Tuesday, July 08, 2003

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Yes, Summer's here and the time is right for another scintillating edition of Johnny B's MONDO VINYL-O! For those of you who are new, this is where I take ten 33 1/3 RPM vinyl long players that I've listened to since the last MV-O (I have lots of time for that sort of thing these days, you know) and ramble about them for a paragraph or so. Now...shall we dance?

Bryan Ferry-These Foolish Things (1973) Following in the footsteps of David Bowie's Pinups album, when Ferry decided to do a solo record he chose to cover a dozen or so songs from the 30s, 50s and 60s– and since he apparently felt he didn't have enough leeway to be goofy in Roxy Music, the whole thing has a goofy, what-the-hell kinda feel about it. That being said, the backing is first rate, featuring many members of Roxy with that great distinctive sound that the band employed from '73-'76, Bryan's singing is fine and his arrangements are very clever. He covers Dylan, Elvis, the Stones, Brian Wilson, the Beatles, Lieber and Stoller, and Leslie Gore's "It's My Party" (gender unchanged!), and really the only clunker IMO is the lugubrious title cut, in which Ferry croons like Garbo and to be honest, has its admirers.

John Renbourn-The Lady and the Unicorn (1971) Pentangle guitarist Renbourn is a master of his instrument, and there is much fine playing in this all-instrumental collection of medieval, early classical and folk tunes. Problem is, it all becomes dull and monotonous after a while and best serves as background music because it's so easy to tune out. I suppose it would be a groovy record to play in a merchant's tent at a Renessaince Faire somewhere...

The Doobie Brothers-The Captain and Me (1973) When I was growing up, I revered the music of the Doobie Brothers. They had an infectuously catchy way with a hook, a great guitar sound, stellar string arrangements by Warners arranging stalwart Nick DeCaro, and if their "We can all get together and love one another and listen to the music and just party out in the summer sunshine with our lovin mamas" type vibe sounds ridiculous today, well it was a bit more acceptable in those less cynical times. I just loved their rock slash R&B slash folk slash country sound and generally looked over the lyrical content. After their best and most ambitious cowboy-concept record, 1975's Stampede, co-founder and co-vocalist and co-guitarist Tom Johnston got sick on tour and was replaced by Michael McDonald, a former Steely Dan backup vocalist who then proceeded to take my beloved good-time folky party rock group and transform them into Dan Lite, and as you can probably infer I hated this development. I was a happy boy when McDonald's inevitable solo career flopped spectacularly. Anyway, back to Captain– this has two of their biggest hits, "China Grove", annoying somewhat after overexposure on FM classic rock stations; "Long Train Runnin", which has also been run into the ground by FM programmers but has such a killer hook that I can still stand to listen to it; "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman", beneficiary of one of DeCaro's best arrangements, "Evil Woman", which balanced its somewhat misogynistic lyric with a wicked, twisty heavy guitar riff; and the closing pair of songs "Ukiah", which features great harmonies, a strong melody and segues into the title cut, which is more of the same and seems to be about a starship captain or some such. Johnston returned to the re-formed Bros sometime in the late 80s, but the fizz just isn't in the pop anymore. However, I still have those early-mid 70s albums when I want to hear the uncut stuff.

Eddie Hazel-Game, Dames, and Guitar Thangs (1977) The late Hazel was one of the first guitarists in George Clinton's Funkadelic and is revered by many for his solo prowess, especially on seminal tracks like "Maggot Brain". He released this solo album in '77, backed by (of course) the whole P-Funk Mob, and its noteworthy for its excellent, longish covers of the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" (a song I never had much use for, but I like Hazel's slow, funky take), and John Lennon's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", which lead off sides one and two, respectively. Rounding out the set are a couple of originals written by or with Clinton and a cover of a song from Bootsy's first album. I understand that this is a very rare record and fetches a high price from collectors. Mine's not for sale. Yet. Go here for a picture of the cover at a German review site.

Aerosmith-Draw The Line (1977) Aerosmith was one of the few hard-rock bands that all my friends liked that I liked, too. The follow-up to arguably their best classic-era release, Rocks, I'd be willing to bet that they remember very little about the making of this bad boy, since it was recorded at the height of their dissolute years. Still, be that as it may, there's a lot of great stuff on Draw– killer riffs, clever lyrics, even a punkish Joe Perry solo track called "Bright Light Fright" which is the unintentional high point of the record. On the negative side, there's a puzzling track in which Tyler complains about not being able to "Get It Up" (nice riff, though), another bitch-about-the-critics song ("Critical Mass") and the cringe-inducing "Kings and Queens", a muddled and muddy-sounding ambitious social commentary slash history lesson which might have been better served left in the can. DTL also sports a great Al Hirschfeld drawing as its cover.

Arlo Guthrie-Amigo (1976) This record, like most of Arlo's albums, is an eclectic mix of folk, country and rock, with traditional African songs side by side with the Stones ("Connection"). I love his own "Victor Jara", about the Chilean folk-singer and activist, which is passionately sung and is one of the best songs I've ever heard, period. I think I should add that Mr. Nick DeCaro is the string arranger on this album, too.

Slade-Stomp Your Hands, Clap Your Feet (1974) Apparently this was retitled for US release, since all the multitudes of Slade websites (most with horrid graphics) list this as Old, New, Borrowed and Blue. Slade was the most un-glammy of Glam Rock groups...they looked like they just stepped out of a pub and were looking to kick your arse. No pretty boy glittery eye shadow and feather boas for these yobs! Their music was pretty much straightforward electric guitar, bass & drums and was mostly noteworthy for lead vocalist Noddy Holder's distinctive abrasive yowl along with their penchant for writing songs with cutesy misspellings like "crazee" and "cum" as in "Cum Feel the Noize", which you may have heard somewhere before. Stomp is a enjoyable and diverse record– they were attempting to stretch a bit with music-hall ditties like "Find Yourself A Rainbow" and the pretty piano ballad "Everyday", but there were still several fierce rockers. Of course, they were much more successful in the UK than they were over here although they did score a hit in the 80s with "Run Runaway" in the wake of the Quiet Riot hit version of "Noize".

Grand Funk Railroad-Mark, Don and Mel 1969-'71 (1972) When I was a kid, about 10-11 years old, all the cool older kids listened to Grand Funk. This is a double-LP compilation of tracks which appeared on their first four Terry Knight-produced albums, when they were a trio and aspired to populist blues-heavy rock. It's got the wonderful, funky, hard-rocking eleven minute cover of Eric Burden's "Inside Looking Out", the oft-derided but still melodically wonderful "I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home", the slow blues "Heartbreaker", the infectuous hit single "Footstompin Music", and the title cut from the Paranoid album, which I remember hearing as a kid coming from my friend Tommy Blair's sister Marsheena's bedroom one day, and when I asked her what that was she played it again, remarking how creepy the sirens and baby's cry sound effects were. The things one recalls. Anyway, there's really not a bad track to be found herein. After this, they got progressively slicker and more AM-radio friendly with Todd Rundgren and Jimmy Iovine, and while much of it was excellent it didn't have the crude charm of their early stuff. This album is a great place to begin for those curious about GFR and don't want to track down each individual album...but unfortunately it doesn't exist in this configuration on CD. That being said, however, there are at least a couple of decent sampler GFR CDs that should suffice.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band-The Good Earth (1974) Lucky buyers of this record were entitled to a small section of land on a mountain in England if they clipped the corner off the record sleeve and sent it to the address provided. I got my copy a few years after it came out, so I never claimed my plot. I always loved the unusual Proggish sound of Manfred's Band, its synth-and-choir blend evoking cinematic majesty and Mann's excellent taste in cover songs made any Earth Band album worthwhile in my book. This particular effort is a little bit of a departure, as MMEB albums go, since there are no Springsteen or Dylan covers (Spooky Tooth-era Gary Wright gets the honors here on the title cut) and all but one are originals, the best of which is "Be Not Too Hard", a lovely plea for tolerance. I got to see Mann live a couple of years later, touring behind his Roaring Silence album, and it remains one of my favorite concert experiences...even though pre-Steven Perry Journey and Boston (eww) shared the bill.

Shawn Phillips-Do You Wonder? (1975) Phillips is said to be a virtuoso, claims to have co-written many of Donovan's best songs without receiving credit, and has pretty much remained invisible throughout his longer-than-you'd-think career. I got real curious several years ago about his stuff, and being intrigued by the cover, picked this album up and liked it well enough to buy three others which bored me– so I got rid of all of them but this one. Got that? Anyway, on Wonder Phillips' jazzy folk-rock got a bit of a commercial polish making it a bit more accessible than I recall from his previous efforts. It's still a bit uninvolving, albeit prettily sung (Phillips does have a remarkable voice), and he could be very pretentious sometimes. I think I keep this album around for one cut: "Golden Flower", a jazz-ish meditation on love and life than has a gorgeous melody.

And that's it! Whew! Thanks for reading, and keep watching the skies–you never know when I'll do another MONDO VINYL-O!