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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Though it's only a whim

So here is the last of the three John Lennon songs that open Beatles For SaleBaby's In Black has a happy country-tinged atmosphere that belies the downright depressing subject matter.  The singer is pining after a girl who cannot get over the death of her lover.   Though I do not find it quite as wonderful as the two songs that preceded it, it does have a lovely middle eight in which McCartney leaps into the upper atmosphere, and the John and Paul harmonies are quite wonderful and remain from start to finish.  George furnishes a short twangy guitar solo with some unexpected leaps and slides that I only wish were longer.  And Ringo has some simple yet perfect fills, but you must listen carefully to hear them as they are not prominent in the mix.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Although I Laugh and I Act like a Clown

I'm A Loser is the second in the John Lennon trifecta that lead off Beatles For Sale.  And the blue mood started with No Reply just digs itself a deeper hole.   This album is the turning point where John's lyrics become more introspective, and consequently more real.

Just a few of my many favorite moments:
  • John and Paul's exquisite harmonies in the intro
  • The jangle of John's acoustic guitar, followed by Paul's bass entrance
  • John repeatedly hits a low G
  • Paul's walking bass line during the chorus 
  • Ringo's cymbal work
  • John's raunchy harmonica
  • George's country picking on the solo

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I tried to telephone

The first three songs on Beatles For Sale may be my favorite opening trio on any Beatles LP.   All three were written by John Lennon, and they capture him at his early peak.   His songwriting would evolve over the course of the next three years, but these sad melancholy love songs from late 1964 are just my cuppa tea.  John was still fully invested in the Beatles and their future at this point, and for at least a couple of more albums he would lead the way with his amazing songwriting talent.

No Reply was a brave choice for the opening cut.  Of course Paul McCartney's fingerprints are all over this song, from the great harmony work (in tandem with George) to the uptempo middle eight.   But it is John's glorious sense of melody and the emotional explosion with "I Saw The Light..." that just sends this over the top.   His singing turns raw and anguished, and it hits me right in gut.  The acoustic strumming and Ringo's sublime syncopation just add to the atmosphere.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October 9th 1940

Today is John Lennon's birthday.  There is nothing I can say other than I miss him dearly.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I was crying, left to die in this godforsaken place

For the last few months I have been on a Macca jag.  After years of being turned off by his creative low point in the 1980s I have finally embraced his late period renaissance.  With 2005's Chaos and Creation In The Backyard I felt that he was again at the top of his game, writing some of his most personal lyrics and lovely rainy day melodies.  That album is anything but a rock'n'roll album but I love it dearly nonethless.

His follow up release, which consisted mostly of songs started before "Creation", was Memory Almost Full.  Fellow blogger Tim mentioned to me that it is a fine album but for some reason I never jumped on board.  Until now.  I just picked up a used copy of the deluxe release.  On my way home from the record store I listened in stunned amazement.   This album rocks like nothing he has done in ages.  Why I waited seven years to dip my toe is due to a nagging fear that Paul could not keep up the high quality of it's predecessor.  Well I was wrong.

Perhaps the most Wings'ish sounding tune he has written since that band's demise is Only Mama Knows.   Not only does it rock like all get out, but it has a killer hook in the chorus, and when the harmonies kick in the last time around it sends shivers down my spine.   That a man in his sixties could write a power pop classic is a true testament to his inate sense of melody and skill at songwriting.

I just bought "New" so expect reports shortly.