We’ll be open normal hours this week except for Thursday, and on Friday we’ll have Record Store Day’s official Black Friday releases for those on the lookout! Until then, hope you all have a great week here in the most wonderful city in the world!
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Glyn Johns may be the most successful recording engineer and producer of his generation, if not all time — you’ll find his name in the notes to everything from Abbey Road and Let It Be to old AM radio staples by Led Zeppelin, the Who, Eric Clapton, the Eagles and Bob Dylan. His extraordinary resume makes it all the more amazing that he has said that the best album he ever worked on was Joan Armatrading’s self-titled third record.
That Armatrading’s breakthrough 1976 album is not endowed with the exalted status of those other records is a sign of the institutional racism in the realm of rock journalism. We arriving a little late to the dance, but look at Rolling Stones‘ much-lauded list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and consider the absurdly infrequent appearance of women. Armatrading’s third album may be one of the list’s most glaring omissions.
To borrow a phrase from one of Armatrading’s contemporaries who did have a pair of albums on the list, and who unlike Armatrading was also included in the magazine’s authoritative “Greatest Songwriters” list as well, “You don’t like strong women ’cause they’re hip to your tricks.”
In a 2014 interview promoting his memoirs, Sound Man, Johns was asked about the song “Down to Zero” which opens the album. While he had little to say about working with, for instance, the Eagles, Johns expressed regret he did not get to work with Armatrading more. And when the interviewer praised “Down to Zero,” he lit up:
It’s good, isn’t it? That woman is absolutely remarkable. She was like a breath of fresh air. That’s not the right phrase, but it’ll do for the moment. When I first discovered her, she took me down a musical road that I had no idea that I could even identify with. Fortunately for both of us, not only did I identify with it, I was able to help in some small way. But I learned a tremendous amount from working with her. She’s an exceptional musician. She’s a great guitar player, never mind about a wonderful singer and songwriter.
Another song from the album, “Love and Affection,” gave Armatrading her first charting single, and our personal favorite was picked for its b-side. “Help Yourself” is a timeless tune which feels especially relevant these days as inequities such as Rolling Stones‘ narrow list are being called out.
The second side of this awesome album opens with “Join the Boys,” in which Armatrading, with her characteristic confidence, describes starting a band which will “succeed where others failed” and “take the world by storm” (the song became a set list staple). “Join the Boys” features her uniquely percussive guitar playing and uncommon approach to rhythm — sounding like no one else, Armatrading may well be addressing the industry when the song opens:
Are you for or against us?
We are trying to get somewhere
Looking around for a helping hand
In one of his comedy records, Steve Martin uses his mock naïveté to explain to the audience that “it’s like those French have a different word for everything.” This joke came to mind yesterday when we were listening to this instructional record, on which Nazir Ali Jairabhoy delivers a lecture introducing his audience to Indian classical music. You could say that they have a different note for everything.
If you were to file Brian Just‘s latest album in your parents’ record collection you might put Changing Traffic Lights in between Donovan and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Or maybe alongside a some lesser-known psychedelic classic — in a post earlier this summer we compared the album to J.K. and Co., a late 60s gem on White Whale Records, but we could just as easily suggest a similarity to Gandalf’s cover of the Turtles “Me Without You” or a number of other trippy rarities. You could also store the new Brian Just album alongside your Yo La Tengo albums, or without taking too much of a leap some of the local psych-sters like Magic Castles.
Truthfully, Changing Traffic Lights isn’t directly derivative of anything and the most remarkable success of this album is how well its ten tracks flow while drawing from disparate sources. Tunes like “Staring into the Sun” (below) capture the celebratory sense of the Brian Just Band’s live sets, and each side ends with a lush chamber pop piece arranged by Adam Conrad. You can hear one of these, the title track, in a video posted here.
We can’t recall the first time we heard one of Just’s songs, or for that matter the first time he walked through the doors of this friendly neighborhood record store, but we also can’t imagine a world without his music. His albums have been the backdrop of life here for so long they almost reverberate off the posters and records on the walls.
Brian Just and his band have performed here a number of times over the years and will be returning this Saturday for a show with ZNAG have been eagerly anticipating.
And just who is ZNAG? Two of the band members are our own Gus and Nova, joined by Andre and Zola, two friends they met at the Music Lab‘s band camp this summer. If you have kids interested in music, we encourage you to click on that link and check out the Music Lab! They will be performing their entire repertoire (two songs)!
So it looks like we’re going to have to toss the Louis C.K. records along with all those copies of Bill Cosby’s Wonderfulness and his ironically titled 1969 album, It’s True It’s True. The latest celebrity disgrace made his case all the more loathsome with a languid and self-serving statement apparently intended as an apology. We were never fans to begin with — his comedy has always been sexist — so we’re not nearly as disappointed as we were when we had to say so long to Fat Albert.
The gloomy joke is that 2016 may have been the year your favorite celebrity died, but 2017 is the year your other favorite turned out to be a complete piece of garbage. The larger news story is the rapidity with which the entertainment industry has distanced itself from figures like C.K. and Cosby, and the head-spinning flow of additional accusations appearing in this new environment in which women feel safe speaking out about experiences of sexual misconduct.
The music industry has long been forgiving of many transgressions — for instance we’ve long been fascinated by fans’ willingness to forget Eric Clapton’s notorious ’76 endorsement of Enoch Powell, in a rant which included such nuggets as “keep the coons out” and “keep Britain white.” Clapton clearly hadn’t forgotten nearly thirty years later, when he declared Powell was “outrageously brave” in an interview with Uncut, adding that his feeling about this “had not changed.”
Clapton’s guaranteed escape from accountability — I was drunk — likely excuses Neil Young for his own offensive transgression. In a 1985 Melody Maker interview, at the height of homophobic AIDS hysteria, Young said, “You go to a supermarket and you see a faggot behind the fuckin’ cash register, you don’t want him to handle your potatoes.” He never apologized for the remark, but unlike Clapton he didn’t proudly reaffirm it either. Music blog Tunes du Jour points to a passage by biographer Jimmy McDonough to suggest why the singer never revisited the subject:
I found out that Young was planning on donating the proceeds from the ‘Philadelphia’ track to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis center. He acknowledged it was true but didn’t seem anxious to publicize the fact. I got the feeling there were other chartable acts I didn’t know about. ‘I’m not trying to score any social points,’ he said.
We’re not trying to equate Eric Clapton’s implicit racism or Neil Young’s ignorance with sexual assault, but rather to point out how fans are able to separate the artwork from the artist in regard to popular music. The reason we personally don’t own any albums by Eric Clapton is their oppressive blandness, but to many his is perceived as a living legend and a progenitor of the blues — accolades we find absurdly misplaced in light of behavior we believe would not have been forgiven if he’d been an actor. There’s something about being a rock star which allows you to get away with just about anything.
Heaven help you if you dare suggest that David Bowie’s deflowering of fifteen-year-old groupie Lori Maddox was, by definition of California law, statutory rape. Fans will have your head for such sacrilege, but they’re strangely silent on the subject of the pervasive pedophilia of 70s rock stars. Lurid accounts are sensationalized in books like Hammer of the Gods, an unauthorized biography of Led Zeppelin, but its hard to un-see the dehumanizing, degrading attitude towards young women shared by Louis C.K. Consider what the now-disgraced comedian said in his bullshit ‘apology’ when he wrote, “The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.” This is exactly what feminist author Rebecca Traister has pointedly observed in her essays for The Cut — the issue we should address is one of gender and power.
Fans of Led Zeppelin gleefully recount Jimmy Page’s obsession with the occult and often work kink into to the same story, as though accounts of his traveling with a suitcase of whips is somehow connected. That Zeppelin’s legendary sexual conquests were over underage girls is left out of the narrative because it rightfully fits John Paul Jones’ description: “It’s a very sad little book. It made us out to be sad little people.”
We’re a neighborhood record store so we can’t afford to throw all the Led Zeppelin records in the same trashcan as the Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. albums, but that’s where we believe they belong. People expect to find their albums in a record store — this is a band whose licensed apparel is sold in nice stores like Target, and Rolling Stone reliably reminds us just how much we should admire them.
Bowie’s case is complicated by an AIDS scare he caused himself. It was a lot more alarming than Neil Young’s regrettable remark. In 1987 a woman named Wanda Nichols accused the singer of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room. Her criminal complaint alleged that after the assault he bit her and told her he had AIDS. A grand jury declined to press charges against Bowie, then forty, for lack of evidence, and after conceding to an HIV test requested by Nichols’ attorney the matter was tidily resolved. Like Eric Clapton’s xenophobic racism, the issue was never raised in one of Rolling Stones‘ laudatory lists of “The 100 Greatest Whatevers,” or “50 Most Important So and So’s.”
To us the most perplexing example of this selective recollection is the conventional image of John Lennon as a peace-loving guru, sanctified by his tragic death. His narcissistic misogyny somehow erased, even though accounts of his violence towards women pre-date the Beatles. A non-discriminatory piece of garbage, Lennon was equally cruel to his firstborn son, Julian, who he once described as “born out of a bottle of whiskey” and struck for minor infractions. In one of the cruelest accounts of his behavior towards the boy, Lennon once responded to his giggle by snarling, “I hate the way you fucking laugh.”
In the much celebrated tell-all interview with Playboy shortly before his death in 1980, Lennon responded to a question about the song “Getting Better”:
All that ‘I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved’ was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically – any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women.
The monumental phony goes on to explain that this is why he’s “all on about peace and love,” but it sounds about as genuine an excuse as his song “Jealous Guy.” His tendency towards abusive relationships was earlier immortalized in a song on the Beatles album Rubber Soul in 1965. It seems forgotten classic closes with one of the most alarmingly predatory songs in the dinosaur rock canon, “Run For Your Life.” Based off a throwaway line in Elvis’ “Baby Let’s Play House,” Lennon’s song is both menacing and demeaning.
Lennon’s largely undiscussed but unpleasant legacy lives on in the enduring perception of Yoko Ono as an interloping shrew who broke up the Beatles by forcing herself into their recording sessions. In truth, she attended out of fear of Lennon, who was so consumed with jealousy that he also required her to follow him into the bathroom. In some ways Ono got the best of those sneering fans who derided her appearance, her art and even her race for decades as she is now regarded as something of an elder statewoman and a pioneering feminist, as well as a pioneering performer in what eventually became punk rock and new wave.
Again, no record store in America can afford to throw away all the John Lennon albums because they remain best-sellers. Fans remain ignorant of his horrendous behavior, attributing his violence towards women to his grief at the loss of his mother at the age of nine. Never mind that he enthusiastically expressed a regret he did not have the opportunity to fuck his mother, something he insists “she would have allowed.”
Maybe the subject is better served looking to the present rather than the past. In this post-Weinstein world the pop band Brand New has faced unprecedented consequences following numerous accounts of assault and predatory behavior towards young girls by its lead singer. The band Real Estate dumped its guitarist similar claims. Electronica producer Gaslamp Killer lost his regular gig with DJ showcase Low End Theory following the revelation of rape charges. Punk label Plan-It-X Records lost several of its top selling artists after accusations of assault by its owner surfaced.
Country musician Margo Price recently told the story of having a drink spiked by a Nashville producer. “I feel lucky I wasn’t raped .. and shouldn’t have to feel lucky about it.” Another country singer, Katie Armiger, detailed similar behavior in a lawsuit with her former record label, and believes speaking out was detrimental to her career. Details of the suit reveal a culture of sexism and abuse in the country music industry.
All of this returns to what Traiser has been writing about power dynamics in The Cut. Armiger has not named her harassers for fear of reprisal.
This morning’s newspaper reports that a guitar owned by Bob Dylan was sold at auction for almost $400,000. Heritage Auctions sold the 1962 Martin D-28 which Dylan played during his mid-70s Rolling Thunder Revue to an anonymous buyer. It was also the guitar he played at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, ie that triple-album set everyone owns but no one ever actually plays.
Side five of the set is all Dylan, and actually more enjoyable than most other officially-released live recordings from the era. Several of the Barry Feinstein photographs of Dylan inside the set were re-used by Columbia Records for the jacket to Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II the same year. They were taken during the soundcheck at Madison Square Garden.
The guitar was sold by Dylan to Larry Cragg, a legendary luthier and guitar tech, for $500 in 1977. He told the Associated Press that he believed “its kind of past being a guitar now. It’s the kind of thing that you’d think people would put in a glass case or in a museum somewhere.” It’s price fell far short of the $1 million paid for the Fender Stratocaster Dylan played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. That guitar now belongs to the billionaire owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who has also purchased guitars belonging to Elvis Presley, Prince and others, in addition to original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.