We teamed up with Sioux Falls’ Different Folk Records to co-release Jack Klatt’s new album, Shadows in the Sunset. It’s in stores today, but Jack’s release show for the album will be May 7th at the Icehouse (details here).
Shadows in the Sunset was recorded live to 2” tape in just three days at a beautiful reclaimed church in Viroqua, WI, that dates to the early 1900s. Produced and engineered by Tom Herbers (who also recorded Ben Weaver’s I Would Rather Be A Buffalo for our label) Klatt says the album “holds in its grooves ten thousand miles of asphalt, about eight pairs of good shoes, and the generosity of a thousand strangers. It’s a collection of stories about the beauty of blazing sunsets, the art of saying goodbye, and letting endings turn into new beginnings.”
One subject to appear in much of what has been written about Prince since his unexpected and tragic passing last week is his frequent legal battles with Warner Brothers Records. During his conflict with the label over the pace of releasing his recordings, leading up to The Gold Experience in the mid 90s, Prince made his famous appearances with the word “SLAVE” written on his cheek. He also said at times that the reason he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol was because he felt the label owned his name.
Pop records have made reference to the underside of the music industry and artist/label relations since at least around the time Prince was born. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Money” and the Byrds’ “So You Wanna be a Rock and Roll Star?” are both examples of successful sixties singles which reference the industry this way.
Billy Joel has never had a warm relationship with his label, Columbia Records. He presented a particularly sardonic view of the industry in “The Entertainer,” a song of his third album. Describing the decision to shorten his break-through hit for its release as a single, he sings
It was a beautiful song but it ran to long
If you’re gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05
Streetlife Serenade is hardly remembered as one of Joel’s best albums. He complains that he was under such pressure to tour he didn’t have time to write enough songs. Columbia had him opening for big name acts like the Beach Boys at the time — this is probably why the album has two instrumental tracks as filler.
Another band with a high-pressure opening gig at the time was Lynyrd Synyrd, who joined the Who on the Quadrophenia tour in 1973 after the release of their first album. The first side of Second Helping, recorded after the tour, ends with “Workin’ for MCA,” a song about the label which ended the band’s “seven years of bad luck.” The song sounds mostly positive about their experience, but the last line is a warning to the label which Prince would probably have endorsed:
I’ll sign my contract baby, and I want you people to know That every penny that I make, I’m gonna see where my money goes
This next artist/label conflict carried over to the cover of the album itself. After their fourth album was rejected and delayed by Apple Records, Badfinger commissioned Peter Corriston to paint the cover (Corriston also made covers for Carole King, The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, Tom Waits, and many more). His painting portrays a donkey being led off into the desert by a gigantic, but unreachable carrot — presumably representing the way the band felt they had been misled by Apple Records.
The album also became part of a music publishing conflict between the group and the label, so the songs were not credited on original pressings. That’s too bad, because Pete Ham deserves credit for his hilarious break-up song intended for the label, “Apple of my Eye.”
Ass was also an album dumped in the cutout bins quickly, so actually copies like the one pictured (with an intact jacket) are probably harder to find. Its release delayed Badfinger’s debut for Warner Brothers, which the band wanted to title For the Love of Money, a decision rejected by their new label.
The only time the commentary on the record label was released on another label that we’ve found is “EMI,” the last song on Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. The band had signed a contact with EMI, but were dropped after an incident on television in which Johnny Rotten repeatedly cursed at the host, causing a national uproar.
“EMI” ends with the band saying “Hullo A&M,” but this relationship also didn’t last, owing to equally outlandish behavior. A&M actually pressed 25,000 copies of their second single, “God Save the Queen,” but after dropping the band they were summarily destroyed. It is believed about a dozen exist today, making them among the world’s rarest and most valuable 45s.
Virgin Records signed the band, and manager Malcolm McLaren negotiated a deal for the album to be distributed in the United States by none other than Warner Brothers.
But first, this: the editors of The Star Tribune should be ashamed of today’s front page story about Prince. Their speculation that Prince’s sudden death was due to drug use is based on “unnamed sources” which are clearly the half-brother who sued the rock star several times, and a downright greedy lawyer.
Where the Carver County Sheriff’s office has reminded people that Prince was “a very good neighbor” and declared they will respect his privacy, The Star Tribune has sunk to a new low by placing their unfounded speculations on the front page. Even their own local music writer called the article out as “pitiful.”
Let’s hope that’s the last word on our hometown newspaper, which once again proves to be an embarrassment.
Here’s something from the lighter side of music news:
The Louis Armstrong House Museum has shared with the world rare footage of the legend himself in the recording studio. It was discovered in a warehouse in 2012, and released through the help of his daughter Andrea Bass. One would think there would be more film of Armstrong recording, considering his long and prolific recording career, but there isn’t — making this glimpse into his work all the more valuable to fans.
This was followed by a second discovery which delighted jazz enthusiasts all over the world. In a storage facility in Germany, three metal mothers featuring Armstrong and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra were found. They had been sent by Okeh Records for pressing by Odeon, but for some unknown reason were never used.
The result is magnificently clear sound for the recordings, made in 1928.
The metal mother falls in the middle of the process of 78rpm record production. It is cast from the lacquer first cut, called the master, on a lathe by a skilled engineer as the recording is in progress. These are very delicate and ideally cast as quickly as possible into a form called the matrix, through a process called electrotyping. In brief, the lacquer is dipped in a bath derived from metals, commonly copper or nickel, while an electrical current is passed through.
Thus far we have created one ‘positive’ image of the recording, and one ‘negative’ image. The difference is that the first, the master, could be played back on a phonograph (this would, of course, destroy the soft and delicate lacquer). The matrix, a reverse image of the master, could not be played back on a phonograph.
The third stage is the production of the metal mother, such as the three from 1928 recently discovered in Germany. These are likewise produced by the electrotyping process, but the results are once again a ‘positive’ image of the recording. For 78rpm records, the sound on a metal mother is stunningly clear. There will be none of the familiar frying pan. Engineer Nick Dellow transferred the three recent discovers, and kindly has shared them on Youtube for all the world to enjoy.
If you are curious about the remaining two stages of the process of production, here they are: the metal mother is used to create a new ‘negative’ image of the recording called the stamper. This is the piece used to finally press the records. Several may be made, depending on how many records the label intends to press.
These parts may all be stored, although after some use the stampers must be changed so they are often discarded. Discovering long-lost metal parts may provide an improved recording of recordings from the era. This is what inspires, for instance, the folks who have been scuba diving in the Milwaukee River for years, in hopes of finding metal parts from Paramount Records, the legendary blues label which shut down production in 1935. It has long been thought employees tossed hundreds or more metal mother and other parts into the river. There is a chapter devoted to this in Amanda Petrusich’s great book, Do Not Sell at Any Price.
Fortunately, these newly discovered recordings of Armstrong and Ellington are available for all to enjoy!
West Side Story was first proposed fully a decade before its first production. The 1957 Broadway musical was an enormous commercial and critical accomplishment but its success was hardly the result of sudden inspiration.
Broadway producer Jerome Robbins conceived the story (originally East Side Story) as a timeless cultural conflict, and screenwriter Arthur Laurents wrote a first draft. This is why he is credited in show business terms with “The Book,” although the actual book from which the story was derived would be a volume of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Laurent wrote a first draft of Robbins’ plan for an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which recast the Capulets and the Montagues as Catholics and Jews, and Leonard Bernstein was on board to compose the score, but the project was pushed to the back burner.
Laurent and Bernstein mulled over the idea five years later, and the maestro suggested it be re-set in Los Angeles as a conflict between Mexican gangs. Laurent didn’t like the idea, but he did like the latin direction it took the story, and rewrote the book in New York City as a conflict between working class whites and Puerto Rican immigrants. When Laurent dropped out of the project to work on another project, he was replaced by a then-unknown composer and lyricist, not initially enthusiastic, named Stephen Sondheim, who was being mentored at the time by none less than Oscar Hammerstein II. It would turn out to a pretty good move on his part.
West Side Story went into production with an previously unprecedented eight weeks’ dance rehearsals. Bernstein composed concurrently with Candide, his critically panned operetta (which we kind of love and would like to encourage listeners to revisit) — not surprisingly, he’d originally wanted West Side Story to be an opera, and never really let go of his plans. You can hear Bernstein’s operatic aspirations throughout the finished score, which is part musical, part ballet, and also part opera.
After its awesome run — and all the drama over its production and credits — West Side Story was adapted to an epically successfully film, which won an unprecedented ten Academy Awards. The big-selling soundtrack album remains today a staple in the collections folks bring into the shop, but its so damn good we’re always glad to see another copy.
One secret to the story’s success is that it doesn’t shy away from its subjects. The plight of the Puerto Rican gang is portrayed through “In America,” a clever back-and-forth about the benefits and challenges experienced by immigrant communities.
Bernstein adapted the musical’s addictively awesome score into a symphonic suite soon after and recorded it with the New York Philharmonic. This shorter score condenses the music in very much the same way many ballets are shortened into similar suites, and maybe that’s why Bernstein chose to title it “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.”
Of course, the musical’s memorable melodies quickly became jazz standards. Ramsey Lewis recorded an entire side based on them, as did a variety of pianists. We recently posted a tribute to our favorite female jazz pianists and included tracks from Marian McPartland’s version of the score, which is a favorite trio album of ours. Here she plays “Tonight” and “Cool” with a great rhythm section of Ben Tucker and Jake Hanna:
One of the biggest West Side Story jazz tributes was Kenton’s West Side Story, an album which will always be a favorite of Kenton fans but leaves the emotion of the story somewhere far from the west side. Kenton’s explosive arrangements are undeniably appealing, but lose us somewhere in their bombast. Even his own piano introduction to “Maria” seems without the same passion Marian McPartland brought to the song. Still, we can’t deny it’s a helluva big band track, even if it lacks the passion Jimmy Bryant put into singing the song for Tony off screen in the movie.
“Somewhere” was the first cover on a Tom Waits album when it appeared on Blue Valentine in 1978 (this fact is mostly true: a couple Foreign Affairs tracks are a little involved). Perhaps no other recording so aptly demonstrates Waits’ penchants for wistful schmaltz.
The only full-length album by the enormously inventive (although heavily derivative) 90s punk rock band Schlong was a complete cover of West Side Story. Although they shared a sound with bay area punks like Kamala and the Karnivores, Crimpshrine and Operation Ivy, Schlong’s Punk Side Story was a loving interpretation rather than an exercise in irony. We were pleased to read in Pop Matters (here) that when Bernstein’s daughter Nina was presented with a copy of Punk Side Story, “She was surprised that someone of our generation knew her father’s score so well, and said she wouldn’t sue us.”
We think “Lenny” (as he is credited on Punk Side Story) himself would be very pleased with the inventive pistache of Schlong’s “Dance at the Gym,” if not their surprising devotion to his original score. This was, afterall, the guy who composed Candide and lived to see it come into some reknown.
And the band of misfits were perfectly suited to perform the Jets’ hypothetical, subversive response to authority in “Gee Officer Krupke” (a number which, incidentally, borrowed some music from Candide). This song is one of the gems of middle 90s bay area punk rock.
In 1985, Bernstein was finally able to realize the operatic West Side Story of his dreams. Although this recording for Deutsche-Grammophon was not produced for the stage, its stunningly theatrical. Fans of the film are likely to find it alienating, but this triple-album is well worth a second (and third and fourth) listen.
Bernstein’s casting choices were confounding, especially the choice of José Carreras as Tony. This was several years before he became an enormous star outside of opera as one of the Three Tenors — at the time there was some controversy as to whether his accent was fit for the role (Carreras is the second-most-awesome Catalan in any good record collection). In his defense, his duet with Kiri Te Kanawa (as Maria) on “One Hand, One Heart” would captivate anyone who has ever been in love. Bernstein gets a magnificent performance out of the strangely anonymous symphony orchestra, making the action sequences especially exciting.
This West Side Story fell somewhere in between the opera house and the Broadway theater, and maybe never sat well with either audience. We feel its an essential Bernstein recording, if only for the insight it provides into his most enduring work.
If early accounts are correct — that Prince was found unresponsive in an elevator in the Chanhassen complex — then he has himself “punch[ed] a higher floor,” just as he prophesied in his 1984 song “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince’s lyrics were often pessimistic and sometimes apocalyptic (“Dance the Dance Electric” comes quickly to mind), but “Let’s Go Crazy” was hardly a bacchanalian anthem. It was more of a call to action. God, we already miss him.
His sudden death at such a young age is shocking fans around the world, but nowhere else will hearts be more broken than here in Minnesota. Where most would have left moments after fame found them, Prince remained. What’s more, he remained a part of the Twin Cities music community, and a person one might actually see around the Twin Cities — one of us actually rented him a movie once while working in a video store. Prince was ours: a Minnesotan icon.
So much will be said, thousands of words per second are flooding the servers of the internet and those magical waves in the air, and there’s so little we could add. Only this: let’s respect this intensely private man in death as we loved him in life. In coming weeks we’re sure to hear “inside Paisley Park” narratives, and details of his health and well-being so intimate we don’t even know these things about our own bodies, and our hope is his long-protected private life will remain simply that.
Every year at the Hymie’s block party on Record Store Day we’ve put out thousands of free records on tables provided by our friends at Northern Sun (these folks are a huge help every year). The records run the range from stuff nobody wants anymore, to good records which are in poor shape. And there’s some gems we stick in there for fun, too.
There’s no doubt some of the free records are just junk. But we have artists and teachers and others coming into the shop often looking for just exactly that, for making record bowls or collages or other projects. We’ve got a few places to store them throughout the year, and if doing so saves some of them from the landfill then it’s not such a bad thing at all.
In the past we’ve taken some pictures of the few records left over at the end of the day, usually just a crate or two out of thousands. This year there were so few — and we were so busy — we didn’t have time. Here’s some of the leftovers posted after one of the previous block parties:
Earlier this year we started a little section in the record shop called “Records Nobody Wants” and we started putting albums like some of these in there for fun. Some people don’t get the joke and ask if they can have them all. Some people will take anything they can if they think its free. Other people have brought in really terrible things to contribute.
It’s all subjective in the end. Some people really want some of the records that most people wouldn’t make room for on their shelves. We’re certain we have a few albums in our collection that not a one of our friends would take if we were giving them away. “Different strokes for different folks,” as they say.