Sunday, February 20, 2011

86. Tim Buckley - Goodbye and Hello (1967)

1. No Man Can Find The War
2. Carnival Song
3. Pleasant Street
4. Hallucinations
5. I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain
6. Once I Was
7. Phantasmagoria In Two
8. Knight-Errant
9. Goodbye And Hello
10. Morning Glory
"Oh great, another white dude with an acoustic guitar suffering from what seem to be lyrical acid flashbacks," I thought as I prepared to listen to this record. Oh, how very wrong I was. 

Well, not about the acid. Tim Buckley definitely did a shitload of acid.

I was very pleasantly surprised. Usually I expect folk albums to be somewhat sparse instrumentally, unless you're Bob Dylan and you want to fuck with your fans, but this album's got loads and loads of instruments on it, almost as if the Sgt. Pepper musicians forgot to take their stuff with them as they left. Even though Buckley was a relatively obscure musician at the time, known mainly to other musicians (In a hilarious tie-back to my last review, the Monkees actually featured him on their very last episode next year), he evidently got a pretty sizable budget because there's even an orchestra on one of the tracks. The album marked a shift from his earlier folk-rock sound, fully submerging him into the belly of the psychedelic beast. This would be but one of his many sound-changes, culminating in what Wikipedia helpfully calls his 'sex-funk' period in the '70s. I am not making this up. Just look at the album cover, then read that sentence again.

It's not all sex and funk with Mr. Buckley, however. The dude has some considerable songwriting chops and he's not afraid to show them off. Take the first few songs, which not only utilize sound effects but a whole host of time signatures. This is most obvious in the title track, which consist of a sprawling morass of shifting moods and rhythms jarring you back and forth like a particularly energetic game of Pong. 'Hallucinations' is even better, with the slide guitar at the beginning slowly creeping into the field of your vision, like faint ghosts. Speaking of ghosts, check out the pipes on this guy! A couple of times he reminded me of a male Joan Baez, which makes me mourn for the vibrato-laden duet that could have been. Whether wailing like a banshee on 'Pleasant Street' (which totally kicks ass) or enveloping you like a soft, sex-funk blanket on 'Once I Was' (which provides a great cushion after you've had your ass kicked), Tim Buckley uses his mouth purtier than a fifteen-dollar whore! 9/10


Monday, February 7, 2011

85. The Monkees - Headquarters (1967)

1. You Told Me
2. I'll Spend My Life With You
3. Forget That Girl
4. Band 6
5. You Just May Be The One
6. Shades Of Gray
7. I Can't Get Her Off My Mind
8. For Pete's Sake
9. Mr. Webster
10. Sunny Girlfriend
11. Zilch
12. No Time
13. Early Morning Blues And Greens
14. Randy Scouse Git

In the late summer of 1966, the times were a-changing. The Beatles, feted as the most popular band in America, began to suffer an increasing amount of cracks in their happy-go-lucky foursome image. They had embarked on a world tour, their third in 3 years, but it was becoming more and more blatantly obvious that they couldn't keep up the cheerful facade. In Tokyo, an unusually sedate crowd allowed the Beatles to actually hear their own performance, something that hadn't happened to them in a very long time. As a result of the constant shrill screech of the fans drowning out the woefully inadequate sound systems of the era, the Beatles' live performances atrophied to an embarrassingly low level that served as a constant irritation to the members of the band who would much rather be elsewhere, anyway.

Later on in the Philippines, an accidental snub of first lady Imelda Marcos led to a furor that almost got the band killed by angry crowds. When asked about the incident later, a normally peaceful George Harrison said he wouldn't mind just dropping an atom bomb on the place. And of course, Lennon's famous "more popular than Jesus" remark erupted with a bang in the United States just in time for their dates there, which led to all sorts of fun escapades such as the bands' records being burned, stations banning their music, being constantly hounded for apologies and explanations in ever-trite press conferences, and death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

Basically, what I'm trying to get at is that being a conventional pop group in the 1960s sucked a whole friggin' lot. With shit like that happening to them, it's no wonder that the Beatles retired from touring into the drug-filled cave of Abbey Road Studios, never to return. Due to the constant exposure and output expected of your average pop group then, the Beatles' sabbatical in the latter half of 1966 must've seemed like an astronomically long time for the overwhelmingly large bubble-gum chewing, Tiger Beat reading segment of their fanbase.

The long silence was finally broken on February 1967 with the release of the double A-side single Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane. Not only was the music-buying public flabbergasted at the Beatles once again effortlessly redefining what a pop record could be, but what was perhaps more astonishing to the teeny-boppers was their appearance as seen on the innovative music videos used to promote the single. Gone were the smiling mop tops of yesteryear, killed by the pressure and the screeching of a generation. Here was the new face of music, world-weary and serious. Not to mention, they had mustaches. I can only imagine how baffled the average 12 year old girl must've been to accept such a drastic image change. This may not mean so much nowadays in an era where Lady Gaga can't step outside of her house without looking completely different, but it would've caused quite a splash in the more straight-laced pop scene of the 1960s. The Beatles' records continued to sell like cocaine-filled hotcakes, of course, but they were no longer teen idols. They had managed to escape the arena, albeit barely.

But who were to be the gladiators now? Pop audiences, always notoriously fickle, needed another group of bright young things to fawn over, and dammit, TV was gonna give it to them. Enter Messrs. Nesmith, Dolenz, Tork and Jones.

Much has been made of the Monkees' supposed inability to play their own instruments. In fact, it's one of the only things that anyone remembers about those guys anymore. They were the Prefab Four, selected in a TV studio and then forced upon the unsuspecting masses as a "rock band" via wacky exploits and catchy chart topping singles. Those critics conveniently ignore the fact that they were not the only band to do this, in fact plenty of other bands used studio musicians, especially the Beach Boys who held such critical favor. 

They also ignore this album, which represents an artistic triumph for the band, because it's the first time they actually play their instruments, as well as even writing some of the songs!! I mean, it's still not that fantastic an album, but they really really tried this time!

And try they did. The early part of 1967 was a rather contentious time for the Monkees, who were in conflict with music director Don Kirshner over their not being included in the music making process. Things came to a head when the band found out that an album had been released without their knowledge, which would piss anyone off. Later, a meeting ended with Michael Nesmith punching a hole in the wall and saying "That could have been your face!"

That's right.  The Monkees were actually badasses. Could've fooled anybody!

And now the Monkees could truly prove to the world that they actually did have talent, and that's where Headquarters comes in. I have to admit, I kind of got my hopes up here. Surely this album would be a critical vindication of a band that I had written off for years, a truly lost classic along the lines of Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, a psych/baroque pop oddity by the Four Seasons (of all bands!). Unfortunately, what I got wasn't nearly as interesting. Sure, the Monkees played their own instruments and wrote their own songs for once, but it's not exactly a heartbreaking work of genius going on here. In fact, it sounds a lot like the Beatles. I know, half of the '60s was spent ripping off the Beatles (and vice versa!) but so many of these songs sound like they were yanked from the pages of the Lennon-McCartney songbook that halfway through the album you wonder why you didn't just put on Rubber Soul instead.

That's not to say that all of the songs are subpar Beatles imitations, though. 'Shades of Grey' is actually a decent ballad, though that may just be the cello. 'Sunny Girlfriend' comes out of left field as a catchy country-rock song, which just goes to show that the Monkees should've just gone the Byrds route and released a string of country albums. Instead, they just got forgotten about by the fickle pop audience as described above. Trappings of fame, mothafucka.

Before I go, I should talk about 'Randy Scouse Git', which is probably the best the Monkees ever came to matching the Beatles. It's got that sort of charmingly-dated feel in the verses mixed with a surprisingly inflammatory chorus for the Monkees: "Why don't you hate who I hate/Kill who I kill to be free?" That's some conscious shit right there.

Oh, and 'Zilch' was sampled by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien on a really cool song song called Mistadobalina which is worth an extra point, I guess. 7.5/10

Thursday, January 20, 2011

84. The Beau Brummels - Triangle (1967)

1. Are You Happy
2. Only Dreaming Now
3. Painter Of Women
4. The Keeper Of Time
5. It Won't Get Better
6. Nine Pound Hammer
7. Magic Hollow
8. And I've Seen Her
9. Triangle
10. The Wolf Of Velvet Fortune
11. Old Kentucky Home

This is one of the rare bands whose existence I was completely unaware of before reading this list. Apparently, the Beaus were quite popular in their day, having 2 pretty big hits, but the only way our generation would have any idea who these bozos are is due to the ignobility of appearing in a movie featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. For shame.

Oh, and they appeared on the Flintstones once. I'm willing to  bet that they played as the Beau Rubbles. Of course, their name doesn't really need to be turned into a rock pun to be stupid, that much is obvious. You can tell these guys were riding the British Invasion boom as hard as they possibly could, despite the tragic hindrance that they were American. There's even a hilarious bit in the band's Wikipedia article where the band defends themselves from the rumor that their name choice was solely to  guarantee that they would always be right behind the Beatles in the record store, which would be a hell of a promotional tool. Come on guys, it's 2011, you don't have to keep denying it.

Snark aside, this is actually a pretty good album, much better than you'd expect from the band I just described above. It seems that as soon as chart success went down south, they wisely chose to throw any commercial considerations out the window and made an album that brims with a mystical, fantastical nature.

Like so many other bands of their time, they decided to write songs that positively reek of Tolkien. Magic hollows and characters like the Painter of Women and the Keeper of Time and the Holder of the Chalice of Flatulence abound.  Although the songs and lyrics are a bit cheesy at times (though I'm totally gonna steal Wolf of Velvet Fortune as a band name), the Beau Brummels manage to avoid going too far by utilizing a little known technique known in certain circles as "good songwriting". Taste is a large factor, too: It's what makes the accordion in 'Only Dreaming Now' sound good instead of sounding like it was ripped from a French stereotype's bloodied fingers.

It's not the most exciting album, to be sure, but it's a lot more memorable than Moby Grape, at any rate. Except for 'My Old Kentucky Home', which I'm convinced was put as the last track just to confuse people. 8/10

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

83. Love - Da Capo

1. Stephanie Knows Who
2. Orange Skies
3. Que Vida
4. Seven And Seven Is
5. Castle
6. She Comes In Colors
7. Revelation

 Proving that Love really does overcome all, especially in terms of band names. I have absolutely no doubt that much of my opinion towards this album relies on how much better a band name Love is compared to the psychedelic hangover of "Moby Grape" Anything that makes me think of a grape soda endorsed by Moby is bound to go bad.

Anyway, to the real meat and potatoes: This album is good. The first 6 songs are truly psychedelic  pop masterpieces, awash in orchestration that thankfully manages to avoid the more nauseating cliched sounds that were all over the damned place in this decade. Not only that, but the band's ultra-huge line up (well, 7 was a lot of people for 1967!) for this album means we get a lot of cool stuff thrown into every song, like the ever-inescapable harpsichord.
 Which may or may not have anything to do with how much I liked this record. My secret harpsichord fetish must never be revealed to th

There's a good healthy mix of rockers and mellow tunes on the first half to keep the blandness at bay. Of particular note is 'Seven and Seven Is', the band's only hit, which is a punkish-flavored song that just keeps building and building with furious energy before ending in an explosion. Probably the most exciting thing on this list since the Sonics!

The more laid back songs are nothing to shake a stick at either, though I have no idea why one would want to shake a stick at a song, especially since as the Insane Clown Posse so eloquently put it, you can't even see that shit. Music is all magic, man.

Anyway, they're pretty good songs, though sometimes they may come off as a bit cheesy/dated, particularly Orange Skies. I'd like to see the man who can turn the lyric "Orange skies, carnivals and cotton candy" into something that ISN'T cheesy. And that flute that sounds like it was taken straight off of some sixties lounge record doesn't help matters, although in this context it provides a light and breezy melody that slips the surly bonds of cheesiness and flies off into the stratosphere of taste. Ditto for ¡Que Vida!, which is so impossibly light that you're scared that the song's gonna fly right off of the album.

After 6 very solid songs, I was eagerly anticipating Revelations, the 19 minute elephant in the room taking up the entire second half of the album like it's entitled to do that. Unfortunately, I was quick to discover that it was just a shitty blues jam. Remember Going Home, that 11 minute Rolling Stones song from Aftermath? The one that didn't really go anywhere and Mick Jagger wouldn't shut the hell up? Take that, add a few more interesting bits and solos, and you've got this song. While I liked this a lot more than I liked Going Home, largely because the lead singer has the sense to back the fuck off (though not entirely, unfortunately), it's still not deserving at all of its lofty 19 minute length. There's even a goddamned drum solo. You know you're padding a song far too much when you decide that a drum solo is a good idea.

Despite all my complaining about the second side, the first half of this album is good enough to not wreck the grade curve. I guess it's true that all you need is love everything is terrible! 8/10

Thursday, December 23, 2010

82. Moby Grape - Moby Grape (1967)

1. Hey Grandma
2. Mr Blues
3. Fall On You
4. 8.05
5. Come In The Morning
6. Omaha
7. Naked If I Want To
8. Someday
9. Ain't No Use
10. Sitting By The Window
11. Changes
12. Lazy Me
13. Indifference

Words cannot even begin to describe the unfathomable okayness of this album. This album is so utterly decent that whilst listening to it, I almost moved twice. In  time, my fingers were even twitching to the high levels of tolerability that I was being exposed to.

Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that this album, while being enjoyable to listen to and certainly a well put together piece of work, it's about as exciting as a trip to your grandma's house (unless your grandma is Betty White). Simply put, it's nothing that I haven't heard before.

What baffles me the most about this album's critical following (and it DOES have one) is how it has been held up as one of the great psychedelic classics of '67. I'm convinced that this only happened because the band came from San Francisco, because there's very little overtly psychedelic about any of these songs. The closest they get are little weird bits like the intro to Omaha, but in light of the great masterpieces I've heard so far, wacky intros are not gonna cut it. Frank Zappa's got more psychedelic weirdness in his tailbone than all of these songs combined. Fer Chrissake, the longest song on here is 4 minutes long! The audience wouldn't even be tripping yet!

What this album does sound like is sort of a mishmash of every other contemporary sound in rock, complete with the folksiness of Buffalo Springfield, the harmonies of the Byrds, and the oh-so-hilarious R&B rave-ups (well, Changes is actually a pretty good song. You've got me there, you Grape bastards!) The harmonies are actually one of the better parts of the album, actually. I'm saying that because without them, this would be the most dull "psychedelic rock" album since the time Syd Barrett had a bad trip and accidentally left the tape recorder running. 7/10

Friday, December 17, 2010

81. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band - Safe as Milk (1967)

1. Sure Nuff 'n' Yes I Do
2. Zig Zag Wanderer
3. Call On Me
4. Dropout Boogie
5. I'm Glad
6. Electricity
7. Yellow Brick Road
8. Abba Zaba
9. Plastic Factory
10. Where There's Woman
11. Grown So Ugly
12. Autumn's Child

In this post-mad cow disease world, not even milk is safe anymore.

That's the tagline to what may be the worst film yet to be written, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to write it anyway. But first, I must write about Captain Beefheart, a noted eccentric and contemporary of Frank Zappa. Aside from a few tracks here and there, I hadn't really given him a full listen before this album, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually quite accessible. 

Yeah, really. You wouldn't expect it from a guy named Captain Beefheart, but this was a fun and engaging listen. It just might be the best white blues album on the list so far, in fact. The first track sounds like a Muddy Waters track if Muddy Waters dropped some acid and wrote his thoughts down. 

This album tends to oscillate between straight R&B songs like 'Call on Me' that already must have started to sound out of date in the wild Spirit of '67 and some of the freakiest blues this side of the Mississippi. 'Electricity' is nothing short of WILD, maaaaaan. It's even got a Theremin! How many blues songs do you know of with a theremin? 'Abba Zabba' is another particular delight, with its pseudo-African rhythms, which might be the first time a rock band ever used those. Hey, you're getting your world music into my blues! Stop it!

And unfortunately, I've just found out that he's dead while writing this review. I'm hoping this isn't the start of some terrible curse relating to my blog, but all jokes aside, this is quite a sad loss to music and to art in general. Artists as rare and unique as Don Van Vliet don't come around too often: They should be treasured and remembered, and most importantly, celebrated. 9/10

Monday, December 13, 2010

80. Buffalo Springfield - Buffalo Springfield Again (1967)

1. Mr. Soul
2. Child's Claim To Fame
3. Everydays
4. Expecting To Fly
5. Bluebird
6. Hung Upside Down
7. Sad Memory
8. Good Time Boy
9. Rock 'n' Roll Woman
10. Broken Arrow

And now we must deal with one of the more annoying aspects of the blog. After all, it's a bit daft listening to Buffalo Springfield Again when we haven't even given Buffalo Springfield a proper listening-to. But, I suppose that is a quest for another, much longer blog than my tragically limited scope.

This album brings us a first glimpse at what will soon become a very familiar face in the upcoming decade: Mr. Neil Young, one of Canada's finest exports, giving them a reputation that they have since tried their best to dismantle by giving the world Justin Bieber and Bryan Adams. For shame, Canada. No wonder you're stuck as the eternal Oates to the USA's dynamic and forceful Hall (In case you were wondering, Oates' mustache represents Quebec). But enough about them. 

Neil Young is by far the coolest member of this band, and it certainly shows in his songwriting. 'Mr. Soul', although the riff sounds like a shameless ripoff of 'Satisfaction' by the Stones, is a nice slice of mid '60s rock, complete with one of the first examples of Neil Young's awesome soloing. It wasn't all distortion and riffs with Neil, though, as evidenced by his other two songs, 'Expecting To Fly' and 'Broken Arrow'. For whatever reason, he decided to experiment with orchestral arrangements that sound completely unlike anything else on the album. 'Expecting' is a nice enough song, if a little bland, but 'Broken Arrow' is about as overtly psychedelic as Neil ever got, awash in sound effects and bizarre jazz interludes, and even a live recording of Mr. Soul just for the hell of it. All those sound effects result in a relatively disjointed song, but I think it works in its favor. It's by far the most interesting song on the album.

Stephen Stills, the other major figure in the band, has his own share of good songs that aren't quite as interesting. 'Bluebird' is probably his best song here, with oh-so-groovy harmonies that just scream Sixties and a banjo-driven coda, because there haven't been nearly enough banjos on this list. 'Everydays' is an interesting experiment into what psychedelic lounge would sound like if anyone cared to make it a genre, and 'Rock and Roll Woman' is so sixties it hurts.

Oh, and there was another guy who wrote songs named Richie Furay. His songs are fairly nondescript, except for 'Good Time Boy', the sore thumb of the album with its punchy brass arrangements and its SOCK IT TO ME vocals like the band decided to be Aretha Franklin for a day. It doesn't quite work.

At the end of the day, this album didn't really blow my mind or make my jaw drop to the floor with its amazing musicality or songwriting innovations, but it was a very well played record, without any true failures, and even a couple strong standouts! And perhaps most importantly, it's got Neil Young. 8/10