Thursday, June 12, 2003

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How ostentatious.

Anyway, here's the third installment in what has become a semi-regular thing on my little corner of the Web, Johnny B's Mondo Vinyl-O. It's where I take ten long playing, 33 1/3 RPM vinyl stacks o' wax that I've listened to over the period since the last JBMV-O and write a word or three about them. Now that that's over, here goes nothing:

Elliott Murphy-Just A Story From America (1976) I think CBS believed they had the next Springsteen on their hands with Mr. Murphy, and they may have been right, but sadly the public at large didn't agree. This was his last album to date to be released on a major label, but fortunately for music lovers and Mr. Murphy, he has maintained his career by releasing many records since on smaller indie labels. The album in question here, though, is his best in my humble opinion. Recorded in England with various session guys including Phil Collins on drums just before he took over as Genesis' lead vocalist and began his slide into schlock. Musically, a cross between Coney Island Baby-era Lou Reed and early 70s Elton John and his Paul Buckmaster string arrangements, lyrically like Reed as well but with pretensions toward a Hemingway or Faulkner-ish feel. Standouts include "Rock Ballad", written as an excuse to record with Mick Taylor; "Summer House", full of regret and sobbing strings; "Caught Short in the Long Run", another bittersweet love song, probably the most Springsteenish thing here with a nice crescendo and fade-out at the end and my favorite cut "Anastasia" with a supernaturally lovely melody and nice use of a children's choir. Yes, it's about the Russian princess, at least on the surface. Really, there isn't a bad cut on this album, although I tend to favor the ballads over the rockers. Your guess is as good as mine why Murphy hasn't gone on to better things.
Santana-Festival (1977) After about five years of Miles and Mahavishnu-influenced jazz-tinged rock, and seeing his record sales dip with each successive album, Carlos Santana began to try to placate his record company by going in a more pop-oriented, conventionally-structured-songwise direction and this was his second effort towards that goal after the 1975 first step Amigos. I picked this up after seeing him perform a few songs from this album on a PBS live concert show, name of which escapes me at present. It's honestly not that strong an album but there are some standout cuts, mostly in a soul/r&b groove: "The River", "Give Me Love", and "Reach Up". Noteworthy also are a couple of lite-jazz-rock exercises, "Let The Children Play" and "Try A Little Harder". Santana's biggest problem during this period was that the lyrics written for him and vocalists he employed were somewhat generic and banal, seriously undercutting a lot of his good intentions. Of course, after this album came a double live, Moonflower, and then a blatant arena-rock emphasis that dragged on way too long and almost killed his career after a few initial successes. Of course he's riding high now, and good for him. He is one of the few guitarists with a distinctive sound left out there. This album is, at least to me, the last "classic" Santana Band album.
The Beatles Anthology 2 (1996) Yes, it's true: I own this on vinyl. I made a chance remark to Mrs. Bacardi one time when we were out Christmas shopping, and she bought this for me. You can correctly assume that how much you will enjoy this, or any of these collections depends solely on how much of a Beatle-head you are...and even though I'm a pretty big fan, much of this collection of demos, outtakes, flubbed takes and ephemera is of minimal interest. Kinda like looking at someone's book full of preliminary sketches. However, there are some interesting cuts here and there: a weird, druggy-sounding "Tomorrow Never Knows" before all the tape effects got tacked on, the "new" song "Real Love" a Lennon solo demo to which the other three (and Jeff Lynne) contributed, creating a "modern" Beatletune which to these ears is excellent, and pretty good demo versions of "Yes It Is" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". Of the three Anthologies, this is probably the weakest simply because it doesn't have enough interesting "new" tracks but it's not completely worthless either.
Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band (1975) Bootsy Collins first introduced us to his goofy, likeable persona on this, his first solo album. This is a very strong and very influential LP, alternating psychedelic funk grooves on some cuts with winsome Stevie Wonderish harmonica-tinged slow songs. He received a lot of help from all of the P-Funk mob, including George Clinton. The next two follow-ups Ahh...The Name is Bootsy, Baby and Bootsy? Player of the Year feature more of the same. For a white boy who couldn't dance if his life depended on it, I sure did listen (and still do) to a lot of old school funk...
Tom Waits-Swordfishtrombones (1983) I used to work third shift, 11 PM to 7 AM, a lot when I was employed at R.R. Donnelley & Sons in nearby Glasgow, KY. I came home early one morning and sat down to watch some TV before I went to bed. I turned it on MTV, and lo and behold the video for "In The Neighborhood", one of the tracks from Tom Waits' latest album came on, and I was transfixed not only by the strange sight of Waits leading a parade of circus freaks through a desolate town, but by the music, which sounded like a surreal marching band from hell led by Captain Beefheart. I was aware of Waits before, and was totally unimpressed by his jazzy beatnik lounge-lizard stylings, but after seeing the video I had to give this a listen. Waits had decided to shift directions to a darker, more delta-blues-meets-Kurt Weill approach, and I was immediately won over by it. Not to say that every cut on this LP is a masterpiece; some are honking and atonal and hard to listen to but the good cuts, like "Down Down Down", "Gin Soaked Boy", the title cut, the deranged "16 Shells From a Thirty-Aught Six", and the amusing monologue "Frank's Wild Years" are simply amazing. I strongly recommend that if you haven't heard or don't own this, go out and get both this one and its equally great successor Rain Dogs. I guarantee you haven't heard much, if anything, like these albums.
Roy Wood-Mustard (1975) This album brings together two types of musicianship that I tend to fawn over: the auteur, who plays, writes, produces, and even designs the album packaging for his projects (think Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson, Prince), and the crazed pop genius (Wilson again, Lindsey Buckingham, Mark (E) Elliott of Eels), who uses the studio like a mad scientist uses a laboratory, throwing everything he can think of in pursuit of the eclectic pop song. Wood, long a musical hero of mine, qualifies on both counts, and this album can be looked at as a summing up of his career to that point. It's a dizzying mix of styles and sounds, from the AM radio popsong ear candy of "Any Old Time Will Do" (in a perfect world this would have been a worldwide, and yes that includes the USA, smash hit) to the Beach Boys homage "Why Does Such A Pretty Girl Sing Such Sad Songs" to the 50s pastiche (probably left over from his previous effort with his then-band Wizzard, Introducing Eddy and the Falcons, which attempted to duplicate every late 50s and early 60s style you could think of) "Look Through The Eyes Of A Fool". We even get some faux 40s Andrews Sisters type vocalise on the title cut. While this album hits some very high highs, it also tends to be a sloppy, unfocused mess and as a result is a notch below his previous solo masterpiece Boulders and his Move records, but is much more interesting and listenable than his subsequent output which is a bit too slick and conventional for these ears. In all fairness, there's a lot of Roy's music that I haven't listened to, especially in the last 10-15 years–it just doesn't get released over here–but what I have heard just didn't have the same spark. Still, Mustard is a fine, diverse record that is no home run but certainly qualifies as a bases-clearing double.
Alexander O'Neal-Hearsay (1986) Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, after being dismissed from the Time went on to become the premiere producers of funk-pop in the 80s, culminating in the records they did with Janet Jackson. Alexander O'Neal was another in their stable of acts–others included Cherrelle and the SOS Band–and he was kinda presented as the Luther Vandross of Flyte Time. Hearsay is a textbook example of the Jam/Lewis 80s production sound. Great funky dance grooves, snippets of dialogue linking the songs together adding to the "party" atmosphere, and first and foremost strong, memorable melodies which keeps all the Jam/Lewis stable efforts listenable even though the synth-heavy production sound is a bit dated by now.
Alice Cooper-Easy Action (1970) This was the second Alice Cooper Band LP, the first with a professional producer. As the story goes, Frank Zappa was supposed to produce their first, Pretties For You, but bailed and left the Coops to their own devices, and the result was uneven and only sometimes listenable. This one's a bit (only a bit) more polished and professional sounding, and contains some overlooked gems, many of which echo themes the band would develop further with Bob Ezrin. Action's got all sorts of stylistic variety and grunge pyschedelica tendencies, sounding a lot like the Jefferson Airplane, the Who or early David Bowie in places. I usually have to dig this out at least once when the weather gets's a record that reminds me of Summer. Thanks to my friend Kenny Fitzgibbon, whom I used to hang with every summer for about five years when he came down to stay with his grandparents when we were teenagers. He had this on 8-track, and I listened to it a lot,being the big, big Alice fan I was then. Whatever happened to ya, Kenny?
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians-Element of Light (1986) This was my first exposure to the gifted British madman, and while he's done many fine albums since, he's never topped this one (his last before signing to a major label) in my opinion. I've always thought that Element sounded like a great lost collaboration between Syd Barrett and John Lennon.
Faces-A Nod Is As Good As A Wink-To A Blind Horse (1971) It's hard to believe now, with 27 years of slick, smarmy Rod Stewart irrelevancy behind us, that he could be a part of music as soulful, rocking, genuine and alive as his work both on his 1969-1976 efforts and with the Faces was. This is arguably the best Faces album, certainly the most consistent, and features such great tunes as Ronnie Lane's touching "Debris", and Rod and Ron Wood's own "Too Bad", "Miss Judy's Farm", "Stay With Me", of course, and "Love Lives Here", as touching a ballad as those found on Every Picture Tells A Story or Never A Dull Moment, which I had listened to during this time as well.
Harry Nilsson-Son of Schmilsson (1972) AKA How To Kill Your Career Part One. Harry was riding high after a string of smash hits that culminated in his Nilsson Schmilsson album, but at some point decided to hell with all of it, he was gonna do what he wanted to do and have some fun in the process. Bringing back Schmilsson producer Richard Perry, he recorded this sequel in name only, a weird, schizo, vulgar, sweet, charming, funny record which completely threw people for a loop. One song, in fact, with its "you're breaking my fuck you" chorus, really pissed a lot of people off and many copies were returned, causing a minor scandal which seems trivial now but back then you just didn't drop the f-bomb in your music, especially if you were a major recording artist. He followed this with an album of 30s and 40s standards with a symphony orchestra, then partied himself into career oblivion with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, forever marginalizing himself (which is not to say that he didn't make good records– his next five records are, in my opinion, outstanding– just forgotten and overlooked) until his death in 1995. Of course, this is my favorite of his albums, if nothing else than for the winning "Lottery Song". Heck, this is one of my top 10 favorite albums of all time.

Whew! That's gonna do it for now. I think next time I'll limit this to five albums...ten's a bit much. Thanks for reading!