Month: November 2017

Christopher Cross – Christopher Cross

ARTIST: Christopher Cross        220px-Christopher_cross

TITLE: Christopher Cross

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #6 US, #14 UK

SINGLES: Ride Like the Wind (#2 US, #69 UK), Sailing (#1 US, #48 UK), Never Be the Same (#15 US), Say You’ll Be Mine (#20 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Really Don’t Know

LINEUP: Christopher Cross and the best session players of the time, including Larry Carlton, Lenny Castro, Victor Feldman, Jay Graydon, Michael McDonald, Rob Meurer, Michael Omartian, Andy Salmon and Tommy Taylor.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A debut album that may have been the apex of mellow, well played and engineered music now called “Yacht Rock”.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Nine well-crafted, polished, well-played, exquisitely produced and engineered songs. A few of them are earworms (the filler isn’t particularly catchy, nor exciting). And the addition of Michael McDonald on backing vocals on two tracks was genius.

Here’s the deal – the album is OK, weighted down by some clunky ballads, and really more of a nostalgic boat ride into the past than anything fresh or exciting. There aren’t any hidden gems, unless you haven’t heard “I Really Don’t Know” – the other track with Michael McDonald. You probably know what you’re going to get, so you truly like this, or you like this ironically, or you don’t.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was one of the first digitally recorded albums.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B:  No doubt the apex of 70’s soft rock.

Chicago – Chicago at Carnegie Hall

ARTIST: Chicago                                     

TITLE: Chicago at Carnegie Hall

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They did all of their early hits

LINEUP: Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A four (FOUR) record set (and four CDs in the bonus version) documenting their 1971 residency at Carnegie Hall. Zzzzzzz…..

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Several albums in history have had notorious bad reviews, and Chicago’s quadruple live record had some of the worst in history. I’ve given this one a shot…and…the reviews are mostly spot on.

It’s way too long, To be clear, extremely way too long. Chicago always extended songs with intros and jams, but in their early albums they also had the long-ass free-form intros as well. They had suites that contained some classic pop and meandering solos. None of those were cut here, and they were even extended past tolerance. But the worst offender is the sound of them tuning up and dead space between tracks, and elongated applause. I mean, tuning up? On stage? Why put that on the record? Ye Gods.

With some judicious editing, I think they could have got this to a double or triple live. That wouldn’t have improved the sound, which is flat and doesn’t benefit the group at all. Some of the performances are ragged, especially vocally.

All in all, you don’t need this or want this, except for the one unique song “Song for Richard and His Friends”, which showed Chicago’s political side – siding with the leftists. That didn’t last.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At least three members of the band hate this album or said it shouldn’t have been released. It could have been edited down for sure.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, somehow a quadruple album has a bonus disc of alternates, etc.

 GRADE: C-: Meh sound, way too long, not the best performances, I mean, a perfect storm of exiled records. I did, except for the new political track.

Yo La Tengo – May I Sing With Me

ARTIST: Yo La Tengo                      

TITLE: May I Sing With Me

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Upside Down

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: If you’re a fan

LINEUP: Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, James McNew

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perhaps the beginning of the true Yo La Tengo cult. Ira Kaplan’s guitar flipouts define this era of the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Yo La Tengo combined their love of pop and noise with this record. “Upside Down” is one of the better non-grunge alternative rock songs of 1992, with a great hook and enough guitar noise for the rockers.

The entire album is split between the noisier blowouts “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss” and some quiet pop, a pattern they would follow the rest of their careers (sometimes alternating noisy albums with quiet ones).

It’s not always successful, as some of the tracks tend to be a bit bland, and some of the noise is just…noise. But it’s the start of Yo La Tengo’s true dichotomous period.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original CD inside cover featured a letter from a disgruntled fan who thought they were a band just like the Fakebook album, and was dismayed when they were loud. He ended the letter with a anti-semitic slur.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B+: At times, draggy, but it’s got “Upside Down” and all of the noise you expect from YLT.

UFO – Force It

ARTIST: UFO                                 220px-Force_It_cover

TITLE: Force It

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #71

SINGLES: Shoot Shoot, High Flyer

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let It Roll

LINEUP: Phil Mogg, Michael Schenker, Pete Way, Andy Parker, Chick Churchill

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An almost not-quite breakthrough record that has some tasty hard rock but is dragged down by ballads.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Firmly establishing themselves as a hard rock band, featuring the guitar wunderkind Michael Schenkre, UFO almost struck paydirt with the fantastic “Shoot Shoot” and “Let It Roll”, getting airtime on late night TV and some radio airplay.

A very dry production (so dry, you can almost hear the kick drum pedal squeak) emphasized the basic tracks – especially Schenker and drummer Andy Parker, while Pete Way’s bass holds down the bottom and stays out of the way. No doubt it sounded great on 8-tracks blaring from muscle cars and Camaros and the like.

But, it seemed that every hard rock band had to do ballads – not ‘power ballads’, but actual love ballads. Judas Priest did, Sabbath did (“Changes” lest ye forget), and here Phil Mogg gets his. While they’re tastefully done, they take away from the ROCK that was building up. We needed the rock then – as we do now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The album cover by Hipognosis was controversial, and it actually featured Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, an outtake and live cuts.

GRADE: B: “Shoot Shoot” is an all-timer, but man, the ballads bring me down.

 

Scratch Acid – The Greatest Gift

ARTIST: Scratch Acid        ScratchAcidGreatestGift

TITLE: The Greatest Gift

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, Lord no

LINEUP: David Yow, David Wm. Sims, Rey Washam, Brett Bradford

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Austin weirdos record some raucous albums, and pave the way for the Jesus Lizard. 220px-ScratchAcidEP

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You know, all you need to know about Scratch Acid is that this is where David Yow began his career as a deranged ‘vocalist’. This collection has everything the band released, and one other track that was a demo.

The band (featuring future Rapeman members Rey Washam and David Wm. Sims – Sims later joined Yow in Jesus Lizard) plays pretty straight forward loud alternative-ish, punk-ish rock, and Yow just does his thing over it. He’s probably even more unhinged here at times (“She Said”, “Lay Screaming”, “Mary Had a Little Drug Problem”). 220px-Scratchacidjustkeepeating

Since this is everything they did – containing the EPs Scratch Acid and Berzerker along with the LP Just Keep Eating), after a while it gets monotonous, but in short spurts, this is a good document of the origins of some find weird rock-and-roll.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band reunited in 2011 for Touch & Go Records anniversary.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No Scratchacidberserker

 

GRADE: B: In short spurts, it’s worthy. It probably may be best to listen to each of the original records as segments.

Neu! – Neu!

ARTIST: Neu!                           Neu_albumcover

TITLE: Neu!

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Negativeland

LINEUP: Michael Rother, Klaus Dinger

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An early Kraftwerk offshoot records an album that has become known in underground circles as an inspiration for several avant-garde artists.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The “Motorik” beat, an unwavering 4/4 drum pattern with the occasional crash or smash cymbals, became the beat for Krautrock and other early electronic bands, and it was first heard here on “Hallogallo”, the leadoff track for this duo of Kraftwerk refugees.

Recording with Conny Plank, this record by Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger became a touchstone for future experimental musicians and a backbone of the Krautrock movement. Yet only two tracks (“Hallogallo” and “Negativeland”) seemed straightforward as far as an actual song goes – the other material was mostly electronic or tape-related doodling.

It may have been influential, but I think most people just stick to the two tracks with the Motorik beat. I know I am.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Negativeland, the notorious sonic pranksters, took their name from the track on this album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: C: It’s ‘important’, and mostly boring.

 

Can – Soundtracks

ARTIST: Can                                        Can-Soundtracks_(album_cover)

TITLE: Soundtracks

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Mother Sky

LINEUP: Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt. Damo Suziki sings most, but Malcolm Mooney vocalizes two tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: These were songs Can contributed to film soundtracks over a two year period. One track stands out above all.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Very important filmmakers used very important progressive groups to make soundtracks for their very important films. Can, being a outre progressive group, was tapped for several films.

Soundtrack songs can sound odd out of place. They also can meander, and not make sense without the film in front of you. Can’s contributions to several films (all German) did make sense in a way – well – in a way that Can songs do. Except one.

“Mother Sky”, tabbed for a film not even released when this album was released (the movie was Deep End starring Jane Asher and John Moulder Brown), is the highlight, and may be the highlight for Can as a band as a whole. It’s 14:23 of the band chugging along in a groove, with Michael Karoli going off on his guitar. It’s fantastic.

The rest, well, for Can fans only – and then for background music.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This marked a transition for the band. “Mother Sky” would be the template for further Can explorations

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B: “Mother Sky” is an A++ track and you can be excused for just keeping that one.

The Roots – Illadelph Halflife

ARTIST: The Roots                           Illadelph

TITLE: Illadelph Halflife

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #21 US, #4 R&B

SINGLES: Clones (#101 US, #62 R&B, #11 Rap), What They Do (#34 US, #21 R&B, #5 Rap, #49 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lord, no

LINEUP: Black Thought, Kid Crumbs, Dice Raw, Rahzel, Hub Hubbard, Questlove, Kamal Gray with guests Bahamadia, Raphael Saadiq, Common, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Urusula Rucker, and Cassandra Wilson.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Roots begin to become a force in the music community with their beats, raps, and inventive arrangements.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The sound of the Roots is like no other group, as they incorporate so many elements yet remain unique. That started here, with the production and direction of Questlove and other producers.

They were also quite anomalous for the time, as instead of acting hedonistically gangster, the Roots tackle several serious topics with street smarts still in place, but actual coherent political thought replacing mindless braggadocio.

The Roots started to get notice in the pop world as well, with a Top 40 single, and guests collaborating as equals to the band and not overwhelming them. A fantastic album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: A few copies had the track list starting at #34, with their first two albums being tracks 1-33.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A: The Roots sound of today is here.

 

Spoon – A Series of Sneaks

ARTIST: Spoon                           220px-ASeriesOfSneaks

TITLE: A Series of Sneaks

YEAR RELEASED: 1998

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Car Radio

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lord, no

LINEUP: Britt Daniel, Joshua Zarbo, Jim Eno

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A major label move a few years too early – this album languished and was ignored for years.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: With high hopes, Spoon signed to Elektra records, and soon after release, their A&R person left and the label dropped them, leaving this album out there with no support and a bitter, unsettled band.

This album is probably out of step with what was ‘popular’ in 1998, but it does deliver on the promise of their independent work. Catchy songs with enough off-kilter elements to keep you on your toes, and enough noise to keep the indie people satisfied.

Elektra messed up here, as Spoon has become reliably reliable in delivering well-made product to a growing fan base. Who knew then, but this album was decent enough to keep them signed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Spoon was so pissed off at their A&R guy that they recorded a single called “The Agony of Laffitte” about the experience

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. UK tracks, and that independent single. 

GRADE: B+: The quality tails off, but the first few tracks are strong.

Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

ARTIST: Mudhoney                        220px-Mudhoney_Every_Good_Boy_Deserves_Fudge

TITLE: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION: #34 UK

SINGLES: Let It Slide (#60 UK),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you were a grunge head.

LINEUP: Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Matt Lukin, Dan Peters.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perhaps Mudhoney’s finest album moment, when they wrote the most consistently without diverting into slovenly noisy weirdness.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Of any of the Sub Pop bands from the era, the word ‘grunge’ fits best with Mudhoney’s guitar sound in the early days, especially on “Let It Slide” from this album.

Here, Mudhoney focused on the album as a whole and wrote several tracks that are among the best of the era, with a track like “Into the Drink” featuring a great riff, the right attitude, and enough hooks to keep it in your mind.

Mark Arm’s vocals aren’t all just shouting here (he almost croons on “Good Enough”), and while there’s still some too-long meditations, overall it’s a punchy record that stands up even now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: EGBDF – the treble clef mnemonic – actually is “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, but I like fudge better.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: Probably the most consistent Mudhoney album, and one of the better grunge albums on Sub Pop.