Sleeve Notes: The World’s Worst Records!

29 May 2011 by

It might represent the world’s worst records, but this Rhino compilation sports one of the best album covers. I picked this up at a record shop in North Beach last month because I couldn’t resist the image of a guy in a haz-mat suit handling a bunch of toxic records. When I laid it on the counter to make my purchase, the proprietor took note. With a slight Russian accent, he said “Is not really worst records. If you want worst records, go to Top 40!” and we both had a good laugh about the truth of that.

In his liner notes for this Rhino compilation, Dr Demento claims that “Any nerd can make boring music. It takes true talent to make one of the world’s worst records.” The album comes with a barf bag that’s labeled OFFICIAL WORLD’S WORST RECORDS’ REGURGITATION RECEPTACLE. I’ll keep it on hand, in case I ever accidentally cross paths with the Top 40…

“Regurgitation Receptacle”

Video Break: Rapture Riders

21 May 2011 by

Blondie Vs. The Doors >> Rapture Riders. This one’s for the end of times…

Stuck In My Head: Party Hardy People

21 May 2011 by

Listen: Party Hardy People [Act 1]

Buried Treasure: The Snake

19 May 2011 by

[Today: Not quite great, but good enough…]

Harvey Mandel had the distinct misfortune to ply his trade at the same time as some of the most legendary guitarists to ever take up the instrument. The decade from the mid-60s to the mid-70s was littered with groundbreaking guitar slingers like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Mike Bloomfield, Peter Green and more — enough greats to overshadow very good guitarists like Mandel and Robin Trower, and reduce them to mere footnotes of the era.

Mandel played on Charlie Musselwhite’s 1966 debut, before going on to create a handful of solo albums. In 1969, he was recruited by Canned Heat to replace Henry Vestine, and Mandel’s third gig with the group took place at Woodstock. He stuck with them for just over a year, appearing on three Canned Heat albums before moving on to a short stint in John Mayal’s Bluesbreakers. From there he returned to solo work, creating some of the best albums of his career with his 1971 release Baby Batter and 1972’s The Snake.

These albums feature mostly instrumental tracks, with the occasional guest vocalist. Of the nine songs on The Snake, there is just one vocal track (‘Uno Ino’), and it comes off like a lite version of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. But most of this album is driving blues-rock that finds its groove and doesn’t stray. If Mandel’s music wasn’t as groundbreaking as the artists mentioned above, it’s certainly solid stuff that has aged well. It was on this album that he introduced the double-hand fret tapping that would be borrowed by Eddie Van Halen and others.

But Mandel is probably best known for auditioning for the rhythm guitarist slot with The Rolling Stones after Mick Taylor left the band in 1974. Because the Stones were stretched so thin creatively at that point, they used some of their audition tapes for their next album, and even though Ron Wood got the job, Mandel ended up on the tracks ‘Memory Motel’ and ‘Hot Stuff’ on Black & Blue. It’s a pretty weak legacy for a guitarist who rocked Woodstock, pioneered a new way to play the instrument, and released a string of solid, if unspectacular solo albums. He deserves to be better remembered.

“I always had my own sound in my head,” Mandel explains on his website. “I mean, I heard the guitar the way you hear it today, and even the sound when Hendrix first came out, long before I could ever even dream of playing that stuff. I knew where guitar was going 20 years before it got there.” The Snake contains a couple of glimpses of the future, but it’s an album that’s hidden in the shadows of the past…

Listen: Peruvian Flake

Listen: The Snake

Sleeve Notes: Not Guilty

18 May 2011 by

Now that’s what I call a bootleg! The cover of this 1980 boot certainly references Richard’s famous February 1967 bust that resulted in a one-year prison sentence for possession of cannabis — a verdict that was overturned on appeal. The album (pressed on green wax of course) compiles studio outtakes that run the gamut from bluesy tracks with Peter Green to reggae tunes like ‘Shine Eye Gal’ and ‘The Harder They Come‘ that feature Black Uhuru and Sly & Robbie. The music’s so-so, but that cover smokes. Alas, if Keith had stuck to pot and stayed off smack, the Stones’ mid-70s output might be worth revisiting. It would take another bust, this time in Toronto in 1977, to scare him semi-straight enough to take the music seriously again…

Weekend Playlist

16 May 2011 by

“The state can’t give you freedom, and the state can’t take it away. You’re born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free…” ~ Utah Phillips

Delaney & Bonnie | Motel Shot

MFSB | Love Is The Message

Herbert | Scale

Ohio Players | Skin Tight

United Soul | Music With Funkadelic

Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan | In Session

The Allman Brothers Band | Dreams

Whiskeytown | Pneumonia

The Insect Trust | The Insect Trust

Gene Ammons | Boss Tenor

Oscar Peteterson | Oscar Peterson Trio + 1 (Clark Terry)

Gerry Mulligan & Ben Webster | Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster

Ben Webster | At Ease

Miles Davis | Kind Of Blue

Miles Davis | Filles de Kilamanjaro

Peace Orchestra | Peace Orchestra Reset

Fujiya & Miyagi | Lightbulbs

Utah Phillips | All Used Up

King Floyd | King Floyd

Eddie Hazel | Jams From The Heart

Donny Hathaway | Extension Of A Man

Buried Treasure: Head

13 May 2011 by

[Today: The deconstruction of a manufactured band…]

The Monkees practically invented the idea of selling out. The group was assembled in 1966 for the sole purpose of being featured in a TV show that consisted of lots of cutesy clowning around. Anyone who saw it couldn’t have taken them very seriously as a band, but they did have a couple of serious musicians, most notably Michael Nesmith, who would go on to make a handful of landmark country rock albums with The First National Band in his post-Monkees career. With their sixth and final effort as a four-piece (Peter Tork would leave in 1969 and Nesmith in ’70), The Monkees made their best album by far – a piece of work that mocks their image, rips the music industry, and stands one of of the trippiest and most forward-looking albums in a decade full of them.

Head is the soundtrack to their 1968 movie of the same name. A disjointed, non-linear forerunner to films like Kentucky Fried Movie, it’s now considered a psychedelic treasure. The soundtrack contains only six proper songs, lots of weird snippets of dialogue from the film, and fragments of tunes. It was partly mixed by the actor Jack Nicholson, and anticipates the sample-happy DJs and mashup artists of the 00s. This album couldn’t have sounded like anything other than an audio mess to listeners in the 60s, but modern ears will process it just fine. In fact, a lot of Head has been sampled, most notably by The Kleptones on their mashup classic A Night At The Hip-Hopera.

The title alone is weird departure from the group’s previous work, and the album opens with a woman hypnotically chanting the word “head” to a collage of found sounds and dialogue. That leads into the tolling bells of ‘Porpoise Song’ a King/Goffin-penned tune that is sublimely rendered here. On ‘Ditty Diego-War Chant’, they lay into their carefully manicured image. “You say we’re manufactured/To that we all agree/So make your choice/And we’ll rejoice/At never being free,” sings Davy Jones. The song is sped up and slowed down, like a warped record being played at various RPMs on a turntable. It’s a truly surreal experience for anyone who thinks they know this group. “Hey, hey we are the Monkees/We’ve said it all before/The money’s in/We’re made of tin/We’re here to give you more.” Frank Zappa is an extra in the film (along with Sonny Liston, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, and a cast of thousands) and his spirit is alive in the music as well.

‘Ditty Diego-War Chant’ ends with a woman screaming, like something out of a horror movie, which then segues into a huge crowd screaming “WE WANT THE MONKEES!!!!” ‘Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again’ is wry commentary on the endless takes that musicians are forced to go through in the studio. Anyone who thinks this band is a joke is advised to check out ‘Circle Sky’, a nice preview of what Nesmith would get up to after leaving The Monkees. ‘Gravy’ consists of a five-second snippet of Davy Jones saying “I’d like a cold glass of gravy with a hair in it,” while ‘Swami-With Strings’ sounds like something mixed by DJ Shadow. Head is a trip, and will leave you wondering just who those guys on TV really were…

Listen: Ditty Diego-War Chant

Listen: Circle Sky [Live Version]

Listen: Superstitious (LP Version)

Listen: Swami-Plus Strings (LP Version)

Masterpiece: McCartney

12 May 2011 by

[Today: The one-man band…]

There are at least three reasons you might dislike Paul McCartney’s solo debut – it expedited the break-up of The Beatles, it feels tossed off and has an air of ‘I can roll out of bed and knock out this stuff’, and its gatefold contains enough smug, preening photos of Paul to last a lifetime. But two of those reasons have nothing to do with the music, and the third – its sparse, disheveled sound – is the reason this album has had such staying power. It wasn’t until the ascendance of punk rock that imperfection really became a virtue in music, but McCartney wears its flubs and flaws proudly. It was put together on a four-track home recording system that was primitive in the extreme, and features Paul on every instrument (including “bass, drums, acoustic guitar, lead guitar, piano, Mellotron, organ, toy xylophone, and bow and arrow”), with only the occasional back-up vocal help from wife Linda.

Album opener ‘The Lovely Linda’ is representative of what’s here. It starts with a gently strummed guitar, before McCartney comes in with “La-la-la-la-la-la-lovely Linda, with the lovely flowers in her hair.” That’s it for the lyrics, and the whole thing lasts less than a minute, concluding with a giggle from Linda herself. If the Beatles’ ‘Long and Winding Road’ was an overwrought, big-budget production about love, then songs like ‘The Lovely Linda’ and the rest of McCartney are more like hand-written love notes. On its surface, the big budget production might seem more impressive, but the handwritten note will always provide a more honest, revealing glimpse into a relationship.

“That was when Linda and I first got together,” McCartney explained in 2001. “The record is me playing around the house. You hear her walking through the living room doorway out to the garden and the door squeaks at the end of the tape. That’s one of the songs from my personal experience, with ‘the flowers in her hair.’ She often used to wear flowers in her hair, so it’s a direct diary. I was always going to finish it and I had another bit that went into a Spanish song, almost mariachi but it just appeared as a fragment and was quite nice for that reason.” The rest of McCartney works for the same reasons – this is a relaxed, quiet pause between the noisy, discordant final days of The Beatles, and the pop bombast of Wings.

Listen: Valentine Day

Listen: Every Night

Listen: Hot as Sun/Glasses

Sleeve Notes: Glider

11 May 2011 by

When I was a kid, my uncle Ron had a party van and a sedan that were both tricked out with cool airbrushed scenes of naked mermaids and packs of wolves and such. They were interesting enough to be show cars, but I’m not sure if he ever actually showed them – they mostly just sat in his garage, shielded from the bumps and scrapes of the outside world. Me and my brother and cousins (not Ron’s kids) would spend hours looking at those cars, trying to resist the temptation to paw them, and wondering what it would be like to get behind the wheel and burn some rubber. Ron would get bent out of shape if any of us kids touched either vehicle, and he’d come out to the garage with a shammy and wipe away our fingerprints while reading us the riot act. But thanks to the logic of children, this only made us want to touch his cars even more. After all, if it was forbidden from us, it had to be serious fun.

In hindsight, I can see that those cars weren’t really anything special beyond their paint jobs. Strip away the exotic creatures and artistic embellishments on either, and you were probably left with a nondescript vehicle from the 70s. Same goes for Glider. I picked up this 1977 album at a flea market last weekend for its cover alone, without any real hope that the music would be the least bit interesting. Needless to say, this album totally met my expectations. The unintentional comedy factor is very high – like too many groups from the 70s, Glider’s band photo looks like an outtake from a gay porn shoot. Their lead singer lays stretched out on the ground in front of the rest in a robe that’s open to the waist, holding a champagne flute. As expected, the music is filled with moon-and-June rhymes (“To wake up in the morning and not feel sad/I’d tell you some more but it’d only make you mad/And that’s too bad”) and odd metaphors (“Somewhere the sun’s coming up like pink lemonade”). But that cover sure is pretty – shame there isn’t more under the hood…

Magic Moment: Bob Marley Lives

11 May 2011 by

Bob Marley passed away 30 years ago today. Long live the king of Reggae…