Sunday, May 28, 2006

May Top 10

Aside from looking at new employment opportunities (Dad advice: "The best time to look for a job is when you already have one"), watching the little dude master potty-training, and dealing with a little bit of mild-to-moderate depression, there's not a lot of "interesting" stuff going on around here. Oh wait: I secured a deal to get the Jeff Gordon car here. Everyone knows what a huge fucking NASCAR fan I am. /sarcasm


Iron Maiden-"Killers"
The Ramones-"Leave Home"
The Flaming Lips-"At War With The Mystics"
Judas Priest-"Sad Wings Of Destiny"
The Fall-"Grotesque (After The Gramme)"
Heart-"Little Queen"
Mission Of Burma-"The Obliterati"
David Bowie-"Scary Monsters"
Neko Case-"Fox Confessor Brings The Flood"
The Go-Betweens-"16 Lover's Lane"
(R.I.P. Grant McLennan and thanx to Cuz for sending Steve Kilbey's blog post regarding the funeral)

Van Morrison-Blowing Your Nose

America was first introduced to Van Morrison via his debut album “Blowing Your Mind” released on Bang! Records in 1967. While the States warmed to the album’s first single “Brown Eyed Girl,” Van wasn’t very happy with the label’s treatment.
Bang! Records was started in 1965 when some of Atlantic Record’s chief executives decided to make another independent label. The name Bang actually represents the first letters of these executives’ names: Bert Burns, Ahmet Ertegun, Neshui Ertegun and Gerald (Jerry) Wexler. You may be familiar with the track record of some of these individuals and their contribution to rock and roll history is hugely important.
Bang! Records were pretty successful after its initial launch; I remember my parents had a few singles on Bang! Records: “Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys and “I Want Candy” by The Strangeloves. My Dad told me that the dude who sang “Rock & Roll Hootchie Koo” was a member of The McCoys, and he was right; a young Rick Derringer (billed here as Rick Zehringer) played guitar for the outfit before an albino by the name of Edgar Winter snagged him and took him for a “free ride.”
“Free Ride” also seemed to be the theme for Bang! Records that would take young artists like The McCoys, Neil Diamond, and Van Morrison and provide them with the kind of radio exposure they dreamed of without paying them a dime in royalties. To be fair, the majority of these problems really didn’t happen until after label-founder Bert Burns died unexpectedly in 1967. The other principles that still ran Atlantic were too busy to assist with the tiny Bang! label, so the day to day operation of that company were left to Burns’ widow. Ilene Burns apparently struggled at paying some of the artists on the Bang roster on time and she learned fairly quickly what happens when you piss off a guy like Van Morrison.

It wasn’t Van’s idea for the name of his debut to be “Blowing Your Mind.” He didn’t sign off on that records’ dated cover art. He did, however, expect to be paid. Since he hadn’t received any royalties for “Brown Eyed Girl” or anything for the “Blowing Your Mind” album, he decided to fight back. The problem was, he owed one more album to Bang! Records per the terms of his contract.
What Van did was deliver his follow up to “Blowing Your Mind” to the executives at Bang! The follow-up, entitled “Blowing Your Nose,” contained an album’s worth of material recorded in a day with an acoustic guitar. It ranks as one of rock’s greatest contract obligation efforts along with Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” The Rolling Stones’ “Cocksucker Blues” and Prince’s subsequent release of “The Black Album.”
Most of the songs from “Blowing Your Nose” are simple, two-chorded acoustic numbers with off-the-cuff- lyrics (“Here comes dumb George/Here comes dumb George/Here comes dumb George”). At times, however, Van’s attack is much more poignant. “Hang On Groovy” is a lift of “Hang On Sloopy” (“Hang on groovy/Groovy hang on/You’re in the groove”) while “Want A Danish” is about one of life’s hardest questions: whether to have a danish or a sandwich.
It’s clear that Van really wanted to get a reaction from Bang! Records when they first listened to his finished product. “The Big Royalty Check” (“I’m waiting for my royalty check to come/And it still hasn’t come yet/It’s about a year overdue/I guess it’s coming from the big royalty check in the sky”) clearly tells Bang why he’s pissed, while “Freaky If You Got This Far” expresses amazement that a Bang executive made it that far while listening to the album. That track, by the way, comes after a song about ring worm (“Ring Worm”) and a song about how they will get “six guitars” and “Herbie Revel” to play drums on the next recording session (“Savoy Hollywood”).
In the end, the intention of “Blowing Your Nose” probably didn’t work; Van’s contract was ended due to a “key man clause” stating that he could be free from the label since Bert Burns was dead and his departure from the living actually voided the agreement. At the same time, the idea of “Blowing Your Nose” does work: a enormously talented performer providing his employer with the product that they need instead of the material he wanted to make. Warner Brothers would actually get that result: his next album (the first one for Warner’s) was “Astral Weeks” as is generally considered to be one of the best albums in rock history and ranks as one of Van Morrison’s greatest achievements.
Thanks to Count Jason for the idea and WFMU that lets you get “Blowing Your Nose” for free.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

T Rex-Tanx

T-Rex’s “Tanx” became the unfortunate album that Bolan chose to release after the one-two punch of his non-debatable classic albums “Electric Warrior” and “The Slider.” Anyone interested in discovering Bolan is automatically directed to those two albums, and when you’ve found yourself overcome by how fucking awesome they are, you’ll be scratching your heads as to where you should go next.
I went with “Tanx,” which Rhino finally released domestically with extensive liner notes and a bonus disc, because most critics recognized it as the last good T-Rex album before the spaceship crashed.
Strangely enough, Bolan released a pair of excellent singles after “The Slider,” “20th Century Boy” and “Children of the Revolution,” which continued the glam-guitar-crunch that made him famous, but voted against including these singles on his next album. Instead, Bolan decided to start fresh with producer Tony Visconti and, at the same time, expand the formula that gave the liftoff to T-Rextasy. To do this, the pair spent a lengthy amount of time in the studio adding backing vocals, horns, and studio trickery. The timing was a little off perhaps as Bowie was in the middle of his Ziggy phase and was focused on the same sonic landscape that Bolan was beginning to turn his back on. So while Ziggy played guitar, The Slider played the mellotron.
When looked at in it’s original album format, “Tanx” doesn’t necessarily “tank,” but it doesn’t get off the ground in many respects. Many of the songs seems cluttered and restrained. It would have been great if Bolan went in the opposite direction when he decided to take off the platform shows and went towards an even rawer approach that would be even too salty for those teenage girls to take.
The great thing about the re-issue is that you get a bonus disc that actually accomplishes this: nearly ever song on the album is also presented in a demo form, and I for one found myself playing this disc more than the proper album. “Country Honey” becomes dirtier, “Broken-Hearted Blues” reveals itself to be one of Marc’s best ballads (the line “the wind on that night/was tempered like a knife” is just fucking great) and “The Street and Babe Shadow” is transformed into an acoustic back-porch blues shuffle. It’s the album that you wish “Tanx” would have been.
The aforementioned singles released before the “Tanx” recording sessions are included too, which means that you can pretty much veto Bolan’s ultimate direction and compose your own version of the album which is maybe just a hair beneath “The Slider.” And with “The Slider” being as great as it is, you have the ability of making “Tanx” the hat-trick that it should have been back in 1973.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Morrissey-Ringleader Of The Tormentors

Who would have thought that by moving to Los Angeles, as in Los Angeles California, Morrissey would have found some kind of prolific inspiration that has enabled him to produce some of his best work of this solo career. “You Are The Quarry” sparked the return of Morrissey to relevance. So what happens when he moves from Los Angeles to Italy? Listen, if he can return to relevance in Los Angeles, then a move to Italy probably won’t detract from his progression. What’s of deeper concern is that Morrissey has reportedly found love in Italy, and as we all know, Morrissey is seldom happy about anything. At least on record.
“Ringleader of the Tormentors” finds Moz teamed up with Tony Visconti and the results are magnificent. Whereas his work with the late Mick Ronson found Morrissey channeling Mick’s glam heritage, this effort with Visconti, the mastermind of some of glam’s most important albums by Bowie and Bolan, finds the team going beyond the genre’s narrow scope. They get a little help with some great orchestration from Ennion Morricone, who is best known as the man who helped score many of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western movies.
Happiness hasn’t affected Morrissey’s outlook much; he’s still as miserable as ever but he’s delivering the morose with lyrics that are more to the point. And the point is this: he has found that in this world of shit, there’s nothing sweeter than love.
“I once was a mess/of guilt because of the flesh” he admits on “At Last I Am Born.” And it’s love that has suppressed his Catholic guilt (to an extent) and it’s love that has finally, metaphorically, transformed him into a….middle aged gay man. Is his sexuality really relevant? I suppose not, but it does explain a lot of things and when you take this into consideration you’ll see that “Ringleader of the Tormentors” is Morrissey at his most honest, his most randy, and his most flamboyant album in his career.
“There are explosive kegs/between my legs” he admits on “Dear God Please Help Me,” one of the album’s most talked about tracks. Whereas on previous Morrissey songs where he sang about restraint, it seems that now he’s ready to let his proverbial load go and is contending with years of religious teachings that made him ashamed of his sexuality. It’s refreshing to hear him backpedaled from the “celibate” tag (which placed him as more of a deity than rock star) and demonstrate that he is, like we knew all along, human like the rest of us.
“Ringleader of the Tormentors” does have a few distractions: “In The Future When All’s Well,” “I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now” and “To Me You Are A Work Of Art” sound like standard-issue solo Morrissey. They’re the type of songs that make people continue to wish for that never-gonna-happen Morrissey/Marr reunion; there the type of songs that make you wish Morrissey would have tried just a little bit harder to make “R.O.T.T.” into that landmark album that actually rivals the worst of The Smiths catalog.
There are moments when it gets close: “Life Is A Pigsty,” the album’s epic, starts with a subtle groove until finally giving way to a wash of orchestration and bombastic timpani. While repeating the song title over and over, Moz states “In the final hour of my life/I’m falling in love again.” And if this righteous fellow can admit that and continue to challenge his own muse in the process, then all we can do is rejoice in the fact that he finally popped his cherry. Or “kegs” as the song goes.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

The Fall-Hex Enduction Hour

I should have changed my New Year’s resolution to state that I would purchase six Fall albums, because I’m already two ahead of the Dylan resolution. Lord knows, The Fall approach Dylan in their proficiency, so I’d have plenty of product to chose from.
“Hex Enduction Hour,” self-described as “a well-produced noise thing,” is just that and generally viewed as a classic in The Fall cannon.

What a cannon it is, as Mark E. Smith opens the release with “The Classical” by asking “Where are the obligatory niggers?/Hey there, fuck face!” Smith is already coming out swinging and the rest of the band rollick along with a two drummer line up and some innovative guitar work from Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon. “The Classical” is one of the greatest and most vicious Fall songs ever.
How fucking cool is Mark E. Smith? Pretty fuckin’. Consider the track “Who Makes The Nazis?” where Smith accurately names “bad bias tele-v!” as the culprit. Who makes the Nazis? “Balding smug faggots/intellectual half-wits.” Brilliant. And this was over a decade before the advent of Fox-TV.
How influential is Mark E. Smith? Pretty fuckin’. Consider the track “Iceland” where a simple piano phrase lies underneath drums, percussion, and high-fret bass phrasing. Anyone who’s ever owned a Sugarcubes (or solo Bjork) album can pretty much gather how “Hex,” particularly this track from it, may have been their touch-stone. “And the spawn of the volcano/is thick and impatient/like the people around it.” Now you know why Sigur Ros made up their own language; M.E.S. has complete mastery of English prose.
I’ve got to hand it to Sanctuary records for expanding some of the Fall’s catalog like “Hex.” The albums are presented in their original form with an extra disc for bonus material. The packaging is also top-notch with informative liner notes. For example, when the album was released, Flexipop magazine had Mark E. Smith review a fucking Krokus album. If that wasn’t awesome enough, the magazine also had the lead singer of the Swiss heavy metal band Krokus, Mark Storace, review “Hex Enduction Hour.” Mark, who found a bit of notoriety with his ample chest hair and a cover of “Ballroom Blitz” felt that The Fall album was “One long downer”and that "this type of music doesn't appeal to me." One would think that someone like Mark E. Smith would be upset about a comment like this, but when he was asked about the current flavor of British pop music at the time like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, he admitted that he would rather listen to Krokus.
“And This Day” ends “H.E.H.” with 10 minutes of chaotic noise with what could be the most appropriate album closer since The Stooges “L.A. Blues.” Starting off with a certain amount of structure, the song gallops into a dissonant groove while Smith yells “everywhere just no fucking respite for us here!” According to the liner notes, this ten minute track was edited down from the original recording which clocked in at close to 25 minutes. Mark wasn’t very happy about that decision, either. But when is Mark happy?

The Beatles-The Capitol Albums Volume 1

Beatlemaniacs are funny. I would consider myself one, but I am by no means a completist. To be honest, I couldn’t afford to be one if I wanted to and I think the baby boomers have both the money and the inclination to snap up most of the good memorabilia anyway.
Just consider the price tag of “The Capitol Albums: Volume 1” (seventy bones); it’s a box set clearly designed for aging boomers who have the spending cash to get the American Beatles albums they’re used to…and have been whining for ever since the band streamlined the catalog and released only the “proper” British albums in ’87.

A brief explanation: Capitol records cherry picked the Beatles British Parlophone records and released them as new titles domestically. These albums came in two forms, mono and stereo, and Capitol also used “duophonic” mixes in some of the stereo tracks. For laymen, “duophonic” essentially means “adding a bunch of reverb” to the tracks.
While these American releases may have not been exactly what The Beatles themselves intended, the millions of American fans that bought them understandably think of them fondly. Capitol records, always ready to take a music fan’s money, decided to release the American albums in a box set right before Christmas in 2004.
While I already own most of this material already in their British forms, I will admit missing the American versions a little; I was introduced to The Beatles thanks to my parent’s copy of “Meet The Beatles,” “Beatles ’65,” “Yesterday…And Today” and “Beatles VI.” Plus, it’s been nearly twenty years since someone has properly remastered The Beatles albums in any configuration. This means that if you buy, let’s say, The Beatles “For Sale” cd, it sounds exactly the same way it did in 1987: tinny, compressed, and not a lot of punch. “The Capitol Albums” is remastered (albeit using 2nd generation copies for the American version) and a lot of Beatle fans are excited about this.
However, there are lots of Beatles fans that are actually up in arms about the decision to release the American albums. It’s really quite humorous to visit sites completely devoted to this debate, and a few prominent members of the Beatles camp (but not directly related to them or their legacy) got involved in the dispute.
With all of this, I thought it would be cool to actually have the Capitol albums, but there was no fucking way I would spend $70 to have ‘em. All they are is the stereo and mono versions of the albums with no real rare treats (only a few minor differences in a handful of songs can be found) that warrant spending that kind of cash.
But Sam Goody’s going out of business news is my gain: with much of the store picked over, I did find a copy of this at 60% off, which was cheaper than the used versions that I had seen online.
Now “Meet The Beatles” is a five-star album, period. The sequencing contains eleven Beatles’ originals and this is critical. From this album onward, it became universally acceptable for pop groups to actually compose their own material. It was also hugely successful, and it forced pop bands to think in terms of l.p.’s instead of focusing on single-to-single.
“The Beatles Second Album” essentially compiles a lot of the band’s cover material and, either intentionally or by luck, the sequencing works. What you have is one of the band’s most rocking albums.
“Something New” starts to show signs of the bottom of the barrel and “Beatles ‘65” is a trainwreck of sequencing (“Rock & Roll Music” goes into “I’ll Follow The Sun” for Christsakes); the band had started to progress musically and Capitol really should have stopped the practice of bastardizing the British albums at this point. The band was making Capitol a ton of money, and there really was no need for this kind of strategy.
Capitol records didn’t abandon the practice of course, and this means there is a “Volume 2” available now and you won’t find me rushing out to buy it anytime soon.
Sure, as stupid as it sounds, I would actually like to have a version of “VI” because I completely ruined my folk’s copy of it so this title holds some sentimental value to me. But there is no way I’m spending full retail for it. Here’s the main reason why:
Capitol records has done a simply awful job of packaging Volume 1. The box is pathetically flimsy and the individual discs are packaged in cardstock album replicas instead of jewel cases. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the actual artwork looks like shitty scans of the original albums in either a stupid attempt to make the things appear four decades old or because Capitol records are run by retards.
Why the fuck would you release a premium priced box set like this? At the most, this thing is only worth half of the list price and I would advise any Beatle fan from avoiding this overpriced attempt at making a few extra bucks for the label that incidentally passed on the band four times before signing them. Save your money and wait for the updated mastered versions of the proper albums.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Version 3.0

For those of you that have traveled to this new home from another site, I appreciate your understanding. I’m fairly confident that Glam-Racket is hidden enough that the savvy computer literates from my past (read: the uninvited) won’t be able to bother me here, unless they decide to pursue a full-time job pursing my on-line musings.
It’s sad, really, and I feel a tad pretentious notifying a select few saying “Hey, if you want to check out my writ, come to this site” because, like I’ve said before, it’s not really about you. No offense, but I’ll write about what I want and do it within the time frequency that is allowed to me. At the same time, I do occasionally produce the obligatory personal-life rants, which gives me a certain amount of sanity and you a glimpse into a world of mine that is, suffice to say, fairly mundane and boring.

To that end, I’m a fairly simple person; there are times that I like nothing better to do than just listen to music. It’s been with me since, literally, I was two years old. Essentially, I was left to my own devices as an only child and in that solitude I found music. Some of you know this story already and some of you may be thinking that I’m playing some kind of “tale ‘o woe” card here. I’m not. Rock and roll has served me fairly well as I firmly believe that I have learned more from record grooves, magnetic tapes, aluminum discs and computer music files than any other source.
Because of this passion, I am very opinionated about music and enjoy a good argument every now and then. I like talking about it in great detail just as I used to read in great detail every record label, liner note and lyric sheet that came my way. It’s completely wrong in some ways and irrational in others, but you can fight nearly four decades worth of habit.
Which leads me to a fear that I have: Someday, I won’t be able to have tangible items that hold music. I understand and partake in downloads and I understand the current trend in music listening device. But I’m scared that at some point my own preferred format will be deemed to be obsolete. It’s not even about the format, really, just the idea that a little piece of art that an artist has created won’t contain the same meaning as what I’m accustomed to now. That is: the label, the artwork, the sequencing, the information, the entire package. I feel a little gypped with downloads and equate them to the same feeling I had when someone dubbed of an album for me on a Maxell XL-II 90 minute cassette. And like those times, if someone gives me (or if I download) and entire album that I end up really enjoying, I’ll probably get a copy for myself down the road. It’s fairly stupid as record company’s probably love me for re-buying the same stuff over and over again, and I completely know that if the music industry ever came up with a “new and improved” format that I’d probably do it all over again and be stuck with thousands of virtually worthless compact discs that don’t hold a fraction of the price that they once had.
The thing is: I don’t see an “improved” format coming around. What I do see is a large group of younger music fans that don’t give a shit about the packaging, the sequencing, etc., and as a result, can’t “get” where I’m coming from. It’s automatic delivery, baby, and being the first kid on the block to have a leaked copy of a new album is more credible than actually knowing the words, the producer, the studio it was recorded in, and if the songs belong to B.M.I. or A.S.C.A.P.
I can’t fathom an environment where my shit is “stored” on a flash card that I bring over to someone’s house and plug it into a USB port or something. I’m sure I’ll acquiesce if I’m forced to, but the gratification will be lost. And, to put it into relative terms, the idea that I only have snapshots of these “friends” instead of having the real thing present is a very troubling thing for me.