Neverending Randomplay #61-#70
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 17,469 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track.
61. The Beatles: All Things Must Pass (demo) ***
"All Things Must Pass" is best known as the title track of George Harrison's first regular-issue solo album, which was released in late 1970. However, the song originally dates from early 1969; it surfaced among the miles of unused tape for the Beatles' Get Back sessions. This recording is from the bootleg, The Alternate Abbey Road, recorded in the summer of 1969. It isn't really a Beatles recording; the only Beatle present is Harrison, who sings and accompanies himself on electric guitar. The song is still unfinished, but the lyrics are complete, and Harrison sings it well. The arrangement would stay essentially the same on Harrison's album, but would feature enormous overdubbed wall-of-sound production from Phil Spector. This spare recording, minus any production at all, is an interesting curiosity, and would be of interest to Beatles and Harrison fans. The Beatles didn't use the song; instead Harrison's "Something" would be included on Abbey Road, which was Harrison's only A-side single with the band.
62. Alex Chilton: Bangkok (live) ***
"Bangkok" was originally a moment of inspired kookiness from Alex Chilton (ex-Big Star), released in 1977 as a single with a version of The Seeds' "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" as its B-side. The original version was a crackpot oddity; angular, punky, arch, tongue in cheek, it remains a favorite among Chilton maniacs, and one of the more peculiar punk-inspired releases of 1977. That original is well worth seeking out; it's included on the 1991 Rhino Records anthology 19 Years: A Collection. This live version is from the 1982 album, Live In London, and is a disappointment. Chilton was in the midst of a very serious drinking problem in the early 80's, and Live In London captures him at what is perhaps the lowest point in his career. Backed by members of the Soft Boys, the Vibrators, and the Psychedelic Furs, this looks good on paper. Unfortunately, the recording is sodden and murky, Chilton sings hoarsely and out of tune, and the song just hits the dirt. Chilton would eventually dry himself out enough to make better music towards the end of the decade, but this album and version of "Bangkok" are best skipped. Power pop without "power" or "pop".
63. Thelonious Monk: Epistrophy *****
"Epistrophy" was co-written with Kenny Clarke, and was a staple of Monk's career from the early days to the very end. It made its first appearance in 1947 on Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1 featuring Milt Jackson on vibraphone, and underwent many transistions by the time of his last concert appearances in the late 60's. This version is a studio recording from the late 40's and is included on the fine sampler The Best of the Blue Note Years, which is as good a place as any for the novice to begin with Monk. This album spans 1947-1952 and represents the early formative peak in Monk's career; the songs are brief and compact ("Epistrophy" clocks in at 3:05 here) and are fine examples of prime bebop. Interestingly, Monk was fairly ignored among jazz aficionados during this time period; his odd piano style and the spaces he left in his rhythmic solos led other musicians to believe he had a screw loose somewhere, although Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were among his early supporters. By the late 50's the music world caught up with him, and his reputation began to improve to the point where he is now regarded as one of the essential jazz artists of the bebop era.
64. Galaxie 500: When Will You Come Home ****
Galaxie 500 didn't sell a lot of records during their time together, but in the years since their 1990 breakup, the band's legend has grown. Today, they are acknowledged as one of the key groups of the post-punk era; their sound was one of dreamy melancholy often at dirgelike tempos; this approach would gain currency among both shoegaze bands of the late 80's and early 90's as well as the dream pop bands of the early-mid 90's. Led by New Zealander guitarist/singer Dean Wareham, the group formed in Boston in 1986 with Naomi Yang on bass and Damon Krukowski on drums, they recorded three fine albums before breaking up in acrimony. "When Will You Come Home" is from their second, and arguably best, release, On Fire. Featuring particularly good echoey and feedbacky extended guitar solo from Wareham over a chunky rhythm, it has an almost 60's vibe to it. After Galaxie 500, Wareham would form Luna, an important dream-pop band.
65. Jefferson Starship: Wooden Ships (live) ***
Jefferson Airplane/Starship's history is a remarkably long, complicated one, full of lineup changes, shifting alliances, returning members, feuds, and all other manner of intrigue. In the 1980's Jefferson Starship was essentially taken over in a bloodless coup by relative newcomer Mickey Thomas, which led to the departure of last remaining Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner. Kantner then formed KBC Band in 1986, which included original Airplane leader Marty Balin and original bassist Jack Casady. This led to a reunion of Jefferson Airplane for an album and tour in 1989, which included Grace Slick and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. When the Mickey Thomas-led Starship crashed in 1990, Kantner reclaimed the name and reformed Jefferson Starship with Casady and Balin. Their first release was the 1995 album Deep Space/Virgin Sky, which was comprised of eight new studio songs and eight live recordings of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship classics. As an added draw, Grace Slick, who had retired by this point, makes a cameo on the final four tracks, including this one. "Wooden Ships" was originally a collaboration between Kantner and David Crosby/Stephen Stills; both the Airplane and CSN released versions in 1969. The Airplane's was one of their very best numbers, featuring vocals from Kantner, Slick, and Balin. While it's great to hear them together again, this version suffers from the absence of Kaukonen, whose cutting acid guitar zig-zagged all over the original. This one sounds fairly soggy.
66. Ohio Express: Yummy, Yummy, Yummy ****
Ohio Express was a late-60's studio concoction by producers and bubble-gum moguls Jerry Kastenetz and Jeff Katz. Kastenetz and Katz had several of these bands operating at the same time, including the 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Music Explosion, and Crazy Elephant. All of these bands were drawn from the same pool of studio musicians, and had fairly flexible and overlapping lineups. All of them produced the same kind of music, which was given the designation "bubblegum". Bubblegum music was specifically designed for the post-Monkees, pre-Partridge Family young teen market; the lyrics border on nursery rhymes spiced with an occasional double-entendre, with catchy hooks for choruses and vaguely psychedelic touches. While bubblegum was universally derided by "serious" rock fans at the time, in the decades since, much of this music has gained a little respect. It still is elementary kids' stuff, but some of it has a quasi-garage band primitiveness that appeals to fans of that sort of thing, and bubblegum has influenced a significant number of 80's and 90's bands, including Redd Kross and Shonen Knife. "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" is one of the best Kastenetz/Katz numbers, and it peaked at #4 in 1968.
67. Blue Cheer: (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction ****
Blue Cheer was part of the acid rock movement, which bridged the gap between late 60's psychedelic music and heavy metal. The original lineup consisted of Dickie Peterson (bass, vocals), Paul Whaley (drums), and Leigh Stephens (guitar). Their breakthrough was the monstrously heavy version of "Summertime Blues" (originally by Eddie Cochrane, later covered by The Who), which made it to #14 in 1968, and was one of the first slabs of proto-heavy metal before the term had yet been coined. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", a Rolling Stones cover, was one of the key cuts on their August 1968 follow-up release, Outsideinside. It is one of the best cover versions of this song ever, featurng commanding vocals from Peterson, and fluid lead guitar from Stephens. Plenty of psychedelic crunch, without leaning too heavy on the amps. Following this album, Stephens would leave the group, but Blue Cheer would release six more albums through the early 70's. Smashing Pumpkins, The Melvins, and Mudhoney frequently covered Blue Cheer in concert.
68. Appleseed Cast: Tale of the Aftermath ****
Appleseed Cast, an emo quartet from Lawrence, KS, specializes in a dense, atmospheric sound noteworthy for their delicate, complex arrangements and complicated beats. On their debut album, The End of the Ring Wars, they recall other emo bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral, but Appleseed Cast had some tricks up their sleeve, including a welcome variety of tempo, odd time signatures, wide melodic range, solid guitars, and unexpected sax breaks. From this starting point, the band has evolved rapidly into something entirely different; an ambient/electronic band not dissimilar to Radiohead's transformation. "Tale From The Aftermath" comes from a 1999 3-band sampler EP on Deep Elm, Split, which captures them still in their early emo phase, just prior to their shift in direction. Worth it for the aggressive, staccato guitars alone, this is a fairly commanding cut; vocalist Christopher Crisci sounds a lot like Sunny Day Real Estate's Jeremy Enigk here without slipping into the over-emotive range so many emo singers slip into.
69. Michelle Shocked: Stranded In A Limousine ****
Urban folk singer/songwriter Shocked is best known for her left-field semi-hit "Anchorage" from 1988. Originally active in the San Francisco punk scene of the early 1980's, she relocoted to New York after a brief spell in a mental institution, where she was part of the squatter's rights movement, and then spent time in Amsterdam. When she returned to the States in the mid 1980's, she had reinvented herself as a quasi-folk musician with a postmodern feminist/redical/bohemian sensibility. "Stranded in a Limousine" is a short-and-sweet (1:41) cover version of a fairly obscure Paul Simon tune (it appeared as the B-side of "Slip Slidin' Away" in 1977, and on the excellent but long-out-of-print Paul Simon's Greatest Hits collection). Accompanied only on acoustic guitar, she gives it a bluesy flavor, making it sound like a long-lost Leadbelly tune. From her excellent 1986 debut, The Texas Campfire Tapes, reportedly recorded on a Sony Walkman by British producer Pete Lawrence, who found Shocked playing guitar next to a campfire at the 1986 Kerrville Folk Festival, and asked her to sing for him.
70. George Harrison: Never Get Over You ***
When George Harrison succumbed to throat cancer in 2001, he had a mostly finished album in the can, his first since Cloud Nine in 1987. His son Dhani Harrison and producer Jeff Lynne took over the project, finishing the recording with some overdubs and production. The resulting album, Brainwashed, has its ups and downs. Like most of Harrison's solo output, it is uneven, festuring moments of brilliance, and moments of weird, crackpot humor that aren't always so brilliant. "Never Get Over You" is a pretty good cut from the album, but not one of the best; a languid, slow-tempo ballad featuring a lot of slide guitar, it sounds a lot like his late 70's output. Pleasant and tuneful, but not especially memorable. The best moment on this album is the Traveling Wilburys-esque "Any Road"; this cut, and the others on this album really are for Harrison maniacs only.
Neverending Randomplay appears every Wednesday night/Thursday AM.
Listen to Michelle Shocked: Stranded in a Limousine (1986)