Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Vinyl Tourist: Bakersfield, California

The downtown of the "Downtown Records" sign refers to downtown Bakersfield; the records refers to what was once sold inside the building on which the sign is affixed. Downtown Bakersfield is full of empty storefronts and empty of crowds on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Like countless American cities, the building boom of strip malls along the highway at the edge of the city had sucked the downtown dry of commercial activity.

I had stopped in Bakersfield to see if there were any signs of the vital country music scene that started a new genre, "The Bakersfield Sound", the original alt-country movement back in the 50s and 60s. My favorite country artists are Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, both hailed from Bakersfield and helped define the Bakersfield Sound as an alternative to the sleek, mainstream country music coming out of Nashville at the time.

I thought I'd find something on Buck Owens Boulevard. It looked promising on the map. But it turned out to be a five-lane road lined with fast-food joints, gas stations, motels and chintzy stores. If Buck Owens had ever seen the ugliness of the street named in his honor, I'm sure he would've cried.

I managed to find a record store that was still open, located across from Rabobank Arena, home of Bakersfield's minor league hockey team. The man running the store told me he used to work for so-and-so, a famous country music DJ, who he assumed I knew. (I didn't.) I asked him if there was still an active music scene in Bakersfield. He just shook his head.

Gone is the downtown; gone is the vital country music scene; gone are most record stores in Bakersfield. Bakersfield is representative of what has happened in this country over the past 40 years or so. Vibrant downtowns have been replaced by soulless strip malls; the authenticity in country music has been replaced by cynically marketed pop-country music; and the warmth and tactileness of vinyl records have been replaced by cold digital compact discs and now digital downloads on the internet. I couldn't help but think all of these trends were connected somehow. It may sound reactionary, but the feeling of loss in that city was strong. That was my Bakersfield state of mind.

(Postscript: I drove out of Bakersfield with an original pressing of Merle Haggard's Mama Tried. Alas, the record store only had a second pressing of I'm A Lonesome Fugitive. The Bakersfield Sound lives on in the grooves of these records.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Dollar Bin Finds (12-22-09)

Frank Sinatra, Come Fly With Me (Capitol, gray label, original pressing). Rule #16 in rocky's record collecting manifesto: never, ever pass up a Sinatra album on the Capitol gray label in good condition for a buck.
Gerald Wiggins Trio, The Loveliness of You (Tampa, original pressing). Tampa was a short-lived jazz label based in Hollywood, CA. The only reason I'm aware of the label is because Art Pepper recorded a couple albums for the label. Those albums sell for crazy money. Gerald Wiggins isn't nearly as well-known or collected as Pepper. The music is pleasant, West Coast cool jazz that wouldn't be out of place in a fancy piano bar. This pristine copy only set me back a quarter.
Nina Simone, Sings the Blues (RCA, German pressing). I love the cover of this album. It wouldn't matter if the music sucked for the 50 cents it cost. But the music is good to boot.
The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band (Atco, yellow label, 2nd pressing). This is their debut album and the only one of ABBs first five albums missing from my collection. No longer. They're all great.
The Allman Brothers Band, Live at Fillmore East (Capricorn, pink label, original pressing, 2-LP). The cover has some ring wear and edge wear, but the records play beautifully. I would've been happy with this copy if I didn't already have a mint original pressing of this album. I'll probably sell this copy. Clean pink Capricorns of this album are pretty hard to come by.
ZZ Top, Tres Hombres (London, original pressing). This is what happens when albums are only a dollar. You buy albums by bands you don't like. This is my second ZZ Top album. This one is actually pretty good though. It's a dollar well spent.
Isaac Hayes, In the Beginning (Atlantic, reissue of Presenting Isaac Hayes). rocky b confuzed. rocky bawt reeishoe not nowing it reeishoe. such a dumkopf rocky. oh, only sumtimes--may be, no, yes?
Jean-Michel Barre, Zoolook (Dreyfus, French pressing). I took a flyer on this one, even though: it's 80s French electronic music; the credits on the sleeves are in over a dozen languages, including some kind of cuneiform (those pretentious Frenchies! [good name for a band btw]); there's a credit for an "ethnologist" (I've never seen that on an album before, but then I don't own every single David Byrne or Ry Cooder album); Laurie Anderson is credited with vocals on one of the songs, and the cover has garish 80s colors. It's gotta be bad, you say. Well, you'd be half right.
John Hiatt, Slow Turning (A&M Records). I had to rescue John Hiatt from the dollar bin. It was too sad to see him mingling with Englebert Humperdink, Hall and Oates, and Heaven 17.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Album Cover Gallery: Body Shots (Gatefold Covers)

Try doing this with your CD cases:

The inside of the Three Degrees gatefold is worth showing, too:

Isaac Hayes takes the gatefold to a whole new level on his epic double-LP Black Moses:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Listening Session: Cecil Taylor, Unit Structures

Do you find yourself bored by Ornette Coleman's compositions? Are you of the opinion that Eric Dolphy plays it too safe? Then, my friend, Cecil Taylor is for you. There is no one I've listened to that stretches the limit of jazz more than Taylor. Among his many recordings, Unit Structures and his subsequent album on Blue Note Conquistador are recognized as two of his best.

These are not your typical Blue Note blowing sessions. If there's a fault with the Blue Note house sound, it's that it can get awfully formulaic. What separates the Blue Note hard bop albums from each other is the improvisational quality of the soloists. Well, what if you make an album that's total improvisation? No stated melody, no chorus, no obvious time signature. Welcome to Cecil Taylor's world, where everyone is free.

The cool album cover for Unit Structures by the genius Blue Note tandem of graphic designer Reid Miles and photographer Francis Wolff doesn't give away the music inside. However, unusual for a Blue Note album, the liner notes on the back cover isn't written by an esteemed jazz critic, but rather by the artist himself. One wonders whether Blue Note was unable to enlist a jazz critic who could write intelligently about the music. Cecil Taylor certainly doesn't elucidate his music. His notes further mystify. What is the reader/listener to supposed to make of this line: "Rhythm then is existence and existence time, content offers time quantity to shape: color, mental physical participation. Passage is search against mirror held--reveal the waters of greed, running love an older child set to the pain in fire." If you can make sense of those words, perhaps you have a shot of making sense of his music.

Despite the music's obtuseness, there is something there that can hold your attention. I've listened to the album straight through three times. I was just as lost on the third listen as on the first, although by the third listen it was evident that Taylor is a phenomenal pianist. I wanted to hear a solo album by him. Listening to Unit Structure is not a pleasant experience and surely not meant to be. The album feels like a challenge issued by the artist on the complacent listener. It even challenges the old jazz idiom about "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing". This album certainly doesn't swing. So what does it mean? Perhaps the artist expresses the meaning the best in the final line of the liner notes: "now a lone rain falling thru doors empty of room-Jazz Naked Fire Gesture, Dancing protoplasm Absorbs." Got that?

Saturday, December 5, 2009


For the winter Rocky has left the sunny climes of Swedish pop music for the Germanic freak scene of krautrock. Lately, Can's Tago Mago has been getting a lot of airplay, even if it's the ear-bleeding CD version. (If any readers come across any Can vinyl, drop me a line.) Sometimes one has to sacrifice to hear great music. And this album is a stone-cold masterpiece despite the suspect vocals of Damo Suzuki. The story goes the original vocalist of the band Malcom Mooney suffered a nervous breakdown in the middle of performance, repeatedly chanting "upstairs, downstairs!" during one of Can's trademark grooves. No problem. The band replaced the African American Malcom Mooney with the Japanese Damo Suzuki. Then Damo left the band after recording a couple of classic albums, returning to Japan to become a Jehovah's Witness.

All I can say is: the world is a surprising and amazing place when it has room enough for this (a performance of "Paperhouse", the opening track of Tago Mago):

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: December 2, 2009

Radio Moscow, Radio Moscow (Alive Records, new, $6). This copy of their debut is pressed on pink vinyl. My copy of their second album is on lilac-colored vinyl. Do I see fuchsia vinyl for their next release?
Editors, An End Has a Start (Fader, new, $8). A while ago, I expressed hopes for an Echo-and-the-Bunnymen revival. Well, here it is.
Klaus Schulze, Timewind (Brain, original German pressing, $7.50). I bought this because it was on the German Brain label, which is to 70s krautrock as SST is to 80s punk rock. This is another foray into ambient music. Schulze is another discovery for me. If you can imagine the spacey synth interludes of Dark Side of the Moon stretched to fill an entire album, it would be something like Timewind.
Lee Morgan, Cornbread (Blue Note, 70s reissue with blue label, $12). About five years ago I had a copy of this album in my hands at Amoeba, but decided to put it back in the bin. As soon as I returned it, the guy standing next to me snatched it up. I’ve looked back at that moment regretfully. Has it been completely rectified now? Even though I now have a vinyl copy of Cornbread I still feel a sense of loss about that moment at Amoeba.
Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 (Blue Note, late 60s reissue with Division of Liberty Records label, $16). This is a regular 33rpm version to play when I don’t feel like listening to my 45rpm audiophile pressing.
Cal Tjader, Plays Mambo (Fantasy, mono original pressing on red vinyl, $12). If I ever hosted a party for imps and pixies, this album would be on the turntable as quickly as you can say “fabulist's fantasy farts!”
Lalo Schifrin, Brilliance (Roulette, original stereo pressing, $8). It's an apt album title, although not as clever as There's a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin' On.
Duke Ellington, Piano in the Foreground (Columbia, stereo 2-eye label, $8). Duke playing a rare trio date in a pensive mood.
Donald Byrd, Catwalk (Blue Note, 70s reissue on blue label, $10).
Hank Mobley, Roll Call (Blue Note/Music Matters reissue on 180-gm, 45-rpm vinyl, new, $50).
Wayne Shorter, Juju (Blue Note/Music Matters reissue on 180-gm, 45-rpm vinyl, new, $50).
Isley Brothers, Doin’ Their Thing (Motown, $1). There's a thrift shop in town operated by a women's shelter. Judging by their record selection, most of their donations come from Christian fundamentalists (who listened to a lot of Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Tennessee Ernie Ford) and aging soulsters (who listened to a lot of Patti LaBelle and the Isley Brothers).

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Destination: Aquarius Records

A new link has been added under the Destinations heading in the right column of this blog. The link will take you to the Aquarius Records website, where you can read up on the latest releases by bands you probably never heard of. It covers the musical world unexplored by the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, Pitchfork, et al. It's an excellent destination if you're seeking musical adventures off the beaten path.

I'll add more links as I come across music websites of interest.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Know Thyself


In psychiatric circles, collecting is seen as a fairly benign disorder.
According to Alen Salerian, director of the Washington Psychiatric Center, the
need to collect anything stems from a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is the
enzyme that controls worries; with too little of the former you get too much of
the latter. “It’s a form of addiction, if you want to call it that. The current
thinking in neuroscience is that people with serotonin deficiencies are much
more driven to compulsions, including the compulsion to collect. Various life
events may disturb you and prompt that compulsion.

Those with lower levels of serotonin are believed to have higher appetites – whether for sex, alcohol, gambling or original copies of the “Scythian Suite”.

This condition is more common among creative types. “There is a very close link
between creativity and dysfunction of the nervous system – it’s a part of a mood
disorder package that artistic people have a higher chance of suffering from. As
for collecting, the line I would draw is whether a person’s life is compromised
because of this habit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Listening Session: Mountains, Choral

I've been listening to this album way too much. The simple answer as to why, on an aesthetic level, is I find most of it beautiful despite the lack of melody or harmony or rhythm or other conventional aspects associated with beautiful music. Instead the album is full of electronic drones, the plinking of a synthesizer, strummed notes on a guitar that go nowhere, and the occasional clattering of objects--glasses or bells, maybe? Hardly stuff that should grab your attention for 50 minutes. But perhaps that's what's so alluring about it. I suspect there's a psychological reason for why this album's been on my turntable as much as it has (admittedly we're on shaky ground here). Because the album lacks all musical convention, it works as pure sensation. There's nothing to filter or process here. Listening to the sculptural sounds on Choral offers an immediacy in experience that's rare these days.

In our times, we're constantly bombarded by chatter--the chatter on 24-hour cable news, the chatter on the blogosphere and the rest of the internet, the chatter of stupid sit-coms, the chatter at work that inflates the importance of work, the chatter of singers who really have nothing important to say, the chatter on the radio, the chatter of gossipers and do-gooders. This album is chatter-free. It even frees us from minor and major chord progressions that push our emotional buttons. We've been conditioned. We're constantly processing verbal and non-verbal information. This album, for me at least, just stops that mechanical processing. It's a liberating experience. Nothing is rushed on the album. There's space. There are subtle sonic shifts, like the way the light changes when a cloud passes by.

So I say, get high or inebriated or just free your mind for a while and experience the sonic wash of Choral on a stereo that can envelope you or on headphones.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fun and Serious

The following two videos were posted on Andrew Sullivan's blog from a website listing the 101 best music videos of the past decade. After viewing some of the videos on the website, I think Sullivan picked the best two. The two songs also happen to be on two of my favorite albums of the noughties (available on vinyl of course). There's also rightness in choosing videos that balance fun and seriousness. One without the other is just tiresome.

The Cash video is his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt" from his album American IV: When the Man Comes Around, which is one of the finest song collections about mortality, ever. The video keeps to that spirit, mixing in past footage of Cash and the tableaux of the elder Cash at a table of earthly delights, an image that goes back to early Christian art to remind us of the vanity of life.

The Feist video is all fun and joyousness, although the lyrics have a rueful edge to it about lost youth, although from a entirely different perspective from Cash's. Check out the incredible camera work and Feist's shiny outfit!

Recent Acquisitions: 11-15-09

Cecil Taylor, Unit Structures (Blue note, Division of Libery Records label, mono, 2nd pressing, $7). There was a time in my life when I sought new, challenging music. I'm sure at times I convinced myself I liked avant-garde stuff even though I really didn't because I felt I should. Pretentious, I know. Lately I've felt myself recede in the opposite direction, into a comfort zone of the familiar. Picked this up as a new challenge.
Mountains, Choral (Thrill Jockey, 2-LP includes two vinyl-only bonus tracks, mp3 download of album, new, $15). I hate new bands from Brooklyn. Call it anti-hipsterism. But I make an exception for this duo and possibly The Antlers, whose album I haven't found yet on vinyl. Mountains plays ambient music with a warmth that's atypical for the genre. The absence of lyrics, melody and other musical conventions is oddly relaxing and a relief in a way.
Mountains, Etching (Thrill Jockey, includes mp3 download of album, new, $15). More sound sculptures from Mountains. This is the vinyl release of a tour-only CD, limited to a 1,000 copies. I'd be surprised if they all sold.
Yo La Tengo, Electr-O-Pura (Matador, reissue on 180-gm vinyl, mp3 download of album, new, $17).
King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (Atlantic, original pressing, $5). I hated this album without really listening to it because of the grotesque cover and, worse, a guy I couldn't stand in high school loved this album. It didn't seem conceivable that we could love the same things. And it still doesn't.
J.R. Monterose, J.R. Monterose (Blue Note, Division of United Artists Records, early 70s pressing, $5).
Duke Ellington, Piano in the Background (Columbia, 6-eye label, mono, original pressing, $3).
Keith Jarrett, Birth (Atlantic, original pressing, $2). The store clerk gave the album a long look while ringing it up. He said he's also getting into 70s jazz. I think he mistook me as someone who cared.
Alice Cooper, Billion Dollar Babies (Warner Brothers, green label, original pressing, $8).
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (RCA, orange label, original pressing, $15). Finally found an original pressing in good shape. This is a rare perfect album.
Ramones, It's Alive! (Sire, UK pressing, 2-LP, $10). This is a live recording from a concert in London in 1977. I believe the album was only released in the UK. It's got all the early "hits" played loud and fast. Total trash (in a good way).
Judee Sill, Judee Sill (Asylum, original pressing, $15). A milestone of the hippie, Christian folk-rock genre.
Loudon Wainwright III, Album III (Columbia, original pressing, $2). This contains LW's only hit song "Dead Skunk". As one reviewer put it, LW spent the next decade trying to prove to the record companies it was a fluke.
Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, The Tony Bennett-Bill Evans Album (Fantasy, brown label, $2). An original pressing for those times I'm too lazy to listen to my 4-sided, 45-rpm pressing of the same album.
Beeethoven, The Late String Quartets, The LaSalle Quartet (Deutsche Gramophon, 4-LP box, $10).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Simpler Times

Album Cover Gallery: The Happiest People Ever

(Hat tip for the theme: The Happiest People Ever blog)

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Music Monday (11-2-09)

Photomontage for The Antlers' "Kettering" posted by workprod on YouTube

Monday, October 26, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: 10-26-09

Unexpected car repair expenses curtailed my record-buying this month. Spending money on my car pisses me off. Spending money on records makes me happy. It's as simple as that.

From the dollar bins (a few were actually 50 cents):

Ferrante and Teicher, Blast Off! (ABC-Paramount, original stereo pressing). The piano duo of F&T were one of the most popular easy listening acts during the 60s and early 70s. For a time, they released 4 or 5 albums per year. Before they became popular, these Julliard-trained pianists were doing some experimental shit, like putting objects in the piano strings and processing the piano through electronic devices. John Cage was also doing such crazy things. The difference was John Cage did it for Art while F&T were just goofing around.
Kansas, Point of Know Return (Columbia/Don Kirshner). I used to have a visceral reaction listening to Kansas. I don't mean that in a good way. But I had a totally different reaction recently hearing the title song in a State Farm commercial (with the Asian dude air drumming inside his car), sorta like, "Damn, that sounds good!"
Duffy, Rockferry (Mercury/Rough Trade). Duffy, Spawn of Dusty, you have created the best retro soul album this side of Raphael Saadiq. I have no idea what this was doing in the dollar bin.
The Byrds, The Byrds (Asylum, German pressing). Another surprise find in the dollar bin.
Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon (Harvest). Sometimes I snap up classic records for a dollar or less even when I already have a copy, because you never know if it's a better pressing. If not, I can always sell it for the same or a little more money.
Neil Young, Zuma (Reprise, original pressing). See above.
Rolling Stones, Hot Rocks (London, 2 LPs). See above.

And the rest:

The United States of America, The United States of America (Columbia, 2-eye label, original stereo pressing, $2). A psychedelic album without guitar. Instead, it features a lot of electronic and band instruments. It was made in 1968, about 40 years ahead of its time. As far as I know, its the only album released by USA.
The Temptations, With A Lot O' Soul (Motown, $2). It leads off with the epic "I'm Losing You" and never lets up. It even makes house cleaning fun.
Wilco, A.M. (Nonesuch, reissue on 180-gm vinyl, includes CD of album, new, $18). The first side is as good as any side of a Wilco album. With the larger format LP cover, you notice the radio featured on the cover is actually an F.M. radio. What kind of bullshit is that, Tweedy?
The Innocence Mission, Befriended (Agenda Records, new, $8). The band is true to its name. Is there a place in the world for simple, sweet, lilting music? I say make room for it. It'll do us all good.
Camera Obscura, "The Sweetest Thing"/b-side: "Tougher Than the Rest" (4AD, 7" single, UK pressing, new, $6). This is the second single from CO's new album. The a-side is great, but I'm mainly interested in the non-album b-side, a cover of a great Springsteen song from his most under-rated album. Here's a video of the song featuring the daughter of Tex and Edna Boil on keyboard:
The Jam, Sound Affects (Polydor, UK pressing, includes promo 7" single "Start!"/"Going Underground", $20). This is one of those albums I feel (almost irrationally) I must own. It includes what I consider a perfect pop song "That's Entertainment".
Yo La Tengo, Popular Songs (Matador, 2-LP 180-gm vinyl, includes mp3 download of album, $24). Someday I'll write a post comparing YLT with Sonic Youth and explain why you should really be listening to YLT instead of SY.
Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Meets Hawk! (RCA/Classic Records reissue on 200-gm vinyl, $16). My love of Sonny grows the more I listen to him.
Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto (Verve/Polydor, stereo pressing, $2). This is a stereo copy to go along with my mono copy. I'm going through a strange bossa nova phase. I'm not sure if I like the music, but feel compelled to listen to it. Has that ever happened to you? Tell me I'm not alone.
Mahler, Symphony No. 3, Solti, London S.O. (Decca/Speakers Corner reissue on 180-gm vinyl, 2-LP German pressing, $25). Care for some heavy-duty weltschmerz anyone? Now I'm thinking, perhaps bossa nova is a self-prescribed antidote for Mahleria.
Mahler, Symphony, No. 8, Solti, Chicago, S.O. (London/King Super Analogue reissue, 2-LP Japanese pressing, still sealed, $20). I'll be picking up some more bossa nova records on my next trip to Amoeba.
Ravel, Piano Music, Record One, Vlado Perlemuter (Nimbus, UK pressing, $2). I bought this because I wanted to listen to "Gaspard de la nuit" for Halloween. I knew nothing of the pianist, who turns out to have actually studied with Ravel, was blind in one eye, and narrowly escaped the holocaust. Every record has a story.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rocky's Fantasy Friday

Rocky spinning vinyl for a crowd of ecstatic worshippers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: 9-23-09

The list, just the list, for the last two months:

Miles Davis
, Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (Prestige, blue trident label, late 60s pressing, RVG in dead wax, $8).
Miles Davis, On the Corner (Columbia, 1A matrix, $7).
Antonio Carlos Jobim, Wave (A&M, tan label, original pressing, RVG in dead wax, $2).
Antonio Carlos Jobim, A Certain Mr. Jobim (Warner Brothers, gold label, original pressing, $8).
John Coltrane and Don Cherry, The Avant-Garde (Atlantic, blue and green label, stereo, original pressing, $8).
John Coltrane, The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (Impulse!, red and black label, 2nd pressing, $6).
John Coltrane, Impressions (Impulse!, red and black label, 2nd pressing, 2nd pressing, $4).
Thelonious Monk, Misterioso (Riverside, blue twin-mic label, stereo, original pressing, $4).
Cannonball Adderly, Them Dirty Blues (Riverside, blue twin-mic label, stereo, original pressing, $6).
Freddie Hubbard, Straight Life (CTI, RVG in dead wax, $3).
LA4, Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte (East Wind, direct-to-disk Japanese pressing, $7).
Kenny Dorham, 'Round Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia (Blue Note/Music Matters 45-rpm reissue, 180-gm vinyl, 2-LP, new, $45).
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch (Blue Note/Music Matters 45-rpm reissue, 180-gm vinyl, 2-LP, new, $45).
Grant Green, Idle Moments (Blue Note/Analogue Productions, 45-rpm reissue, 180-gm vinyl, 2-LP, new, $45).
Mississippi Fred McDowell, Delta Blues (Arhoolie, original pressing, $16).
Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark, 70s reissue, $8).
Baby Huey, The Living Legend (Curtom, reissue on heavy vinyl, new, $8).
Al Green, Call Me (Hi Records, original pressing, $6).
Frank Sinatra, A Swingin' Affair! (Capitol, gray label, original pressing, $6).
Frank Sinatra, Ring-A-Ding-Ding! (Reprise, tri-color custom label, original pressing, $4).
Bing Crosby, El Senor Bing (MGM, stereo, $4).
Elvis Presley, Elvis' Golden Records, Volume 3 (RCA, black label with silver print, original pressing, $4).
Francois Hardy, Les Grands Succes (Disque Vogue, French pressing, $6).
The Jacobites, God Save Us Poor Sinners (Chatterbox Records, limited edition 379 of 500, includes bonus single "Teenage Christmas"/"I'll Cover for You", $10).
Donovan, Catch the Wind (Hickory, mono, original pressing, $3). Misprinted cover with photo of Donovan playing guitar left handed.
The Who, Live at Leeds (Track/Classic Records reissue, 200-gm vinyl, new, $18).
The Who, Tommy (Track, UK 2nd pressing, 2-LP, $15).
Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left (Island, UK mid-70's pressing, $20).
Joy Division, Peel Sessions ( EP, UK pressing, $8)
The Fall, 458489 A-Sides (Beggars Banquet, UK pressing, $3).
Selecter, Too Much Pressure (2-Tone, UK pressing, $5).
Fleetwood Mac, Future Games (Reprise, UK original pressing, $8). Yellow cover.
The Jam, Snap! (Polydor, US pressing, 2-LP, $3).
Morrissey, "Every Day Is Like Sunday" (Sire, 12" 45-rpm single, $3).
God Help the Girl, "Funny Little Frog", b-side "Mary's Market" (Rough Trade, 7" single, UK pressing, new, $5). Limited edition of 500.
David Bowie, Scary Monsters (RCA, $2).
Rolling Stones, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) (ABKCO, DSD-mastered reissue, 180-gm vinyl, $10).
Rolling Stones, Between the Buttons (UK) (ABKCO, DSD-mastered reissue, 180-gm vinyl, $10).
Led Zeppelin, Coda (Swan Song, $5).
Cluster and Brian Eno, Cluster & Eno (Sky, German original pressing, $15).
Kraftwerk, Minimum Maximum (Astralwerk, 4-LP boxed set, new, $45).
The Byrds, Fifth Dimension (Columbia, mono, 2-eye label, original pressing, $8).
The Byrds, Younger Than Yesterday (Columbia, stereo, 2-eye, original pressing, $6).
Neil Young, Neil Young (Reprise, Canadian original pressing, pink-gold-green label, $3). Original mix.
Neil Young, Time Fades Away (Reprise, $3).
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory (Reprise, $3).
Allman Brothers, Idlewild South (Atco, yellow label, $2).
Spirit, Clear (Ode, yellow label, original pressing, $2).
Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter (Fat Possum, reissue on 180-gm vinyl, 2-LP, new, $15).
Dinosaur Jr, Beyond (Fat Possum, new, $8).
Olivia Tremor Control, Black Foliage, Animation Music (Flydaddy, 2-LP, $40). I believe only 1,000 were pressed.
The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (Warner Brothers, reissue on 180-gm vinyl, 2-LP, includes cd of unreleased songs, new, $26).
Love Is All, Last Choice (What's Your Rupture? Records, EP, new, $9).

A Night in the Life of Rocky Dennis (as Portrayed in a Swedish Music Video)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Record Collector Ends With Ruminations on The Flaming Lips

The day started at a garage sale in my neighborhood. The family had five boxes of records in the driveway. Most of it was easy listening dreck. One rarely sees good records in the suburbs. It makes me sad for my town. Even though the records were only a quarter each, I bought only two, an original pressing of Nancy Sinatra's Country My Way and Boulez Conducts Varese--an oddball among the the Lawrence Welk and Ray Conniff records--which appeared unplayed. I gave the woman a dollar and started to walk away, but she insisted on giving me change.

I drove to Berkeley hoping to find something worthwhile. I spent a couple of hours at Amoeba and Rasputin with a side trip to Moe's Books, where I picked up a remaindered copy of The Essential Rock Discography, a neat British book I had never heard of. I liked the blurb from the Guardian on the front cover, "The last word on rock 'n' roll trainspotting." I ended up buying two albums, Ella Fitzgerald's Sings the Cole Porter's Song Books and Sings the Irving Berlin Song Books. Both are double LPs reissued by Speakers Corner, a German audiophile label. I'd been on the fence about buying these records, which cost $65 each new. So when I saw these mint copies for $25 each, it was an easy decision. I almost picked up a curious album of Johnny Hodges playing with Lawrence Welk, but doubted it's musical merit. I have to draw the line somewhere and musical curiosities are not part of my collection.

On the way home, I decided to stop by a record store in Fremont. I've gotten to know the owner, who's a really nice guy. His store tends to be a hang out for an odd assortment of folks. He recently lost his day job at a tool-and-die plant, so I've been frequenting his store whenever I could. Today when I stopped by, there was a larger than usual crowd. They were gathered around the new record de-warping machine. I had walked in on the first test run. There was a little bit of confusion because the instructions for the machine were written in Japanese. Everyone though seemed excited to see how it would work out. I didn't stick around to find out, but left after finding a couple of albums to buy, Archie Shepp's Fire Music and a Japanese pressing of Miles Davis at the Plugged Nickel, Vol. 2. I'll ask him about the test run on my next visit.

At home I spun the Irving Berlin Song Book, which put me in a wistful reverie, which lately has been the most common effect of good music on me. It happened last week listening to "Let It Be" on the car stereo with the wipers strumming a light sprinkle off the windshield.

A comment in The Essential Rock Discography describing The Flaming Lips' At War With the Mystics as a scathing indictment of George Bush made me want to listen to the album again. When the album first came out I had high expectations and was disappointed by it. I enjoyed it a lot more this time when I really had no expectations and was listening for the Bush references. The Flaming Lips are great for many reasons. Down on the list, but appreciated by fans who care about sound quality, is the band's dedication to putting out the best sounding records possible. The production and engineering on their recent albums are excellent. They've released all their albums on high quality vinyl. Even more exceptional is the availability of their recent albums on high resolution digital DVD-A. It's good to know someone cares.

That night I was finally motivated to order my ticket to the Treasure Island Music Festival to see the Flaming Lips live.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Swedish Pop Music Break

jj is a Swedish mystery. Band members are unknown.

There are no photos or videos of the band.

jj does not have a MySpace page.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Listening Session: Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants

Prestige Records PRLP 7150, released in 1958.

Side A: 1. The Man I Love (Take 2); 2. Swing Spring

Side B: 1. 'Round Midnight*; 2. Bemsha Swing; The Man I Love (Take 1)

Personnel: Miles Davis, trumpet; Milt Jackson, vibes; Thelonious Monk, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums. Recorded 12/54.

*Personnel: Miles Davis, trumpet; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drum. Recorded 10/56.

Each week, I’ve decided to select an album or two to play multiple times—to really get to know an album, shall we say. This week I’ve been spinning Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants. What happens when you get “modern jazz giants” together for a blowing session? A fight breaks out, according to some. In this instance, there were stories of an altercation between Miles and Monk. Ira Gitler, in the liner notes to the album, dispels this story, quoting Monk himself, “Miles’d got killed if he hit me.”

This album is the only studio recording of Miles playing with Monk. Even though a fight may not have broken out, it seems to be common knowledge that tensions existed between the two jazz giants. The AllMusic Guide to Jazz states that Mile would not let Monk play behind him while he soloed. This is true on only one of the songs. On the other songs, Monk is heard playing with the rest of the rhythm section during Miles’ solos. My guess is the stories of how Miles and Monk couldn’t stand each other have been exaggerated over the years.

What is clearly evident is the different playing styles of the jazz giants. For example, the opening track of the album, Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” starts with a lyrical intro by Milt Jackson, quickly followed by Miles’ statement of the melody. His playing is easy and laid back at a slow tempo. When Jackson enters for his solo, the pace and energy pick up. Jackson is all bravado compared to Miles. Monk is next and he’s unusually reticent. He plays a few chords straight, embellished with some arpeggios followed by rests, almost in a classical style. He does this a few times until the final rest lasts an unusually long time. This is an amazing moment on the album when the soloist includes silence in his solo. Considering Monk’s sly sense of humor, I think his solo may be a parody of Miles’ playing style which has a lot space between the notes. After a few measures where Monk stops playing, Miles finally blows a few notes in the background as if saying, “I get it, now get on with the solo.” Monk responds with a short burst before Miles re-enters for the final statement. 

Although there are three very different styles displayed by the soloists on this and the other songs on the album, the music never seems disjointed. Part of the credit goes to Heath and Clarke who provide a steady rhythmic foundation throughout. This is jazz that tests the stylistic elasticity of a song. The fact that it all hangs together is a testament to the talents of the individual musicians.

It's interesting to compare the second take of "The Man I Love" with the first take, which is included as the final track on the album. The first take is a much more straight-forward reading of the song and lacks the creative improvisations found on the second take. The first take actually starts off with some studio chatter, with Monk questioning when he should start playing. There's a good-natured exchange with a few laughs, evidence that the session wasn't all sturm and drang in the studio. The final words are from Miles in his hoarse voice, "Rudy, put this on the record. All of it!" Which Rudy did.

"'Round Midnight" is the only song on the album from the 1956 session with Miles' first classic quintet. The ensemble-playing is more cohesive and in sync than on the 1954 recording. The major similarity with the 1954 session is the hard contrast between the soloists. Miles still plays in his cool, laid back style. The tenor of the song (pardon the pun) changes when Coltrane starts into his solo in his restless, energetic style. The effect is like the moment Milt Jackson starts his solo on "The Man I Love" but without the dramatic tempo change. This contrast in style is a crucial ingredient in Miles' best bands. One could generalize that such stylistic tensions benefit most bands, whether it's Miles and 'Trane or Lennon and McCartney or Mould and Hart. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Annals of Reading and Listening

Nicholson Baker is a writer who enlightens the reader on the most commonplace subjects. His latest article in The New Yorker had me nodding in recognition as his essays usually do. The subject of the article was the Amazon Kindle electronic book. The broader subject was the physical act of reading. Baker is decidedly critical of the Kindle, stating its effect of draining the pleasure of reading. An example he cites is a passage from Robert Benchley's "Love Conquers All" that made him laugh when reading it on the printed page. Reading the same passage on the Kindle screen did not make him laugh.

He points out specific features that he dislikes—such as the gray color of the background, the text font, and the way one “turns” the page—that undermine his reading enjoyment. The words are the same on the Kindle, but the reading experience is not.

I nodded in recognition to the article, not because I’ve shared the same experience reading the Kindle, but because I was translating his criticisms into audio terms. Baker's criticisms of the Kindle also apply to digital music. Just as the words are the same on the Kindle and a conventional book, the notes are the same on a digital recording and an analog LP, but the listening experience can be significantly different. The medium affects how engaging the experience is.

If you think of a musical note as a letter in the “text” of a song, the quality of the recording determines the shape of the note. The basic shape of the note is the same on a digital recording, so it’s recognizable as that note. But there are subtle differences between the sound of notes on a digital and analog recording that ultimately add up to creating a qualitatively different experience. Think of a note on a digital recording as a sans-serif font like Arial. It’s clean and crisp. A note on an analog recording is more like a serif font such as Georgia, each note/letter has a more elaborate shape. On an analog recording, a musical note has more of a leading transient and decay, like small aural tails trailing off the main note. These secondary “sounds” of a note give the music a better sense of flow. They make cymbals shimmer more and notes played on a saxophone breathier. The subtle transient sounds of notes are among the first things lost on a digital recording because of the limitation on information that can be transferred onto a CD or a digital file. For each avid reader such as Nicholson Baker who can appreciate the difference between reading a book with serif fonts compared to the same book printed with sans-serif fonts, there is an audiophile who can appreciate the difference between listening to an album in its analog form compared to the same album in a digital format.

Then there is the space between notes. Audiophiles talk about the air around instruments that give the impression one is listening to musicians occupying a physical space. This is additional information that is often lost on a digital recording in which notes appear to float, unconnected to any kind of physical space. The “air” around the notes is like the space on a page. The slightly creamy physicality of the pages in a high quality book will provide a different reading experience than the flimsy grays of newsprint and the Kindle screen, just as the sense of air on an analog recording will provide a different listening experience than the airless background of a digital recording.

There are also the physical similarities between a printed book and a record: the experience of holding a tactile object, reading the liner notes on the back cover of an album, and seeing the records lined up on a shelf. Although these are secondary features, they strengthen one's connection to the music.

A thought crossed my mind that the decline in sales of recorded music may not be solely attributable to illegal file-sharing, but perhaps digital music has degraded the experience of listening to music and people just aren’t aware how music has become so less enjoyable because of it. Will the printed page go the way of the vinyl record? My advice is to save the printed books that you love.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Five Percent Solution

I’ve found the perfect pair of chinos. The fit and cut are flawless. They’re sold at J. Crew for $60. Target sells chinos with a similar fit and cut. The main discernible difference is the waist sits slightly higher than the J. Crew chinos, i.e., slightly higher than to my liking. The Target chinos sells for $20 and possesses 95% of what I’m looking for in a pair of chinos. I gladly pay the difference to get the extra 5% for an item that I’m completely happy with.

There are few things in life that one finds perfect. An extra forty dollars seems a pittance to get something that brings one complete satisfaction. Perfection in a product, if attainable, tends to be expensive. Usually one can get a comparable product, slightly less than one’s idea of perfection, for a lot less. It’s that last 5% where things get so damn expensive.

So it is for records. The benchmark for records now are the 45 rpm pressings issued by audiophile record labels. They sell for $50 to $60. One can buy a 33 rpm audiophile pressing of the same album for $30 and get about 95% of the sound quality of the 45 rpm pressing. One can also buy a non-audiophile pressing of the same album for $12 and get 85% of the sound quality of the 45 rpm pressing.

Chinos and records are two things I can afford to buy what I consider the very best. My stereo system, modest in the eyes of audiophiles, but probably ridiculously expensive in the eyes of everyone else, can deliver 90 to 95% of the sound quality of a reference quality stereo system. I would probably have to spend six figures to get that last 5 to 10% of sonic perfection. A reference quality stereo system and a Porsche 911 are not in my future. But that’s okay. I can listen to my 45 rpm pressing of Blue Train in my J. Crew chinos while drinking a glass of Balvenie whisky. That level of perfection is good enough for me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Jazz Records Plus (8-3-09)

Now that the pop/rock albums are cataloged (see below), it's time to list the rest of the tremendous July haul.

Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus (Prestige/Analogue Productions, reissue on 180-gm vinyl, $8). I hadn’t listened to this album in years, which I have on CD. I used to think it was a very good album, not a great one—maybe because I had never listened to it on vinyl. It’s a great album. Rollins’ playing is out of this world.
Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby (Riverside/Analogue Productions, reissue on 180-gm vinyl, $15). This has got to be one of the most frequently misspelled album titles in jazz history. It’s Debby with a “y”. It’s amazing how different old Bill Evans records can sound depending on the mixing and mastering. This version is mastered by Doug Sax. You feel like you’re at the Village Vanguard, with people chattering during the performance and dishes clattering on the tables. It makes you want to say “please shut the fuck up” out loud. (If you’re wondering why there’s been so much profanity lately on the TOGblog, I just want to remind the gentle reader that it’s Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month.)
Horace Silver, Silver’s Serenade (Blue Note, New York address on label, mono pressing, $5). I have no idea why this original pressing of an early 60s Blue Note record was priced so cheaply. Sure, there’s a small seam split on the spine, but the front cover is in excellent shape. The record has some scuffs, but plays beautifully. Horace Silver albums are like potato chips. . . .
Herbie Hancock, Empyrean Isles (Blue Note, Division of Liberty Records, 2nd pressing, $15). The album has “Cantaloupe Island”, which has one of the most famous grooves in all of jazz. This very clean second pressing will be replacing a later pressing that will be going on the sell pile.
Jackie McLean, Jackie’s Bag (Blue Note/King reissue, Japanese pressing, $13). Bought mainly because it’s the first King reissue of a jazz record I like that I’ve come across. Some folks think the King Blue Notes sound great. Others think they’re just alright. Now I can find out the truth for myself.
Wayne Shorter, Etcetera (Blue Note, 90s reissue, Wally in the dead wax, $10). Capitol Records reissued several Blue Note titles in the 90s on 180-gram vinyl. I bought a few when they came out. They sound great and are a relative bargain. The hand-written “Wally” in the dead wax refers to Wally Traugot, an excellent mastering engineer. This BN album was shelved for decades. I'm not sure what to expect, except I know the music will be challenging considering it's Wayne Shorter.
Dexter Gordon, A Swingin' Affair (Blue Note/Classic Records reissue, stereo pressing, $13). This leaves one more album to complete my Dexter Gordon on Blue Note collection. Only one of his BN albums has been a disappointment, Dexter Calling, which should have been titled Dexter Calling It In.
Ben Webster, Ben Webster Encounters Coleman Hawkins (Verve/Classic Records reissue, 180-gm vinyl, $10). This album is like Superman meets Batman, Babe Ruth meets Hank Aaron, Godzilla meets King Kong, Albert Einstein meets Isaac Newton!
Ike Quebec, Blue & Sentimental (Blue Note/Pathe Marconi reissue, French pressing, still sealed with OBI, $8). Ike Quebec was a lesser known saxophonist on Blue Note. I'm always curious to hear Blue Note artists for the first time. I just have to get over my phobia of opening sealed old stock records. The French Pathe Marconi pressings of Blue Note albums are supposed to be decent, although they don't have the same reputation as the Japanese King pressings.
Modern Jazz Quartet, Django (Prestige/Analogue Productions, 45-rpm 2-LP reissue, $25). The MJQ are out of favor now, which sometimes makes one hesitant to buy their records. Django is my first MJQ album and I found it to be quite good.
Vince Guaraldi Trio, Cast Your Fate to the Wind (Fantasy/Analogue Productions, 45-rpm 2-LP reissue, $20). I picked up an original pressing of this popular jazz album earlier this year. To be honest, I bought this reissue just for collecting purposes. All the Analogue Productions 45-rpm reissues are limited to 1,000 copies and you can be sure they'll be worth more than a bag of peanuts as long as vinyl LPs and jazz are around.
Duke Ellington and Ray Brown, This One's for Blanton! (Pablo/Analogue Productions, 45-rpm 2-LP reissue, $20). This is a rare duo recording for the Duke, just him on piano and Ray Brown on bass, playing songs associated with Jimmy Blanton, the late bassist for Duke's orchestra during its heyday.
Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Take Love Easy (Pablo/Analogue Productions, 45-rpm 2-LP reissue, $20). Ella in her 50s still sounds great although not as impeccable as she did during her prime. Unfortunately Joe Pass provides pedestrian backing on guitar.
Ella Fitzgerald, Sings the Rodgers and Hart Song Book (Verve/Speakers Corner reissue, German pressing, 2-LP, $25). This is Ella in her prime.
Holly Cole, Don't Smoke in Bed (Blue Note/Classic Records, $13). Cautionary jazz for careless smoking hipsters.
Peggy Lee, Basin Street East (Capitol, black label with color band, $1). I never understood why Sarah Vaughan was called Sassy. It's a more fitting nickname for Peggy Lee.
Bing Crosby, Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings (Verve, original pressing, $3). The Bregman in the title refers to the band leader Bunny Bregman, which begs the question, what kind of name is that for a guy? Then you start questioning the title, what's meant by "swings"? Is it a double entendre? Did Bing know what was going on? Or was he just glad to be with someone other than the very unfunny Bob Hope?
Frank Sinatra, Songs for Swingin' Lovers! (Capitol, grey label, original pressing, $2). Judging by the title, I don't think this album was meant for me. Maybe it was meant for Bunny Bregman. It's still one of my favorite Sinatra albums. Now unwittingly I have two copies.
Frank Sinatra, Sings for Only the Lonely (Capitol, black label with color band, $4). OK, this one might've been meant for me.

Looking back on the July haul, I think I could be quite content if these were the only albums I had on a desert island.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Album Cover Gallery: Andy Warhol

It's appropriate that the king of Pop Art designed a number of album covers. Here are some examples:

Warhol drawings grace a few early Blue Note titles. This Burrell album was released in 1958. Warhol was doing graphic design for advertisements at the time, similar in style to the Blue Note drawings.
One of his most famous album covers, this Japanese reissue has a peelable banana just like the original.

The Sticky Fingers cover has the notorious bulge of a man rocket in the crotch. Of interest to record collectors, original pressings have a working zipper.

This second cover for the Stones is probably most representative of Warhol's famous portrait style. He did similar covers for Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross (without the biting).

Warhol didn't actually design this Smiths cover. It's a still of Joe Dellasandro from the Warhol flick Flesh.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Notable Reissues: The Velvet Underground

This may be of interest to the lone follower of this blog if he hasn't spent all his money on the Beatles boxed sets by the time this is released (September 29).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Pop Music Quiz (7-29-09)

A shitload of great albums crossed my path in the past two weeks that I couldn't resist, so let's have some fun with a fill-in-the-blank musical IQ quiz. Get your pencils ready. (Answers are provided at the bottom.)

1. Left Lane Cruiser, Bring Yo' Ass to the Table (Alive Records, limited edition orange vinyl, new, $8). People, buy this album so the band makes enough money to record their next album in a decent studio with a decent recording engineer. God knows, Freddie "Joe" Evans and Bren "______" Beck deserve a better recording that approaches the power of their live shows.

2. Arab Strap, Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador, new, $8). The band takes its name after an album title by fellow Scottish band ________ but their mood is more dark and dour.

3. Pavement, Brighten Your Corners (Nicene Edition) (Matador, 4-LP reissue, new, $66). Even though they're my favorite band from ________, California, I hesitated buying this reissue, because I already have the CD and the vinyl version is so expensive. The vinyl edition has eight more bonus tracks than the CD and it looks so damn deluxe. Plus, it was the one Pavement album I didn't have on vinyl. It's right up there with Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in quality and it's got the perfect driving song for rocky, "Passat Dream".

4. Stephen Malkmus and Jicks, Pig Lib (Matador, new, $12). What the fuck is a Jick? Is it short for _______ hick?

5. Big Star, Radio City (Ardent, reissue, new, $12). This album is full of great tunes with catchy pop hooks.  As catchy as the songs are, there's something off-kilter about them. If you can imagine intelligent but not quite human aliens came to record a great pop album, this would be it. Anyway it takes balls to name the band Big Star and title their first album _________.

6. Sparks, In Outer Space (Atlantic, $2). If Kraftwerk grew up in Southern California instead of Germany, they may have turned out to be Sparks. Songs like "Prayin' for a Party", "I Wish I Looked a Little Better" and "Dance Godammit" and guest vocals by ________ of the Go-Go's make this a fun synth pop album.

7. Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love (Reprise/Classic reissue, mono pressing on 200-gm vinyl, new $25). This mono reissue is a relative bargain, I suppose, considering mint original mono pressings of this album sell for hundreds of dollars. Or it's possible that rocky is just plain ________.

8. Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced (Reprise, original stereo pressing, tri-color pink green and gold label, $10).  If Jimi is asking if I'm experienced picking up multiple copies of his albums, I would have to answer yes. Well, we know he's not talking about drugs, since the last line of the title song is "Not necessarily _____, but beautiful".

9. Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, new, $20). I've been buying the high resolution mastered reissues of the Stones catalog on Super Audio CDs since they're now out of print. But an even higher resolution format than the Super Audio CD is __________.

10. Rolling Stones, Their Satanic Majesties Request (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, new, $26). Mick and Keith must've taken the leash off _________ on this psychedelic pop masterpiece. 

11. Rolling Stones, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, new, $20). This is the Stones' supposedly best live album, highlighted by a 9 minute version of ___________.

12. Rolling Stones, Aftermath (UK version) (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, $14). This is the first Stones album without any ______  and the last to have different track listings on the US and UK versions.

13. Rolling Stones, Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (ABKCO, DSD-mastered pressing, 2-LP, $39).  I've wondered if I had owned this record in high school, would I have grown up to become a _______.

14. Love Is All, Play 5 Covers (Self-released, new $9). The songs I recognize are Prince's "Darling Nikki", Dire Straits' "So Far Away", and __________' "I Ran".

15. Bill Withers, +'Justments (Sussex, $2). On the album cover, Withers is holding a piece of chalk instead of the _________ he held on the cover of his first album, which he probably threw down a gully after he hit it big.

16. Fleetwood Mac, Kiln House (Reprise, $4). The Mac's first album after losing founding member _______ to an insane asylum is a curious one. It plays like a feud between Buddy Guy and Buddy Holly.

17. Morrissey, "Irish Heart, English Blood" (Attack, 12-inch single, UK pressing, $6). This is a single from his album __________. The sound quality is posh on this 12-inch single.

18. Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again (Atco, yellow label, $6). Even though Neil Young and Stephen Stills were in the band, more songs on this album were written by Richie Furay. Yeah, that's right, the same Richie Furay who later formed the band _____. It's like Lennon and McCartney letting Ringo do most of the songwriting for an album.

Answers: 1. Sausage Paw; 2. Belle and Sebastian (easy one!); 3. Stockton; 4. Jewish; 5. #1 Record; 6. Jane Wiedlin; 7. loco en la cabeza (or any variant); 8. stoned; 9. vinyl record; 10. Brian Jones; 11. Midnight Rambler; 12. covers (i.e., all original songs); 13. male prostitute; 14. Flock of Seagulls; 15. lunch pail; 16. Peter Green; 17. You Are the Quarry; 18. Poco

So how did you do? Rate yourself based on the number you got correct on the following scale:

18: You're a fucking cheater.
12-17: You will fall down a well. At the bottom of the well, you will find your soul mate.
6-11: You're average. Whether you find this tolerable says a lot about your character.
0-5: Maybe you should start giving a shit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Swedish Pop Music Break

Happiness is. . . .
                                      . . . . an I'm From Barcelona concert.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Dollar Bin Pick-Ups (7-23-09)

Continuing the 80s theme from the last couple of posts, I picked up these albums during my lunch hour last Friday at the Valley Care Thrift Shop, all for a dollar each:

Aztec Camera, Love (Sire). Doesn't have the pop hooks that their first two albums had. Some would call it boring; I consider it more sophisticated.
David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, The Motion Picture (RCA, 2-LP). Not to be confused with the studio album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This double LP released in 1983 is actually a live recording from the 70s, with the great Mick Ronson on lead guitar.
R.E.M., Dead Letter Office (I.R.S.). A collection of b-sides, including a couple VU covers. Any early R.E.M. album is worth buying for a dollar.
U2, October (Island)
U2, War (Island)
U2, The Unforgettable Fire (Island).  I bought their first album Boy when it first came out, really wanted to like it, but never warmed up to it. Except for the songs I heard on the radio and played by my sister at home who was a fan, I generally avoided U2. I didn't think they could write songs. All their songs sounded like marches. I found Bono's voice grating. I thought this until Achtung Baby came out, which is a nearly great album. Still didn't get into the band, although I've liked some of their recent songs. Figure it's time for a reassessment of their earlier work. 
The Style Council, "Walls Come Tumbling Down" (Polydor, UK pressing, 12-inch 45rpm EP). Bought this on the off-chance that rocky starts a new career as a DJ. I'm starting to think of DJ names for myself already--Rocky DeeLite or DJ Rocky "This Ain't No Mid-Life Crisis" Dennis.

Notable Reissues: Galaxie 500

Galaxie 500, they rock slow. They can even rock you to sleep. I felt their narcoleptic effect when I tried to listen to all three of their studio albums straight through. I made it through Today and On Fire, but then had to spin Jimi's Are You Experienced to snap me awake. Now why would anyone want to listen to three Galaxie 500 albums in a row? Well, I was really excited, like a kid graduating from Harvard, when I picked up these reissues. They've been released on Damon & Naomi's record label 20-20-20. All three albums have been remastered by Kramer, the original producer of the albums (and the founder of Shimmy-Disc Records and not the Seinfeld character). The vinyl LPs are mastered by Kevin Gray, a top-notch mastering engineer, and pressed at RTI, the best pressing plant in the country. The record jackets are beautifully reproduced on heavy card stock. All in all, a very considerate job of reissuing these classic, hard-to-find LPs (unlike the blatant customer-be-damned cash-grabs of the vinyl reissue programs of some major record labels). Interestingly the reissues are available only on vinyl or as a high-resolution digital download, which seems to be another sign of the demise of CDs. One can order the albums at the official Galaxie 500 online store Fiery Breeze or pick up the LPs at your local record store. The prices are reasonable, although you don't get any extras like a book covered in faux fur.

The sound quality of these albums is decidedly low-fi. The recording budget for Today was reportedly $750. Comparing "Tugboat" from the Today album with the track on my Portable Galaxie 500 CD reveals the digital version as slightly flatter, by which I mean there's less sense of atmosphere and three-dimensionality and the cymbals don't seem to shimmer as much ("decay" as audiophiles call it), but it's not a night-and-day difference. I haven't compared my vinyl copy of This Is Our Music on Rough Trade with the new reissue yet. Regardless, these reissued LPs should make Galaxie 500 fans happy, because these albums are meant to be listened to on vinyl. And if you're not a Galaxie 500 fan, what's wrong with you?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Record Collecting Manifesto: Connoisseurship

Yeah it’s a big word for good taste. It was the subject of a recent NPR piece on a collector of photographs. He dwelled on the idea of having an “eye” for photographs. What was implied was that some have a better “eye” than others. This is anathema to the current postmodern, subjectivist view that dominates our culture, where every point-of-view is considered legitimate, only different but qualitatively equal. (This undiscriminating attitude certainly pervades journalism in which the concept of truth is abandoned for presenting different points of view equally as if each article, especially political ones, is written like a re-tread of Rashomon instead of the fact-finding documentary it ought to be.) “Connoisseur” is kind of a joke-word now, outside of the wine-sniffing crowd, if it’s used at all. It’s been replaced by the more derisive word “snob”. The word “snob” subverts the notion of qualitative aesthetic differences, which is the concern of a connoisseur, relegating all claims to superiority as unfounded. That’s why “snob” is always a put-down. Record collectors are often accused of being “music snobs”, for example, when someone argues that vinyl sounds better than digital, eyes start to roll and thought bubbles form which contain the term "snob” and perhaps "loser". In a culture that devalues quality for convenience, newness and disposability, it may be looked down upon, but record collecting can be a form of connoisseurship. Just don't ask me about my ABBA records.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Let's see if I hit the Lotto jackpot maybe I'd buy this:

I hope Kim Deal will make some money off this. Last I heard, she had moved back to Dayton to care for her Alzheimer's stricken mother.

The same company that produced this box set, Artist In Residence, issued a limited edition box set of all of Sigur Ros's LPs on vinyl, housed in a beautiful package with a full-color book. That was only $200. Reports are the vinyl pressings are horrible. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Song from God Help The Girl

Released as the b-side of the "Funny Little Frog" single.