While watching cartoons with the kids this past weekend, we came across this 1992 episode of Garfield and Friends. In “Record Breaker,” Garfield and Odie break Jon’s turntable, just after he’s met a woman and made plans to impress him with his record collection. This leads the trio to try and find a replacement, only to find nobody has any idea what they’re talking about.
This will probably be familiar to readers who remember those dark ages in the 90s, when stores stopped carrying turntables and records.
We can’t say anyone has ever come into the record shop specifically for an album of John Phillip Sousa’s marches, but he is undeniably a towering figure in the history of American music. Consider the hundreds of performances of “Stars and Stripes Forever” on Youtube. They range from amateurish to awesome, such as Chet Atkins’ incredible transcription of the song for guitar.
Sousa was born in Washington DC in 1854, and his life and career spanned some pretty incredible times in the history of American popular music. In 1906, Sousa published an essay titled “The Menace of Mechanical Music,” which began alarmingly enough:
Sweeping across the country with the speed of a transient fashion in slang or Panama hats, political war cries or popular novels, comes now the mechanical device to sing for us a song or play for us a piano, in substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul.
The loathsome subject of Sousa’s alarm was the player piano, then a decade-old novelty which, briefly pre-dating the phonograph, provided the first widespread distribution of pre-produced music. Historian Craig Roell (in The Piano in America 1890-1940) describes the difference succinctly: “Music, like clothing, was ‘consumed,’ not ‘made.'”
Sousa warned the machines would result in a “marked deterioration in American music and musical taste,” but his essay (which coined the familiar phrase “canned music”) had its own underhand agenda. In Decomposition: A Music Manifesto, Andrew Durkin points out that Sousa was equally concerned with the fact that composers were not yet paid a royalty for such reproductions of their work, and already at this time he was a best-selling recording artist.
Durkin traces this particular strain of technophobia to mistrust of the piano itself, which one outspoken critic said threatened to reduce music “to a question of such dexterity as is shown by a first-class operator on Remington’s typewriter.”
The 1909 Copyright Act resolved many of the concerns composers had over the distribution of their music on piano rolls, and it remained in effect until it was superseded by a similar Copyright Act in 1976. This was, in effect, the beginning of the entertainment industry’s chronic panic attack over one technology or another: piano rolls, home taping, VCRs, Napster and a baby dancing to seconds of a Prince song on Youtube are all connected.
Also, this has got to be the best performance of “Stars and Stripes Forever” in the world.
Bob Dylan has drawn a lot of criticism for his decision to sit out the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm next week. Just today it was reported he also sat out a meeting with President Obama and other American laureates.
One can never predict what Bob Dylan is going to do, which has endeared him to some fans and alienated him from others. Whether its a a Christmas album (which we will enthusiastically defend) or an album of Frank Sinatra songs (which even we can’t get behind), Dylan has long had the luxury of following his muse and allowing his records to largely speak for themselves.
Consider his original Greatest Hits package, released by Columbia in 1967 to fill the gap when it appeared his next album was a ways off on the horizon and presumably compiled without his involvement. While it is not one of those “Greatest Hits” collections which misuses the word hits — his sixties singles sold successfully — it was still frustrating to fans. While it compiled his singles, in cases where those contained a separate mix from the album version, the album version was used. And it retailed for a dollar more than most LPs at the time.
Greatest Hits Volume II, which came just four years later, offered a little more to fans in the form of a side’s worth of new material. Dylan originally suggested one side be drawn from the then-unissued “Basement Tapes,” but this was rejected by Columbia executive Clive Davis — and instead a hodge podge new songs were added to the double LP. These included the tracks produced by the late Leon Russell (“Watching the River Flow” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece”) as well as a live cut from the 1963 Town Hall concert and three newly recorded songs.
This is the first “Greatest Hits” album we can think of which finds the artist enticing fans with a few new songs. Dylan’s business savvy is always surprising to us — and in this case he created an idea that became common by the time Columbia finally churned out Greatest Hits Volume III in 1994, including a successful new song, “Dignity.”
We’ve thought a lot about some of those songs added to “Greatest Hits” and “Best Of” records, because sometimes we are such big fans of the artists that we’ll buy an album even though 90% of it is already in our collection. For instance, Gil Scott-Heron’s topical “Re Ron,” which first appeared on a 1984 compilation. His picture is hardly flattering on The Best of Gil Scott-Heron, and its hard for fans to face the reality of how poorly he was doing at the time.
“Re Ron,” Scott-Heron’s response to Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign, would be one of the last songs he’d release for nearly a decade, as drug use derailed his life. A sequel to his first Reagan song, “B Movie,” it didn’t leave the same impression with fans and he was subsequently dropped from the label.
From an entirely different era and an entirely different section of the record store are the two Best Of albums released by Jethro Tull in the 70s. Each adds a new song, which sound distinctly like outtakes from earlier albums. Neither is particularly essential, although Tull fans are not unlike Dylan fans in their complete-ist tendencies. The first also offers an alternate mix or edit of a couple songs, notably “Aqualung” where Martin Barre’s familiar opening riff is extended.
The second of these is one of the most un-necessary “Best Of” collections of all time, and is indulgent even by Jethro Tull standards. The new track offered for the faithful is an outtake from the band’s successful War Child album which was clearly left aside for a reason.
Faring little better is The Best of the Band, an early album in the trend of titling these collections carefully to avoid the word “Hits.” After all, The Band’s singles hardly charted, and several of these songs were not even released as singles in the United States. The album is still a fair representation of highlights from their first half dozen albums, with the exception of a single-only track, “Twilight.”
Another collection clearly forced by the label was RCA’s Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. Never a hit-maker, Reed had already been dropped by the label by the time this record sulked into stores in 1976. Essentially a vehicle for the title track, Walk on the Wild Side did offer the first LP release of “Nowhere At All,” a rockin’ outtake from Coney Island Baby which had previously been issued as a B-side. Also worth noting is the appearance of Rachel, Reed’s long-term transexual lover, on the cover. Rachel was the inspiration for much of Reed’s music in the second half of the seventies even though she had been all but erased from the rock and roll lexicon by the time she died in obscurity in the nineties.
So far we have established that the extra song on a “Greatest Hits” or “Best Of” album is a sort of ashcan for outtakes and leftover live cuts. A recent culling of our own collection turned up all the albums in today’s post, each of which purchased solely for those added ‘bonus’ tracks, but hardly ever taken off the shelves. We’ll end today’s post with a more successful example. It’s a Greatest Hits which recently saw its first US release on LP and has already sold out.
See, nobody drew such success out of the extra song on their Greatest Hits album than Tom Petty, who recorded “Last Dance with Mary Jane” while recording his second solo album with career-reviving producer Rick Rubin. The song was the last to be recorded by the original Heartbreakers lineup, and an unexpected hit. It almost certainly spurred the success of that fantastic solo album, Wildflowers, the following year.
Always one to create the creepiest possible videos, Petty outdid himself with “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” a macabre vignette purportedly based on a French film which was, in turn, based on a Charles Bukowski story. If you have never seen this video before, you’re likely to not feel the same about Tom Petty, or about actress Kim Basinger, ever again.
So fer starters — yes, we have some of Record Store Day™’s Black Friday releases. Many were sold in the first hour of the day so feel free to call ahead if you’re looking for one in particular. We also saved a couple large collections of classic rock, jazz and rhythm and blues LPs to put out today.
What we were excited to post today is a video from the PBS documentary Soundbreaking which several friends shared with us last week. Turns out the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach is a fan our our li’l record shop, naming it first when he listed stores he likes to visit around the country. We were more than a little flattered to hear that!
This summer we discovered this compilation album of songs by Junior Kimbrough, called Sunday Nights, and played the hell out of it. Our favorite track on the album was the Black Keys’ version of “My Mind is Ramblin’.” We were even more excited to discover they’d recorded an entire EP of his songs, called Chulahoma. We listened to these records all summer, and we’d be embarrassed if Mr. Auerbach came in while we were playing them!
Laura appears in Wax Tailor’s documentary, In Wax We Trust, which was posted online last week in conjunction with his new album. He interviewed her last year on Halloween, at the same time Morticia was setting up gear for their epic reunion show (that same awesome lineup will be, incidentally, returning from the grave again — this year they’ll be at the Whiskey Junction on Sunday the 30th).
When the French hip hop producer, whose real name is Jean-Christophe Le Saoût, asked after the interview if Laura had any questions, she wanted to know if he had met any women running record stores during his travels. He hadn’t, as you’ll see in this short documentary, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It certainly wasn’t the fault of Monsieur Le Saoût, but just the result of a random sampling of record store proprietors.
Laura has described how she feels a little like she snuck in under a “No GirlƧ Allowed” sign. The truth is, this record store wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Laura, and even if it were it would be so much less awesome than it is today. There’s a different sort of sign above the entrance to the Blue Moon, the cafe connected to our shop, which says “Everyone welcome.” We think that’s the way a record shop could be — with the exception of shoplifters.
Wax Tailor’s new album, By Any Beats Necessary, is in shops now, including our own. It includes some pretty impressive collaborations, including songs with Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah, Tricky and retro-soul singer Lee Fields, less his group the Expressions.
Its humbling to think of a record you owned as a child as a ‘classic,’ because it really couldn’t be that old, could it? Turns out License to Ill, really is thirty years old this November. When the Beastie Boys albums came back into print on LP a couple years ago — have you heard? Records are coming back — this one, released by Columbia, was not in the mix.
It’s surprisingly difficult to find a nice copy of License to Ill, considering there are over ten million copies of it out there. Presumably, a lot of those are cassettes, because that’s how we listened to this album when we were pre-teens. It could also be because people played the hell out of this album.
License to Ill is finally being reissued next month, which is sure to introduce the album to as many new fans as it delights old fans like us. The album was produced by Def Jam in its early NYU infancy, and was the first rap album to reach #1 on the Billboard chart. It was also a completely unique blending of genres.
Like many kids in the 80s, we were introduced to the Beasties by MTV. And now, our kids have discovered their records through this hilarious video.
License to Ill will be back in stores, including ours, in the middle of October!
With the 50th anniversary of Star Trek‘s debut on television last week, there was much written about the franchise’s influence on popular culture and on actual science and development. The program debuted in September 1966 with William Shatner’s now well-known voiceover introduction:
The program was famously cancelled by NBC after three seasons due to poor ratings, lampooned in a later Saturday Night Live parody in which John Belushi says, “Except for one television network, we have found intelligence everywhere in the galaxy.”
William Shatner’s debut album, The Transformed Man, is a camp classic, widely panned and often singled out as one of the worst albums of all time. His dramatic reading of “Mr. Tambourine Man” is, in particular, singled out. Shatner himself acknowledged as much in a Newsweek interview:
…yes, in the beginning it bothered me that people singled it out and poked fun at it. They didn’t know what I was doing. The album The Transformed Man is much more extensive than that song. But since people only heard that song, I went along with the joke.
In his defense, Shatner’s prose poem delivery was more well-received on his next studio album, Has Been, released in 2004. That record was even adapted into a ballet, the subject of a documentary (William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet) which is one of the strangest Star Trek spin-offs. And his reading of “Mr. Tambourine Man” is not as bad as Sebastian Cabot’s, in our opinion.
Actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura in the original series, actually toured as a singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. She released an album of jazz standards with arrangements by the late Gerald Wilson, during the original run of Star Trek on television. Here she is singing “Feelin’ Good” from The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, a musical in which she had previously appeared.
She considered leaving Star Trek to return to Broadway, and was convinced to remain on the science fiction program under the most remarkable circumstances. At an NAACP fundraiser she was asked to meet a fan…
I thought it was a Trekkie, and so I said, ‘Sure.’ I looked across the room, and there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He reached out to me and said, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.’ He said that Star Trek was the only show that he, and his wife Coretta, would allow their three little children to stay up and watch.
Dr. King told Nichols she couldn’t leave the program because she, one of the first black women to have a significant role in a television program, “was part of history.” When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was told of this encounter, he cried.
A 1977 album captures more of Roddenberry than had previously been heard outside of Star Trek conventions. Inside Star Trek finds the series creator interviewing one of his heroes, author Isaac Asimov, and also addressing an audience of fans.
Roddenberry’s account of negotiating with NBC to produce television programs is hilarious, but also insightful. His encounters with small-minded and short-sighted executives sound like something out of Dilbert. The album also concludes with remarks titled “The Star Trek Philosophy” which serve as a sort of cautionary tale for media.