A collection which came through the record shop recently included the first three albums by Malo, a latin rock band from the seventies who celebrating their 45th year according to their official website. The band has been through many line-up changes over that time, and it retains two original members and several others who have been with the group since the seventies.
The band had a number of top musicians from the San Francisco music scene of the time, including members of the Malibus and Naked Lunch. Their name was likely derived from the Mayan word for “good” or “fine,” and not from the Spanish word for “bad.” This would also explain the Mayan imagery on their album covers.
And the band certainly wasn’t bad at all. Two members, Gabe Manzo and Tony Menjivar, recently formed a Christian latin rock band, and they chose to name it Bueno!
Malo’s biggest hit was “Suavecito,” a love song written by percussionist Richard Bean. allegedly while in algebra class. Bandmates Pablo Tellez and Abel Zarate helped arrange the song and share writing credit. Bean and Zarate were, unfortunately, two of the members who left Malo in an unpleasant rift after the release of their first album in 1972. The first of several new groups debuted on Dos late that year, but the band was never quite the same.
Another loss was percussionist Luis Gasca, who left to record his own albums of more jazz-oriented latin music. His replacement, Francisco Aguabella was up to the task — he is especially great on “Marengue” on the band’s third album, Evolution. We posted one of his solo albums several years back as part of our tribute to Blue Thumb Records (here). We also posted a song from one of Jorge Santana’s solo albums (here). Although he left to start a solo career, Jorge — the younger brother of Carlos Santana — still sits in with Malo from time to time. The band is now led by Arcelio Garcia, who sings lead vocals. Sometimes his son, Octaviano, joins them.
Malo is not as well known as Santana, and their albums are surely more difficult to find, but each is worth the search. We have really enjoyed having these first three in stock this weekend.
We’re pretty excited to be releasing the second album by Corpse Reviver next week. The folk trio has long been one of our favorites in town — we love them so much we hired them to play our 10th anniversary party a couple years ago, and promised them we’d release their second album on vinyl.
If you have never heard them before, you may still be familiar with some of their songs. That’s because Corpse Reviver’s repertoire is drawn from the Anthology of American Folk Music, the enormously influential compilation first released in 1952 by Folkways Records. Harry Smith collected traditional music on 78s and with the six-album series revived music which was largely being swept into the dustbin.
Adam modeling the new Lp
When Corpse Reviver released the first volume of their interpretation of the anthology (titled I’ll be Rested When the Roll is Called), we posted the original songs (here). On that disc, and on their new Lp, they’ve chosen songs which have been widely performed over the years, but its especially interesting to go back and hear those original 78 transfers from Harry Smith’s collection. Some are songs which had a long life before they were recorded in the late 20s or early 30s, and others have taken on new significance as songs associated with the mid-century folk boom or the more recent alt-country revival.
The new album opens with Adam Kiesling’s familiar fretless banjo and a confident take on “I Wish I Were a Mole in the Ground,” a song first recorded in 1928 by Bascom Lunsford. The song has been widely recorded by folk musicians, notably here in Minnesota by Charlie Parr about ten years ago, but Corpse Reviver turn the song’s perceived resignation on its ear. The same is true for “The Butcher’s Boy,” the second Buell Kazee ballad they have recorded with Jillian Rae singing. Mikkel Beckmen adds a funeral march rhythm to her reading of with his djembe, making this suicide ballad dark and dramatic.
In all, we count at least a half dozen deaths in the songs on Dry Bones. Corpse Reviver’s compartmentalization of the Anthology songs is as idiosyncratic as were the choices made by Harry Smith himself, but its clear they’ve chosen this second volume to collect some of the darker sides of the so-called “old weird America.” The result is an album much weightier than the first volume, but also a great collection of stories.
The original twelve songs, all found on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, are collected below. Corpse Reviver will be performing these and other favorites at the album release show next week. It’s possible opening performer Spider John Koerner will bring out one of them old numbers as well.
Corpse Reviver will be releasing their second album, Dry Bones, next Wednesday night at the Cedar Cultural Center (details here). Minnesota folk legend Spider John Koerner will perform an opening set, and local choir Mpls imPulse will perform with the trio during their set.
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.
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.
Or “Alright?” Dave Mason wrote the song for the 1968 debut album by Traffic. The following year it was a minor hit for Joe Cocker and for Mongo Santamaria.
Over the next several years, “Feelin’ Alright?” became a standard, and was recorded dozens of times in just about every genre. Scottish pop singer Lulu recorded the album on New Routes, a 1970 album which found her backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and guitarists Eddie Hinton and Duane Allman.
A heavy version of the song appeared on Rare Earth’s hit album Get Ready, along with several other covers which made up the first side.
Dave Mason was one of the first members of Traffic to leave the band, and he released a series of successful solo albums on Blue Thumb Records (our favorite 70s label). During this time he wrote and recorded “Only You Know and I Know,” another song which was widely covered.
“Feelin’ Alright?” was included in the live recordings on his 1972 album Headkeeper.
The Jackson Five added “Feelin’ Alright?” to their live set, including performances on The Diana Ross Show.
There are more tribute records dedicated to Hank Williams than to anyone else, except possibly John F. Kennedy. We have an entire section of them in the shop. Many are budget-label junk, but there’s some gems in there — like that George Jones record in album.
But tributes to Hank Williams aren’t limited to Lps, there’s probably just as many on 45s. Here’s just a little sample.
We might as well admit it, we’re reformed Springsteen fans. Yes, we’ve got one of those three-drawer cassette cases in our basement filled with bootlegs, and yes we saw him maybe a few times. Okay, we can also tell you the dates of the best shows (like the fifth of February, 1975, when the band played “Born to Run” for the first time and that siren outside interrupted the end of “Incident of 57th Street”) and we keep buying the albums, even though honestly we stopped playing them more than once or twice after Working on a Dream. And that was more than six years ago.
And until recently, we’d still go to the concerts, even if it got to be very expensive. This time around, Something what adds up to a day’s pay for us to see the Boss is just too much.
Tonight the Boss will be performing in St. Paul with the largely and remarkably intact E Street Band — saxophonist Jake Clemons filling in for his late uncle with, by all accounts, complete class — but their set isn’t likely to include songs from those albums we’ve all forgotten (ie, the last three or four). On this tour they’re revisiting The River, a thirty-five year old album which introduced so many of the Springsteen themes we love.
In today’s post we have a whole bunch of alternate versions and outtakes from The River. Most of them are recorded off cassettes, so the sound quality is a little up and down.
Springsteen’s initial plan for the album was a single LP to be titled The Ties That Bind. Bootlegs of the ten-track record have been around for years, although there were more than one version of the proposed 1979 release. For fans, the long appeal of Springsteen boots has been the wide variety of out-takes and songs which were never recorded in a studio or released. The Ties That Bind wouldn’t have just been a leaner album than The River, it would have done away with the unusual juxtaposition of the light-weight pop and heavy themes — think of how “Crush On You” (gotta be a candidate for the dumbest song Bruce Springsteen ever sang) shares a side with the brooding title track.
Springsteen has always described the double album’s balancing act as having come from essential element to rock and roll. Years ago, he told biographer (and professional Springsteen praiser) Dave Marsh, “I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them.” Like nearly any rock album of its length, fans have always theorized ways it could be improved by omission. Just as some would prefer London Calling without “Wrong ’em Boyo” or All Things Must Pass without, you know, the whole last record, there’s a dozen ways to slice up The River.
In addition to the myriad of bootlegs, outtakes from 1978-80 have seen official release. Springsteen is one of those artists who puts interesting songs on the b-side of his singles (a fun surprise for fans we were just writing about last week). The 1998 box set Tracks contained cleaned-up and remixed versions of several songs which were intended for The Ties that Bind, The River or both. And a more recent box set focused entirely on Springsteen’s burst of songwriting inspiration around the end of the 70s, also including a documentary about the album.
One song made the cut for The Ties that Bind twice, before being dropped from The River. “Loose Ends” would have been the last song but it was supplanted by “Wreck on the Highway,” which is a pretty popular ending with fans.
While Springsteen has been disappointing fans for a decade with his inability to write an interesting song, in 1979 he was so steadily inspired he threw them away. The Pointer Sisters got “Fire,” Dave Edmunds got “From Small Things,” and the Ramones nearly got “Hungry Heart.” You know he wrote that song for them, right? His grubby manager insisted he not give such a sure hit away. When people ask about the records we wish we had, the first ones to come to our minds are the one which don’t exist. Can you imagine Road to Ruin-era Ramones singing “Hungry Heart”? It would have been awesome!!
Another song which appeared on The River but only infrequently in concert is “Stolen Car,” which is one of our favorites. Even Rocky liked it. An earlier version (officially released on Tracks) is very different, but just as enjoyable. Another outtake that was released on Tracks is “Dollhouse,” which would have fit pretty well on The River.
We have read that this tour has included several of the outtakes in addition to the twenty songs on The River. Maybe one of the songs we chose to listen to today will be included in tonight’s set in St. Paul, or maybe one of the dozens of others. It makes it a little more fun than the just the songs on the album — this trend of artists touring on old albums is sort of strange when you think about it. We’ll look forward to hearing from customers what they think about the show.