The Beach Boys – All Summer Long

ARTIST: The Beach Boys          AllSummerLongCover

TITLE: All Summer Long

YEAR RELEASED: 1964

CHART ACTION: #4

SINGLES: I Get Around (#1 US, #7 UK), Don’t Worry Baby (#24 US), Little Honda (#65 US, #11 UK), Wendy (#11 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: All Summer Long, Hushabye, Don’t Back Down, The Girls on the Beach

LINEUP: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love. Hal Blaine elped with drums.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Finally, an album with minimal filler and time wasting, though there are still a couple of real filler tracks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This definitely is a summer album, with the perfect summer album opener (“I Get Around), one of the best motorcycle songs of the era (“Little Honda”), a beautiful, plaintive track (“Wendy”), and probably the best example of Brian Wilson’s falsetto (Don’t Back Down”)

The other tracks aren’t totally embarrassing. The surf instrumental by Carl Wilson is decent enough, and the song about drive-in movies is childish but harmless, and there is one that’s just recording studio chatter, but that’s easily skipped and it’s not cringeworthy.

What’s best is that Brian Wilson is soon becoming the consistent and memorable songwriter and arranger that we know him for. Good musical times were coming.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: During the brilliant “I Get Around”, Brian fired his dad as the manager.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Single mixes and alternate takes.

GRADE: B: Not many to skip or exile, finally.

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

ARTIST: Steely Dan                        Pretzel_Logic_album

TITLE: Pretzel Logic

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #8 US, #37 UK

SINGLES: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (#4 US, #58 UK), Pretzel Logic (#57 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Any Major Dude Will Tell You, East St. Louis Toodle-OO

LINEUP: Donald Fagan, Walter Becker, Jeff Baxter, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder – plus 15 other session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Third album from jazz-pop group finds the band become more of a duo + session musicians, and the songs are shorter and less jazzy.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Are shorter songs better? Well, they’re no doubt more commercially viable. Personally, while the set of songs put forward by Walter Becker and Donald Fagan are just as complicated and lyrically obtuse, for my ears I preferred their longer excursions.

That’s not to say that this isn’t chock full of great stuff. “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” may be the ultimate Steely Dan song, and the second side has all kinds of characters running in the lyrics. The playing is impeccable, of course, with barely a note out of place.

It seems to my ears that some of the songs could have had some more exploration, since there’s some interesting ideas put forward.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was the last album that the original group toured in support.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 

GRADE: A-: I do think that some songs should have been explored further, and some could have been saved for another day. That’s just me.

Steve Earle – Guitar Town

ARTIST: Steve Earle                              Guitartown

TITLE: Guitar Town

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: #89, #1 Country

SINGLES: Hillbilly Highway (#37 Country), Guitar Town (#7 Country), Someday (#28 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left

LINEUP: Steve Earle, Bucky Baxter, Richard Bennett, Ken Moore, Emory Gordy Jr., Harry Stinson. Reno Kling, Michael McAdam, Paul Franklin, John Barlow Jarvis, and Steve Nathan also pitched in.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from country singer-songwriter puts him directly in the spotlight as country fans look for something new.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Country music fans who wanted something more than just the latest country-pop dreck were enthused by this record, for good reason.

Earle’s songs and arrangements all had a strong retro-country feel, and his storytelling broke out of the sentimental goop and onto something that was real, and seemingly well-worn. The title track had a great line in “Got a two pack habit and a motel tan”, which really describes life on the road.

Country music with a rock attitude was nothing new, but it was dormant until Earle came on board (though Dwight Yoakam was close). This record helped alt-country be a thing, for real.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had released some singles before this album, but they barely charted, if that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A bonus track from a live show.

GRADE: A: For the songs, and the attitude.

Daft Punk – Homework

ARTIST: Daft Punk                          220px-Daftpunk-homework

TITLE: Homework

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION: #150 US, #8 UK

SINGLES: Da Funk (#108 US, #1 Dance, #5 UK), Around the World (# 61 US, #1 Dance, #5 UK), Burnin’ (#30 UK), Revolution 909 (#12 Dance, #47 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No,

LINEUP: Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After two singles, French electronic duo sings major label contract, but retains control and produces a world-wide dance smash.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A good beat, a funky bass, and a fantastic hook played over and over and over again, with electronic snippets and samples here and there and everywhere. That’s the recipe for this album, or so it seems.

The duo had made some waves with their singles on Soma, which appear here in some form or another. “Da Funk” got them noticed everywhere, and the followup “Around the World”, which basically writes the Daft Punk formula (including repetitive vocals singing repetitive phrases).

Find the hook, lock into it, make it funky and danceable, and the rest will follow. It works for them. As an album, it gets a bit tiresome but flip on a track in a mix, and you’ll be good to go.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Indo Silver Club” was actually released as a single on the Soma label, with no artist credit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: Worth it for grabbing tracks here or there.

Steve Miller Band – Sailor

ARTIST: Steve Miller Band                                   220px-SailorMiller

TITLE: Sailor

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #24

SINGLES: Living in the USA (#94)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Quicksilver Girl, Gangster of Love

LINEUP: Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Lonnie Turner, Jim Peterman, Tim Davis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from the Miller group has a couple three songs that have lasted, and a couple that really date it.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Miller loves the blues, and his choice of covers here (songs by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Jimmy Reed) prove that. The hit from this album, “Living in the USA” has definite blues / rock elements and sounds like a celebration that the Beach Boys could have used about that time.

Yet, this is 1968, and they were from Frisco, so we were ‘treated’ to “Song for our Ancestors”, which I’ve never understood the appeal of (and I can be swayed by a lot of weird hippie stuff) and by the time it gets into a slow organ-driven jam I’m lost. It bores me, and then it goes into “Dear Mary”, which is soft, sweet song that doesn’t rouse the listener either. The rest of the album is good to great, but I’m defeated by the opening track and asleep with track two. Sequencing, folks!

Boz Scaggs’ has two songs and co-writes a third, and drummer Davis and keyboardist Peterman write and sing one as well. But that band autonomy didn’t result in a band that held together, as 40% of this band wouldn’t make it to 1969 with Miller.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, “Gangster of Love” is here, and it’s a short snipped that almost seems like a joke but the title somehow got pegged on Miller (instead of Watson).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-: This got a lot of raves in 1968, but maybe they were OK with an album opening with fog horns and other sounds for almost two minutes.

The Helio Sequence – Love and Distance

ARTIST: The Helio Sequence       Love_and_Distance

TITLE: Love and Distance

YEAR RELEASED: 2004

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Doubt it

LINEUP: Brandon Summers, Benjamin Weikel

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Third album (first one that’s still streaming) by the electronics / drum / guitar duo doesn’t dazzle.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s some things to like about this third record by the Helio Sequence. To be sure, they know their way around poppy melodies, and atmospheric elements in guitar and keyboards. “Repeater”, the second song on the disc (not a Fugazi cover, chumps) gets things off to a decent start.

Yet, something’s missing. Not a lot, but something. Maybe it’s the dynamic quality and same-sameness of the songs as you reach the middle and the end. The band also kind of locks into a tempo that’s slower than you like, as if speeding up would be a bad thing – and this tempo keeps going on to many songs.

It sounds nice, it’s just…it’s there. You can nap to it, despite the electronic trickery, and that may not be the best thing.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They had two albums on a very small label before this one.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-: It’s not bad…just blah at times.

James Brown – The Singles Vol. 4: 1966-1967

ARTIST: James Brown                                 brown vol 4

TITLE: James Brown: The Singles Vol. 4: 1966-1967

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #None

SINGLES: Charting: Ain’t That a Groove (#42, #6 R&B), It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World (#8, #1 R&B), Money Won’t Change You (#53, #16 R&B), Don’t Be a Dropout (#50, #4 R&B), Bring It Up (#29, #7 R&B), Kansas City (#55, #21 R&B), Think (#100 ), Let Yourself Go (#46, #5 R&B), Cold Sweat (#7, #1 R&B), Get It Together (#40, #11 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: He covers The Christmas Song, I Loves You Porgy, and Mona Lisa

LINEUP: James Brown, the Fabulous Flames, and his band.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A productive period for Brown, though there’s still a lot of fluff with some instrumental singles released from his ill-fated dalliance with Smash Records.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: James Brown, ahead of his time. “Bring It Up” has a parenthesis “Hipster’s Avenue” on occasion. (Hipster). He encouraged kids to stay in school. “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is actually a song praising women. There’s proto-funk workouts in “Money Won’t Change You” and “Get It Together”, all culminating in “Cold Sweat”, which is a signature song, and kicked Brown off into the stratosphere in pop culture.

You can hear the evolution of tracks here. “Let Yourself Go” is a bridge leading toward “Cold Sweat”. His band callouts on several long tracks lead to later tracks where he just vamps and calls out for solos. A cut like “Stone Fox” is a guitar workout that was rare in soul circles.

The flaws here are some of the organ-based instrumentals left over from Smash Records, and his attempts (well meaning but flawed) at singing standards. The instrumentals don’t add much to his legacy, and he’s not a traditional singer. Still, even with those, this is primo stuff.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: A couple of cuts are credited to the James Brown Dancers. OK, then.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A-: Sprawling, but exciting and the high points are definite touchstones in music history.

The Who – Magic Bus: The Who on Tour

ARTIST: The Who                         220px-Who_bus

TITLE: Magic Bus: The Who on Tour

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #39

SINGLES: Magic Bus (#25 US, #26 UK), Call Me Lightning (#40 US), Pictures of Lily (#51 US, #4 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Yeah, because some of these tracks were on other albums, too.

LINEUP: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A cash grab by the US record company, and basically disavowed by the band. BUT, there’s one track that’s totally missing online. And despite the title, it’s NOT live, at all. Yeesh.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Even after the Beatles’ album successes, bands didn’t have control over what their record companies did with their tracks. Decca Records thought that with the success of the single “Magic Bus”, the Who needed a new album.

So they took B-sides, non album A-sides, EP tracks, and three songs from previous albums, and, there’s an 11 track album for the shelves. Never mind the continuity, and that the songs were up to three years old. PRODUCT MAN, PRODUCT!

The songs are pretty great for the most part, and John Entwistle got three tracks here (he was the B-side master of the Who), but there’s no flow, continuity, or purpose except dough for Decca.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One song, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, isn’t streaming and not on any US or UK anthologies. It was the B-side to “Magic Bus” in the UK. Did they forget it?

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 

GRADE: D+: The songs would be a B+ or so, but, even 50 years later, I can’t abide by the profiteering here. These tracks (save one) are found in much better collections and albums.

The Soft Machine – The Soft Machine

ARTIST: The Soft Machine                        The_Soft_Machine-album

TITLE: The Soft Machine

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: No

SINGLES: Joy of a Toy

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, not even if you were a hippie in 1968

LINEUP: Kevin Ayres, Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge. Hugh Hopper was on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A combo of psychedelic rock and jazz (that would evolve into fusion) that was more inspirational than commercial.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Part of the underground scene from Canterbury (the same area that produced Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd), Soft Machine used the jazzy instrumental chops, plus Kevin Ayres and Robert Wyatt’s odd songs and vocals that at times can go into trances with their repeating phrases, to create a unique sound.

This is rather much an outlier in the Soft Machine catalog, but it was probably truer to the original vision of the band. There was more of a focus on songs, even if odd and unnverving, and they definitely sound like a band honed in the same psychedelic clubs as their more famous brethren bands.

Ratledge’s organ and Wyatt’s drums carry the tracks, with Ayers’ bass anchoring it all. These guys can play, it’s just an odd record out of context from the scene. Still, worth hearing for sure.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, the band was a quartet with Daevid Allen (later of Gong, which, well, is their own trip, man), but Allen, a Australian, was denied entry back into the UK after a series of shows in Paris. So he stayed in France.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A recent version has their first single appended.

GRADE: A- There’s so many intriguing things about this album, yet it’s quite dated.

Journey – Infinity

ARTIST: Journey                         Journey_Infinity

TITLE: Infinity

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION: #21

SINGLES: Wheel In the Sky (#57), Anytime (#83), Lights (#68)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Feeling That Way

LINEUP: Neil Schon, Ross Valory, Gregg Rolie, Aynsley Dunbar, Steve Perry

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After three flop albums, Journey goes to plan B (actually B2), and scores on mainstream album rock radio and in concert.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Thanks to record companies with patience, a connected manager, and some fast talking, Journey survived after three bum albums and changed direction. Gone were the prog rock excursions, in were tight song structures. They gave room for Rolie and Schon to do their thing, (“Winds of March”) but in a concise way.

This focus on songs made all the difference. I’m not 100% convinced that Rolie couldn’t have handled the vocals like he did before, but Steve Perry’s voice is distinctive AND he brought a pop songwriting ear to the band. This album has four Journey classics – the ones that you still crank up on the radio (though two, “Feeling That Way” and “Anytime” are practically linked together and radio plays them that way).

There’s filler, of course. But this is heads and shoulders better than their other work, and only obstinate contrarians will disagree.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Robert Fleischman was the first vocalist they tried, and he co-wrote “Wheel in the Sky” and another track, but he fell out with management and Perry was hired.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B: The filler’s just there, but it’s better filler. The high points are definite “A” AOR material.