of Fame act weren’t wrong They hit a serio-comic vein that could go in a lot of directions even a record as epic as “Speedo” didn’t hint at. I may not listen to the whole thing very often, but I’m gonna spring for a single disc collection before too long. I bet it’s as good as the Coasters!

1) Hall & Oates Do What You Want, Be What You Are (2009)

Before I got this a few years ago I wasn’t too sure Hall & Oates were a Hall of Fame act myself. One listen solved all that for me and I was happy to see them voted in a short while back. They had a vision of blue-eyed-soul-as-spiritual-transcendence which got sold short by critics because they had the chops (and the nerve) to sell millions of records, not a few of them to Black America, long after everyone else had given up or hit the oldies’ circuit, and by me because I couldn’t get past their is-this-some-kind-of-joke version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” After their career finally cooled off, I had my own joke that I had put out a contract on them. But one hit of “She’s Gone,” wherever it found me, always put me in a forgiving mood. What this box taught me was that they never stopped being great. The world just stopped noticing. Killer live too.

I might do one of these again next year. Til then, Happy Thanksgiving!

 

THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED….AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (September, October 2019)

Okay these aren’t even close to the last ten movies I watched. Time got away from me. But it’s a pretty good list just the same, and I did watch ’em all in a row. So-o-o-o-o…..

September 7-Chinatown (1974, d. Roman Polanski, Umpteenth Viewing)

For Faye Dunaway’s face and Jack Nicholson’s nose. Plus John Huston’s lechery. It doesn’t move me but it does scare me, probably because 10050 Cielo Drive is hanging all over it. What other kind of valentine would Sharon Tate’s husband send to Hollywood? And yeah, it’s perfect. A little too perfect maybe, but let me not be the first to complain of perfection in an age where basic craft is even deader than Old Hollywood, Roman Polanski’s wife, or Faye Dunaway’s face after the bullet passed through the eyeball. You know, down in Chinatown.

September 11-The Wizard of Oz (1939, d. Victor Fleming, Third Viewing)

Because it was at the college and I hadn’t seen it in quite a while. When the kid who introduced it assured us that the “cigarette burns” on the nitrate were part of the charm, I took it for granted I would agree with him. He neglected to tell us that the cigarette burns were numerous, straight through the center of every frame and lasted for twenty solid minutes. Kind of ruined the experience, though the good stuff was still there, especially the dawning of Judy Garland’s legend. You just had to look harder than usual.

September 12-The Sheepman (1958, d. George Marshall, Umpteenth Viewing)

For a bunch of my favorite lines (Naw-w-w-w Edgar Buchanan says when Glenn Ford suggests he’d sell out his best friend for four bits. My price for that sort of thing starts at a dollar.) For Ford’s always reliable presence and a good role for Leslie Nielsen in his pre-spoof days. For Pernell Roberts’ great final shootout.

But really Shirley MacLaine is excuse enough any day.

September 13-The Apartment (1960, d. Billy Wilder, Umpteenth Viewing)

For all the usual reasons, including it’s my favorite Billy Wilder and my favorite Jack Lemmon and even my favorite Fred MacMurray (he was never better than when he had no redeeming qualities whatsoever) and it’s one of the ten greatest movies in the English language and all that.

But really Shirley MacLaine is excuse enough any day.

September 14- Notorious (1946, d. Alfred Hitchcock, Umpteenth Viewing)

Because what else could follow The Apartment? Cary Grant’s best, Ingrid Bergman’s best and, while I may kid myself in the abstract, while I’m watching it, also Alfred Hitchcock’s best. It’s tension is unique because it grows more from relationships than circumstance. The Master’s trick are held to a minimum because they simply aren’t necessary. Lives are always at stake, even in medium grade thrillers. Besides Shadow of a Doubt, this is the only time Hitch managed to put souls at stake and, for me, it’s never an easy watch.

September 15-The Lady Vanishes (1938, d. Alfred Hitchcock, Umpteenth Viewing)

Which kind of makes putting mere lives back at stake a relief. Hitchcock’s most accomplished British film, the one that wrote his ticket to Hollywood. It was the template for a great deal to come, but none of the elements were ever bettered.Still wish I could remember whether the immortal comic duo it introduced is Chalders and Endicott or Enders and Caldicott. That way I wouldn’t be embarrassed when I look it up and find it’s Charters and Caldicott. Anyway I can hardly understand a word they’re saying and they crack me up every time. All they have to do is exchange a look.

September 21-Dial M for Murder (1954, d. Alfred Hitchcock, Umpteenth Viewing)

For Ray Milland as one of cinema’s coldest fish. And for Grace Kelly’s ability to make you almost, but not quite, root for him just the same. That’s a trick Gwyneth Paltrow, an even better actress, couldn’t quite pull off in Andy Davis’s superior remake, A Perfect Murder, which I watch even more often than this. Then again it may just be that Michael Douglas was no Ray Milland. Who was?

October 15-The Tin Star (1957, d. Anthony Mann, Umpteenth Viewing)

For the interplay between Henry Fonda’s consummate old school style and Anthony Perkins’ working hard on the Method. That combo doesn’t always work but it works beautifully here and Perkins makes a surprisingly strong western hero. By the time he’s gathered the gumption the slap Neville Brand (yes, the Neville Brand) in the face and say “Come on Bogardus, tear me apart!” you believe him. Lovely work from Betsy Palmer as well. Plus the town council from Hell. They’re the worst precisely because they’re all genuinely decent men, never more so than when they tell Perkins’ Ben Owens to “Get your prisoner out of town” so it will be somebody else’s problem. Believe me. That’s the worst.

October 17-Vera Cruz (1954, d. Robert Aldrich, Second Viewing)

For Burt Lancaster’s wicked smile, which works well enough with Gary Cooper’s stone face to remind you just what oddball actors they were and how, for entirely different reasons, neither man would stand a chance at stardom today. And for Aldrich’s hell-on-wheels style, already full-blown here, nearly a decade and a half before The Dirty Dozen.

October 19-The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond  (1960, d. Budd Boetticher, Second Viewing)

Because honestly, I wanted to see if it was as ice cold as I remembered. It was.

Til next time!

THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Fall 2019, Countdown–All Vinyl Edition)

10) Elvis Presley The Sun Sessions (1976)

Still the best way to hear the revolution happening in real time. What’s remarkable at this distance is how quiet the music is at its core, something one would never say about E’s R&B predecessors though it might apply to some of his pop and bluegrass influences. The leap from “Blue Moon of Kentucky”–incendiary in context–to “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (which wastes fine versions by Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris–along with all of human history to that moment, including “That’s Alright Mama”) is still shocking. A miracle in other words and as inexplicable as ever.

9) The Firesign Theatre Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970)

I had to pull this to be sure it was the source of The Department of Redundancy Department so of course I listened to the whole thing. I always found them hit and miss (I sort of thought that was the point–that nobody would get all of it, especially the people who swore they did.)

I laughed. Nervously. Like always. Still not sure if they were geniuses or complete frauds.

Which might also be the point.

8) The Beatles Second Album (1964)

If you accept the Beatles as a garage band before they were anything else, this is the greatest garage band album ever. It was, of course, put out by their American record company, Capitol, with any eye to maximum commercial exploitation of their magic, maximally commercial, moment.

But that doesn’t keep it from being their strongest LP, start to finish. “Roll Over Beethoven” (with George delivering a rabid lead vocal) and “Money” are the strongest of their many strong covers and you can smell their naked ambition in every groove. Capitalism 101 all the way around. If you substitute greed for ambition, you can understand why John Lennon spent the rest of his life trying to make it up to everyone…including the tragic pretense he could walk around the streets of the meanest city in the world like any other citizen without paying a price.

7) Nancy Sinatra Nancy (1969)

The greatest torch album recorded by any member of the Sinatra family and that’s no shame on the rest because, at least thematically, it might be the greatest torch album by any member of anybody’s family.

I scored it for three bucks at a record show in the early nineties and, after my first listen, immediately set out on a quest to track down the rest of her LPs, which were not easy to find in the Florida Panhandle in those days. (Later, I bought them all on CD, only to see them go in the Great CD Selloff of 2002. This is the only one I’ve replaced. Hey, I still got the vinyl versions of the rest.) It turned out this was her magnum opus, the album she had in her all along. Absent Lee Hazlewood, she eschewed any pretense of being hip or groovy and slowed everything to a crawl. “Light My Fire,” “Son of a Preacher Man” “For Once in My Life” even “Memories,” which was slow to begin with, are drawn into her space so thoroughly and intimately the question of whether her versions are “better” is left for fools. The killer was “Big Boss Man,” which she not only slowed down, but turned inside out. She got scant credit for any of this, of course. I wonder if it would have made a difference if they’d included “Home,” her tribute to the body bags coming home from Viet Nam (now available as a bonus track on the CD edition). Probably not. Returning soldiers weren’t very popular then. Dead or alive.

6) Charlie Rich The Fabulous Charlie Rich (1969)

One of the greatest vocal albums ever recorded, stellar even by the standards of ’69, which was the greatest vocal year in the history of American music.

Rich was one of the few singers who could immerse himself in Beautiful Loser mythos and get away with it, probably because he didn’t sound like he was imagining being beaten. He sounded like he was beaten. That he was barely hanging on.

This is the best place to hear the timless “Life Has It’s Little Ups and Downs,” but the whole thing shines and “July 12, 1939,” his prequel/sequel to “Ode to Billie Joe” hasn’t aged a day either.

5) Linda Ronstadt Mad Love (1980)

An exchange in Greil Marcus’s mailbag had me pulling this one off the shelf for the first time in forever. I confess I missed it. She went New Wave (fake punk in Marcus’s words) and nailed it solid….like she usually did, except this is more consistent than anything I can remember except Heart Like a Whell and Prisoner in Disguise, the one-two punch that made her a superstar who could take these kind of chances in the first place.

This is also the one where she responded to Elvis Costello’s attack on her version of “Alison” by recording three more of his songs and beating him two falls out of three. That was after she called him a brat. It took brass to do all that in the brief period where he was a genius, but the real highlights, the title tune and “How Do I Make You,” don’t owe EC a thing. This one may go into heavy rotation.

4) James Brown Can Your Heart Stand It!! (1981)

This was actually my proper introduction to JB. What with all the box sets and CD reissues and what not, I’d forgotten how perfect it was

It only took one listen to remember. Understandably, people focus on the four-square funk bottom. But it was his singing that was the real miracle, the vocal equivalent of watching Elvis on television in the 50’s, or James himself on The T.A.M.I. Show.

You keep thinking, What will he do next?

Decades of listening don’t really yield any answers. The next move, whenever it comes, is still a surprise.

(And God bless the late, lamented Solid Smoke label, on which this and the next entry appeared.)

3) The Sheppards 18 Dusty Diamonds (1980)

This came out in the early 80’s, when record companies were just starting to pick up the pace when it came to discovering, or rediscovering, rock and roll’s bottomless nature.

The Sheppards were some kind of cross between doo wop and soul, a bit like The Jive Five. But, where the Five were always defined by Eugene Pitt’s dark, moody leads, the Sheppards were more flexible. That could lead them to the occasional silly novelty, but when they locked in, which was often, they were as great as anybody.

2) Ivory Joe Hunter The Man and His Music: Classics I & II (1983)

Well, as you can see this one is pretty obscure. I couldn’t find an image online for this particular collection, proving you still can’t find everything on the internet! (Well, proving I can’t anyway).

It’s a double-LP collection of Ivory Joe’s music from his late 40’s R&B heyday to his late 60’s forays into country. He was such a master of nuance that you could switch the production styles from one era to another and nobody would be the wiser. Intriguing discovery (and one more reason you should pay attention to your record collection) is a 1961 side “May the Best Man Win,” where he sounds so much like Charlie Rich you can’t help wondering who influenced who.

1) Dizzy Gillespie New Wave (1963)

My favorite bop album. One of these days I’m going to replace my scratchy vinyl with a clean-sounding CD. Since the vinyl came used (from my Dad’s flea market stash many moons ago), I’ve never heard it the way it’s supposed to be heard. I think the reason I haven’t upgraded is because I’m afraid it will lose something in the process.

Being the first form of American music made principally for dilettantes (or at least being principally exploited by them), bop’s not really my thing. It’s a pure mystery why I warmed to this one. But then, music is supposed to be a mystery isn’t it?

I hope they remember that in heaven.

….til next time.

THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO…(Summer 2019, Countdown)

I’m a little late with this, which I meant to post in early August….Life intervened but here goes:

10)  The Clash: Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)

The album between The Clash and London Calling, the monuments upon which their legacy rests.

It’s not really lesser. It’s reputation suffered (though only a bit…you couldn’t say anything too bad about the Clash in 1978!) in the moment and afterward for a myriad of reasons that had nothing to do with the music. It was an early Purity test for the era’s new Lefty, anxious, as in every era, to wipe out the old Lefty. Hiring Blue Oyster Cult’s producer wasn’t exactly a hip move and it turned into a double bust when it didn’t break them on American radio.

But with all that long gone, how do you gainsay, “Safe European Home,” “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad,” “Stay Free?” It rocks and burns and stings and it’s of a piece, everything a master work should be. Confession: I’m sorry I haven’t listened to it more. I’d even say ashamed, except I don’t want to end up in any tribunals.

9)  Ringo Starr: Photograph–The Very Best of (2007)

ringo1Ringo gets by on his solo records for the same reason he got by on Beatles’ records. You like the guy. And he played with great musicians, who must have liked him too. It might be that “It Don’t Come Easy” is the only great single he made, but several others (“Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen” for starters) come close and a lot of others get by on the sly. The Lucky One?  Maybe, but it stands up to any similar length comp from any of his mates…and, not to coin a phrase, goes down easier.

8)  Clarence Carter: Snatching It Back (1992)

clarencecarter1

I keep asking: Is there such a thing as a minor genius?

Not in my book. I’d no more want to be without this than a good Otis Redding package even if I know the difference and it’s hardly negligible.

What Clarence did was carve out a serio-comic niche that belonged to him and no one else. What other deep soul singer had his style defined by a chuckle?

It worked as more than novelty because, when he dug deep on a pure melodrama like “Patches” it was of a piece with his commitment, and when he went on the sly for “Slip Away,” his other signature song, it was right in line with his eye for the main chance (in the song, of course, but career-wise, too). And brother, there’s nothing in this world to compare with his version of “Dark End of the Street,” seemingly covered by every soul and country singer in the world and the most devastating, guilt-ridden tune in all of southern soul. He turned it into pure comedy. Of course he did. Until the very last line, when he took a single line from the real song and turned it into soul’s deepest, darkest statement about not getting out alive.

It’s only then that you understand why some people have to laugh to keep from falling apart.

7)  Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (1975)

My go-to Springsteen. Robert Christgau once wrote that Springsteen was “one of those rare self-conscious primitives who gets away with it”

I’m not going to beat that description though even Bruce only got away with it for so long. This both embodies and transcends all that, however, because the  Boss was still young, still hoping to become the new Elvis, which was/is better than being the new Dylan and miles better than being the new Woody Guthrie, the ultra-sincere schtick he’s been riding for about two decades now everywhere except in his legendary concerts. I play this whenever I want to remind myself what the fuss was all about and it still delivers. In spades.

6)  Buddy Holly: Memorial Collection (2008)

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You could go crazy trying to keep up with all the Buddy Holly collections out there. This is a good one: sixty tracks, nice package, all the essentials. For when you want more than the still peerless 20 Golden Greats and less than the still essential big box that covers everything.

Still brimming with surprise and invention at any length. Except for Elvis and maybe Ray Charles, the other 50’s legends sound like they’re standing still by comparison.

5)  Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees (1976)

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It’s easy to forget how big this was in the mid-seventies. It sold five million and yielded four hit singles (of which “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” became radio staples). Rita Coolidge took the album closer “We’re All Alone” to the top ten.

And I must say it still sounds good. Crafty sure, but not quite slick. An  earned success and career definer after his stint in the original Steve Miller Band and his “Loan Me a Dime” blues phase with Duane Allman. Turned out there was a reason people of that caliber wanted to work with him.

4)  Jimmy Reed: The Anthology (2011)

Two long discs and you kind of have to be in the mood. Still, it’s amazing how much dexterity Reed got out of what had to be the most limited range any key blues man had either vocally, lyrically or instrumentally. Once you break through to a certain level of acceptance though, it quickly becomes addictive. I found myself wondering what microscopic change he would work next–and laughing out loud when he produced yet another small miracle. “Big Boss Man,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Baby What You Want Me to Do.” Imagining a world where his original versions could make the Top 40 is impossible now. If the historical record didn’t exist no one would believe it. Can’t wait until I’m in the mood again.

3)  The Jackson 5: Anthology (1976)

The last of the old Motown triples on vinyl…and possibly the best. Considering the competition (Smokey and the Miracles, Supremes, Temptations, Marvin Gaye) that’s saying a mouthful. But this never quits and never even dips. There are no show-tunes or Vegas breaks, no finding their form in the early days (they broke out with “I Want You Back” for Christ’s sake), no late-career sag. Great moments from the always under-appreciated Jermaine and even Jackie in addition to you-know-who, who was still more victim than perpetrator at this point. I’ve always believed you can hear the difference. Worse for him. Better for us.

So it goes.

2)  Earl Lewis and the Channels: New York’s Finest (1990)

Unless you’re a doo wop fanatic or at least a serious record collector you probably never heard of them and would therefore likely be shocked at how good they were. Their big one was “The Closer You Are” which does capture their essence, though it only hints at their depths. No period group had better or more arresting arrangements and aren’t arresting arrangements the reason you listen to doo wop?

Besides being transported I mean.

1)  The Chi-Lites: Greatest Hits (1972)

I went to sleep to this for a couple of weeks even though it meant sleeping in my bedroom where the record player is. (I don’t mean it put me to sleep–that would be a whole different thing. I rarely sleep in a bed because it gives me a stiff back.)

An essential 70’s album. No record collection should be without it (and no CD collection has come close). At this distance, it’s also one of the saddest records I know. Eugene Record’s vision of assimilation has since vanished from the culture, to be replaced by “diversity” which is always code for running back to the tribes, doubtless in hopes that one’s own tribe will one day triumph.

I wonder if we could still refute the coming collapse if we really wanted to.

And I wonder if we really want to.

Maybe putting them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they belong, would be a start.

I won’t hold my breath.

Till next time…