RSS Feed

Category Archives: From the Valley

A flat fifth.

Posted on

Brace yourself for the least interesting ends-in-zero-or-five anniversary post you’ll read this year … or at least until September, when Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert reaches the big four-five.

The Great Kurt Blumenau Musical Experiment has reached its fifth birthday, and I think that calls for a formal accounting and report to the public.

Five years ago I reserved a Bandcamp page, as a means to put out the “solo album” I’d a1174372079_16long joked and daydreamed about but never acted on. There were noises in my head, and I wanted to get them out.

(The album — more of an EP — followed about two weeks later; that’s the cover at right. If you’re new here and missed the full explanation the first time around, it may be worth reading.)

We’re now up to nine releases, and more will be coming. They tend to alternate between unlistenable noise and equally unlistenable conventional songs. The former is supposed to come next, but I might mix things up. We’ll see.

Anyway, I decided to lift the hood and give the world a five-year progress report on My Life as a Basement Rock Star.

How many hits does one get when one tries something like this? How many plays? How many downloads? Any response at all?

Well, if you do it like I do it, things go like this:

Plays: The songs of Kurt Blumenau have been played 1,047 times in five years. That’s about one play every other day, or about four per week. Of course, they’re not evenly spaced; the plays tend to be tightly clustered around release dates, with periods of silence in the middle.

About 23 percent of the plays were “complete” plays (at least 90 percent of the song played) while another 23 percent were “skips,” or stopped before the 10 percent mark.

The remaining 50-odd percent were stopped somewhere between 10 and 90 percent, which is a pretty broad range — imagine the difference between listening to 10 percent of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and listening to 90 percent of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” But, there you go.

Page visits: Officially I have 3,205 site visits in five years — about one-and-three-quarters per day, or a little more than 12 per week.

The difference between the number of visits and the number of plays makes me think most of my “visits” come from bots. If a real person bothered to find my page, one would imagine they’d play at least one song while there. But, many are the stretches of time when I get page visits without plays.

Sales and downloads: A little back-of-the-envelope math suggests that I’ve moved as many copies in five years as Taylor Swift moves in 20 seconds.

The grand total thus far: 34 downloads, in 19 of which money changed hands. (I’ve made almost all my recordings available for free, on the grounds that that’s really what they’re worth. Bandcamp says you move more if you charge people for them, but I can’t bring myself.)

My dad, my brother and the old friend/drummer who sometimes works with me account for the largest percentage of the downloads and sales.

There are still at least a couple downloads I’ve never been able to account for, which is MidnightLoneliness4probably the coolest part of the whole endeavor — the knowledge that there’s someone a step or two removed from me, or maybe even a total stranger, who decided they wanted a copy of Night Train to Sideways or The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower.

(The “commercial” high point of the whole trip came a couple of releases ago, when some guy in Britain with an Internet radio show devoted to experimental music came across one of my recordings and included a song in his show. It didn’t bring people flocking, but it was cool enough.)

My inability to get my crap into people’s hands on a permanent basis does not especially bother me, as I like it on the down-low.

I don’t promote my music very actively; I acknowledge it’s not very good; and I know there’s a wide gap between “hmm, I’ll go check this out” and “I must possess my own copy of this.”

And maybe, like Duke Ellington, fate doesn’t want me to be too famous too young.

The greatest hits: So, which albums and songs have been favored with the most public attention? (We all know the biggest hits aren’t always the best ones, of course.)

Among the albums, Hope’s Treat – the official soundtrack of my other blog – leads with eight downloads, followed by the diddley-bow showcases Night Train to Sideways and In The City of Churches and Cannons with six apiece. I really ought to get back to the diddley bow sometime.

The least popular, meanwhile, is We Have Succeeded in Nothing Anywhere, whose combination of theremin solos with the speeches of Gerald Ford drew exactly one download. (My dad, bless him, will download anything I put out.)

In terms of purchases, the particularly difficult-to-love Films About Airplanes is the current clubhouse leader: It’s one of three releases that’s been bought three times, and the $32 it’s brought in is more than any other release. I am powerless to explain this.

Among the individual songs, the most-played tunes tend to be the featured songs for each album — the songs that are cued up to play when you go to each album’s home page. (These are not necessarily the first song from the album – you can set any track as the featured song.)

The current Kurt Blumenau Top Five at Five is as follows:

  1. “Part I: Fingers Grow Back,” the featured track from Things We Burned, 69 plays.
  2. “Art Thief,” the lead track from Summer Games, 52 plays.
  3. La Valse du Auto-Stoppeur (The Hitchhiker’s Waltz),” featured track from The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, 48 plays.
  4. “April 23, 1975: New Orleans,” the featured track from We Have Succeeded in Nothing Anywhere, 48 plays.
  5. “Search for the Tropical Puddingbeak,” the lead track from Night Train to Sideways, 46 plays.

My favorite: Of the nine releases so far, which do I like the best?

It’s a tough choice, but thingsweburned1if I had to listen to one, it would probably be Things We Burned, a chopped-and-sliced fever dream based on a locally pressed high school concert band album from the Seventies. My dad, without nudge or provocation, said parts of it reminded him of Charles Ives; I’ve rarely been so thrilled in my life.

That said, I happen to like all of them; there’s nothing I’ve put out that I wouldn’t listen to for my own pleasure. When (if) I get to that point, it’s probably time to stop.

For better or worse, I’m not there yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Killer Queen.

For all those people yearning to hear me sing again … all those people who think there just aren’t enough albums on Bandcamp … and all those people longing to hear John “T-Bone” Shelby immortalized in song:

Your moment has come.

OntarioDarkLakeWText

Today marks the release of Ontario Queen of the Lakes, the latest Kurt Blumenau Bandcamp album.

It’s a collection of 14 songs, some songier than others, more or less inspired by the Rochester, N.Y., I grew up in. (Some of it may leave you wondering if, indeed, I grew up at all.)

Mark Knapp, the drummer from my high school garage band Fried Pig (you’ve read about him at least once here), lends his presence to a bunch of the songs. It’s not quite Planet Waves, as reunions go, but I’m happy it happened anyway, and I hope to do more with him.

For now we’ll content ourselves with this: Ontario Queen of the Lakes, featuring pick hits such as “In Canada They Do Remark’ble Things,” “Winter Track,” and “I Found Love (at the McQuaid Invitational),” this last being surely the finest song ever written about growing up in western New York.

It’s a free download, which means you don’t have to pay anything to possess your very own copy, or even five of your very own copies.

And, as always, I will extend great personal goodwill and bonhomie to anyone who sends me a photo or screenshot of a Queen of the Lakes song being played on their iTunes, phone, or other media device. (I keep making this offer and no one ever sends me any; I guess I’m gonna have to put up cash, one of these years.)

Go. Listen. Enjoy. Walk in peace.

“Nothing good happens in films about airplanes.”

Posted on

If you’re spending the summer in a full-body cast in a faraway state, these are the jams you need.

FAACover4

The (Oh, Lord, can it truly be?) eighth Kurt Blumenau “solo album,” released on Bandcamp precisely four years to the day after the first.

The biggest influences this time around are probably Captain Beefheart and Jandek, if that gives you any sense of what kind of toe-tappin’ good time awaits.

There’s a song called “I Wiped My Hands on a Pigeon” … and an 18-minute guitar solo … and a song that sounds like you’re being dragged underwater in a cold sea behind a slow-moving trawler … and a song that starts with  a weird murky voice-mail I once got that sounds like the people didn’t know they were being recorded.

(I think there is at least one more “conventional” release in my pipeline, but it turned out not to be this one. You won’t want to miss that one either, I’m sure, when it comes along.)

Anyway: Go check it out. You certainly don’t have to buy it. Just by clicking the link and visiting the site, you’ll give me the happy illusion that somebody’s interested.

If you don’t even want to do that, here’s a taste you can enjoy without having to go anywhere at all:

Truth is the glue.

A brief break from Art for Art’s Sake to bring you an important announcement:

The speeches of Gerald Ford set to a backdrop of theremin is something you can now enjoy in your rec room, pup tent, Quonset hut, or wherever people gather and the beer is cold.

Portrait

Unlike some of my earlier Bandcamp releases, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere has no deep origin story.

I found audio recordings of the speeches of Gerald Ford online. I found an electronc theremin simulator online. And at some point, my mind put the two together.

The speeches of Gerald Ford … accompanied by theremin. Yeah, the time has come.

It’s probably better in concept than execution. But, having executed it, I decided to loose it on the world anyway and let you, the listener, be the judge.

(Edit: I should probably mention that no social or political comment is intended here, nor do I have anything against Gerald Ford. His speeches just happen to be publicly available, in decent fidelity, begging to be set against vaguely psychedelic aural backgrounds.)

Like everything else I do, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere (it’s a phrase Jerry uses at one point; see if you can find it) is available as a free Bandcamp download. You need pay nothing for its myriad pleasures. In a world stacked against the common man, that’s a remarkable thing, Bunky.

As with previous releases, I will react with doglike gratitude (though no swag) to anyone sending me a photo of a WHSINA track playing in their iTunes, on their computer screen, on their phone, etc. I know, my comments are turned off, but anyone who reads this knows where to find me anyway.

Be of good cheer.

Another Labor Day, another ballgame.

The local Lehigh Valley IronPigs always seem to close out their season on Labor Day against my hometown Rochester Red Wings.

And I always seem to take the family — mainly b/c my younger son, who is not a sports fan, likes the last game of the year ’cause they mark down the concessions to half-price.

I went again today, for the fourth straight last-game-of-the-year-against-Rochester, and it was a more detached expedition than usual.

I only went to three IronPigs games this year, and none since Father’s Day, so I never really formed any attachment to any of the players on this year’s team.

They’re going to the playoffs for only the second time in nine years, which is nice, but unlike last time I’m not going to get tickets. It’s on a school night … and, I dunno, I just don’t care.

Maybe the arrival of an AHL hockey team to town is shifting my allegiances. (Just last night I started compiling my schedule of local hockey games for the fall and winter.)

Or maybe the IronPigs have finally worn thin on me. Though it’s been a more divorced summer than usual in baseball terms — I haven’t been to see anyone else play ball this summer either. Usually when I travel I catch a game out of town somewhere, but I didn’t travel.

I haven’t followed the Phillies that closely either, though there wasn’t much to follow this year.

We’ll see what next spring brings;  by then I will probably be chomping at the bit for baseball.

100_7253.JPG

View from the general admission hill in center field (we sat nearby.) It is a cute ballpark, even if most recently built AAA ballparks kinda look the same.

100_7281.JPG

Starter David Buchanan was brilliant – 7 IP, two hits, no runs, eight strikeouts – and I wonder if he is headed to Philly when the playoffs end.

100_7369.JPG

Red Wings reliever Jake Reed waits to enter the game. He is not on the Minnesota Twins’ 40-man roster, which means no callup, but he’s young and he pitched pretty well so he might get there yet.

100_7365.JPG

Two relievers ready at once – Reed in the foreground, the IronPigs’ Joely Rodriguez in the background.

100_7349.JPG

Reliever Neil Ramirez pitched for three MLB teams this year – the Brewers, the Cubs and the Twins – but he seems ticketed to have ended his season in Allentown.

100_7338.JPG

A burst of game action courtesy Red Wings left fielder Adam Brett Walker. Walker is a large gent (6’5″) with a propensity for either homering (27 dingers this year) or striking out (200 times in 475 at-bats).

100_7309.JPG

Silly-ass mascots.

100_7307.JPG

The seats next to the bullpen always draw the kids. I suspect all of these dudes went home with a ball and/or some autographs; they were acting that way.

100_7289.JPG

These guys from Rochester came to the Lehigh Valley, not knowing they were going to get their asses kicked. I can surely sympathize.

Fingers grow back.

Posted on

My latest recording is available at Bandcamp as of a few minutes ago. This time around I had help, from dozens of shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed, short-skirted teenagers who had no idea what I was doing.

thingsweburned1

The new one is called Things We Burned. It was created by extensively editing the music from a locally released 1970 album featuring various student performing ensembles from Penfield, N.Y., High School.

You’ve probably seen this kind of record in the crates. Maybe you even own one. The local high school concert band or marching band cuts some songs in a studio on the cheap, presses up some records, and sells ’em to parents and grandparents. Some end up sitting in a box years later in the bandroom storage area. That’s how this one landed in my hands.

The record — being bare-bones, as these things often seem to be — doesn’t have any performer credits beyond the names of the ensembles, so I can’t thank Johnny and Jane from the Class of ’71 for their groundbreaking work on tympani or flute. If you’re out there, and you read this, thanks. You played great. Knocked ’em dead.

The record also doesn’t have any copyright claim anywhere on its label or jacket. So far as I can tell, that places it in the public domain, and thus fair game for my kind of vandalistic re-creation.

What’s it sound like? As chaotic as all the other stuff I do, only this time there’s a concert band playing. Maybe that’s more palatable; maybe it isn’t.

It’s out there, anyway — and it’s name-your-own-price, which means free. So take two, tell your friends, and cover your ears.

A purely mathematical exercise.

Posted on

Rather than crack wise about old records, I’m going to try a different approach.

The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts has a couple of surveys from eastern Pennsylvania radio stations representing this week — one ending March 7, 1971; one ending March 11, 1974; one ending March 11, 1975; and one ending March 5, 1979.

To each song on the Top Ten, I’ll assign a numerical grade, ranging from 0 (never wanna hear it again) to 5 (one or two spins a week would be fine, thanks) to 10 (play it all night long).

Then I’ll add ’em all together, and the year with the highest score wins.

(And yeah, I’ll probably toss out a couple irresponsibly dismissive value judgments while I’m going about it.)

Here goes, then. All song titles are reproduced as they appear on the surveys, for what that’s worth.

1971 (WRAW-AM, Reading):
1. Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee – 8 (I’m kinda tired of this, but I can’t deny it’s a magnificent record, especially the joyous jam at the end)
2. The Carpenters – For All We Know – 2
3. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Seen The Rain – 6 (can’t give CCR too low a score, but I like it better when they put the pedal down a little bit more)
4. Jackson Five – Mama’s Pearl – 8 (this is glorious, at least until it gets too far away from the chorus and kinda loses its way)
5. Tom Jones – She’s A Lady – 7 (a different sort of glorious. Gloriously hammy.)
6. The Temptations – Just My Imagination – 6 (oh, yeah, that Stones tune)
7. Osmonds – One Bad Apple – 7 (and I could have given it a point or two more. Osmonds/Jax 5 back-to-back on the radio would have been as much fun, in its own way, as Beatles/Stones or Beatles/Beach Boys)
8. Partridge Family – Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted – 2
9. Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through The Night – 3
10. Wadsworth Mansion – Sweet Mary – 5 (for pop records about chicks, I’ll still take “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” but this one’s OK anyway)

1971’s total: 54
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all the songs?: Hard to say. The rest of the countdown is evenly split between killers – “I Hear You Knocking,” “Proud Mary,” “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” – and crap – “Cried Like A Baby,” “Amos Moses,” and “D.O.A.,” which would get a negative score if such a thing were possible.)

1974 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun – 0 (This one was in the midst of a three-week run at Number One nationally. The purest distillation of the tacky/mawkish side of the Seventies.)
2. Cher – Dark Lady – 1
3. John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder – 2
4. Carly Simon & James Taylor – Mockingbird – 3 (that’s being kind, probably, but it’s uncouth to speak ill of pregnant ladies)
5. Jim Stafford – Spiders & Snakes – 2
6. Redbone – Come Get Your Love – 5 (there is room in the universe for “it’s stupid but it grooves”)
7. David Essex – Rock On – 4
8. Sister Janet Meade – Lord’s Prayer – 1 (it’s probably uncouth to speak ill of nuns, also — they work hard for the money — so SJM gets a solitary point. If you look at the survey, WKAP was running a promotion for a private showing of “The Exorcist” at the same time it was spinning Sister Janet in heavy rotation.)
9. Paul McCartney – Jet – 9 (not Macca’s best lyric but a fabulous soaring piece of rock n’ roll, and one of my five favorite McCartney solo tunes, were I to list them)
10. Barbra Streisand – The Way We Were – 3

1974’s total: 30
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Yes, probably.)

1975 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1 Frankie Valli – My Eyes Adored You – 2
2 Minnie Riperton – Lovin’ You – 5
3 LaBelle – Lady Marmalade – 10 (not a typo, nor a mistake. Outrageous sassy New Orleans funk. The radio needed more of this. It still does.)
4 Doobie Brothers – Black Water – 7 (their finest moment? yeah, most likely.)
5 Sugarloaf – Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – 7 (underrated wiseassery)
6 Ringo Starr – No No Song/Snookeroo – 3
7 Styx – Lady – 2
8 Olivia Newton John – Have You Never Been Mellow – 2
9 Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces – 8 (I taped this off the radio when I was maybe 13 and just learning about a whole class of Seventies tunes that were bad and funky and colorful and totally un-Eighties. Like “Lady Marmalade.”)
10 Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful – 4 (as professional hit-making songwriters, did Dennis Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love all fare better in the Seventies than Brian Wilson?)

1975’s total: 50
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Probably not, although “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Harry Truman” and “Shaving Cream” would all have scored strongly.)

1979 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Neil Diamond – Forever In Blue Jeans – 3 (there’s more to this song than the chorus but damned if I remember it)
2. Little River Band – Lady – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
3. Rod Stewart – Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – 4 (Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” smokes this)
4. Dire Straits – Sultans Of Swing – 4 (should get more but I’m plenty sick of hearing it)
5. Melissa Manchester – Don’t Cry Out Loud – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
6. The Bee Gees – Tragedy – 4
7. The Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes – 4
8. Nigel Olsson – Dancin’ Shoes – 4 (never heard it enough for it to wear out its welcome)
9. The Babys – Every Time I Think Of You – 3
10. Donna Summer – Heaven Knows – 4

1979’s total: 34
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Possibly, though even in its full incarnation, the chart is lacking in 9 or 10-scores.)

The winner: For all the time I’ve spent deriding 1971 countdowns — it is, pound for pound, not my favorite year — that was a pretty good March to have the radio on. At least around here.

Are you ready for the night train?

Dear music writers of America:

I hope you haven’t submitted your Album Of The Year ballots yet … because, as 2015 approaches its twilight, the voice of the diddley bow is once again heard in the land.

NIGHTTRAIN

Yup. Proud to announce the arrival of Night Train To Sideways as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp.

It’s the fifth Kurt Blumenau recording (I hesitate to call them “albums”), and the second to feature the unaccompanied growl of the diddley bow.

Why do I do this? Mainly because I like the noises I make, and think somebody somewhere else might like ’em too.

So, I raise a one-stringed (though not one-fingered) toast to somebody somewhere else.

PS: Screeds-and-links for my previous recordings are here, here, here and here.

PPS: Anyone sending me a screenshot of a Night Train To Sideways track playing in their iTunes, phone or other digital music outlet wins lunch and a beer if we’re ever in the same place at the same time, as well as my undying gratitude.

I went back.

Posted on

I had no real good excuse to go back to the 50-cent bin at Allentown’s Double Decker Records.

But I went anyway, leaving roughly $10 in their coffers and walking out with another pile of secondhand (maybe even third- or fourth-hand) goodies.

I didn’t get any of the country or gospel stuff that turned my head the first time I went … mainly ’cause I couldn’t find any of it.

Instead, this latest batch is roughly equally split between Seventies mellow gold and classical.

Here’s the latest. Cheer or throw stuff as you choose:

101_1391To Be True, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass: A former No. 1 album on the R&B charts (for the week ending May 10, 1975), and a marvelous showcase for the finest voice Philly soul ever produced. Of all the stuff I bought, this got played first.

101_1393Tumbleweed Connection, Elton John: In 42-plus years of my existence, this is the first Elton John album I have ever owned. A few months ago, something brought me to a YouTube video with the entire album, and I listened to it all, thinking, “Y’know, this is pretty damned good.” Have listened to Side 2 since I got it home and my opinion has not changed.

101_1394There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Paul Simon: Forgetting that I will probably receive my parents’ vinyl copy of this in a month, I gave in to a whim and bought it. I hadn’t heard the full album from start to finish in many years. Put it on again last night and I thought it was solid, if a little too polite and well-groomed in places. (I had an incorrect memory that “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” went double-time at some point, the way “Kodachrome” does. It would have been better that way, methinks.)

101_1397The Marblehead Messenger, Seatrain: Double Decker Records had two Seatrain albums, neither of which included the band’s one semi-hit, “13 Questions.” I’d read about them, and something in their style (Wiki called it “roots-fusion”) sounded appealing, plus I’m a sucker for anything Massachusetts, so I figured this was worth a shot. (Also: Produced by George Martin.)

101_1398I’m In You, Peter Frampton: The second album on this list to stall at No. 2 on the U.S. album charts. I have written in the past (not in this space) about my deep fondness for the title track. As for the remainder … well, it was 50 cents, and in good shape. And Stevie Wonder and Ritchie Hayward are on it. I’ll listen at some point.

101_1400Beethoven: Christ on the Mount of Olives, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: From Frampton, to this … let’s play Segue Fever!
This record looks like the feel-good hit of the season, doesn’t it? Its aura of suffering and seriousness helped draw me in. This just looks like the sort of cultural work I need to chew on, and can only aspire to be worthy of and to understand. I feel like maybe I should drag nettles along my forearms while I listen.
(I do know that the Philly Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy was a force to be reckoned with; so whatever I think of the music, I’ll at least know that it’s being conducted and played about as well as it can be.)

101_1402Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Leopold Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra: Thanks perhaps to early exposure to EL&P, this is probably my favorite classical piece. And even though I’ve got CDs of Vladimir Horowitz playing it on solo piano and someone heavy (George Szell and Cleveland, maybe?) playing the orchestral arrangement, I’m still up for an additional version.
The bonus jam on this elpee is something called The Engulfed Cathedral, which sounds frothy and danceable.

101_1405Charles Ives: Symphony No. 1 and Three Places in New England, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: All the stuff I said about Ives in my first crate-digging expedition still applies. And hey, there’s Ormandy and the Philadelphians again. Not sure why I haven’t spun this one yet … maybe during dinner prep while I’m making tonight’s spring rolls?

101_1406Various and sundry by Britten, Elgar and Schoenberg, Victor Desarzens and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra: It looked interesting and  curious and sorta modern-ish, and it was 50 cents. If it sucks I’ll frame the cover. (The classical music industry has provided lucrative work for all manner of artists over the decades, hasn’t it?)

101_1408Camille Saint-Saens, I can’t read the rest of the bloomin’ cover but it’s a bunch of preludes for organ: I like pipe organ music.

101_1410Moments, Boz Scaggs: I read a contemporary Rolling Stone review of this that said it was a pretty good record, so I thought it was worth a shot. (I’m vaguely interested in what Boz was doing in the wilderness before Silk Degrees made him a superstar.) Features the studio version of “We Were Always Sweethearts.”

101_1413Bombs Away Dream Babies, John Stewart: The popularity of the single “Gold” (with help from Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks) lifted this one into the Top 10 on the LP chart in the summer of 1979. “Gold” is the only song I know, but I was in a mellow-gold mood, so I decided to give this a chance.
And really: Put a white guy in a white suit with a white Les Paul against a white background, and you’ve pretty much got the ultimate visual representation of mellow gold, haven’t you? If the music on the album is half of what the cover photo promises, it ought to be an easy ride.

101_1416Compositions by Bartok and Hindemith, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: What were we saying a moment ago about classical music providing extensive opportunities for graphic artists? I assume the two gents on the cover are Bartok and Hindemith, and not, say, Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. This one promises to break up the mellow gold nicely.
101_1418Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra: I’ve been meaning for years to try to work Bartok onto my dance card. Robert Fripp, who I consider one of the most creative and interesting guitarists to reach mainstream rock notoriety, has cited him as an influence. With a world-class orchestra playing, I figured it was worth a shot.
101_1420Beethoven: Emperor Concerto, Glenn Gould, Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra: We heard from Stokowski and the ASO the last time I went digging for vinyl. Here they are again, this time in the company of the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
“Will he ever get away from this highbrow shit and back to pop?” you ask. Well…
101_1422Chicago 13: This album — Chicago’s first LP without any hit singles at all, I believe — is so bad it’s almost legendary. I thought I had gotten away from buying bad music just to make myself laugh, but I guess not, quite. Features “Street Player,” the dance mix of which I enjoy unashamedly. Can’t wait to hear the songs where Peter Cetera sings in a lower register.
101_1423The Pretender, Jackson Browne: Another YouTube special; I found myself a while ago listening to the entire thing online and thinking, “Hey, this is much more accessible than Late For The Sky, and really is pretty good, except for the mock-flamenco Mexican-restaurant nonsense of ‘Linda Paloma,’ which I would instantly and invariably skip over if I owned my own copy.”
Well, now, I do.

101_1426Living and Dying In 3/4 Time, Jimmy Buffett: I have a dear old friend — one of my truest and longest — who introduced me years ago to both the first Ramones album and Blood On The Tracks, which gives you some idea of his eclecticism. In recent years he has become fond of Jimmy Buffett, so I figure I’ll check it out myself and see if there’s anything to it. (I made sure to find an album from Buffett’s earlier years, before he turned into a franchise.)

101_1428Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 and Karelia Suite, Alexander Gibson and the London Symphony: I have lit’rally no idea why I picked this up. We’re almost done, anyway.

101_1430Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione: The third album on this list to stall at No. 2. The title just about says it all, doesn’t it? Dunno why Betty got rid of her copy, but I’m glad she did.

The best-laid plans.

Posted on

The last time I wrote about an old local radio airplay chart, I found the story of a band that was huge on most continents but small potatoes in the U.S. … except for a couple of weeks in the Lehigh Valley, when they got Top Five airplay.

I’m looking at another of these old radio charts. And this time, the story is an album — one of those earnest high-concept Seventies jobbies — that stiffed in most other parts of the U.S., but was unaccountably popular here in the Valley.

Set the controls for the week ending Aug. 26, 1973, and the radio for Allentown’s old Top Forty station WAEB 790 AM.

Summer’s nearly over. What are the kids reporting for fall sports practice at Northampton and Nazareth and Becahi buzzing over?

Well, the list of top singles is a typical ’73 mix of the sublime (“Here I Am (Come And Take Me),” “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” “Live and Let Die”) and the ridiculous (“The Morning After,” “Uneasy Rider,” “Gypsy Rose”).

But what interests us is the LP chart. That’s an uneven mix too — you’ll see the kids in the Lehigh Valley getting off on Leon Live and Sing It Again, Rod alongside the more lasting likes of 1967-1970 and Countdown to Ecstasy.

And then, near the bottom, you’ll see the Osmonds’ The Plan.

The Plan, released in June of that year, is an openly religious album — an attempt by the group to express aspects of its Mormon faith in a pop setting.

If you skip to about 1:30 into this promotional video, you’ll see one of the guitar-toting Osmond bros explain it in a po-faced voice-over: “Recently, we released a new album … a concept album … based on our philosophies about life. Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going? In other words — the plan.”

Anybody who knows their Seventies pop culture knows where the Osmond family of Ogden, Utah, formed its “philosophies about life” — philosophies that guided the group members’ offstage lives and, on this album, spilled over into their music.

Like other musicians of faith — including fellow ’73 hitmakers George Harrison and Al Green — the Osmonds found ways to package their spiritual concerns in ways that would be palatable to a mass audience.

Two of the album’s songs cracked the lower reaches of the U.S. Top Forty and one hit No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart, testament to the professional talent of family songwriters Merrill and Wayne Osmond.

That said, online reviews of the album suggest that most listeners found The Plan too openly religious to embrace. (Some reviewers also criticize the album for skipping too wildly between musical genres.)

If you watch the promotional video above, skip to about 4:05 in, and you’ll see the brothers tackle a foreboding, heavy tune called “The Last Days,” which segues abruptly into a bouncy, encouraging tune called “One Way Ticket To Anywhere.” (This is just for the purposes of the promo video; the songs do not abut on the LP.)

For my taste, the whole thing seems a little too theatrical, a little too well-scrubbed, like the soundtrack to the spring musical at a religious high school.

This being the Osmonds, the whole thing is performed with the utmost professionalism, and it’s kinda catchy here and there … but ultimately, it just doesn’t hit a nerve for me.

Audiences in other countries loved it: According to Wiki, The Plan hit No. 6 in the U.K., and its singles went Top Five there.

But American album buyers only sent The Plan to No. 58 on the charts — a letdown compared to predecessor LPs Crazy Horses (No. 14, 1972) and Phase III (No. 10, 1971.) By the standards of religious albums, The Plan was a strong success; by the standards of mainstream pop, it was a misfire.

(It’s true that bands appealing to the teenybop market tend to have short, torrid runs of popularity … and maybe the Osmonds’ time would have been up in 1973 even if they’d released a fully secular album. As it was, they chose to take a chance; commercially, it did not pay off.)

Which brings us back to WAEB in the Lehigh Valley, where listeners highly rated The Plan, even though the region is not particularly a stronghold of the Mormon faith.

In the invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts, only five charts mention The Plan — one apiece from Buffalo, N.Y.; Oklahoma City; Provo, Utah (a Number Three hit there, not surprisingly); Windsor, Ontario, Canada; and Allentown.

That doesn’t mean The Plan wasn’t popular anywhere else. Some Top Forty stations’ airplay charts focused heavily on singles, paying little or no attention to LPs. And the ARSA database is not comprehensive, so there could be additional local charts with The Plan that haven’t yet been scanned in.

Still, the available evidence suggests that the Lehigh Valley embraced this record in a way that didn’t happen just about anywhere else.

The WAEB chart came out a good two months after the album did. So the placement of The Plan must have been based on genuine popularity, rather than being a pre-emptive strike on the station’s part. (i.e., “the kids love the Osmonds, and this new album will probably be hot, so we’ll put it on our Top Ten.”)

The only explanation I can think of for The Plan‘s strong local sales is that eternal shifter of units: Tour dates.

The Osmonds played the Great Allentown Fair — a major annual event, held around Labor Day — in 1973. They’d played the fair the year before, according to the local paper, and would be back yet again in 1975 and 1978. Presumably the anticipation of their upcoming gig drove the local kids out to their local record stores to pick up The Plan.

The Osmonds gigged in lots of other places where The Plan didn’t chart, so that doesn’t seem like an ironclad reason.

But at this distance, trying to peer back into the haze of a distant late summer, that’s as much as I can come up with.