Encore Performances: B.A.L.L.S. to You (Part Two).

In which we flip over to Side Two of the Ballads, Atmospheres, Laments and Love Songs tape (a.k.a. B.A.L.L.S.) and review the other 45 minutes of music I used to listen to while roaming the ‘burbs.
(If you missed the first installment of this, click here to read.)

I’ll again include YouTube links to the songs where available, for anyone who wants ’em.
You will be less likely to want them than you might have been on Side 1.

Sentimental Lady,” Fleetwood Mac: Still prefer the original ’72 Mac version to the solo version that was a hit for Bob Welch five years later.
Not sure what there was in sentimental ladies to appeal to a 16-year-old boy, but I’ve always liked a good melody wherever I could find it.
Mellow not-quite-gold.

Let Me Roll It,” Paul McCartney and Wings: In which Macca lovingly if unintentionally tips his cap to his old mate John, and my mix gains the slightest of rockish tinges for a couple of minutes.
I dug this for some reason when I was 16, but listening now, it seems more repetitive to me than anything else.

Running Wild,” Roxy Music: Roxy was about as edgy as a loveseat by 1980, but they could still produce a heart-tugging grown-up ballad, with Bryan Ferry’s quaver front and center as always.
From the Flesh & Blood album, which was so unbearably marshmallowy I traded it in after a while. This was probably one of the better tunes on it, whatever that says about it.

“I Talk To The Wind,” King Crimson: Oh, God. Long, dour, mock-profound hippie jam.
You’d think “Sparkling In The Sand” would have taught me to avoid flute solos like the plague.
But no.
Robert Fripp tosses off an acceptably jazzy guitar solo, and Mike Giles turns in some similarly-acceptably-jazzy drum flourishes, but that’s aboot it.
The wind does not hear … the wind cannot hear … and perhaps the wind is the luckier for it.

(The studio version of this tune appears to have been chased off YouTube, which for purposes of this blog post is probably all the better. Here it is live in 1969. And here’s an 8-bit cover. It might be better.)

Have You Seen The Stars Tonite,” Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship: Now this is what a hippie jam should be.
Kantner’s insistent open-tuned acoustic strumming anchors a simple construction that, while set in outer space, still seems touched by the warm amber glow of a setting sun.
Lovely harmonies from David Crosby and quicksilver steel from Jerome J. Garcia, then firmly in his Buddy-Emmons-of-Marin-County phase.

This is originally from the ur-1970 Blows Against the Empire LP.
But the place I first made its acquaintance was Flight Log, the double-LP 1977 set that summed up the previous decade’s best work from the Jefferson Starplane extended family.
A superb album; one of the soundtracks to my high school existence; and sadly, only issued on CD in Japan.

“The Long and Winding Road,” Beatles: The studio version of this one appears to have been banished from YouTube also; this is the closest I can get.

Yeah, you know this one. There’s a tear in Macca’s beer, in part because he’s forced to hear Lennon try to navigate his lovely toon on the unfamiliar dimensions of a bass guitar.
(In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian McDonald goes on at great length about the many muffs that can be heard if you listen closely enough to Lennon’s bass part.)

A pretty song, sure enough, but it wonders me why I didn’t put “Something” on instead.
I guess it’s easy to prefer self-pity when your dating record is 0-for-16-years.

Speaking of self-pity …

Oh Lonesome Me,” Neil Young: Oh, God, times ten. Is it too late to pretend some other, cooler, more listenable, less dreadfully whiny song was in this spot?

I wish I’d had the good taste to omit this one and instead include “The Losing End (When You’re On)” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which is somewhat similar in content, but more original and less cloying in its lachrymosity.

Or “Don’t Cry No Tears” or “Pardon My Heart” from Zuma … or a good angry live version of “Like A Hurricane” … or … or … aw, shit.

Any World That I’m Welcome To,” Steely Dan: From my favorite Dan album, 1975’s Katy Lied.

An excellent evocation of buried trauma and square-peg rootlessness (“I’ve got this thing inside me / That’s got to find a place to hide me“) … tailor-made for that inner voice that says there’s gotta be something different and maybe even wrong about you, dude, ’cause otherwise why would you be walking the streets at 1:30 in the morning thinking about girls who only think about you when they wanna copy off your homework?

On the mythical reboot of this remix, I’d probably swap this one out for the original demo version of “Brooklyn” with Fagen singing, or maybe “Deacon Blues,” or even the underrated “Razor Boy” from Countdown to Ecstasy.

Mean Mistreater,” Grand Funk Railroad: Mark Farner played keyboards acceptably, as was famously said about Tom Lehrer and Jerry Garcia.
And on this particular heartbreak souvenir, he puts down his guitar and applies himself to a couple basic patterns on electric piano.

The song is no great shakes, but Don and Mel nudge Mark into a mid-song jam that gathers a refreshing bit of momentum.
And the tone of the electric piano is nice enough to bathe in — rich and ringing and resonant.

Silly Love Songs,” Wings: No longer inclined to either tolerate or pay tribute to Lennon, McCartney bursts out with a perfect distillation of what makes him great.
The crowning moment of Macca’s solo career, and a pleasure to encounter in any setting, as far as I’m concerned.

As a love song, of course, it sticks out like a sore thumb here on Side Two. Not sure what I was thinking, tonewise. Its placement very near the end does kinda suggest that love conquers all, though. Honor thy mixtape as a hidden intention.

“The Sheltering Sky,” King Crimson: We close with an entry from the Atmospheres column, and yet another toon that’s not on YouTube in its original incarnation (here’s a live version.)
In which the 1981 King Crimson — almost an entirely different ensemble than 1969 King Crimson — hunkers down next to a slow fire in some Moroccan desert outpost and boils down a simple Middle Eastern riff until it practically falls apart over rice.
Depending on my mood, this is either exotic and relaxing, or well-nigh interminable.

We don’t make it to the end on B.A.L.L.S. Side Two, though, thanks to the time limitations of 90-minute tape.

And there you have it — the soundtrack to my nocturnal teenage creepy-crawling.
Time for me to start for home and curl up between the sheets.

Encore Performances: B.A.L.L.S. to You (Part One).

This appeared on the old blog almost exactly five years ago. A musing about mixtapes by a social media acquaintance reminded me of it. This has been somewhat reworked for its encore appearance. Part II to come.
As with all other content on this blog, YouTube links are only guaranteed to work at the time of posting.

We celebrate this blog’s four-year anniversary by plunging headlong into our navel — or, more accurately, retracing our steps into our 16-year-old navel.
(Yeah, I know. A trip everyone wants to take. But hey, it’s no less relevant than anything else I’ve written. And the soundtrack’s interesting.)

From time to time, at a certain age, I would spend summer nights by sneaking out in the early morning and going walking in a massive subdivision not too far from my house.
At 1:30 in the morning, on dark summer nights with barely a breeze, I’d be skulking past the split-levels with my Walkman, generally thinking about girls I didn’t have the cojones to ask out, and girls who’d never noticed me, and girls who seemed to exist in other universes.
There were other things to think about besides unattained girls (eventually, I managed to attain one, so I’m sure she got on the agenda too), but that was probably a good part of what was on the mental menu.

I had the perfect soundtrack for my wanderings in a certain hand-assembled mixtape.
I called it “Ballads, Atmospheres, Laments and Love Songs,” which not only summed up the contents perfectly, but made for a charming acronym as well.
Mood music for the angsty teenage soul.
(There was also a companion tape of the heaviest, fuzziest arena-rock I could find, called “Assorted Rockers, Grinders and Guitar Heaviness,” or A.R.G.G.H. We won’t be covering that today, or any other day.)

I still have my tape of nocturnal ballads (editorial update: not any more I don’t.) And, motivated by an email conversation with an old high school friend, I dug it out and listened to it.

And now, through the eyes of a 42-year-old, I’m going to review it, one 45-minute side at a time.

B.A.L.L.S. to you all, then.

Side One:

The Song Is Over,” The Who: I still love the mesmeric musical atmosphere of this, even if Pete Townshend’s lyrical references to mountains, sky and wide-open spaces reveal his rarely acknowledged debt to the Von Trapp family.

Another Who song that effectively uses Townshend and Roger Daltrey on different vocal parts to best advantage.

MIA,” Aerosmith: Some say the title is a reference to Steven Tyler’s daughter Mia, while others say it’s a reference to recently departed guitarist Joe Perry. This is what passes for ambiguity in the music of Aerosmith.
OK, it’s more complex than “Big Ten Inch Record,” anyway.

Features a nice harmonized guitar solo from Perry, or Brad Whitford, or Jimmy Crespo, or Golda Meir, or whoever was in the studio at the time and able to stand upright and play the neck in the middle.
Other than that, not that much to stick in the mind.

You See Me Crying,” Aerosmith: That’s right, a double dose of Steven Tyler power ballads. I must really have been melancholic. (Although, for the record, I never actually cried over anybody. Not wired that way.)

It says something about my 16-year-old taste that “Seasons of Wither,” Tyler’s most effective ballad of the ’70s, and “Dream On,” his most commercially successful, are both nowhere to be found here.

From Aero’s commercial breakthrough, Toys In The Attic, this would be a better song if Tyler had resisted the urge to sing the third verse in his castrated-alley-cat upper register.

Sail On Sailor,” Beach Boys: From 1973’s In Concert album, Blondie Chaplin explores Brian Wilson’s nautical neuroses in front of a full hockey rink.

Despite its weaknesses (where’s Dennis Wilson, besides the cover?), In Concert is a fine album because it kicks a lot of the studio versions in the ass and gives them new energy.
(If you only know the studio version of “Marcella,” for instance, you don’t fully appreciate the song.)
That’s true for “Sail On Sailor,” which gains a kind of saunter in its live incarnation, without compromising the fear and loneliness in the lyrics.
I would have liked to see that edition of the band.

I Think You Know,” Todd Rundgren: I still hear this one in my head, 25+ years later … one of the toons that cemented my fondness for Rundgren, no matter how much he insists on testing it.
What better lyric for a midnight ramble than “I can’t explain / What’s in my brain / It tells me where to go“?

Incidentally, the girl who eventually agreed to go out with me (though I still went night-walking every so often, just on principle) was/is the daughter of two Rundgren fans whose names appear on the big fold-out poster included in the Todd album.
(A little background for non-fans: Rundgren’s A Wizard/A True Star? album included a card that fans could send in to have their names included in some unspecified future project.
The follow-up album, Todd, included a big poster of the album cover photo, rendered in lines of text made up of the names of fans who had submitted the card. I no longer remember where on the poster my ex’s parents’ names are, but I was much impressed at the time.)

Just One Victory,” Todd Rundgren and Utopia: Taken from the Another Live album, 1975.
A classic anthem of honky-soul uplift, and still a pleasure to listen to.
Not really a ballad, atmosphere or lament; I’m not sure how it ended up on this mix except that I liked it.
Maybe I thought I’d go jump off the nearby water tower if I didn’t have something to lift my spirits.

Dear Prudence,” The Beatles: In terms of ballads, atmospheres or laments, “Julia” might have been a better choice from the White Album.
Still, this Lennon tune holds up OK, big heavy ending and all.
I love how the fingerpicked guitar trails off at the end. Still my favorite part of the song.

Sparkling In The Sand,” Tower of Power: From their wonderfully named debut album, East Bay Grease.
A pretty ballad and the very essence of smoove longing; but way, way, way too long at nine minutes.
In my grown-up review, this was the first song I fast-forwarded through, and I think I did that fairly frequently as a kid too.
(There was no Ron Burgundy back then to make bossa-nova flute solos seem like laughable indulgence.)
The version linked above runs 4:30 or so and is cut down from the album version; you can thank me later.

Bell Bottom Blues,” Derek and the Dominos: My relationship to Eric Clapton’s music has largely curdled in recent years. I’ve grown tired of guitar-hero posturing and mass-produced electric blues. Oh, and Enoch Powell.

But this … this is exquisite, heartfelt and fiery, and also refreshing proof that my musical taste at age 16 was not all shite.

Neat touch: Note how Clapton sings along with the first four notes of his solo (“doo doo doo doo,”) then lets his fingers do the walking the rest of the way.

All Blues,” Miles Davis: This was always a jam favorite in the high school bandroom. Some days we played it fast; some days we played it glacially slow; but we never played it as well as Miles and company did in 1959.

And — click! — that’s the end of Side One.
See y’all on the flip side.

The end of the Age of Plastic.

Nice seeing you again.

I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been struggling with depression and discontent and a bunch of other shit I’m not gonna air out to the general public. (I’ve read several great first-person blog posts about what depression feels like. This won’t be one of them.)

I decided a good cleaning out and life-scrubbing might be one thing I could do to feel better.

And as part of that, I finally went to my small storage room this afternoon and cleaned out two big cardboard boxes full of cassettes. They’re all in the trash now, on their way to the landfill.

I feel momentarily bad because, while the tape boxes are probably recyclable, the tapes themselves are not. I’m sure I’m spitting a big indigestible wad into whatever hole in the ground the township uses to dispose of its unwanted matter. But, what other option is there for a 21st century schizoid man?

tapes018

It occurs to me that some future civilization will probably be able to reproduce the contents of trashed cassette tapes, thenceforth to learn a great deal about life in the late 20th century.

My guess is they won’t bother, though. Future scientists will be too busy trying to keep themselves alive to spend time on unearthed relics. The imperative of filtering mercury, piss and petroleum distillates out of the “drinking water” will outweigh the importance of restoring Grant and Michelle’s 4Ever Love Mix ’91.

(This is why I don’t believe in cryonics. Do you truly think the people living on whatever colossally fucked version of Earth is still circling the sun in the year 2400 are really gonna want to spend time reviving and curing their cancer-wracked ancestors? Those living at that point will envy the dead, not revive them. But, I digress.)

Going through these cassettes brought me back to the hours of time I spent bent over record players making them, mostly in the house where I lived during high school and college.

It was a useful reminder that all our labors are doomed to obsolescence and failure over time.

(You don’t need to go see the half-buried Sphinx to learn this. A trip to the basement will suffice. Look on my labours, garbageman, and despair.)

Some of these tapes dated back to middle school, more than a quarter-century ago. Some of them kept me company in the ’83 Nissan Pulsar I used to drive in high school.

Many of them contained music that was once very dear to me — and, in a few cases, still is. We’re talking about some truly seminal stuff in the development of yours truly.

But, the sun has set on the cassette format, at least in my house. Some of this music I still own on LP. Others, I have bought on CD or downloaded in MP3 form.

The hard fact is, no matter how much I love the music on these tapes, I’m just never gonna listen to it in cassette format again. To tell myself otherwise is just clinging to the past.

A lot of old friends with a lot of stories just went into the trash. So they don’t go untold or unrecognized, I’ll tell them now:

– At least two different tapes with the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. Mick Jagger singing “Stray Cat Blues” was just about the baddest, filthiest shit going when I was 14, and I listened to it at every opportunity.

– At least two copies of Appetite for Destruction, complete with robot-rape scene on the inside cover. Neither copy was ever mine, since I only owned the album on used CD.

– The tape my high-school band director gave me because he wanted me to learn the song on it for a school concert … which I promptly dubbed over with Aerosmith’s Rocks on one side and Draw The Line on the other.

(From the stable platform of grown-up maturity I say: Eat it, Ned.)

– The early tape mixes I made off the radio when my tastes were just waking up, back around 1986. (The one in front of me as I type this ranges from “Get Off Of My Cloud,” to Howlin’ Wolf, to “Life’s Been Good,” to “A Day In The Life.” Ah, to be 12 and have the radio present new, unknown treasures to me daily.)

– A tape with Jeff Beck’s Truth on one side and the Ramones’ first album on the other, made probably circa 1987 by a good friend who’d gotten into them both and shared the goodness, however scattershot it looks now.

– An official made-by-Columbia-Records copy of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks that I just flat-out found somewhere — like, by the side of the road once.

I wouldn’t have bought it because the friend who introduced me to Jeff Beck and the Ramones gave me a copy of Blood on the Tracks as a high school graduation present, telling me it was a soundtrack to breakups yet to come. He was a smart son-of-a-bitch.

Yeah, I took pix with the biscuit camera, because it was there.
Yeah, I took pix with the biscuit camera, because it was there.

– A tape of Miles Davis’ final studio album, Doo-Bop, picked out of a Boston-area bargain bin by college-age me. I liked it OK then; not sure what I’d think now.

yeah, I took pix with the biscuit camera, because it was there.

– The Vinnie Vincent Invasion tape I picked up as a joke out of an on-campus free-bin during an art-school graduation in Rhode Island. (Sample lyric: “She gives the right amount of pleasure / She blisters my love zone.”)

– Tapes my friends made me over the years with tunes they wanted to turn me on to — everything from Elton John to Queens of the Stone Age. (Thank you, friends. You turned my ears more than I ever let you know.)

– The tape with the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead on one side and the Rolling Stones’ 12×5 on the other. Two of the earliest LPs I ever owned; both still in my collection a quarter-century later; both indispensable in their own ways.

– The tape of KISS: Alive! I put on my battered old boombox just a few years ago, it seems, when I was painting large chunks of my house. (Probably closer to a decade ago than I care to imagine.)

KISS Alive!

I wrote a blog post some time ago about the weird combinations of albums I sometimes threw onto both sides of a 90-minute tape.

See, I’d buy a bunch of albums at a time. And I’d throw the best onto tape so I could have them with me at all times, regardless of whether they made stylistic sense together or not.

Some of the unlikely bedfellows that are en route to the trash (and I have tape-case labels to prove all this, at least until my son takes out the trash next Monday night):

– Roxy Music, Flesh and Blood, and Alice Cooper, Killer

– Iggy and the Stooges, Raw Power, and Yes, The Yes Album

– Sly and the Family Stone, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Over-Nite Sensation

– The Clash, London Calling, and Free, Fire and Water. (My high school bass teacher, who died too young, turned me on to the latter. These are two damned good albums, even if they go together like … well, fire and water.)

– Bob Dylan, Desire, and Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

– Talking Heads, Fear of Music, and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Lick My Decals Off Baby

– James Brown, Live at the Apollo, and Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Blood and Chocolate

– Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and the New York Philharmonic playing Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2. (To be honest, I didn’t listen to the Ives much; but, five points to my folks for having it in their LP collection, and a point-and-a-half to me for dubbing it.)

– Santana, Abraxas, and Bob Marley and the Wailers, Catch A Fire, with the Bay City Rollers as filler

(This reminds me of a disagreement I had with my older brother back in high school. He would leave the last minute-and-a-half of his tapes empty, because he hated to have a song get cut off. I was a sucker for hooks, even if they got interrupted, so I’d fill every single last second of recordable tape on my cassettes.)

– Steely Dan, Katy Lied, and Deep Purple, Burn

– Funkadelic, Maggot Brain, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Weasels Ripped My Flesh (two distinctly different bastions of American individuality, circa 1971)

I didn’t throw out every single tape in the two boxes.

Anything involving my high school and college bands got kept. (If I played on it, I kept it.)

So did some of the tapes of me on the air at Boston University’s radio station, and some of the tapes of my friend at St. Bonaventure University’s radio station who played songs by my high-school band.

And the stolen cassette of Zappa/Mothers tunes that permanently warped my brain when I was in fourth grade survives for another day. (I’ve told that story before.)

The rest of it is gone; and bless it.

It helped Younger Kurt through all the stuff that an average American male dealt with between 1985 and, oh, 2005 or so.

It deserves a kinder fate; but, such is not the way of life.

The fate awaiting Older Kurt will probably not be any kinder, if that’s any consolation. But we’re not there quite yet.

For now, we will hit Rewind once more in our memory … let the music go backward a prudent distance … and enjoy it again.