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)!
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.
In the summer of 2016 we bought a modest record collection from a very funny lady who had a lot of stories to share about St. Paul in the sixties. Her albums were mostly classic rock standards, but a copy of T.C. Atlantic’s one and only LP (Recorded Live at the Bel Rae Ballroom) set off a number of memories because she’d known the band when she was a teenager.
The garage group never had a national hit like some of their contemporaries from the Twin Cities, but their singles have since become favorites of garage and psych rock collectors. This is especially true for their last record, “Faces,” a fuzz heavy classic which was released nationally by Parrot Records.
Parrot also re-issued this single which originally appeared on the local candy floss label. One of our favorite Minnesota songs from the 60s is on the A side, and our new friend explained that it was inspired by her father. She couldn’t offer us his name, but explained that he had been a mafia hit man and the phrase “the cat had kittens” was a code for when he had completed his grim task.
“Twenty Years Ago (In Speedy’s Kitchen)” won song of the year at the short-lived Connie Awards in 1968. It was on the strength of this single that Parrot Records took on T.C. Atlantic, and the song is still a local favorite. Whether the story is true or not, we couldn’t say — but St. Paul was certainly a “gangster’s paradise” of sorts as corrupt local officials were willing to look the other way when it came to organized crime. This was most true during the prohibition era, which is ironic because it was a Minnesotan member of the House of Representatives who introduced the National Prohibition Act in 1919.
While in the 1930s St. Paul was the site of sensational crimes such as the kidnapping and ransom of William Hamm Jr. (of the brewery family) and Edward Bremmer (of the banking family), and Minnesota boasted more than 20% of the bank robberies in 1932, law and order had largely returned by the middle of the decade. The T.C. Atlantic song released in 1968 may have actually been referring to events of thirty years ago. The end of the era of organized crime in the midwest was the result of the FBI’s crackdown on high profile criminals, such as Alvin Karpis, a conspirator in both kidnappings. He was tried in St. Paul’s Federal Court Building, which is now the Landmark Center, and sentenced to life in prison. Karpis, nicknamed “Creepy” for his un-nerving smile, was the only one of the four men given the auspicious distinction of “Public Enemy #1” to be captured alive.
Karpis was released and deported in 1969 after having been imprisoned in Alcatraz longer than any other inmate. Living in Montreal he wrote his memoirs, which included an entertaining account of his brief acquaintance with an entirely different 60s recording artist, Charles Manson:
This kid approaches me to request music lessons. He wants to learn guitar and become a music star. “Little Charlie” is so lazy and shiftless, I doubt if he’ll put in the time required to learn. The youngster has been in institutions all of his life —first orphanages, then reformatories, and finally federal prison. His mother, a prostitute, was never around to look after him. I decide it’s time someone did something for him, and to my surprise, he learns quickly. He has a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality, although he’s unusually meek and mild for a convict. He never has a harsh word to say and is never involved in even an argument.
We have always loved posting privately-pressed albums by 70s show bands — the most popular of these lost li’l gems we’ve shared with you has been the couple albums we’ve found by Dave Major and the Minors (here and here) which led folks to share, through the comment section, the band’s history of triumph, at least on the ballroom circuit, and tragedy.
Today’s selection is a little different from most others we’ve shared because it’s part comedy/part original music. There’s only one cover on The Facts O’ Life’s album (Willie Mitchell’s “Soul Serenade”) and the record has some goofy comedy bits interspersed, making it more like Music is Just A Bunch of Notes by Spider John Koerner and Willie & the Bees.
The originals are all by lead singer J. Terry Kratky, a similar blend of R&B and bar rock as that local album which is one of our personal favorites. Kratky doesn’t have the insight or wit of Koerner, but that’s not really a fair comparison if you ask us. He does have a knack for melody and puts some thoughtful love songs into the album.
The comedy bits aren’t really better or worse than Koerner’s, mostly just a distraction when you’re listening to the album. Seems like the impulse to fit something silly into an album infiltrated nearly every kind of music around that time, even jazz (Roland Kirk’s Case of the Three Side Dream in Audio Color).
The Facts O’ Life LP has a label that looks suspiciously like the United Artists logo, but in fact says UMA, for United Music Artists. We wonder if this clever ruse tricked any record shoppers into thinking this was a big budget, major label release when they saw it on the shelves.
From the liner notes: “This album is our contribution to the salvation of mankind for it contains a smile. A smile, we hope, that will soon be on your face. Try it on, it feels good!”