Scratch Acid – The Greatest Gift

ARTIST: Scratch Acid        ScratchAcidGreatestGift

TITLE: The Greatest Gift

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, Lord no

LINEUP: David Yow, David Wm. Sims, Rey Washam, Brett Bradford

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Austin weirdos record some raucous albums, and pave the way for the Jesus Lizard. 220px-ScratchAcidEP

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You know, all you need to know about Scratch Acid is that this is where David Yow began his career as a deranged ‘vocalist’. This collection has everything the band released, and one other track that was a demo.

The band (featuring future Rapeman members Rey Washam and David Wm. Sims – Sims later joined Yow in Jesus Lizard) plays pretty straight forward loud alternative-ish, punk-ish rock, and Yow just does his thing over it. He’s probably even more unhinged here at times (“She Said”, “Lay Screaming”, “Mary Had a Little Drug Problem”). 220px-Scratchacidjustkeepeating

Since this is everything they did – containing the EPs Scratch Acid and Berzerker along with the LP Just Keep Eating), after a while it gets monotonous, but in short spurts, this is a good document of the origins of some find weird rock-and-roll.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band reunited in 2011 for Touch & Go Records anniversary.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No Scratchacidberserker

 

GRADE: B: In short spurts, it’s worthy. It probably may be best to listen to each of the original records as segments.

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Neu! – Neu!

ARTIST: Neu!                           Neu_albumcover

TITLE: Neu!

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Negativeland

LINEUP: Michael Rother, Klaus Dinger

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An early Kraftwerk offshoot records an album that has become known in underground circles as an inspiration for several avant-garde artists.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The “Motorik” beat, an unwavering 4/4 drum pattern with the occasional crash or smash cymbals, became the beat for Krautrock and other early electronic bands, and it was first heard here on “Hallogallo”, the leadoff track for this duo of Kraftwerk refugees.

Recording with Conny Plank, this record by Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger became a touchstone for future experimental musicians and a backbone of the Krautrock movement. Yet only two tracks (“Hallogallo” and “Negativeland”) seemed straightforward as far as an actual song goes – the other material was mostly electronic or tape-related doodling.

It may have been influential, but I think most people just stick to the two tracks with the Motorik beat. I know I am.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Negativeland, the notorious sonic pranksters, took their name from the track on this album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: C: It’s ‘important’, and mostly boring.

 

Can – Soundtracks

ARTIST: Can                                        Can-Soundtracks_(album_cover)

TITLE: Soundtracks

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Mother Sky

LINEUP: Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Irmin Schmidt. Damo Suziki sings most, but Malcolm Mooney vocalizes two tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: These were songs Can contributed to film soundtracks over a two year period. One track stands out above all.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Very important filmmakers used very important progressive groups to make soundtracks for their very important films. Can, being a outre progressive group, was tapped for several films.

Soundtrack songs can sound odd out of place. They also can meander, and not make sense without the film in front of you. Can’s contributions to several films (all German) did make sense in a way – well – in a way that Can songs do. Except one.

“Mother Sky”, tabbed for a film not even released when this album was released (the movie was Deep End starring Jane Asher and John Moulder Brown), is the highlight, and may be the highlight for Can as a band as a whole. It’s 14:23 of the band chugging along in a groove, with Michael Karoli going off on his guitar. It’s fantastic.

The rest, well, for Can fans only – and then for background music.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This marked a transition for the band. “Mother Sky” would be the template for further Can explorations

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B: “Mother Sky” is an A++ track and you can be excused for just keeping that one.

The Roots – Illadelph Halflife

ARTIST: The Roots                           Illadelph

TITLE: Illadelph Halflife

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #21 US, #4 R&B

SINGLES: Clones (#101 US, #62 R&B, #11 Rap), What They Do (#34 US, #21 R&B, #5 Rap, #49 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lord, no

LINEUP: Black Thought, Kid Crumbs, Dice Raw, Rahzel, Hub Hubbard, Questlove, Kamal Gray with guests Bahamadia, Raphael Saadiq, Common, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Urusula Rucker, and Cassandra Wilson.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Roots begin to become a force in the music community with their beats, raps, and inventive arrangements.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The sound of the Roots is like no other group, as they incorporate so many elements yet remain unique. That started here, with the production and direction of Questlove and other producers.

They were also quite anomalous for the time, as instead of acting hedonistically gangster, the Roots tackle several serious topics with street smarts still in place, but actual coherent political thought replacing mindless braggadocio.

The Roots started to get notice in the pop world as well, with a Top 40 single, and guests collaborating as equals to the band and not overwhelming them. A fantastic album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: A few copies had the track list starting at #34, with their first two albums being tracks 1-33.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A: The Roots sound of today is here.

 

Spoon – A Series of Sneaks

ARTIST: Spoon                           220px-ASeriesOfSneaks

TITLE: A Series of Sneaks

YEAR RELEASED: 1998

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Car Radio

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lord, no

LINEUP: Britt Daniel, Joshua Zarbo, Jim Eno

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A major label move a few years too early – this album languished and was ignored for years.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: With high hopes, Spoon signed to Elektra records, and soon after release, their A&R person left and the label dropped them, leaving this album out there with no support and a bitter, unsettled band.

This album is probably out of step with what was ‘popular’ in 1998, but it does deliver on the promise of their independent work. Catchy songs with enough off-kilter elements to keep you on your toes, and enough noise to keep the indie people satisfied.

Elektra messed up here, as Spoon has become reliably reliable in delivering well-made product to a growing fan base. Who knew then, but this album was decent enough to keep them signed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Spoon was so pissed off at their A&R guy that they recorded a single called “The Agony of Laffitte” about the experience

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. UK tracks, and that independent single. 

GRADE: B+: The quality tails off, but the first few tracks are strong.

Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

ARTIST: Mudhoney                        220px-Mudhoney_Every_Good_Boy_Deserves_Fudge

TITLE: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION: #34 UK

SINGLES: Let It Slide (#60 UK),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you were a grunge head.

LINEUP: Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Matt Lukin, Dan Peters.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perhaps Mudhoney’s finest album moment, when they wrote the most consistently without diverting into slovenly noisy weirdness.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Of any of the Sub Pop bands from the era, the word ‘grunge’ fits best with Mudhoney’s guitar sound in the early days, especially on “Let It Slide” from this album.

Here, Mudhoney focused on the album as a whole and wrote several tracks that are among the best of the era, with a track like “Into the Drink” featuring a great riff, the right attitude, and enough hooks to keep it in your mind.

Mark Arm’s vocals aren’t all just shouting here (he almost croons on “Good Enough”), and while there’s still some too-long meditations, overall it’s a punchy record that stands up even now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: EGBDF – the treble clef mnemonic – actually is “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, but I like fudge better.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: Probably the most consistent Mudhoney album, and one of the better grunge albums on Sub Pop.

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

ARTIST: The Beatles   Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

TITLE: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: None, really, but it didn’t matter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: A Day in the Life is probably the most famous song here, but you know most of the others.

LINEUP: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr with George Martin and Geoff Emerick putting together the soundscapes.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: At the time, supposedly revolutionary and the kickstarter to the ‘summer of love’, but in reality it was just a more focused version of psychedelic experiments the Beatles and others had been doing.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There have been books written about this record, and not just fluff pieces. It is probably the most known popular music album in history. Yet, it’s overrated as a whole yet parts of it are woefully underrated and ignored.

There’s fluff and saccharine (“She’s Leaving Home”, “When I’m 64”), and some of the songs aren’t as strong as others since they had constrained themselves to a concept of sorts. The pacing isn’t quite there thanks to those interruptions of treacle. Yet, some tracks are definitely brilliant, and others (“Within You, Without You”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) deserve more acclaim than they sometimes get.

While other bands had certainly attempted some of these ideas, themes, and sounds before, only the Beatles, with George Martin and Geoff Emerick, put together something as cohesive as they could. It definitely is a landmark in popular music – just not the best album of that year nor of the Beatles’ career.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It only hit #7 in France…what gives?

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, they have now released a remastered version with some outtakes that are familiar to those who have other Beatles anthology collections. 

GRADE: A: There are a couple songs I loathe, and I think the conceit of the concept doesn’t work as well in terms of flow. Quibbles, I suppose, when all is said and done.

The Beach Boys – Summer Days (And Summer Nights)

ARTIST: The Beach Boys                     SummerDaysandSummerNights.album.cover

TITLE: Summer Days (And Summer Nights)

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Help Me Rhonda (#1 US, #27 UK), California Girls (#3 US, #26 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let Him Run Wild, You’re So Good to Me, Girl Don’t Tell Me

LINEUP: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and The Wrecking Crew

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A backslide in quality, as Capitol wanted a less complicated, hit friendly record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s a definite rushed atmosphere here. Brian Wilson was off the road, but Capitol Records wanted more hits, less melancholy. So, Brian cranked out some fluff, re-did one song for a single (now Rhonda had an H and a shorter arrangement), and a couple pieces of the usual filler.

That was about half of the record – the other half was marvelous, with deep tracks “Girl Don’t Tell Me” (a Carl Wilson solo vocal that’s so so so good), “Let Him Run Wild”, and “You’re So Good To Me”, and a great cover of “Then I Kissed Her” offsetting the two hit singles, which were brilliant Brian Wilson joints.

I’m exiling the fluff, as usual, since when the Beach Boys get fluffy, they really sink low. If only Brian was able to do a whole album like “Let Him Run Wild”. Sigh.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Bruce Johnston was officially the bassist and Brian’s stand-in vocalist on stage, and he joined the band in their recording sessions from now until he left in 1973.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Alternate takes and a B-side 

GRADE: B-: I’m probably downgrading this a bit much, but it’s such a disappointment from their last album. Record companies….

The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can Can

ARTIST: The Pointer Sisters                          yeswecancan

TITLE: Yes We Can Can

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: Yes We Can Can (#11, #12 R&B), Wang Dang Doodle (#61, #24 R&B), Fairytale (#13, #37 Country), How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side) (#20, #1 R&B), Going Down Slowly (#61, #16 R&B), You Gotta Believe (#103, #14 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah

LINEUP: Anita Pointer, Ruth Pointer, Bonnie Pointer, June Pointer with Gaylord Birch, Tom Salisbury, Ron McClure, John Neumann, Chris Michie, and other session men taking their spots.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Compilation of their Blue Thumb era as a quarter, where they mixed funk and forties harmonies.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Pointer Sisters first incarnation was a mix of funk, soul, and the forties. They produced four studio and one live record in this era, and the highlights are here.

There’s some hot blues and funk backing the sisters, who really match well in their 40s-style four-part harmony.  Some of the tracks hearken back to the 40’s with arrangements and production, and those maybe aren’t as successful as the others – it seemed they were trying to fit into the genre and that constricted them a bit.

This era of the Pointer Sisters also showcased their songwriters, as they usually wrote about half the songs on their records, including the big hit “How Long” and the country song “Fairytale”.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: June Pointer was on one track only in their final album, and after that album she came back but sister Bonnie left for a solo career, and the Pointer Sisters became a trio for the rest of their heyday.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B+: Some of their 40’s tribute songs don’t quite work. Points for using the long versions of the songs so you can appreciate the funk.

Talking Heads – Fear of Music

ARTIST: Talking Heads                            Talking_Heads-Fear_of_Music

TITLE: Fear of Music

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #21 US, #33 UK

SINGLES: I Zimbra (#28 Dance), Cities, Life During Wartime (#80 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Memories Can Wait, Heaven

LINEUP: David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz with help from Brian Eno

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Another big leap forward, as the Talking Heads play with rhythms and sounds from outside the normal rock element.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Talking Heads could have recorded variations of their first two albums and gone along quite nicely, thank you, but David Byrne was always wanting to expand his sonic palette and utilize sounds and rhythms not usually associated with popular music.

Mostly it’s successful, with songs about cities, heaven, newspapers, nuclear war, electric guitars, crimes against the state, and a Dada tone poem. The band, along with Brian Eno, follows along with an expanded range of sounds, funky rhythms, and experiments. Even with the melancholy nature of the lyrics, the playing is joyous and light, except when it needs to be heavy and foreboding (as in “Memories Can Wait”).

There’s only one track that doesn’t work – the album closer “Drugs”, though I get what they were after. It wouldn’t be the last time that a Talking Heads album closer misfired.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The basic tracks were recorded in two days in Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s loft.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, an outtake and some alternate versions of tracks. 

GRADE: A: Another masterwork by the Talking Heads, who were just on top of their game.