A friend sent us this link to a story about Bhutanese stamps that play just like records, and we got to thinking, ‘Why stop with just the national anthem?’ Think of all the songs you could put on a postage stamp…

“Please Mr Postman”

“The Letter”

“Mail Myself to You”

“Box Full of Letters”…

Bhutan+Talking+Stamp+Record+Series+1973The tiny nation only began issuing stamps in the sixties, but their innovative designs have become very popular with philatelists, who will spend as much as five hundred dollars for a complete set of the 1973 series of “talking stamps.” We of all people understand the collector impulse, we’re just jealous that us record collectors don’t get a cool word like “philatelists.”

The other day we posted several recordings from the University of North Texas’ legendary One O’clock Lab Band (here), which has made a new album each year since 1966. Lab 68 featured performances by Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone, familiar to many for their performance in The Blues Brothers. Another member of the Blues Brothers band was Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who you may recall was working at the Soul Food Diner with his “old lady” played by Aretha Franklin in one of the film’s funniest scenes.

Murphy has one of the most impressive resumes in the industry, having joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band at nineteen in 1948. Now in his mid-80s, Murphy performs less but he certainly earned some rest. Over the years he has played guitar for Bobby Bland, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, Chuck Berry and Joe Louis Walker!

His brother Floyd was a pretty hot blues guitarist too, performing on two Sun sides by Junior Parker and the Blue Flames (“Feelin’ Good” and “Mystery Train”) in 1953. Matt “Guitar” Murphy wrote a few tunes along the way, including “Matt’s Guitar Boogie” and a rapid fire “Boogie Thing” for the James Cotton Band.

Remarkably, it was not until 1990 that he released his own album. Antone’s, the Texas label which released Way Down South, also put together reunion session for the James Cotton Band and Memphis Slim’s Houserockers. Here is the title song from his long delayed debut LP:

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little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.

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An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.

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A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

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“The Golden Sun Never Sets”

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“Study Hard for the Revolution”

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“I’ll Take Up the Gun Too, When I Grow Up”

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

Today Laura is going to compete in a triathlon for the fifth time, and everyone’s really proud of her. We don’t want to embarrass Laura so that’s all we’re going to say about it. The rest of this post will be in the form of super songs:

“The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III

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“Bike Cop” by the Taxpayers

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“It Keeps You Running” by the Doobie Brothers

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That was too much fun! How about a victory lap for Laura?

Okay!

“Swimming” by Breathe Owl Breathe

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The 7-Up guy we posted on National Bike to Work Day

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“Running, Jumping, Standing Still” by Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy

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T for Texas

It’s been a while since we checked in with our favorite correspondent, Tom T. Hall.¬† I heard he settled down in Texas – let’s see how that’s going.

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(“Texas Never Fell in Love with Me”)

Poor guy.

Texas Governor Rick Perry ordering Tom T. Hall to pack up and leave the Lone Star state. Maybe they could share a ride.

BenWeaverLast September we hosted an album release show for the soundtrack to Meeting Charlie Parr, a French documentary about everyone’s favorite folk singer from Austin, MN. We invited our old friend Ben Weaver to perform an opening set before Charlie, and little did we know we were then to hear some songs that would become so much a part of us that we can hardly remember having never heard them.

They were the songs that make up the heart of I Would Rather Be A Buffalo, his first album in nearly four years.

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“Ramblin’ Bones”

We love his new album so much we are releasing it ourselves — the first LP on Hymie’s Records.

Working on the layout for the letter-pressed jackets.

As it happens, we have many special things planned for the release show on October 10th, one of which is an entirely separate record: Hymie’s is finally launching it’s long-planned 45rpm single series, which is going to focus on the traditional folk, blues and country scene. Our first artist is none other than Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade, who you have likely seen here at the block party each of these past two years.

We really love the two songs Brian and his band recorded (but we’re going to make you wait to hear them). Hymie’s has always loved 45s, and we think our selection of them is second to none, and we’ve wanted for years to start sharing the music of some of our local artists in that magical format.

7 Inch LabelThe release show for both records will also be a tour kick-off for Ben, who will be riding his bike down the Mississippi River. Along the way, he will be cleaning up sections of the river, planting native things, clearing invasive species, and collecting and re-distributing seeds and stories.

We will have a lot more to tell you about Ben’s new album, and about our 45 series being launched by Brian Laidlaw and his awesome band — we just couldn’t keep it all a secret any longer!

Hymie’s will release new records by Ben Weaver and Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade on Friday October 10th at the Cedar Cultural Center (details here). Tickets go on sale today.

 

 

Angie Oase from Pennyroyal introduced us to this great band from her hometown, Minot, earlier this summer. We fell instantly in love with Wild Hands, whose debut album Oh, River is in this player. They’ll be releasing in on LP in September, and in the meantime they’ll be back here at Hymie’s tomorrow evening at 5pm. We hope you’ll come and give ‘em a warm welcome.

Oh, River is filled with bright, imaginative arrangements, from the lazy shuffle of “Colorado” to a jaunty strut in “Dirty Kids.” The album invokes the open prairies of North Dakota, it seems like it would be almost sublime to listen to it while driving an old American car across the Peace Garden State. Windows down, wind whipping papers on the dashboard. Wild Hands balance “No Depression”-style Americana with a little bluegrass and a little old fashioned rock and roll. Oh, River is one of those discs we’ve grown to love so much it’s hard to believe we only just met these folks earlier this summer.

Our own Hymie was from Minot — in fact he ran a bar in his hometown before he moved to the Twin Cities to open a record store with his friend Kent Hazen in 1986. It was called Hymie’s Downtowner. We have asked every person we’ve ever met from Minot if they have any pictures of it, because that would be a really fun thing to have on the wall next to his portrait, but no one has found one yet.

Anyway, if there is music as good as Wild Hands in Minot, and beer as absolutely delicious as the black IPA from Souris River Brewing that we had earlier this summer, maybe we need to have Trevor run the record shop for a weekend so we can go to Minot. Why not?

 

manwoman

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“Man” by Rosemary Clooney

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“Woman” by Jose Ferrer

This 1953 single presents a pair of duets by Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer, newlyweds at the time. Within a decade they’d divorce and remarry, only to divorce again.

 

The University of North Texas College of Music was the first school in the world to offer an accredited degree in jazz studies. It is also home to one of the largest music libraries in the country, an excellent symphony orchestra and a world class jazz band.

In fact, it’s One O’Clock Lab Band has performed all around the world, as well as once backing both Duke Ellington and Stan Getz at a White House performance in 1967. The school had a full stage band as early as the mid-20s, but it was not until 1947 that the school’s “dance music” program was codified into its current state, providing an accredited degree and establishing the school’s band into the “Laboratory Dance Band.” It’s first director, Gene Hall, was an associate of Stan Kenton.

“One O’Clock” was added to the band’s name in the early sixties, referring not to the Count Basie standard but to the band’s rehearsal time (the school also had at the time “Two O’Clock” and “Three O’Clock” bands and so on). Every year since 1966, the school has produced an album presenting original compositions, arrangements of standards, and exceptional performances. Several over the years have been nominated for Grammys.

This past winter we purchased the collection of a music educator, which included several of the Lab LPs (each is simply titled Lab 66, Lab 67, and so on). Record collectors are usually dismissive of records produced by colleges and universities, and of so-called “amateur” albums in general — the Lab albums are prized by jazz collectors. Several offer the first recorded performances of well-known jazz musicians, and all of them stand in contrast to the slow decline of the big band. If ever you happen across one of their albums, give it a listen. Here are some favorite tracks from a few that came through the shop this year.

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“Codify”

Two alumni heard on Lab 68 are best known as members of the Blues Brothers Band — both Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone appeared in the 1980 film. We have always thought Marini was especially hilarious in the scene set inside the Soul Food Diner, and he’s also highly regarded by jazz musicians, although most of his work as a session man has been on rock and pop albums. Marini performed on albums as varied as Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance and Peter Tosh’s Mystic Man. along the way performing jazz with Deodato, the Brecker Brothers and Bobby Humphrey.

He wrote and arranged three songs on Lab 68 which hint at the influence of diverse composers like Oliver Nelson and Gil Evans. He does not play the tenor solo on the first of these (that’s performed by Ray Loeckle) but it’s a great composition.

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“Three Freaks”

You’ll be amazed by the credits on the Wikipedia page for Dean Parks, the guitarist and horn player who wrote this song from Lab 69. He is one of the many “behind the scenes” session men who got their start at the University of North Texas.

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“Overture to the Royal Mongolian Suma Foosball Festival”

Lab 75 features a shift into heavier, more groove oriented arrangments. Unlike previous Lab LPs, this one features the work of a single composer, keyboardist Lyle Mays (who is from nearby Wausaukee, Wisconsin, by the way). Most people know Mays for his work with Pat Methany through their long collaboration. Lab 75 is one of the best album in the ongoing series, and was nominated for a Grammy.

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“Self Help is Needed”

The Lab albums also visit the work of prominent jazz composers, such as this arrangement of a rarely-performed Oliver Nelson piece on Lab 83 which features Bill Brown on alto. This is the most-recent album we’ve found, but this video shows the band recording the well-reviewed Lab 2009.

Peter Buck’s brief liner notes to REM’s album Dead Letter Office are better anything else you could find in decades of mainstream rock journalism. The scale of Buck’s record collection is famous and he is a well-known supporter of independent shops. We couldn’t get a good shot of the liner notes so we have added the test here:

I’ve always liked singles much more than albums. A single has to be short, concise and catchy, all values that seem to go out the window as far as albums are concerned. But the thing that I like best about singles is their ultimate shoddiness. No matter how lavish that packaging, no matter what attention to detail, a ’45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers. This is why musicians feel free to put just about anything on the b-side; nobody will listen to it anyway, so why not have some fun. You can clear the closed of failed experiments, badly written songs, drunken jokes, and occasionally, a worthwhile song that doesn’t fit the feel of an album.

In spite of Buck’s self-depreciation and the reasonable assumption that it was released for reasons related to the group’s transition from IRS records to Warner Brothers, Dead Letter Office has achieved a lofty status. REM fans love it for the very reasons described in Buck’s liner notes – Here is a variety of “failed songs” and “worthwhile songs” that offer a unique perspective of the group. The first track below is “Ages of You” from Dead Letter Office. The second is “Bandwagon”.

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A lot of sixties records are nothing more than a clumsy, poorly sequenced selection of singles, as Beatles fans know. The compilation of B-Sides is unique in that it contains previously released material. This warning is prominent on one of the earliest such records, Elvis Costello’s Taking Liberties.

Like Dead Letter Office, the Elvis Costello collection covers a short period and includes a handful of new tracks not issued on singles at all. Each is essential to fans but probably only vaguely interesting to the casual listener. Here are a couple favorites from Taking Liberties – Costello’s earliest country music effort, “Radio Sweetheart” and an alternate version of “Black and White World” from the Get Happy!!! album:

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Taking Liberties may be the earliest such album, but we can’t say for sure (Hymie’s regulars: Surly one of you knows who made the first collection of B-Sides – Let us know). The Clash put out Black Market Clash the same year (It was a 9 track, 10″ album as opposed to Costello’s 20 track epic). The Clash record is possibly the earliest recording to set a certain standard for B-Side compilations which stood for decades. Look at the tracklisting: It contains all the essential types of B-Sides. There’s the under-appreciated track that never fit on an LP (“City of the Dead”), the cover songs (“Pressure Drop” and “Time is Tight”) and the band-jammin’ instrumental (Again, “Time is Tight”). Black Market Clash also has a couple of good extended mixes of album tracks. Included here is “Justice Tonight / Kick it Out” and “Time is Tight”:

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The formula becomes pretty well established, although other groups do some aspects of it better. REM’s Dead Letter Office contains six covers, including three Velvet Underground songs and a rockin’ “Toys in the Attic”. Taking Liberties also includes several covers but from more varied sources (the best being Betty Everett’s “Getting Mighty Crowded”). The best singles collection of the 90s – J Church’s Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands, has a great cover of REM’s “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” which suggests a certain sort of continuity to it all.

Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands is actually a singles collection which compiles both A- and B-Sides. Unlike nearly every other collection of singles, B-Sides, EPs or compilation tracks, the tracks are well sequenced so as to feel like an album. Its such a great album we have been forced into an exemption from our personal ban on picture discs (Making this the only one in our collection). J Church was notorious for frequently releasing singles and EPs that quickly disappeared, making their second singles collection, Nostalgic for Nothing, also a keeper.

“Bomb/Sacrifice”, heard below, was the first side of the first J Church single, and probably a lot less crazy in the pre-9/11 era. We love these songs and never really thought about the lyrics, let alone the extent to which Lance Hahn is out of key.

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A lot of mid-90s independent groups put together great collections like this. Superchunk’s first release on their own Merge Records was a singles collection called Tossing Seeds, but it was their second singles collection, Incidental Music, that really rocked. It has all the essential features of a B-Sides compilation: Cover songs (“I’ll be your Sister” by Motorhead!), alternate versions (An acoustic “Throwing Things”, heard below) and totally underrated gems that deserved wider release (“Home at Dawn” which originally came out on a flexi-disc. A flexi-disc!).

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Morphine’s B-Sides and Otherwise is actually some of their best stuff, but doesn’t include a cover song. What kind of B-Sides compilation doesn’t have a cover song by your favorite band’s favorite band? Lambchop’s Tools in the Dryer has a great cover of “Love TKO” and some bizarre remixes. Tools in the Dryer also gives us a couple tracks from their early demo tapes as the Poster Children – What a deal!

One more artist deserves mention, and then I think we’ve looked at B-Side compilations for far, far too long, and that’s Bruce Springsteen. His 1998 collection Tracks compiles four discs of studio outtakes and demos – Including the albums worth of good material the Boss has dropped on the backside going back as far as “Hungry Heart” (Which carried the rapid-fire “Held Up Without a Gun” as its flip).

Born in the USA alone produced nearly an album worth of great B-Sides, including the classic “Pink Cadillac”, the long-shelved River outtake “Roulette” and this track originally written for Nebraska. Here’s Springsteen singing “Shut Out the Light”.

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