Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne

ARTIST: Fountains of Wayne      220px-fountains_of_wayne-fountains_of_wayne_(album_cover)

TITLE: Fountains of Wayne

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #67 UK

SINGLES: Radiation Vibe (#14 Alternative, #32 UK), Sink to the Bottom (#42 UK), Survival Car (#53 UK), Barbara H (#119 UK), Leave the Biker

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger, Danny Weinkauf

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: New Jersey new wave / power pop affecionadoes release their ‘tribute’ to the suburbs of the Tri-State area.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting out with a good one-two punch, the Fountains of Wayne (at this time a duo with a hired gun bassist) show their love for the 80’s new wave, catchy melodies, and their penchant for sneakily snarky lyrics.

But, as the record goes on, it seems the inspiration dries up a bit. Everything is polished, of course, but the songs seem forced at times, or suffer from too much irony.

A good debut and a good start for a band (they formed a touring band soon after this was released), but after three highlights it’s all kind of meh-ly good.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The bassist, Danny Weinkaupf, had been in bands with Adam Schlesinger, and is the bassist for They Might Be Giants.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A Japanese bonus track

 GRADE B: Some great tracks – enough to keep you in the game.

The Cars – The Cars

ARTIST: The Cars                      220px-the_cars_-_the_cars

TITLE: The Cars

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION: #18 US, #29 UK

SINGLES: Just What I Needed (#27 US, #17 UK), My Best Friends Girl (#35 US, #3 UK), Good Times Roll (#41 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bye Bye Love. Moving In Stereo

LINEUP: Ric Ocasek, Ben Orr, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, David Robinson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perfect pop-new wave with an experimental touch, brilliant harmonies, and Elliot Easton’s fantastic guitar solos.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Today, there’s not a cut on this record that doesn’t bring a smile to my face. Even the ‘weird’ ones like “Moving in Stereo” do that. Is it nostalgia for high school, or a damn good album.

Maybe a little column A, and a little column B, but man, objectively, it’s one of the best examples of new wave that aimed for the pop chart, rock radio, and still kept its edge.

Featuring two lead singers, the conventional Ben Orr, and the oddly angular Ric Ocasek, the Cars planted themselves in several camps at once. For synth fans, they experimented with textures and fills. For guitar heroes, the fills and solos were top notch. But most of all, the songs (written by Ocasek) were top notch. Without the songs, this would be a curio.

If you question this rating, listen to Side 2 with an open ear. The deep cuts cement this record’s brilliance.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This quintet were in myriad bands before: David Robinson was in the Modern Lovers, many were in a band called Cap’n Swing and some toiled in Richard and the Rabbits.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some demos and outtakes, and the demos show the songs fully formed, albiet without the sheen and polish of Roy Thomas Baker’s production.

 GRADE A+: I can’t say anymore about this without devolving into a fanboy.

Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

ARTIST: Beastie Boys                   220px-BeastieBoysPaul'sBoutique

TITLE: Paul’s Boutique

YEAR RELEASED: 1989

CHART ACTION: #14 US, #24 R&B, #44 UK

SINGLES: Hey Ladies (#36 US, #18 Alternative, #76 UK), Shadrach

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Shake Your Rump, Egg Man

LINEUP: Mike D, Ad-Rock, MCA, Mario Caldato, the Dust Brothers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An incredible tour-de-force of rhymes, beats, and samples. Loads and loads of samples. Perfect.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s still juvenile snotty humor, extolling drugs, ladies, and partying. But, but, this is not the party album that Licensed to Ill was. It’s it’s own thing.

And it’s a good thing.

The production by the Dust Brothers incorporates a great deal of deep, deep samples – mostly from the results of crate digging for funk and soul records of the 60’s and 70’s. The rhymes move somewhat away from the party and are full of obscure references (Harthrone Wingo, FTW!), and the beats by Mario Caldato are spot on. The transitions between tracks are spot on, too, and it’s a looped album (the ending notes and the beginning notes are the same).

Then there’s “B-Boy Boulliabase” – nine snippets of tracks of different styles all sewn together expertly, and it’s 15 minutes well spent.

It’s not a stretch to say that this album is one of the top 5 hip-hop albums of all time and its influence resonates today.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mike D. bought the music and rights from the Dust Brothers and they were put on the project to create this. Also, check out https://paulsboutique.info/.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two in Japan.

 GRADE A+: Ask for Janice.

Parliament – Up for the Down Stroke

ARTIST: Parliament                                      Parliament-Up_for_the_Down_Stroke_(album_cover)

TITLE: Up for the Down Stoke

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #17 R&B

SINGLES: Up for the Down Stroke (#63, #10 R&B), Testify (#77 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: All Your Goodies Are Gone

LINEUP: Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Gary Bronson, Ron Bykowski, Raymond Davis, Tiki Fulwood, Fuzzy Haskins, Cordell Mosson, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: George Clinton re-interoduces Parliament to the masses – making it a lighter, horn based funk band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The core musicians are the same, but the addition of James Brown’s horn section (somehow uncredited) and the return of Bootsy Collins brought a more commercial funk sound than the hardcore guitar funk of Funkadelic.

The title track starts out everyone with a big ol’ party track, and then the group goes into a cover of the original Parliaments big hut. As the record moves along, they ‘cover’ a couple of Funkadelic tracks and more commercial versions of what was going to become the P-Funk sound. It’s not always successful, but Clinton had the right idea.

The success of this record encouraged Clinton to keep both names and release albums by both in their particular style, and the 70’s funk scene was never the same!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The saga of the Parliaments / Parliament and their record companies is twisted and worthy of a chapter in a book.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, alternate mixes and an outtake

 GRADE B+: They’re still figuring out how to make a commercial version of P-Funk, and the party drags a bit, but it’s still a fun record for the most part.

Big Country – The Seer

ARTIST: Big Country                             220px-Big_Country_-_The_Seer

TITLE: The Seer

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: #59 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Look Away (#5 US Mainstream, #7 UK), The Teacher (#28 UK), One Great Thing (#19 UK), Hold the Heart (#55 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Rememberance Day

LINEUP: Stuart Adamson, Mark Brzezicki, Tony Butler, Bruce Watson. Kate Bush is one a few tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Big Country shifts focus back to the Scottish history and sounds.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Big Country e-bow bagpipe novelty has worn off by now, but in this record Big Country returns to the Celtic themes and motifs.

The title track is definitely a Celtic showcase, with Kate Bush on backing vocals. Other tracks take on pieces of Scottish history and events.

“Look Away” is a rousing opening number, and “Rememberance Day” changes things up a bit in the intro, but as the record goes on, the songs blur and blend together, and then by the time the albums done, you don’t realize you’ve heard the last few tracks.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The record company rejected their first mix, and put out a poppier, reverb filled mix the band didn’t like.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few bonus tracks and remixes

 GRADE B: It’s got strong tracks, but as the record goes on nothing else stands out but a couple.

Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde

ARTIST: Bob Dylan                          220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde

TITLE: Blonde on Blonde

YEAR RELEASED: 1966

CHART ACTION: #9 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) (#119 US, #33 UK), Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (#2 US, #7 UK), I Want You (#20 US, #16 UK), Just Like a Woman (#33 US), Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat (#81)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, Visions of Johanna

LINEUP: Bob Dylan, Kenny Buttry, Jerry Kennedy, Al Kooper, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Pig Robbins, Robbie Robertson, Henry Strzelecki, Joe South, Wayne Butler, Rick Danko, Bobby Gregg, Paul Griffin, Bill Lee.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the first double albums  – it defines what a double album should be.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If the album had “Visions of Johanna”, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, and a side of backwards Chipmunks songs, it’d be an “A” just for those two songs.

If the album had “Just Like a Woman”, “Stuck Inside of Mobile…”, “One of Us Must Know”, and “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, and the other side was Slim Whitman yodeling the Beatles, it’d be an “A’ for the first side.

Add to that “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and the other singles, and side three’s hidden gems, you got an A+. Any questions?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One of the best songs during these sessions (in either NYC or Nashville) was “She’s Your Lover Now”, but it broke down after 21 takes and was never finished.

As important of an artist that Dylan was, the sessions sheets and release dates have been in doubt for years, even among those who research Dylan every day. It’s like he showed up and played and people who were supposed to write stuff down weren’t doing that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: A contender for a Top 5 album of all time.

Black Oak Arkansas – Definitive Rock: Black Oak Arkansas

ARTIST: Black Oak Arkansas                    boa definitive rock

TITLE: Definitive Rock : Black Oak Arkansas

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Jim Dandy (#25)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I’m sure someone’s heard other stuff by them. The question begs, why?

LINEUP: Jim Dandy Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Harvey Jett, Pat Daugherty, Stanley Knight, Wayne Evans, Tommy Aldridge. Probably others. I ain’t lookin’ at each albums credits.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The stoopedest swamp-rock of the 70’s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: They had three guitars, but really didn’t need ‘em. (Unlike Skynyrd, who really made three guitars work in space). They had energy, yes, and a “sense” of humor, and probably put on a good show, but also they sported inane lyrics mostly ineptly sung by Jim Dandy.

Then why have I kept over half of this record, then? Well, when Jim Dandy doesn’t do his ‘wacky character’ voice, he’s kind of engaging, like a primordial David Lee Roth. They could rock out when their asinine ideas, gimmicks, or jokes didn’t stand in the way. And, everyone needs some 8-track tape tunes in their life.

After 1974, their career slowly faded away like the business end of a Marlboro Red. You gotta pick and choose very carefully. I mean carefully. They covered “Taxman” and “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. You wanna go THERE?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Formed in 1963 or so as The Knowbody Else, they’ve had 70 members or so, including their present touring band. You probably know Tommy Aldridge from his work with Ozzy and Whitesnake. Other members have played with Johnny Winter, Cinderella, Gene Simmons, Krokus, REO Speedwagon, Winger, and the Bluesbreakers.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE C: They catered to the shirtless heathens of the 70’s – those who stood on the hood of their ’73 Chevy Impala, barefoot, sun baked, in the grass parking lot of the festival, drinking Stroh’s and smoking heaters with an occasional hit of grass or a snort of cheap wine or whiskey.

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf the Second

ARTIST: Steppenwolf                        220px-SteppenwolfTheSecond

TITLE: The Second

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: Magic Carpet Ride (#3)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Radio stayed away from the rest, and still does.

LINEUP: John Kay, Michael Monarch, Goldie McJohn, Rushton Moreve, Jerry Edmonton.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Steppenwolf’s second (hence the title) is lighter at times, more psychedelic, more political, and more of a hodge-podge (and strained through a Leslie, as it were).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Magic Carpet Ride” was a monster hit, of that there is no question, and is one of the best hard psychedelic songs from the era. And at first listen, this record seems like it will be a worthy successor to their first album.

Yet upon more listens, it seems weaker and more unfocused.

The band does try to mix up their sound, getting quieter at times and diminishing the hard sound of the first album. But many of those quieter songs don’t really stand up to scrutiny, with only “28” really being outstanding, while “Tighten Up Your Wig” sounds nice but is a blatant rip of “Messin’ with the Kid”.

The sides end with lengthy tracks. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” is a ham-fisted pro-pot song, while the end of Side Two is a long suite with five tracks that range from hard rockin’ to scarily political. There’s some duds in there which dilute the quality of the suite.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer Jerry Edmonton sings two tracks, the openers to each side.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B: There’s enough good stuff in here to have it over a greatest hits album, but it’s not as good as I thought it was when I was young.

Wilco – A.M.

ARTIST: Wilco                              220px-Wilco

TITLE: A.M.

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: #27 Heatseekers

SINGLES: Box Full of Letters

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Must Be High, Casino Queen

LINEUP: Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Ken Coomer, Max Johnston, Brian Henneman. Lloyd Maines adds some pedal steel.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco is first out of the gate for the post-Uncle Tupelo bands, but the record is flat and peters out at the end.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Even though Jay Tweedy won the battle of Wilco vs. Sun Volt (as it were) in the end, the debut Wilco album definitely didn’t start out great for him or the band.

A.M. was an alt-country album really wedded to Uncle Tupelo’s sound, and while it had a few good to great tracks (the first half of the record), the second half became boring and predictable.

That’s a shame, since the first three tracks (“I Must Be High”, “Casino Queen”, and “Box Full of Letters”) are great. Overall, it’s good but it was disappointing to everyone. Wilco wouldn’t disappoint much after this.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: John Stirratt sang one song on this album – the only non Tweedy vocal on any Wilco record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B-: If you lop it off at about track seven, it’d be an A- or B+.

Billy Bragg – Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

ARTIST: Billy Bragg                    220px-Life's_a_riot

TITLE: Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #30 UK

SINGLES: It’s kind of an EP in length, though it made the LP charts in the UK.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Milkman of Human Kindness, A New England

LINEUP: Billy Bragg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First seven song collection from Billy Bragg, alone with his guitar and voice.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Billy Bragg had a failed career as a punk rocker in Riff Raff, and dropped out of the British Army, before busking around London and playing small concerts with just him and his electric guitar. He alternated love songs and political rants and grew a fan base. After some intrigue behind the scenes, this became a hit in the UK.

These seven songs don’t lack for a lack of instrumentation. Bragg’s guitar and voice make up for that in passion and heart. The songs are fully formed – at times sentimental – at times angry. He’s a pure heart in the music business and it shows here, and his lyrical game was on point from the beginning.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was mastered at 45 RPM, and John Peel first played a track at the wrong speed. Oops.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, outtakes and demos that double the length.

 GRADE A-: Two of the tracks are all timers, and the rest aren’t that bad, once you get used to the solo guitar and voice.