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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”.

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:

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”:

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.

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!).

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”.


no new friends

it rained in every town


Recent news of a lost flight between Malaysia and China has led to a lot of jokes about Lost and at least a little fear. We at Hymie’s have been thinking about our own memories of airports.

You used to be able to see people off at the airport — to go to the terminal with them and wish them well on their journey. For a child who had a parent who traveled for a living it was a routine that became alternately comforting and upsetting. Watching strangers say hello and goodbye to the people they love leaves an impression.

Actually being the people saying goodbye or hello left a stronger impression.

It was, ironically, not dinosaur rock that stirred our hearts when William Miller followed the plane in Almost Famous, but the original music by Nancy Wilson from Heart — her simple refrain hit the sweet spot: a little bit end of an era and a little bit beginning of a journey.

A lot of great songs were probably written while waiting for a connection — one gets this impression from a song on Between the Buttons, the 1966 album by the clearly weary Rolling Stones.


A cover of “Connection” by Montrose nearly a decade later really captured the Jagger/Richards despair which would also show itself in “No Expectation” (we posted it here). Apparently waiting for an airplane connection is a universally miserable experience.

“Early Morning Rain” by Gordon Lightfoot has got to be one of the best songs in the miserable in the airport genre. It’s from his first album, which is one of the best folk records of the 60s.

lightfootearly mornin rain

An even more famous folk song fitting our subject finds someone who believes there isn’t time to wait. We’ve always wondered if John Denver managed to get to the airport, check in and board the plane before his sweetheart found he had left and caught up. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is a beautiful song — it’s unfortunate it was so often mentioned in Denver’s obituaries when he he crashed a little single-seater airplane in the Pacific Ocean, because the obituaries soured what was otherwise a beautiful song.

rhyme and reason

leaving on a jet plane

Lightfoot rightly noted “you can’t jump a plane like you can a freight train,” and most memories us modest middle state folks have of the airport is of farewells. Airports set the scene for heartbreak, as they do in these songs by by Jim Gilstrap and Cado Belle:

airport shutdown

airport jim gilstrap

airport“Airport” by Jim Gilstrap

airport shutdown“Airport Shutdown” by Cado Belle

Today airport farewells and hellos happen by our cars, and the airport itself is just for the people traveling — the change probably makes us safer, but it takes away something special we remember. But then, we at Hymie’s Records pretty much always feel like we’re increasingly lost in this crazy modern world…

steam powered aeroplane


Here’s a fun post from almost f-f-f-four years ago…

“My Generation”

Oh no, he DI’INT! No, but for a moment you think Roger Dalty is going to say something other than “f-f-f-fade away.” Why does Dalty stutter on “My Generation”? Some people say it’s to sound like he’s on speed, and others say it’s to set up the implied F bomb. There’s definitely a precedent in John Lee Hooker’s “Stuttering Blues”. There’s also a possibility that like BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” it was recorded with a stutter but not intended by the group to be released – Maybe Townshend and Daltry are just too proud to admit it was a little joke and nothing more.

my eneration

“The End

Not entirely about a pause itself but a general masterpiece of pacing is Jim Morrison’s spoken interlude near the end of, uh, “The End”. These few moments guaranteed some theatrics to every live performance by the group, and captured the tension of the rock and roll pause perfectly. On the album itself it also encapsulates the appeal of shrewd prude-ishness – Implied obscenity is far more shocking than actual obscenity because it makes you think about it.

Still, it’s a Doors song, and worse an eleven minute Doors song. Cool or not, it’s boring. Super boring. So here, mercifully, is a one minute excerpt from a dirty copy of The Doors:

the end ex

“Punch Me Harder” by Superchunk and “Manic Depression” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

If there’s anything universal about the records Steve Albini recorded in the early 90s it’s immediacy. Whether it’s Superchunk’s No Pocky For Kitty or Nirvana’s In Utero, these were records that sounded spontaneous and exciting.

No Pocky For Kitty is a great rock and roll album because it captures a band then likely to become something and the disc is filled with the excitement of discovery. The high tension pause at the beginning of “Punch Me Harder” – Not even enough time to hold your breath – makes the next two minutes all the better. This is the kind of stuff corporate rock bands didn’t have the courage to create anymore.

Of course, classic rock is full of moments like this. A classic favorite of mine is the opening moments of “Manic Depression” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Jimi knew better than his peers how to open a number with style, from the bluesy showmanship at the beginning of “Red House” to the psychedelic drama that starts songs like “Castles Made of Sand” and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”.

05 punch me harder

02 manic depression

“I Can’t Hardly Wait”

by the Replacements

i can’t hardly wait 45

This is absolutely the best dramatic pause in rock and roll, if only because what we’re waiting for is Paul Westerberg to sing “I can’t wait”. If there is a song with more absurdly vapid lyrics that we all love to sing in the shower, I’d like to know what it is. Whether or not it makes a lot of sense (“Jesus rides beside me / He never buys any smokes”?) the feeling is clear. Yeah, Pleased to Meet Me is MTV-friendly pop, so far removed from the band’s classic Twin Tone records that I don’t know whose hand is whose on its famous jacket, but there is still a characteristic intensity to “I Can’t Hardly Wait”. Here’s an interview in which Westerberg seems almost defensive about his rock and roll awesomeness.


By the time it was recorded for their second Sire album, “I Can’t Hardly Wait” was a live standard for the Replacements. Now the inspiration for a movie that I presume is all about our beloved ‘Mats, it’s probably their most popular song. At the first hook the horns take center stage – this is the first Replacements track to feature a horn section and they’re put to memorable use. And then there’s the long pause (Two seconds?) that we all love.

Here’s an earlier version (Sans horns) by the original quartet. I don’t remember where that recording comes from (I have it on a poorly labeled cassette) but like all classic Replacements records it rocks. Oh, and it’s loud…

can’t hardly wait orig

Well, there’s nowhere else to end. Somebody out there reading this was probably there when they played an early “I Can’t Hardly Wait” at the Uptown or somewhere (What is the Uptown now? Another Thai restaurant/sushi bar/Asian fusion hot spot A-lister?). Maybe this summer’s Replacements movie will shed some light on this song’s origin – Or maybe this song will remain what it is, a fan favorite and a sing-along-with-it classic.

Mix tapes are awesome, but old mix tapes are the awesome-est because they give you a little peek into your past. Here’s an old one that was in the little 3-drawer cassette case in the office here at Hymie’s.

To make a mix tape for a friend you had to sit in front of your tape deck for ninety minutes, and you had to have a stack of your records all lined up — the fact that you couldn’t change the order like you can on a mix cd on your Itunes gave mix tapes an immediacy that’s much-missed. When your friend listened to it they had to enjoy it in the order you selected — they couldn’t skip a track even if they really, really didn’t like Flipper.

We’ve posted about Hymie’s own mix tapes (here). They’re an especially important relic around the shop, filled with amazing and sometimes goofy songs that he loved. A lot of Hymie’s tapes were from his collection of 78s, which is long-gone and spread all over the world.

Other past posts about mix tape treasures include this one about one of our all-time favorite cassettes, which was made by a friend who, like Hymie, is no longer with us. Having something like that helps keep a friend alive in your memory, even if the old conversations about music have to become one-sided. We wouldn’t trade that tape, or any of a number of a number like it, for the rarest record you could find. One thing we learned from the box of tapes we found in another friend’s garage (posted here) is that they might be sort of useless to most people, but priceless to the people who made them or received them.

Here’s a side from a mix tape in our office…

running mix

gotta getaway“Gotta Get Away” by Stiff Little Fingers

runaround“Runaround” by the Undertones

1000000“1000000” by REM

ha ha ha“Ha Ha Ha” by Flipper

pay to cum“Pay to Cum” by Bad Brains

lowdown“Lowdown” by Wire

within your reach“Within your Reach” by the Replacements

love vibrator“Love Vibrator” by Johnny Walker

why can’t i touch it“Why Can’t I Touch It?” by the Buzzcocks

good guys“Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” by Minor Threat

Progressive rock is as decisive to rock listeners as jazz fusion is to jazz listeners — for some the seventies were a high point in rock history, where albums were given greater compositional and lyrical density and substance, while for others it was a period of pretentious excess, the very reason punk rock had to be invented.

We love so much of it, the side-length suites like “Atom Heart Mother” and “Close to the Edge,” the concept albums like Thick as a Brick, the virtuoso guitar performances of guys like Robert Fripp. Surely we’re not alone because the best progressive rock albums are reliably out of stock in any mostly-used record shop like ours.

But there are also some mind-numbingly boring progressive rock moments — and today’s collection could be extended for into a triple-post with a gatefold sleeve, in true 70s prog format. To quote Ian Anderson, we “really don’t mind if you sit this one out” because we’re going to listen to a few of them today. If you’re having a slow Monday this is probably not going to speed things up…

“Raconteur Troubadour” by Gentle Giant

pretentiousThe 1977 compilation of early Gentle Giant tracks we had in stock this week is titled Pretentious. The liner notes inside tell us the band hung a huge neon banner over the stage during an American tour that read “Pretentious” as a clever little ‘FU’ to their critics. This is a group that also released an album called Acquiring the Taste.

Gentle Giant is a band that never really had the ‘crossover’ success of other progressive groups who found singles and albums regularly on the charts during the genre’s golden era. “Raconteur Troubadour” from their album Octopus (supposed to be a pun on ‘octo opus,’ reflecting the album’s eight tracks — get it?) isn’t a fair representation of the band, which could often be as exciting and interesting as it was challenging — here they are just overwhelmingly boring.

raconteur troubadour

“Baker St. Muse” by Jethro Tull

minstrelUnlike Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull enjoyed enormous commercial success in the seventies — so much that by the time they recorded their seventh album (fifth to peak in Billboard’s top twenty), there’s a solid sense of resentment and fatigue coming from the “minstrel in the gallery.”

The darkest of Ian Anderson’s cynicism had previously been eased by his light-hearted troubadouring, a spoonful of sugar that made Tull’s most excessive, pretentious works entertaining.

Nowhere does Anderson wallow in weariness more than “Baker St. Muse,” a directionless near side-long suite that’s not only missing the memorable riffs of “Minstrel in the Gallery” and “Cold Wind to Valhalla” (both on the other side of the album) but the very thing that makes us love him so much: his unrelenting showmanship.

baker st muse

Kites by Jade Warrior

jade warrior kitesIn Jeff Smith’s comic book series Bone characters are put to sleep almost instantly every time the hero, Fone Bone, takes out his copy of Moby Dick and begins to read aloud — the same could be true for the liner notes to this 1976 album, exceeded in their oppressive pretentions by the music on the record. Its side-long suites range from spacy tedium to jarring string quartets (think Terry Reilly played overloud and quickly) to forced integrations of world music. According to Allmusic’s review of the album, the band — essentially just Tony Duhig and Jon Field augmented by a variety of guests for this outing — labored over Kites for nine months.

The same review actually contains the phrase “intense ambient sound.”

wind song

“Song for America” by Kansas

kansasBefore Kansas hit the charts with the awesome anthems “Carry on my Wayward Son” and “Point of no Return,” they laid the groundwork for ‘cow-prog,’ an awkward little genre that’s never captured our hearts the way cow-punk often does. While those hit albums (Leftoverture and Point of No Return) leave behind the middle American naivety that lends “Son for America” sweet natured charm, even at the height of their commercial success Kansas was distinguished by ambition ideas far beyond the eventual execution (as Leftoverture‘s “Magnus Opus” proves).

“Song for America” establishes several Kansas conventions that would be more successfully applied in subsequent albums: extensive keyboard noodling (piano, organ and moog), ensemble vocals and a forced fiddle part that seems out of place. Still unabashedly midwestern, Kansas celebrates this great nation by stretching to just shy of ten minutes what was already over-long at three. While their hit albums (Leftoverture and Point of No Return) leave behind the middle American naivety that lends “Son

song for america

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by the Alan Parsons Project

tales andThis epic instrumental by the Alan Parsons Project is likely to hold your attention about as long as Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories did when they were assigned to you in junior high school. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is actually the first realization of Claude Debussy’s two-act opera based on the 1839 story, unfinished at the time of his death. The French composer is not credited on the album, perhaps at the request of his estate.

fall of the house of usher

Pictures at an Exhibition by Emerson Lake & Palmer

elp270s prog rock albums are littered with references to romantic-era composers, often landing their albums in our “Classical Gasp!” section. King Crimson’s Lizard includes a passage borrowed from Maurice Ravel, and the Alan Parsons Project track above is based on a work by Debussy. Few groups took the rock/classical hybrid to the extremes of Emerson Lake & Palmer, who had included a work by Bartok on their first album.

Pictures at an Exhibition (recorded before the release of their second album) was released at a budget price, which led to its substantial sales. Unlike many rock/classical hybrids, it’s fairly faithful to the original, an 1874 suite by Modest Mussorgsky. The highlight of the album is Keith Emerson’s performance of the opening “Promenade” on the fifty-year-old organ at Newcastle’s City Hall.

In fact, this album’s contribution to the oeuvre of mind-numblingly boring progressive rock is not its romantic reinventions, but the original material the trio adds to the program: a plodding “Blues Variation” by Emerson (heard below) and a dreadful ballad, “The Sage,” by Greg Lake.

blues variation

Any record by Starcastle

fountains of lightIllinois’ answer to Yes .. seems the world’s answer was a resounding no. This band was given every opportunity — Queen’s producer Roy Thomas Baker recorded Fountains of Light, their second album, and Epic set them up with opening gigs on tours by Boston, Journey and Foreigner. Audiences simply weren’t enchanted by what sounds distinctly derivative, like a K-Tel Records version of Yes.
dawning of the day silver wings

Act II of Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa

joes garageThe thing that makes most post-Mothers Zappa albums so boring is their uninhibited indulgence. He created a world in which he could compose, conduct and record entirely without criticism by eliminating anyone with the courage to call the emperor on his nakedness.

Joe’s Garage was split into two releases but in its staggering excess the second was a double LP, adding an entire act to a story that, like Debussy’s unfinished opera, was overextended before the first curtain fell. The epic nature of Zappa’s concept album was ensured by the establishment of his own imprint (Zappa Records, what else?) earlier in 1979 after a length legal battle with Warner Brothers.

Like the first record issued by Zappa’s new label (Sheik Yerbouti), Joe’s Garage is characterized by juvenile humor (One of Act I’s high points is “Why Does it Hurt when I Pee?”) and long arrangements built out of spliced Zappa guitar solos. As a concept album its forced together by intrusive appearances of the Central Scrutinizer, a bitter government employee whose eventual conclusion, “Who gives a fuck anyway?” is both hilarious and ironically fitting. Act I contains the genuine, fun title track and Act III winds down with “Watermelon in Easter Hay,” Zappa’s most sensitive and moving instrumental work.

In between the story falls apart (Joe is aparently getting a blowjob from a robot in the track below) and the music goes with it. Were the first and third acts issued as a double LP they might be as passionately praised by prog-fans as other contemporaneous concept albums like The Wall. Instead Act II is just that shitty record you have to buy to hear “Watermelon in Easter Hay.”

sy borg

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