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!

FROM FBI GUY TO LAWYER GIRL (Late Night Dedication: 4/12/19)

(Hey, Bill wanted me to send along this dedication and get Val’s phone number for him. I’ve been in a Bangles kind of mood lately so I promised I would.)

Democratic staff counsel Valerie Shen tried to use her questioning of (Bill) Priestap to put the spying issue to bed. “Does the FBI use spies?” she asked the assistant director for counterintelligence (who would be in a position to know).

“What do you mean?” Priestap responded. “I guess, what is your definition of a spy?”

“Good question,” said Shen. “What is your definition of a spy?”

Before Priestap answered, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, intervened. “Just one second,” he said. Then Ettinger – who was one of President Bill Clinton’s attorneys during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky scandal – conferred with his client.

Back on the record, Priestap presented what smacks of pre-approved testimony: “I’ve not heard of nor have I referred to FBI personnel or the people we engage with as – meaning who are working in assistance to us – as spies. We do evidence and intelligence collection in furtherance of our investigations.”

Shen was happy with the answer, and so she asked Priestap to confirm it: “So in your experience the FBI doesn’t use the term ‘spy’ in any of its investigative techniques?” Priestap assured her the word is never spoken by law-enforcement professionals – except, he said (wandering dangerously off-script), when referring to “foreign spies.”

“But in terms of one of its own techniques,” Shen said, determined to get Priestap back on track, “the FBI does not refer to one of its own techniques as spying?”

“That is correct, yes.”

“With that definition in mind, would the FBI internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens?”

“No.”

So there we have it with all the decisive logic of a Socratic dialogue: The FBI could not possibly have spied on the Trump campaign because bureau lingo includes neither the noun “spy” nor the verb “to spy.” Whatever informants may have been employed, whatever tools of surveillance may have been utilized, the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign – didn’t spy by definition, as the bureau doesn’t use the term (except, of course, to describe the very same activities when undertaken by foreigners).

Source: Real Clear Investigations, 4/12/19–for the best double-talk since Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what the meaning of is, is” you can read the whole thing here. 

Just FYI: My own Swamp State sources have confirmed this. It’s one hundred percent not spying when they do it. That’s why they are still free men and you are under suspicion.

Hey Susanna, help Bill out and tell us again how it is?

 All secret police forces come to the same end. 
Raymond Chandler

WHEN THINGS MAKE SENSE…(Segue of the Day: 3/29/19)

I like to celebrate.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is semi-notorious for handling inductions one of a few ways: a Hall insider (like Seven Van Zandt) or existing Hall of Famer (like anybody) or combination of both (like Bruce Springsteen) does the honors. Or else a star of the moment (Jewel inducted Brenda Lee for instance) is shoved into the spot for ratings. After the early, obvious years, rarely has the choice of inductor made real historical sense.

Tonight there will be an exception when Susanna Hoffs, the only thing the sixties were missing and the principal lead singer of Rock and Roll America’s last great harmony group, inducts the Zombies.

Hoffs proved her Zombies’ bona fides covering their “Care of Cell #44” on the first Sid n’ Susie album. But the spiritual connection was legit long before that:

Hope she gets to sing with them. It’s so logical I can’t imagine even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame objecting.

Then again, they didn’t exactly ask Stevie Nicks or Linda Ronstadt to induct Brenda Lee, did they?

NOT JUST ONE OF THE GIRLS (Honey Lantree, R.I.P.)

The Honeycombs had one big (and unforgettable) American hit, with 1964’s “Have I the Right,” which also topped the charts in the UK, where the band had a handful more. Their hold on history lay in the fact of having a female drummer in an otherwise all-male band–something history has not made a habit of repeating.

Anne “Honey” Lantree picked up the drums on the spot when she asked a local band using a rehearsal space in a building where she was taking guitar lessons if she could give their open kit a try. She was a natural, so much so that they hired her on the spot (she’d never played) and soon enough she had a nickname and was the only female drummer of the rock and roll era to have a hit band named after her (by the record company, where somebody at least knew a selling point when they saw one).

She was a fine singer as well, but it was her drumming that went places no man could go. Karen Carpenter was one of many young women who took up the drums when she saw Honey Lantree on television. There are more than a few who say the day the suits forced Karen from behind the drums was the day the Hellhounds started down her trail. But that wasn’t before a lot of other young women had seen her on television. History moves in mysterious ways. The road to Fanny, the Runaways, The Go-Go’s and the Bangles, fraught with peril as it was, would have been harder by a factor of a hundred without Honey Lantree.

Not just because she was a novelty, or played on a hit record, but because she played on this hit record and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Stomp knew no gender.

She succumbed to cancer on Dec. 23, at home in Essex.

The sound she sent out into the world? Well, it ain’t dead yet.

 

BEFORE I GET LEFT BEHIND….

The thirty-five months that have passed since Donald Trump announced he was running for president have made me almost regret I didn’t start a political blog on the spot. I say “almost” because it would have meant giving up this blog and any chance of writing or publishing fiction, plus attracting a bunch of abuse from “partisans” and other weirdos (probably from both ends–I’m that kind of guy when it comes to Politics).

Still, once in a while I find myself wondering why neither the media nor the host of political blogs/twitter feeds I follow on a regular basis have managed to notice something.

To that end, it was interesting to come across a story today (from Kim Strassel in the Wall Street Journal–sorry it wasn’t behind a pay wall but now it is, so I’m not linking) that was the first to suggest something I’ve assumed was obvious for at least a year: That the FBI planted someone inside the Trump campaign in 2016.

I even have a pretty good idea of who that someone has to be–I’m not saying the name, though, because I don’t want to impugn the integrity of anyone on the basis of a gut feeling when there’s even a slim chance they might be innocent. Let’s just say that, if his name comes up again, I’ll refer back to this moment. And, if I’m wrong and it’s someone else, I’ll happily admit I’m wrong.

I assume that some reporters (including Strassel) can put two and two together as well as I can, though, and are holding back on publishing the obvious name for the same reason I am (well that and libel laws).

I just hope they aren’t holding back on actual reporting.

Because I’d really hate to think the only reason the new era’s muckrakers aren’t eager to track down the FBI’s mole in the Trump campaign (or White House?) is because, in an age when every major “news” organization must at least be suspected of being an intelligence asset, they’re not too sure who their editor works for (and that would certainly not exclude the WSJ, as fiercely anti-Trump as any other news organization, right up until the moment they figured out he had a chance to win).

I mean, that’d be depressing….

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Starz Up)

“Cherry Baby”
Starz (1977)
US #33
Recommended source: Brightest Starz: Anthology

Despite its impeccable Big Thing antecedents (Beatles, Beach Boys, Who), Power Pop never quite made it to Next Big Thing status on its own. It hung around–over ground in the music of Badfinger, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Cars, Go-Go’s and underground (Big Star, Flamin’ Groovies and several hundred lesser bands)–without taking over. Even with the bleedover from bigger-than-the-genre bands like Blondie in the 70s and the Bangles in the 80s, and the inescapability of the Knack’s “My Sharona” in the late 70s, there simply weren’t enough hits.

And, as an unabashed fan of the genre (or maybe the word is concept), I have to say there weren’t enough hits because there simply weren’t enough great records.

Outside the bands I mentioned above and a few, mostly Brit, tweeners like Small Faces and the Move, Power Pop in its heyday promised more than it delivered. In the 70s, when there was still a chance it would be more than a sub-genre of the perpetually underachieving New Wave, only two records ever grabbed me.

One was Sniff N’ the Tears’ “Driver’s Seat,” which actually made the American top 20 and isn’t eligible for my little category here.

The other was Starz’ “Cherry Baby.”

1977 was the year the rock and roll experiment really started to waver. Besides “Cherry Baby,” Shaun Cassidy’s three great singles (“Da Doo Ron Ron,” “That’s Rock and Roll” and “Hey Deanie”) the radio was as dead to anybody who, from ignorance or otherwise, was holding disco at arm’s length as everybody claimed it had been in 1963, before the Beatles came along and saved us all.

In 1977, the Sex Pistols were apparently supposed to do it all again. They failed. Mostly because their records couldn’t compete with those made by black people.

They still can’t.

“Cherry Baby” did and does. If Starz (who preferred being billed as a metal band anyway) had been able to come up with another dozen of these, who knows….

Alas, there was only one. But it still makes me smile.

And, as I’ve learned long since, that’s not nothing.

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.

OKAY, I’LL PLAY…

I don’t want to make a habit of this. I prefer to generate my own ideas/content. But the more I thought about this, the more the challenge/absurdity made me smile….So, again from one of those memes that’s going around…(tried to link live versions where available.)

The 30 Day Song Challenge…(I think the idea is to name the first song you love that comes to mind. Anyway that’s the spirit I’m taking.)

UPDATE….

Sorry for the somewhat meager posting this week. It might continue for a few days. I had a fender bender (actually a “wheel rim bender”) a couple of weeks ago and what at first appeared to be a minor and straightforward repair has morphed into Claims Adjustment Hell. Each day brings new adventures. It’s been difficult to get my mind around anything complicated whilst gnashing my teeth. Anyway, for a nice little break, here’s a fun, if brief, look at Joel Whitburn, invaluable assembler of Billboard (and, lately, Cashbox) statistics. Wish I knew what his hundred point system was. Maybe in the next day or two I’ll reveal my own thirty point system (twenty-five, you’re in!). It’ll happen if I can make it easy enough!

Meanwhile, Speakeasy’s “Villains” Blogathon is a little past the halfway point, so there’s lot’s of good reading over there which I encourage all my readers to partake in.

Just oh-by-the-way, I’m on track for a record shattering month, so I once again issue my periodic heartfelt thanks to all who visit, read, comment and/or spread the word. Your satisfaction is my only reward and it’s what makes everything here worthwhile. Here’s to you….then…

and then…

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (The Bangles Up)

“Set You Free”
The Bangles (1989)
Foreign market single version
Recommended Source:The Bangles’ Greatest Hits

banglessetyoufree1

The last great harmony vocal by the last great harmony vocal group, “I’ll Set You Free” was originally featured on the Bangles’ last album released before their initial breakup (1988’s Everything). The version featured here (and available on the album linked above) is a remix (by Bernard Edwards no less) featuring a new lead vocal by Susanna Hoffs, which was later variously released as a single in overseas markets as either a farewell to their fans or a not unreasonable attempt by the record company to milk a final hit from the group, depending on who’s telling the tale. In any case it was never released in the U.S. and didn’t take off anywhere else, barely scraping the  charts in Australia and the U.K.

There’s a tale in that. The Bangles were almost single-handedly responsible for keeping Everly/Beatles’ style vocal harmony alive as something more than seasoning for synth-sounds throughout the eighties. When they were gone from the charts, so was the harmony ethos that the Everlys had so literally and improbably brought down from the mountain in rock’s early dawn.

Modernity preferring histrionics (which harmonies tend to harness), monotonously rigid rhythm structures (which harmonies tend to undermine) and supreme self-involvement (which harmonies tend to disperse), this record marked the end of an era. Like most of the endings we fail to observe at our peril, i.e., those that mark the loss of something vital within ourselves, it passed unnoticed at the time.

Except maybe by the people who sang it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbOoNZjY4vQ