Neverending Randomplay #141-#150
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 18,011 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. iTunes links, when available, are included for your convenience.
141. Ozzy Osbourne: The Wizard [live] **** iTunes
Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath parted company amid much acrimony in 1978, and oddsmakers didn't give either much of a chance of salvaging their careers. Osbourne was a mess; drug addled and burnt-out, he seemed singularly unlikely to resurrect a career that had been in decline since the mid-70's. Yet, against all odds, his twin triumphs Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of A Madman, released in 1980 and 1981, not only made him the most successful heavy metal artist of the early 80's, they spearheaded the early 80's metal revival. Then, tragedy struck when Osbourne's guitar wizard Randy Rhodes was killed in a bizarre plane crash. At the same time, Osbourne was locked in a personal war-of-words with his erstwhile mates Black Sabbath over song rights; Sabbath's career had undergone a turn for the better behind new frontman Ronnie James Dio. In 1982, deuling live albums came out from both the Osbourne and Sabbath camps. Brad Gillis of Night Ranger was hired to fill in for Rhodes, and Ozzy decided not to include any of his solo material; the double album Speak of the Devil consisted solely of Black Sabbath covers. In the end, Osbourne won the duel, both commercially and artistically; the album sold well, and the Sabbath tunes sounded great. While the album undoubtedly received some studio re-recording it still is a fine listen; "The Wizard" is an eerie, bluesy number from Black Sabbath's debut, still displaying some of the band's early blues-rock roots and Ozzy's Jack Bruce-influenced vocals.
142. Sandie Shaw: Your Time Is Gonna Come ****
Sandie Shaw was a British pop singer not unlike Dusty Springfield or Lulu, although she never came close to matching the success of either. Her best remembered hit was the Burt Bacharach penned "(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me", a #52 single in the U.S. in 1965; she also reached #42 the same year with "Girl Don't Come". After that, she barely sold any records in America at all, although in the U.K. she fared better. By 1969 times had seemingly passed her by; her brand of innocent, squeaky-clean lightweight pop had gone out of style. Sensing this, her 1969 album Reviewing the Situation loaded up on hipper-than-usual cover versions; among the songs included are chestnuts from the Lovin' Spoonful, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones "Sympathy For The Devil", no less, and Led Zeppelin's "Your Time Is Gonna Come" from their debut album. At this stage in her career she was considered quite uncool by rock listeners, and they avoided the album. She subsequently retired, not releasing another album until 1983. "Your Time Is Gonna Come" however, is a winner. Shaw's voice displays a surprisingly bluesy grit, and the backing instruments do a credible Led Zeppelin impression, particularly the drummer's heavy Bonham impressions.
143. The Mamas and the Papas: Straight Shooter ***** iTunes
The Mamas And Papas' 1966 debut album is one of the essential releases of the 1960's; an intricately engineered and produced collection of a dozen classics, ranging in style from rock to pop to folk/rock to soul to vaudeville seamlessly, and featuring some of the best harmonies of the decade. It also represented the peak of John Phillips' career; aside from the three hits the album produced, his other contributions sound like hits. "Straight Shooter" is one of these; opening with a guitar lick that sounds suspiciously similar to the Monkees' "Last Train To Clarksville" (which shared some sessionmen), it turns into an excellent piece of harmonic folk/rock with clever wordplay, a solid beat, and some virtuoso session playing. The song was also part of their set at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Incidentally, the toilet on the cover bothered enough people that it was airbrushed out on many reissues.
144. The Rolling Stones: Stray Cat Blues [live, Toronto, 2002] ***
One of the Rolling Stones all-time meanest songs, "Stray Cat Blues" is a slice of brutal sex with a 13-year-old runaway; "Bet your mama never heard you scream like that/Bet she never saw you scratch my back". It's a pretty ferocious and decadent song in its original incarnation, on the classic Beggars' Banquet album from 1968; on Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, a live 1969 recording, the song is bluesier and heavier; Jagger's vocal borders on sadistic. It's the type of song a lot of bands could never get away with, but the Stones' classic versions are among their very best recordings. Fast-forward three and a half decades, and it's no longer twenty-somethings performing this, but 60-year olds. This definitely casts the song in a much more distasteful light, but since rock isn't necessarily about good taste, one can try to look past this and focus on the recording, which was in front of 1000 fans in a small venue. First off, the girl's age has been raised to 16; secondly, Jagger sounds like he's on auto-pilot. Richards' guitar has lost some menace too, although he hasn't forgotten the chords, and it has its moments. The verdict: dubious classic, dated and now diluted. Stick with the old versions.
145. Olivia Tremor Control: Love Athena **** iTunes
"Love Athena" is a melodic lo-fi recording in the classic 90's sense; vocals buried low in the mix, guitar crunch is distorted enough to give the illusion of a wall of sound, drums are percussion heavy and beat-light. Lyrics are vague and halfway inaudible. There's an arty haze enveloping the whole 4-track production. In short, par for the course, but not without charm. "Love Athena" originally appeared on Olivia tremor Control's debut California Demise EP, released in 1994, but is much more easily found on the 2000 collection, Singles and Beyond. Olivia Tremor Control is part of the Elephant 6 "collective" of lo-fi bands, a semi-mysterious network of lo-fi musicians who appear on each others' albums. For this one, the lineup was Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart and Jeff Mangum; Jeff Magnum would go off to form Neutral Milk Hotel the following year. Olivia Tremor Control's subsequent releases became much more conceptual and ambitious; this song represents their humble lo-fi/psych roots.
146. Miriam Makeba: Nomeva **** iTunes
Miriam Makeba's recording career dates all the way back to 1953, and she has built a vast catalog of recorded material; it's often difficult to know where to begin with her. "Nomeva" is from an axcellent 1991 compilation, simply called Africa, which collects many of her key 1950's and 1960's singles. The song itself is a hybrid of African vocal tradition and a vaguely calypso inspired beat and arrangement, sung in Xhosa language, and featuring her exceptionally powerful voice. Makeba herself has led a fascinating and difficult life. Born in apartheid-era South Africa, she spent the first 6 years of life in prison with her mother. In 1960 her South African citizenship was revoked, forcing her to live and work abroad. In the late 60's she married Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, which cost her gigs and got her dropped from RCA. She relocated to Guinea and served as Guinea's delegate to the United Nations. She was part of Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1986, where she performed the spine tingling showstopper "Soweto Blues". Finally, she returned to South Africa in 1990. Now 73, her most recent album appeared in 2004.
147. Led Zeppelin: Friends *****
"Friends", the second song on Led Zeppelin III, from 1970, was the first indication that the album was not going to be a retread of the sounds on Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. An eerie, folksy minor-key acoustic number with Eastern flavored strings and synth and slightly ominous aura, it was a departure from the wallop of their previous recordings, and is emblematic of the album which featured a number of similar songs, including "Tangerine" and "Gallows Pole". The real star of the show on this album is guitarist Jimmy Page, who demonstrated a remarkable breadth he had never demonstrated on such a scale before, and seldom has attempted since. Subsequent Led Zeppelin albums would crank up the metal again, but most would feature at least one or two token acoustic numbers in a similar vein as those on Led Zeppelin III.
148. Astral Projection: Dancing Galaxy ****
Israeli techno/trance outfit Astral Projection was one of a number of artists associated with the Goa Trance movement, so named after a famed dance/drug/club coastal area in India. Goa Trance was an LSD scene, instead of the ecstasy usually associated with trance; as a result, the recordings have a distinctly hardcore psychedelic edge, except they're designed for dancing, not navel-gazing. "Dancing Galaxy" is from the 1997 album of the same name, and it is a 9-minute big beat rave workout, with eerie, disembodied vocal samples, and electronic, buzzes, swirles, and rushes. In some respects, Astral Projection's work is the thinking man's rave music; heady and textured, it does reward closer listening. Still, it's meant for drugged up dance revelry and works best in such a context. The album, Dancing Galaxy, was one of the best selling trance albums of the 90's.
149. Dirty Vegas: Days Go By **** iTunes
U.K. dance trio Dirty Vegas benefited tremendously from "Days Gone By" being used in a Mitsubishi advertisement in the U.S., where it was a tremendous crossover hit and made the top-20 in 2002, a rarity for progressive house music in the States. Led by deejay and producer Paul harris, a regular on the U.K. Milk Bar circuit, the band also featured multi-instrumentalist/record store owner Ben Harris and gravel voiced singer Steve Smith. Bass-heavy, sultry, propulsive, and catchy, it was one of the first songs to benefit from a shift in commercial-use music; instead of using old hits as jingles, many companies began using undiscovered contemporary songs; artists used this commercial exposure to gain recognition and new listeners. This, of course, would have been anathema in the 60's, but times and means of music dissemination have changed a lot since then.
150. The Beatles: It's Only Love ****
"It's Only Love" originally appeared on the U.K. pressing of Help!, although in America it appeared on Rubber Soul. A Lennon tune, it represents a transitional point in the Beatles' evolution; with Beatles For Sale (or Beatles '65 in America) and Help! the Beatles sound changed considerable; the yeah-yeah-yeah exhuberance of 1964 was altered forever after the Beatles (and Lennon in particular) fell under the spell of Bob Dylan (who also introduced them to marijuana, another major influence at this juncture). Several tentative folk/rock experiments appeared on Beatles For Sale, "I'm A Loser" most noteworthy, and Help! continued the trend, adding "It's Only Love" and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" to their folk/rock canon. Rubber Soul completed this transition, mainly consisting of mature, toney folk/rock. "It's Only Love" still bears a lot of their Hard Day's Night sound, but its acoustic base and the vibrato on the guitar are real departures. Not likely to be included in anyone's list of all-time great Beatle tunes, it's still a mini-treasure. Lennon's Dylan obsession is made manifest in his peaked caps he was wearing at the time.
Neverending Randomplay appears every Wednesday Night/Thursday AM.
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