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We’re going to be running re-runs on the Hymies blog for a few days because the internet is broken. Not the whole internet (you wouldn’t be reading this if it was!) but just the internet here at your friendly neighborhood record shop. Digging into the archives it’s impossible to miss our endless fascination with Beethoven, so that’s what we’re going to revisit until the internet tubes are repaired…


You really can’t live in Minnesota without accepting the ever-changing seasons — those folks complaining about the weather are wasting your time. If you don’t like it just wait ’til tomorrow. Spring is welcomed and just as soon gone, replaced by those over-hot afternoons and dry, dormant lawns. Summer in its August glory gives way all too quickly to the cool evenings of September. Soon enough you’re huddled inside, sipping Cider and watching the neighbor across the street shovel his walk.

My own feelings for the seasons seem delayed. Never do I long to walk in a snowstorm more than the second week of May, and at no other time of the year would I more enjoy chasing the ice cream man with the kids than right around Thanksgiving. And right about now? I’m thinking about summer storms.

You’re in the garden, doing a mid-summer chore like weeding (you haven’t given up yet) and there’s a sudden quickening of the breeze. You can hear it in the trees. Soon you can feel an energy in the air as the sky gets darker. It even smells different. And then a few drops, a few more, and then its storming so wildly you scarcely have time to gather your tools and close the shed door before you’re soaked. Or maybe you’re in bed and the rustling of the leaves wakes you. You look out in time to see branches bending, a flash of light and a sudden sheet of rain filling everything out your window.

So many records have songs about the rain it would be impossible to come up with a definitive playlist — we’d never agree. “Rain” was one of the last subjects of Theme Time at the Turf Club, hosted by Pocahontas County, and I had a lot of trouble picking the songs to spin between sets, simply because there were so many…

Songs about the rain offer so many different things — it is one of the most varied ‘themed’ playlists you could create out of any record collection. From ELO’s bombastic “Concerto for a Rainy Day” (side three of Out of the Blue, which happily concludes with “Mr. Blue Sky”) to Pinhead Gunpowder’s “Mpls Song” (posted some time ago here), there is an incredible range. John Coltrane’s evocative “After the Rain” (on Impressions) has always been a favorite of mine, as has Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.” Surely you have favorites, too.

None capture the majestic spectacle of a summer storm — how could something so majestic hold the same power over a single sense? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know where we turn at times like this…

SCHULZ1

A couple years ago we featured a post called “Too Much” (here) about artists who released multiple albums on a single day, including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and, of course, KISS — All of them are entirely surpassed by a single concert on December 22nd, 1808, when Ludwig van Beethoven debuted his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.

Many things distinguish Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony in F Major, although its premier was a disaster. It is one of only two given a title by its composer (The Pastoral Symphony) and it is a rare example of explicitly programmatic composition in his oeuvre. Another unique quality is that it is presented in five movements, the final three of which are a seamless program (the tracks run into one another, you know, like in The Wall).

The first movement’s richly developed theme is one of the most memorable in all of classical music, setting the scene for the countryside which the composer often visited while working in Vienna. In the second movement, set around a brook, Beethoven uses woodwinds to represent bird calls, much in the way the French composer and amateur ornithologist Oliver Messiaen would (he was recently featured here on the Hymie’s blog). Beethoven even identifies the birds in his score: the flute representing a nightingale, the clarinet a cuckoo and the oboe a quail.

61F8eVJ3nSL._SX300_The third, fourth and fifth movements are, as mentioned before, a continuous program. All three are in the symphony’s main key of F major. The third is often the subject depicted on album covers, such as this early 60s (date anyone?) recording by George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Beethoven titled it “Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute” (Merry gathering of country folk) — It is the symphony’s scherzo, or it’s light-hearted and fun passage, depicting a dance in the countryside. It grows and grows until a sudden interruption.

In one of the most sublime moments in all music, Beethoven interrupts the gathering with a summer storm. First a few drops from the strings, then with a striking intensity (especially from the double basses) comes the rain. It sounds as though the celebrants struggle to gather themselves and their things before they’re soaked, only to be inundated by the crashing thunder (tympani providing the only percussion) and waves of windy rain.

And in a stunning three minutes it’s passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.

Beethoven 6th excerpt

(This track includes the coming of the storm, the storm, and its aftermath — the end of the third movement, the entire fourth, and the entire fifth — from an exceptional early 60s recording by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell)

And in a stunning three and a half minutes it is passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.

Other composers have created storms — Haydn ended his Symphony no. 8 in a similar fashion and Vivaldi naturally included one in his Four Seasons — But Beethoven’s cloudburst is the closest thing on record to the real thing. Now that the season has passed — September storms being simply cold and cruel — it’s all I have until I find myself wishing for a walk through fallen leaves by with Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.”

We’re going to be running re-runs on the Hymies blog for a few days because the internet is broken. Not the whole internet (you wouldn’t be reading this if it was!) but just the internet here at your friendly neighborhood record shop. Digging into the archives it’s impossible to miss Dave’s endless fascination with Beethoven, so that’s what we’re going to revisit until the internet tubes are repaired…


tom waits saturday night lp“Drunk on the Moon” is hardly one of the most memorable songs from those early Tom Waits albums, but it has always conjured some funny images for us. Of course, if you’re actually paying attention he’s not drunk on the moon, he’s enjoying the exuberance of a lovely evening lit by the waning moon. This, of course, is what we’d do if Irene would let us come to the moon with her, and maybe we’d just have a celebratory snifter.

There are a handful of accounts of drunk astronauts, mostly dating from one of the darkest chapters in NASA’s recent history, the same summer US Navy Captain (and astronaut) Lisa Nowak drove nine hundred miles in space diapers to confront and kidnap the girlfriend of a former lover. Her story buried this one, about actual drunk astronauts: colleagues who were cleared for flight in spite of concerns over their intoxication. Nowak, incidentally, denies she was wearing space diapers.

Our interpretation of Tom Waits’ innocuous song has always been wrong. Turns out he is not one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, and that none of those twelve had the opportunity to get drunk while bouncing over its dusty surface. We often attribute inspired musical accomplishments to drunkenness, perhaps all the way back to Dionysian mythology. This is only sometimes an accurate depiction.

beethoven the 9 szellFor instance, the performers who debuted Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major on December 8th, 1813 are said to have thought he was drunk when he completed it. The orchestra, which included Louis Spohr, Antonio Salieri and several nineteenth-century virtuosos, was compelled to reprise the symphony’s Allegretto at the event, which was a charitable fundraiser for wounded veterans.

Regular folks like us, who rarely have enough in the piggy bank to attend the orchestra, can only imagine the fervor instilled by the coda of the symphony’s final movement, an Allegro con brio with a whirling, Dionysian delight. The seventh is one of the most unusual symphonies, not only of Beethoven’s but of the pen of any composer — second movement Allegretto is so popular as to be often performed on its own, and the manic energy of its fourth movement is entirely unique in the music of the romantic era.

Wagner was impelled to declare the seventh the “apotheosis of the dance,” praising its “blissful insolence” and “bacchanalian power” in an oft quoted essay. Klaus Roy’s notes in our copy of George Szell’s late 50s recording of the symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra add to the impression of drunken inspiration: “For drunk he surely was, drunk with a power that is granted to a few mortals: to sustain during the hard work of musical creation and notation a sense of motion so irresistible that he sets his listeners afire with him, every time, and all the time.”

Many believe Beethoven was an alcoholic. It would account for much of his behavior, including oppressive social anxiety and his inconsistent, often callous changes of heart. In spite of the enormous artistic achievements of his last decade (the late quartets and the ninth symphony representing some of the finest art any human being has created) his life’s story is characterized by a steady downward spiral. When he died at fifty-six in 1927, an autopsy revealed signs of cirrhosis, as well as strong traces of lead, which was commonly used (illegally) as a sweetener in cheap wine.

Whether the initial response to Beethoven’s seventh symphony was any more than an oft-repeated misunderstanding is lost to the ages. We’re not even certain who was performing that night. If his contemporaries thought of him as a drunk, this is likewise lost — perhaps no one had the courage to put their convictions in writing. Most were in awe of the maestro. Franz Schubert, after a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet no 14, lamented, “After this what is there left for us to write?”

History has recorded Beethoven’s father as an abusive alcoholic who beat his son and forced the boy to perform for his friends. Whether Beethoven would have continued the cycle will never be known because he never married or had children. After his brother’s death, Beethoven began a long and hostile battle with his sister-in-law for custody of Karl van Beethoven, the sole heir to the family name. Karl attempted suicide in 1826, and bid farewell to his mortally ill uncle the following year to serve the Austrian army in Jihlava.

urlKarl was pretty unsuccessful, but lived well off his inheritances. He died as young as his uncle, also likely from cirrhosis, so we could speculate he too was an alcoholic. There is only one picture of Karl, forever to live in the shadow of his uncle just as nearly every contemporary composer feared they would. His only son, named for Uncle Ludwig, emigrated to America and worked for a railroad company in Detroit. He and his wife, a concert pianist, had a son named Karl Julius van Beethoven, who died without having children and with him was extinguished the family name Beethoven.

Some of us do struggle with alcoholism. Others feel abandoned, or have never recovered from some rejection. You have no idea the kind of pain the person sitting next to you has survived. Some of us just wish we were appreciated — imagine being Beethoven and at the height of your accomplishment you have no one to make proud. No father, no mother, no children. People will never forget that Beethoven had to be told the audience was applauding the finale (or the scherzo, depending on the account) of his ninth symphony when he conducted its premiere. This was his first appearance before an audience in a dozen years. and he was, by most accounts, several measures off at the end.

So was Beethoven drunk on the moon, perhaps when we composed his Sonata no. 14 at about the age of thirty? Maybe, but the common title “Moonlight” wasn’t applied to the popular work until several years after Beethoven’s death, more than twenty-five years after it was published as Sonata in C# Minor “Quasi una fantasia” — literally “almost a fantasy.” It’s Adagio sostenuto feels more like a funeral dirge than a fantasy. Hector Berlioz called its melody “a lamentation.”

All signs suggest alcoholism as a defining factor in Beethoven’s life, and likely in much of his art. The maestro is largely silent on the subject, although he did once write that the “world doesn’t know that music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out his glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunk.”

With all due respect to Kwick, we don’t think this song was the best way to get your video aired on MTV. It’s like not being invited to a party, and going to the house where the party is and standing in the yard and saying ‘hi’ to everyone.

If Kwick ever made a video, it may be lost to the ages until someone transfers the videocassette in their basement to MPEG and uploads it to Youtube. This reminds us that we know a guy who used to record 120 Minutes… we wonder where those tapes are now. Presumably, we could find all the videos online today, anyway.

kwick

“MTV” is the opening track, and the rest of Foreplay, Kwick’s final album, is pretty solid, somewhat derivative 80s funk (we always liked the phrase ‘modern soul boogie’). “I’ve Been Watching You (Watching Me)” was our favorite cut on the album, and the one we’d want to see as a video.

Crate diggers don’t come across this one very often, which suggests maybe Capitol Records didn’t put much behind it. Maybe that’s why they never got to be on MTV.

From the liner notes…

“FOREPLAY – Webster’s Dictionary says: ‘Sexual stimulation that normally tends to lead to sexual intercourse.'”

 

In Concert – The Best of Jimmy Cliff is not only one of the best live albums of the 70s, its one of the best ‘best of’ albums as well. This record is guaranteed to brighten a gloomy, rainy morning like today from “You Can Get It If You Really Want” through the nine tracks that follow.

At the time, Reprise Records wanted to capitalize on Cliff’s hits with a ‘best of’ album, but instead he recorded this gem during shows in New England with former Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham at the board. Cliff’s excellent band is led by ska legend Ernest Ranglin, who puts together arrangements which extend far beyond the original hit singles.

s-l400Ranglin’s epic arrangement of “Many Rivers to Cross” provides an opportunity for Cliff to provide one of the most moving performances we’ve ever heard on a live album. One of us saw Jimmy Cliff perform in the late 90s, and remember it today as one of the best shows we’ve ever seen. He recorded another live album in 1994, and in 2013 released a stunning set recorded live at Santa Monica’s famous KCRW studio.

What makes this first live album one of our all-time favorites is that it highlights Cliff not only as an incredible singer, but as one of the great songwriters. His songs transcend reggae music, and have been covered by artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Stiff Little Fingers. “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” provide positive messages, and “Struggling Man” and “Vietnam” recognize reality. Bob Dylan once called the latter the best protest song he’d heard. This collection doesn’t even include some of our favorites in Cliff’s catalog: “Time Will Tell,” “Trapped,” “The Price of Peace,” and “World Upside Down” (co-written with Joe Higgs). There’s so much in his music to make your day a little brighter.

 

The same day we posted Lenny Bruce’s “Djinni in the Candy Store” last week, we came across this album while cleaning a great crate of jazz records.

bobby lyle

Keyboardist Bobby Lyle has made his most indelible mark as the musical director for hugely popular singers in the 80s — Bette Midler, Anita Baker and Al Jarreau — but he has sporadically recorded soulful jazz albums under his own name as well.

He is also part of the Minnesota jazz legacy, growing up just a couple blocks off Lake Street and cutting his teeth at clubs like the Blue Note and Herb’s back in the sixties. Jay Goetting’s history of Minnesota jazz, Joined at the Hip, includes an impressive story about Lyle. When Wynton Kelly was playing at Herb’s with his trio, Lyle stepped up and played during their smoke break. Mickey McClain was there, and remembered, “Kelly looked up and exclaimed, ‘Who the fuck is that?'”

Another legend about Lyle is that he nearly started a jazz fusion band with Jimi Hendrix. The two jammed, along with Willie Weeks and Gypsy drummer Bill Lordan, but the project never went further before Hendrix passed away the following year.

Lyle lives in Texas now, but according to Goetting’s book he occasionally returns to the Twin Cities.

Now that just about everything is being re-issued on CD or LP, we’d like to know when they’re going to get around to Walter “Junie” Morrison’s three solo albums from the seventies on Westbound Records. They fall in between his time with the Ohio Players and his short but essential tenure at the P-Funk mothership, which includes One Nation Under A Groove and Motor Booty Affair. While with the Ohio Players he’d written some of their early 70s hits — he was only eighteen when joined the group for their breakthrough albums Pain, Pleasure and Ecstasy.

On each of these, Morrison does the same one-man-band thing Stevie Wonder was doing, and Prince would do just a few years later. While he plays all the instruments on some tracks, others feature a full band. From his second album, Suzie Super Groupie, here are one of each.

suzie super groupie

Morrison always has the funk sense of Sly Stone, but the smoother approach of Stevie Wonder, and a good sense of humor to boot. While there’s a CD which collects highlights from the three Westbound albums, we’d love to see one of these reissue labels put them out individually.

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!

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