Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jerry Harrison - Casual Gods

Jerry Harrison gets no respect.

Here's a guy who was a major contributing member of not one, but TWO seminal bands - the first a hugely influential proto-punk group linking the arty sound of the Velvet Underground with the raucous punk rock yet to come; the second one of the most innovative and critically acclaimed bands of the 1980s - and you almost NEVER hear his name mentioned in relation to them. It's really too bad, and it does a grave disservice to what Jerry Harrison brought to each of these groups.

A talented and all-around smart guy, Jerry Harrison started playing keyboards with bands in his native Milwaukee, and continued finding groups to play with while studying as an undergraduate at Harvard. In early 1971, just before he graduated, a local musician buddy of his, a VU fanatic named Jonathan Richman, convinced him to join his band, The Modern Lovers. Within a year, the Modern Lovers were getting a lot of attention from some major labels, and in the spring of 1972 the band flew to L.A. to record some demos with John Cale, songs that were eventually released in 1976 on the now-classic album The Modern Lovers. Despite all of the industry attention, a deal never came through, and by 1973 Harrison had parted company with Jonathan Richman and returned to Harvard to teach.

Teaching was his gig in Cambridge for the next couple of years, along with playing music with several local bands. Then Harrison began a new course of study in architecture at Harvard. One night in April 1976, he went across the Charles River over to Boston, to the Berklee School of Music there to check out a visiting band, a quirky New-York-by-way-of-Providence trio called Talking Heads. He enjoyed the show, but was convinced that the band was missing one essential ingredient - himself. He began campaigning for inclusion in the group, and by September of that year, he was a full-fledged member. Talking Heads signed with Sire Records the following year, and the rest is history . . .

When people talk about the sound or the success of Talking Heads, a lot of that discussion centers around David Byrne (of course), or the rhythm section of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. Heck, even Brian Eno gets more than his rightful share of credit for the development of their sound. Many people seem to forget that Talking Heads had been playing since 1974, and had recorded several demos, but hadn't gotten anywhere in the industry until Harrison and his keyboards joined the group. It's no coincidence that the major label signing came mere months after he joined up. That fact is conveniently forgotten. In many ways, Jerry Harrison is sort of the Lindsey Buckingham of Talking Heads - the factor that pushed their respective bands over the top, that no one seems to remember or talk about (heck, Harrison and Buckingham even look somewhat alike!).

Harrison was a loyal soldier within Talking Heads, unlike Frantz and Weymouth, who chafed under the semi-benevolent band dictatorship of initially Byrne and Eno, then Byrne alone. Frantz and Weymouth's side project, Tom Tom Club, and the release of their self-titled first album in 1981, was basically an act of defiance against Byrne. Harrison also released his first solo project in 1981, The Red And The Black, but it was done more for something to do during the band's two-year hiatus between Remain In Light and Speaking In Tongues. As a debut, Harrison's album was superb, expanding upon the sounds and ideas present on Talking Heads' Remain In Light (and using a lot of the same personnel, like Nona Hendryx and Bernie Worrell).

Harrison's second solo release, Casual Gods, came out six years later, just as Talking Heads was falling apart. "Man With A Gun" was part of the Something Wild soundtrack, and when I saw the movie that year and heard the song, I knew instantly that it was by Jerry Harrison. I think I got this album shortly after I purchased the movie soundtrack. In Casual Gods, Harrison winds down the percussive funk of his debut, moving into more of a looser, groovier, more radio-friendly vibe. That's not to say that he sold out on this album - au contraire! The songcraft and selection are totally solid, and even Harrison's singing improves slightly on this album. He even got a semi-big radio hit off of this release, "Rev It Up".

Since the demise of Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison has gone on to be an in-demand producer of successful albums for a host of bands, including Violent Femmes, General Public, Live and No Doubt. He also was one of the founders of, which showcases unknown independent bands. His own music-making days may be over, but the guy left a small but excellent legacy of his own work behind.

Check this out, and let me know what you think. Rev it up!

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fishbone - Fishbone EP

I've been pissed off at the band Fishbone for almost 25 years now. Why? I feel like they lied to me. They told me one thing, and told it so convincingly that I believed them. Then suddenly, they changed on me, and turned into something I didn't recognize, the opposite of what they assured me they were. For me, that's unforgivable.

During my sophomore and junior years at the Naval Academy, I worked off and on in the Academy's low-powered student-run radio station, WRNV, as one of my extracurricular activities. The station offices were located in the basement of the Eighth Wing of Bancroft Hall, and consisted of a couple of cramped rooms filled with broadcast equipment, microphones, turntables and tape machines (this WAS the mid-80s, mind you - CDs were practically non-existent), and a larger room with shelves on the walls holding thousands of vinyl records and boxes of cassette and 8-track tapes (relics of the 60's and 70's WRNV, I assume).

The student DJs at WNRV presented basically two sorts of programs: either a straight-ahead presentation of music, with little or no chatter in between (other than record identification); and the "wild-'n'-crazy guy"-type shows, where guys would cut up on air and try to be funny in the long breaks between the tunes. All of these latter DJs wanted in some way to be the local "Grease" - Doug Tracht, a.k.a. The Greaseman, the host of the morning drive-time show on Washington's WWDC (DC-101).
[Side note: The Greaseman was the guy who took over Howard Stern's slot in 1982 when Stern bolted DC-101 for a better deal (and bigger audience) in New York City. Over the years, Stern has made a point of publicly flogging the Greaseman on several opportunities, verbally and in print, for his inane, talentless schtick - and for once, Stern's comments are spot-on. Compared to Tracht, Howard Stern is a combination of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan and Socrates. But that's neither here nor there in terms of this narrative. Besides, the Greaseman got what was coming to him later on - if you don't know what happened, look him up in Wikipedia for the details.]
Anyway, leave it be said that the Greaseman show, replete with tasteless, risqué humor, nasty sound effects, and coded catch phrases like "hobble-de-gee", was hugely popular with many midshipmen, and many wanted to emulate him. I too wanted to have a "funny" show, but with a style of humor somewhat different from that of the tiresome Greaseman or his ilk. I had big dreams of airing the coolest show possible, playing the most cutting edge music (which back then would have been stuff like Big Audio Dynamite and General Public) and having everyone love my program . . .

Unfortunately, I never really learned how to work the equipment properly. There wasn't a full-time radio engineer available at WRNV; you were sort of on your own to learn the ropes. And I never could get anyone to walk me through the whole process. My one attempt at airing a show was a disaster, resulting in almost ten minutes of dead air until another station member came down from his room to rescue me. From then on, I guested from time to time on other DJ's shows, as an Ed McMahon-type sidekick or as a remote microphone, doing brief but silly "man in the street" interviews. I still retained my station privileges, which included the combinations to the locked office doors, and use of all the tape/dubbing equipment, which I made frequent use of.

The best thing about being part of that station was the access to TONS of music. WRNV's signal was so weak that it was hard to hear it more than a mile or two outside of the Academy gates. But that didn't stop record distributors from treating WRNV like it was an influential station. The station received seemingly dozens of free records every month, most of which were just duly catalogued and stacked on the rickety shelves in the library. I used to pore through those new shipments every week, looking for the latest cool record to copy onto C-90 cassette tape and add to my personal collection.

I didn't find the first Fishbone release, the Fishbone EP, in those mailings; a friend of mine at the station did, and played a cut off of it, "Party At Ground Zero", on his show one night. I heard that song while studying with the radio on, and the moment it ended, I dropped what I was doing and ran like a bastard for the station. Wow!

 I believe I mentioned in an earlier posting what a big ska fan I was, but 1985 was a rather fallow period for the genre. Britain's 2-Tone had sputtered out the year before, The Special AKA's In The Studio album serving as the last gasp and coda for that movement. And the Third Wave, driven by American ska bands like the Toasters and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, really hadn't gained any traction yet. It looked like ska was dead again.

So you can imagine how I felt when I heard that Fishbone song - ska was BACK! I got to WRNV in record time, burst through the doors, and practically snatched the record out of my friend's hands. I wasted no time in taping a copy, and found that the entire EP was full of classic ska bits - the aforementioned song, "Ugly", "Lyin' Ass Bitch" - mixed in with punky, off-the-wall experimental stuff like "? (Modern Industry)". I honestly thought Fishbone was the Second (well, at that point, the Third) Coming of Ska, and I set out to learn more about them.

Fishbone was formed in South Central Los Angeles in 1979 by six black junior high school students, including the brothers John and Philip "Fish" Fisher, Angelo Moore and Christopher Dowd. They got a lot of early attention for their shows in the L.A. area - yeah, black dudes playing scorching punk and ska sets are DEFINITELY going to get noticed in that town! With The Untouchables, who were also playing around L.A. at that time, Fishbone became one of the leaders of a slow-building but growing West Coast ska/punk movement. They signed with Columbia in the early 1980s, and the Fishbone EP was their first release with the label. Columbia marketed the band as a wild punk/ska fusion band - just look at their outfits on the cover of the EP: the porkpie hats, suspenders and pub creepers scream "SKA".

Like I said, I thought they were the real thing, and eagerly awaited their first full album release, which would no doubt have more of that wild ska sound. Months went by before that debut album, In Your Face, was released by Columbia in November 1986. I stood outside Oceans II Records in downtown Annapolis in the cold on the day that album came out; when they opened the doors, I ran inside, snatched up a cassette copy, practically threw my money at them and raced back to my room to hear it . . .

Oh my God, what a disappointment! In place of the great ska and punk workouts of their EP, on In Your Face Fishbone became a boring, run-of-the-mill funk band. The opening cut, "When Problems Arise", set the stage - a "message" song, very slickly produced, lacking in any sort of energy or verve. I kept hoping that the next song would be better, or have more energy, but no such luck - every song was overproduced to a bland, mushy pulp, with barely a lick of ska contained anywhere.

It was then and there that I completely wrote Fishbone off. I never paid attention to or purchased any of their subsequent releases. The few songs of theirs I heard on the radio in the following years, all funk and hard rock tunes, did nothing to salvage their reputation for me. Like I said, they lied to me - they swore up and down that they were a ska band, when they apparently weren't. Hell hath no fury like a music fan scorned.

And so much for that. Here's that first EP, and Fishbone in all their (fleeting) glory - enjoy:

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Kiss - Alive! (RS500 - #159)

The summer of 1975 was a golden time for me. I had just finished elementary school in Annapolis, MD, back in the days when summer vacation was almost a full three months (is it just me, or are school years getting longer and longer now?). My siblings, family and I took full advantage of that time off (my dad was a professor at the Naval Academy, so his summers were relatively light). That summer was the year both Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened, and we went to both amusement parks in their inaugural seasons. The neighborhood I lived in was full of kids, and we all spent plenty of time together - playing 'guns' in the woods on the hill behind our houses, or climbing the fence at the edge of the housing area and going down to explore around Shady Lake, or "borrowing" Big Wheels and having races down Suicide Hill (complete with spectacular wipeouts - amazingly, no one got really injured). That was the year I learned to swim at the local pool, and my friends and I would spend all day there, splashing in the water while the big hit of that summer, Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom", played almost nonstop in the
background. Then we'd line up at the pool snack bar to buy Starburst fruit chews and a new kind of gum that had just come out earlier that year, Bubble Yum. It was a great summer, the best I'd ever had at that point.

Then in September, the school year began, and I found myself being bused downtown daily to Wiley H. Bates Junior High School. Thus, the horror began (cue screeching violins) . . .

Bates Jr. High was a crumbling, decrepit boneyard of a facility, located on Smithville Street in a lower-middle class section of Annapolis. The school was full of streetwise kids from other, tougher areas of the city - kids who wouldn't think twice about skipping class, mouthing off to teachers and administrators, or kicking your ass after class for no other reason than that they felt like it. The counselors and other admin personnel there reflected that sort of mean-spiritedness; the head counselor, who I'll call Mr. C., was infamous for the paddle that he kept in his office and reputedly used liberally on the 'bad kids'. A lot of the teachers there didn't seem to give a crap, or at best were just going through the motions of educating their class. I will never forget the science teacher I had that first year (we'll call her Mrs. G.) - I endured her borderline-insane classroom tirades and actions on a daily basis, and learned absolutely nothing in that class, other than that some people were crazy as loons.

The very air of that building reeked of menace, and trouble seemed to lurk around every shaded corner of those dark and filthy halls. After spending my previous year of school in the relative calm and nurturing atmosphere of West Annapolis Elementary, coming to Bates Jr. High was like entering Purgatory - not just for myself, but for many other 'good' kids who didn't come from that rough background. I hated almost every minute of the two years I was there, and was very happy when my dad was transferred to Massachusetts and took me away from there.
[Side note: For some reason, some folks in Annapolis have a warm spot in their hearts for that shithole. The city finally closed the school in 1981, and for years it stood empty - a bleak, vermin-infested brick tombstone in the center of that neighborhood. If I had been in charge of things, I would have personally slammed the cast-iron wrecking ball against those walls within two minutes of them nailing the doors shut. But somehow, someone conned their congressman or something into having the place listed on the National Register of Historic Places (for God knows what reason), saving it from becoming landfill. Today, the building has been turned into senior housing and a boys and girls club. That's great, but they still should have torn the bastard down. If my words sound harsh, so be it - I had a miserable experience there.]
That's not to say that EVERYTHING was bad about the school. A few of the teachers worked really hard, and really seemed to care about their profession and their students. I was lucky enough to study under a couple of them, including Mr. Myles for social studies (hands down, one of the best teachers I ever had) and Mrs. Mallow, who saw something in me that caused her to give me a coveted part in the school play, embarking me on the first step of a lifetime in the lively arts.

I also had a superb music teacher, whose name escapes me at the moment. The great thing about his class was that every Friday, he would allow one of his students to bring in any album of their choice, which the class would listen to for the entire period. He didn't care what it was - Cheech & Chong, Iron Butterfly, Sly & The Family Stone - if a student brought it in, he would play it. So I got to hear a lot of stuff in there I had never had the opportunity to hear before.

One Friday, it was a long-haired tough kid named Albert's turn to bring his record in, and he brought Kiss's double-disc live album Alive!, released on Casablanca Records in September 1975. At that point, all I knew of Kiss was that they were the band that had the black and white painted faces, and played music I really wasn't interested in. At that time, the big hits were AM radio fare, by musicians like the Captain & Tennille ("Love Will Keep Us Together"), Glen Campbell ("Rhinestone Cowboy") and KC & The Sunshine Band ("Get Down Tonight"). Keep in mind that during this era, lightweight musical garbage like "Billy Don't Be A Hero", "The Night Chicago Died", and "Junk Food Junkie" were HUGE hits, and very popular, especially with kids. And when you were a nonrebellious kid at that time, that was the sort of stuff you listened to and liked.

So hearing Alive! for the first time was an ear-opener for me. I wasn't (and still am not) a big hard rock fan, but on that day I really got into many of the songs, including "Firehouse" (with that cool blaring siren at the end, whipping the crowd into a frenzy) and of course "Rock N Roll All Night". But the thing that really got to me was the album cover itself. In Alive!'s cover picture, the band strikes some of the most insane, mind-melting rock poses EVER! It almost seems like they're actually in motion if you stare at it too long. The outfits, the platform shoes, the smoke, the band positioning - this is damn near the perfect rock album cover. I knew kids who used to spend hours in front of the mirror, trying to exactly emulate Gene Simmons' or Peter Criss' stances.

Overall, I enjoyed this album very much, a rare moment of sunshine breaking through the eternal black cloud hanging over Bates Jr. High. I liked it enough that I remembered it as I got older, and years later made a point of buying it for my own collection. Alive! is well deserving of its place in the Rolling Stone 500 - however, if there ever was an Album Cover 500, this one would surely be in the Top Ten!

Rock on!

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The Starlings - Valid

In the late winter/early spring of 1993, just before I packed up and moved to New Zealand, I was lucky enough to hear some really great music by some then-unheralded bands. I was living in the DC area at the time, and by then, grunge had been going strong for almost two years. The local 'alternative' station, WHFS, had fully jumped aboard the bandwagon, and was rapidly devolving into an "all grunge, all the time" format (a move that was probably no small factor in the venerable station's decline and failure a few years later).

However, a couple of 'HFS DJs still showed some flashes of the old independent spirit, and dared to play some groundbreaking stuff. In those few months, the station began playing a superb little Pixies-esque LOUDquietLOUD song called "Creep", by an unknown English band called Radiohead. They also occasionally played a roaring guitar anthem, "That Ain't Bad", by a little-known (in the States) Australian band named Ratcat.
They were playing The Cranberries' debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, practically from the moment it came out in March of that year, nearly a full year before that album and its lead single "Dreams" became mainstream U.S. smash hits [side note: I loved that band from the get-go, bought that album immediately, and brought it with me to New Zealand, where The Cranberries were equally unknown. It was amusing when, months later, I bagan to hear raves from my friends in the States about this amazing 'new' Irish band and their great song . . .].

And then there was "That's It You're In Trouble" by The Starlings, another song in semi-heavy indie rotation at WHFS that I really enjoyed:

I think part of the appeal this song had for me was that the band was made up of New Zealanders, my soon-to-be home country, and it made me look forward that much more to moving there and really getting into what appeared to be a cutting-edge music scene.

The Starlings were essentially Chris Sheehan, a young guy originally from Christchurch (the place I was moving to). Sheehan was somewhat of a musical prodigy, so much so that before he turned 18, he became lead guitarist for the popular Kiwi New Wave band the Dance Exponents. He stayed with the Dance Exponents for three years, then followed a buddy to Los Angeles, where he found himself serving as a guest musician on the debut album of his buddy's girlfriend, Jane Wiedlin (ex-Go-Go's). He was in L.A. for only a year or so, before drifting over to London, England and starting to record solo records under the name The Starlings.
Early results were promising, and on the strength of an EP (Letters From Heaven) he released on Rough Trade in 1990, Sheehan/The Starlings were signed to Anxious Records, Dave Stewart's (ex-Eurythmics) personal label. And that's when the problems started.

One thing Sheehan didn't bring with him to London from the States, but picked up quickly, was a very serious heroin habit, which of course significantly reduced the volume and quality of his output. He was in pretty bad shape for the two-plus years following the release of his Rough Trade EP, but in 1992 he began trying to pull himself together. He entered drug rehab and began work on The Starlings' debut album, Valid. Valid is essentially a chronicle of Sheehan getting onto and off of the Horse, and its making was apparently theraputic for him; he got out of rehab the same week the album was released in 1993.

In addition to "That's It You're In Trouble" (my personal favorite here), there are a lot of good songs on this album, and it got glowing reviews upon release. But in terms of sales, Valid sank like a stone. Sheehan was ENORMOUSLY pissed off at his album tanking, and placed the blame squarely on his record label, which did little to promote it (I'm not sure they really had the money to do so). Sheehan was so ticked off, in fact, that he quickly returned to the studio and recorded an album's worth of splenetic, vitriolic songs holding nothing back regarding his anger at and contempt for his label, calling the album Too Many Dogs. In its own twisted way, Too Many Dogs is a "Fuck You" masterpiece, fairly dripping with bile and venom, but it did nothing to endear him to his label executives. They buried this one even deeper than his debut.

Anxious Records got the last laugh on Sheehan, though. Even though they were livid about Too Many Dogs, they went ahead and allowed Sheehan to record a followup to that album, making him think all was well. The moment he wss done, they told him they were NEVER releasing the album, confiscated the tapes, then unceremoniously threw his ass out of the building and off the label. The guy's been on the fringes ever since, working as a guest/backup musician-for-hire for several other bands.

Just goes to show you: if you can't say something nice about someone . . .

Here's the tuneage - enjoy:

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Milestone reached - thanks!

About an hour ago, someone from British Columbia, Canada signed into my site to look around. Whoever he or she was, they helped me reach a milestone - they were the 1,000th visitor to my little music blog!

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who's taken the time to stop by and check out my long-winded ramblings and (sometimes) off-the-wall music postings over the past couple of months. This thing has turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought it would! I appreciate your time, your attention and (from those of you who chose to do so) your great comments. I hope that everyone that has visited has enjoyed this site, and in addition found at least one (if not several) pieces of music that you've been searching for, tunes that you've gone on to enjoy as much as I have.

I'll be continuing to put up a lot more great music in the days and weeks ahead. Please keep on coming back, and tell your friends!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto (RS500 - #454)

Another Rolling Stone 500 list travesty. This album, released on Verve in 1963, is basically one of the top five greatest jazz albums of all time; the definitive expression of bossa nova; the album that made "The Girl From Ipanema" a worldwide hit and jazz standard, and Astrud Gilberto an international singing star; one of the most artistically and commercially successful jazz albums of all time . . . and it's only the 454th best album ever? Bullcrap. I guess that's what happens when you let rock industry dopers decide the 'greatest music ever'.

It's a pity, because not only is this album great, it is BEYOND essential, one of those truly "you must have this in your collection, or you're a nitwit" sort of albums. I'm not a big jazz guy myself, but this was one of the first albums I ever purchased.

Hearing the effortless collaboration between Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and the unheralded but truly important third member, pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim, always reminds me of sunny Sunday spring and summer afternoons in Virginia when I was a little boy. My parents would get us up fairly early on those mornings to get us dressed for church before getting dressed in their Sunday finest themselves. We couldn't go outside to play while we waited, for fear of getting dirty. So we all sat downstairs in the den, watching 'Davey & Goliath' and hoping we could get to the end of the show before my folks came down and loaded us into the VW van. We'd spend the rest of the morning at St. Mary's Catholic Church downtown, and maybe afterwards we would head over to my grandmother's or aunt's homes along Virginia Beach Boulevard for a short visit before heading for home.

There, we could finally take off those itchy, uncomfortable church clothes and jump into something more comfortable. My brother and I would then head out the front door to find our friends, like Ricky, Craig & Paul, Warren & Wendell, etc. We usually ran past my dad, who had already settled into his big chair in the corner of the living room with the Sunday Virginian-Pilot close at hand, and his huge vintage maple Telefunken stereo (acquired in Germany during his travels in the Navy) filling the room with soft jazz or easy listening music - stuff that he liked, including this album, which was what he played more often than not.

Even when I was that young age, the atmosphere created by days like that made a distinct impression on me. I still recall the little things about those days: the midday sun coming in through the half-lowered venetian blinds, throwing lines of light on the white shag carpet in the living room; the sound of a prop airplane flying overhead, its steady buzz barely discernible over the quiet music; parts of the newspaper on the floor by the chair, signifying that my dad had finished reading those sections.

For me, Getz/Gilberto is the music of memories, of faraway times like those I knew as a boy, times that will never again come to pass.

Then again, I don't know - maybe I'm just a sentimental cat. Either way, get this album, and listen to it - you will not be disappointed.

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Slow Bongo Floyd - More Than Jesus EP

Speaking of more insane Madchester nonsense I acquired back in the day . . .

Here's another one from that era, Slow Bongo Floyd's More Than Jesus EP, released in 1991 on Epic Records.

Slow Bongo Floyd was a minor Manchester band, formed in the immediate wake of the Stone Roses' success (see previous posting). The band was essentially the brainchild/project of local musician Mick Jones (no, not the Clash's Mick Jones - this is another one), assisted by a rotating group of friends and fellow musicians. Slow Bongo Floyd went beyond what The Stone Roses started, and sowed that thumping house groove a little deeper into their music than some of the other Madchester bands (with the possible exception of The Happy Mondays). It's conceivable that this sound should have carried them at least as far as it did the Mondays, but alas, the band was destined to coexist on the fringes of the movement.

I can't remember where or when I first heard this song; it was probably at once of those old dance clubs in Washington DC on F Street. I know I did purchase it from the now-defunct GWU Tower Records the year it came out (too bad Tower went belly up, but it wasn't my doing. I estimated once that in my lifetime, I probably purchased at least 60% of the scores of tapes and hundreds of CDs I own from Tower, with the vast majority of those coming out of the place in Washington).

Slow Bongo Floyd was active for a fairly long period, from about 1989 to early 1992. But strangely, any detailed information on the band is VERY hard to find nowadays. It's weird that in this day and age, they remain somewhat of a mystery.

So, that's all I've got on these guys - not a lot. But I know you're here for music, and not information. So here you go:

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fortran 5 - Heart On The Line EP

Lordy . . . sometimes I look back through my music collection and shake my head. I was into some very odd stuff way back when.

Here's one I picked up during the late summer of 1991: Fortran 5's Heart On The Line EP, consisting of four remixes of said song. I took a two-week vacation in the spring of that year, and flew over to Madrid, Spain on one of those cheap student tickets (the kind where you can only take what you can put in the overhead compartment or under your seat, as the company who sold you the ticket has the rights to your cargo space) to visit my youngest sister. My sis had graduated from college in Virginia the summer before, and had headed overseas to bicycle around Europe for a couple of weeks before planning to head back to the U.S. to start work. Well, that two weeks in Europe turned into a year and a half, and she ended up in Madrid after finding a job teaching English to Spaniards there. Mind you, at the time, she couldn't speak Word One (or is that "Una Palabra"?) of Spanish . . . but by the time I got over there to see her six months later, she spoke the local language like a native. I guess that shows you what total immersion in a country can do for you.

Anyway, I showed up, and we had a high old time. I was relatively flush with cash at the time, while she was living on her meager wages in a semi-hovel in downtown Madrid with her roommates, two Irish sisters who were constantly at one another's throats. So I tried to get her out to see and do things she hadn't had the opportunity to partake in before, due to her penury, stuff that I took for granted - like going out for pizza and hitting some of the local clubs. This was in addition to the touristy stuff I wanted to see, like the Prado Museum.

It was at one of those city clubs where I first heard "Heart On The Line". That dark, thumping electro-techno tune was perfect for the place where we were, and it tickled my ears enough to have me take note of it for when I went back to the States. Yes, as I've mentioned before, I used to like the whole dance/house thing - so shoot me; I was young and having fun!

When I got back the the States, I found the EP, released by Elektra Entertainment earlier that year, at the old Tower Records near George Washington University in DC. Fortran 5, formed in London in 1989, was basically two guys, David Barker and Simon Leonard, assisted by a bevy of guest artists. They cranked out several singles and albums worth of sample-heavy techno during the early 1990s, with the assistance of members from bands such as Can, Orb, and Sly & The Family Stone. Vocals on the Heart On The Line EP ware provided by members of Miranda Sex Garden.

After their final release as Fortran 5 in 1995, the band added Jane Brereton and morphed into Komputer, which began as a veritable Kraftwerk tribute band before modifying their sound in the late '00s more into electronic sample manipulation. As far as I know, they're still at it.

So here - harken back to the early '90s, and relive those old techno club days with me! Enjoy:

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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

For a very brief time in the late '80s/early '90s, maybe two years tops, the Norfolk/Virginia Beach, VA area hosted an outstanding alternative music radio station, the callsign of which escapes me at the moment (if anyone knows or remembers it, I'd really appreciate you reminding me of it). The folks who put that station together had a lot of courage - the Hampton Roads area isn't exactly a hotbed for that type of music. Rap, country and Jesus music are more to the public's tastes down there. Due to this, in hindsight, although I and many others who loved the station were shocked and saddened by its sudden disappearance from the airwaves in early 1991 (replaced by a talk radio format), we really shouldn't have been THAT surprised at its demise.

But during its brief lifespan, the station went all out to cater and respond to its devoted listeners. They had a visible presence around the campus of Old Dominion University, and at the rare appearance of a decent band in Norfolk (for example, they were prominently involved in the B-52's show at the late, lamented Boathouse downtown during the band's 1989 Cosmic Thing minitour). They sponsored "New Wave Nights" at various clubs and bars around town every week, where you could go and hear/dance to stuff you wouldn't usually hear in town, like Depeche Mode and Peter Murphy. And their request line was always open, and they would play practically anything you asked for. I recall calling in a request while driving home from work one day, then smiling to myself a few minutes later as the song "Anthrax" screeched and thumped out of my car windows, thinking (probably rightly) that that was the first time a Hampton Roads station ever playing Gang Of Four on purpose!

It was while listening to this station one late summer afternoon in 1989 that I heard "Fools Gold" by The Stone Roses for the first time. I was driving to Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach when they began playing the nine-minute plus album version of this song (not the 3-minute radio edit).

I was completely mesmerized, so much so that I pulled over into the parking lot of a KFC and sat there listening with the engine running until the song was complete. I was like, WOW, and as soon as they IDed the song and band, I continued on to the mall, ran into the record store there, and picked up a cassette copy of the album. I put The Stone Roses in my car tape player, where it remained for the next several weeks. That album was like my soundtrack to the last half of that summer.

At that time, the sound of The Stone Roses was unique, sort of a hybrid of the English guitar rock pioneered by the recently disbanded Smiths, coupled with the rhythms and sensibilities of the acid house sound that had swept Britain and all of Europe the year before. However, The Stone Roses didn't start out with this new sound in mind.

The band was formed in 1985 in Manchester, England, working the clubs there and earning a popular local following. In the early days, The Stone Roses were more of a heavy metal/goth rock(!) band. After a couple of years, their sound began moving more towards the jangly Smithsesque guitar sound sweeping the country at that time. If you listen to one of their early singles, "Elephant Stone", released on Silvertone Records in 1988, it's got the Smiths' fingerprints all over it.

The band kept gigging and refining their sound, so by the time of their first album release, also on Silvertone in June 1989, they had not only arrived at this neo-psychedelic house/guitar groove, but also found themselves at the forefront of a new musical movement. With the massive national success of The Stone Roses, several similarly-sounding bands sprung up in its immediate wake - Inspiral Carpets, The Charlatans UK, and especially The Happy Mondays. Music magazines gave this movement a name which would soon reverberate around the world: "Madchester".

Although they basically started the Madchester sound, The Stone Roses did not benefit from it as much as their followers did. In 1990 the band attempted to get out of their contract with Silvertone Records to sign with another, larger label. Silvertone retaliated by filing suit and having a court injunction issued that prevented the band from releasing any new material until the case was settled. It took two years for the case to be heard, during which time The Stone Roses basked in the celebrityhood created by their first album, but did nothing much else.

In early 1992 the case was resolved in the band's favor. They quickly signed to Geffen Records, and ostensibly began work on their long-awaited follow-up to their debut. In reality, however, the band members were a bunch of lazy sods, and only visited the studio haphazardly, producing dozens of half-finished recordings. Most of the rest of the time, they just dicked around at home, doing nothing but watching TV. This went on for nearly three years, until finally Geffen put its foot down, and threatened to cut off their money supply.  This threat served as
impetus for the band to finally finish the album. Second Coming was released in December 1994 to a completely underwhelming response, and faded quickly from the charts. Due to their sloth, the band had squandered its chance. Oh well - at least the first album existed, to cement their legacy.

* * * * * * *

One last Stone Roses-related memory: In the fall of 1990, I found myself in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, a small, dingy city about 400 miles southwest of Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is renowned as a city of beauty, culture and excitement - Bahia Blanca was the exact opposite. The place was dull and somewhat dusty, and soon after my arrival there I was counting the days until my departure.

I spent my first full day there wandering around town, seeing whatever mediocre sights there were to see and drinking a lot of cheap Argentine beer. In the early evening, on the advice of a local, I sauntered over to a bar/disco near the center of town that this guy assured me would be hopping that evening. However, when I arrived at the place, there were practically tumbleweeds blowing across the joint. I would have left, but there was literally nothing else to do in that town, so I found a stool at the nearly empty bar, ordered a beer, and sat waiting for something to happen.

The bartender assured me that, once the DJ arrived and started playing, the place would fill up. Sounded like bullshit to me, but I stayed another hour or so until the DJ arrived and started setting up. I was sitting there staring into space and lamenting my fate, so I heard but didn't really hear the music coming over the PA as the DJ put his first record on. In addition to not really paying attention, the tune started off very low, a quiet ringing rumble punctuated by bass notes here and there. But as the song began to build, it finally took hold of my brain, and I began to smile in disbelief - "No way! He's not playing THAT here!" I was still unsure until the guitars finally kicked in, then I grinned with certainty. Here at a nothing little bar in Nowheresville, Argentina, they were playing "I Wanna Be Adored" off of that first album!

That song set the tone for the night for me, and I ended up having a great time there, and came to enjoy the rest of the city. See - the Stone Roses know no borders!

Enough of my prattle - here's the music. Enjoy:

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

World Of Pooh - The Land Of Thirst

World of Pooh was an extremely short-lived experimental/indie/alternative/post-punk band based out of San Francisco in the late 1980s (I classify the band under so many heading because in a lot of ways, it really didn't fall under one particular category . . . but I digress). The band was one in a long series of stops for seminal San Fran indie musician Barbara Manning. In 1987 she joined forces with Brendan Kearney and drummer Jay Paget (later of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282), and for two years they were in the semi-forefront of the Northern California indie scene. I won't go into the history or anything regarding World of Pooh or Barbara Manning in particular; better men than I have already scraped together the few scraps of information on this band in other places, such as here.

Suffice to say that I am a big Barbara Manning fan, and over the years have collected just about every recorded noise she's ever been associated with, either as a solo artist, with 28th Day, World of Pooh, the San Francisco Seals, and with the Original Artists. And, like another semi-unknown musician I'm a fan of, Lisa Germano, Barbara Manning is someone who I probably ran into once or twice in my life, without realizing it. From what I understand, Manning used to work at one of the used record stores on Haight Street in SF that I used to frequent quite often in the '80s and '90s (I'm not sure where she worked, or when, but it was around that time). And Lisa Germano worked briefly
at Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard in LA (right across from Tower Records) at a period when I was making brief visits to LA for work, and frequenting that store when I was there (note that in both cases, this was before I was into either musician, so it's not like I would have lost my mind or anything if I saw their name tags or something).

The first time I had ever heard of World of Pooh was while reading the Trouser Press Record Guide sometime in the early '90s. Now many of you may have forgotten or don't even know this, but in the pre-Internet, age, thick books like the TPRG were the best sources available for information and reviews of various bands, records and genres. I'm pretty sure that All Music also had a book out around that time, but I preferred TPRG, because it specialized in covering really obscure New Wave and alternative bands. For example, they had a great section of the complete works of Suburban Lawns and Frank Sidebottom (God rest his soul), and scholarly dissertations on the likes of Wall of Voodoo and Romeo Void. Not all of the information contained in TPRG was on target (one of the earliest editions I have came out soon after the Red Hot Chili Peppers' first (and then only) record - the book dismissed the band as destined to be short-lived flashes in the pan . . . ), but it was always great and entertaining. No matter how many times I went through that book, the next reading always revealed something new.

Anyway, TPRG had a small section on the collected works of Barbara Manning, and devoted some space to World of Pooh and their legendary lone album, 1989's The Land of Thirst. The book's near-mythic description of the album immediately piqued the interest of a collector of obscure music treasures like me: supposedly, only 1,000 copies were ever printed, by a mysterious record label (Nuf Sed Lubrication Inc.) located at a non-existent address in SF. I'll quote the book here:
"The group's sole album . . . commands high prices from collectors, and with good reason: it's a magnificant record. The terrible tensions within the band are hidden by wan melodies but come out in the brutal lyrics [publisher's italics] . . . "
Apparently, Manning and Kearney had been dating for a while, and by the time the record was being recorded, their relationship was on the rocks. They took out their relationship strains not directly on one another, but like most other couples with problems they addressed their angers and frustrations with one another indirectly, in their case through the songs (I understand they broke up soon after this record came out - which makes sense, since the band also ceased to exist around that time).

With that kind of praise, and that level of obscurity, I knew I HAD to get a copy. Thus, the odyssey began. For years, I scoured the bins of every hole-in-the-wall record shop in every city and country I found myself in. I subscribed to mail-order catalogs and record shoppers guides, and tried to make friends with music wholesalers who, I thought, might give me the inside scoop on how to find such a treasure. I made long-distance calls to retailers in London, Sydney and California, following up on vague rumors of the record being in their possession. I did EVERYTHING to find it, to no avail.

Fortunately, technology caught up with me. Specifically, the Internet happened in the last half of the 1990s, and the search became much less onerous. Less onerous, but not any easier. I still had no luck in tracking The Land of Thirst down. It apparently was as obscure as TPRG said.

Then, a miracle happened. One day, while doing a random search for the record in Google, it popped up as an item for sale on eBay. I had checked eBay countless times, but with no luck, and figured that this lead would also prove fruitless. But, lo and behold, when I checked, there it was, just put up for auction, with no bidders after 3 days. I couldn't believe it! My hands were actually shaking as I put in my bid, a hefty amount for me at the time. I figured that, with no bidders after 3 days, I would win the auction with a fraction of my top price. But apparently, like me, there were several others who had been searching for this World of Pooh record who had just stumbled over it. My lone bid soon turned into an all-out bidding war! I monitored that site hour-by-hour, and during the last day, minute-by-minute, to ensure that I put the final, winning amount in for this obscurity. And as the final second in the auction ticked away, and other potential buyers amped up their prices, I countered and recountered until, at the end, I reigned supreme - The Land of Thirst was mine, finally!

It was nine years almost to the day that I first heard about the album and started looking for it.

Usually when you wait for something this long, it turns out to be a major disappointment. I was semi-prepared for that, as I waited for the seller to send me my package. When it arrived (very securely and rigidly packed - the seller apparently knew its worth), I took it out of its box, carefully placed it on my turntable, and listened to both sides, all the way through.

And for once, TPRG was right - The Land of Thirst is an outstanding album. As good as the songs are, the underlying tension beneath each of them, due to Manning's and Kearney's situation, is palpable, and brings a razor-sharp edge to all of them. The epitome of this lyrical edge is in what I consider the album's centerpiece song, "Mr. Coffee-Nerves".

In actuality, Mr. Coffee-Nerves was a villianous cartoon character created by the Postum Decaffinated Coffee people back in the 1940s and 50s. He was the spiritlike presence that appeared whenever people drank shitty non-Postum coffee, the kind that caused people to get jittery, irritable at family members, and just plain jumpy - "coffee nerves". Here's a place that has a number of the cartoon ads that Postum published, featuring this character (the accompanying commentary by the author of this site is equally hilarious).

In the song, the singer (Brendan) describes the events in this life with his (unnamed, but we all know who she is) lover as driving him to the same level of irrational irritability. "The house is like a waiting room, and waiting always puts me on edge - the slightest sound may set me off". "I can't sleep, it's three a.m; you're rolling close to me again - stay away, your flesh disgusts me". And the chorus between each verse is brutal: "Seems that fear always closes our eyes as we connect the dots" - he's too afraid of the consequences of realizing and articulating his dissatisfaction with his relationship, so he chooses to just live in this horrible atmosphere, getting more and more agitated with no apparent way out.

In addition to the cold. biting lyrics, the things that make this song so devastating are:
1) the relentless, ticking-clock beat and nagging guitar, which all but make you FEEL the tension the singer is under;
2) the fact that Brendan sings the song not with anger, but in an indifferent monotone that signals his complete lack of affection for or interest in his partner; and
3) Barbara Manning joins him in the monotone "la-la-la-la" chorus - she had to know the song was specifically about her and the way her boyfriend felt about her.
The complete song is just crushingly effective . . . and yet it's a brilliant song, one of many on the album.

Sadly, The Land of Thirst has never been released on CD, and as far as I know, there are no immediate plans to do so, despite much yip-yap about it over the past fifteen years or so. As happy as I am to have such a rare piece of music in my possession, I still would like for everyone to hear it, and discover how brilliant this band was, and Barbara Manning is and continues to be.

And thus, here you are, carefully cooked off of my treasured and pristine personal vinyl copy:

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls (RS500 - #269)

In my opinion, the last great Rolling Stones album, released in 1978 on Virgin Records. Yes, yes - I know that Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You were released afterwards, and both of these albums have their fans. But both Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You were comprised mostly of outtakes and leftovers, rags, bones and offal from sessions as far back as 1969, along with a lot of filler (especially Emotional Rescue, which frankly is redeemed by only two songs, the title cut and "She's So Cold" - otherwise, this album would be classed alongside Dirty Work as one of the Stones' worst).

In Some Girls, the Stones take on both disco and punk, the twin threats to their popularity and chart success in the late '70s. I think their response to disco, "Miss You", is spot-on, and a classic Stones song. However, they don't come at punk quite as directly. Instead of coopting the new sound, Mick and the boys instead channel punk's aggression, in songs like "When The Whip Comes Down" and especially in "Shattered", which they play the hell out of.

Radio stations had this one in heavy rotation throughout the summer and fall of 1978. You couldn't go more than 20 minutes, it seemed, without hearing "Shattered" on the radio. I loved this album, especially the cover art with the cutouts from the wig ads. The Rolling Stones dumped as much fire and vitriol into this album as they had; in hindsight, it now appears that afterwards, they had nothing left. Some of their later albums have been good, especially in the 1990s and afterwards (there was a lot of dreck put out by the Stones in the Eighties). But the drive, the passion, the verve is long gone.

What a drag it is getting old, indeed.

Anyway, here it is - enjoy:

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Fall - The Frenz Experiment

I arrived in Norfolk, Virginia late one rainy Sunday night in April 1988. I was a year out of Annapolis and had just finished additional training at a school in Athens, GA (great music town, by the way); that night was the tail end of a short vacation I took between the end of classes and the beginning of my life in the 'real' Navy. The next morning, I was scheduled to report to my new duty station, where I was slated to spend the next three years, at least half of that at sea.

So, you can probably guess that I wasn't really clicking my heels together at the prospect of arriving on board that ship the next day. Not that I wasn't looking forward to the job, and the adventures I was sure to have sailing to strange and exotic places. It was just the in-your-face feeling of transition, of "this is where your life really begins" that caused me more than a little bit of trepidation. Up to that point, the Navy had been pretty fun. Annapolis was regimented and all, but it was still a school, and we all had fun there. Athens was the same way, even more so. We were out of the Academy and on our own, collecting a real paycheck and free to spend our time and money on booze, girls, music and other pursuits when we were away from the base. But being on board a ship, actually doing what you had trained to do and were looking forward to doing - well, that was a whole different thing. I was anticipatory, but nervous.

I found a cheap, ramshackle "Bates"-type strip motel near the Virginia Beach Boulevard/Military Highway cloverleaf (it's now long gone), coincidentally close to Crown Point Apartments, the first place I remember living as a kid. The place was a shithole, but the sign out front advertised "FREE HBO AND MTV", which was cool with me. I figured I wasn't going to get that much sleep anyway.

I settled in for the night and flicked the tube on. HBO was a ghost town, so I turned to MTV. Now, I don't know if you remember, but for years MTV had a show called "120 Minutes". It was practically the only place on TV where you could see great videos by bands that were outside of the mainstream, groups that MTV normally wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, due to their 'lack of marketability'. Back then, I tuned into that show religiously, eager to see what was on the cutting edge of music. Mind you, 1988 was an interesting time for tunes. The Smiths had just imploded; the Pixies wave was just beginning to rise; the Cure was still huge; Siouxsie & The Banshees were still putting out good songs; and R.E.M. and U2 still meant something. There was a lot happening, which meant that "120 Minutes" was consistently good.

I tuned in just as the show began playing Siouxsie's video for her cover of Iggy Pop's "The Passenger", a song I really liked at the time. I lay there under the covers, bopping to that and singing along all the way through to the end. That video ended, and the next video was one of the strangest I'd ever seen.

It began with a man and woman running down a flight of stairs, accompanied by a thumping drum beat and nagging guitar riff. As they got to the end of the stairs, the drums rolled us into the song itself. The guy singing was obviously English, and not a handsome bloke at that. And it seemed to me that he could barely carry a tune. He slurred and mumbled his way through the song, which had something to do with English colonialism, I think. I couldn't catch much of what he was saying, due to his accent and delivery, but I did understand the chorus - "Vic-toooooooor-ia! Vic-toooooooor-ia! Victoria - Victoria".

The production qualities of the video sucked, and the song seemed very brief. But the music playing behind this daft, elfin little British troll and his crap film was superb, and the whole thing was so off the wall, so off-kilter, that it immediately grabbed my interest and would not let go.

The end of the song came, and MTV showed the song details in type at the bottom left of the screen: "Victoria - The Fall - The Frenz Experiment".

That song stayed with me in my sleep, and all through that first week on board the ship, getting oriented to my new job and surroundings. At the end of the week, I drove over to the mall and found a cassette copy of The Frenz Experiment that had "Victoria" on it. I proceeded to carry that tape with me everywhere - listening to it in the car, at home, or on my Walkman. A month after I arrived, the ship set out on a six-month deployment to Northern Europe. That album came along with me, and I played it to death.

Thus was my first encounter, the beginning of my lifelong fascination with The Fall, my all-time favorite band. That one song has led me to hole-in-the-wall record shops in Manchester, Miami and Monterey, searching for obscure Fall 12" EPs; to subscriptions to snobby, literate British music magazines, searching for scraps of information about Mark E. Smith, the "tone-deaf troll" who I think is one of the few musical geniuses alive; and to hot, sweaty, smoky clubs in New York, Austin and London, fighting for a spot in the front row so I could stand right in front of my favorite band and take every note in.

It's funny how one moment changes your whole perspective like that (true, a musical perspective, which may seem minor, but you know what I mean). As far as I know, that was the only time MTV ever played that video; I never saw a Fall video on that station again. So was it luck or fate that I would be watching that particular station at that particular time? Well, I don't believe in either . . . so we'll just call it a coincidence that worked out for the better.

Here you go - the one that started it all (for me):

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Basehead - Not Over You EP

A classic case of a band with only one good album in them . . . but what an album it was.

Basehead was essentially Michael Ivey, a guy from the Maryland suburbs of DC who recorded the bulk of Basehead's debut album, Play With Toys, on a 4-track recorder in his bedroom, assisted/accompanied by some of his friends. The album was picked up by the now long-gone Emigre Records and became a college/alternative radio hit after its release in 1992. Basehead's sound was called "slacker rap", a sort of black suburbia subgenre typified by slower, deeper funk grooves; a drawling, lazy hip-hop delivery; and a focus on beer as the drug of choice (as opposed to 'the chronic' or anything harder). Anyway, it was very appealing in certain quarters, and for a brief moment Basehead's music enjoyed the same sort of attention as De La Soul's had a few years earlier with their 'alternative rap' release 3 Feet High And Rising.

1992-1993 was Basehead's year. On the strength of the debut, Ivey put together a touring band and hit the road, playing all over the country to appreciative crowds. I saw them at Washington DC's 9:30 Club in the spring of 1993, and they were treated by the packed house as returning local heroes.
They had just released their followup, Not In Kansas Anymore, which wasn't nearly as strong as Play With Toys, but still had a good song or two within it. The band had a good fan base, and had nowhere to go but up.

But in a bizarre turn of events, soon after the second album's release, Ivey suddenly abandoned slacker rap and turned to Jesus. Basehead's third album, Faith, released in 1996, still mines that funk/rap groove, but is soaked in spirituality. And just in case his remaining fans didn't get the word that he had switched his message, his next album in 1998, In The Name Of Jesus, undoubtedly hammered the point home. It also ended his status as an influential artist. Oh well - if he's happy after finding religion, more power to him.

Attached below is an EP of remixes of "Not Over You", probably the best song on Play With Toys, and by definition, the best song Basehead ever released. Sit back, crack open a beer, listen and enjoy:

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Oh, and here's the video, if you're interested:

James Brown - Live At The Apollo (1962) (RS500 - #24)

Here it is - the consensus greatest live album ever released, James Brown's Live At The Apollo, recorded in 1962, originally released by King Records and reissued in an expanded edition (provided here) by Polydor Records in 2004. After record company executives rejected capturing on vinyl his dynamic stage act for financial reasons (they didn't think it would sell), James Brown paid for the recording out of his own pocket. The results speak for themselves - this is Soul Brother #1 at his height, in front of an ecstatic, appreciative audience.

I can't say enough about how great this record is. So I won't speak another word, other than to say that if you DON'T own this record, there's something wrong with you - yeah, it's THAT important a release.


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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Brazzaville - 2002 (a.k.a. Brazzaville)

My younger brother graduated from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in 1999, and the whole family, my girlfriend and I included, flew out the Los Angeles for the ceremony, and to spend a few days having fun. Outside of a day or two here and there in past years, at that point in my life I really hadn't spent that much time in LA. So this trip was my first real immersion into what the city was all about. My girl and I did the touristy things, like visit Sunset Boulevard, Grauman's Chinese Theater, Rodeo Drive and Marilyn Monroe's grave - stuff like that. But with the help of my brother, my younger sister (who also lived in LA at the time, attending grad school at USC) and some old friends of mine who lived out there, we got off the beaten path, and saw and did stuff that the tour books don't really address. For example, that visit was my first encounter with Pink's Hot Dog stand, one of the wonders of the Earth, as far as I'm concerned. We hit a lot of out-of-the-way bars and restaurants, found a beach that was obscure enough to be not crowded . . . just did a bunch of stuff like that. Los Angeles gets a bad rap from a lot of people, but I came away from that visit loving the city.

One night, itching to hear some local music, my sister took my girlfriend and I to a small club close to where she lived in Melrose, the Lava Lounge on La Brea Avenue. The place had the usual dim bar lighting (except around the cleared area where bands would play), and the walls and ceiling were all irregularly stuccoed with a rough blackish red putty, ostensibly to make the interior look like the inside of a volcano. It reminded me a lot of the Volcano Cafe in Lyttelton, New Zealand (near Christchurch), a place I where used to eat every once in a while when I was over that side of town.

We got there fairly early, early enough to commandeer a spacious booth close to both the main bar and the stage, where the band that night was setting up. I honestly wasn't expecting too much in the way of music; I just wanted a place to chill out for a couple of hours, have some booze and hear some organized noise.

Well, the band that night, Brazzaville, COMPLETELY blew me away, from the very first note! There were a gaggle of them up on stage, with varied instrumentation - trumpet, accordion, exotic percussion instruments, guitar. But the sound they made was completely original, and hard to catagorize - it wasn't rock, it wasn't jazz, it wasn't world music or lounge music or alternative . . . and yet, it was all those things at once. I was stunned, and very happy - who would have thought that at some nothing bar in Los Angeles, I would hear something so good?

Here's one of the songs they played that night, "Shams":

During the break between sets, I practically ran up to the stage to speak with the band's leader, David Brown. I'm sure I sounded foolish, gushing on and on about what a great band they were, but he took it gracefully and all in stride. I noticed they had CDs for sale - I couldn't buy one fast enough! Without a doubt, Brazzaville was the best bar band I ever heard in my life.

A little history about the band: Brazzaville was started in 1998 by Brown, a widely-travelled former heroin addict and (at the time) saxophonist for his old friend Beck's touring band (he also played on Odelay). After returning from the Odelay tour, Brown assembled an eclectic group of session players from the LA area and beyond, and began creating his hybrid sound. He released the band's first self-titled album in 1999 on his own South China Sea Records label, and got good local buzz regarding it. Later that year, the album was picked up by Engine Records and rereleased as 2002.

Brazzaville released two more albums in the U.S., Somnambulista in 2001 and Rouge On Pockmarked Cheeks in 2002, before Brown broke up the band, moved to Barcelona, Spain, and assembled a new European version of Brazzaville which is still recording to this day. I haven't heard any of his latest stuff, but I hope that it's as strong as his debut album. Have a listen, and let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Toy Love - Live At The Cook (Vol. 1 & 2)

Toy Love, formed in early 1979, is essentially the beginning of the Golden Age of New Zealand alternative music. They were not the first band in the country to play spiky, anti-mainstream, punk-flavoured noise-rock. That distinction would have to fall to The Enemy, Toy Love's immediate predecessor (New Zealand punk godfather Chris Knox, guitarist Alec Bathgate and drummer Mike Dooley were all members of The Enemy prior to forming Toy Love). In addition, The Clean had formed in Dunedin in 1977 (although after an aborted start following an ill-advised move to Auckland in 1979, the Clean reformed with a new lineup in 1980 and found greater success). But Toy Love was the first New Zealand band of this genre to realize some measure of success. They were the first to be signed to a major national label (WEA New Zealand), and their first single "Rebel b/w Squeeze", released in July 1979, brought them great acclaim and a rabid national following.

But like most New Zealand bands with aspirations of glory, Toy Love figured that its next step to greatness would happen across the Tasman. In early 1980, they made the move in an attempt to break the Australian market. That move was an unmitigated disaster, punctuated by gigs at half-empty Aussie clubs and general public indifference (they just didn't 'get' Toy Love in Oz - too bad). The culmination of their Australian
adventure was the recording of their only (self-titled) album, a disc that was mixed so poorly (basically, they erased all the bass lines) that one member claimed that she burst into tears upon hearing the final release. Toy Love returned to New Zealand after less than a year in Australia, and broke up just before Christmas 1980.

Still, they are widely acknowledged as a pivotal point in NZ music, and many of its members, especially Chris Knox, have gone on to long, varied and heralded careers in music. Their album, as crappy-sounding as it was, was still a coveted collectors item, and there were several websites set up in honor of the band. Demand for the album was so high, that a few years ago an effort was made to uncover the original master tapes. Once found, the entire album was remixed and rerecorded, along with other Toy Love songs from that era. The
release of the resulting two-disc album, Toy Love: Cuts, was a major media event in New Zealand and a big seller, 25 years after the original album release.

Back about a decade ago, there used to be a great fan-created website (long defunct) called The Kiwi who ran it was a devoted Toy Lover, and in addition to downloads he had made available of the hard-to-find sole album, the guy also had bootlegs of live performances for sale, including a superb two-disc recording of one of Toy Love's last New Zealand gigs, at the Captain Cook in Dunedin in late 1980.

I contacted the guy immediately, sent him my money, and in a couple of weeks received the discs, which were burned off of a cassette recording of the gig. For a tape dub, these CDs sound superb. And they really capture what it was like to hear a definitive New Zealand band at the height of its powers. Just about every song ever written by Toy Love is included in this compilation, along with other songs that have never appeared on any official release.

1. Amputee Song
2. Swimming Pool
3. Fifteen
4. Rebel
5. I Don't Mind
6. The second to last song Toy Love wrote (with non ad lib lyrics)
7. Toy Love Song
8. Don't Catch Fire
9. Bedroom
10. Unscrewed Up
11. Cold Meat
12. I'm In Love
13. Photographs Of Naked Ladies
14. I Wanna Die With You
15. Sheep
1. Fucking Around
2. The Crunch
3. Squeeze
4. Fucking Around
5. Don't Ask Me
6. I Thought I Needed You
7. Good old Joe
8. Fingernail On Blackboard Grin
9. Lust
10. Greenwalls/Yummy Yummy Yummy/Positively Fourth St.
11. Siamese Twin
12. Death Rehearsal
13. Bride of Frankenstein
14. Ain't It Nice
15. Pull Down The Shades
16. Frogs
These are great, rare albums to hear and enjoy. Therefore, here you are. I look forward to your comments regarding them.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

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The fall of Rapidshare (or, "Scalped In The Alps")

Sorry for the long interval between posts . . . I'm sure that like some of you out there, I've been going round and round with the arrogant Swiss bastards who run Rapidshare, regarding their new access/pricing policies. Thanks to the greed of these yodeling, cuckoo-clock making dipshits, I've been endeavoring to find a new source to upload my files.

While in the midst of the search for a better source, today, lo and behold, Rapidshare came to their senses (sort of). They sent out the following message late today (my comments italicized and in brackets):

"As a result of the recent adjustments to our product and pricing model we have received a lot of feedback from our users. There was also positive response [Bullshit! EVERYONE hated the new policy, which is why you fuckers are backing down] but we want to be honest with you: most [translation into English: "all"] answers were negative. With our adjustments we have alienated many users [Really? And you're actually SHOCKED by this?!?]. As a matter of course, that was not our intention [we just wanted all of your money]. Instead, it is our goal to introduce a system that gives you more flexibility [and still stuff a few more Swiss francs into our bank accounts in Zurich]. However, we are happy about every single user response that we have received as this is the only way we can learn what our users really want [yes, we really love to receive piles of emails telling us to go fuck ourselves!]. That is the reason why we have fundamentally revised our offer one more time and made it much simpler."

It's all a bunch of BS. All they're after is more money for their site - greedy chocolate-eating Alps-climbing war-dodging weasels.

So, I'm done with Rapidshare. As many of you may have noticed, I've added Mediafire links to all of my previous posts. From now on I will be posting everything through Mediafire - password free (the password will still apply to the remaining Rapidshare files, as long as I have them up).

Rapidshare should be kissing my behind, and that of every other Allied country that saved their country's bacon and kept their citizenry from getting their cheese-scented, stolen-Jewish-gold-encrusted hands dirty during World War II. In the immortal words of David Letterman, "while they were dipping fondue, we were kicking Nazi butt."

'Nuff said. Back to the music.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I'm still around . . .

Haven't quit on this blog yet . . . I've just been busy with work and traveling and all. More posts coming later this month.

Happy 4th of July, everyone.