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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Outlaws (Joe Meek) - "Dream of the West" LP, Vinyl, Album, 1961 (His Masters Voice)

The Outlaws is an instrumental band and worked with Joe Meek being their producer and songwriter.  Meek wrote all the songs on this album under the name of Robert Duke, as well as writing the liner notes.  The two guitars, bass and drums on a Meek recording can sound like it was recorded somewhere on the other side of the moon, yet pretend to be human.  Which is ironic, because this is an album that has a theme of the wild west.  "Dream of the West" is a concept album, but not one with a narrative, but with a place, a time, and of course, since it's British, more about the cinematic Western than the real west. 

If one compares The Outlaws to another band, it will have to be The Shadows.  Twangy guitars that are more British sounding than say surf, yet it's almost like scientists studying the surf guitar sound, and somehow getting it wonderfully wrong.   There is not one authentic western song on this album. All of the material, written by Meek (Duke) is a western that is imagined than real.  It's a beautiful album in the sense that fantasy plays a great role in Meek's world.  Yet, I sense he feels that all of it is 'real,' at least to him.   

Rod McKuen - "Beatsville" Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono, 1959 (HiFi Records)

As the son of an artist who lived in the so-called "Beat" world, I had the first-hand experience being in such a world, yet years later, one realizes that such a world was being mocked and made fun of by the establishment - both in the entertainment media and in the press.  I lived with my family at the height of the "Beatnik" era at the most iconic "Beat" location - San Francisco.  Eventually, my dad and mom had to move out of that city, due to the consistent harassment of the tourists who came to San Francisco to see "Beatniks."   At the time, there was a very popular TV show "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" which featured the most famous Beat(Nik) at that time, Maynard G. Krebs, played by the wonderful Bob Denver.  It didn't help my father at the time who was trying to live a private life in San Francisco. 

One of the by-products of the commercial world is an album by America's number-one poet Rod McKuen's "Beatsville."  It's McKuen reciting his poetry with jazz music in the background. On a cultural level, this is far away from Jack Kerouac's recordings with Steve Allen.  In fact, it's very much a knock-off of that theme and idea from an actor, poet, and songwriter.  Still, "Beatsville" offers specialty charms, such as a snapshot of that era and how the sub-culture was treated in the mass media.  McKuen's poetry reflects on the Beat landscape but seen through the eyes of corporate America, which in that Situationist stance, appreciates the spectacle of looking at the Beat culture from a safe distance for the average listener to this album.  Clearly, no one in the Beat world would be seen within a mile of this album. 

McKuen is a terrible poet, but his saving grace is that he had the good taste to admire Jacques Brel and introduced him to the English speaking world.  The way he was portrayed in the TV world is that he was a sensitive voice (due that he's a poet) and had a handsome face and appearance.  I'm a fan of his clothing sense, and I also like his voice, when he reads and when he sang.  I remember when I worked at Book Soup, McKuen was shopping at the store, and a few minutes later, David Bowie walked in.  Both were, of course, huge Brel fans.  McKuen actually was a pal of Brel, and in my mind, I wanted to introduce McKuen to Bowie just for that reason alone.  Of course, I didn't because I didn't know these guys, and in no fashion did their body language acknowledge one to the other.  In fact, I don't think either of them was aware of the other that afternoon at the shop.  Still, I feel it was a lost opportunity on my part - on the other hand, one couldn't possibly ignore McKuen in the 1960s.  I remember buying "Axis Bold as Love" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience when it first came out.  To my surprise when I put the disc on the turntable, it was a huge orchestra.  I thought "wow this is a very strange direction for Hendrix" and then I heard McKuen's croon, and went 'oh-oh.'   Both shared the same label, so in the factory, they put the wrong album into the wrong jacket.  

The other day I found "Beatsville" in my favorite local record shop, Mono Records in Glendale, and couldn't pass up the chance of buying this rarity.  In an odd way, it brought back memories of hanging out in The North Beach in San Francisco with my Dad, although the McKuen recording is a total Disneyland version of that location.  I imagine McKuen been there and maybe even lived in that town, but clearly, his interest in that world was more commercial than the reality of the location.  Still, "Beatsville" is very much a spectacle in the Guy Debord sense, and it's an interesting by-product of that era.    And the album cover, of course, is the real masterpiece.  A beautiful album cover!

On the other hand, I strongly recommend Bob McFadden and Dor's "The Beat Generation," which is written by our Rod.   Richard Hell turned this song into "The Blank Generation."  So McKuen not only made his presence in the Beat world, but also on the Punk planet as well. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Aranbee Pop Symphony Orchestra - "Todays Pop Symphony" LP, Album, Vinyl, Remastered, 1999/1966 (Immediate/Sequel Records)

Not for one minute do I think that even Keith Richards made an appearance in the recording studio for this all-instrumental album of Rolling Stones, Beatles, 4 Seasons, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and of course, Sonny & Cher songs.  "Under the direction of Keith Richard," I think took place when he was in another room or even in another city.  Nevertheless, I suspect that this album was pulled together by the great and brilliant Andrew Loog Oldham.  

On one level this is or was a knock-off album to probably cash in the song publishing dough, but beyond that hustle, this is a great album.  As one can gather I'm a huge fan of the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, which is Oldham's version of doing Phil Spector, but in turn, and due to the temperament of Oldham, it becomes an original piece of work.  "Todays Pop Symphony" is the classical baroque version of the Oldham orchestra.  Stings galore as well as huge brass arrangements at that time (and always) classics.  The beauty of this album, although it's based on the melodies of the classic Stones and soul, through the arrangement it sounds very different.  This is a classic album of doing arrangements right and should be used in a classroom for further study.  I'm going to take a wild guess that John Paul Jones had a hand in the arrangements, but there is no clear credit, except for Keith Richard, which again, I greatly doubt he had much to do with this album.  

As Noel Coward once noted there is beauty in 'cheap music,' and The Aranbee Pop Symphony is a total delight from track one to the last track eleven.  

Monday, February 19, 2018

Led Zeppelin "Led Zeppelin" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1969 (Atlantic)

I bought the first Led Zeppelin I think very close to the day of its original release.   My educated guess, because I have no memory of the details, I must have heard "Good Times Bad Times"
 on the FM radio, and that's a type of record I have always liked.  Over time I learned to hate Led Zeppelin.  The funny thing is I 'm a huge fan of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones' studio work of the 1960s.  I love what Jones did with Immediate recordings, as well as Herman's Hermits.  And Page's work on Dave Berry's "The Crying Game" (if that is him?) is superb.   He also played guitar on John Barry's "Goldfinger."  How great is that?  And to this day, I think his best work is when he was an overly busy studio musician.  Still, there is something about Led Zeppelin that I can't fully dismiss. 

There are a lot of practical reasons for disliking Led Zeppelin.  Their horrible behavior toward groupies and people who work in the theaters, as well as them ripping off songwriters left and right - including the great song "Dazed and Confused," which is an amazing record. Jake Holmes wrote it, and when you hear the original compared to the Zep's version, it's outrageous that Page took songwriting credit on that song.   The truth is, Led Zeppelin is more in the lines of The Cramps, with respect how they re-arrange other material to suit their aesthetic.  And Jimmy Page is a brilliant arranger.  I also suspect Jones did a lot of the arranging as well, but it seems he's pushed aside with respect to crediting his arrangement work.  Nevertheless, that's Led Zeppelin in a nutshell, and one shouldn't dwell on the negativity of the situation.

What I do like about this album is that Page and company arranged these songs in a very textural and sonically powerful presence, especially when one puts up the volume.  Led Zeppelin is not about originality, but the way they present their (or whoever wrote the damn) songs in a manner that is magical.  The band is basically a trio, plus singer, but the big sound is the drumming of John Bonham who is a great drummer, and the layers of Page's guitars.  It's a joy to closely listen to his multiple layering of guitar sounds.  Page is technically a fantastic guitar player, but his genius is that he can think and play his instrument as if it was the lead player in a Wagner or operatic piece.  There are the riffs, but his playing is very subtle as well as being over-the-top. He knows how to balance the two and make it spectacular for that song, or album.   

Robert Plant has a voice.  A really good voice, but I don't think he's a great singer. He knows how to bend the notes, and play his voice as a fellow instrument with Page's guitar, but his delivery is always flat to me.  I think now, he is a much better singer as he got older, but as a teenager, a powerful voice but with no taste.  Led Zeppelin is very much a teenager's aesthetic.  Re-listening to this album after 39 years doesn't take me back to my youth, but now, I can appreciate the way the puzzle was put together, and Jimmy Page and band were very good in making this album as a statement at the time. I like it when "You Shook Me"goes right into "Dazed and Confused" and the same goes of the blending of "You're Time is Gonna Come" into the instrumental "Black Mountain Side, " which he originally recorded for The Yardbirds.   To me, Led Zeppelin is not a great album, but a work that is very much suited to its original era.  Skillful music that is tasteful, yet never went far enough.

Egisto Macchi - "Messico" Vinyl, LP, Album, Limited Edition, Italy, 2016 (Cinedelic Records)

"Messico" (Mexico) at times reminds me of recordings that are tourist-like, in that it gives the listener a taste of that foreign culture.  It's traveling the world within one's Hi-Fi setup. Italian composer Egisto Macchi composed and made these recordings for film libraries, where a filmmaker or editor can go and locate music for their specific scene.   Under such anonymous service, it's amazing that the brilliant talent of Macchi served this industry so well.   "Messico" brings images of Mexico, but the Mexico that is in our imagination.  The music has strong folk melodies but expanded by an Italian's view of such a culture.   

There are touches of spaghetti western overtures, but most of all I think of Sergi Eisenstein's ¡Que viva México!  It's a fascinating culture and country, and Europeans (and one Russian) I think were drawn to its allure due to a sexual and intellectual curiosity of a distant place.  "Messico" captures the sense of wonderment and it's another brilliant album by Macchi. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Les Rita Mitsouko - "Rita Mitsouko" LP, Vinyl, LP, Album, France, 1984 (Virgin)

Les Rita Mitsouko is my favorite band.   At first, I thought that they are my favorite French rock n' roll band, but the truth is they are my number one favorite band.   If one can call them a band.  Les Rita Mitsouko was a couple:  Catherine Ringer and the late Fred Chichin.  Both were multi-instrumentalists and wrote the songs together.  Like The Cramps and Sparks, they were a perfect individual unit who used outside players, but the main core is always the two of them. "Rita Mitsouko" is their first album.  I loved them by the first note on the first song of side one "Restez Avec Moi."   The rhythm is very much a Bal Musette dance, and it's a combination of electronics and guitar that makes this song irresistible.   If one can fall in love with a human, then inevitably a listener can fall in love with Les Rita Mitsouko.  

Catherine Ringer is one of the significant figures in contemporary music, and the fact that she's unknown in the United States is apparently a crime against culture.  Her voice and even more important, her stance, is a beauty to behold.  There are individuals that for no other reason that they just have that "it" quality, which is a rarity, and Ringer oozes personality and talent.   She's up there with her country's Juliette Gréco or Edith Piaf but is obviously both a traditionist as well as a standout in any category of popular music.   Chichin and Ringer have a robust sexual aura as well as classic groove chops, and I can never resist their sensual pull to their music. 

If I have to make a comparison to their sound, I think of Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" as the closest album that kind of resembles Les Rita Mitsouko's sound and world.   There is a strong "I don't give a damn" quality in their work, that's is essential rock n' roll spirit.   Wonderfully unique, and equally charming at the same time.   Their first album "Rita Mitsouko" captures a freshness that I find so enticing that their work is close to falling in love for the first time. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Beatles "Rubber Soul" Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissued, Remastered, Mono, 2014/1965

As a gentleman (if I may call myself that) born in 1954, The Beatles were truly a band that I grew up with, as the albums were released.   It's so odd for me to hear such a sophisticated album "Rubber Soul" when I was 11 years old.  How could I possibly understood "Norwegian Wood" at that age, yet, on its original release I played that song over and over again.  Even as a young child I like songs that sounded sad, that somehow I felt was a reflection of my being at the time.   Of all the Beatle albums, "Rubber Soul" is an album that I can listen to in my head by just reading the songs off the back cover.  They're etched not in color, but in black and white, just like the photos on the back cover of the album.  A very contrast black & white, compared to high definition images replaced by "Revolver" their next album. After that, it was all bright technicolor photos of The Beatles from "Sgt. Pepper" to "Abbey Road."

The sound I hear on "Rubber Soul" is four men, who seemed to be older (of course) and perhaps wiser, yet, in reality, it's a record of reflection of men still young.  Almost like a soldier who came from the front lines of a war, young, but bitter from the experience.   In reality, there is not one bad song on this album, yet, it's not my favorite Beatles album anymore.  I recently purchased the album in mono (all the Beatle records I own are in mono, except "Abbey Road") and as I played it, I didn't feel any emotional attachment to "Rubber Soul" whatsoever.  Yet, as a child, it had a huge impact on me by how it brought a sense of sophistication into my world.  If you think of the pop music (almost all great) being made in 1965, especially by the British Invasion bands of the time, "Rubber Soul" in comparison is a rainy day with thick clouds in the sky type of record.  "Michelle" is probably the first time I heard a song that is sung in partly French.   How could I possibly relate to that, except I loved how the language was sung by Paul in that song.  Not exotica in the sense of an American tourist in a foreign part of France, but conveyed a sense of bitter romanticism just by Paul's voice and instrumentation.  

"Rubber Soul" is an important album, and when you think of it as being released in 1965, the Fab Four were somewhat distanced from all the others in the music market at the time.  It reminds me image-wise of Fellini's early film "I, Vitelloni" (1953) when one of the characters at the end of the film moves on from his childhood/teenage friends to a new world, but traveling alone.  In a sense, The Beatles were waving goodbye to their contemporary fellow musicians and some fans, that they are moving on, to territory that is not yet formed or idealized at the time.