Friday, June 30, 2006

"Sometimes I Feel Like I Can't Even Sing..."

Election Day (Nov 8), 1988 - R.E.M. releases GREEN, their 6th full-length album, and their first on a major label, Warner Bros. [Sidebar on the term "sell-out": I think it's wielded way too frequently, and does not apply here. Disagree if you like, but ask yourself what you would do in a similar scenario.]

I've been digging this album profusely this week. Emily loves it, too. Now, after 10+ years since my last listen, this has been a real trip down memory lane: freshman year in college ('88-'89).

Track listing [All songs written by Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe]:

1. Pop Song 89 – 3:03
2. Get Up – 2:35
3. You Are The Everything – 3:45
R. Stand – 3:10
5. World Leader Pretend – 4:15
6. The Wrong Child – 3:35
7. Orange Crush – 3:50
8. Turn You Inside-Out – 4:15
9. Hairshirt – 3:55
10. I Remember California – 5:05

11. [Untitled] – 3:15

"Pop Song 89" is an upbeat kick-off. Someone once told me it's a reinterpretation of "Hello, I Love You" by The Doors. "Hello, I saw you, I know you, I knew you/I think I can remember your I'm sorry, I lost myself/I think I thought you were someone else" - sounds like a theory with some merit to me. "Get Up" is another rocker. An Emily favorite, I'm finding out. "Dreams, they complicate my life." Ain't that the truth?!!

If one had listened to each REM album as they were released, and in running order (song-wise), I'm pretty sure "You Are The Everything" represented the first chance to hear Peter Buck on mandolin. Normally, I might not mention "mandolin" with such glee. It just sounds so damned sweet here. Of course, there's also Stipe's vivid lyrical imagery, and powerful vocal delivery of that lyrical!

"Stand" was the first big hit single (reaching #6 on the Billboard "Hot 100") from Green, very catchy and radio friendly. Yet, it also was notable for its environmentalist lyrics, vague though some might've found them. "Think about the place where you live/Wonder why you haven’t before"...makes sense to me, especially after 8 years of Reagan. Buck plays a ridiculous wah-wah guitar solo that couldn't fit more perfectly. OK, call it overindulgent if you must. It's a fine line, I suppose.

"World Leader Pretend" represented another first for the band: printed lyrics! Moody and brooding, this song might bear the most resemblance to earlier REM tunes of the slower variety. In "The Wrong Child", the mandolin is back. I love this song, and its story of a childhood filled with dread over being an outcast ("Those kids are looking at me/They're laughing and they're running over here"). And, my goodness, Stipe's voice has reached new heights of pure emotional resonance through good, old-fashioned belting it out: "I'm not supposed to be like this/But it's okay...okay".

From the ending vocals of the previous song, comes the stinging intro to "Orange Crush", another single from Green. This one is an anti-war ditty, whether you translate "orange crush" to mean agent orange or napalm. Either one works. This leads directly into what was probably the band's heaviest tune to date, "Turn You Inside-Out". It's a great song, in my humble opinion. Beth over at "A Cup of Coffey" refers to it as "sexy". That works.

The 3rd and final mandolin appearance is "Hairshirt". WOW!!! I love this song. These are some of Stipe's best stream-of-consciousness lyrics, this side of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". Vocally, this might be the pinnacle, in my opinion. Too much angst and self-pity, JM? Maybe. But, everyone has their down days. And when my high school sweetheart turned long-distance relationship in college decided "we" needed to see other people, there was "Hairshirt"...'nuff said. (See here for more on the meaning of the term "hairshirt").

"I Remember California" is another heavy one. This one might be heavier than TYI-O, even. And, it's got these great, darkly humorous lyrics about life after California has fallen into the Pacific Ocean. Then, there's a really cool untitled track to end the album. It's basically a straightforward going-away-and-I'll-miss-everyone kind of song, but a good one at that.

This one's got something for everyone, I think. Call it eclectic, dyslexic, schizophrenic, or whatever you wish. I might be the only one who actually thinks it flows in order. I like the changes in pace. However, it's also cool to listen to the 3 mandolin tunes back-to-back-to-back. Or, to listen to PS89, "Get Up", OC, and TYI-O in a row. Shit, pull a Forrest "you never know what you'll get" Gump, and put this f*cker on random play. Haahnster likes it any old way you cut it!

2006 is Halfway OVER!!!!

Where in the world has another 6 months gone? Gracious, me.

Thanks for the good discussion lately. I am going to make every effort to post on Dylan's "Love and Theft" and REM's Green very soon.

Enjoy your 4th of July, and remember that an average of more than 10,000 people per year are injured by fireworks in the USA. So, whatever you do, don't hold bottle rockets in your hand, light them, and point them at your Haahnster and others did as 11 or 12 year old children.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

SNL, Part Two

When you're right, you're right. And, you guys are right. The lack of controversy created by my previous Saturday Night Live related post is clearly the result of my failure to take a meaningful stand. (Well, to the extent any stance about a comedy show can be "meaningful.")

So, here it is. Haahnster calls it. The Top 10 SNL Cast Members:

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Dana Carvey
Jane Curtin
Chris Farley
Will Ferrell
Eddie Murphy
Bill Murray
Mike Myers
Gilda Radner

Top 5: Aykroyd, Belushi, Carvey, Murphy & Murray (6th Man: Ferrell)

Update on Comments

Just to let you know, I have changed the settings to accept the comments of non-bloggers. Freedom of speech at HH!!! (Sorry, it's too late for you, Mat, as you've already been baited into signing up. But, you really should start your own blog as well.)

However, I am now requiring "word verification". Sorry for the inconvenience. Blame the spammers.

Carry on.

Live From New York, It's Saturday Night!!!

I have to tell you, I've been listening to REM's Green CD all week. I'll bet it's been more than 10 years since I had last listened. I'm way, way back into it. Emily loves it, too. She "dances" (a sort of side-to-side bobbing), which is too hilarious/cute to describe with words. No time to write up a full post on Green now. Instead, here's a quickie on SNL:

Haahnster's Top 25 SNL cast members (in alphabetical order):

Dan Aykroyd
John Belushi
Dana Carvey
Chevy Chase
Billy Crystal
Jane Curtin
Chris Farley
Will Ferrell
Darrell Hammond
Phil Hartman
Jan Hooks
Jon Lovitz
Dennis Miller
Garrett Morris
Eddie Murphy
Bill Murray
Mike Myers
Kevin Nealon
Laraine Newman
Joe Piscopo
Gilda Radner
Adam Sandler
Rob Schneider
Martin Short
David Spade

Honorable Mention: Jim Belushi, Brian Doyle-Murray, Robin Duke, Nora Dunn, Mary Gross, Victoria Jackson, Tim Kazurinsky, Norm MacDonald, Tim Meadows, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Molly Shannon, Julia Sweeney

Cast members of note who just didn't accumulate enough memorable screen-time on SNL: Chris Elliott, Janeane Garofalo, Gilbert Gottfried, Christopher Guest, Anthony Michael Hall, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael McKean, Laurie Metcalf, Jay Mohr, Harry Shearer, Ben Stiller, Damon Wayans

Special Award for tremendous contributions, but always as a writer and/or "featured player": Al Franken

Two guys whom I only mention to remind you that I'm not honoring their SNL tenure in ANY way, shape, or form: Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan

Here's a link to a cool SNL Archives site I wasted a couple of hours on the other day, drafting this post. NOTE: To trim the Top 25 to a Top 20 (which I really wouldn't want to do), remove Hooks, Morris, Newman, Schneider and Spade.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Happy 'Double-Nickel' To All That David Copperfield Kind Of Crap

July, 1951, people...that's when J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was first published by Little, Brown. I suppose that makes this coming month its 55th birthday, if you really wanna know. Now, I'm not sure exactly who the first phony bastards were who tried to ban this book. But, goddam, it only says "fuck" six times. And, even then, it was just 'cause I was trying to erase that word so little kids wouldn't have to see it, and all. Anyway, I'm sort of glad those great folks are there to ban this goddam book. That's just a swell way to protect the kids. I swear to God it is. You ask me, those phonies can try to round up every last goddam copy. There's only been about 10 million sold, if you can believe that. It just blows my mind. It really does.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More Musings Re: Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies

Upon further (but still not in-depth) review, I have a few more observations about Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies list:

#1) There ain't no brothers up in here!!!

True, Mr. Murphy is represented with #74 Trading Places, # 70 Nutty Professor (1996), #22 Beverly Hills Cop, and his voice work as the donkey in #3 Shrek. But, no Coming To America?! Come on. Not only was Eddie hilarious, but it's also about the only thing Arsenio Hall ever did that was worth a shit.

Beyond Murphy, where's the "soul"? Richard Pryor was in #84 Silver Streak, and Whoopi Goldberg (whom I personally cannot stand) was in #83 Sister Act. What am I missing? I would've thought maybe they'd at least throw Friday on the list.

#2) Obviously, nothing before about 1968 was funny at all (according to this list). No Marx Brothers, no WC Fields, no Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Three Stooges, etc. For me this complaint is semantic in nature. I wouldn't want to dig through all that old stuff either. So, just call it the "100 Funniest Movies of the Last 40 Years" (or 50 years, if that sounds better).

#3) They have Police Academy Series at #59, and The Naked Gun Series at #13. I think this is odd. Personally, I probably couldn't distinguish one Police Academy movie from another...but, none of them would be on my list of top comedies either (just not my bag, baby). I think the movies are either funny enough to stand alone, or they're not to be included. Otherwise, why not Austin Powers "series" for example?

#4) I still can't get over the omission of Tommy Boy. Those Bravo bastards.

#5) Apparently, Robin Williams makes a funnier guy-in-drag character (Mrs. Doubtfire at #39) than Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie at #82).

#6) The most quotable comedy that was omitted from the list: Fletch. "It's me: Dr. Rosen-penis" is probably a funny enough line by itself to put the movie into the top 100.

OK, I'm done for now.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Greatest Feeling In The World, Etc.

I'm currently holding my recently-turned-one-year-old daughter (pictured to the left), and she has fallen asleep resting her head against my chest. At the risk of coming across as too syrupy sweet, let me just say that holding her brings me a certain inner calm that I cannot really describe.

Misc. topics:
It's been called: Bill Murray wins. John Belushi gets a distinguished mention, and endless speculation as to what might have been. Steve Martin garnered strong support. Gene Wilder made quite a late surge, but ultimately succumbed to the "what have you done for me lately" syndrome. Keep your eyes open for more from Will Ferrell...

I caught a bit of Cool Hand Luke on, of all places, the History Channel. I'm not going to get into a full-blown "greatest movie" discussion. Suffice it to say, I'll never understand how/why Paul Newman did not receive the Best Actor Oscar for that role.

Saw a request for a new Robert Plant album, which I don't have. I'll keep an eye on the used CD bins. Also, I saw a request for the debut album from the Counting Crows. I never had that one either, although I did have the follow-up, Recovering the Satellites. I say "did have," because I cannot find it. I do recall "A Long December" being one of my very favorite drinking-alone-until-I-passed-out songs, when I still did that type of thing. I suspect alcohol was involved in the disappearance.

My earliest recollection of the Counting Crows was hearing the song "Mr. Jones". I had a mixed reaction to that song, initially. I recall finding the "sha la la la..." too derivative of Van Morrison. However, the "I want to be Bob Dylan/Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky/When everybody loves you, son, that's just about as funky as you can be" verse definitely resonated with me. (I'll admit I had to look up the exact wording on their website--my memory was failing. Oddly, the "sha la la la..." was not listed in the lyrics. Do I have the wrong song?)

In any event, the only Counting Crows I could find in my collection was their 'best of' CD, Films About Ghosts. Just sitting here, that strikes me as an amazingly pretentious title. But, what the hell... My main complaint, as I scan the song list, is that they left out "Daylight Fading", one of my very favorites. That's a fine example of why I have found myself buying fewer and fewer compilations. Alas, I think I'll sign off before this morphs into a full-fledged Counting Crows post. After all, I haven't listened to their music in quite some time. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer not to comment too much without re-listening...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Is Bill Murray The Funniest Man In Movie History?

I know I haven't really thought this one through. Please consider it a work-in-progress. I really am posing it as a question. Here are the movies from that Bravo list that feature the more famous of Bill Murray's roles:

76 Ghostbusters
43 What About Bob?
34 Rushmore
32 Groundhog Day
18 Stripes
2 Caddyshack

Of course, in a smaller role, he absolutely stole the show in #67 Kingpin. And, he was also Dustin Hoffman's roomate in #82 Tootsie.

I remember *loving* the movie Meatballs when I was kid, but it's been decades since I've seen it. One I would say is VERY underrated is Quick Change, which he co-directed as well as starred in as a NYC-hating bankrobber in clown make-up. He was great almost beyond description as the low-rent, neckbrace-wearing lawyer in Wild Things, providing some much needed comic relief to that tawdry affair.

Then, of course, there are his more recent, quirky roles: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Lost in Translation (2003 - nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor), and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Most Quotable Movie Of All Time

As commenter JM has noted in response to my previous post, the films of Mel Brooks are highly quotable. I shan't argue that in the least. However, I'm making an unofficial call, and naming Caddyshack as the single most quotable movie of all time. That's it. It's all over. Haahnster called it.

Here's some anecdotal evidence:

Just today, as some coworkers and I were getting our morning coffee, we looked out the window to see a torrential downpour, complete with winds so strong the rain appeared nearly horizontal. Of course, one of us had to say "I don't think the heavy stuff is gonna come down for a while."

And, to this day, I cannot say (or even hear anyone else say), "I've got that going for me," without adding, "which is nice."

The examples are endless:

Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), "Cinderella story...from outta nowhere"
The other kids during the caddy tournament, "Noooo-nan! Noooo-nan!"
Carl again (prepaing to eat the candy bar), "It's no big deal"
Judge Smails (Ted Knight), "Are you my pal?"
Rodney Dangerfield (character name "Al", I think, but he really only ever plays one character), "Now I know why tigers eat thier young"
Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), "Your uncle molests collies"
And on and on and on...

Please feel free to reply with other favorite movie quotes (Caddyshack or otherwise), or tell me which movie you think is more quotable. "Well...we're waiting..." (Judge Smails)

What?! No Tommy Boy?!!!

I stumbled across this list of "Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies" yesterday.

Here's the Top 10:

10 Arthur
9 Blazing Saddles
8 The Wedding Singer
7 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
6 Airplane!
5 South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
4 There's Something About Mary
3 Shrek
2 Caddyshack
1 Animal House

I have absolutely NO complaints about the top 2. They've been among my very favorites since I was a kid, and I still love 'em. Very quotable. In fact, Caddyshack might well be the single most quotable movie ever.

Shrek seems more than a bit high, although I certainly liked it. (Wasn't Shrek 2 better than Shrek?) I really have nothing negative to say about 4 or 5. In fact, the South Park movie should be the highest-rated animated comedy. (It's also the greatest musical in history, by the way!!!)

Airplane! really isn't my style. But, I acknowledge that a lot of people find that type of stuff hilarious. And, this probably is the best example of that type of comedy. (Or, not, I really don't know. I'm trying not to be too dismissive here.)

I cetainly would NOT have The Wedding Singer in the Top 10. Finally, Arthur?! Arthur?!!!! I loved that movie when I first saw it (age 10), but I'd be SHOCKED to find that it's aged well at all. I might have to check it out again before going too far overboard here. Still, Top 10 for Arthur seems excessive, to say the least.

My preliminary scan of the entire list of 100 revealed a couple of glaring oversights (e.g., Tommy Boy and Fletch come to mind). Take a look and see what you think.

Slap Shot should be much higher than #89. I was also shocked that the original Vacation movie was way down at # 51. With that, and no Fletch, I'm sensing an anti-Chevy Chase sentiment in the list. Bill Murray is well represented, however. And Caddyshack obviously could not be denied, anti-Chevy bias notwithstanding. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What's The Frequency, Kenneth?

Speaking of R.E.M., the man who was once famously attacked in NYC by two crazy men demanding to know the frequency being used to broadcast messages into at least one of their heads ("Kenneth, what's the frequency?") has unceremoniously left his employer of 44 years. Yep, that's right, Dan Rather, who previously stepped down from the Evening News anchor chair, is out the door for good.

I think I'll blast "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" a few times tonight in his "honor".

Buy The Sky And Sell The Sky

Let's begin the begin (clever, eh?) with REM's LIFES RICH PAGEANT (1986), their 4th full-length LP. It was released on the IRS label, and was their 1st album to achieve Gold status. The musical line-up was Bill Berry (drums, vocals), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass, vocals), and Michael Stipe (vocals).

Before we get too far, let's address the missing apostrophe in "Lifes". Apparently, it's deliberate. Next, let's talk about the running order of the songs. The back of my album cover lists the tracks as follows:
01 Begin the Begin
02 Hyena
03 Just a Touch
04 I Believe
05 These Days
06 The Flowers of Guatemala
07 Cuyahoga
08 What If We Give It Away?
09 Fall On Me
10 Swan Swan H

However, the actual running order is
Dinner Side

01 Begin the Begin – 3:24
02 These Days – 3:21
03 Fall on Me – 2:49
04 Cuyahoga – 4:17
05 Hyena – 2:48
06 Underneath the Bunker – 1:24
Supper Side
07 The Flowers of Guatemala – 3:53
08 I Believe – 3:32
09 What If We Give It Away? – 3:31
10 Just a Touch – 2:56
11 Swan Swan H – 2:39
12 Superman (Zekley/Bottler) – 2:50
[All songs written by Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe, except where noted.]

So what is the meaning of the missing apostrophe, the missing/out of order song titles, etc.? I have no idea. That's the great thing about developing a reputation for being "deep". You can do stupid little shit and it causes scores of people to scramble to find the "hidden meaning". It's a regular DaVinci Code, I'm sure. But, I'm moving on to the music now. Well, after one quick note about the "Dinner Side/Supper Side" thing. As one who has lived in both larger metropolitan areas and sparsely populated rural areas, I have made note of this phenomenon: "city folk" tend to eat "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" while "country folk" tend to eat "breakfast, dinner, and supper". It might also be a North/South thing, but I'm not sure about that. In the Midwest, it's a city/small town thing. Michael Stipe was born in Georgia, but I know he went to high school in the St.Louis suburb of Collinsville, Illinois. A lady I used to work with showed me her yearbook. He looked about the same as in the early REM photos. Moving on.

This is the album where Stipe decided we might want to understand more of the words, and eliminated most of the mumbling. Don't get me wrong, I like the earlier, mumbly stuff too. But, here, he sounds even better to me. I've always gone for "distinctive" over "trained" when it comes to vocals. Stipe's voice is nothing if not distinctive. To me, it's powerful and expresses a complexity of emotion that is quite extraordinary. But, it certainly isn't that super-smooth, Dean Martin type of shit (just in case that's your bag).

Not since the Stones began Tattoo You with "Start Me Up" had there been a more appropriate opening song title than "Begin the Begin". Peter Buck had some fairly heavy distortion mixed in with his melodic guitar runs, a great blend of smooth and distorted at the same time ("Let's begin again, begin the begin/Let's begin again like Martin Luther Zen").

"These Days" keeps the pace moving fairly quickly. The guitar has a nice semi-squeal going...very nice. The line "We are young despite the years" has a Dylanesque ring to it. "Fall On Me" was one of the two singles released from this LP. What an amazingly catchy tune, probably among their very catchiest ever. Plus, it's about air pollution. This is where Stipe decided he could take a stand on some issues, which flew somewhat in the face of the mum's the word/ignorance is bliss attitude of the Reagan era. Good move, even though there are those among us who would seem to consider such activity too humorless.

Check out the ultra-cool bass line in "Cuyahoga"!!! This one's about water pollution, referencing the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which was so polluted that it actually caught fire in 1969. Stunning. "Hyena" and "Underneath the Bunker" close out the Dinner Side. The former is a peppy, poppy number that seems to say something about the arms race (I think?), and the latter is basically a '60s-surf-music-sounding tune.

The Supper Side opens with a real hidden gem, "The Flowers of Guatemala." This is an achingly, hauntingly gentle/sad tune ("There's something that I've never seen before/The flowers often bloom at night/Amanita is the name they cover over everything"). What is "Amanita," you ask? According to Wikipedia, "There are about 600 species of agarics in the genus Amanita (family Amanitaceae), which contains some of the most toxic known mushrooms. This genus is responsible for 95% of the fatalities resulting from mushroom poisoning..." So, the melancholy mood of the tune fits the subject matter.

"I Believe" that a banjo in the intro?! Lines such as "I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract" give us more to puzzle over, if we so choose. No doubt, these guys could write a great pop tune at will. Amazingly, this was considered unusual for the times, as most of "rock" was mired in synthed-up bullshit. Hence, REM were the Beatles of the "college music" ('80s speak for "alternative") scene. The Replacements were the Rolling Stones. I'm not sure who the Violent Femmes, Aztec Camera, and Camper Van Beethoven's a hard analogy to sustain.

"What If We Give It Away?" develops into yet another catchy song. Nice distortion intro for "Just a Touch", which is fast-paced and sort of heavy/funky. Nice wailing vocals too. "I can't see where to worship Popeye, love Al Green/I can't see, I'm so young, I'm so god damn young" pushes us past the official number of references to being "young" to qualify as an obsession of sorts on this album.

"Swan Swan H" is a masterpiece of musical simplicity, lyrical ambiguity/imagery, and Stipe really staking out his ground vocally, fully developing the delivery he was about to make way, way more famous.

The album ends with the second single, "Superman". This is a cover version of a little-known '60s B-side by The Clique. It has ultra-simple, straightforward lyrics, sung by bassist Mike Mills. This one is so catchy it's ridiculous. Just a cool, upbeat (dare I say, "good-humored"?) way to end a damned fine album.

Great call, Keith!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

R.E.M. Collection

Keith Kennedy, frequent commenter here at HH, has requested some old REM, mentioning Lifes Rich Pageant by name. I'm going to listen to that album tonight, while babysitting Emily. Mom needs some time out of the house, and I simply LOVE spending time with little Emmy.

I've just rounded up my REM collection:
Chronic Town (EP) - vinyl
Murmur - vinyl
Reckoning - vinyl
Fables Of The Reconstruction - vinyl
Lifes Rich Pageant - vinyl
Dead Letter Office - CD
Document - vinyl
Eponymous - CD
Green - CD
Out Of Time - vinyl
Automatic For The People - CD
Monster - CD
New Adventures In Hi-Fi - CD
Up - CD

I'm actually surprised that I have Up, given that it was released in 1998. I would've thought that was in the period of time in which I had virtually stopped buying music. Of course, I'm missing Reveal (2001) and Around The Sun (2004). No ETA on their arrival in haahnster's collection either.

I'm pretty sure I won't be blogging on each and every one of the above, at least not in a row. But, I'll work some in here and there. Man, it's fun digging out the old LPs!

Picking Up The Hammer Of The Gods

By way of follow-up to some Led Zeppelin discussion over on Deep Fat, haahnster is going to briefly touch on the mighty Zep.

Let me start by reiterating that from about 6th grade through at least freshman year in high school, Led Zeppelin was an obsession of mine, absolutely my favorite band without question. I very quickly accumulated all their studio LPs, and a reissued 7" single of "Immigrant Song" with the great, otherwise unavailable (at that time) B-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do".

By the latter part of high school, I wasn't listening to Zeppelin as much, although I still considered them a (maybe "the") favorite band of mine. When CDs first began to take over for vinyl, Atlantic rushed to reissue the Led Zep catalog on the new format, with absolutely no attention to detail whatsoever. No bonus tracks, no effort at all. In fact, those CDs had such a god-awful hiss that I KNEW my old LPs sounded better, and I refused to replace them. (Of course, the CDs have since been remastered with some actual care, and I've purchased them all, because I'm a madman.)

My friends and I had always said that Zeppelin never had a Greatest Hits album, because *every song* they recorded was a "greatest hit". Like I said, I had been obsessed with their music for several years. My interest in Led Zeppelin was rekindled in the late summer/early autumn of 1990, when their 1st, remastered CD boxed set was released (remember, their individual CDs still sounded like shit--full of hiss--at that time). The remainder of this post will be devoted to complaints about the boxed set.

#1 - No "Good Times, Bad Times". The first song from their first LP, this tune was among my favorites. It was an inexcusable omission.
#2 - No "Living Loving Maid". How this song could ever be separated from "Heartbreaker" was beyond me. They were always played together on FM radio, and by gawd, they always should be.
#3 - No "Hots on for Nowhere". Arguably my favorite song from Presence (which, admittedly, is my least favorite Zeppelin LP this side of Coda), it would've been a nice inclusion.

More on the Zep to come...but, I'm not sure when.

Request Lines Are Open...'80s Flashback

In honor of my man, "mat", joining the blogosphere in earnest (a new blog site is almost sure to follow...), I am attempting to take his request. Unfortunately, after scouring my collection, it appears that, as I suspected, I never actually *had* Motley Crue's DR. FEELGOOD (1989). Of course, I wouldn't have needed it, as its presence was nearly as ubiquitous as both GnR's Appetite for Destruction and Def Leppard's Hysteria before it, and GnR's Use Your Illusion I & II after it.

A look at the track list reveals no less than 5 singles that charted (tracks 2, 5, 6, 7 and 10):

01. T.N.T. (Terror 'N Tinseltown)
02. Dr. Feelgood
03. Slice Of Your Pie
04. Rattlesnake Shake
05. Kickstart My Heart
06. Without You
07. Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.)
08. Sticky Sweet
09. She Goes Down
10. Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
11. Time For Change

Now, I must admit that I was never the biggest Crue fan around. However, I'm not going to tell you that this album/tape/disc/whatever (1989-90 was a transitional time, format-wise) didn't sound good blaring in the dishroom of the U of I cafeteria, where both "mat" and "haahnster" were student workers. It had that high-energy, party feel to it (hence, "Dr. Feelgood"'s not complicated).

My personal favorite, though, was the closing tune--the obligatory power-ballad "Time For Change". This was especially my favorite during drunken stupors as I mourned the end of a nearly-three-year relationship with my former high school sweetheart. We tried the long distance thing (as in, I wasted my freshman year in college), but it just didn't work out. Well, actually, it "didn't work out" because she decided that we "needed to see other people." That bitch. But, I digress.

Axel Rose and the boys in GnR were already saving themselves a fortune in reduced hairspray usage. In many ways, the Crue's Dr. Feelgood was the last of a dying breed. Well, I guess Poison released Flesh & Blood in 1990. But, suffice it to say the GreatWhiteLionSnake was almost dead, and few were mourning its (their) passing. Why weren't they mourning? How could the masses survive without their hair-metal? Because Kurt Cobain saved the world, of course. But that's a story for another day (and, if you don't catch that I'm deliberately exaggerating, well here's your clue).

Rock on, party people.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Impeach My Bush

I know virtually nothing about the musical artist "Peaches", and I'm far from a big fan of "electronic music". However, I might've checked this one out just for the album title IMPEACH MY BUSH. Then, I saw the song titles:

01. "Fuck or Kill"
02. "Tent in Your Pants"
03. "Hit It Hard"
04. "Boys Wanna Be Her"
05. "Downtown"
06. "Two Guys (For Every Girl)"
07. "Rock the Shocker"
08. "You Love It"
09. "Slippery Dick"
10. "Give 'Er"
11. "Get It"
12. "Do Ya"
13. "Stick It to the Pimp"

Now, I'm almost *positive* I'm on board.

It's Just You And Your Mind And Lake Shore Drive...

Haahnster's List of Top Songs By Aliotta, Haynes & Jeremiah:

1. Lake Shore Drive
[end of list]

For those of you who've never been to Chicago, this post is likely even less meaningful to you.

[Note: I know this post is a complete cop-out. I have precious little time today...maybe later...]

Friday, June 16, 2006

My Love To Emily (Random Thoughts)

Wow! No posting for a few days...not that you f*ckers have been commenting lately anyway...PS-"F*ckers" is meant as a term of endearment, of course...I've been busy at work, off-site for 3 days...good, gawd, I'm blogging on a Friday night (What a pathetic loser I am!)...I'm always amused when people misspell "loser" as "looser"...dumbasses...My wife's anniversary gift (i.e., from me to her), the new Dixie Chicks CD, is on right now...I like it...I read over on AMillionMonkeys that it's not that good, but I still like it...Here's a shout out to Macky Ole's new blog, "Balls Deep", I mean, "Deep Fat"...My bad...I've suggested a rearrangement of his list of best Zeppelin albums...I'm helpful like that...tomorrow is my daughter Emily's 1st birthday party...As usual with these types of things, I have zero clue as to who will be/won't be showing up...lots of leftover sandwiches and potato salad, I'm predicting...her real birthday is Sunday, but that's father's day...major conflict for folks, we figured...still, let the excuses from the no-shows roll in...f*ck 'em...I gotta start drinking again...I've been too cranky the last few months...I smell a BINGE coming on...4th of July, perhaps...Man, can I be an even more obnoxious fool of an ass when I'm wasted...YES...I love it...f*ck people...they all suck...Cue that old George Harrison tune, "Tell me, whaaaat is this life?/Tell me whooooo am I?" or whatever...ooooh, better yet, REM's "Strange Currencies" ("I don't know/Why you're mean to me/When I call/On the telephone/And I don't know/What you mean to me...")...Oh, yeah, I'm definitely off the wagon ASAP!!!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone and Windows XP

Well, the good news is my "upgrade" to Windows XP at work has "successfully completed". The bad news is I'm still sorting out which software programs did not make the transition. So far, the biggest is my "CFE Exam Prep". CFE stands for Certified Fraud Examiner, and it is a certification that has been deemed required by the Vice President in charge of my division at work. The beauty is the software measures how many practice questions you've correctly answered AND the time you have spent doing so. Not only must you successfully answer all the questions, you must also register 50 hours of study time. So, yes, the software can be reinstalled. But, no, none of the time or questions I have already registered can be recovered. Back to square one. Oh well, it's not like I was that close to done or anything. Oh, and it's also not like my annual review is scheduled for next Tuesday. Oops, there's one requirement down the shithole...

By the way, I'm currently listening to Another Side Of Bob Dylan, which I was surprised to see did NOT make the RS Top 500. Wow! I expected it to be lower than his other early LPs. But, I didn't expect it to be all the way out of the "Top 500". I'm sorry, are there truly 500 albums better than an album that includes "All I Really Want To Do", "Chimes Of Freedom", "My Back Pages", and "It Ain't Me Babe"? Hell, the song "Motorpsycho Nitemare" is on right now. It perfectly anticipates "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" from Bringing It All Back Home, albeit in simpler, acoustic fashion.

A commenter a while back had inquired here about "Love And Theft", which I was ashamed to admit I did not have. After my recent trip to Chicago, I can now say I do have it (a most fortuitous find in a used bin for $6.99). I was going to post on that next. Now, it’ll have to wait until after Another Side…!!!

By the way, here are the Bob albums that did make the RS "Top 500" list:

4) Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan)
9) Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan)
16) Blood on the Tracks (Bob Dylan)
31) Bringing It All Back Home (Bob Dylan)
97) The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan)
174) Desire (Bob Dylan)
291) The Basement Tapes (Bob Dylan and The Band)
301) John Wesley Harding (Bob Dylan)
408) Time Out of Mind (Bob Dylan)

467) "Love and Theft" (Bob Dylan)

Gotta disasters beckon.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"How Many Roads Must A Man Walk Down..."

THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN (1963) is a masterpiece. Of that, I think there can be little doubt. Now, we can quibble over which tunes were "derived" from which previously written songs (mainly folk or blues standards). But, what's the point? The musical accompaniment he chose for his lyrics fits perfectly, not to mention Dylan's guitar playing is vastly underrated in my opinion. Then there's the fact that he was singing with a voice and attitude never before witnessed in popular music. Oh, and back to those lyrics...

Well, let's just say those lyrics changed the course of popular music forever. And, to anyone who thinks that's an overstatement, blow me. I'm really not in the mood for dissent, call it a Rumsfeld moment.

Side One
Blowin' in the Wind - 2:48
Girl From The North Country - 3:22
Masters of War - 4:34
Down the Highway - 3:27
Bob Dylan's Blues - 2:23
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - 6:55
Side Two
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - 3:40
Bob Dylan's Dream - 5:03
Oxford Town - 1:50
Talking World War III Blues - 6:28
Corrina, Corrina (Traditional) - 2:44
Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance (Dylan/Thomas) - 2:01
I Shall Be Free - 4:49

First of all, there's "Blowin' in the Wind", which Dylan had been performing for some time before recording it for this, his 2nd album. In fact, Peter, Paul & Mary had already released their version of this Dylan composition earlier in 1963. A series of nine questions, the answers to which are "blowin' in the wind", this song raised awareness and opened the door to socio-political consciousness in popular music. Of course, Dylan himself was less impressed, saying in 1966, "I was never satisfied with 'Blowin' in the Wind.' I wrote that in ten minutes."

OK, I'm a bit confused on the second song. My album says "Girl From The North Country", but the lyrics on say it's "Girl of the North Country". Minor discrepancy, I suppose.

"Masters of War"...Again with the attitude! This Bob Dylan kid was a bit "big for his britches" as my grandmother might've said. Read the lyrics here. Amazingly vitriolic. I love it. "Down the Highway" is an interesting piece of guitar work by Bob. Unusual to say the least. I certainly enjoy it. "Bob Dylan's Blues" provides some comic relief, showing Dylan's sly sense of humor ("Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto/They are ridin' down the line/Fixin' ev'rybody's troubles/Ev'rybody's 'cept mine/Somebody musta tol' 'em/That I was doin' fine"). This song has a nice 'softening-up-for-the-kill' effect, as it leads into the next song.

"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is among the very best pieces of poetry ever set to music, in this blogger's humble opinion. I have previously posted the lyrics in their entirety on this blog, and they can be read here as well. This song is so overwhelmingly excellent that it leaves me marvelling at the fact that it's just the end of Side One. I always get that "holy shit, there's a whole other side of music left" feeling. Then, I struggle with "how many more times do I listen to this song before I flip the record over?"

"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is yet another of Dylan's all-time classics. Bob has described it as something you'd say to yourself as a relationship ended. But, you can't always trust Bob to give you a straight-on interpretation of his own songs. To me, it sounds (and reads) like a pretty coyly written kiss-off. The beauty is that it's done in such a quiet, calm manner. Great song any way you cut it.

To quote NPR's Tim Riley, "'Bob Dylan's Dream' rings ominously prophetic of what will become of sixties ideals - with its flush of unrealized looks back before its time and draws a lot of tension from the awareness that youth's immediacy can't last." OK. It's a good song. I said that.

"Oxford Town" is a young Bob Dylan taking on racism in the South head-on. "Oxford Town around the bend/He come in to the door, he couldn't get in/All because of the color of his skin/What do you think about that, my friend?"

"Talking World War III Blues" is a nice, early eaxample of Dylan's gift for surrealism. Read the lyrics here. I love that line about a Cadillac being a good car to drive after a war. And, the "Abraham Lincoln said that...I said that" ending is pure genius.

"Corrina, Corrina" is a nice arrangement of a traditional song. "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" is noted in the track listing above as "(Dylan/Thomas)", which might be somewhat confusing. It wasn't written by Dylan Thomas! Don't look by that "/", whatever you do! This song title was taken from a song by Henry Thomas from 1928. Otherwise, it's basically Bob's. The vocal performance is most certainly Bob's, and Bob's only. The desperation in his pleading is something to behold.

"I Shall Be Free" ends the album with another humorous note, and more of that Dylan surrealism ("I chased me a woman up the hill/Right in the middle of an air raid drill./It was Little Bo Peep!"). I know the title looks like it might be one of Dylan's great protest songs. He was a deceptive bugger. Also, this title is not to be confused with the Dylan composition "I Shall Be Released" from The Band's Music From Big Pink.

So, summing up...if you don't have it, BUY IT NOW! Even the fools at Rolling Stone recognize it, although I'd say #97 is too low. It could easily be Top 50, but no one asked me. Oh, and I almost forgot, note the total running time of 50 minutes...almost unheard of in its day.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Brief Addition To The 2 Most Recent Reviews

I almost forgot our pals at Rolling Stone. Just in case you're keeping score at home, The Band's Music From Big Pink grabbed the #34 spot on the "Top 500 Albums" list by RS. Impressive showing, and I won't argue with it.

Van Morrison's His Band And The Street Choir failed to make the list. This exposes yet another oddity/inconsistency with these types of lists, in my opinion. I.e., Astral Weeks was #19; Moondance was #65; but, apparently, every other Van Morrison album pales miserably in comparison to these two (according to RS). So much so, in fact, that NONE of his other albums place in the Top 500. I submit to you that this does not appear reasonable on its surface. In any event, I think they could've found a spot for His Band And The Street Choir.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Wait A Minute, Chesterrrrrrr..."

Recently, it seems my musical tastes are stuck in the 1968-1970 timeframe. My most recent re-discovery is MUSIC FROM BIG PINK (1968), the debut album from The Band. I found this gem in a used CD bin once upon a time, probably 15 years ago or so. Good find.

What can I say about this album? Here's a good quote from Wikipedia: "With a rough sound, seemingly chaotic arrangements, and a distinctive blend of country, rock and folk, Music From Big Pink is generally considered one of the best albums by the Band, along with their 1969 sophomore release The Band. The initial critical reception of the album was generally positive, though sales were slim..."

Here's a link to a 5-star review from AllMusic Guide.

The Band consisted of Rick Danko (bass, fiddle, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals), Garth Hudson (organ, piano, clavinet, soprano and tenor saxophones), Richard Manuel (piano, organ, drums, vocals), Jaime Robbie Robertson (guitars, vocals).

1. Tears of Rage - Dylan/Manuel (5:23)
2. To Kingdom Come - Robertson (3:22)
3. In a Station - Manuel (3:34)
4. Caledonia Mission - Robertson (2:59)
5. The Weight - Robertson (
6. We Can Talk - Manuel (3:06)
7. Long Black Veil - Wilkin/Dill (3:06)
8. Chest Fever - Robertson (5:18)
9. Lonesome Suzie - Manuel (4:04)
10. This Wheel's on Fire - Danko/Dylan (3:14)
11. I Shall Be Released - Dylan (3:19)

You might notice that Bob Dylan has a writing credit on 3 of the 11 songs. To my knowledge, there's no dispute regarding that fact. Now, as for Levon Helm's opinion of Robbie Robertson having sole writing credit on 4 songs...But, I'm not getting too deep into that issue here.

"Tears of Rage" is a great song. "The Weight" is one of the greatest songs ever recorded by anyone anywhere EVER (yes, I know I already said "ever" in this sentence)!!! Both of these songs made The Best Of The Band (1976), my sole piece of vinyl by these guys, which served as a great introduction to their music. I'm kind of surprised that I never went back and at least bought their second album. Anyway...

For all his hectic, squealing guitar with Bob Dylan (e.g., "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" from Blonde On Blonde), Robbie Robertson's guitar is much more subdued here. The only song on which he even approaches that squeal might be "This Wheel's On Fire". But, that's not to say the electric guitar isn't great elsewhere. "To Kingdom Come" jumps to mind, as does "Caledonia Mission".

On Big Pink, though, I'd say the keyboards generally dominate, especially the organ (Garth Hudson, I believe). Well, and of course, there's Richard Manuel's gut-wrenching lead vocals ("Lonesome Suzie" is a great example). Oh, and the unusual harmony vocal arrangements add a unique twist ("The Weight" being a particularly good example of this, as are "To Kingdom Come" and "We Can Talk").

Lyrically, the songs are interesting as well, painting mainly rustic images. "We pointed you the way to go/And scratched your name in sand/Though you just thought it was nothing more/Than a place for you to stand" ("Tears of Rage"). "Tarred and feathered" ("To Kingdom Come"). "Once I climbed up the face of a mountain/And ate the wild fruit there/Fell asleep until the moonlight woke me/And I could taste your hair" ("In a Station"). "We'll be gone in moonshine time/I've got a place they'll never find" ("Caledonia Mission"). "But I'd rather be burned in Canada than to freeze here in the south/Pulling that eternal plough" ("We Can Talk"). "Ten years ago on a cool dark night/There was someone killed 'neath the town hall light" ("Long Black Veil").

The, there's "The Weight". Have I mentioned how amazing this song is? Here the piano and acoustic guitar dominate. I think Levon Helm sings most of the lead vocal, with Rick Danko singing lead on the amazing 4th verse (see the title of this post). Richard Manuel joins on the chorus. The harmony vocals are amazing. And, how about that moaning?! The sonic equivalent of "shit-eating" grins..."shit-eating moans"(?) That's what we used to call them sitting around the dorm room, discussing this song in college. Man, I've loved this song for a looooong time! Really, though, I'm sure the exasperation and all-around exhaustion of the storyteller in this song shines through in the lyrics (read them here). The "shit-eating grins" are on the listeners' faces...because, DAMN, this song is good!

This is a hell of an album. It was more of a critical than commercial success. But, it just flew in the face of the heavier, psychedelic rock of its day, much like its contemporary, Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. Of course, the two albums sound much different than each other. But, I'd say they're kindred spirits. Oh yeah, and I read that Bob Dylan painted the cover art for Music From Big Pink.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"I Said, 'Oh, Oh, Domino'"

Van Morrison released HIS BAND AND THE STREET CHOIR (1970) just 8 months after the masterpiece Moondance. Again, the songs are shorter and more tightly crafted (which is in no way meant to imply *better*) than with Astral Weeks. In fact, the evolution seems to have been in the direction of more radio-friendly pop music, as witnessed by the 3 singles produced from this LP. These included "Call Me Up In Dreamland", which barely scratched the Hot 100 at #95. However, "Blue Money" reached #23, and the ultra-classic "Domino" broke into the Top 10, peaking at #9.

There seems to be less of a jazz influence, as the horns here have more of a Chicago Blues or '50s R&B sound. As with the previous two albums, all songs were written by Van Morrison.

Side One
Domino - 3:06
Crazy Face - 2:55
Give Me a Kiss - 2:30
I've Been Working - 3:25
Call Me Up In Dreamland - 3:52
I'll Be Your Lover, Too - 3:57
Side Two

Blue Money - 3:40
Virgo Clowns - 4:10
Gypsy Queen - 3:16
Sweet Jannie - 2:11
If I Ever Needed Someone - 3:45
Street Choir - 4:53

"Domino" is a catchy classic, with great, rockin' horns. This is probably the second-most recognizable tune from Van's solo career, after only "Brown Eyed Girl". I think the line "Mr. DJ, I just wanna hear/Some rhythm and blues music/On the radio" pretty well sets the tone for this LP.

"Crazy Face" has a nice piano intro, with bass and acoustic guitar joining in. The horn and organ come in later. Nice tune. "Give Me a Kiss" is very upbeat. "I've Been Working" has a funky guitar part with great saxophone accompaniment. "Call Me Up In Dreamland" is a cheerful, up tempo tune, with rockin' horns.

Side one ends with "I'll Be Your Lover, Too", which begins with acoustic guitar, and Van's plaintive vocals. Some very understated accompaniment joins in, and makes this a wonderfully mellow song, in my opinion.

"Blue Money" starts side two in an upbeat mood, with a little "scat" singing by Van as an interesting twist. "Virgo Clowns" places the emphasis on acoustic guitars, with much less horn, and Van repeatedly requesting "Let your laughter fill the room."

"Gypsy Queen" has an almost fairy-tale like intro, which is revisited at the end of the song. In between, there are some great backing vocals, and a nice acoustic guitar/horn combo. "Sweet Jannie" (presumably written for Van's then-wife, Janet Planet) features a nice, bluesy electric guitar.

"If I Ever Needed Someone" sounds as if it could be a remake of some old, lost, Ray Charles song. The album concludes with "Street Choir", which has a great organ/horn mixture.

All in all, this is a pretty darned fine album. In fact, it compares quite favorably to the average album (whatever that would be). Of course, after Astral Weeks and Moondance, it might be an ever-so-slight letdown. But, on the other hand, "Domino" is as good a song as you'd ever want to hear. I'm certainly glad I have this album, and I enjoyed listening to it 3 times through in an evening. That has to say something. Now, as to why I never bought Tupelo Honey, Saint Dominic's Preview, or any other Van Morrison albums, I have NO IDEA!!!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


My wife and I are celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary today! How anyone could stand me for that long is a mystery. We're heading out of town for a couple of days...

More posting near the end of the week.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Stop The Presses And Hold The F*cking Phone

Run, don’t walk. Get your hands on the first available copy of Van Morrison’s ASTRAL WEEKS (1968). Once again, my memory has proven to be worth exactly shite. In fact, I’m no longer altogether convinced that I ever actually listened to this album before. Man, I must’ve had me head up me arse, if I did.

What an album! I’ll try to describe it. But, you really should listen for yourself. I think of almost nothing with which to compare it. I can think of a multitude of things with which to contrast it. But, I’m not sure what else really compares. Again, I say that you really should listen for yourself.

Side 1 (“In The Beginning”)
Astral Weeks – 7:00
Beside You – 5:10
Sweet Thing – 4:10
Cyprus Avenue – 6:50
Side 2 (“Afterwards”)
The Way Young Lovers Do – 3:10
Madame George – 9:25
Ballerina – 7:00
Slim Slow Slider – 3:20

(All songs written by Van Morrison.)

The title track opens things up with an excellent example of what’s in store. Acoustic guitar, Van’s amazingly soulful vocals and emotionally vivid, lyrical imagery, accompanied by what seems to be improvisational jazz music. And, yes, there are some strings. But, this is certainly not an orchestra, but rather a small ensemble – very understated and well done. Oh, and did I mention that the bass player (Richard Davis) is out of this world? Wow. When Van sings, “Ain't nothing but a stranger in this world/I'm nothing but a stranger in this world,” it certainly rings true. I suppose the best way to describe this song (and album) is that you could easily lay back, close your eyes and drift off to a new, imaginary universe without a care in the world. Or, you could spend a seemingly infinite amount of time studying this music, painstakingly deconstructing and analyzing every ingredient. I would think it would work on either level, or just about anywhere in between.

“Beside You” continues in the same vein, and has a haunting aspect to it. Van’s vocals are so amazing. “You breathe in you breathe out you breathe in you breathe out you breathe in you breathe out you breathe in you breathe out” – just reading that, it becomes obvious that there are scant few singers in this world that could deliver it worth a damn. Thankfully, with Van it’s transcendent. Have I mentioned how soulful Van’s voice is?

“Sweet Thing” might well be the catchiest tune, not that it (or any other song on this album) was released as a single. I think that had to do with the legal agreement involving Van, his former record label (Bang) and his new record label (Warner Bros).

“Cyprus Avenue” is a song dedicated to that street of the wealthy, influential, “right side of the tracks” residents. The song, like the others on this album, is filled with wonderful imagery (e.g., “And the leaves fall one by one by one by one/Call the autumn time a fool” and “Yonder comes my lady/Rainbow ribbons in her hair/Six white horses and a carriage/She's returning from the fair”).

Side 2 begins with “The Way Young Lovers Do”, which is an upbeat number. I’m tempted to call it a “rocker”, but that would seem to stretch the definition of the word well beyond its standard usage. It does pack a bit of a punch, though.

“Madame George” brings us back to Cyprus Ave. This time, we are placed in the presence of the colorful character, Madame George. I’ve read that Van denies the character was a transvestite, although I’m not sure how else to interpret the line “In the corner playing dominoes in drag.” In any event, the song has a longing, nostalgic feel (“Dry your eyes for Madame George”).

“Ballerina” is yet another wonderful example of this unusual folk-rock-jazz fusion that Van and company concocted. It’s so mellow, and yet starkly powerful. It really defies description. Or, rather, my description does it little justice. You really have to hear this album. Have I mentioned that?

“Slim Slow Slider” presents another great opportunity to mention how phenomenal the bass player on this album is. Wow! Also, this song is as powerful vocally as any song on this album, which is certainly saying something. As with others here, this song is sung by an individual (Van) who appears to be dealing with incredible heartache (“I know you're dying/And I know you know it, too/Every time I see you/I just don't know what to do”). From what I’ve read, this song really took off on a long instrumental ending that would probably be interesting to hear. Alas, the producer, Lewis Merestein, determined that it was too sloppy or unrelated to the song itself (or some such shit). Thus, the song is faded out rather abruptly after the last lyrics are delivered. In any event, it’s a wonderful song.

This album is amazing. I’m really not sure what else to say. I don’t back off my earlier recommendation of Moondance at all. However, I can’t disagree that Astral Weeks is at least as good, if not better. I think both should damned near be required listening for any music fan. I’m still reeling over the fact that I went so long between listens. However, the joy of the re-discovery is fantastic!

Just a quick housekeeping note: I'm posting this on Sunday night, because I have a breakfast meeting in the morning (a fucking "breakfast meeting"--apparently, work knows no bounds). Next up is my last remaining Van Morrison album (well, not counting his earlier group Them).

Friday, June 02, 2006

"And It Stoned Me To My Soul"

Van Morrison's MOONDANCE (1970) might well be a perfect album. It is an amazing achievement of mellow folk-rock/jazz fusion all captured in 10 tightly crafted pop songs. It is completely devoid of any late '60s psychedelia, and it certainly ignores any heavy-rock trends of its time. Hell, you could probably play it for your grandparents. And, yet, it never quite crosses into sheer elevator-music-territory, either.

Side one
And It Stoned Me - 4:30
Moondance - 4:35
Crazy Love - 2:34
Caravan - 4:57
Into the Mystic - 3:25
Side two
Come Running - 2:30
These Dreams of You - 3:50
Brand New Day - 5:09
Everyone - 3:31
Glad Tidings - 3:13

All songs were composed by Van Morrison, and Van produced the album as well, with the exception of the title track, which was produced by Lewis Merenstein. The album is filled with amazing arrangements employing a wonderful blend of acoustic guitar, piano, organ, and magnificent horns. And, of course, Van provides his usual (and incredible) soulful vocals. It's great mellow music, but not put-you-to-sleep mellow. It just feels "grown-up", at least that's the way I felt buying it as a teenager (lo those many years ago--mid to late '80s, as I recall).

My possession of this one LP relieves me of any need to buy any of about 10,000 different albums later crafted in a similar vein, but that all pale in comparison. I'm on cloud nine after this re-discovery. Why did I go 12-15 years without listening to a great album such as this? I have no idea, but the excitement of the re-discovery is pretty cool.

"And It Stoned Me" (or simply "Stoned Me" on the back of my album jacket) is a perfect opener. I think it's my favorite song on the album. Of course, unlike many of my albums, the gap between my favorite and least favorite songs here is pretty slim. The title track follows, and is an absolute classic. It's romantic and direct, but tasteful, and with a great interplay between the piano and flute.

"Crazy Love" seems destined to cross the line into too-syrupy-sweet territory, and yet never does. Masterful. "Caravan" is upbeat and catchy. It almost defies the listener to sit still. It's just a great toe-tapper, a sing-along-with-the-refrain kind of song.

"Into the Mystic" is the perfect closer for the 1st side. The acoustic guitar is crisp, and the horns are peppy. It's just a great song. I'm not sure if there's a direct connection with Van's earlier song (recorded with his group Them) "Mystic Eyes". They're certainly different musically. Van must've just liked the word "mystic."

"Come Running" is an upbeat, relatively lightweight number. This might be the least indispensable song. Again, though, that's not to say it's not a good song. Of course, this was the "hit" single. I believe it sneaked into the Top 40, reaching #39 at its peak.

"These Dreams of You" is a nice, horn-based, medium paced tune. "Brand New Day" is slower, and piano-based. Van's soulful vocals are augmented by gospel-style backing vocals. "Everyone" is a sparsely arranged, but upbeat keyboard/flute combo ("Ev--e--ry--one, Ev--e--ry--one, Ev--e--ry--one...").

"Glad Tidings", with its "la-la-la-la-la-la...", is just tooooo catchy. What a great closing song! It inspired me to flip the record right back over and listen all the way through again (and again). GREAT album!

By the way, unlike the Jeff Beck albums I reviewed the last couple of days, the RS "Top 500 Albums" list does acknowledge Moondance. In fact, they have it at #65, which is pretty high praise, I suppose. The odd thing is, they have its predecessor, Astral Weeks, way up at #19! Methinks they might have these two albums switched with each other. I suppose I'll have to listen to Astral Weeks next. For some reason, I remember thinking Moondance was head and shoulders above it...Hmmm, maybe it's just my bias against string section accompaniment, which I vaguely recall Astral Weeks being filled with. My natural tendency is to prefer horns to strings. In any event, Moondance comes HIGHLY recommended by the Haahnster.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

One Last Rod Reference

BECK-OLA (1969) was the follow-up to TRUTH (see yesterday's post), and was released just prior to the group's disbanding (Rod Stewart and Ron Wood both left to join Faces, a new incarnation of the Small Faces, sans Steve Marriott, who had left Small Faces to form Humble Pie). The Jeff Beck Group was originally slotted to perform at Woodstock, but of course, never made it.

In any event, back to Beck-Ola. Tony Newman had replaced Mick Waller on drums, and Nicky Hopkins had been promoted to full-time band member. Thus, the line-up was Jeff Beck (guitar), Rod Stewart (vocals), Ron Wood (bass), Nicky Hopkins (piano), and Tony Newman (drums).

The song listing:
Side One
All Shook Up (Presley/Blackwell) – 4:53
Spanish Boots (Beck/Stewart/Wood) – 3:35
Girl From Mill Valley (Hopkins) – 3:48
Jailhouse Rock (Leiber/Stoller) – 3:16
Side Two
Plynth (Water Down the Drain) (Hopkins/Stewart/Ron Wood) – 3:07
The Hangman's Knee (Hopkins/Stewart/Ron Wood) – 4:48
Rice Pudding (Hopkins/Newman/Wood) – 7:28

I guess it's easy to see why Nicky Hopkins was credited as a band member, given that he has at least partial writing credit on 4 out of the 5 original songs here. It's interesting (to me at least) that both remakes included are of songs made famous by Elvis Presley.

Here are the liner notes from my vinyl LP (much briefer than those from Truth):
Today, with all the hard competition in the music business, it's almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So we haven't--

However, at the time this album was made, the accent was on heavy music. So sit back and listen and try and decide if you can find a small place in your heads for it.

This is certainly a "heavy" album, although the piano, while definitely rocking, prevents me from tagging this record as "metal" (which I've read elsewhere, much to my befuddlement). In fact, though, this album does lack somewhat in the variety of its predecessor (e.g., "Ol' Man River" and "Greensleeves"). However, what it captures the band doing, they are doing very well. My only real "complaint" is that the total running time is barely more than 30 minutes. While certainly not unheard of at the time, there was certainly room for at least an 8th song.

"All Shook Up" is done slower, and a whole lot heavier than the Elvis version, and Beck absolutely rips his guitar to shreds. "Spanish Boots" is heavy, and features stinging guitar. "Girl From Mill Valley" is an instrumental, and not surprisingly, as it was composed by Nicky Hopkins, is primarily a piano showcase. "Jailhouse Rock" is ultra-heavy. In fact, it seems heavier even than the other songs here. Interestingly, I'm not sure if that's because it truly is the heaviest song, or because it's just soooo much heavier than the Elvis version. With "All Shook Up", the tempo seems so noticeably slower that it's barely reminiscent of Elvis at all. "Jailhouse Rock" is instantly recognizable, albeit MUCH heavier, and Beck provides crazy-excellent guitar solos. The guy really is mind-boggling on guitar.

"Plynth (Water Down The Drain)" is yet another heavy tune, but with AMAZINGLY biting guitar runs. Beck's guitar seems almost a deadly weapon here. "The Hangman's Knee" is another great guitar masterpiece, and also a demonstration of how well-suited for rock Rod Stewart once was. "Rice Pudding" is a heavy instrumental, and a great closer for the album. Hopkins really tickles the ivory here--what an amazing talent! There's a guitar break near the end in which Beck seems to anticipate that great Joe Walsh intro to "Funk #49". I'm not saying Joe stole anything. Let me just say that I can hear the inspiration...Also, "Rice Pudding" has what might well be the single most abrupt ending to any song ever. It's as if the tape ran out. Hey, maybe that's why the whole album is barely more than 30 minutes...

Despite its brevity, this is a highly enjoyable listen for any fan of guitar rock. I think it's also an important document, especially coupled with Truth, that proves beyond a doubt that Led Zeppelin wasn't the only band playing heavier, blues-inpired rock. They were just the ones that held together long enough to reap the rewards. Speaking of "coupled with Truth", Epic Records did a vinyl re-release in the '80s that coupled Truth and Beck-Ola as a double-LP. That would be a great way to get both albums. I have no idea what the CD situation is (remastered? bonus tracks? Sorry, I didn't do the research this time).

Note: Tomorrow's album moves us from the year 1969 to 1970, but with a completely different artist, and it will represent an abrupt change in style, as compared to Truth and Beck-Ola.