Month: November 2016

Van Halen – Van Halen II

ARTIST: Van Halen                                                van_halen_-_van_halen_ii

TITLE:  Van Halen II

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #6 US, #23 UK

SINGLES: Dance the Night Away (#15), Beautiful Girls (#84)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: A Change Is Gonna Come

LINEUP: David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second VH album shows the pop sensibility of the band at times, but also shows the lack of depth in their material.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Dance the Night Away” showed that you didn’t have to sacrifice the hard rock to make a great pop song. In fact, there’s a little more of a pop influence amongst the guitar driven rock.

Yet, it’s a short record, with ten tracks, and at least three of those are blatant filler. (A weak-ish cover leads off the record, for some reason.) Even some of the stronger songs seem a bit like re-writes of their first album, saved by great Eddie Van Halen riffs.

I ate a lot of this up when I was in high school, but I also skipped a few tracks. You’d probably do the same.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The back cover showed David Lee Roth making one of his trademark leaps. Allegedly, he broke his foot doing that jump.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-: Some great individual songs don’t make it a great album.

Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You

ARTIST: Aretha Franklin

TITLE:  I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You aretha_franklin_-_i_never_loved_a_man_the_way_i_love_you

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #1 R&B, #36 UK

SINGLES: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (#9 US, #1 R&B), Do Right Woman – Do Right Man (#37 R&B), Respect (#1 US, #1 R&B, #10 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: A Change Is Gonna Come

LINEUP: Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Willie Bridges, Charles Chalmers, Tommy Cogbill, Jimmy Johnson, Melvin Lastie, Chips Moman, Dewey Oldham, Erma Franklin, Carolyn Franklin, Cissy Houston

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the best soul albums, a landmark that established Franklin and the Atlantic soul sound.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Eleven albums into her career, onto her third record company, and third (maybe fourth) distinct style, Aretha Franklin finally has the songs, the arrangements, and the direction to harness her powers.

It’s amazing that it took this long to get her in this position, but Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd created the canvas that Franklin could paint her masterpiece. The band, led by King Curtis, is absolutely fantastic, with many Muscle Shoals musicians helping out (the story of the recording of this album is a fantastical, wild tale that is worth seeking out). Aretha’s sisters and Cissy Houston’s backups are tremendous.

Franklin also showed that she was a songwriter, co-writing four cuts. Her interpretation of Otis Redding’s “Respect” put her on the map, but cuts like “Drown in My Own Tears”, two Sam Cooke songs and Dan Penn’s and Chips Moman’s “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man” are just as exquisite. This is soul.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Ted White, her manager and husband, also got co-writing credit on two songs.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Just a few stereo mixes.

GRADE: A+: You don’t have this album? What? Get it now!

Beck – One Foot in the Grave

ARTIST: Beck                                        220px-beckonefootinthegrave

TITLE:  One Foot in the Grave

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: It’s All in Your Mind

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Don’t think so.

LINEUP: Beck, Calvin Johnson, Chris Ballew, James Bertram, Scott Plouf

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Recorded before “Loser” but released after, this neo-folk Beck album has some highlights and shows Beck isn’t just a novelty act.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Before Mellow Gold was released, Beck and Calvin Johnson from K records recorded this album which shows that he’s just a folkie at heart.

Some tracks feature just a guitar and vocals, others a full band sound. Beck shows that he’s studied folk and country blues standards and covers “He’s a Mighty Good Leader” and other songs show an adherence to that tradition.

Obviously, this may not interest everyone – it’s a niche record. I didn’t keep all of it in my catalog. But I know that it’s better than what I expected – it’s raw and real and heartfelt.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Tom Petty would later cover the song “Asshole”, which isn’t what you may think it is.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Originally there was a Japanese version, but now there’s a hugely expanded re-issue that’s streaming.

GRADE: B: Not for everyone, but even if you don’t really like folk or country blues you have to notice the innate talent of Beck.

Sonny & Cher – The Beat Goes On: The Best of Sonny & Cher

ARTIST: Sonny & Cher   220px-sonny__cher_-_the_beat_goes_on-_the_best_of_sonny__cher

TITLE:  The Beat Goes On: The Best of Sonny & Cher

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: I Got You Babe (#1 US, #1 UK), Baby Don’t Go (#8 US, #11 UK), Just You (#20 US), But You’re Mine (#15 US), What Now My Love (#14 US), Laugh at Me (#10 US), Little Man (#21 US), The Beat Goes On (#6 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Don’t think so.

LINEUP: Sonny Bono, Cher Bono, session hot shots

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First period Sonny & Cher singles up until they became old fashioned (the first time) and before their Vegas / variety show era.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sonny Bono learned at the feet of Phil Spector so when he and his teenage bride Cher started to record together, they found success by emulating the Wall of Sound. This singles package is the result.

These are Sonny & Cher’s duets and Sonny’ solo singles (Cher’s early solo work is collected on another compilation), and it’s of its time. Grandiose productions that fit in with the mid-60’s, but sounded dated as soon as the calendar turned to 1967 and psychedelic rock was the rage. Hits dried up, and the duo went to Vegas to hone their act and the eventual second act of their career.

Except for a couple of turkeys, this is a good representation of mainstream pop in the mid-60’s. The Wrecking Crew’s session musicians are out in force, and the production is big and large.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Sonny met Cher when she was just 16, and married her at 18 in 1964.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B: Some classic pop hits here, some forgotten gems, and some, well, unfortunates. If you dig them, you’d dig this.

 

 

Dr. John – Remedies

ARTIST: Dr. John                     220px-dr-john_remedies

TITLE:  Remedies

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Loop Garoo, Wash Mama Wash

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Dr. John, Jessie Hill, Shirley Goodman, Tami Lynn, and the band Cold Grits.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dr. John gets back to business, and releases an album with a spooky vibe that contains a whole side for a scary song about a famous Louisiana prison.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dr. John shook off the relative failure of his last album, and came up with a first side of material that fits in with his stoner New Orleans voodoo vibe that’s fun and carefree, like “Mardi Gras Day”. His vocals seem like he’s imbibed and in a good spirit to get into that voodoo vibe.

Then there’s the second side.

Angola is an infamous penitentiary in Louisiana, and at this time was infamous for brutality, assaults, sexual slavery, and egregious use of solitary confinement. “Angola Anthem” was sold to Dr. John from a former inmate of Angola, and is a side-long glimpse into the harrowing life there. The backing is menacing, and the sounds of chains and other metal is absolutely chilling. John’s voice, which on the first side was joyful and stoned, is now fearful.

Not many people know of that track, which is a shame, since it’s definitely a protest anthem toward the harsh treatment of inmates there – and by all accounts it’s not gotten much better.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Cold Grits was a band that’s kind of confusing and I couldn’t get a line on who actually is or was in it.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: Be prepared for a bad trip on the second side, but it’s art that needed to be released.

 

Phoenix – United

ARTIST: Phoenix               220px-phoenixunitedalbumcover

TITLE:  United

YEAR RELEASED: 2000

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Party Time, Too Young (#148 UK), If I Ever Feel Better (#65 UK).

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Whoa, no.

LINEUP: Laurent Brancowitz, Christian Mazzalai, Deck d’Arcy, Thomas Mars, Jr. Session players help out, especially on drums and percussion.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: French alt rock band releases a pretty confident and tuneful debut that not a lot of people heard outside of Western Europe.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Phoenix became an ‘overnight’ sensation about nine years after their debut, which did a pretty good job of establishing themselves and their sound.

A pleasant pop-friendly mix with keyboards and guitars (and some nice guitar flourishes that tend to get hidden on the radio), Phoenix did place “Too Young” on a couple of movie soundtracks, which helped their exposure a little bit.

The album breezes by except for a the three part “Funky Squaredance”. They tried to do too much there, and it doesn’t work for the most part. Fortunately it’s the second to last cut.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Thomas Mars (nee Thomas Croquet) is married to Sofia Coppola.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A remix of “Too Young” is on a newer release.

GRADE: B+: Nicely put together, except for a couple of stumbling blocks that end the momentum.

Jerry Lee Lewis – The Definitive Collection

ARTIST: Jerry Lee Lewis               jllewis

TITLE:  The Definitive Collection

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10 Pop or R&B: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On (#3 US, #1 Country, #1 R&B, #8 UK), Great Balls of Fire (#2 US, #1 Country, #1 R&B, #1 UK), You Win Again (#95, #4 Country), Breathless (#7 US, #4 Country, #3 R&B, #8 UK), High School Confidential (#21, #9 Country, #5 R&B, #12 UK). He had a lot of country hits after 1968 that are on here.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: What’ Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me), Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee (a later version)

LINEUP: The Killer and some others

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first part’s the killer. The rest is the killer as a country artist.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first six tracks on this collection are Jerry Lee’s best blasts of rock and rockabilly, though “You Win Again” was a foreshadowing of how he’d rebuild his career. The rest is Jerry Lee as a country artist.

If you’re really, really into the Killer as a rockabilly guy, there are other collections. I chose this as an overview of his entire musical life (and I have a live record and a 1973 album to go over, too). His country stuff isn’t as interesting, but there are some highlights (“What’s Made Milwaukee Famous”, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” with his sister).

His brief hit making career was derailed by his marriage to his under-age cousin, but it’s an important phase. His country phase was a chance to make some money. I can’t disparage a guy for that.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He’s still performing, believe it or not.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nope.

GRADE: B: His rockabilly singles are A PLUS, but his country stuff you can take or leave.

Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn – The Definitive Collection

ARTIST: Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn    conway-loretta

TITLE:  The Definitive Collection

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 5: After the Fire Is Gone (#56, #1 Country), Lead Me On (#1 Country), As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone (#1 Country), Feelins (#1 Country), The Letter (#3 Country), I Can’t Love You Enough (#2 Country), I Still Believe in Waltzes (#2 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly, Making Believe

LINEUP: Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, and some hot Nashville cats.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A solid collection of one of the best country duets in the early 70’s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Let’s face facts: Conway Twitty was a fine country singer, but Loretta Lynn was a definitive artist. Without her, Twitty is only memorable now or a few schmaltzy ballads. But adding Lynn to his voice, there’s an elevation in quality for sure.

The duo wasn’t afraid to try some interesting things, like having a squabble during the fade out, covering contemporary songs, novelty songs, and a song where Conway is just talking through the phone to Loretta. The definitive songs last to this day and sound fantastic (“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” for example).

Loretta Lynn’s a national treasure, and she’s worth this price of admission.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The duo released 11 albums together, nine between 1971 and 1980.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nope.

GRADE: B: For Loretta.

 

James Brown – The Singles, Volume 1: The Federal Years 1956-1960

ARTIST: James Brown                         brown-federal

TITLE:  The Singles, Volume 1: The Federal Years 1956-60

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: By definition, all were A’s or B’s of singles (or promo singles). Charting singles: Please, Please, Please (#6 R&B), Try Me (#48, #2 R&B), I Want You So Bad (#20 R&B), I’ll Go Crazy (#15 R&B), Think (#33, #7 R&B), You’ve Got the Power (#14 R&B), This Old Heart (#79, #20 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Good Good Lovin’

LINEUP: James Brown with the Fabulous Flames & sidemen

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First of a great compilation by Hip-O of ALL of James Brown’s singles up through 1981.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Looking at James Brown’s album discography, it’s clear that James treated albums as mere product. This was clearer from the mid-to-late 60’s onward, where he’d record some long jams, cut a couple of single sides from the parts, slapped the jam on the album with other jams and remakes of his old songs. As long as it was over 30-35 minutes long, he released it.

So, after a rethink, I decided to rate these single compilations. Here’s the first one, when he was on Federal Records (a subsidiary of King, where he soon moved to after gathering hits in 1960).

In these release, James was more of a leader of a vocal group than anything. However, a lot of the material is recognizable as James Brown – as in he’s the only one that could pull it off. From ballads, weepers, and storming soul, it’s all here. It’s not as consistently good as his later stuff would be, and many of these songs are similar in execution. (Well, that didn’t change much, really.)

I wouldn’t start here unless you’re really anal about chronology. But it’s worthwhile, and has some hot tracks you need in your collection.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was obvious that Brown was the reason people went to see the Fabulous Flames, so the manager changed the name to “James Brown & the Fabulous Flames”. The old Flames quit, but that didn’t stop Brown.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Nope.

GRADE: A-: For historical purposes and the fact there’s some damn good old-old-school soul and R&B here.

Grand Funk Railroad – On Time

ARTIST: Grand Funk Railroad        220px-grand_funk_railroad_-_on_time

TITLE:  On Time

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #27

SINGLES: Time Machine (#48), Heartbreaker (#72)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Are You Ready, High on a Horse, Into the Sun

LINEUP: Mark Farner, Mel Schachter, Don Brewer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The trio bursts out of the gate with a simple boogie sound that pleases the 16-25 year old male masses.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Though not everything Grand Funk Railroad did was straight forward stoopid rock-and-roll (“Anybody’s Answer” has a slow part and hippie type lyrics, for example), but there was enough of it to please the typical non-counterculture-but-still-hip male of that generation. It was a band for weed and wine, not LSD.

Mark Farner, the leader and guitarist, wrote and sang everything here, and while riffs are his specialty, lyrics really aren’t. But you’re not listening to Grand Funk to be informed like it was a Dylan album, were you?

The mix is odd – it’s kind of pushed back and no instrument is really out front. I’d have expected the guitar to be pushed forward like Clapton in cream, but it seems pretty democratic. Farner’s riffs and leads are the thing, so why they’d be somewhat muted is anyone’s guess. I’m blaming the weed. I also tuned out a bit during the drum solos and long intros. They needed to edit stuff down, but alas, it was the 60’s.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Farner and Brewer were from the group The Pack, which was led by their now-manager Terry Knight. Schachter had played with ? and the Mysterians.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of live cuts

GRADE: B-: When it’s good, it riffs like a mo-fo. But some songs just go on too long, aimlessly meander, and they have a G_D pointless drum solo.