Category: Grade: B

Love – Da Capo

ARTIST: Love 

TITLE: Da Capo

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION:  #80

SINGLES: 7 and 7 Is (#33), She Comes in Colors, Que Vida

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Orange Skies

LINEUP: Arthur Lee, Brian MacLean, Johnny Echols, Ken Forssi, Snoopy Pfisterer, Tjay Cantrelli, Michael Stuart

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from LA scensters reveals a lot about themselves and their eclecticism.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The second album from Love shows a band that was confident in many motifs. The big single (“7 and 7 Is”) was hard rock for 1966, “Que Vida” was an amalgam of styles, and “Orange Skies” and “She Comes in Colors” were brilliant sunshine pop.

The first side was a brilliant 1967 psychedelic pop-rock record. I’d maybe resequence it, but that’s a quibble. Then there’s the second side.

“Revelations” was the only cut on side two. Dylan and Zappa had done in 1966, but those were on double albums. Here, Love devoted an entire side to a rambling, long, jam that started out with Bach, and then incorporated Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. It had everything a 60’s psychedelic band threw at their audiences – drum solos, woodwind excursions, harmonicas, guitar solos, meandering jams. The works.

After such a brilliant side one, it was such a come down to flip the record over. That wouldn’t be a problem on their next album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Snoopy Pfisterer moved to harpsichord and keyboards for this album from drums, instruments he was much more comfortable in playing.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A reissue with mono and stereo mixes.

GRADE: B: Six fantastic tracks on side one (even if the sequencing is a bit off for me), then that jam on side two.

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

ARTIST: Electric Light Orchestra

TITLE: Eldorado

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #16

SINGLES: Can’t Get It Out of My Head (#9), Boy Blue

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you’re an ELO lifer

LINEUP: Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy. Mike de Albuquerque left during the recording but was on a few tracks. Mike Edwards, Mik Kaminski, and Hugh McDowell were credited string players, but Lynne hired an orchestra, so good luck picking them out. Peter Forbes-Robinson did a voice over.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A concept album about a dreamer gave ELO its first true US hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a few years of hits in the UK and being an album-rock artist in the US, ELO got its first US hit (and saw it’s UK chart fortunes disappear) in “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, a nice slice of baroque pop with an orchestra.

The rest of the album was similar, with a shoulda been hit in “Boy Blue” and melodies and orchestrations on every song. It was a concept album, beginning and ending with an overture and a finale. Lynne’s devotion to Beatle melodies comes right to the front, as many cuts sound right from the back pages of Lennon / McCartney’s book of melodies backed by an orchestra. One track, “Mister Kingdom”, is close to an outright appropriation of “Across the Universe” in places.

The sound, with a full orchestra, is much improved, but the synthesizers of Richard Tandy seem obtrusive at times, with odd settings of buzzes and effects where a nice piano or organ setting would have been better. The overall sound makes this a much better listen for casual ELO fans who want to explore beyond the hits.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: de Albuquerque left during the sessions as he felt life on the road was taking away from his family time. Kelly Groucutt joined during the tour for the album and the classic ELO lineup was solidified. Also, the honest to goodness, the full album title is Eldorado: A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a long version of the “Eldorado” suite and tiny snippet of a song.

 GRADE: B: On this album, ELO almost puts all of their elements together. Almost.

My Bloody Valentine – Gilder / Tremolo

ARTIST: My Bloody Valentine

TITLE: Gilder / Tremolo

YEAR RELEASED: 1990; 1991

CHART ACTION:  Glider : #2 UK, Tremolo: #1 UK

SINGLES: Soon (#41 UK), To Here Knows When (#29 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Kevin Shields, Billinda Butcher, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Deb Googe

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Two Eps released between albums that prepped the sound that My Bloody Valentine was going to unleash on the world, and introduced Kevin Shields’ unique tremolo guitar technique.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Glider and Tremolo were apt names for these two Eps (yeah, breaking the rules a bit but they fit together nicely). During the tour and after their first album, Kevin Shields had fully developed his tremolo-guitar technique, where he plays chords while manipulating his tremolo bar, and has a lot of vibrato in his guitar effect as well. The result is, as some put it, a ‘glide’.

The effect is quite noticeable on the track “Glider” where it does sound like the record is warped. The tracks really dig into the tremolo effect, and mostly punt the vocals back to where they’re a melodic hint in the back of the mix, while the guitars move back and forth between channels, and in your ears. “To Here Knows When” made the Top 30 in the UK without any semblance of a traditional song structure, just guitar noise in front of ethereal vocals by Billinda Butcher.They also experimented with drones and raga sounds as well.

These Eps were an agreed to stopgap by the band and Creation Records as it was taking forever to record their next album. It whetted everyone’s appetite and launched even more shoegaze acts in the UK. 

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At this time Shields became immersed in the sound and production of the band. Tremolo was supposed to be seven songs, but three instrumentals were added as codas to the tracks so it fit in the definition of a 12” single or EP

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There were stand alone singles as well as these Eps, and “Soon” and “Glider” were re-mixed for a 12” version.

 GRADE: B+: A couple cuts don’t quite make the grade but these are important Eps in MBV’s development.

? and the Mysterians – Cameo-Parkway: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

ARTIST: ? and the Mysterians 

TITLE: Cameo-Parkway: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: 96 Tears (#1 US, #37 UK), I Need Somebody (#22 US), Can’t Get Enough of You Baby (#56 US), Girl (You Capitvate Me) (#98 US), Do Something to Me (#110 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Shout.

LINEUP: Rudy Martinez (“?”). Frankie Rodriguez, Bobby Balderrama, Eddie Serrato, Frank Lugo. Fernando Aguilar played bass on their first single.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sons of migrant workers hit #1 with their organ drenched track “96 Tears” and become legends.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After gigging around Saginaw and vicinity for a couple of years, ? and the Mysterians went into the studio and recorded a single for a small local label. A station in Windsor, Ontario, started to play both sides, Cameo-Parkway licensed it, and “96 Tears (backed with “Midnight Hour” – an original) rocketed to #1.

They then had to make an album, and because they had been gigging for a while, definitely had the songs ready for it. Then a follow up was needed, and they duly cranked out another pretty good album. It was a better album, but didn’t have THAT hit, so it flopped. Overall, they covered just four songs out of 23 on their albums, which for a garage band was definitely unusual, and refreshing.

This compilation combines their two Cameo-Parkway albums, and their follow up single before the label went bust (allegedly taking their royalties with it). While 96 Tears (#66) had the hit, Action was a more cohesive, tighter, and tougher album. It showed more of the garage side of the band. Had “Girl (You Captivate Me)” received its proper attention, they may have been able to make farfisa hits for a while.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Can’t Get Enough of You” is the song that Smashmouth had a big hit with in the 90’s. It originally was a Four Seasons track.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B+ This captivates me.

Squeeze – Sweets From a Stranger

ARTIST: Squeeze 

TITLE: Sweets From a Stranger

YEAR RELEASED: 1982

CHART ACTION:  #32 US, #20 UK

SINGLES: Black Coffee in Bed (#103 US, #26 Mainstream, #51 UK), When the Hangover Strikes, I’ve Returned

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: In Quintessence

LINEUP: Glenn Tillbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Don Snow, Gilson Lavis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Paul Carrack leaves, Difford and Tillbrook don’t have the songs, and while they have a video on heavy rotation, no one is really happy about the record, much less the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Almost every track on Sweets From a Stranger seems like it’s been done before. Maybe not by Squeeze, but there isn’t a lot of originality here. You have new wave sounding tracks, arty rock songs that sound a little Broadway-esque, and classic guitar-oriented pop songs. Only “Black Coffee in Bed” rises above the déjà vu feeling of the songs.

This even extends to lyrics, where Chris Difford mines the familiar themes of drinking and cheating, but without the originality and verve before. Glenn Tillbrook tries hard but gets too fancy by half on some tracks, and on others the tunes just seem a bit flat. The production didn’t help either – it was a bit busy in places and didn’t let the songs breathe.

“Black Coffee in Bed” was a classic, and MTV played the video like crazy in 1982 (even with Gilson Lavis dropping a drumstick). It’s not a bad album, but quite disappointing when measured by the preceding three Squeeze records. After this, they released a ‘final’ single (the brilliant “Annie Get Your Gun”) and split up for a bit. When they came back, their sound had morphed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Some songs sounded like musical theatre tracks, and yes, Difford and Tillbrook did mount a short-lived musical in London in 1983.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Outtakes, demos, and “Annie Get Your Gun (#40 Mainstream, #43 UK)

 GRADE: B- A disappointment to say the least.

Alternative TV – Action Time & Vision – the Very Best of Mark Perry & ATV 1977-1999

ARTIST: Alternative TV

TITLE: Action Time & Vision – the Very Best of Mark Perry & ATV 1977-1999

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation 

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Love Lies Limp, How Much Longer, Action Time & Vision, The Force Is Blind, Life

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Definitely not here.

LINEUP: Mark Perry and a rotating cast of characters after he basically fired everyone a year after starting the band.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Fanzine editor Mark Perry decides to show punk rockers how to do it, and starts a long career as an experimental music maker and gadfly commentator on the scene.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sniffin’ Glue was a fanzine that was a must read in the UK in 1976 and 1977. It lasted just 12 issues but soon grew to a circulation of 15,000. Mark Perry, the instigator, decided he’d had enough writing and formed Alternative Television (ATV for short).

After releasing some punk records (and being one of the first to mix punk and reggae), and after basically firing everyone, Perry dove into a long career distinguished by side projects, changing lineups, and not caring about expectations. This makes this compilation interesting, challenging, and compelling.

He toned down a little bit as he got older and released a great song about the long lost space program “Apollo”. That’s relative, of course, as he’s still a bit combative and changes directions constantly. “Action, Time, & Vision” is an all-time classic track and you should give the others a listen, even if like me you exile a bunch.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This has a solo record and songs by The Reflection and The Long Decline.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but you can get all of the original independent records that were released from 1977-1980. Mind you, that’s a MUCH bumpier ride than this compilation.

GRADE: B+ – There’s a lot of…interesting stuff that doesn’t quite work in my ears, but “Action, Time, Vision” is an ALL TIME track.

Al Stewart – Al Stewart: Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Al Stewart

TITLE: Al Stewart: Greatest Hits 

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: Year of the Cat (#8 US, #31 UK), On the Border (#42 US), Time Passages (#7 US), Song on the Radio (#29 US), Midnight Rocks (#24 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, unless you’re a super fan and loved his wordy-as-hell historical songs.

LINEUP: Al Stewart. He was produced by Alan Parsons in his chart years, and always had good guests like Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson, or Simon Nicol on his early records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A Scottish spinner of tales and legends got some hits in the mid-70s after 10 years of recording.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This compilation is chronological, and it takes eight tracks to get to “Year of the Cat”. Al Stewart was a cult artist before that was really a thing, and he made his name by having the first mainstream-ish song with “fucking” in the lyrics (not here since that was in an 18 minute song), and wrote and recorded historical epics (“Road to Moscow” is 8 minutes of watching the Germans invade the USSR in World War II).

In 1975, he had a top 30 US album thanks to his FM radio play, and in 1976 “Year of the Cat” came on everyone’s radio, and he had a couple of years of fame. But he didn’t really change his motif. And when the hooks didn’t grab the listeners, he lost steam and got dropped by 1982.

This collection grabs a song from every album from his debut to his last Arista album in 1980. While hardly anything is in the wheelhouse of his hits, and sometimes he should just SHUT UP, the songs are tuneful and engaging enough for them not to be exiled. Most of his historical excesses are left on the albums, and that’s probably best.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He played at the first Glastonbury in 1970.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nah

 GRADE B: Oh, he’s wordy. So wordy. But has a knack for minor-key hooks too

Aldo Nova – The Best of Aldo Nova

ARTIST: Aldo Nova 

TITLE: The Best of Aldo Nova

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Fantasy (#23, #3 Mainstream), Foolin’ Yourself (#65), Monkey on Your Back (#12 Mainstream), Always Be Mine (#107), Tonight (Life Me Up), Rumours of You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Aldo Nova. He always used session musicians for his records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Canadian’s first three albums are compiled here for your listening pleasure.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If Aldo Nova had just shut up shop after releasing “Fantasy”, he would still be revered as the one who helped the pop-metal genre take off.

This collection focuses on his first three albums from the 80’s, where he rocked hard and power balladed with the best of them (before power ballads were cool). He had a good ear for melody and harmonies, and also guitar arrangements. There was a reliance on 80’s production sounds, for what that’s worth in your ears.

But even with his 80’s records trimmed down to 15 songs, it shows his limitations. He sometimes veers into cliché-land and only “Monkey on Your Back” rocks with the fervor and directness of “Fantasy”. He also veered into being keyboard heavy at the end. Still, it’s a good primer for 80’s hard rock/pop metal in case you were looking for something out of the hair band lane.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He took six years off from recording waiting for his contract to expire. He wrote jingles, and went into production and songwriting. He produced a lot of 90’s Celine Dion, and wrote Clay Aikens’ #1 hit. He made bank.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nope.

 GRADE B: It’s almost “Fantasy and 14 Others”, but some of the others are decent enough.

John Denver – The Essential John Denver

ARTIST: John Denver         

TITLE: The Essential John Denver

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  #66 Country

SINGLES: Top 10: Take Me Home, Country Roads (#2 US, #50 Country), Rocky Mountain High (#9 US), Sunshine on My Shoulders (#1 US, #42 Country), Annie’s Song (#1 US, #1 Country, #1 UK), Back Home Again (#5 US, #1 Country), I’m Sorry (#1 US, #1 Country), Sweet Surrender (#13 US, #7 Country), Thank God I’m a Country Boy (#1 US, #1 Country), Some Days Are Diamonds (#36 US, #9 Country), Dreamland Express (#9 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, Farewell Andromeda, Calypso

LINEUP: John Denver. He usually had some of the best studio pros helping.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The mid-70’s country / folk superstar had a huge peak and a long, slow decline as he focused more on the adult contemporary market other pursuits. This collection definitely highlights it.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: In 1975, John Denver was unstoppable, or it seemed. Two straight #1 studio albums and a #2 live album, and a Christmas album that did very well. By 1977, Denver was successful on TV and movies, but he never had another real hit album or single again for the pop market.

He kept cranking out albums for sure, but his approach seemed to change towards a more adult contemporary market, and more cloying, treacly love songs or preachy environmentalist songs instead of a combination of folk and country that evoked his feelings for the land that tinged his earlier work. An alternate theory may be that Denver burned out his audience, and some felt he was becoming a parody of himself with “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”.

As a songwriter, when he was on, he was brilliant (“Leaving on a Jet Plane” is testament to his abilities and his performance is stellar). But somehow he lost some of the mojo and became more of an artist preaching to his choir than converting new fans. This collection definitely documents the rise and decline of Denver, and is probably best picked through based on your tastes.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He started as part of the Chad Mitchell Trio as a replacement for Chad Mitchell himself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B-: You have to pick and choose. There’s some great stuff, and some goop of the nth degree.

Blond – The Lilac Years

ARTIST: Blond

TITLE: The Lilac Years

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: I Wake Up and Call, Deep Inside My Heart, The Lilac Years

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sailing Across the Ocean was on a few comps

LINEUP: Goran Lagerberg, Lasse Svenson, Anders Topel, Danne Larsson. Anders Nord and Bjorn Linder replaced Topel and Larsson and Mats Landahl joined after this was recorded, but before release. They’re on the bonus tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Four of the Tages form their own band after the lead singer of that Swedish band quit. It’s obscure, sure, but good all the same.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Tages were a Swedish pop and rock band that were big in Scandanavia, but nowhere else. They had some interesting tracks but never made an inroad in the rest of Europe. The lead singer of Tages left in 1968, so the leftover musicians formed Blond.

What came out was a pretty solid psychedelic pop / rock record that features some interesting tempo changes (Tages had a few tracks like that) and some hooks and melodies. Goran Lagerberg was the main songwriter for Tages, so he carried forward to this project.

There are some standout tracks here that could have made an impact if they were promoted somewhat in the UK or US. (They were signed to Fontana, which wasn’t much of a label in the US). Though a few tracks fall into some overly twee psychedelia – it is 1969 after all – some tracks remind me of good old fashioned power pop.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this was recorded, two of the members left, and were replaced by two others that were then on the US album cover.Then they added another singer (Lagerberg was the main singer for the album) but petered out soon after a single.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: On CD, their last single, and a Swedish song broken into two parts.

 GRADE B+: If you’re into the psychedelic power pop thing, you’ll dig this. I did.