All My Vinyl Part 2
What we have here is my posts from the minds.com Vinyl Collector group for the past month or so. The basic idea is, you post a picture of an item from your record collection 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! I’ve been learning a lot, particularly from founding member Norm Bauer who has a great collection of 70s heavy roots-of-heavy-metal obscurities. Come on over and join if you like, it’s great fun.
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.
If you want to join in on the fun, you’re quite welcome. Do it here.
Atomic Rooster — Devil’s Answer: the Singles Collection, Earmark, 41052, 2006
Just as a kind of follow-up to Norm Bauer’s recent post on Atomic Rooster, here’s a box set of the AR 1970s singles, on the Italian Earmark label.
I acquired it when searching for a copy of the original version of the song “Devil’s Answer”. The song, originally released as a single only in the UK, was added to the US release of the In Hearing of… album, but that version has dubbed-in vox by new singer Pete French. French was a dynamic vocalist, but I vastly prefer the original, whose more prosaic, understated delivery (from John Du Cann but “ganged up” in the recording) gives it a darker, and I think more convincingly devilish, tone and feel.
“Devil’s Answer” aside, all this material is top notch, and as good a way as any to sample the largely uncategorizable greatness of the this under-recognized band. The first five singles take you on a journey, two years in the life of the band (1970–72) but covering lots of territory. The post-psych hard rock grows ever more funky and “heavy soul” tinged, with an increasing art rock orchestral “prog” edge as well — and in fact the fifth A-side, “Save Me”, is a much heavier more soul-ified re-recording of the first, “Friday the 13th.” The sixth 7", curiously credited to Crane / Farlow [sic] but whose tracks appear on the final AR album of the 70s Nice ’n’ Greasy, consists of introspective, moody, heavily orchestrated and piano-driven tracks that sound like an elegiac coda to what had come before. “Can’t Find a Reason” is grimly affecting, the flip (“Moods”) a rather beautiful mostly-solo piano workout with a swelling of that characteristic rough-yet-understated AR funk just near the end. The band would return in the 80s (which is a whole ‘nother story) but this sure sounds like the end. Of something.
Ethel the Frog — Ethel the Frog, EMI, EMC 3329, 1980
Sometimes you stumble on a record that might have been tailor-made for you, and while Ethel the Frog may not make anyone’s top ten greatest albums of all time list, it certainly ticked a lot of my boxes and still does. The obscure Monty Python referencing name, the surprisingly effective, out-of-left-field cover of “Eleanor Rigby”, the low-key production that evokes the garage more than the studio or the stadium — I have loved this record dearly, while acknowledging its arguable flaws, ever since the above-mentioned stumbling. It was the Monty Python reference that did it, mostly, plus the hard-to-construe, kinda sexy cover that did it too. (In both cases, it didn’t take much.)
Hull’s Ethel the Frog was formed in 1976, and was an obscure but notable “node” in what would come to be known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Like many such groups, they labored in squalid, sweaty obscurity, surfaced briefly to emit a single, an album, and a compilation track, before a quick disintegration and dissolution into the ether. The “Eleanor Rigby” single was self-released (in 1978), instantly becoming a collectors’ item because of novelty and scarcity The following LP released on EMI in 1980 on the strength of this success was probably bought by most mainly on the basis of this opening track. While the rest of the album is uneven, it does have its moments, and includes some great double leads and satisfying rock and roll energy. The relatively low-fi production lends a dark tone to the proceedings. It also arguably makes the complexity of some of the arrangements more impressive. You can really hear the real band behind the noise. It’s only rock and roll, but… well you know…
Despite a lot of prominent stylistic elements associated with the genre as it later came to be understood, I dare say many will struggle to hear the “metal” here. This band is arguably in the line that descends from, say, Budgie, rather than Judas Priest, one that didn’t leave quite as much of a mark. A big budget record and a twist of fate could well have changed all that, you never know, but it didn’t. I’m glad Ethel the Frog left a trace. Even if it doesn’t quite melt my face, it’s something I enjoy immensely. Check it out, maybe you’ll agree.
The Celibate Rifles — Quintessentially Yours, What Goes On / Hot Records, RIFLE 1,1983
Metal certainly thrived, but everywhere else, the 1980s was a tough time for rock and roll. Punk rock had degenerated into non-rolling un-rocking hardcore, while engineers cut the guts out of the bass, all but hid the kick drum, and tried as hard as they could to make the reverb washing off the snare the only audible thing in their robot-rhythmed mixes. Basically you can’t have rock and roll without good drums, and hardly anyone had good drums in the 80s.
But the Australians at least, God bless ’em, did what they could to keep the rock and roll flame burning, and none burned hotter or brighter in these dark times than Sydney’s Celibate Rifles. Named as an “antonym” to the Sex Pistols (get it?) and effectively reanimating the still-twitching Radio Birdman corpse and turning up all the knobs, these guys were everything rock and roll can and should be. This record is a compilation of songs from their great debut 1982 ep and the peppiest songs from their similarly excellent first album Sideroxylon. The energy and exuberance (and the perfection of the guitar playing, which does absolutely everything you could wish for in guitar playing) is irresistible. (I haven’t listened to this record in at least fifteen years or so, I’d guess, and it is doing the same thing to me now that it did back when I first heard it.) They would move on to bigger, heavier, deeper, and more complex things and a very substantial, significant discography of genuinely “important” material. But there’s something extra special about this uninhibited, totally fun burst of energy, especially when it comes out at you out of nowhere. Also, it’s the first thing I heard from them.
This band had a big impact on my own band in our formative years, all the way back in 1986. At a time when no real club would allow us within shouting distance they, in the midst a California stop in their years-long, never-ending world tour, strong-armed the Berkeley Square into letting us open for them. (It may surprise people who went to the Berkeley Square to hear this, but this was the height of show business to us, something I never imagined could ever happen. There was a stage. There was a PA. There was a sound guy. I felt very out of place, I have to tell you.) The Celibate Rifles knew about us because they had heard our self-released LP, or rather at least one song off it, “Danny Partridge.” I can still hear them all saying the title in those Australian accents — if you know an Aussie, ask him to say “Danny Partridge” it sounds charming as anything. I was bowled over that anyone from far enough away to have a different accent from mine would have heard one of our songs, but that is what happened.
Subsequently, I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with guitarist Kent Steedman, a great “bloke” and a phenomenal guitar player. He was the first genuinely great guitar player I ever knew in person. He produced our second album and introduced me to the wonders of the Epiphone Coronet. He introduced me to a whole of other things too, but that another story. So, yeah, I’m grateful for this band and everything they did for me. I haven’t been in contact with them for ages — you know how it is — but the music really, really holds up, which you can’t say about everything on this earth. Check it out and see if you agree.
The Wicker Man, Original Soundtrack Album — Music on Vinyl, MOVLP063, 1973 1998 2002 2010
I would guess that most people of my generation in America became aware of this 1973 film when it “toured” with Led Zeppelin’s Song Remains the Same in 1976 as the opening act of a double bill at midnight shows and art house cinemas in 1976. That’s how it was with me. And it blew my mind, eclipsing the Led Zep almost completely, and casting quite a long shadow over my subsequent life. I probably wouldn’t have discovered the Pentangle, Bert Jansch, or, indeed, the Ensemble PAN were it not for this movie. It’s still one of my favorite films and I watch it every year around this time, because, you know, tradition.
A lot of the film’s appeal is the soundtrack, which includes full songs in the folk-traditional-pagan mode (written and adapted by Paul Giovanni and performed by an ad hoc group of English folkies named Magnet for the purpose of this recording.) It evokes a mood quite unlike any other. Some of the most memorable scenes of the film are simply visual montages to accompany these songs, sort of like “music videos”. In fact, you could look at this film as a “musical.” The incidental music is also by turns creepy, beautiful, and ugly — and unique. There has never been a film, or a film soundtrack, anything like it.
My copy is a 2010 limited 180g vinyl re-issue of the 2002 stereo revamp of a 1998 mono double LP dub (which was missing an entire song and bits of another because it was based on a short cut of the film.) The proper songs are on side A, a selection of the incidental music is on the flip. I prefer the songs, but I find myself unexpectedly drawn to the incidental side as well. There’s just something about it. Whoever mastered this did a fantastic job. It is among the most “present” recordings of its kind that I know of.
The Wombles — Remember You’re a Womble, Columbia, KC 33140, 1974
The Wombles originated as a children’s books series by Elisabeth Beresford about litter-recycling creatures in Wimbledon Common, and was turned into a children’s TV show by the BBC, roughly analogous, I’d guess, to the Banana Splits over here. They were turned into a musical group by Mike Batt, a genuine genius, with an assist from famed session guitarist and early punk rock fellow-traveller Chris Spedding. Beginning with the theme song, one of the greatest art rock singles ever produced, they went on to record several brilliant singles and albums of amazing songs.
I really mean it when I say genius. Much great pop music has been created for children’s TV (the Archies, Banana Splits, the Monkees, etc.) but never with such single-minded, consistent, over-arching brilliance and auteur-ship. The Wombles records are among the great works of art pop, psych-tinged with scrupulously-composed songs arranged and produced with spectacular artistry and inventiveness, encompassing a wide variety of modes and styles. I’d put these albums up against just about any art rock/pop production I can think of, Sgt Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, etc., you name it. I’m totally serious about that. Mike Batt played Orinoco (vox / keys), while Spedding was Wellington on lead guitar. I love a band in animal suits anyway, but this was by far the best of them.
Anyway, I cherish these records and these songs more than just about anything. Unfortunately, the present copy is the American release, a compilation of songs from the first two Wombles albums. This leaves out a lot of great songs! However, I have never found affordable copies, with shipping, of the UK LPs over here. They are quite plentiful and cheap in the UK, and when I lived in London years ago picking them up to bring back was an item on the “to do” list that I never wound up, er, doing. Still, it’s great stuff however you slice it.
notes: “The Wombling Song” (TV / single version); TV show outro including “The Wombling Song” (which is a genius mix); “Remember You’re a Womble” on Top of the Pops; Wombling Songs (first album); Remember You’re a Womble (second album); original post on minds.com.
Rufus Harley — King/Queens, Atlantic Records, SD 1539, 1970
A UNIVERSAL ONENESS AND THERE AIN’T BUT ONE THING GOING ON, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS DIG IT
The first (only?) jazz bagpipe player in the world, Rufus Harley made several strange, surreal, and, by my lights, utterly charming records beginning in the mid-60s. One of music’s great originals, he reputedly decided to take up the instrument after seeing the Royal Scots Regiment’s Black Watch in JFK’s funeral procession. He regularly performed in kilt and tartan (though occasionally with a horned Viking helmet.)
It is arguable that 1966’s Scotch and Soul is the best of his albums, but I am immensely fond of King/Queens, his fourth album, because it’s the first one I ever heard. The cover of the Association’s “Windy” is guaranteed to shift my mood in an upward direction whenever needed. I used to play it frequently on my radio show in college, during which I was frequently in need of uplifting, and it never failed. As it did not fail just now.
I will leave you with a quote from the lengthy King/Queens liner notes by RH himself (whose title is the subtitle of this post):
The bagpipes date back to the beginning of time, thousands of years before the prophet Christ. They are known to be just as old as the drum, and are the father of the modern day organ. Music and art go back to Iraq and Iran. All nationalities have had some cultural use of bagpipes. Egyptian tombs that date back to the early sixth century have been opened recently, and bagpipes were found inside, with the mummies. During the early Crusades, bagpipes were adapted by quite a few cultures. They are still used in Africa and India today. Certain tribes in Africa use them in different chants and modes. The Scottish have made the instrument their national symbol.
“How does this relate to our universal oneness? Everything in the universe is in our very existence. Our existence is universal, whether it is right or wrong. Everything is one. This is what the bagpipes present. A oneness — a tonal chord that is always heard in the background — which represents universal oneness. It is a carbon copy or an extended interpretation of our existence. In other words, when blowing up the bag, it is like blowing life into a newborn baby, and waiting for a certain period of time before it becomes alive and maintains its own sustained existence…”
Words to live by from a man who truly loved his pipes.
notes: There is no YouTube post of the entire King/Queens album, though some individual tracks may be found. Here’s “Windy”; lots of great stuff in this “top tracks” playlist, from a variety of sources; original post on minds.com.