RSS Feed

One week at a time.

Posted on

I have an idea I think will snap me out of my blog-rut. So I’m going to put it down and send it out into the ether now, before I either forget it or find some reason to weasel out of it.

I recently read a column by John Roderick, frontman of indie band the Long Winters, who made a thought-provoking case against year-end Top Ten album lists.

Among other points, he suggested that albums take time to get to know, and the point is not to race through them just to put another notch in one’s belt. He wrote:

The people making records are still spending months and years on them, while the people buying them are munching through them like corn chips. Slow down.

What I propose to do wouldn’t make Roderick happy; it’s still pretty short-term in nature.

But it might help me discover some new music, rediscover some old stuff — and, most importantly, think critically about it and spend some time letting it soak in. I don’t do very much of that when I acquire new music.

My idea, then:

Take a single recording and listen to nothing else for a week. Literally nothing else, at least not of my own volition. Put it on in the car; spin it at home; listen while I surf the Net.

And then write about it. Did it move me? Why did I choose it? What were the high points or low points? Were there any, even? What does it mean to me? After a full week, I better be able to come up with something to say … though I suppose it would say something if I couldn’t.

By “single recording,” I don’t mean a 45-rpm single. I mean a single bundle of thematically related music.

It could be a conventionally released album. It could be a local performer’s Bandcamp release. (High time I got back to those.) It could be a bootleg concert recording, or a Grateful Dead show, or one of those CDs of the tide rolling in and out.

(I’ve got one or two ideas already for stuff that people might not expect out of me, which I kind of enjoy.)

I think I’ve moved toward writing less frequently, anyway. This seems like a good framework in which to do that, while still assuring I have some grist for the mill.

So let’s see how I do. If I don’t stick to it, feel free to kick me in the ass.

A stolen anecdote.

Posted on

The other day, I read a good rock n’ roll story on Wikipedia that I’d never heard before. It’s not new to circulation, but I’ve read a fair amount of pop music lore, and I can’t remember hearing it before.

It seems implausible, plus it’s on Wiki, so I don’t totally believe it. But I’m going to repeat it anyway. ;-)

(One of the quoted sources is a band member’s autobiography, for what that’s worth.)

Anyway:

# # #

Yes’s third album, The Yes Album, was the band’s commercial breakthrough. It was a worthy one, too: For the first time, The Yes Album presented a distinctive creative style for the band.

But the record’s success was due to more than just its musical contents, according to bassist Chris Squire.

The album’s release in early 1971 came during an extended national postal strike in the U.K.

Because of the strike, the British music papers couldn’t get sales information from around the country on a timely basis. So, they temporarily shifted to using sales charts based on London-area stores, since they were based in London and had ready access to that info.

Yes were Londoners, and had built up a solid following in the area, so The Yes Album placed more highly on the charts there than it would have on a national chart.

By the time the postal service workers came back to work, people from other parts of the country were buying The Yes Album because they’d seen it in the (London-only) charts and figured it must be an up-and-comer. The record had gained momentum, and the rest is history.

So, if not for the intractability of British postal carriers, Jon Anderson might be a farmer today.

(Actually, he might be a farmer today for all I know, as he got cashiered from Yes a couple of years ago.)

This story doesn’t explain how all those record buyers in Manchester or Liverpool or Edinburgh got their music publications during this period, since Her Majesty’s posties weren’t delivering them. I can only assume that quantities were still being shipped to shops, or distributed via some other method that didn’t require the post office.

No matter. Cool story, bro.

A post about Badfinger.

Posted on

Having declared my hate for obvious, punny headlines and ledes, I’m gonna skip trying to come up with a clever title for this.

badfingertall

I wasn’t going to write anything about last night’s free concert featuring Badfinger at the Levitt Pavilion in Bethlehem. But I think now I will, if for no other reason than to help me remember it.

Some bullet points, then:

- Pretty good show; I’d give it a solid B-plus.

- Veteran Joey Molland and his new mates played the five big hits commonly associated with Badfinger*, as well as a bunch of deep cuts that weren’t insanely memorable but weren’t embarrassing either.

*In order of appearance, they were “Baby Blue” (they opened with it); “Come And Get It;” “Day After Day;” “Without You” and “No Matter What” (the main set closer).

- I’m fairly certain Molland didn’t sing lead on any of the band’s original big hits. (The late Pete Ham, who wrote most of them, also sang lead on most of them.)

Thankfully, Molland has a strong enough voice to do the job capably. Rarely if at all did I think, “Hey, that’s not the same guy.”

- As part of his between-song banter, Molland playfully gave someone in the audience the bird. The frontman of Badfinger giving someone the (bad) finger would have made a great photo; alas, I missed it.

- At another point, referencing the chain restaurant next door to Levitt Pavilion, Molland declared in his Liverpudlian accent: “We’re all goin’ to Pairkins later.”

I wondered if anyone in the audience decided to follow the band over there and buy them dinner, or pester them with questions about what George Harrison was really like.

My money’s on the guy I spotted wearing the “Badfinger 1990 World Tour” T-shirt. Heck, for that kind of long-term loyalty, I think maybe Molland and company should buy him a short stack.

- Molland handed some of the deep cuts over to keyboardist Steve Wozny and bass player Mark Healey to sing. Not sure if that was to save his voice, or to preserve the image of a collaborative band.

- On some of the songs sung by Healey, Molland sang backing vocals standing off to one side of the mic, not directly behind it.

That raised thoughts of his deceased bandmates more than any other part of the show. It looked for a moment like Molland was leaving space on the other side of the mic in case Tom Evans should decide to drop by.

(The truth, I’m sure, is less romantic. I’m guessing that maybe you sing backup vocals into the side of the mic because it won’t pick you up as strongly, and there’s less of a chance you’ll overpower the lead singer. Or, maybe Molland was trying to maintain eye contact with Healey. Those are  just guesses; I have certainly never been employed to sing.)

- They drew what I thought was a surprisingly good crowd, filling up the lawn.

I had sorta thought that only a few middle-aged, nerdy pop obsessives (my kind of people) would show up. Badfinger’s fame was relatively short-lived, after all, and this version of the band has only one original member.

But I guess there are still a lot of people who remember Badfinger’s hits fondly, or who dug the use of “Baby Blue” in the final episode of “Breaking Bad” and decided it was worth seeing the band behind the song.

This show was also part of a summer-long series of free concerts, and there may be people who turn out every Saturday night just to see what’s cracking. Which, now that I think of it, is not the worst idea in the world.

badfingernight2

- “No Matter What” is a terrific song, and for some reason I felt particularly gladdened to hear it played by one of its original performers — more so than any of the other hits of the night.

Some shows have one or two songs that stand above the rest and remind you why you went. “No Matter What” was my got-what-I-came-for moment — which was convenient, as it was the last song of the main set, and thus allowed me to skip the encore.

(I overheard a little bit of the encore on my way out. Left to his own devices, Molland seems to prefer straight-ahead Chuck Berry-derived rock to crisp British-style pop, and this was more of the former. It might have been hot but, again, I’d got what I came for.)

- I also used the voice-memo function on my iPhone 4S to record about a minute’s worth of “No Matter What,” just because I was there and I could.

Without any frills — no external mic, no mic stand, just held at one’s waist — those things make surprisingly listenable live recordings. Not pro-quality, of course, but better and crisper than a lot of bootlegs I’ve heard in my time.

I’m not going to make a habit out of surreptitiously taping live shows; it doesn’t seem right.

But if I were a performing artist, I would hate the iPhone.

It’s already impossible to make a living selling studio recordings. Now, every single person in the crowd has the wherewithal to take the show home with them, and it’s virtually impossible to stop.

badfingernight

Slobber from the north.

Posted on

Back from vacation, and back to listening to music. (I expect I will return to the old ballgames sometime over the winter.)

And what are we ringing out the summer with? Oh, we’ve got a winner this time.

A few months ago I got put onto Out of Print Moncton, a Bandcamp site that collects music issued in the ’90s by little-known local bands in the Moncton, New Brunswick, area.

Most of the releases were cassette-only. And if I didn’t know better, I’d think some local scenester had simply emptied out an old box of tapes, digitized the tunes and slapped ‘em up as free Bandcamp downloads to prevent them from disappearing forever.

(The music, while sludgy at point of origin, sounds too crisp to be coming off well-worn old cassettes. Perhaps the person behind the website is the local sound guy who mixed all the stuff and still has master tapes lying around. I don’t know.)

Most of the music appears to be punk, which is not a genre I much go in for. I understand the release of energy and all that … but really, 99 percent of all punk bands sound the same to me.

If you like the punk stuff on Out of Print Moncton, there’s probably a band playing in your town tonight that sounds like that. Go see ‘em and buy their tape.

But amid all the punkstuff is a winner. Two winners, actually, a cassette and a CD release, performed by a bunch of grunge-metal knuckle-scrapers who called themselves Mood Cadillac.

Mood Cadillac, apparently, was one of those bands whose members have been in 40 other groups … some of which loom larger in local history than Mood Cadillac ever did. There’s probably some Monctonian reading this thinking, “Why is he writing about Mood Cadillac, and not about (fill in name of longer-lasting/better-known band)?”

One listen to Mood Cadillac’s monomaniacal sub-Sabbath slobber, and you too will understand.

We’re talking stringy-haired guys in a basement on the salt-kissed edge of nowhere, playing the simplest possible riffs with the maximum possible fuzz, total commitment, minimal audio fidelity and no subtlety at all.

(Mood Cadillac’s music reminds me that it has been far too long since I listened to Vincebus Eruptum, if that further clues you in.)

Guitarists Jody Perry and Russ Payne have joined the likes of Leigh Stephens, Mick Ronson and Red Album-era Mark Farner in my personal pantheon of sleazy-does-it guitar heroes.

Lead singer Gunther is kind of overmatched by all the fuzz, and doesn’t have a metal-god voice to begin with, but does his best to keep up. I’ve come to kinda like him — much more than I like Ozzy Osbourne, another frontman with a regular-joe set of pipes.

Mood Cadillac’s two releases — 1997’s Big Ol’ Dirty (released the day it was recorded, according to Bandcamp) and 1998’s Mood Cadillac — fit comfortably onto a single CD. In my burner, anyway, they combine at precisely 69 minutes in length.

Dude.

Anyway, here’s a sample from the second album, in which our heroes stumble in and out of 7/4 time without knocking over their beers.

If you like it, go to Out of Print Moncton and snag your own copy. And keep the riffs alive.

Hello, Dick? … Is Dick there? … Hello? …

Posted on

The last days of Richard Nixon are popping up in the media nowadays, this week being the 40th anniversary of his resignation.

Nixon’s presidential diary from August 1974 makes interesting reading, especially the late-night and early-morning phone calls in the final few days. How incoherent must some of those calls have been?

My favorite part of the diary comes at the very end, on Aug. 9, when it presents the following order of events. (My summation is not word-for-word, but you can click the link above if you’d like that.)

9:32-9:57 a.m.: The President makes a farewell address to Congress and the nation.

10 a.m.: The President and his family go to the South Lawn of the White House.

10-10:09 a.m.: The President and his family travel by helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

10:17 a.m.-11:57 p.m.: The President (now former President, I suppose) and his family fly from Andrews Air Force Base to California.

10:20 a.m.: The President was telephoned long-distance by his former Assistant, H.R. Haldeman. The call was not completed.

(diary ends)

That seems like an arbitrary place to cut off the Nixon Presidency, doesn’t it?

I like to imagine the last Nixon staffers hanging around the White House when the phone rang, saying to each other: “It’s that freaking Haldeman again. Do we have to put this in the record? Can we just pretend he didn’t call? Really? Oh, all right. Then we’ll take the boxes out to the car.”

The idea of the Nixon Presidency ending with an unsuccessful phone call from a disgraced former aide — after the former President had been shown on national television leaving town — is somewhere between touching and pathetic.

Was Haldeman not watching? Was he unaware that his old boss had left the White House? Was he desperate or hoping against hope that Tricky Dick had gone back to his old office one last time after making his farewell speech?

The diary shows Haldeman making several other phone calls in the prior day or two, none of which were put through to Nixon.

Haldeman, who was facing conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges, had asked Nixon to pardon him at one point, which Nixon refused to do. Presumably the President’s handlers cut Haldeman off after that.

But by 10:20 a.m. on Aug. 9, there was no one left to be cut off from.

Interestingly, Gerald Ford’s presidential diary has him taking the oath of office at noon on Aug. 9.

I assume that means Nixon remained President during those first two hours that he was airborne; I wonder what would have happened if something had occurred that required a Presidential response.

Maybe Haldeman really did think Nixon would still be at the White House, if Nixon were still serving as commander-in-chief.

(On a related note, I imagine the White House continued to get letters urging Nixon not to resign for days after he left. I bet a few Americans — maybe even Lazlo Toth — put letters to Nixon in the mail on the morning of Aug. 8, urging him to stay the course. Whaddya suppose the Ford White House did with them?)

Ford’s presidential diary, by comparison, ends in a much more dignified and stirring (and appropriate) fashion: His last recorded act as President was to take part in the inaguration of his successor.

Any wonderworld that I’m welcome to.

Posted on

As I continue to fight a nasty case of writer’s block — or, more accurately, a nasty case of having nothing to say — I have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration.

I am neither on the mountain, nor in the valley; but instead stand confronted by a vast, sere plain.

This is Uriah Heep’s Wonderworld. I am not sure why I was ever here, nor why I have come back.

Some albums, we all know, are rousing artistic triumphs. Others are misbegotten failures, attracting the odd contrarian defender here and there, but largely rejected.

And then there’s the vast gray pile of albums stuck somewhere in the middle … records made not because the performers had anything to say, but because they were obliged to honor a contract that required them to turn in 40 minutes of original music at specified intervals.

Wonderworld feels like one of  those albums.

Nay, it is one of those albums. It is shot through to the core with Obligation and Artistic Stagnation and More Of The Same.

Its song titles (“Suicidal Man,” “The Shadows and The Wind,” “So Tired”) bespeak burnout. Its cover shows the band stuck as statues, mired in poses, stationary.

Going nowhere.

I used to own a copy of Wonderworld as a teenager. I couldn’t tell you why now, except maybe that I sniffed out the scent of teeth-grinding mediocrity just by looking at it, and thought there might be fun in the pursuit.

That, and it was $1.

Similarly, I could not describe the urge that inspired me to go find it on YouTube (my vinyl copy is long gone) and listen to it again tonight. I did not expect to find inspiration, nor so-bad-it’s-good cheesiness, nor lost-classic defiance. And I didn’t.

Heep peddles the usual Seventies hard-rock trappings on Wonderworld — some clavinet-driven not-really-funk; a ballad with strings; some Big Riffs; a “stirring” anthem with military march overtones; some steely, bluesy stomp. The last of these almost works.

But, at root, there is … nothing.

No particular substance or distinctive style or creativity.

No hooks to stick in your head longer than five minutes; no lyrics that capture the essence of life in a single verbal twist.

Just a deadline met and a new slab of plastic for the shops.

As song after song rolls by on YouTube, I stand confronted by a vast, sere plain.

I have nothing to say. Uriah Heep has nothing to say.

Perhaps, after all these years, we deserve each other.

Coda: The invaluable ARSA database of local radio play charts indicates that Wonderworld attained its only U.S. sales notices 40 years ago this month. I did not know this when I set out to write.

Thumbed.

Posted on

Still scraping for stuff to feed the beast … I feel like doing some more local music reviews but haven’t taken the time yet.

In the meantime, here’s something that interests me, and might also interest about a half-dozen other baseball trivia buffs who won’t read it.

Courtesy of Retrosheet, the last players to be ejected in the histories of Major League Baseball’s relocated teams:

Boston Braves: Manager Charlie Grimm; Aug. 30, 1952; by umpire Art Gore; for arguing balls and strikes.

St. Louis Browns: Manager Marty Marion; Sept. 20, 1953; by umpire Johnny Stevens; no reason recorded.

Philadelphia A’s: Pitcher Marion Fricano; Aug. 29, 1954; by umpire Eddie Hurley; for fighting.

Brooklyn Dodgers: Pitcher Don Newcombe; Aug. 22, 1957; by umpire Frank Secory; for bench jockeying.

New York Giants: Manager Bill Rigney; Sept. 21, 1957; by umpire Stan Landes; for protesting an interference non-call.

Washington Senators (1901-1960): Right fielder Bob Allison; Aug. 17, 1960; by umpire John Rice; for protesting a called third strike.

Milwaukee Braves: Manager Bobby Bragan; Oct. 2, 1965; by umpire Doug Harvey; for protesting ball and strike calls.

Kansas City A’s: Manager Al Dark; July 16, 1967; by umpire Jerry Neudecker; for arguing ball and strike calls.

Seattle Pilots: Manager Joe Schultz; Sept. 20, 1969; by Neudecker again; for arguing an automatic ball assessed to pitcher Diego Segui for taking too long to pitch.

Washington Senators (1961-1971): First baseman Don Mincher; Sept. 22, 1971; by umpire Dave Phillips; for protesting a called third strike.

Montreal Expos: Manager Frank Robinson; June 16, 2004; by umpire Phil Cuzzi; for arguing a fair/foul call.

And, a list of the first people to be ejected in the histories of relocated or expansion teams:

Milwaukee Braves: Catcher Ebba St. Claire; July 16, 1953; by Frank Dascoli; for disputing a called third strike; team’s only ejection of year.

Baltimore Orioles: Pitcher Joe Coleman, catcher Ray Murray and manager Jimmy Dykes; all April 25, 1954; by Eddie Hurley; for arguing balls and strikes.

Kansas City A’s: Manager Lou Boudreau; June 13, 1955; by Charlie Berry; for complaining about the condition of a rain-soaked field.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Newcombe again; May 23, 1958; by Secory again; for bench jockeying, again.

San Francisco Giants: First baseman Orlando Cepeda; April 24, 1958; by Augie Donatelli; for arguing a call at second base.

Los Angeles Angels: Third baseman Eddie Yost; April 15, 1961; by Jim Honochick; for arguing a called third strike.

Washington Senators (1961-71): Manager Mickey Vernon; June 28, 1961; by Sam Carrigan; for arguing a called third strike; team’s only ejection of year.

Minnesota Twins: Right fielder Lenny Green; June 5, 1961; by Joe Linsalata; for arguing a called third strike.

New York Mets: Third-base coach Solly Hemus; June 5, 1962; by Jocko Conlan; for objecting to Conlan’s interruption of a chat on the mound.

Houston Colt .45s: Manager Harry Craft and right fielder Roman Mejias; April 19, 1962; by Ken Burkhardt; for arguing a call at second base.

Atlanta Braves: Third baseman Eddie Mathews; May 5, 1966; by Ed Sudol; for arguing a called third strike.

Oakland A’s: Manager Bob Kennedy; May 26, 1968; by Ed Runge; for disputing a call at home plate; pitchers Lew Krausse and Blue Moon Odom also ejected later in the same inning following a bench-clearing brawl; team’s only ejections of year.

Seattle Pilots: Second baseman Tommy Harper; April 22, 1969; by Russ Goetz; for fighting with Kansas City’s Ellie Rodriguez.

Kansas City Royals: Manager Joe Gordon; April 9, 1969; by Marty Springstead; for arguing a call at first base; second game in team’s history.

San Diego Padres: Third baseman Roberto Pena; Aug. 13, 1969; by Chris Pelekoudas; for arguing a caught-stealing call; team’s only ejection of year.

Montreal Expos: Manager Gene Mauch; April 22, 1969; by Pelekoudas; for arguing an interference call.

Milwaukee Brewers: Coach Cal Ermer; April 26, 1970; by Bob Stewart; for arguing a called third strike.

Texas Rangers: Mincher again; May 29, 1972; by Jim Odom; for arguing a called third strike; team’s only ejection of year.

Seattle Mariners: Center fielder Ruppert Jones; April 28, 1977; by Neudecker; for disputing a checked-swing strike call.

Toronto Blue Jays: Manager Roy Hartsfield and coach Bob Miller; June 4, 1977; by Rich Garcia; for arguing a checked-swing call.

Florida Marlins: Batting coach Doug Rader; May 5, 1993; by Steve Rippley; for arguing balls and strikes.

Colorado Rockies: Third baseman Charlie Hayes; May 10, 1993; by Bob Davidson; for arguing a call at third base.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Manager Larry Rothschild; April 26, 1998; by Marty Foster; for arguing a call at second base.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Center fielder Devon White; April 3, 1998; by Angel Hernandez; argued a called third strike; leadoff batter of fourth game in team history.

Washington Nationals: Manager Frank Robinson; April 30, 2005; by Tom Hallion; regarding the condition of a rain-soaked field.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers