Thursday, November 19, 2015

Standing In A Landslide

In 1968 Michael Nesmith recorded a slew of his songs in Nashville with the apparent intent of including them on an upcoming Monkees LP.   For reasons unknown to me almost none of these tunes had an official releases while the Monkees were still a working entity.   Many would later be covered on Nesmith's fine 1970s solo records.   "Listen To The Band" was one of the few exceptions and was released as a single in 1969.

Many years later Rhino records obtained exclusive license to release a gigantic backlog of unreleased Monkees material.   Between three Missing Links sets and expanded releases of the original albums almost everything they recorded is now available.  Among the gems recorded in Nashville is "St Matthew", a semi psychedelic country number with phased vocals and killer twangy guitar.  Like many Nesmith lyrics these are bathed in pathos. On the surface they tell the story of a woman who lives life in the fast lane, but underneath there lies a sadness that belies the upbeat arrangement that encircles the song.

She walks around on brass rings that never touch her feet
She speaks in conversations that never are complete
And looking over past things that she has never done
She calls herself, "St Matthew" when she is on the run 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The emptiness in her eyes was cruel to see

With a blog named after my favorite Monkees' song, one would think I would have posted an entry about this band long before now.  For most of my adult life I enjoyed their hit singles but had no knowledge of their albums.  Only in the last few years have I made that leap, and in the process discovered several things.  (1) Mike Nesmith is a top notch song writer.  (2) They recorded dozens of songs that were never officially released until long after they broke up, and many of these are some of the best music they ever committed to tape.  (3)  They could actually play their instruments, although that really only occurred for a couple of LPs in the middle of their career. (4) I don't care that many of their songs were recorded with session musicians.   I love most of it regardless.

That said it is about time I featured them in some blog posts, so here goes.

According to Wikipedia "Love Is Only Sleeping" was planned as the preceding single to the Pisces, Aquarius, Carpicorn & Jones Ltd. LP, but "was canceled due to fears that the title of the A-side might be too risqué".   It was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, of course one of the top notch songwriting duos of all time.  I just love the syncopated guitar riff and Mike's Texas drawl.  And to top it off it ends in a flurry of psychedelic feedback.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Martha My Dear

The new Beatles 1+ release with two Blu Ray disks of videos is just about the best Beatles product ever.   The CD portion is fine although the Fab Four community is up in arms over the omission of "Please Please Me" since it was a #1 on some charts in the UK.  The new mixes are nice, with more clarity in just about every regard.  The guitar in "Paperback Writer" is absolutely pummeling.

But the videos are the real star here.  Going chronologically, they really kick in with "I Feel Fine" and never let up.   Options of stereo and two version of 5.1 surround are great but I am really in it for the actual videos.   To see those four together, singing, playing, laughing, enjoying themselves is what floats my boat.  Apple has pretty much shut down all Beatles videos on You-tube but who needs them now that we have top notch versions in an official release.   The videos that were initially created on film are just stupendous.   Restored with care and just bursting from the screen. 

Some days I think "Strawberry Fields Forever" may be my favorite song ever.   So thanks to Apple the new version is up on Youtube, and here it is.  But take my word for it, the actual blu ray version is twice as clear and deep.

Just a quick note to say that I have been away due to health issues.  Thanks to my doctors and my partner I am just about back to myself after nearly a year of recovery.  Howdy to all who may have wondered where I disappeared to.

And yes, Martha the sheepdog does make an appearance at the very end of the video, a detail I had never noticed before.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

There were rules you never told me

A few months ago I mentioned that I had just purchased Paul McCartney's New album.   Well, I am here to report that IMO his winning streak is going strong.  In fact the deluxe edition contains a couple of bonus tracks that leave me wondering why they were omitted on the original release.  There are beau coups of ear worms here, and Mr. McCartney continues to venture into new sounds and structures.  Starting with Chaos and Creation from 2005 it seems that he has finally thrown off the shackles that lowered the value of his 80s and 90s output.

Queenie Eye belongs in the category of "just enjoy the ride".  From the opening mellotron prelude (shades of Sgt. Peppers!) to the piano driven pop of the song proper, this is one of those songs that only McCartney could deliver.  I consider it the 21st century cousin of Lady Madonna, with a driving beat and melody that never overstays its welcome.  Furthermore there is a heavenly almost whispered interlude right in the middle that makes me feel like the sky has lifted to the heavens, and brings out the most touching lyrics in this song:

It's long way, to the finish
When you've never been before
I was nervous, but I did it
Now I'm going back for more

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The next best thing to be...

Here is a little taste of heaven, at least at the aural level.  I am so besotted by the duo lead singers of Lucius that I sought out every YouTube video that I could find.  And in the process stumbled across their live in the studio rendition of John Lennon's Free As a Bird.  The first soft vocal entry is absolutely perfect - the tone and harmony work is spine tingling.  And then.. on the next verse... the first word "Home" is delivered as a cascading overload of harmony.  A perfect sense of rhythm coupled with dead on pitch and breath control shoots this into the stratosphere.  The contrapuntal acoustic guitar and over amped electric lead guitar add sparse accompaniment that fits the song perfectly.   My partner and I are kicking ourselves for missing Lucius twice in 2014 here in Stumptown.   Next time they are anywhere near the West Coast - we will be there.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

You've been acting strange of late

In 1965 my cousin Mary Rita married a young man named Roger, and they needed to get rid of some items to move in together, so Roger gave me his LP collection.   Among the gems were albums by Gerry and the Pacemakers (that "other" Merseybeat band) and San Francisco's own Beau Brummels.  That Brummels LP is long gone but I sure wish I had kept a hold of it.  The more I listen to their recorded legacy, the more I realize what a really fine band they were.  They had an ace songwriter in guitarist Ron Elliott, and one of the most unique vocalists with Sal Valentino.  Record company issues and changing popular tastes shortened their career, but before they called it quits in 1968 they produced a fine body of work ranging from their early folk/pop hits to psychedelia, with their final LP as a Nashville produced county/folk piece that I love dearly.

In 1965, as they were changing record labels, Fine With Me was intended as a single A side was left in the vaults, then re-recorded as a B-side on their new record company.  Over its Mamas and Papas bop-bop-bop vibe and acoustic guitar licks, Mr. Valentino delivers a deep soulful lead vocal. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Changing now into forever

Gary Usher was a songwriter and producer who had a hand in some of the most gorgeous pop records of the 1960s.  He co-wrote songs with Brian Wilson early in the Beach Boys career, including the resplendent In My Room.  He produced my favorite Byrds LP The Notorious Byrds Brothers, their last record to include the nucleus of the original band.   His revolutionary production merged psychedelic effects throughout that record.  Along with cohort songwriter and musician Curt Boettcher they released one of my favorite lost sike-pop LPs Present Tense under the band moniker of Sagittarius. 

The oddly named Song to the Magic Frog (Will You Ever Know) boasts one of the most exquisite melodies that I can think of.   The accompaniment is mostly acoustic guitar and harpsichord, with xylophone thrown in for good measure.  Against this baroque pop atmosphere are angelic vocals that leap and soar into the heavens.   Frankly it can be tear inducing if it catches me in the right moment. 

Above the cloud-like, shimmering oval
Through some misty blue
Still before me
Stands the morning when I first saw you