Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Desert Island Disks - a continuing series

If I remember correctly, John Cale's 1973 LP Paris 1919 was not originally released in the US. Regardless I had to hunt it down via Gem Imports (anyone remember those good old days?) after reading about it in Stereo Review. Upon arrival I carefully removed the vinyl, removed all surface dust with a disc washer, and placed it on my turntable. What followed was one of those little epiphanies that occur too rarely. A collection of songs that hang together as a single unit of work via the underlying mood and textures. Not to mention the lyrics, which globe trot from post-WW1 Paris to Antarctica.

An obvious choice for this post would have been the title track by virtue of its haunting melodies and ghostly back story. But this album has one rocker that deserves equal attention. A chunky rhythm section starts Macbeth off like gangbusters. In a typical obtuse John Cale fashion the lyrics do not give away enough information to make it clear who or what the song is about. But it does not matter for the music is upbeat and joyful, and the fiery guitar work by Lowell George of Little Feat is top notch. Something about this groove here reminds me of Paul MacCartney and Wings circa the same 73-74 period. Cale was firing on all cylinders.

And you know it's true
You never saw things quite that way
She knew it all
And made you see things all her way
Somebody knows for sure
It's gotta be me or it's gotta be you
Come on along and tell me it's alright
It's alright by me

Macbeth (press ctl-enter)

Monday, July 26, 2010

All The Lonely People

For a change of pace, here is a live Beatles' cover by Jellyfish that breaks the mold and goes off into its own little world of melancholy. It really gets me how the chords have been altered ever so slightly in a way I could never have imagined would work. Normally I would toss off any attempt to alter this classic, but it all works beautifully.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nothing can hold the tears in me

Back in the 70s I was an avid reader of "Stereo Review" and especially the reviews by rock critic Steve Simels (now a co-host over at the fabulous Power Pop). He mentioned a long lost classic 45 by The Left Banke, the 1967 followup to their hit Pretty Ballerina. Desiree was a chart failure, barely denting the Billboard top 100 before disappearing in the mist. I searched high and low for years and was finally rewarded when a greatest hits LP was released in the 80s.

What other pop record starts with a string quartet and bassoons? It is a song of incredible complexity - mulitple sections which intertwine betwixt and between organ, trumpet, strings, brass, jangly guitar and the kitchen sink. Lead singer Steve Martin has a one-of-a-kind tenor voice that works perfectly within the baroque atmosphere of Michael Brown's compositions. And that ending with the cacophony of "la la las" over the orchestral counterpoint sends me over the edge. A guaranteed 2 and 1/2 minutes of pure listening pleasure.

Monday, July 19, 2010

God's gift to oxygen

Jellyfish could do no wrong in my book. Yet they barely dented the charts during their regrettably short two LP career. Grunge was ruling the airwaves in the early 90s so there was no large audience for a band with killer chops, Beach Boys harmonies, and complicated melodies. Pity because if there is any band that I wish had hung together for more recordings, it would be this one.

Listen to the impeccable harmony work in The Ghost and Number One. I have no idea who the "knappy superstar" is who inspired the rant in the lyrics but there is real venom exuding here.
Sure life's no cherry but a cupcake for the meek
So he shoots up his poison until the frosting tastes so sweet
At 1:23 the song enters a Pet Sounds-inspired musical universe. And again at 2:40, what with the banjo, chimes, and bass line, the spirit of Brian Wilson lives on.
Mrs.Lynn the fruit of your labour
Gives us a savior, nappy superstar.
To you we bid congratulations, to him adulation.
A blessed life begun, for the ghost at number one.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Searching in the sun for another overload

From Stockholm to Wichita in 24 hours. Wichita is a great little city. Clean and prosperous, never in the race to build a clunky downtown skyline like Dallas. Beautiful 1930s bungalows stretch north of downtown along the meanders of the Little Arkansas River. The gorgeous art deco tower and terra cotta work on Wichita North High School brings to mind a time when school architecture was adventurous and a student actually could look forward to going to school there. A two hour drive north of my home town, I always felt a special affinity there and still have fond memories of once a week journeys during my senior year in college to take viola lessons at WSU (The Wheatshockers!).

What brings me to revisit Wichita is perhaps one of the finest songs written in the 20th century. Those that read this blog know that I have a big gooey soft spot for the songwriting of Jimmy Webb. He has a way with weaving his words into melodies that seem to have always been there in the back of my mind. And more often than not the lyrics hit a chord with me that continues to vibrate years later. Wichita Lineman conveys a feeling of yearning, a desire for a connection that never quite transpires. The lineman imagines the voice of his lover echoing over the electric lines. But there he is, up on the pole, miles away from the real thing and the reality and loneliness sets in. The arrangement adds to the mood, with swooning strings and a Gulbransen synthesizer (thanks Wikipedia!) telegraphing an insistent morse code signal.

I hear you singing in the wire
I can hear your through the whine
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
But the Wichita lineman is still on the line

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lazing on a halucinogenic Stockholm afternoon

Ah, sweet psychedelia is in bloom on my speakers. Here is Fantasy Island - the uber-fine A-side for the 1968 single by Swedish band Tages. The track kicks off with a fuzzy descending guitar riff that grabs me by the throat and will not let go. The drummer puts in his best clomping Ringo licks and a fiddle adds texture to the middle eight. The chorus harmonies are infinitely lovely. Then at 1:10 a riff out of Yardbirds heaven breaks open the skies.

The B-side - To Be Free - is a lovely piano driven Beatleish tune that would have fit nicely on Magical Mystery Tour. Wish it was available on Youtube so that I could share it. If I had to pick a year that was the peak of the 45rpm single it would probably be 1968.

Based on what I read at Tages they were the predominant pop/psych band in Sweden in the mid 60s. Based on a dozen tracks I downloaded a few years ago I can see why. Tuneful, great harmonies, and production work nearly on a par with the best UK bands. Many of their later tracks were recorded at EMI/Abbey Road studios in London.