The Styrenes – Essential Styrenes Vol. 1 (1975-1979)

ARTIST: The Styrenes

TITLE: Essential Styrenes Vol. 1 (1975-1979)                    r-4432280-1364729490-3484.jpeg

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Drano in Your Veins, I Saw You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

LINEUP: George Klimek, Paul Marotta, Anton Fier, Mike Antle, Jim Jones, other various drummers and bassists

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Arising out of the ashes of the early avant-garde Cleveland scene, the Styrenes were born, and wallowed in serious obscurity until people started to pay attention to Pere Ubu. Then they were just obscure.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Cleveland in the early 70’s produced some dark avant-garde rock, and after the first wave of bands came and went (including Mirrors and the infamous Electric Eels), the Styrenes formed.

Their first single (“Drano in Your Veins”) rather much captured it all. They weren’t loud and destructive – at least on record – they were subversive in other ways. The lyrics were just weird, art damaged maybe (early on), and the arrangements were a bit odd and off-putting. Later, they added saxes, shed members (many, like Anton Fier, joined Pere Ubu or other Cleveland bands) and Paul Marotta’s piano took more prominence. They were still weird.

This compilation covers their Cleveland years, containing the best two singles and album highlights. This was released originally as two 7” records, which was probably the perfect format for them.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They moved to New York, recorded an album, waited about eight years, recorded another one, and somehow Marotta have kept a version going.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE C+: Google the lyrics to “Drano in Your Veins”. If you can dig it, you can dig this. It’s just inconsistent weirdness.

 

“Weird Al” Yankovic – Dare to Be Stupid

ARTIST: “Weird Al” Yankovic           weird_al_yankovic_-_dare_to_be_stupid

TITLE: Dare to Be Stupid

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: #50

SINGLES: This Is the Life, Like a Surgeon (#47). I Want a New Duck, One More Minute, Hooked on Polkas

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Yoda

LINEUP: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Rick Derringer, Steve Jay, Jim West, Jon Schartz, other sessioneers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A third “Weird Al” album follows a predictable formula, with predictable laughs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: By 1985, “Weird Al” was a known commodity. Any new record was going to have a half-dozen parodies, a polka medley, and some originals lampooning a style or motif.

While the parodies are pretty hilarious (all but one provide a guffaw, or at least a loud ha), the originals seem to be better on this album. Especially “This Is the Life”, with a catchy melody and a convincing update of the jazz age sound, and the title track, which hits Devo where it hurts,

There’s fun to be had here, and at least you won’t skip some of the originals here.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He covered the George of the Jungle theme, which is his only straight cover.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B: It’s more consistent, even if it doesn’t reach the highs of his previous parodies.

The Louvin Brothers – Satan Is Real

ARTIST: The Louvin Brothers        220px-satan_is_real (1)

TITLE: Satan Is Real

YEAR RELEASED: 1959

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: River of Jordan

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Christian Life, The Kneeling Drunkard’s Play

LINEUP: Ira Louvin, Charlie Louvin, George McCormick, Jimmy Capps, Paul Yandell, Ray Edention, Marvin Hughes, Lighnin’ Chance, Buddy Harman

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The gold standard of country-gospel close harmony.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Hey, many of us listen to music where the artist professes things that are against our personal beliefs. (Yeah, I listen to some OLDER Ted Nugent, for instance, when he was just an idiot who hunted and screwed groupies – and that’s different than the R. Kelly stuff in so many ways.) So don’t dismiss this record or the Louvin Brothers because this is all Fire and Brimstone.

Also, a lot of people have rated this highly – it was the hip thing to do for a while. Mainly due to Ira’s wreck of a life and the cover did it get attention.

Love it for what it is. A perfectly arranged and sung album and a concept album. Follow God, don’t drink, stay true, or you will meet Satan. Of course, Ira Louvin wasn’t quite all about that, but I think he really really believed in the material. You can tell there is a passion and conviction in the performances and the songs.

Just listen to the soaring voices in the chorus of “I’m Ready to Go Home”, which is a deep cut. That’s enough for me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was recoreded in 1958 as part of sessions to record two Louvin Brothers. They took seven days to do 20 tracks.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A+: I know it’s the thing to do, rate this an A+. But it deserves it.

Robin Trower – For Earth Below

ARTIST: Robin Trower                 220px-robin_trower_-_for_earth_below

TITLE: For Earth Below

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #5 US, #26 UK

SINGLES: Shame the Devil

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It sold, but it’s not played now.

LINEUP: Robin Trower, James Dewar, Bill Lordan

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Trower plays it safe with his third album, basically a stylistic repeat of his breakthrough.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I suppose that there’s nothing wrong with an artist making an album in the same mode as their previous work, but the former Procol Harum guitarist made Bridge of Sighs 2 with this release.

Not to say that this is a bad record. There’s definitely some cuts here to thrill the rock-and-rollers and the guitar fiends. James Dewar’s vocals fit the blues motif of the songs pretty well, and Trower adds some spacey rock guitar all over the place. That’s fine, but it’s becoming formulaic.

This sold a lot of records, hence the chart activity, but it’s hard to listen to now unless a satellite radio station programs a cut somehow. That’s a shame, because even Trower repeating himself is worth a listen or ten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In case you were wondering, he’s a Startocaster maven/

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B: It’s perfectly okey-doke, but it’s not a revelation as his other solo albums were. It’s just workmanlike rock-and-roll.

The Thermals – Fuckin A

ARTIST: The Thermals                  220px-the_thermals_-_fuckin_a

TITLE: Fuckin A

YEAR RELEASED: 2004

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: How We Know

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Um..doubtful

LINEUP: Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, Jordan Hudson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Thermals move into being a real band, and their fury lit up the Pacific Northwest.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s hard to believe that Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster were folkies before the Thermals, but they were. Now that Harris, Foster, and Jordan Hudson became the Thermals after Harris recoded and album under that name, there’s no ‘folk’ here, unless it’s the punk rock for the people as the new ‘folk’.

Harris’ guitar screams and howls, much like his vocals on many tracks. Foster’s bass is in the Laura Balance mode, distortion and volume and working in lockstep with drums. There’s definitely passion and fire here.

It’s under 30 minutes long, but it doesn’t seem like a rip-off. Harris’ vocals and lyrics point to the anger the youth felt about the world in the mid-2000’s. A leap forward and worthy of your catalog.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was recorded in four days, in a studio (unlike their debut)

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: The Thermals were a hidden gem of the 2000’s, and this record truly started them toward toward their glory days.

Naked Raygun – All Rise

ARTIST: Naked Raygun                   220px-naked_raygun_-_all_rise

TITLE: All Rise

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Home of the Brave

LINEUP: Jeff Pezzati, John Haggerty, Pierre Kezdy, Eric Spicer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Workmanlike Chicago punk rock commenting on political and social issues in the Reagan area.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Naked Raygun’s high point to date, this record is a meat-and-potatoes Chicago punk rock band. Borrowing some of the rigid structure found in Big Black, along with some incendiary political commentary (“Mr. Gridlock”), Naked Raygun hit the mid-80’s in stride.

Featuring “Home of the Brave”, an anthem about the alienation of the youth of the 80’s, the band’s tightened song structure allows the messages to come through loud and clear, and also keeps everything focused.

There’s still some experimentation (“Peacemaker”), and a few tracks don’t really distinguish themselves from the others. Yet with “Home of the Brave”, Naked Raygun would not be forgotten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There’s a new rhythm section, though the record was written before they joined except for “Backlash Jack”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A B-side and a comp cut added on.

 GRADE B+: Decent punk rock with a couple of outstanding tracks.

Eddie Money – The Essential Eddie Money

ARTIST: Eddie Money                                220px-eddie_money_-_the_essential_eddie_money

TITLE: The Essential Eddie Money

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: Baby Hold On (#11), Two Tickets to Paradise (#22), Maybe I’m a Fool (#22), Think I’m in Love (#16, #1 Mainstream), Shakin’ (#63, #9 Mainstream), The Big Crash (#54, #17 Mainstream), Take Me Home Tonight (#4, #1 Mainstream), I Wanna Go Back (#14, #3 Mainstream), Endless Nights (#21, #10 Mainstream), We Should Be Sleeping (#90, #18 Mainstream), Walk on Water (#9, #2 Mainstrream), The Love in Your Eyes (#24, #1 Mainstream), Let Me In (#60, #30 Mainstream), Peace in Our Time (#11, #2 Mainstream), Heaven in the Back Seat (#58, #6 Mainstream), I’ll Get By (#21),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Isn’t that enough?

LINEUP: Eddie Money. Early on Jimmy Lyon, Lonnie Turner, Gary Mallaber and Tom Scott were in his band in the studio. After 1983 he used session guns after Lyon left.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Journeyman classic rocker somehow fills a 2-CD compilation. You don’t remember many of these songs, even though they charted. eddiemoneyessentialeddiemoney

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: An earnest, conventional rock-and-roller if there ever was one, Eddie Money burst onto the scene with two fantastic classic rock songs (“Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise”). Yet, his management and record company decided to grab for more pop ears, and added sweeteners like strings and dance rhythms, and his career clunked a bit as that played to his weaknesses, not his strengths. (It probably was the production – on the 2-disc set there are four live cuts from his second album that redeem those tracks.)

After his third album tanked and he had a medical scare due to too many downers, Money took time off and then hit the MTV era hard with “Think I’m in Love” and the video hit “Shakin’” (well all remember that one…oh yeah!). Then there was the song with Ronnie Spector (“Take Me Home Tonight”) that was justifiably huge.

As time went on, Money charted pretty regularly on the Mainstream chart (where AOR radio lived), and he tried to branch out (he shouldn’t do reggae, or dance pop, c’mon), and had a few ballads hit the A/C chart (gloppy as you can imagine) but nothing stuck as much as those classic songs we all know.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He lost a lot of creative control in the mid-80’s and that’s when his records turned into bland showcases for songwriters.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There’s a one disc version. That may be a better value, really.

 GRADE B-: A handful of great tracks, and then, ooof.

Michael Chapman – Rainmaker

ARTIST: Michael Chapman            mi0003306936

TITLE: Rainmaker

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: It Didn’t Work Out

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, sadly, no.

LINEUP: Michael Chapman, Clem Clempson, Richie Dharma, Alex Dmochowski, Aynsley Dunbar, Rick Kemp, Norman Hayes, Barry Morgan, Danny Thompson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An album that found a home in the UK folk revival and with the progressive movement, but straddling those two idioms left it and him a cult artist.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Many tracks on this debut from Michael Chapman are acoustic guitar solos, but don’t let that fool you into thinking those are mellow or this is a record for acoustic guitar junkies. Chapman lets out a fury on his acoustic 6-and-12 strings where they’re not just mellow asides; they’re full on statements.

He’s also at home creating electric songs as well. The opener “It Didn’t Work Out” definitely could have been an FM radio hit had it been released here in the US, and his straddling of both electric and acoustic worlds helped him book shows in both the folk and progressive scenes. His voice, a moody baritone, fits his material, and his lyrics show inventiveness as well.

Chapman, and this album, are one reason I started this project. I had no idea this gentleman existed, and now, this is on one of my lists as an almost essential album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He was an art photography teacher before his recording career.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some single mixes and alternates.

 GRADE A+: One of the gems I’ve found doing this project.

Tom Rush – The Circle Game

ARTIST: Tom Rush                        220px-tom_rush_circle

TITLE: The Circle Game

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #68

SINGLES: No Regrets, Something in the Way She Moves

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: He covers three Joni Mitchell songs you may know.

LINEUP: Tom Rush and session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Rush, no slouch as a songwriter, uses songs from others (for the most part) to construct a concept album about a relationship.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Tom Rush had a great ear for his fellow singer-songwriters, and plucked tunes from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, among others (mind you, those songwriters were still unknown to the general public) and constructed a song-cycle about a relationship from beginning to end.

Moving from the highs of the beginning of a romance, to the end of the road, then following with a somber instrumental, then with his tour-de-force self-penned “No Regrets”, Rush used the songs from his compatriots to build the concept.

His rich baritone and knack for arrangements and instrumentation and production from Arthur Gorson made this one of the go-to singer-songwriter albums for the folk fans and the more mellow counter-culture.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Linda Eastman (soon to be McCartney) took the iconic cover photograph.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few alternate takes.

 GRADE A: It may seem a bit dated now, but it’s still an elegant song-cycle and “No Regrets” is an all-timer.

Jet – Get Born

ARTIST: Jet                                                   220px-jet_-_get_born

TITLE: Get Born

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: #26 US. #14 UK

SINGLES: Are You Gonna Be My Girl (#29 US, #3 Alternative, #7 Mainstream, #16 UK), Rollover DJ (#14 Alternative, #14 Mainstream, #34 UK), Look What You’ve Done (#37 US, #3 Alternative, #33 Mainstream, #28 UK), Cold Hard Bitch (#55 US, #1 Alternative, #1 Mainstream, #34 UK), Get Me Outta Here (#37 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Nic Ceter, Chris Cester, Cameron Muncey, Mark Wilson with help from Billy Preston, Roger Manning Jr., Dave Sardy, Davey Lane, and Andre Warhurst

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Australian hard-rock revivalists make a sometimes fun record that drags at points.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: While everyone remembers “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”, and some remember “Cold Hard Bitch”, the rest of Jet’s debut did have some decent rock-and-rollers that reminded some of us of the halcyon 8-track tape days.

The pacing and sequencing of the album is fine, with some slower songs mixed in with the rockers. The problem is that Jet’s ballads aren’t up to scratch. They weren’t much in the lyrics department, so the ballads and slower numbers suffer without the hard rock bangers.

Still, there’s enough good stuff to keep this around. You can pick or choose, or just zone out during the slow stuff. That’s when you can go get some more nachos.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They defended themselves against plagiarizing Iggy Pop by admitting they nicked the Supremes for the rhythm for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, B-sides, etc. as usual

 GRADE B-: Enough good stuff to keep. Just don’t expect lyrical genius.