Month: July 2016

Randy Newman – Sail Away

ARTIST: Randy Newman        Randy_Newman-Sail_Away_(album_cover)

TITLE:  Sail Away

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #163

SINGLES: Sail Away

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Political Science, You Can Leave Your Hat On, God’s Son, Lonely at the Top, Burn On

LINEUP: Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Russ Titelman, session bassists and drummers (the best LA had in 1971)

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A full album of Newman’s sardonic, wry observations about society past and present (for 1972). It sounds like his Pixar stuff, except its biting.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Songs about the slave trade, nuclear war, God’s reaction to the state of the world, that time a river caught on fire, love, family a song about celebrity written for Frank Sinatra, and sex. That’s a full plate for any songwriter in his career, and this is just one album from Newman.

He was really hitting his stride. Some of these songs had been recorded by others, but Newman’s own interpretations here give them more poignancy. You listen to this record, and you think, “I’ve heard this,” and you probably have. Even then, Newman’s songs were used for movies because they fit so well. The best known song, “You Can Leave Your Hat On” was kind of an afterthought until Joe Cocker recorded it in 1986. Then, it was put in 9 ½ weeks, and well, now everyone knows the darn thing!

The title cut is about a slave trader trying to attract Africans to come to America. The closer is God talking about how he loves us because he does all of these shitty things to us and we still love him back. In between, there’s a whole gamut of topics, all narrated by Newman in his nasal, breathy tone.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Frank Sinatra never recorded “Lonely at the Top”, unfortunately.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some demos for the album.

GRADE: A+: I can’t speak ill of any track here. Not a one.

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Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

ARTIST: Vampire Weekend                      VampireWeekendCD2

TITLE:  Vampire Weekend

YEAR RELEASED: 2008

CHART ACTION: #17 US, #15 UK

SINGLES: Mansard Roof, A-Punk (#25 Alternative, #55 UK), Oxford Comma (#38 UK), Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (#168 UK), The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: That was almost half of the album there.

LINEUP: Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batamanglij, Chris Baio, Christopher Tomson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First album from NYC hipster-indie band is melodic, worldly, but smug at times.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Vampire Weekend blended together influences from around the world in making their debut album, especially on songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”. Their songs are mostly melodic and catchy, and they use a variety of sounds and instruments to accent their simple tunes. The strings on some songs, like “M79”, fit well.

Yet….and it’s a big yet….many times I find myself an outsider listening to this. I’m not a hipster from NY who can afford to go to Cape Cod or lounge around in the Hamptons. I love the Oxford Comma, but not enough to write a song pro or con. Some of this album seems rife with East Coast privilege.

So plus for a great, catchy debut, but sometimes it leaves me cold, being a non-moneyed Midwesterner / Pacific Northwesterner.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The hype! My goodness, things were bandied about like “best album (or song) of the decade, or of the last five years” or things like that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Bonus tracks in Japan.

GRADE: B+: I like most of it, and can take it in somewhat smaller doses than others, though.

The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night

ARTIST: The Beatles                                 HardDayUK

TITLE:  A Hard Day’s Night

YEAR RELEASED: 1964

CHART ACTION: #1 UK (A US version hit #1 as well, but it was chopped up to heck)

SINGLES: Can’t Buy Me Love (#1 US, #1 UK), A Hard Day’s Night (#1 US, #1 UK), I’ll Cry Instead (#25 US), And I Love Her (#12 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: If I Fell (#53 US as a B-side), Things We Said Today, I’ll Be Back, You Can’t Do That (#48 as a B-side), maybe all of it?

LINEUP: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Beatles’ machine cranks out an album for their movie, and in doing so move forward in songwriting and instrumentation.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Beatlemania is going strong in the UK and had just started in the US when news came that they were going to star in their own movie. With the movie, of course, there had to be an album.

What the Beatles delivered were 13 tracks of stellar rock-and-roll, showing sophistication, an expanded musical palette, and starring George Harrison’s 12-string electric guitar. That last feature got all of the US musician’s head spinning with possibilities. It may be one of the most important musical instrument choices in rock history.

All thirteen songs could have been singles, hits, smashes, you name it. The first side of the UK release were the ones featured in the movie. The second side, though had outstanding cuts like “I’ll Cry Instead”, “You Can’t Do That”, “I’ll Be Back” and “Things We Said Today”. It’s hard to fathom an act with the depth of songs that those four were just ‘leftovers’ as it were, since they weren’t in the movie.

This is the first Beatles’ album without covers, and every song is a Lennon / McCartney song. It’s John’s album in reality. Nine of the thirteen cuts have him singing or co-singing lead, with Paul netting three and George one. Because of that, there wasn’t a lot of fluff, mostly rock-and-roll.us hard days night

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In the US, we got half of the album and the other tracks were filled up with the orchestral pieces conducted by George Martin. Kind of a rip-off, really. But the cover was neat.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A: It’s a short album with no filler and fantastic rock songs.

BB King – The Great BB King

ARTIST: BB King                  MI0000496046

TITLE:  The Great BB King

YEAR RELEASED: 1960

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Sweet Sixteen (#2 R&B), Sneaking Around (#14 R&B), Ten Long Years (#9 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Whole Lotta Love

LINEUP: BB King and his sidemen and orchestra.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A record company production of various singles, B-sides and tracks recorded over a three or so year period of time. Don’t let that fool ya.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s not as if BB King came into the studio with cutting albums on his mind. He recorded sides, tracks, masters, whatever you wanna call ‘em, and poured what he had in every take. Some were hits, and when there was a good quantity around his record company packaged a few together and called it an album.

Sometimes the records are minor, and sometimes, like this one, are packed with great tracks. Starting off with “Sweet Sixteen”, a huge R&B hit (and not the Chuck Berry song), these 10 tracks are classic King. There’s a horn section, but it’s not as obtrusive as on some cuts (it’s prominent on “Sneakin’ Around” though, and King’s voice is sweeter than normal.

What does stand out is King’s work with his guitar. On these cuts, his playing shines. There are some interesting twists, like “Someday Somewhere” with vibes being put forward along with guitar and horn section, adding a kind of spooky touch.

King’s good nature also shines. You can tell he’s having a great time in the studio with his band, his songs and his guitar.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There was an album of spirituals that I skipped.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few unreleased cuts and a couple of minor singles..

GRADE: A-: Yeah, the blues. One of the BB King records that casual fans should have.

 

Todd Rundgren – Something / Anything

ARTIST: Todd Rundgren         220px-Somethinganythingcover

TITLE:  Something / Anything

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #29

SINGLES: I Saw the Light (#16 US, #36 UK), Could I Just Tell You (#93 US), Hello, It’s Me (#5 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference, Wolfman Jack, Slut

LINEUP: Todd Rundgren solo on sides 1-3, Rundgren with help from people like Rick Derringer, Randy Brecker, Mike Brecker, Vicki Robinson, Amos Garrett, Billy Mundi, Ben Keith, Toby Sales, Hunt Sales and more on side 4.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Long, sprawling double album that shows off Rundgren’s prowess as a musician, songwriter and producers.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This record is probably the best showcase for all sides of Todd Rundgren. For most of the album, he played, sang and produced everything all by himself. He learned the drums and bass just for this record and recorded some experiments at home on a VCS3 synth.

His sense of melody and his knack for hits is evident in “I Saw the Light”, but throughout the rest of the album, the songs are rich and dense, and the hooks and melodies sneak up on you as there’s layer after layer to unpack.

Side four was kind of a loose jam after he relocated from LA to NY thanks to an earthquake. He had too many tracks for a single record, so most all of side four he just set up shop, had people come in, and they learned the song and recorded it quickly. In contrast to the tightly wound and produced first ¾ of it, side four is like a refresher. It also contained “Hello, It’s Me”, the big hit and a remake of an old Nazz song.

The only notes I have is that it’s a long slog, and some of the songs on Side 2 and 3 tend to go on a bit long and get caught in overproduction. Still, listening to this gives you great appreciation of Rundgren, and of course the fact that almost all of the tunes are top notch helps.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The song “Wolfman Jack” was released two years later as a single in a version with the Wolfman himself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A: A great exercise in songwriting and production, and a primer on how to use a studio for the best possible effect.

NRBQ – Scraps

ARTIST: NRBQ                    220px-NRBQ_-_Scraps

TITLE:  Scraps

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Working, Ain’t It All Right

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah

LINEUP: Terry Adams, Joe Spampinato, Al Anderson, Tom Staley, Frank Gadler and guests.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Great, loose rock album from a band that was just starting their long career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Already, NRBQ had released an album that bombed, and another backing Carl Perkins. They switched companies and released this affair in 1972 that was loose and fun.

Songs like “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Working” and “Who Put the Garden in the Glue” give you an idea that this isn’t serious rock-and-roll. It’s just supposed to be fun. It is – at times it may be a bit too whimsical, but it’s a decent record that didn’t catch on the with the public (none of their records really have, unfortunately).

The playing is fine and everyone’s in good spirits. It’s a decent way to while away forty minutes.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Gadler really had left the band, but Anderson couldn’t sing on the album due to contractual obligations.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Three extra outtakes are appended.

GRADE: B: It’s fun and freewheeling. Good time rock-and-roll is found here.

Free – Tons of Sobs

ARTIST: Free                                                                220px-Tons_Of_Sobs

TITLE:  Tons of Sobs

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #197

SINGLES: Walk in My Shadow

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Hunter

LINEUP: Andy Fraser, Simon Kirke, Paul Kossoff, Paul Rodgers.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First record for the English band that was more blues-rock than any of their later output.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Free’s career started off as more of a traditional British blues-rock band, and this first album is dominated mainly by Paul Kossoff’s guitar, and more of a blues feel than any of their later outputs (not that Kossoff was sidelined by any means…)

This record was mainly a look at their live set, and except for the gentle ballad by Rodgers that opens and closes the record, is mostly unadorned blues rock. Unlike later records, Rodgers wrote solo for the most part and while he’s no lyricist, really, the tunes are decent enough.

Produced for under $1,000 by Guy Stevens, this has a raw feel. It’s decent and enjoyable, and Rodgers’ voice and Kossoff’s guitar are the stalwarts here.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were young. Phillips was just 16 and the rest under 20.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: BBC sessions and outtakes

GRADE: B-: Fans of Free, Rodgers and those who really want to explore Kossoff’s work will find this up their alley.

Bob Marley & the Wailers – The Best of the Wailers

ARTIST: Bob Marley & the Wailers           220px-TheWailers-TheBestOfTheWailers

TITLE:  The Best of the Wailers

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #78 US, #12 R&B, #3 UK

SINGLES: Soul Shakedown Party, Stop the Train, Soon Come

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Go Tell It on the Mountain

LINEUP: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingstone with Gladstone Anderson, Winston Wright, Hux Brown, Aston Barrett and Carlton Barrett.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Not a greatest hits collection, but a solid album of songs recorded for producer Leslie Kong in Jamaica.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Two years after this album, the music world all over the globe would hear Bob Marley & the Wailers in their full glory, but this album, full of songs recorded over a two year period, set the stage for that success.

The sound is direct and joyful, with the Wailers singing and harmonizing through songs that they’ve had in their repertoire for years. “Soul Shakedown Party”, the lead cut, is a definite anthem. The backing by Gladdy Anderson’s All Stars was spot on, highlighting and complementing the vocalists and providing the rhythm and feeling needed.

Leslie Kong was a great producer, but soon the Wailers moved on to Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Kong’s work schedule got the best of him. He died a week after he released this, and this may be a great epitaph for him.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: A reason the band left Kong was that they didn’t like the title of the album, though Kong thought this was the best they would ever do. It really was the best album Kong produced.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of re-mixes (called Version in Jamaica).

GRADE: A-: A fantastic insight of the Wailers before they made it big, with some great songs that are relatively unknown.

Cheap Trick – In Color

ARTIST: Cheap Trick                220px-Cheap_Trick_In_Color

TITLE:  In Color

YEAR RELEASED: 1977

CHART ACTION: #73

SINGLES: I Want You to Want Me, Southern Girls

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Downed, Clock Strikes Ten

LINEUP: Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, Bun E. Carlos

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Illinois power-pop rocking band makes a commercial play. The album is fantastic, and it’s a breakout…in Japan.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “I Want You to Want Me” is one of the signature songs by Cheap Trick, and it’s on this here album. But the version here is a lot more poppy and melodic, not driven by Nielsen and Carlos, really, but more by the bass of Petersson and a piano, and it’s not as rock-n-roll as the version we all know and love. The band had complained that producer Tom Werman sweetened their sound.

That may be the one song affected by it. The rest of the album sounds just fine to my ears. “Downed”, “Big Eyes”, “Oh, Caroline”, “Come On, Come On” and the rest have a fire in them that allows for the tunes to shine through, but there’s muscle in them as well. Nielsen’s songs are well crafted, with the right balance of melody and power.

They ate this thing up in Japan. “Clock Strikes Ten” hit #1 there, and “I Want You to Want Me” was a favorite. They broke out somewhere, and it was just a matter of time before they would here in the US. A band with this kind of material, ready made for radio yet not compromised, couldn’t be denied.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In 1998, they wanted to re-record this with Steve Albini in an effort to make it sound how the band wanted the record to, but that wasn’t released.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some live cuts, demos and a B-side

GRADE: A: Front to back excellence.

Original Broadway Cast – West Side Story

ARTIST: Original Broadway Cast     WestSideStoryBway

TITLE:  West Side Story

YEAR RELEASED: 1957

CHART ACTION: #5

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Jet Song, Maria, Tonight, America, I Feel Pretty, Somewhere

LINEUP: Lead Vocalists: Reri Grist, Michael Callan, Grover Dale, Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence, Ken Leroy, Tony Mordente, Chita Rivera, Eddie Roll, Leonard Bernstein and Irwin Kostal’s orchestras

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Original cast recording for one of the most loved musicals ever.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Many know the movie soundtrack, but the Original Cast recording was also popular when it was released in 1957.

You probably know the basics: Sharks vs. Jets. Tony and Maria. Romeo and Juliet. The songs and orchestration and fabulous though, even if these are different performances than what you may be used to hearing. The orchestras are what make this pop to me. Larry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria give top notch performance.

If you like musicals, you’ll love this.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This didn’t win the best musical at the Tony Awards. The Music Man won instead.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, there is an extended version with more orchestration.

GRADE: A-: So many standards here, and great performances.