Neverending Randomplay #181-#190
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 18,134 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.
181. The Byrds: Why [Single Version] ***** iTunes
The David Crosby/Roger McGuinn-penned "Why" originally appeared on the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday album in 1967 in addition to its appearance on a 45. This 45 version is instantly superior to the more familiar album version. The harmonies are closer and tighter, the rhythm section plays a tight and incessant groove reminiscent of surf-rock, while McGuinn lays down one of his absolute greatest solos, a crystalline raga-rock psychedelic 12-string lead. It was resurrected on the Byrds box set, and is now on most reissues of the 1966 album Fifth Dimension, which more appropriately reflects the song's actual recording date. For anyone who doubted the Byrds could rock, this is a fine place to be dissuaded of that notion. Following Younger Than Yesterday and a tense performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, David Crosby would become the second Byrd to fly, reducing the once-quintet to a trio for the nontheless excellent Notorious Byrd Brothers in 1968.
182. Adam And The Ants: Stand And Deliver **** iTunes
This is a irresistably jagged but catchy horn-laden number that sounds like a melange of ska, glam-rock, oi, pub rock, and English punk. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but sounds better than it looks on paper. Adam and the Ants were formed in London in 1977 and underwent a major transformation when they hired Sex Pistols manager/impresario Malcom McLaren to give them a makeover. McLaren dressed them in pirate outfits and suggested they highlight their rhythms, which owe debt to the thumpa-lumpa-thumpa of Gary Glitter. He then decided the band would be better off serving another project in the works, Bow Wow Wow, which they subsequently became. Leader Adam Ant formed a new Adam and the Ants which recorded Kings of the Wild Frontier, their best album, in 1980. Massive success in England came swiftly after that, although America remained skeptical. "Stand and Deliver" is probably the catchiest number from their second McLaren album, the less-successful Prince Charming. Ant broke up the band after this release for a solo career that fizzled but reignited in the 90's.
183. Walter Carlos: Prelude And Fugue No. 2 In C Minor (Bach) ****
Walter Carlos now goes by the name Wendy Carlos, after having undergone transgender surgury in the 1970's. She was still Walter Carlos when she released the landmark album Switched On Bach in 1968. A collection of Bach works done entirely on a Moog synthesizer, it was one of the very first electronic albums to enjoy mainstream success. It was a controversial album, with good reason; the embryonic electronics do rob Bach of a lot of his nuance, and might sound somewhat cheesy to the modern listener. However, fans of early electronica will love this, as would anyone who liked the Beethoven treatments in Stanley Kubrik's A Clockwork Orange, which Carlos also scored in similar fashion in 1972. Despite the suspicion and even hostility the Moog received from serious musicians in the 60's, it ultimately left an enormous impression on rock's evolution; progressive-rock might've been inconceivable without it. Columbia Records followed up Switched On Bach with a sequel, Switched Off Bach, which was the same album done with conventional musicians and instruments without Carlos, which attacked its predecessor in its snarky liner notes.
184. Paul Simon: Homeward Bound (live) ***
Following Simon and Garfunkel's split in 1970, Paul Simon released two outstanding solo albums for Columbia, Paul Simon and There Goes Rhymin' Simon, both chock full of great songs and both infinitely more adventurous, mature, and adult than the duo's records. The albums established him as one of the best singer/songwriters on the 1970's; poor Art Garfunkel never seemed so unnecessary. Simon's next studio album, Still Crazy After All These Years in 1975 would continue his hot streak. Released in the interim as a stopgap in 1974 was Live Rhymin', which resurrected several of Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hits, sans Garfunkel, as well as highlights from Simon's solo albums. "Homeward Bound", one of the duo's best early songs, is given sober alone-with-an-acoustic arrangement here, and while the song is still a fine tune, Garfunkel's absence does seem somehow unfortunate; Simon's somewhat rushed delivery begs for the harmonies it once had. The album has its moments and is worth a spin, but there's nothing noteworthy about this number.
185. The Beach Boys: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times **** iTunes
"I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" is from the Beach Boys' greatest album, and most unsual one, Pet Sounds, from 1966. Pet Sounds represented an enormous leap from the fun-in-the-sun surf tunes of their earlier albums; nearly every track has a surprising gravity to it; intensely personal and intense numbers written mostly by a partnership of Brian Wilson and Tony Asher. Also noteworthy about the album is its lush, dense production that builds on Phil SPector's wall of sound but updates it, giving it a woozy, eclectic granduer that still stands as a landmark production today. It is the one Beach Boys album to own if you're only going to have one. On an album that contains classics like "God Only Knows", "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Sloop John B.", "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" is an unusually downbeat and claustrophobically insular song, lyrically about not fitting in and getting fatalistic about it. In retrospect it is almost a melodic and painstakingly constructed window into the increasingly tortured mind of Brian Wilson, who would famously crack up the following year when the Beatles got Sgt Pepper into the stores before he could finish Smile. A sweetly sad recording, made poignant by history. Plus that Pet Sounds production.
186. Rickie Lee Jones: Rainbow Sleeves ***
"Rainbow Sleeves" is a 1983 cover of Jones' then-boyfriend Tom Waits, which appeared on the soundtrack of the Martin Scorcese film King Of Comedy. It also appeared on her 1983 8-song 10" EP Girl At Her Volcano. Jones' version opens with a delicate, sleepy-time piano intro before she enters with her vocals which start out breathy and gain resonance as strings sweep in. As the second verse starts the singing and piano take on a bluesy tone, but the sweet strings remain. The resulting song loses a lot of Waits' grit in translation, but is a tender, gentle, believable version. Those who like Jones' jazzy stuff might fall asleep, but she was pretty good at piano ballads, too. Jones released a confounding, multi-genre album the following year, The Magazine, and then faded from sight for about five years; at this stage in her career, her audience was beginning to dwindle rapidly.
187. Cocteau Twins: Circling Girl ***
From the Violane #2 EP, released in 1996, this is pretty much the swan song for dream pop architects Cocteau Twins. All of their essential elements are here; the gossamer voal harmonies, the echoed and reverbed guitars and piano, the faux-orchestral granduer, the cascading melody line, the illusion of a fluid wall of sound. Cocteau Twins' ultimate curse may have been that they never really progressed a whole lot in the intervening years since their 1983 landmark, Head Over Heels. It's not that they made bad albums; they just tended to sound samey after a while. Anyone who likes them will find "Circling Girl" a fairly good addition to their collection; non-fans are advised to stick with their early 80's material, or maybe Heaven Or Las Vegas from 1990. The magic is only heard in wisps here. Vocalist Elizabeth Fraser has also worked with Massive Attack, Ian McCulloch, and The Bathers.
188. Elvis Presley: My Way (live) *** iTunes
At last, it is time to confront the fat Elvis. This version of "My Way", recorded live months before his death in 1977 is no embarrassment, but it is a long way from "All Shook Up" or "Don't Be Cruel". If anything, the only thing wrong with this recording is the material; written by former teen idol Paul Anka, "My Way" veers dangerously towards maudlin, regardless of who covers it-- including Sinatra and Sid Vicious. Elvis gives it a dignified, if somewhat overstuffed performance, and his band, which is as laid back as you can get, is still fairly crisp. Presley's work in the 70's wasn't nearly as bad as a lot of characatures make it out to be, and much of it is better than this. But this could have been a lot worse (and perhaps was, on other nights). "My Way" was added to Presley's stage show in 1973; it remained a part of his act until he died.
189. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Dance Little Jean **** iTunes
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has had one of the longest careers in popular music, first as a mid 60's folk-rock outfit from Long Beach, coontemporaries with the Byrds. By the early 70's, they were a country-rock outfit and scored with Jerry jeff Walkers's "Mr. Bojangles", before making the transition to straight country by the late 70's; they're still at it now, despite several key lineup changes. Guitarist Jim Ibbotson's "Dance Little Jean", from 1982, reached #9 on the country charts; the band sounds fine here, particularly in the picking department. The rest of the 1980's would see the band recieve regular airplay on country radio on a big scale; while folkies will prefer their early stuff, country folk will consider this recording vintage.
190. Jefferson Airplane: And I Like It ***** iTunes
An often overlooked gem from Jefferson Airplane's often overlooked 1966 debut, "And I Like It" is a tense, slow blues, sung with gusto by Marty Balin. The band, in its pre-Grace Slick incarnation, touches on folk, blues, and psychedelia with Jorma Kaukonan's restrained but busy guitar a good counterpoint to the vocals. Jefferson Airplane Takes Off is a milestone album in its staddling of conventional folk/rock and psychedelia, and while it isn't as dynamic as the band's subsequent albums, it it easily their freshest and most optimistic sounding. The Airplane was one of the first of the Haight Ashbury groups to get a recording contract, and was the first to have a national hit; by 1967 they were the face of the counterculture and an emblem of the San Francisco sound.
Neverending randomplay is a Wedneday Night/Thursday AM feature.
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