Thursday, September 18, 2003

Prepare yourselves, puny humans, it's time for another edition of

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How d'ya like the new logo? The Mondo Vinyl-O is a semi-regular feature in which I write about ten long-playing vinyl 33 and 1/3 RPM record albums that I have listened in the interval since the last MV-O. This is a direct result of obtaining a new turntable several months ago after not having one for a couple of years. I've been spending a lot of time getting re-acquainted with a lot of music that I don't own or is unavailable on compact disc, and I decided to pass my impressions on to you. Don't you feel fortunate? Anyway, time to lock 'n load!

The Rolling Stones-Their Satanic Majesties Request (London 1967)
The Stones' stab at psychedelia was universally panned at the beginning, but has grown in stature over the years. At the time of its release, a lot of people, John Lennon included, saw the record as being a little too imitative of Sgt. Pepper's, but I think that's a bit harsh- hell, it seems like everyone back then was trying to do music like this. There's a lot of self-indulgent screwing around on Satanic, to be sure, mostly on the meandering second part of "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)", and the dull "Gomper" which might have been better off left in the can...but there are some wonderful (and somewhat influential, I believe) songs which more than make up for it, like the resplendent "She's A Rainbow"; the eerie synth-driven "2000 Light Years From Home"; and "Citadel", which features a great riff (which Roxy Music nicked for Stranded's "Street Life") at its center. Brian Jones was the driving creative force behind a lot of this, it seems, and perhaps its poor reception was one of the things that led him farther down the slippery slope that resulted in his premature death, who knows...Mick 'n Keef abandoned psychedelia after this for the more earthy pleasures of country and blues-rock, and I'm kinda glad that they did...but this remains a fun listen. I wish I had the necessary discs so I could make my own Psychedelic Stones CD, with the '67 single "We Love You" and the earlier "Child of the Moon" added.

Tim Moore-Tim Moore (Elektra 1974)
Picked this up back in the late 70s in the cutout bin at the Emporium, where I met Bill Lloyd, who used to work there. I had never heard of Moore, and to be honest, I don't know what caused me to pick this up, even to this day...but I'm very glad I did because this is an excellent soft-pop album, reminiscent of Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac or James Taylor. Best of all is the marvelous opening cut, "A Fool Like Me" which overcomes pseudo-philosophical lyrics like "Cryin with the millionaire/Is like laughin' with the old street bum/Send him off to the colisseum/Promise him Kingdom Come" with a drop-dead gorgeous melody and wonderful string and vocal arrangements. Other winners include the pensive piano-and-strings ballad "Second Avenue" and the Jeff Buckley-ish "Sister Lilac". Richie Havens had a minor hit with "Aviation Man" on side two. When I got this I also picked up Moore's 1977 effort White Shadows, which was utterly unremarkable and disinclined me towards seeking out any further albums, of which there were only two or three all together. Wonder whatever happened to this guy?

Sparks-Whomp That Sucker! (RCA, 1981)
If you've been reading me for any amount of time, you've probably inferred that I have a definite weakness for whimsical smart-ass pop-rock, like Jellyfish, 10cc, or Queen...but nobody, and I mean nobody, could touch these guys in that department. Sparks were mostly a vehicle for the Brothers Mael, Ron and Russell- Ron was the deadpan keyboardist/lyricist with the Hitler moustache and Russell was the prettyboy frontman with a voice that was capable of belting or warbling, depending on what the songs called for. Whomp was very much of its time, a synth-heavy Devo-ish concoction punctuated with "Bohemian Rhapsody"-style chorus en masse vocals, produced by then-hot ex-Georgio Moroder engineer Mack, who went on to work with Queen and ELO. Which is not to say it was derivative or imitative, far from it...the Maels were too smart for that. Each song is based on some sort of humorous premise, evident in such song titles as "Tips For Teens", "I Married a Martian", and "Wacky Women". I think my favorite cut, though, is "Upstairs"- in which Ron muses on the thought process set to a surging synth-driven beat. It's catchy as hell. It's been several years since I picked up a Sparks record, even though they've released several since...after their 1984 album Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat I kinda lost interest. I've read good stuff about some of their recent albums so I might have to get one someday.

Dr. John-Desitively Bonaroo (Atco, 1974)
Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, had a huge hit album and song the year before with the Allen Toussaint-produced In the Right Place, so apparently both he and the record company saw no reason to deviate from that with the follow-up. Bonaroo is almost identical to its predecessor, featuring that New Orleans Seventies funk sound, except the songs just aren't as strong and there were no hits this time. In fact, Bonaroo was a fixture in cutout bins for years, as retailers bought a hell of a lot of copies that went unsold. Musically, though, this record is first rate, since the Doctor brought back his Right Place collaborators the Meters, and it's actually quite listenable...but it just pales in comparison. Favorite cut: "Mos' Scocious", with its dipsy doodle horn arrangement, and "What Comes Around (Goes Around)", a catchy soul tune.

Michael Nesmith-Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash (RCA 1973)
This was the Thinking Man's Monkee's last record for RCA, for whom he recorded a surprising six records in three years before leaving to start his own Pacific Arts company, which exists to this day. At the time, too weird for Nashville and too country for AM or FM radio programmers, Mike's RCA records are simply amazing country-rock efforts, with smart lyrics and excellent melodies, and I think it's a crime that they're so obscure. I dare say that Nesmith is the missing link between Gram Parsons and Steve Earle in the country-rock pantheon. Although every one of them has strong cuts, Stash represented a aesthetic comeback of sorts for Nez after the somewhat dull And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' and the sloppy, rambling Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1. I get a feeling of wanting to go out on a high note on this record, making me think that Nesmith knew that chart success was just not going to happen at RCA , so he just decided to record some music for himself and ta heck with what the bean counters thought. Side one is Nes originals, featuring a remake of the Monkees tune "Some of Shelley's Blues", and his honky-tonk angel song "Winonah", which is pure classic Nashville country. Side two is given to eclectic covers like Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen" and Billy Hill's "Prairie Lullaby". I think most of Nesmith's RCA albums are available on CD these days, so if you haven't heard them do yourself a favor and seek them out.

Mike McGear-McGear (Warner Bros. 1974)
McGear is, of course, Michael McCartney, satirist brother of the cute moptop. Partially as an excuse to audition future Wings guitarist Jimmy McCullough, and partially out of the desire to help out his bro, Sir Paul produced, co-wrote, and played on this album along with Linda and Denny Laine, essentially making this sound like a Wings record with a sense of humor. Actually, it's a lot better than that- I think Mike's sharp humor brought out the best in Macca's creativity, and this is actually one of the strongest records he was involved in post-Fabs. Lol Creme and Kevin Godley show up on a couple of cuts as well, playing their then-new Gizmo, essentially a device which made guitars sound like orchestral strings. Features a great, rocked-up cover of Roxy Music's "Sea Breezes", the pretty "Simply Love You", the Sensational Alex Harvey Band via Monty Python-ish "Norton", the T.Rex satire "Givin' Grease a Ride", and the horn-driven "Have You Got Problems?", and several other strong cuts. Mike de-emphasized the family connection when this was released, and therefore this record was a flop of historic proportions. In fact, and I might be mistaken here, I seem to recall reading that this was the worst-selling record in the history of Warner Bros. Records at the time of the article. A pity, but it's available on CD so apparently somebody out there wants to hear it!

David Bowie-"Heroes" (RCA, 1978)
The second of those revered and influential Eno collaborations, "Heroes" has always been, to me, kind of a mixed bag. Just like the previous years' Low, it's divided into a song side and an instrumental side, and just like Low, it's of varying interest. Most of the instrumentals bore me, although there are some passages here and there that sound interesting. The songs on side one, though, are pretty good, especially the lurching opener "Beauty and the Beast", the melodramatic "Sons of the Silent Age", and, of course, the title cut, which most people these days know from that terrible Wallflowers cover. It's rare when one song makes picking up an entire record worthwhile, but it's true in this case- Bowie's original version of "Heroes" is such a dynamic, evocative cut that it raises the quality of the rest of this album, like a great hitter in baseball can make his team a lot better. Of course, I gotta mention that this album would be nowhere near as strong as it is without the invaluable aid of guitarist Robert Fripp, who shines throughout- especially on that title song. Compared with the strong, groundbreaking Low, and its successors Lodger and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), "Heroes" comes across as a step sideways, but it does have its charms. And even the worst track here is far superior to anything Bowie's done in the last 20 years.

Davey Johnstone-Smiling Face (Rocket/MCA, 1973)
At some point between the albums Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John's guitarist recorded this understated, but likeable folk-pop album. Filled with songs about his wife, friends and family, it's definitely a labor of love for the underrated Johnstone, whose contributions to John's best records is often overlooked. Longtime EJ producer Gus Dudgeon did the board work, Elton contributed keyboards to one cut, and Rick Wakeman (credited here as "Bakeman", either a typo or an attempt to fool Wakeman's record company) chips in with synths on "A Lark in the Morning With Mrs. McLeod", a fun medley of folk songs, but everything else here is Johnstone and the odd member of the Elton John music family past and present, like Roger Pope or Caleb Quaye. Bert Jansch of Pentangle fame also guests on a well-played track. Of special note is the title cut, a song for his son (pictured on the cover) a mandolin exercise that is absolutely charming, and the equally charming "A Lovely Day", a happy song about, well, a lovely day! Of such slight origins wonderful music is often made. I have no idea how well this record sold, I've only seen one copy in my life in a record store, the one I own. I was a pretty big Elton fan at the time, and I didn't even know it existed until many years later. An real obscure, humble little gem of an album.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer-Brain Salad Surgery (Atlantic/Manticore 1973)
Boy, this record (the first ELP album I ever heard) brings back a lot of memories. Other ELP albums have their moments, but this one in particular is one of the most original, most over-the-top, imaginative, melodic, inventive, and any other adjectives you care to name albums by anybody that I've ever heard and it blew me away when I was 14. Guess that speaks to my legendary arrested development that I still think so. And yes, it's pretentious as all get out, too, but I've never minded pretension when the music that framed it was solid. From the bombastic, but triumphant opening track "Jerusalem", a William Blake poem set to music, to the neo-classical assault "Toccata", which is a bit much at first but gets better with subsequent listens, to the lovely, albeit thin-sounding "Still...You Turn Me On", to "Benny the Bouncer", a clever little story-song reminiscent of the trio's "The Sheriff" from Trilogy to the gonzo, all-stops-out sci-fi extravaganza "Karn Evil 9", this record is a tour-de-force, with inventive arrangements and excellent lyrics by good ol' Peter Sinfield, especially on "Karn Evil 9"'s second movement. So naturally, after I discovered ELP with this record, they completely lost the plot, due to internal squabbling, megalomania, drugs, and all the usual bullshit which disrupted musicians' careers. They tried to reunite in the 90s and even more recently, but apparently they totally shot their creative wad with Surgery because subsequent records were lackluster at best and abominable at worst. One of the reasons I never embraced Punk or New Wave all that much back then was because of the utter disdain punks had for this type of music.

Todd Rundgren-Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (Bearsville 1971)
Todd's second proper solo record, the one before Something/Anything and "Hello It's Me" made him, briefly, a star. It's an unassuming (well, as unassuming as Todd could be, anyway) little pop record, where Rundgren works out his Carole King and Laura Nyro obsessions...which is not to say it's all piano ballads- there are several rockers here as well, mostly Badfinger-style power pop (unsurprisingly, Todd produced Badfinger not long after this) with former Nazz members and studio musos. It's a fine record, but Todd hadn't really come into his own just yet. The highlights for me are the doe-eyed ballads "Long Time, Long Way to Go" and "Be Nice to Me", along with the smartaleck country song "The Range War" and the genuinely moving "Wailing Wall". He went on to do more accomplished music, but this is a solid album.

That's it! I try to limit it to ten (which takes me all morning to write), but there were twice as many records that I listened to in this period. Maybe they'll pop up in future Vinyl-O's. Sounds like a breakfast cereal, dunnit? I still intend to do a solo Beatles someday down the line, so stay tuned.