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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