Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Various Artists - Christmas With The Rat Pack

Sorry I've been so quiet recently, gang. For some reason or another, I just seem to have lost my writing mojo for the time being . . . I can't explain it any other way. There are several music features and stories that are in various stages of completion, but due to a combination of several unrelated (or possibly interrelated) factors (including lack of time, general malaise, and other things I need not go into here), I just can't seem to bring them to a finish. When I do, I'll probably be backfilling a lot of the weeks since my last post in mid-November. So check the monthly indexes to the right from time to time, to see if there's anything there that hasn't been there before.

So again, sorry. I get this way from time to time - the words don't flow the way I'd like, and so I just shut down for a bit. But not to worry - I'll be back at it again soon, with more tunes for you to enjoy, coupled with my rambling, interminable stories that you all have learned to tolerate(!). See you all in 2012. Until then, when I get my act together . . .

Here's a holiday offering for you all - Christmas With The Rat Pack, featuring Yuletide favorites from Dino, Sammy and Frank (apparently, Joey Bishop can't sing, and Peter Lawford was too drunk to participate). I got this for Christmas in 2002, and initially didn't think much of it, since I didn't have a great affinity for the whole "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" era and its trappings. But I must say that over the years, this album has grown on me, and I play it quite a bit over the holidays. Here's the song lineup:

1. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - Dean Martin
2. Mistletoe And Holly - Frank Sinatra
3. Christmas Time All Over The World - Sammy Davis, Jr.
4. The First Noel - Frank Sinatra
5. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Dean Martin
6. I Believe - Frank Sinatra
7. Silver Bells - Dean Martin
8. The Christmas Song - Sammy Davis, Jr.
9. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Frank Sinatra
10. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Dean Martin
11. The Christmas Waltz - Frank Sinatra
12. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm - Dean Martin)
13. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra)
14. Peace On Earth/Silent Night - Dean Martin
15. Jingle Bells - Sammy Davis, Jr.
16. White Christmas (Reprise) - Dean Martin
17. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear - Frank Sinatra
18. Winter Wonderland - Dean Martin
19. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Frank Sinatra
20. Marshmallow World - Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin
21. Auld Lang Syne - Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin

Say what you want about The Rat Pack and their hokey '60s Vegas trappings - these guys could SING. Hope this CD grows on you all as well. Enjoy, and thanks again. See ya next year!

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (RS500 - #406)

I've been checking back over the posts - it's been months since I did a Rolling Stone 500 album. That's inexcusable on my part! So here goes . . .

I first became aware of Sinead O'Connor in the late fall of 1987, when a good friend of mine (that girl I referred to here) clued me in to this great new Irish artist and her debut album, The Lion And The Cobra. I quickly ran out to the local music store in Athens, GA, where I was living at the time, and picked up a cassette copy. The cover art featured a pale, demure-looking girl dressed in blue, strikingly beautiful even with her shaved bald head. As soft and gentle as she looked on the cover, the music inside The Lion And The Cobra was anything but - every song (even the more 'gentle' ballads) was filled with tension and power; you could tell Ms. O'Connor threw herself into every note. The juxtaposition between the image and the music couldn't have been more stark. Still, this album quickly became a favorite of mine, and I brought it along with me everywhere.

I left Georgia a couple of months later, moving up to Norfolk, VA, and in the summer of 1988 found myself briefly in London, England, my first visit to that country. I was excited about checking out all of the music shops and venues there, and at one point found myself at the old Virgin Records at Piccadilly Circus, going through the stacks (this was the place I saw the 'CD factory' in the basement level, mentioned here). There, I came across the original British release of The Lion And The Cobra, and was somewhat shocked to find that the cover art was totally different from the American release. The UK album showed a much more threatening, aggressive O'Connor - frankly, she looked a little like the Devil . . . which, in my mind, makes the album that much cooler.

I did a little research, and learned that Chrysalis Records, the US distributor, was worried that O'Connor's 'look' would scare Americans away from buying the record. So the label, seeking to protect 'sensitive' Yankee minds from harmful, disturbing images, purposely replaced the original album art with a softer, less threatening pose . . . thus continuing the long and ignominious tradition of bowldering and homogenizing British releases for American consumption (with examples including Capitol Records issuing reordered (or in some cases, totally different) early Beatles albums; the censorship of the covers of Blind Faith's debut album and Roxy Music's Country Life; changing the name of Nick Lowe's first album from Jesus Of Cool to Pure Pop For Now People . . . the list goes on and on).

Anyway . . .

A year and a half later, I was back in the States, back in Virginia, and started seeing a girl I met at an Awareness Art Ensemble reggae show at the old King's Head club near Old Dominion University. My brother, an ODU student at the time, invited me to check the band out, and she caught my attention when I sensed her eyeballing me from across the bar. She was cute, small with short bobbed hair, and we seemd to have a lot in common, despite her (for me) 'unconventionality' (for example, she usually dressed all in black - not completely goth, per se, but not in a style that I was used to with my other girlfriends).

We went out quite a bit during the spring of 1990, hitting the bars in the Virginia Beach area, or grabbing a bite to eat at the Jewish Mother deli or Waffle House, or hanging out in her room until the wee hours (she still lived with her folks, so I had to be SUPER quiet . . .). With all the time we spent together, I gained a clearer indication of some of the issues and hangups that were obviously tormenting this girl - and there were many (which I need not go into here). Actually, I kind of sensed that something wasn't quite right with her from the first conversation we had; it wasn't anything specific, just little stuff - the way she moved her head, a telltale lilt in her voice. I should've cut and run early on, but the girl was intriguing, and fun to be around. And despite what was swirling around her her noggin, she seemed to enjoy my company just as much as I enjoyed hers. Shoot, I LIKED this girl, quite a bit. So I hung in there, hoping against hope she would - I don't know, "snap out of it" or something (yeah, yeah, I know - but I'm a guy, and that's how we think. So sue me).

The same month I started hanging out with her, MTV started airing the video of "Nothing Compares 2 U", the first single off of Sinead O'Connor's upcoming album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. The setup for the film was simple enough - a closeup of the singer, tightly focusing on her face while she sang the tune, intercut by moody, brooding shots of O'Connor wandering morosely around Paris. It's been over twenty years since this video debuted, but to this day it still retains much of its original impact and power. Sinead sings her heart out; you almost feel like a voyeur, watching this girl sing through what apparently was genuine anguish and pain (the tears falling from her eyes near the end just completely hammered that sense of loss home). And yet, you couldn't help but continue watching - she was just incredibly beautiful in the film; you couldn't take your eyes off of her:

My girlfriend and I were both big fans of this song and video, and watched a lot of MTV together, hoping to see it as much as possible. Of course, as new couples are wont to do, we strived to relate this song to our own relationship - I recall us many times staring dewy-eyed at one another while "Nothing Compares 2 U" played in the background (and yes, that is exactly as sappy as it sounds . . .). In addition to the music and atmosphere of the video, another thing that jumped out at me was the long coat that O'Connor wore during the "walking through Paris" portions. I thought to myself, "I gotta get me a coat like that!" After weeks of searching, I finally found the perfect one at a nearby Burlington Coat Factory - as black as midnight, and reaching practically down to my ankles. I wore that coat constantly, even with the weather beginning to warm up in the Norfolk area - apparently, I thought I looked cool in it.

O'Connor's LP was released in March (of course I snapped it up on cassette immediately). By the end of April/first part of May, both the album and the lead single were topping not only the American charts, but music charts worldwide. At around the same time, my ship was preparing for another six-month deployment, this time to South America. I was bumming about being away from this chick for so long, especially as she had also made plans to leave the country during that time, heading over to Europe and the Middle East for several months. I spent as much time with her as possible in my last few days in Virginia, then left one morning in early June for parts south, a very unhappy hombre.

The first month of our cruise was spent in the Caribbean, in places like Puerto Rico and Aruba. It should have been a lot more fun for me than it was. But I spent much of my time in the tropical paradises brooding over the girl I left behind. "Nothing Compares 2 U" was a big hit as well in all of the countries we visited, so it played constantly everywhere, always reminding me of her. I can recall riding in a shuttle bus in Aruba with a bunch of other shipmates, headed to Oranjestad to check out the signts and nightlife there, when suddenly this song came over the bus radio. It depressed me so much that I almost returned to the ship.

But as the cruise progressed, I began to enjoy myself more and more, and revel in all that the Caribbean and South America had to offer in terms of nightlife and danger. I attended a swank outdoor party at a naval base in Cartagena, a function quietly guarded by scores of rifle-toting Columbian Marines patrolling in the shadows. In Peru, in the midst of a martial law crackdown by the new Fujimori government, I went to a reception at the U.S. Embassy in Lima on a bus with blacked-out windows and armed guards stationed fore and aft, and during the party spoke at length with an affable embassy official who I realized much later was probably a CIA operative. I played roulette in a beautiful old casino in Valparaiso: got to wear my cool new long black coat out in Punta Arenas at the bottom of the continent: danced the lambada (badly) in Recife: and partied hard in Rio, one of the few cities in my experience which totally lived up to its advance billing.

As for my girl back in Virginia, I heard less and less from her as the weeks progressed and she was off on her own overseas trip. As my ship moved counterclockwise around the continent, the intensity of the feelings I had for her, nearly overwhelming at the beginning of the journey, began to subside. In mathematics, a standard equation is "rate equals distance over time". I discovered, as the months passed, that that numerical relationship also generally holds true for personal relationships - the rate at which I thought less and less about her increased with the length of our cruise and the time spent away from Norfolk.

By the time of our return to the U.S. in early December, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got had faded from the charts. My girl, back in the States ahead of me, was there to greet me as we pulled into port. But the thing we had had faded as well. We had a half-hearted reunion, then called it quits a couple of weeks later. I guess I knew early on that our thing wasn't built for the long haul - just like Sinead O'Connor's career. This LP and her hit song was her U.S. peak. A series of bad career moves, including two poorly received albums (1992's Am I Not Your Girl? (a set of jazz standard covers) and 1994's Universal Mother) combined with a disasterous appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in late 1992, seriously derailed her career. She wouldn't make another album until 2000's Faith And Courage. Despite her still-considerable talents, none of her efforts over the past 20 years have came close to the heights she reached in 1990. Too bad - for a short while in the music world, nothing compared to her.

Anyway, here's the album, released by Ensign Records in 1990 and distributed in the U.S. by Chrysalis Records. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think:

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And here's a special bonus: Sinead O'Connor's stunning cover of "Sacrifice", from a 1991 tribute album devoted to the songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. After I heard this the first time, I felt that no one should ever be allowed to cover this song again. See if you agree:

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(And, by the way - I still have that coat.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A little help requested from my blog viewers

Mediafire has been doing something funky with my files - unbeknownst to me, it appears that some of the music files that link to my posts here have mysteriously disappeared for no apparent reason. I was doing a review tonight, and found that both the Kiss Alive! and The Stone Roses albums are no longer in my Mediafire files, and are showing as "deleted or unavailable" when you click on the link here.

All of the files for all of the posts I've made here since the start of Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole should be fully available, except for the ones that the DCMA forced me to delete, due to copyright rules. So, in the future, if you happen to click on something and a message pops up showing that it is not available, let me know ASAP, and I'll reup the file.

I just shitcanned one carrier (Rapidshare); I'm really not in the mood to get dicked around by another one. I'm hoping that the problems I'm having with Mediafire are isolated. As such, I will say no more about them until circumstances force me otherwise.

Thanks for your help. And please keep coming back.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bernard Herrmann & The National Philharmonic Orchestra – Psycho (Complete Music For Alfred Hitchcock's Classic Suspense Thriller)

And finally this month, a special treat for this Hallow's Eve - the complete score to Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's terror classic, released in 1960 and still just as creepy and scary as hell over fifty years later. This is arguably the greatest movie score of all time, in terms of its originality, lasting impact, and direct effect it made on the viewer's reaction to the film - Hitchcock himself was quoted as saying that "33% of the the effect of Psycho was due to the music" (a modest understatment, in my opinion). Hard to believe that Bernard Herrmann's participation in this movie, and the sounds he created, almost didn't happen.

Paramount, the studio producing the movie, lowballed Hitchcock on the production costs, forcing the great director to make Psycho on the cheap - utilizing his "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" TV crew instead of a real film crew, cutting corners and toning down a lot of the lavish aspects and touches that graced his classic films of the 1950's (like Rear Window and North By Northwest). Hitchcock had worked with Herrmann on five of his previous films, and wanted him for Psycho as well, but Herrmann was initially reluctant to do so, as Hitchcock offered him a lower fee than before due to the film's smaller budget. When he finally signed on to write the movie music, Herrmann took advantage of the limited funds available to score the music for a smaller string ensemble, instead of the full symphony orchestra used in earlier Hitchcock films. He also (wisely) blew off Hitchcock's request for Psycho to have a complete jazz score. The results of Herrmann's work speak for themselves. The "shower scene" score is, to this day, still considered the most frightening theme from any movie:

This recording was made on October 2nd, 1975, with Herrmann conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra at Barking Assembly Hall, London, England (just a couple of months before the great composer's death). It was originally released on vinyl that year, and later released on CD by the Unicorn-Kanchana label in 1989. This is considered to be the best of several Psycho soundtrack recordings currently available. I've had this thing for forever - I'm pretty sure I bought it at the late, lamented Olsson's Books & Music at their Georgetown, DC location. That place always had interesting, off-the-wall music available, not to mention outstanding books and a laid-back atmosphere. The demise of that small but important bookstore chain a couple of years ago was a heavy loss to the DC area. Outside of Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle (the only halfway decent indie bookstore left in DC), no one has been able to completely fill the void left by Olsson's - sadly, Kramerbooks doesn't have a music section. Oh well.

If you want to really scare yourself tonight, turn off all the lights, then play track 17 in the pitch dark - I guarantee you'll be creeped out for the rest of the evening. Whether you do so or not, I wish all of you a safe, scary, bloodcurdling Halloween! Enjoy, and I hope to see you all here next month!

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Various Artists - Revenge Of The Killer B's, Vol. 2

For all you completists out there - here's the follow-up/companion volume to my previous post - Revenge Of The Killer B's, Vol. 2, released by Warner Bros. Records in 1984, in the wake of the superb and successful Attack Of The Killer B's, Vol. 1. Just like its brother, Revenge . . . contains rare b-sides and unreleased material from some of that era's top bands.

Unlike Vol. 1, this album was issued in both vinyl and cassette, although like the previous disc, it has never been released on CD. This post was burned off of my cassette version; the tape differs from the record in that it contains one 'bonus' song, NRBQ's collaboration with 1980s wrestling impresario Capt. Lou Albano. Here's the lineup:

1. Fleetwood Mac – Cool Water
2. Marshall Crenshaw – Somebody Like You
3. Depeche Mode – Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead
4. Rank And File – Post Office
5. The B-52's – Moon 83
6. The Pretenders – Money (Live)
7. NRBQ w/Lou Albano - Boardin' House Pie
8. Talking Heads – I Wish You Wouldn't Say That
9. Echo And The Bunnymen – Way Out And Up We Go
10. Tom Verlaine – Your Finest Hour
11. Kid Creole And The Coconuts – You Had No Intention
12. Madonna – Ain't No Big Deal
13. Aztec Camera – Set The Killing Free

Some of my favorite songs off of Vol. 2 include Depeche Mode's surprisingly peppy and upbeat tune "Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead", Echo & The Bunnymen's "Way Out And Up We Go", and the excellent and funky "You Had No Intention", by the now-woefully unappreciated and nearly forgotten Kid Creole & The Coconuts (here's a great live version from a show the band did in Germany in 1982):

But every song here is great and a rare gem . . . even the one with Capt. Lou!

So, there you go - now you have two discs of classic '80s rock and new wave b-sides to enjoy! And I hope you do - as always, let me hear what you have to say regarding this album.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Various Artists - Attack Of The Killer B's, Vol. 1

Okey dokey, gang - here's a real rarity for you . . .

I got this one at the old Strawberries record store in Downtown Crossing, Boston during the summer of 1984. I was in the midst of my Naval Academy summer cruise, travelling up and down the East Coast in a small flotilla of YP (yard patrol) craft with several other classmates. The first place we stopped on our journey that summer was Bath, Maine - not high on my list of places to visit, needless to say. The locals there were jazzed to have actual Annapolis midshipmen within their midst, and pretty hospitable, throwing us a pretty lavish Independence Day picnic party. But it was one of the coldest Fourth of Julys I've ever experienced - we had to wear pretty heavy jackets during the outdoor festivities that afternoon. And the drinkers in our group (which were many, but did not, at the time, include myself) were grumbling under their breaths, because the only suds made available at the party was watery, cheap-ass Red White & Blue beer (it pains me to point out this egregious example of Boat School snobbery and entitlement - hell, it WAS free beer). Other than that, there wasn't much for us to do up there. With that grim combination of boredom and chilliness, we were all ready to move on to the next destination as soon as possible.

Boston was to be the first big-city stop on our journey; we arrived there a couple of days later, and docked in Charlestown, close to the berth of the historic USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"). I had spent some time in Boston in earlier years, when I was a high school student in a small town on the South Shore. But this visit was the first time I really had the opportunity and freedom to do pretty much what I wished. I rode the T all over the city, went out to Cambridge to visit some friends attending Harvard, hung out on the Common and at Fanueil Hall Marketplace. It was all pretty fun.

One night during our stay, a couple of shipmates and I decided to head out to catch the recently released Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom at a theater in Park Square (now long gone, replaced by a huge parking garage and a couple of upscale restaurants like Fleming's Steakhouse and Legal Sea Foods). We took the T to the Downtown Crossing station, and started walking.

Back in the mid-80s, even though Downtown Crossing was a major shopping area in Boston (the late, lamented Filene's and Jordan Marsh department stores were going strong then), it was still a sketchy area. It was sort of dirty and disreputable, especially as the evening hours came on - after all, the Combat Zone, the city's old red light district, was only a couple of blocks away down Washington Street. It wasn't the sort of place you thought about hanging around once the sun started going down. But that's where we were, on foot, with the Combat Zone between us and our destination. I wasn't worried - just a little leery. But that leeriness dissipated when we came upon Strawberries, a big music store that used to stand in the area right across from the big department stores. We had to sidle by a couple of gangs of toughs hanging out in front of the place, but no matter - back then, I'd walk over hot coals to get inside a decent record store!

The movie didn't start for a while, so we spent some time going through the stacks at Strawberries. The store was built on a deep but rather narrow plot, so it was sort of hard to get around its multiple levels, most of which were accessible only by elevator. There weren't a lot of CDs available in 1984, so the majority of wares available were records and cassette tapes.

I stumbled across Attack Of The Killer B's in the vinyl racks almost by chance; at first glance, it looked like nothing more than a chance for Warner Brothers to make a few dollars off of old rags and bones from their vaults that they didn't deem worthy enough to release on proper albums. But then I looked at the song list, and the first one that hit my eyes was "Love Goes To A Building On Fire" by Talking Heads. I had long been a big Talking Heads fan, so of course I had heard of this legendary unreleased song, but at that point had never actually heard the tune. So seeing it finally available here was pretty exciting to me. I started looking over some of the other songs on the compilation, and noted that almost all the them were hard-to-find rarities by some pretty big-time bands. Here's the lineup:

1. Marshall Crenshaw – You're My Favorite Waste Of Time
2. The Pretenders – In The Sticks
3. The Blasters – What Will Lucy Do?
4. The Ramones – Babysitter
5. John Hiatt – Take Time To Know Her
6. Roxy Music – Always Unknowing
7. Peter Gabriel – Shock Den Affen
8. The Time – Grace
9. Talking Heads – Love Goes To A Building On Fire
10. Gang Of Four – Producer
11. T-Bone Burnett – Amnesia And Jealousy (Oh Lana)
12. Laurie Anderson – Walk The Dog

To my chagrin, the album didn't appear to be available on cassette. But I was damned if I was going to leave it behind. So I purchased the vinyl copy, which I carried around with me for the rest of the night in a red plastic Strawberries bag. It sat on my lap during the entire movie as well. Since there wasn't a record player on board the YP, I had to wait several weeks until we got back to Annapolis to listen to the record, and I was not disappointed. Every song on the album was superb, and as such, Attack Of The Killer B's was a great addition to my collection.

[I still kick myself about one thing from the evening I purchased this record. As we were coming out of the shop and headed to the movies, I noticed a flyer attached to a light pole, advertising the only Boston appearance - that very same evening - of Gang Of Four on their 1984 "farewell" tour. I wasn't as big a fan of Go4 then was I would be later, so I didn't really consider blowing off Indiana Jones and checking them out that night. Looking back, I wish that I had - I've seen the band a couple of times since their reformation, but it would have been awesome to have seen them live in their heyday. Oh well.]

This album was released only on vinyl, and to date has never been released on either cassette or CD. I honestly forget that I had this disc until just recently, when I was going through some boxes in the basement and stumbled over it. As happy as I was with my find, I wasn't very happy about the condition I found this record in - I like to take care of my stuff better than this. As such, the burn from vinyl to MP3 was not without its challenges - you'll find that the quality on the Roxy Music song is pretty scratchy. And I finally just gave up with the Peter Gabriel song, and replaced the vinyl version with an identical one I had on CD. Otherwise, the burns are pretty good and cleaned up, and every song is here.

I hope that you all enjoy this album as much as I have over the years. Check it out, and let me know what you think:

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[22 Oct 2013 - Well, it appears that I was incorrect about this album never appearing on cassette - I received the following picture today from a new visitor to this site:

Thanks for the update, John!  And welcome to the blog!]

Monday, October 10, 2011

Various Artists - Punk Rock Baby

It's true what they say - a baby changes everything. The birth of the first child is a very traumatic experience for new parents. Everything you've ever taken for granted in life, all of the relative freedoms and spontanaity you've enjoyed up to that point, is gone forever. While that sounds like a bummer, it really is not, because believe me, what you get back in return when you see that little person for the first time is worth a million times more than the things you think you're "losing" in your life. The arrival of Number One causes you to begin to think outside of your needs and the needs of your partner, and start thinking more about and preparing for the future, not just for the child, but for yourself as well. It's not just the immediate and long-term material needs - cribs, diapers, baby food, Christmas toys, Halloween costumes and college funds - but intangible things as well - "How can I bring this kid up to be happy and well-adjusted?" "How do I teach her right from wrong?" "What can I do now to influence his life in a positive way?"

Thus, one of my main priorities was to ensure that my firstborn was exposed early on to cool, non-commercial, non-crappy music.

Now, I wasn't about to pull a B. F. Skinner with his box, or John Watson with his Little Albert experiment, on my baby girl (look it up if you don't know what I'm referring to) - I wasn't that nutty about it. But it was my hope that by feeding my daughter a low-volume dose of stuff like The Clash, The Specials, and The Smiths from time to time, that somehow this 'good' music would sort of imprint itself in her brain, so that later on in life she would know enough to reject junk like The Spice Girls, Hannah Montana and the rest of the Disney kid bands. I swear I wasn't trying to turn her into some sort of weird preadolescent goth kid - I just looked down the road into a possible future with she and I living in a house where the walls of her room were plastered with Jonas Brothers and Hanson posters, and the insipid strains of neo-bubblegum dead-eyed 'rock' would come wafting nonstop out from under her door. And I didn't like what I saw. I was intent on altering that timeline!

My efforts started long before the due date. Around six months prior, I began playing a lot more music around the house, putting on as much Cocteau Twins, Lisa Germano and Liz Phair as I could get away with (my wife was tolerant of most of my musical choices, but not a huge fan of most of my favorite groups). I dragged her pregnant self along with me to see bands like The B-52s and The Pretenders when they played at Fair Park in Dallas, hoping that some of the tunes were "sinking in" down there. And after the birth, on the day mother and child were released from the hospital, I made a point of ensuring that the very first song our newborn would hear on the ride home was Stereolab's "Lo Boob Oscillator", my favorite song at the time - I had it cued up and waiting in the CD player.

Now I knew that I couldn't very well have the stereo piped up into the baby's room - it wouldn't have been good for her, and I don't think her mother would have allowed it anyway. We did put a music player in her room, but all it played was stuff like The Best of Elmo and The Little Mermaid soundtrack, at very low volume. Cutting-edge music was all but completely shut out! So I secretly searched for a viable alternative, and found it online on a website based in London, England - Punk Rock Baby, a CD of classic punk tunes reimagined as lullabyes. My problem was solved! I quietly ordered the disc, which was quickly shipped to me, and one evening just before the baby fell asleep, I surrepticiously slipped this album on while Mama wasn't looking.

Actually, the concept was pretty ingenious, and I stood in the baby's room for a while, listening and trying to guess the identity of each song as it came on. Here's the song lineup (all 'lullabyed' by an in-house group led by a musician named William South):

1. Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (orginally by The Jam)
2. Ever Fallen In Love (orignally by The Buzzcocks)
3. Smash It Up (originally by The Damned)
4. London Calling (originally by The Clash)
5. Teenage Kicks (originally by The Undertones)
6. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (originally by The Ramones)
7. Pretty Vacant (originally by The Sex Pistols)
8. White Riot (originally by The Clash)
9. No More Heroes (originally by The Stranglers)
10. Into The Valley (originally by Skids)
11. Sex And Drugs And Rock 'N' Roll (originally by Ian Dury & The Blockheads)
12. Sunday Girl (originally by Blondie)
13. Hong Kong Garden (originally by Siouxsie & The Banshees)

These are not hard-core punk tunes at all, but very light, soft, delightful renditions perfectly made for the ears and brain of a newborn. My favorites on this disc include "Pretty Vacant" and "Sex And Drugs And Rock 'N' Roll", both of which are shockingly well suited for the lullaby treatment. It took my wife a while to catch on to what was being played, but in the end, due to the nature of this music, she acquiesed.

And how, you may ask, did my efforts turned out? Is my now-tween-aged daughter an aficionado of Sonic Youth and James Chance? Can she speak knowledgably about Bob Marley and Prince Buster? Can she spot the influence of Johnny Marr's guitar work in the music of The Wedding Present and Oasis? Well . . . frankly, no. Nowadays, she loves Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the Black Eyed Peas . . . she never misses an episode of "Glee" - I was even coerced into taking her to the Glee 3-D movie (a waste of depth perception if there ever was one) . . . and on the wall in her room, there's a giant poster of Lady Gaga.

Damn . . . Oh well - I tried.

If you'd care to make the effort with your own youngsters, or if you'd just like to hear these off-kilter renditions of old classics yourself, here's the disc. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Various Artists - Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Halloween

More upcoming-holiday-themed madness for you - the final volume of Rhino's classic Just Can't Get Enough series, compiling New Wave hits from 1979 to 1985. Rhino originally released fifteen volumes in this series between June 1994 and June 1995, then in following years releasing discs containing New Wave selections based on particular themes (New Wave Xmas and New Wave Women, for example). I bought every one of these albums religiously when they came out back in the mid/late 90s, and own the full set.

The entire Just Can't Get Enough oeuvre is a must-have for any true connoisseur of Eighties music. Each and every disc contains not only classics from that particular period, but also have at least one or two New Wave obscurities, songs that may have flown under your radar back then. As such, each album is full of "ah ha!" moments, and this one here is no exception. There will be songs here that you immediately recognize (like Ministry's "Every Day Is Halloween" (in my opinion, the peak of the band's "pop" period, before moving on to their more groundbreaking industrial sound) and Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party"), along with unfamiliar gems like the "Halloween"-titled tunes by Dream Syndicate, Sonic Youth and Siouxsie & The Banshees.

Rhino has no plans to release any additional compilations in this series, or for that matter to rerelease the original volumes (reportedly due to licensing issues). And frankly, they don't need to put out any new ones - for a nearly complete overview of the entire history of New Wave music, these albums are hard to top. And New Wave Halloween is a fine addition and fitting coda to this set.

So, enjoy your soon-to-be-with-us Hallowed Evening with some fine left-of-center music! Here's the album - as always, let me know your thoughts on it. Boo!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hall & Oates - Ultimate Daryl Hall & John Oates (Discs 1 & 2)

In July 1983, I returned to my old hometown of Annapolis, Maryland, and began my plebe (freshman) year at the Naval Academy, a lifelong dream of mine. Plebe Summer is a time-honored tradition at USNA, a time when inductees are tested, trained and molded into military officers. The (all too true) joke about Plebe Summer is that they take away everything you're accustomed to in life, and slowly give them back to you as 'privileges' during your remaining four years at the Academy. And that's EVERYTHING - freedom, civilian clothes, music (the hardest blow for me), sleep . . . (and some would say 'dignity' as well . . . but we'll just move on). That summer is designed to be demanding and rough, both physically and mentally, and many don't make it through these first few weeks. A few plebes excel, but most just grit their teeth and slog their way through it; I was one of the latter.

So I presevered like the rest. We were up before the sun every morning, and every minute of every day was tightly scheduled and fully utilized, with marching, three-mile runs, close-order drill, uniform and room inspections, sailing instruction, ship and aircraft identification, and a million other things to do before lights out. In the midst of all of this intensive training, physical exertion, spit-and-polish and military pride and tradition - I met a girl and fell in love.

Near the end of the summer, the authorities began giving us . . . well, not exactly free time, but the opportunity to choose for ourselves what we wanted to do during sports period in the late afternoon. We were free to try out different intermural activities, and one day, on the recommendation of a friend, I decided to look into the fencing class over in Ricketts Hall. I'd seen it on TV, and it looked like fun. It was in that class that I saw her close up for the first time. She was a fellow plebe in a different company from mine, and as such her living quarters were far away on the other side of Bancroft Hall. I had noticed her during marches and morning runs, but until that point I'd never been within 50 yards of her. A buddy of mine was in her company, and as luck would have it, he was also in the fencing class that day, and introduced us. We had the chance to talk a bit between waving epees around, and seemed to connect somewhat. Even wearing the drab Academy-issue athletic gear, I thought she was gorgeous.

Plebe Summer finally ended, and the upperclassmen returned for the start of the Academic Year. Even with the start of classes, a plebe's time was still tightly scheduled, but in a different way than in the summer. But with all that we had to do, I still made the time to cross the huge Bancroft Hall dormitory (I was in 7th Wing, she was in 4th) - down the center of each passageway at a dog trot, arms close to my body, shouting "Go Navy" or "Beat Army" when making a sharp 90-degree turn - to see her as much as I could. I was taking a risk seeing her so much - Academy regulations strictly forbid relationships between first-year students, so I had to play it uber-cool. Besides, early on I wasn't quite sure where I stood with her; I believed that she thought of me more than as a fellow plebe, but I couldn't get a sign from her either way. So I had to lay back, and see what happened.

In October, the Naval Academy Drama Club ('The Masqueraders') put on a multipart production of Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, calling the whole shebang Kings. I had a bit part in the first portion, but nothing in the latter parts. So on the second night, I invited her to attend the show with me. We sat side by side in the audience of the darkened Mahan Hall theater, the only lighting illuminating the stage. At one point in the play, Sir John Falstaff was parleying with his boon companion, the wastrel Prince Hal, and said/did something particularly uproarous. As I laughed with the rest of the audience, I brought my hand down on the armrest and, to my surprise, found it resting on top of hers. She instantly grabbed mine, and it was as though an electric shock ran up my arm! We sat there in the dark for the rest of the play, holding hands secretly, down low so no one would spot us. That's when I knew for certain how she felt about me . . . that is, at least I thought I did.

The next few weeks were . . . trying, to say the least. I wanted to see as much of her as possible, which of course wasn't much time at all. We began scheduling "study" sessions together in empty classrooms in Michelson and Chauvenet Halls after evening meal, but soon had to stop doing that after nearly getting busted by one of the upperclassmen patrolling these buildings one night. But finally, a rare and unique opportunity presented itself.

That November, for the first time (and as it turned out, for the ONLY time) ever, the annual Army-Navy football was played not in its usual Philadelphia location, but on the West Coast, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. And thanks to the efforts of Academy boosters and private contributors, the ENTIRE Brigade of Midshipmen and West Point Corps of Cadets would be in attendance.

For us plebes, this trip to California was to be a rare taste of freedom from Academy regulations for a couple of days. While many mids and cadets were going to be housed in various area hotels, the majority of us were put up, in twos and threes, with local families (from what I heard later, many more people volunteered to host us than were required - say what you want, but the L.A. area is pretty hospitable). As such, restrictions on civilian attire for all midshipmen, including plebes, were lifted - only on the day of the game would we be required to be in uniform. The game was also our only official function during that period; prior to that, we were on our own and could do what we wished. Needless to say, I was REALLY looking forward to this trip - not only for a mental break, but as a rare opportunity to spend some serious quality time with my girlfriend.

In California, I was going to stay with a sponsor family along with my buddy Jim, a fellow plebe in my company. We had been in touch with our temporary landlords in the week prior to the journey - they lived in Pasadena, fairly close to the stadium. My girl was staying with her roommate with a family in Torrance, California, which on a map looked reasonably close to Pasadena (I'd only been to Los Angeles once before, so I was clueless about the distances between places). At that point in my life, I still didn't have a driver's license (don't ask why - long story), but Jim was fully on board with hooking me up with her, with the nebulous promise of a double-date with her roommate as his reward. We arranged for the rental of a vehicle to tool around in during our time there.

The main body of midshipmen flew out of BWI to LAX on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (I still marvel at the logistics of moving 4,000 mids and 1,000 other related officers and staff - it all went like clockwork, without a hitch). We landed in LA that evening, and our host family met Jim and I at the airport. We immediately changed into civvies in the bathroom, then they took us over the rental car lot, where we found to our surprise and delight that the agency had upgraded us to a hot-looking red Mustang convertible. Jim put the top down, and we drove to Pasadena up the 110 through the relatively warm evening breeze, feeling on top of the world.

Having no access to my own music since the summer, my main preoccupation during the drive was finding a decent radio station. I settled on a station playing a new Hall & Oates song called "Say It Isn't So", released by RCA the previous month as one of the two new songs (the other being "Adult Education") on their greatest hits compilation album, Rock 'N Soul Part 1. "Say It Isn't So" was a continuation of Hall & Oates' evolution from a soft rock duo into more of a neo-blue-eyed soul, almost power pop band - a move that began in 1980 with their hit "You Make My Dreams", and continued through the early 80s with huge hits like "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)", "Maneater", "Private Eyes" and "Family Man". This latest song was filled with echoing vocals, syncophated electronic drums and synths, cowbell and wood block accents, and enough hooks to hang a full set of Calphalon cookware off of it. That ride to Pasadena that evening was the first of many times I heard that song that week - it quickly became the unofficial theme song to my California adventure.
"We like to be the strangers at the party, two rebels in a shell.
You like to move with the best of them you know we move so well.
Don't need someone to lean on. I know that there's an open door.
But if I'm faced with being replaced I want you even more so baby say it isn't so...
The next day was Thanksgiving Day, and as such we were obliged to spend the day with our host family. I was itching to get down to Torrance, but it just wasn't happening that day. Friday was planned as the Big Day of Freedom for the visiting academies - the only things planned for us that day was a special evening at Disneyland, with admittance only for mids, cadets, and their families and guests. I finally connected with my girl over the phone, and the plan was that Jim and I would drive down to Torrance that evening to meet up with her and her roommate, and from there we would proceed in a two-car convoy to Disneyland. Upon arrival there, we would pair off and go do our respective things.

Well, the first thing I discovered on our trip south was that Pasadena to Torrance was a hike, at least 35 miles, a trip made even longer by the standard Friday evening L.A. traffic. So we had several opportunities to hear "Say It Isn't So" during the drive down, since it seemed every radio station in the Los Angeles Basin had the song on heavy rotation.
"Who propped you up when you were stopped low motivation had you on the ground.
I know your first reaction you slide away hide away goodbye.
But if there's a doubt maybe I can give out a thousand reasons why.
You have to say it isn't so...
By the time we finally got to the place where she was staying, Jim and I were both frazzled. But I perked up immediately upon seeing her - it was the first time I'd ever seen her out of uniform (so to speak), and she looked GOOD. We said a quick hello-goodbye to her sponsor family, then we all hit the road. It was at that point that I learned that she didn't have a valid license either, so we couldn't ride with one another to Anaheim. She hopped in their rental car with her roommate, while I somewhat dejectedly climbed in beside Jim, and we began another 30+ mile drive in the dark to the park.

The traffic to Anaheim down Route 91 was pretty heavy, but for some reason, despite my protests, Jim insisted on driving like a maniac. He was weaving in and out of traffic like Mannix, music blaring ("Say It Isn't So" was heard at least once more during that drive), and soon the girls were nowhere in sight. I was plenty pissed, but fortunately she and I had made plans for this contingency - whoever got to Disneyland first would wait for the others by the front gate. So when we arrived, I immediately stationed myself by the ticket entrance near Main Street, U.S.A., and waited for her . . .

And waited . . . and waited. For nearly 2 hours. Jim waited with me for a while, then I released him from his unspoken obligation so that he could enjoy himself while I waited alone. There were thousands of people, military academy members and their guests, who streamed into the park during that time. And I'm pretty sure I eyeballed every single one of them on their way in. But somehow, someway, I missed seeing her arrive. Whether it was accidental or deliberate on her part didn't cross my mind at the time; all I could think about was how I missed my one big chance. I met up with Jim again as the park was closing, and we drove back to Pasadena, with me slumped in the passenger seat as, sure enough, "Say It Isn't So" played in the background.

The next day was the football game at the Rose Bowl. Due to my state of mind, I remember very few details of that day. We formed up into companies a couple of miles away from the stadium, and marched through a couple of Pasadena neighborhoods on the way there. Navy stomped Army, 42-13, a score that at any other time would have given me a great deal of satisfaction - but not that day. I finally met up with her late in the game, behind the stands. Couldn't get a clear explanation as to what had occurred the night before; in my mind, Jim and I were to blame for losing them on the highway. I was hoping to set up some time with her that evening, after the game, but she claimed she had other plans she couldn't break - which only added to my dejection. Overall, I was getting a weird vibe from her, and I didn't like it.

However, I saw her once more in California, in the airport waiting area the next day, just before we flew back East. In full view of other mids, she was overtly affectionate to me, in a near-blatant-disregard-of-Navy-rules sort of way. So that cheered me somewhat, and I felt pretty good on the flight back.
"Say it isn't so painful to tell me that you're dissatisfied.
Last time I asked you I really got a lame excuse.
I know that you lied.
Now wicked things can see 'em goin' down in war.
But when you play in a quiet way that bites it even more.
Back at Navy, we again carried on as before. But the rendezvous quickly became shorter and farther between. Finally, a couple of days before Christmas break, in an empty classroom in Michelson Hall, she lowered the boom on me - we were through; she was seeing someone else. Whether this new thing had begun prior to or after Pasadena, I never got an answer to. But I was devastated, and went through the holiday back home and almost the entire second half of Plebe Year pretty much in a depressed daze.
"Why you gonna go do you hafta say you wanna go ooh ooh baby say it isn't..."
Say it isn't so, indeed.

"Say It Isn't So" should have gone to Number One. But it had the misfortune of being released the same week as Michael Jackson's and Paul McCartney's "Say Say Say", off of the latter's Pipes Of Peace. The two songs battled for the top spot all through that November and December 1983 and into January 1984, with "Say Say Say" coming out on top. The Hall & Oates song was second-best every time - a ranking I suddenly could relate to.

For the next 3 1/2 years, she and I attempted to studiously ignore one another, a task made difficult by the fact that a) the Brigade of Midshipmen is fairly small; b) we were both English majors, a fairly rare breed at Navy, and as such were in several of the same courses over the years; and c) after graduation, we both chose the same speciality within the Navy, so we were in school together for almost another year after Annapolis, and encountered one another regularly since then. But in the past 25 years, we have only spoken together twice, very briefly, both times initiated by her, in a spirit of patently false bonhomie. While I was polite to her, both times I refused to be sucked in - some hurts never fully go away.

I used to be a pretty big fan of Hall & Oates back in their '80s heyday, but their appeal has definitely waned for me as the years have gone by. I don't have the same sort of nostalgia for them that I have for other bands from that era. Nowadays, I regard them more as "the Seals & Crofts of the 1980s" or "the American Wham! with a bit more testosterone". Yes, I know that sounds harsh, especially in light of all the hits they had - Billboard still regards them as the most popular duo of all time, beating out such acts as The Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan and Ike & Tina Turner, among others. But for me, this band will always be associated with "Say It Isn't So", the song that played continually in the background in the Navy-themed, unhappy-ending version of my own personal John Hughes movie in the late fall of 1983.

But for those of you lacking the same sort of visceral reaction to this band's music, here's an excellent two-disc compilation, Ultimate Daryl Hall & John Oates, released by RCA in 2004. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Halloween Horror: Scary Sounds From The Hex Files

With October 31st just around the corner (relatively speaking), here's a silly post for you - one of those "spooky" sounds effects recordings, the kind usually played on Halloween Night by the neighborhood house that always seems to go all-out for the holiday . . . You know the house that I mean; every neighborhood has at least one - where the yard is filled with fake tombstones, "ghosts" hang from the trees, and the man of the house is usually lurking in the bushes, wearing a Frankenstein or gorilla costume, ready to jump out and scare the bejesus out of unsuspecting trick or treaters.

I was never into Halloween as much as that. Therefore, for the life of me I can't figure out when, where or why I purchased this CD. I must've seen it in a cutout bin somewhere in the late 90s/early 00s - the come-on line of "More That 73 Minutes Of Continuous Scary Sounds!" on the cover must have enticed me to pick it up. Still, the sound effects contained on it are pretty good, and if anything, it'll get you in the mood for Halloween. I wouldn't recommend playing the entire 73 minutes while you're sitting around the house, however . . .

Anyway, here you are - Halloween Horror: Scary Sounds From The Hex Files, released by good ol' K-Tel in 1997. Hopefully at least one of you out there could use a record like this. Either way - enjoy!

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another milestone reached

At around midnight my time last night, a visitor from Hayward, CA came to Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole, looking for an old Starbucks Christmas compilation. That person was the 20,000th unique individual to check out my blog - which I think is pretty amazing! To all of these new visitors, and to all of you who continue to come back again and again to read my meandering screeds and check out my music, I just want to say "thank you" once again. I'm glad that you all like my little corner of the blogosphere, and I enjoy the kind comments regarding my efforts here that some of you have left. I'm still having a lot of fun with this, and don't intend to stop any time soon.

[While I'm here, a couple of quick administrative notes: Some of you may have noticed that I'm in the process of changing the music links so you can click directly on them to reach the downloads - just trying to make it easier for you all! And I received a notice from Rapidshare that since I'm not a Premium member, they will be deleting my uploaded files (beginning with the first one I posted there last year, The Crabs' Sand And Sea). So I'm phasing out all of the Rapidshare links on my earlier posts - it's all Mediafire, all the time now (Mediafire is better anyway).]

Thanks again - more to come!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Poll Results - "Who Destroyed Van Halen?"

Well . . . that was an easy question, wasn't it?

Here are the results:

- Eddie Van Halen: 7 votes (46%)
- Sammy Hagar: 3 votes (20%)
- David Lee Roth: 1 vote (6%)
- Gary Cherone: 1 vote (6%)
- Michael Anthony/Alex Van Halen/Wolfgang Van Halen: 0 votes
- This question is bullshit - they STILL rock!: 3 votes (20%)

Look - no one outside of Van Halen is ever going to know the FULL story of their breakup in the wake of their 1984 tour. The 'public' reason was the usual one - "artistic differences"; namely, control over the band's sound and image. But every band member from that era has a different story as to what really went down, and each gives a different reason - Eddie Van Halen was a dick and a control freak, David Lee Roth was a prima donna who "got too big for his britches", etc., etc. Throw in the pressures of humongous fame, shitloads of money, plenty of booze and pharmacological mind-benders to go around, and the age-old power struggle between "the guy who created the band vs. the guy who is the front man/public face of the band" (see "Rolling Stones, The", re: Brian Jones), and anyone could see that there was bound to be a flare-up within Van Halen sooner or later.

But my personal feeling regarding all of that is this: Eddie is one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, and the awesome licks he laid down over the years served as the foundation of Van Halen's sound. But Roth was the guy in charge of building an edifice on top of that 'rock'-solid base, and he infused the band's music with color, excitement, 'zazz' - things that rock fans look for in their favorite bands. Those two guys (and I'm not discounting the excellent rhythm section of Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen, who were also integral parts of the band) were a unit, and without them working together, playing their particular roles within the band, Van Halen simply was not and would never be "Van Halen".

With that in mind, and in light of the fantastic success they had during their long time together with those two guys laying the musical smack down, both Eddie and David should have worked harder to find some common ground, or at the very least 'sucked it up' and stopped bitching about it. I mean, hell, we've all worked with people we don't particularly like. And there are plenty of relationships out there that aren't exactly Ozzie and Harriet. But most people find ways to work around or through situations, without stomping away in a huff. Bands are no different, and when the albums are flying off the rack and the money's flowing in, and you're driving a friggin' Lamborghini to your gigs, that's incentive enough to make things work.

In my opinion, Roth was better at finding and accepting those compromises than Eddie was. For example: for their 1981 album Fair Warning, Dave wanted to continue the rocking, poppy sound (where his vocals were the prominent feature) found on the band's previous two successful albums, 1979's Van Halen II and 1980's Women And Children First. Eddie, on the other hand, wanted the new album to showcase denser, more complex structures (that, coincidentally of course, made his innovative guitar work the album's focus). Roth didn't like it, but he acquiesed to Eddie - the result being that Fair Warning was the band's worst-selling album of their early years. In this case, Dave put the band, and overall band harmony, ahead of his own interests (although the fact that the album underperformed and he was proven right must have been sugar on his tongue . . . ).

I think that, for all of his antics and silliness, deep down, David Lee Roth knew the 'secret' of Van Halen, which was that the sum of him and Eddie together was much greater than the two of them apart. And frankly, it seemed that Eddie Van Halen never understood that, and he operated under the assumption that since the band bore his name, that he WAS the band. I think a lot of his dissatisfaction and frustration stemmed from not having the other band members, especially Roth, acknowledge this - and that's what led to their breakup.

[In many ways, the situation within Van Halen in the early/mid-80s is similar to the situation within The Smiths around that same period. Johnny Marr is one of the greatest guitarists of the past 30 years, and the music he made with The Smiths will live on long after we are gone. But without the combination of his talents with those of Morrissey, Johnny Marr is just another sideman - a superb one, but a sideman nonetheless.]

Now, as for Sammy Hagar . . .

A lot of people say a lot of bad stuff about Sammy, the circumstances surrounding his entry into the group and the nature of the band's music during his long tenure in Van Halen. But say what you will about him, Sammy's a smart guy - he saw his opportunity and he took it. I mean, honestly - what would you have done in his place?

Say you were a middle-aged rock 'n' roller with a small amount of success and a couple of fairly big hits (nothing major) in your solo career. But with your fortieth birthday fast approaching, it seemed that your chances of becoming a headliner were rapidly fading. One day out of the blue, some guys you barely know, members of one of the biggest bands in the world just coming off their second 10-million-plus selling album in five years, give you a call and ask you to join up. Would YOU have said "No"? Hell NO you wouldn't have.

Sammy might appear to be an 'all rock and roll, party-hearty'-type of guy on the outside. But as he's definitively proven over the years (through his profitable bike shop, nightclub and tequila enterprises), he's a businessman, pure and simple - with a keen eye for the bottom line. Sammy is not an innovator, per se. In all of his business ventures, he has taken existing concepts and products and successfully managed them, without really improving on them or bringing any new, unique ideas into the mix. That's not a critique of his operating style - it's proven to have worked for him time and time again, so more power to him. But you could argue that Sammy approached his tenure in Van Halen the same way. Hagar was never going to out-gonzo Roth - it would have been foolish for him to even try, and he knew it. His job in Van Halen was to keep the band going as an operating concern, and that was it. And in that regard, he was successful - every VH album he was involved in reached #1 US, and the band's singles still made regular appearances on the Billboard Top 100. So what if album sales were way off from the Diamond Dave days? And who cared if the live shows weren't as exciting, or Van Halen didn't seem as 'larger than life' than they were in the early 80s? Sammy did his job; by the measures that matter, Van Halen was still a headlining band. So Hagar shouldn't be "blamed" for the demise of Van Halen; in many ways, Sammy saved the band.

I've attached Van Halen's career-spanning 2-disc compilation album, The Best Of Both Worlds, released by Warner Brothers in 2004. It is, in my opinion, both the best and the worst VH compilation available. How can it be both? Well, I don't have the words to tell you - but fortunately, someone else already took care of that. If you have the time, please read Stephen Thomas Erlewine's superbly well written review of this album in I agree with every word he says here.

As always, enjoy - and let me know what you think (I have a feeling I'm going to get a fair amount of comment on this one . . . but I've been wrong before!)

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Jim Croce - Bad, Bad Leroy Brown & Other Favorites

When I was eight years old, my dad was accepted into a graduate study program at the University of Wisconsin, so that summer our family moved from Norfolk, Virginia to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, a small town just outside of the state capital and university locale, Madison. Being a military family, we had already moved a couple of times before when I was younger, but this move was really the first one I was fully aware of. At that point, everything within the scope of my young awareness had been formed while I lived in Norfolk, and now that place was no longer to be my base. It was sad leaving behind friends like Ricky, Craig & Paul, and Warren & Wendell - kids who had lived in that neighborhood just as long as I had. It seemed that they were not only the best friends I ever had, but the best friends I'd EVER have in life - that's the sort of stuff you think about when you're eight. But even with all of that, I was still excited about the move. It was going to be a change, an adventure, a chance to see a new place and meet new people. I was looking forward to getting to Wisconsin and seeing what it had to offer.

And what it had to offer was plenty. Being fully immersed in the rural Midwestern experience was quite a change to a little boy who was used to "city" living (Norfolk wasn't a huge city, but it WAS an urban area). But for the most part, I found life in Wisconsin to be great, and in many ways idyllic; almost a living, breathing stereotype of what life for children was supposed to be like back then. Our new home was on the edge of the neighborhood, with a huge cornfield immediately beyond our backyard. In summer, the six-foot stalks would stretch behind us as far as the eye could see, and my new friends (the place was full of kids) and I would play hide-and-seek amongst them all day (never going too far inside, of course - the LAST thing you wanted to do was get lost in a big cornfield). My first winter there was the first time I'd ever seen snow piled so high - seven/eight foot drifts, a welcome sight to a little boy's eyes (the all-too-true 'joke' at the time was that you built a snowfort there by getting a shovel and digging straight down . . . ). Sun Prairie (BTW - what a great name for a Midwest town!) was the sort of place where the arrival of spring was heralded by boys and girls getting their marbles out of storage and having intense playground marble competitions; a place of spelling bee champs (the 1974 state champ came from my school), annual corn festivals, variety stores, tetherball and four-square, free milk & peanut butter sandwiches in the lunch room, and fresh air and good churchgoing people (we attended every Sunday, and practically every family in our neighborhood was there; I was even an alter boy for a time). It was sort of geeky, and completely "small town" . . . but nice. And I loved it.

But with all of the carefree, sun-drenched atmosphere of the place, there was a sort of dark undercurrent running below the surface appearances of country good times and happy, sunny days. Not a Blue Velvet-ish version of crime and menace, mind you, but a new feeling that became a significant part of my awareness just the same. It was while I was in Sun Prairie that I first became fully aware of the concept of mortality.

The first time I can recall a death even remotely touching my life occurred during fourth grade, my first year of school in Sun Prairie. We arrived back in school after the Christmas break to find that one of our classmates, a girl who lived on a farm just outside of town, was absent from class. Our teacher told us the reason why she was missing - her younger brother, a second-grader at our school, had been killed in a farm accident just after the holiday. I knew the boy (it was a small school, so pretty much every kid from kindergarten through 6th grade was acquainted with one another), but not that well. Still, it was shocking to know of someone who had actually died, who no one would ever see again on Earth. I remember when the girl came back to class a week or so later, and seeing her sad, pale face. I felt horribly sorry for her, but of course I wasn't old enough to know the right words to say or the right things to do. Before her return, our teacher had advised us to treat her as we did before the tragedy. But that was a difficult task - the death was always there, sort of like a grey mist floating all around us.

Later that same winter, the skeletal hand appeared once again. A man who lived in the circle across the street from our house, the father of two boys my brother and I played with quite a bit, was killed in a car accident on a snowy Madison highway. This time, the death felt a little closer - I knew this man and his family very well, a lot better than that girl in my class and her brother. They had his funeral at our church; my siblings and I didn't go, but my parents did. A couple of weeks later, compounding the tragedy for me, those two little boys moved away from Sun Prairie with their widowed mother, and we never saw or heard from them again.

Even with the poppy, lightweight stuff on the radio in that era (Three Dog Night, Seals & Crofts and Chicago were huge in those years), the music of the time also seemed be taking on a darker tone. The big hit of my first summer in Sun Prairie was Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)". I used to think this song was profoundly sad; the part near the end, when the singer sings about his father and mother dying, always made the 8-year-old me cry. When Casey Kasem would play this song on American Top 40 on Sunday nights back then, I would run out of the room, so my parents wouldn't see me break down. Another monster maudlin hit from around that time was Terry Jacks' "Seasons In The Sun", a similarly depressing tearjerker about someone kicking the bucket. Despite the morbidity of this song, for some reason it was hugely popular with kids; I recall at our school spring pageant later that year, it was one of the songs sung by the 6th grade class. I could give you many more examples - Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door"; Don McLean's "American Pie" (which I understood early on was about the death of Buddy Holly, although I didn't hear his name mentioned in the song) . . . shoot, even Loudon Wainwright's "Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road" - behind the bright, sunshiny appearance of my life in Sun Prairie, death seemed to be infusing everything around me.

So when Jim Croce died in September 1973, I was very much aware of it; it was really the first "celebrity death" story that I followed closely.

Jim Croce was born in South Philly in 1943. After his graduation from Villinova in 1965, he busked around the Philadelphia area for several years, first with his wife Ingrid as a duo, and later as a solo act. The couple parlayed their hard-earned local recognition into a one-off deal with Capitol Records, releasing Jim and Ingrid Croce in 1969, and over that year traveling hundreds of thousands of miles across the U.S. and Canada in support of the album. But both the tour and the record were not as successful as the label or the Croces wished, and by 1970 the couple was back in Pennsylvania. Jim took odd jobs in construction and trucking to pay the bills, and it seemed that his hopes of becoming a successful musician were dead.

However, later that year, an old college friend introduced Jim to a guy named Maury Muehleisen, a talented pianist/guitarist from New Jersey whose first album, Gingerbreadd, was about to be released on Capitol. Maury was looking for a backup guitarist for some scheduled gigs in the Philadelphia area, and Croce jumped at the chance. The Gingerbreadd concerts weren't all that successful, but Croce and Muehleisen instantly bonded, and together started creating a sound that quickly caught the attention of their record producers. Although Jim initially backed Maury, eventually the dynamic was reversed, with Croce's extensive catalogue of songs (many written in off hours from his truck driving work) and outgoing personality making him the front man and driving force of the partnership.

In 1972, Croce and his partner signed a three-record deal with ABC Records. His first album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim, was released that April and met with gradual but widespread success, spawning two US Top 20 hits ("You Don't Mess Around With Jim" and "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)"). Croce and Muehleisen immediately embarked on months of nearly nonstop touring all over the U.S. and Canada.

The buzz around and about Jim Croce began slowly and steadily growing - a whirlwind of traveling, television appearances and concerts in front of crowds of more than 10,000 people. Recording sessions were sandwiched in between tour dates; in late 1972 the pair recorded the follow-up album, Life And Times. The lead single, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", was released in April 1973 and became Croce's biggest hit, reaching #1 by the end of that spring and remaining on the charts all summer. The album, released a couple of months later, was as successful as its predecessor, making it into the US Top Ten by the end of August.

Croce's songs were very popular with children back then; the words and harmonies were simple enough for kids to get the gist of them. And of course they were all over the radio. "Leroy Brown" was a special favorite that summer; I can once recall walking back home from the nearby school playground, arm-in-arm in a line with my friends, singing "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" at the top of our lungs, and thinking it was the greatest song in the world.

Meanwhile, the pressures of being a suddenly-popular musician began mounting for Jim Croce. With a Number One song on the charts, the tour schedule became even more hectic. ABC Records had scheduled studio time for Croce and Muehleisen at the Hit Factory in New York City that summer to record the third album (I Got A Name) under his current contract. The label was anticipating even greater success with this upcoming release, and was preparing a new contract far better for Croce than his initial three-album deal. The future looked pretty rosy from Jim as he recorded his final song for the new album on September 14th, then headed out on the road again with Muehleisen for a scheduled tour of the South and Southwest . . . a tour they never completed.

The plane crash in Natchitoches, Louiaiana that killed Croce and Muehleisen, along with two other people, was front-page news across the country; I recall picking up the local Star Countryman newspaper on the evening of September 21st and being so shocked and stunned by the news that I immediately burst into tears. For someone who had made such an impact in the music world in so short a time, to be suddenly and cruelly taken away - that seemed so unfair to me. I was too young to have lived through or to recall the plane crashes of Buddy Holly or Otis Redding, which occurred under similar circumstances and at similar points in their careers. But with Croce's death, I began to understand the profound loss behind those earlier tragedies.

I guess the thing I began to feel from these three recent events in my life was that death appeared to be random and arbitrary. That no matter how young or old you were, how good or loved you were, or how much you had accomplished or had yet to accomplish in your life, the Grim Reaper didn't care. This was an absolutely chilling concept to an eight-year-old boy, and it took a long time for me to come to grips with it, and work out in my own mind what life and living is all about. I still haven't got it completely worked out yet . . . but who amongst us has?

I hate to play upon this "loss of innocence" thing too heavily . . . but really, when I look back on it, Sun Prairie was the last chance I had to really be a kid, before moving again (after two years in Wisconsin, we moved to Maryland) and facing all of the pressures involved with moving out of childhood, leaving elementary school, and taking more and more responsibility for my life. And a significant part of that change can be traced back to that cool autumn evening, when I picked up the paper and saw that something and someone I enjoyed no longer existed.

I got this attached compilation, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown & Other Favorites, from my younger sister a few years ago. Frankly, it's really not a very good overview of Jim Croce's brief career - it's missing some significant hits, including "I Got A Name" (his first posthumous hit) and "You Don't Mess Around With Jim". I've included both songs in separate files here along with the album, released in 1994 by CEMA Special Markets. Enjoy, and let me know what you think:

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Order - Fine Time 12"

"Fine Time" was the lead single and (in my opinion) best song on what I consider to be New Order's last decent album, 1989's Technique. The album came out shortly after I returned from six months in Europe, where I became a big fan of acid house music. I was stunned and happily surprised when I first heard Technique and found that New Order had heavily coopted that sound. What I learned much later (partly through Michael
Winterbottom's 2002 film 24 Hour Party People - a great movie about the Factory Records/Manchester scene, by the way) was that soon after recording 1986's Brotherhood, the band went on vacation to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, off the coast of Spain, a renowned European club and party zone. While there, they first came in contact with the rising acid house sound and with Balearic beat, a style of electronic dance music pioneered on the islands. The band fully immersed themselves into the music of Ibiza, and came away from their trip committed fans of that sound. They were determined to have their next album reflect this new musical sensibility.

New Order took a longer-that-usual amount of time to record Technique - almost three years, much to their label's chagrin. By the mid-80s, Factory Records was bleeding money all over the place, but especially through the Hacienda, the Manchester nightclub and music venue jointly financed and built by Factory and New Order. Although popular, the majority of the Hacienda's patrons preferred taking ecstacy and other drugs to buying drinks at the bar. This, coupled with generally low admission prices, led to spiraling debts at the club. These debts were usually covered through revenues from New Order's record sales. By 1987, the Hacienda was costing Factory (or more specifically, New Order) nearly a quarter million dollars a year. So a quick turnaround on a new New Order record was necessary not just for the band, but more importantly for the label in keeping its various enterprises afloat. But New Order would not be rushed, and Factory was in no position to force the issue (especially since the band, not the label, owned all of their music). So all Factory could do was sit and stew as New Order flew back and forth to Ibiza month after month, tinkering with their new sound.

The long wait was justified when Technique was released in January 1989 and became an immediate hit, the band's first UK #1 album and their first non-compilation disc to go gold in the US (the Substance compilation went platinum in 1987), reaching #32 on the US album charts. Two album singles, "Fine Time" and "Round and Round", made the UK Top Twenty, but had even greater success in America, with both songs reaching the top five on the national dance and modern rock charts.

Being a long-time New Order fan, I bought Technique on cassette practically the instant it came out, and played it to death while driving around Virginia that winter. I especially liked "Fine Time", so much so that when I spotted a 12" disc of remixes available at the George Washington University branch of Tower Records that March, I immediately snapped it up. It's such a well-constructed song, that it can withstand the manipulation of several different mixes and still sound fresh and exciting each time.

So here you are, burned off of my still-mint condition vinyl copy - New Order's Fine Time 12", released by Factory Records in 1988 and distributed in the U.S. by Quincy Jones' Qwest Records (BTW - out of the 37(!) different versions of this record available internationally, this one is one of the few that have all five remixes available, along with the b-side "Don't Do It"). I think the quality of this burn is exceptionally good - if you feel otherwise, let me know and I'll rescorch it. Either way, let me know what you think:  

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Fall - Kimble EP

Another part of my ongoing fetish to collect anything and everything related to my favorite band, The Fall . . . I picked this one up in the spring of 1993, the last music purchase I made in the US before leaving for New Zealand a week later. I lived in a hotel for my first few weeks in Christchurch, waiting for my household goods to arrive by slow boat from Baltimore. The only goods I brought with me were a bunch of clothes, my CD player with a little set of attachable speakers, and a pile of CDs, including this one - which I played to death during that time.

The four songs on this disc - the title cut (a great cover of a Lee "Scratch" Perry reggae classic); "Gut Of The Quantifier"; "Spoilt Victorian Child" and "Words of Expectation" - were all taken from a live 1992 John Peel session. As such, they have all been included on other Fall anthologies and compilations, including and especially The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 box set from 2005. But if you don't feel like shelling out the big bucks for that set and running through six discs to find these tunes, here they are, all together in one place.

(And that's not to disparage the Complete Peel Sessions set - it's a simply superb compilation, and a must-have for any diehard Fall fan.)

So, for your listening pleasure - the Kimble EP, released by Strange Fruit Records in 1993. Enjoy, and let me know what you think:

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