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Monday, September 30, 2013

Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas - "Trains And Boats And Planes" / "I'll Be On My Way"

Billy J. Kramer And The DakotasTrains And Boats And Planes/ I'll Be On My Way
Vinyl 7” 45rpm, U.S., 1965

Not my favorite but one of the haunted sounds for yours truly, Billy J. Kramer's take on the great song by Bacharach and David is incredible. Kramer's voice conveys a great deal of sadness to me, ever since I was a kid, when I first heard this recording In fact it may be the first piece of music that struck me sad, even tragic, although I didn't totally understood, I just felt the distance the singer was experiencing from his loved one. Now, the beauty of it is still with me. What I like about the lyric is that he took all the modern tools of travel and what would be an adventure is a tragedy. Because not only the missing loved one is gone, but also bitterness to the tools of transportation as well. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas - "The Definitive Collection" CD

Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas – The Definitive Collection
CD Compilation, U.S., 1991
EMI Records

I was first introduced to the world of Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas on the American TV show “Shindig,” which was to me the first music show focusing on cool music. The next time I saw them was on the first concert film T.A.M.I. And I was deeply impressed with them, because there was nothing macho about Billy or his band.

There 'no style' appealed to me at the time, and I was crazy in love with the song “Little Children.” Although not mysterious one bit, but to my imagination the song had sinister overtures, and the melody was so seductive. It was reeking evil to me, yet when I look at Kramer's face it is pure innocence. So the tension between his innocence and what I heard that sounded evil was pure bliss for me.

One can't find a better compilation of Billy's hits on one CD. Is he an important artist? No. But he is the link between The Beatles and that era, and that alone is important.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Adam Faith - "Lonely Pup" / "Greenfinger" 45 rpm Vinyl

Adam Faith – Lonely Pup Greenfinger
45rpm vinyl single, UK, 1960

Dreadful Christmas single from the genius John Barry and Buddy Holly obsessed Adam Faith. But the B-side Greenfinger is amazing. Mostly due to John Barry's arrangement, which is hynotic with dark overtures. Faith does his best Holly vocal imitation, but of course it is not his voice that makes the record. This is totally the work of the arranger, and it overcomes the singer. Also I am very much attracted to the Parlophone record label design. The logo of the name is very cartoonish, and I tend to think about that than the music. Nevertheless for the Barry obsessive, this record is of course a must.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Billy Fury With The Tornados - "The Sound Of Fury Radio Luxembourg Sessions"

Billy Fury With The Tornados – The Sound Of Fury Radio Luxembourg Sessions
2 x CD, Compilation, UK, 2005
Castle Music

For hopeless fans only! The sound quality is dodgy at best, but nevertheless important document on Billy Fury's life with the Joe Meek's favorite instrumental band The Tornados. They backed the golden suit one in the early 1960's and really the best album to hear is We Want Billy, which is a pretty good live album. But beyond the sound quality, the selection of songs here are top-notch. “Don't Leave Me This Way” is a classic Fury tune, but he also does covers of Elvis' “Paralyzed” and “I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone” on disc 2 which focuses on demos and early acetates.

Disc one is from Radio Luxembourg and its a combination of his hits with cool covers such as Hank Snow's “I'm Moving On.” And there is a strong Elvis overtures on this package, which makes sense because he was seen as Liverpool's answer to Preseley. So for the fanatics only.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Billy Fury - "The World Of Billy Fury" Vinyl LP, Compilation

Billy Fury – The World Of Billy Fury
Vinyl LP, Compilation, 1971

Decca “The World Of...” series would make a great collection by itself. I have two titles in the series. The World Of David Bowie and now this, The World Of Billy Fury. It does have the classic and moody “Nobody's Child” on it, which for me is the ultimate Billy Fury recording. Not an easy album to find on vinyl – in fact Fury albums in general are not that easy to locate. Nevertheless this is a solid collection of his hits and a great introduction to the world of the underrated Billy. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Billy Fury - "The Sound Of Fury Demos CD Album

Billy Fury – The Sound Of Fury Demos
CD Album

Raw demos of Billy Fury's first album, which some consider to be the U.K.'s first rock n' roll record. Sun Records recordings as imagined by a Liverpool lad. The bootleg quality of these recordings expose the vision of a young Fury, and its quite remarkable that at the time, when music was so processed in England; here was an artist willing to write original material. What happened afterwards is that Fury recorded a full version of The Sound of Fury that made an huge impression on future rock n' rollers.

Rockabilly teen pop tunes that reeks of innocence but with a dark edge that comes up time-to-time. What's interesting to me is that it is rock, but it's rock with a Liverpool accent. Not an imitation of Elvis, but sort of building on the image of Elvis that would work for Billy. This album is for the hardcore Billy fan, but for those who want to study rock n' roll mythology will find these recordings to be of great interest.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Billy Fury - "The One And Only" CD Album

Billy Fury – The One And Only
CD Album, 1983

A very sad album. This was Billy Fury's last album and it's not a good one. In theory I think he had to come out of retirement to do music due to his financial problems and his health was getting worse. Like Boris Vian, Fury knew that he wouldn't have a full life due to heart problems. Before he recorded the album he did have a heart attack, and also I don't think his 'weak' heart was into music making anymore. He became devoted to the animal world, and was known to be passionate about birds.

Fury was 42 years old when he passed away. In many ways he was the typical tension between the music business and being a man who enjoyed making music. Sometimes the two go together, and other times, it is being in the music world for the wrong reasons. Fury was a natural talent, he was a good songwriter, and reportaly an excellent live act. But his fellow Liverpool citizens The Beatles made it clear that the future star will be one's who write their own songs. Fury already at a step-up in that direction but the music business of his world didn't encourage to go that route. But we do have some memories of Fury's perfect moments, which were few, but they stayed with me that seems forever. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Billy Fury - "The E.P. Collection" Vinyl

Billy Fury – The E.P. Collection
Vinyl, LP, Compilation
See For Miles Records Ltd.

There are three Billy Fury albums that I love and feel that are essential, and The E.P. Collection is one of the releases that I can't live without. So much so that I bought this album on vinyl in Japan last March (2013) and for some years now have the CD version as well.

A greatest hits album for the connoisseur, but deeper than that because this is a collection of EP's realeased in the UK, including the b-sides or the three other songs. A typical EP would have two songs on each side. It was invented by record companies to deal with those who couldn't afford an entire album, and specifically marketed to the teenager and their budget. But also I imagine this format was popular with the jukeboxes at the time as well.

To this day the EP has a romantic appeal for me. I like the 45rpm format, and having four songs on a 7” single, aesthetically speaking, is very pleasing to me. So what we have here is 20 songs and not a bad cut on the collection. All his early hits are here, but also strong recordings from his catalog as well.
There are two songs that gives me goose-bumps whenever I hear them. “Nobody's Child” and the Morrissey like “Don't Jump.”

Nobody's Child” is a heartbreaking narrative about a child all alone in the world, and Billy's voice conveys the loneliness and despair, but also just the sadnessness of it all. “Don't Jump” is our hero about to end it all at a cliff's end, with only the chorus singing “Don't Jump Billy, Don't Jump.” It's a brilliant pop record, but those two are just the highlights of an amazing album all the way through.

Even the titles alone has a haunted aspect to the Billy Fury theme of romantic disaster coming around the corner. “Don't Walk Away,” “What Am I Living For,” and the incredible “I'll Never Quite Get Over You” are important landmarks to an era when Pop was popping its head above the murky waters of Pre-Beatles UK.   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Billy Fury - "Rough Diamonds and Pure Gems

Billy Fury – Rough Diamonds and Pure Gems
CD Album, Compilation, 1991
The Magnum Music Group

To be honest this is a lame album collection of Billy Fury recordings that don't matter. It is for those who have everything by the man, and here is the bottom of the barrow as well. The only thing that is passable is his recordings of Buddy Holly songs, which of course, is natural for him. But even that one feels he's trapped by the production and the show-biz machinery of the British early 60's music world. Of course there are better albums out there by this great artist, but its tough to love a pop singer who has a faulty catalog of recordings. Still, its worth to go through the horror to find the beauty that is in his music history. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Billy Fury - "We Want Billy" / "Billy" CD Compilation

Billy Fury – We Want Billy/ Billy
CD Compilation, 1995
Beat Goes On (BGO)

Like all good titles, the name 'Billy Fury' stayed with me ever since I first read that name. Totally unknown in America, especially in the 1960's, I must have read about him as a teenager in an article about Swinging London, but as someone from the past. At the time not that interesting but I love the combination of Billy with Fury. Many years later The Smiths put Billy Fury on the cover of one of their 12” singles, and something about his face caught my imagination. In fact I became totally fascinated by U.K. Pop culture right before The Beatles made the big time. Like millions of others, I was lead to believe that nothing was happening music wise in England before The Beatles, but alas, I was deeply wrong. In two words what was happening was Billy. Fury.

I had to search the internet for this CD release of two Fury albums on one disk. What really interested me is the live album We Want Billy because he was backed by The Tornados, the Joe Meek fueled instrumental band. I have this one image I think I got from Mojo, where Fury is on stage and wearing a gold suit, and clearly you can see he is wearing heavy eye make-up, and he's rockin' with The Tornados' bass player Heinz looking on. For me it is one of those classic moments that freezes a specific time in a very specific place.

Musically the live album is very so-so. Fury, at heart, was a white RnB singer, who was forced to sing pop, even though at the very beginning of his career he was one of the first pop figures to actually write his own songs – but alas, over time he had to cover other songs due to the recording pop world at the time. There is tension between the early songs in his set, which was mostly rock n' roll, but eventually he does a melody of his 'pop' hits. Done without passion, there is clearly a wall between the two styles of music for him, at least on stage.

Now one would think I would prefer the rockin' songs, but I actually love his pop side more. For one the songs he sang were excellent, and two he was a great British ballad singer. What makes him special is you can clearly hear his Liverpool accent when he sang, which of course gives it an instinctive stamp of individuality, as it becomes his song. Billy is a very straight forward pop, but tinge with tragedy of romance and heartbreak.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Billie Holiday ' "Music For Torching With Billie Holiday" Vinyl Mono LP

Billie Holiday – Music For Torching With Billie Holiday
Vinyl LP, Album, Mono, Reissue
Verve Records

A smallish jazz band behind Billie Holiday, and she shines as much as anyone can with the 3 AM feeling. I'm also impressed with this album because one of its recording dates was August 25, 1955, when I turned the magical age of 1. The other thing that impressed me was when I bought this used album and I put it on my turntable, it died. It died without warning or fuss. I figure this album killed my turntable. Nevertheless it a turntable was going to die from a record, this is a good one to die with.

Compared to Lady In Satin this is a very intimate album. I think there's more heart here as well. You can tell that musicians really liked playing with her. I think of her voice as another instrument in the band. This is very much an essential album by her, now if only my turntable can survive her charms. 

Billie Holiday - "Lady In Satin"

Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin
CD Album, Reissue, Remastered, Europe

Even though the orchestration is a tad syrupy, the “Billie Holiday” affect on one's ears, heart and mind is extremely wonderful. The songs are faultless as well, as it is very much schooled in the Great American Songbook. But again the arrangements of the big and full orchestra gets in the way of the material, and some say Holiday's voice by then, was kind of shot, I find it soulful and beautiful. In fact in this mixture of slickness, Holiday's brings an emotion to the landscape that's not in the arrangements.

Billie Davis - Whatcha Gonna Do?

Billie Davis – Whatcha Gonna Do? Singles, Rarities And Unreleased 1963-1966
CD Compilation, UK
RPM Records

Sassy, beautiful, and soulful, Billie Davis a British YéYé girl singer whose big voice was surrounded by a big wonderful production. She got her start with Joe Meek and had some hits, but also had a troubled relationship with Jet Harris, the original bass player for The Shadows. And she was only 17, at the height of that affair with the married Harris.

Nevertheless I found this CD in Shibuya HMV, which at the time was the great location to find British '60's era pop music. I knew nothing of her, but the cover caught my attention. Also being in Japan at the time, I was deeply afraid that I will never see this CD collection again. So I bought it with a certain amount of fear but with no regret. As soon as I got home in Los Angeles I played the CD and right away I was charmed by the live recordings that starts off this album. A total teen show for the teens, which always makes me feel nostalgic for a time that I didn't fully participate in. So very much so, this collection of songs make me live an imaginary life that I never lived, but imagined. And classic pop belongs to those who imagined

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bill Evans Trio - "Portrait In Jazz" CD Album

Bill Evans Trio – Portrait In Jazz
CD Album, Reissue, Remastered
Original Jazz Classics/Riverside Records

It all seems so effortless, but Bill Evans is a man who controls the heart of the song via his fingertips. On “Autumn Leaves” him and his bass player Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian play with the melody as if it was a beach ball being thrown back and forth. Also the song is so sad sounding but Evans plays sort of a speed jazz version which tears into the melody and finds it playful.

There is something very tense and nervy about his playing and the arrangements. Thelonlous Monk is a musician that skirts around the melody, like he's cutting it from a cloth, but Evans just jumps in and tears it apart and sort of re-builds the song up again. What I like about jazz in general is how a musician looks at the music as if it was architecture. The artist is looking at the structure, and re-arranges the music to suit their purpose.

Portrait in Jazz is very much the classic jazz album with the classic jazz trio set-up. But beyond that it is quite remarkable to hear the musicians interact on this album, because one would think its the piano, and the bass and drums are supporting that instrument. But alas, I think each instrument here is playing with not against or supporting the piano. Powerful music.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Big Star - "Third/Sisters Lovers" CD Album

Big Star – Third/ Sister Lovers
CD Album, 1992

A horror show. Or I should say an album posed as a horror show. A Big Star album by name, but really except for one song, pretty much of an Alex Chilton solo album. Here it is at the end of the line, and what comes up is a combination of a manic/depressive state known as Third or Sister Lovers. In parts it reminds me of late 1960's Beach Boys meeting the Velvet Underground. He even covers Lou Reed's “Femme Fatale” in a faithful, yet full of the Alex menace and a certain amount of grace. For instance is there a more haunting song than “Holocaust?”

At times the album yells out 3AM, but it is an album full of shadows and shades. Not exactly colors mind you, but it's rich like a John Ford black and white movie. Also there is a lot of experimentation with respect to sound and there's a tension from the first cut to the last. If possible I would get the Rykodisc edition due to the artwork, but also the bonus cuts. All good. “Downs” is calypso done with a Memphis aesthetic and again, “Nature Boy.” Essential work.


Big Star - "Keep An Eye On The Sky" CD Box-Set

Big Star – Keep An Eye On The Sky
4 x CD box set, U.S. , 2009
Rhino Records

If only for Alex Chilton's haunted version of “Nature Boy” with photographer William Eggleston on piano, that this 4 CD box set by Big Star is a must. It's funny due to this version of the classic, I think of Chilton as being Chet Baker's younger soul brother. Lost, but on solid ground with his music. They also share a real sense of cool, not movie cool, but cool that one can only be born with.

Keep An Eye On The Sky is very much an essential package to get, not only for the demos of Big Star and Chris Bell classics, but the way it packages and frames the career and vision of Chilton & Co. Listening to Big Star and all of its off-shoots is a highly emotional ride into a dark night that has no answers. In a way it is a hopeless meditation on one's place on this earth. Blues music that is not technically the blues, but expresses the anxiety of those who wander into the myst that's culture. In this case its strongly placed in the Memphis landscape. I rarely buy box-sets (I have about five, and they're all pretty essential, and will get to them later here), but Big Star is a band that is often seen in fragments, so this set places them in a bigger frame. Wonderful.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Big Star - "#1 Record/Radio City" CD Compilation Reissue

Big Star - #1 Record/Radio City
CD, Compilation Reissue, Remastered 1992
Stax/Ardent Records

The Memphis fab four that became the mighty three by the second album is one of the great music adventures in the pop world. Of course at the time, one couldn't give away their records. I think I orginally bought both of their albums in the cut-out bin at Warehouse Records in Woodland Hills. But alas, this little lighter turned into a huge fire over the years. There are at least three excellent books out on the band, plus a wonderful documentary. So being quiet, and over time, the attention came to the band. Unfortunately too late for Chris Bell, the co-writer and player in Big Star. Now there is only one surviving member, which is sad, because there is great sadness in their music. Big Star is an all-white band in Black Memphis, but still, they had a great deal of soul.

Many years later I found this CD, that is both the first and second album on one disk. Which economically speaking is great, but I find both albums totally the opposite of each other. Sound wise as well as attitude. The now ironically called #1 Record is full of hope that a love will come around and success is around the corner. The melodies sneak up on you and the guitars keep charming the pants and dresses off you. There is darkness on the edges, but it is held inside. The only really silly song on this album is “The India Song” which is about drinking gin and tonic in the forest. Probably the most un-spiritual song ever with the name India attached to it. A minor song yes, but a great minor song.

What is interesting is the sweetness of the voices blending together, but also Chris Bell's idea of pop maybe a tad different than Alex Chilton's. So there is the tension between the two figures in Big Star, and especially in #1 Record. By the second album, Chris is out and it's just Alex, Jody, and Andy. And here is where it gets really interesting.

Radio City is a masterpiece. Alex Chilton is one-of-a-kind force in nature that when he's on, there is no one that can beat him on his game. Over-all there is never a moral issue with Chilton, it is basically he sees the world in a certain light, and that is what he goes by. When I hear a Chilton song I am hearing something from his mouth to his music, and there is no interference with a third party. There are songwriters who make grand statements, but Chilton is basically focused on the only source he can trust – himself. And even with that, “Way Out West” by Jody, their drummer is my favorite song off this album. But never underestimate the beauty of “September Gurls.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Benjamin Biolay - "Négatif" 2 X CD album, France

Benjamin Biolay – Négatif
2 x CD, 2003, France

The melodies come easy with Benjamin Biolay, it seems to fall out of his mouth when he sings. Effortlessly yet that can't be possible. Yet, no doubt one would want to hear this music, especially around 1 AM. He also seems to channel Serge Gainsbourg, not for the obvious reason, but with the skills of the arrangements, which like Serge recordings, is rich and lush.

The beautiful portrait of Biolay on the cover really conveys the music inside that cover. The seduction is ripe that it almost seems to be a cliché, but Biolay really delivers on every count or platform. Sound wise it is the French brother of Bryan Ferry's “Boys and Girls” album. While I think Ferry is obsessed with perfection, and it shows by its passion in details, Biolay is more natural in that type of music. Also there is a chamber-like aspect to some of his recordings.

My one complaint is that he has too many songs on the album. On the surface this is weird criticism, but the lushness of his music needs more space, and I feel that if the album had 10 songs instead of 14, it would have more room to breathe.