All My Vinyl, part iii
Here, once again, is a chunk of my posts from the minds.com Vinyl Collector group for the past month or so. You post a picture of a record with some sort of comment, discussion ensues, and you wind up appreciating your own records more and learning about things you didn’t know about before. It works and I’ve been learning a lot.
I put a lot into this commentary, some of which verges on a kind of memoir at times. It’s because this stuff is quite important to me, not just as art objectively observed, but as an integral part of my experience of life, mile markers on “the journey,” sort of, corny as that may sound, and emblems of significant what’s-its in the, you know, stuff of the self. I don’t think I realized quite how much this was the case till I started writing about them in this way.
As to why I’m doing this aggregate, it’s so all this stuff is findable and doesn’t just disappear into the internet’s great, formless, non-indexed void. Minds.com is a good place for such things to live in this dystopic social media internet we have these days, because it doesn’t hide or censor anything, but even so it can be challenging to locate things a few weeks after they’ve been posted. Part one of this enterprise may be found here; part two is here.
If you want to join in on the fun, you’re quite welcome. Do it here.
And away we go…
Christopher Komeda — Music from the Motion Picture Rosemary’s Baby, Waxwork Records , WW002, 2014
I’m not a soundtrack collector, as a rule, but when I really love a film, or the music is exceptional (which tend to go together) I often do find I get a lot of out of listening to the music as music not just as “background.” From both sides. That’s the case with The Wicker Man, as I’ve mentioned here before, and it’s true of Rosemary’s Baby which is by almost every measure my favorite film. And the soundtrack, by the legendary Polish jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda is simply stunning.
Listening to it “disembodied” is quite interesting. The creepy bits are far more intense, but the surprising part is the whimsical quality of much of this incidental music, which is so skillfully used in the film that its presence is felt more than perceived. At least for me. I think it’s a work of genuine genius, quite apart from the film (which is also a work of genius.)
This is a rather elaborate and quite gorgeously mastered 2014 boutique release of the full soundtrack, on Waxwork Records, on frosted clear 180g vinyl with a heavy stock gatefold cover and an “art print” insert. The unusually informative liner notes, by Scott Bettencourt, say this:
“Although an LP of Rosemary’s Baby was released in 1968, it did not feature the actual music as recorded for the film. This album marks the original soundtrack’s premiere release on vinyl.”
This made me wonder what the original LP release consisted of, so I looked for it on YouTube and it’s true. The familiar stuff sounds like a lot of the same basic tracks but all fancied up. Not unpleasantly so, I have to say, but in comparison to the original soundtrack it comes off as rather kitschy, like swingin’ 60s lounge “bachelor pad” pastiche. Which, don’t get me wrong, I like. But of course I prefer the real thing, which simultaneously has more simplicity and depth.
There’s also an unexpected rock pop song that pops up on side B of the 1968 LP, which, if I’m construing the track listing correctly is called “Rosemary’s Party.” It’s not bad, very ’68, vocal heavy soft-psych LA sound, like a less druggy Strawberry Alarm Clock. Total surprise to me. Who was the band? Discogs is silent on this matter, and there’s no credit on the label of the LP either. Was this song written (performed?) by Komeda as well? I would be surprised. A bit of idle googling turned up nothing on this. Needless to say, I’m now in the market for the original soundtrack on Dot Records. (And while I’m at it with the Rosemary’s Baby questions, the main title song, called “Rosemary’s Lullaby” is sung “la la la” fashion by Mia Farrow in the film and on the soundtrack, but there are Komeda-composed lyrics. If a version with lyrics was ever recorded with Mia Farrow singing I haven’t been able to find it and I’d love to hear it.)
Krzysztof Komeda would no doubt have had a bright future ahead of him in America after the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, but as it happens in 1969 he suffered head injuries from a fall during a drunken ramble in the Hollywood hills — according to the liner notes his drunk friends picked him up but then kept dropping him and he died shortly thereafter. Probably needed some better friends. RIP, man. Your music lives on.
notes: Music from the Motion Picture, Waxwork Records 2014 on YouTube; discogs for 2014 release; original 1968 Dot Records “soundtrack” album on YouTube; discogs for 1968 release; Krzysztof Komeda on wikipedia; original post on minds.com.
The Kinks — Are the Village Green Preservation Society, Sanctuary Records, 50th Anniversary re-issue.
Learned about this from an Amazon email, a fiftieth anniversary re-issue of the Kinks’ Village Green album. The LP is a stereo remaster, and the mono mix is disc two of the CD set. I actually prefer the mono mixes, generally, but I’m not a CD guy, plus I already have the 3 CD version from a ways back with all the extras (which are totally worth it.) I don’t generally go for acquiring re-issues of records I already have, but I’m really considering it for this one because the 1968 Reprise pressing (RS 6327) that has been in my collection for some 40 years is the QUIETEST record I have ever heard, and it is rather hard on the ears when you turn it up loud enough to hear it. (Could have something to do with my being deaf as well.) It is a record I dearly love and I’d like to hear it loud and proper, just to see what it’s like. The Sgt. Pepper’s re-master was great and gave me a whole new appreciation of it. It’s hard to imagine loving the Village Green any more than I already do, but I guess we’ll see. (Hoping they’ll do Lola vs. Powerman next, because mine is cut to ribbons.)
[When I wrote this I didn’t realize it, but the mono LP appears to be included in the deluxe box set, which is cool but at $150 a bit out of my price range. I’m sure all the rich people will enjoy it a lot, though — ed.]
notes: original post on minds.
Johnny Moped — Cycladelic, Chiswick Records, WIK 8, 1978
Formed in Croydon, 1974, Johnny Moped (the name of the singer and the band) was a group of drunken louts whose style and attitude were ready-made for punk rock when it hit London a couple of years later. Though they were never able to turn this fortuitous congruence into big-time fame and fortune, for a couple of years there they embodied the quintessence of a certain, unquestionably significant, strain of punk rock (the drunken, sloppy, irreverent, deliberately obnoxious and un-hip “street” sort.) Three seven inches and an LP were released on Chiswick Records between ’77 and ’78 before the inevitable fizzle and fade. And the LP at least is a glorious, severely under-appreciated classic.
There’s an immediacy to the music, partly owing, I’m sure, to the fact that it was at all times just on the edge of falling apart. But the songs are fantastic, very catchy and well composed and it’s also possible that the shambolic aspect was a deliberate part of the art instead of solely accidental. There’s some terrific sliding-all-over-the-place guitar throughout, and a groove, a “feel”, that even now instantly evokes what made punk rock so exciting to people hearing it for the first time. (That’s a sensation that is rather hard to re-capture, but if this record doesn’t do it, I don’t know what would.)
This album was one of my early personal discoveries, in my collection because I collected Chiswick records. It was many years before I ever met anyone else who had heard of it, much less heard it. (Which I liked just fine.) “Groovy Ruby” was one of the first songs I was able to play well enough on the guitar to “perform” in the bedroom, for an audience of, well, me. Basically.
A couple more notable things about the LP. (a) There are parallel grooves on the beginning of side A, such that depending where you put down the stylus you either got track 1 “VD Boiler” or track 0 “The Mystery Track” (which just tells you “you’ve found the mystery track, now you’ve got to find the VD Boiler…”) Pretty cool. But Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief LP, which has three full “sides” owing to the same trick, had primed me for this. Such that when I realized, after picking up and setting down the needle over and over in search of more songs, that there was just one extra track and not in fact a whole additional side of hidden songs, I was profoundly disappointed. Also such that, the effect of all this past needle dropping is quite evident audibly on my copy to this day. (b) There is on the printed inner sleeve an elaborate, rather hard to construe band family tree (beginning with the Black Witch Climax Blues Band 1970) with almost as many band names as entries. It encompasses the Damned (because Ray Burns, who was to become Captain Sensible when he joined the Damned) was an early Johnny Moped member. It also includes Chrissie Hynde, who was briefly a member. It also includes, under the rubric “June 1976 (Jam Session)” this entry: “The Eric Burdon, vocals (fuck knows.)” I puzzled over this and other JM family tree anomalies long and hard in those lonely bedroom nights. Also puzzling was the Triumph of the Will Nuremberg scene of ranked German soldiers that was inexplicably the background photo of one of these sides, labelled “Diagram A: Turn of the Century.” The other side’s background is a bunch of orange dots, labeled “Diagram B: Feeling like a cosmic kraut.” What?
But truth be told that was just one of many, many mysterious things about punk rock, and the world in general, that I was simply unable to approach figuring out. (And still can’t, in many cases.) I’m sure I spent more effort worrying about it than they ever spent putting it together. And the idea that a 14 year old California nerd would have been looking at it at all with wide-eyed uncomprehending wonder would have struck them as preposterous, no doubt.
Finally, I am, I learn, as usual, quite out of the loop on Johnny Moped. Turns out there were reunion albums in 1990 and 2016, and some version of the band is still playing. (Don’t know why this should surprise me, of all people, but there you go.) And there is an actual full-length documentary film about the band from 2014: tagline, “the story of punk rock’s great lost legend.” Well, that sounds about right, and well worth watching if you, like me, are interested in that sort of thing. In the meantime, though check out Cycladelic. It still works.
notes: Johnny Moped — Cycladelic on YouTube; a band history write-up from Damaged Goods; discogs page for Cycladelic, which includes cover and inner sleeve art; and here’s the man himself, with his wife Brenda, softly singing “Darling Let’s Have Another Baby” in a Surrey pub, (with Slimy Toad strumming guitar) in 2007!
Magazine singles, Virgin Records, 1978–80: “Shot by Both Sides” / “My Mind Ain’t So Open” (VS 200); “Give Me Everything” / “I Love You, You Big Dummy” (VS 37); “A Song from Under the Floorboards” / “Twenty Years Ago” (VS 321); “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” / “The Book” (VS 328)
Howard Devoto left the Buzzcocks in early 1977 in pursuit of more avant-garde, “art rock” soundscapes and more experimental, less “traditional” pop music. Result: Magazine. Ironically, in hindsight, it’s pretty clear that Magazine was the more firmly situated within established contemporary art rock convention. This is the line that runs through Brian Ferry-Eno and Bowie-Eno and arguably on to Radiohead, a tradition that certainly loomed much larger and was arguably far less disruptive and “shock of the new” than the Buzzcocks’ deceptively ordinary punk pop iconoclasm proved to be in the end. And few would dispute that it is the Buzzcocks with the greater claim to pop immortality, for what that’s worth. So Buzzcocks win that award.
However, there’s a lot to love about Manchester’s darker, artsier, side. Certainly in the case of “Shot by Both Sides” vs. the Buzzcocks’ “Lipstick” (musically almost the same composition, but in lyrics and concept worlds away from each other) the dark drama and intrigue of the first eclipses the second, which lacks the first’s pretensions, but also its urgency and commitment. Both are semi-coherent dyspeptic metaphor-happy love songs, but one evokes the desperation of a Cold War thriller, while the other is merely the dreamy vaguely poetic internal monologue of an angst-ridden frustrated suitor. In this contest, the Cold War gets my attention, though Devoto and co. never managed a “Why Can’t I Touch It?”, much less a “What Do I Get?”
But, to be fair, he wasn’t trying to do that. And from “Shot by Both Sides” everything gets progressively more “progressive,” synthesizery, sludgy, burbling, tweaky, esoteric, dark, nihilistic, and menacing. “Prematurely post-punk” I guess you’d say, though, as intimated above, you could say that about Country Life or Low as well. It is music for dark moods, even through the wry and witty bits, which are frequent. But genuine flashes of pop brilliance regularly spark up through the intensity and squalor of the mood, mood music. “A Song from Under the Floorboards” demonstrates this quite literally, a simultaneous explication and example of it, which is a neat trick. And if you thought an effete English, post-punk, avant-garde auteur had no business messing with Sly and the Family Stone’s iconic “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again” well you may well be right, but the proof is in the grooves. Sly Stone, it turns out, could write some pretty swell post-punk avant garde lyrics when he put his mind to it, and Magazine’s minimalist palette of creepy and tweaky sounds certainly does take what was formerly the funk to a whole nother place.
I am a bit miffed to discover, pulling records for this photo, that my copy of the “Touch and Go” single, their second, seems to have disappeared. Or it’s misfiled which amounts to the same thing. It’s still a guitar band at this stage, with a lot less Eno-ishness in the mix, but with art rock hovering and threatening to break in at any moment, replete with Devoto’s signature morose, jaded-ironic poetry as lyrics. (The chorus at least sounds quite a bit like the Soft Boys to me, so much so that I used to them mixed up way back when, if you can believe that.) “Give Me Everything” is an impressive, eastern-tinged pop collage (way shorter than and more digestible than “Kashmir”) and it should have been a much bigger hit, plus there’s a thoroughly transformed Beefheart song on the flip.
But for me the crowning glory is “Rhythm of Cruelty”, one of my favorite singles and songs out of all the possible singles and songs. It’s frustratingly catchy (in the sense of being frustrating that the manifestly logical melodic riff has already been done and can’t be matched) and with lyrics that skirt the edges of obscurity but never go far enough off the canvas to leave the tantalizing portrait unrealized. “Because in my drunken stupor, I’ve got to admire your ingenuity, and I nod my head oh so wisely to the rhythm of your cruelty….” Yes, this is what love is, I knew it even before I had any experience in that area, and subsequent experience only confirmed it. And then there’s the absurd echo of the disembodied word “meantime”, plucked from the lyrics and used, contextless, as a backup vox motif… that shouldn’t work this well. I always wanted to cover this song, and who knows maybe I still will. It has played in my head continually since I first heard it ca. 1978. I much prefer the single version to the one on the Secondhand Daylight album. (Same with “Shot by Both Sides”.)
notes: Magazine — “Rhythm of Cruelty” single version; Magazine — “Rhythm of Cruelty” album version; Magazine — “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”; Magazine — “Shot by Both Sides” single version; Buzzcocks — “Lipstick”; Magazine — “Give Me Everything”; Magazine — “Touch and Go”.
The Hardy Boys — Here Come the Hardys, RCA Victor, LSP-4217, 1969
Even fellow Bubblegum fetishists tend to give this album pretty short shrift, for some reason, but it is one of my favorites. In Filmation’s Hardy Boys cartoon series, aired on Saturday morning for a single season in 1969, Frank and Joe Hardy and their bandmates Chubby, Wanda, and Pete were a rock and roll band that solved crimes in between the gigs they drove to in their way out, funky van.
The show was apparently intended to compete with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? which debuted in the same year. (Clearly, it didn’t compete very successfully.) The stories were based on actual, published Hardy Boys books, and the show followed the standard pattern of the TV music show aimed at juveniles: a bit of story culminating in a performance of a song (two songs per episode in the Hardy Boys, because the stories were rather light.)
And, as wikpedia puts it, “these songs were sold at stores on records and audio tapes.” Why yes, yes they were. And the band was basically a real — if “constructed” — band, whose members the cartoon images were obviously drawn to resemble. (I’m looking at you Chubby Morton.) Wanda Kay (real name Devon English, a classically trained pianist and Playboy bunny) was dead hot, both in live action and cartoon form, where they always showed her dancing from behind, though usually in silhouette.
Frank Hardy was LA session musician Reed Kailing, a member of the Grass Roots who toured with Badfinger in their final incarnation. And “Pete Jones”, believe it or not, was actually the great Robert Crowder of Art Ensemble of Chicago fame.
These songs are terrific, and I consider this album a neglected gem. It brings joy to my sad little world. And that ain’t hay. I don’t recognize any names from the song credits outside of Loizzo, who must be Gary Loizzo of the American Breed, on several of the songs. For me the highlights are “Namby Pamby”, “My Little Sweetpea”, “That’s That”, and especially “Those Country Girls”: “I was born in the city, but I’ve been around the world in my time, and if you’re looking for a girl who’s so pretty mister just drive across the county line, all them heifers there are US prime, and away little pony, there’s much more to life…” Also, the country girls are apparently “so masculine they are happy just to see a man alive…” So make it snappy, walk or drive or hitch a ride to any country side… Had I heard this song at the age of four, I’d probably suspect now it had warped me, like so many other such songs I got from cartoons. In fact, I got warped all on my own.
There’s a second Hardy Boys album called Wheels which I never got around to getting hold of, but it has some great songs on it as well, and if I ever seen one around I’ll probably snap it up. As I mentioned above, I never saw this show when it was on, though possibly I could have. I investigated it retrospectively after discovering the album in a bargain bin. I do have a great fondness for that style of far-out TV psychedelic animation, particularly on the musical segments. All the cartoons of my youth were like that, reflecting a real life psychedelic world that I’m very fond of as well. You can find episodes on youtube, and they have a kitschy charm, in small doses. But it’s the music that matters. I think it’s great.