RSS Feed

Tag Archives: high school

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

Posted on

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.

Advertisements

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

Posted on

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.

You had to be there.

Posted on

Another tease for the previous post before we begin this one. You like anal-retentive quizzes about the kinds of details you can only learn by staring for hours at album covers? Well, we have just the thing for you, Bunky. Go check it out.

I get hung up on music trivia sometimes — like a certain lick on a record, or a cryptic liner note. The post mentioned above will attest to my flights into detail.

But what really gets me going about pop music is the role it plays in people’s lives … the way it sets a backdrop for personal events, and sometimes even seems to comment on them.

By and large, it’s more interesting to imagine the real-life interactions that took place to the tune of “#9 Dream” than it is to imagine Klaus Voorman in the studio laying down the bass track.

(I spent some time on that very exploration once; the results can be found here.)

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I spent some time surfing a scanned-in high school yearbook from the 1970s — specifically, the Norwood (Mass.) High School Tiot, 1976 edition (incorrectly labeled as 1978 online.)

To answer two questions that will inevitably arise: I lived in Norwood about 20 years ago, and a random Google search for my old address led me to the yearbook. And no, I don’t know what a Tiot is.

Anyway, the members of the Class of ’76 were allotted a few lines of commentary along with their senior portraits.

And damned if it didn’t seem like one out of every six seniors had been to the Beach Boys-Chicago concert at the old Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro on June 29, 1975.

References to the show came up time and time again, even from people who left only one or two other notes behind.

It must have been the social event, not just of that year, but of the full four-year enlistment of the Class of ’76. I read the entire senior section of that yearbook, and no other inside joke, reference or event had the shared staying power of the Beach Boys-Chicago concert.

A concert at the end of June would have been a marvelous beginning, not just to the summer, but also to the senior year of the Class of ’76. It must have seemed like a party set up just for them.

Chicago and the Beach Boys were both very successful and in good fighting trim in the summer of ’75, too. So the actual performance was probably pretty solid as well.

As I read the yearbook, my imagination was populated by the kids of Norwood High meeting, greeting, getting together, hanging out, breaking up, hooking up, snogging, arguing, pondering philosophy, scoring mood-enhancers and drinking beers — all set against the backdrop of a summer night’s musical party with 55,000 other people.

And of course, my mind also ran to the unfortunates — those seniors who couldn’t get tickets, or who were otherwise occupied that night.

In particular, I’m imagining some sad-sack senior committed to work that night at a pizza place, putting in time to pay for his gas and grass … and at 11:30, about a dozen of his classmates come waltzing in, ripped to the gunwales, telling him about everything he missed.

I might be over-romanticizing things, but this concert reminds me of one I went to myself, 13 years later.

It was June 10, 1989, and the Steve Miller Band was playing the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, N.Y.

The venue’s management had apparently expected a middling crowd of aged hippies, since Miller hadn’t had a chart hit in six or seven years. But Miller’s ’70s greatest hits album was hugely popular among teens in those days, and the hill of the amphitheater was crawling with kids, like a pre-graduation party for dozens of high schools.

You could probably open a 1990 yearbook from any high school in a five-county range and find at least one or two senior wills with references to the Steve Miller Band at Canandaigua.

The Beach Boys-Chicago show sounds like it was one of Those Shows, only even bigger and more epic.

I wonder if there are members of the Norwood High Class of ’76 who can still close their eyes and go back there … smell the smoke, see their friends and hear the horn section.

I imagine so.

Faded glory.

I don’t spend much time in high schools nowadays. The little time I do spend in my local school is generally limited to the auditorium, where the quarterly band concerts are.

One of my kids had his first youth basketball practice today, so I got to infiltrate the athletic wing.

I couldn’t recall having been there before. It was shinier and nicer-smelling than the high-school athletic wing of my youth.

(Most things I run into are shinier and nicer-smelling than they were in 1990. Curious, that.)

But one thing about the athletic area made it instantly familiar.

trophies

It occurred to me that every high school in the country could have the exact same trophies in its display cases, and no one would ever be the wiser.

Perhaps they all do, and these display cases are a quiet, chuckling in-joke among the athletic directors of the world.

(I bet you never thought of your local high school athletic director as puckish, playful or humorous. Maybe he’s playing a fabulous prank on the entire community, out there in plain sight.)

I also had the thought that, at some athletically challenged high school, the senior class might take the money for its senior gift and buy 10 “historic” awards to beef up the school trophy case.

C’mon. If you walked past a display case with plaques reading Runner-Up Hurricane Invitational 1982 and Regional Tournament Champions 1988 and Gus Kekula All-State Third Baseman 1973, would you have any idea they were fake and had been newly minted a month before?

Seems to me that a creatively minded senior class gift could jump-start an athletic tradition at their high school. It would be a better investment than a new sign or new granite bench in front of the school.

I kinda hope I’m not the first person who ever thought of this, and that someone’s actually done it. I’ll never know, though.

(Which is as it should be.)

I was on a couple of cross-country teams in high school that came away from meets with hardware. I wonder if those plaques and trophies are still on display.

My guess is probably not. My old school’s sports teams have gotten markedly better since I graduated. (Coincidence? No.)

I imagine the trophies of 1990 have long since been shouldered aside by garlands of more recent vintage.

That’s fine with me. High schools are no place for immortality, and I have no problem accepting that there is no trace of me left at my old school.

If I’d been All-State, like old Gus Kekula, maybe I’d feel differently.

From the Valley: “Petrella Orchards,” Boss Tweed.

Posted on

Another in a series of posts about recent online releases by Lehigh Valley bands.

I love high school rock bands. I’ll listen to anybody’s, any time.

I’m a sucker for the concept of kids getting together in dingy basements, overcoming their jitters, regurgitating their shared influences and finding something of their own together … even if the execution frequently leaves much to be desired.

How fortunate, then, that Boss Tweed should come along just in time for the launch of the From the Valley series.

Boss Tweed — known to the girls at Our Lady of Perpetual Insouciance High as Korey, Michal, Riley and Isaac — posted what I think is their first full-length recording, Petrella Orchards, just about a week ago.

“This album was written for all those miley cyrus fans,” their Bandcamp page declares. “We are modern cosmonauts and are sexy and hairy.”

Clearly, they don’t take themselves too seriously. (Plus, they’re savvy enough to maybe pick up a couple hits from Web-surfers looking for Miley Cyrus.)

But are they any good?

Well, that depends what you’re looking for. I didn’t find any of their lyrics (such as could be understood) particularly memorable.

And for the most part, their rhythm section doesn’t swing, cook, bop, groove, jive or otherwise propel the band in any firm direction.

If I had to give these guys any advice (and yeah, I’m fully aware that no one asked me, and I’ve turned into the annoying, well-meaning 40-year-old I never wanted to become), I’d suggest that they pick a band they like that grooves, and absorb its music for a while.

Sleep it, breathe it, pour it on their pancakes, dive down in it until something like it starts coming out in their own tunes. Because sexy cosmonaut shenanigans go over much better when people can shake their asses at the same time.

Enough of that, though. Criticizing garage bands is like shooting at lifeboats. And, in any event, there is plenty to like about Petrella Orchards.

The rubbery chug of the guitars suggests the glory days of rock n’ roll primitivism, redolent of “Surfin’ Bird” and twisting in the basement.

High school bands today have access to better performing and recording gear than ever before. But I kind of like the fact that Boss Tweed — which cites surf music as an influence — still has a touch of the old twang people used to get playing Harmony guitars through cardboard Sears amps.

“Mother Theresa,” meanwhile, features a gnarly fuzztone that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Nuggets. That gladdened my heart to hear, let me tell you. I bet these guys could do a pretty mean version of “Psychotic Reaction” if they could be troubled to learn it.

(“Strawberry Jam,” with its reverberant vocals, insistent riffing and weird not-quite-a-Hammond-organ sound, could hold its head up proudly on Nuggets as well. Sexy modern cosmonauts for the win!)

I was all set to dislike “Jack Bauer is a Badass” — pop culture is the easiest possible thing to bash out a song about, and maybe the laziest.

And then Boss Tweed’s singer (it’s either Korey, Michal or Isaac) unexpectedly burst out with a falsetto “Jack Bauer!” about an octave higher than the others. It was loose and sloppy and inspired, and it didn’t give a damn, and it reminded me of Willie “Loco” Alexander doing the same thing on “Mass. Ave.” In other words, it ruled.

I could probably toss out a couple other examples, but you get the idea. The spirit of DIY basement rock is good and alive in these guys, if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing.

And in the end, a high-school band that doesn’t take itself too seriously and stumbles every so often (the last word of Petrella Orchards is an embarrassed Shit!”) is far better company than a high-school band that can crank out professional-quality, note-for-note covers.

“Strawberry Jam” is probably my favorite song here. But it’s worth the trip to go to Petrella Orchards and pick your own.

Petrella Orchards can be streamed and downloaded here.