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.
I have been spinning 45s between the Cactus Blossoms‘ Monday night sets at the Turf Club once a month for a year or so now. They’re coming up on the end of what has been an incredible residency, and I am going to really miss being a regular part of it. They will be recording a live album on Friday July 5th, and playing their last Monday on the 22nd.
The records I’ve played ranged from classic country to Garth Brooks (not an entirely popular choice) before settling on a regular mix of honky tonk and rockabilly, highlighted by occasional early rock and roll gems like this one.
“Dynamite” is one of my favorite 45s to spin as a DJ. There’s not a lot of records with this much awesomeness jammed into a single inch of grooves, or a lot of records that make me as happy as this one. People often ask if it’s Wanda Jackson (whose singles I often play in the same set), but most people over about fifty years old know exactly who it is because Brenda Lee was thereafter always known as “Little Miss Dynamite.” Famously tiny at four feet nine inches, she was only twelve years old when she belted out this incredible performance.
Here it goes out to a new friend of ours, who ought to wear a sign that says “Danger TNT!” People like that are hard to find but worth the search, just like Brenda Lee’s rock and roll records.
The Cactus Blossoms will record their next album live at the Turf Club on Friday July 5th. $10 cover, music at 9pm. 21+.
And the funny thing is that the guys who bought the weird Japanese single were in a weird Japanese band. None of them spoke English. They all laughed with they saw this single, but nobody told us who it is!
Here’s the guys who bought the single. Acid Mother Temple.
I prefer the soundtrack album to the actual movie nine times out of ten. Here’s one of those nine (we can listen to Logan’s Run some other day): This is an album I loooooooked for for years, checking the L’s in every record shop I visited – and for months there’s been a copy here at Hymie’s marked at a lean four bucks.
I’m still happy I found my copy of Lenny, even if nobody else wants one of their own. I haven’t watched Bob Fosse’s 1974 biopic about Lenny Bruce since I was working in a video store fifteen years ago, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack by Ralph Burns dozens of times.
Burns’ first score was for Bananas, Woody Allen’s lampoon of 70s radicalism, but it was never released on an album. He then worked on Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, drawing on decades of experience with classic big bands and their arrangers. He had played with Woody Herman’s big band in the 40s alongside Neal Hefti, Bill Harris and Chubby Jackson and he co-wrote songs with Billy Strayhorn, Leo Konitz and Ben Webster. Burns also wrote the string arrangement for Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and arranged several Broadway shows – that’s how he met Fosse, probably best remembered by Broadway enthusiasts as a choreographer but best known in pop culture as a film director.
His 1974 black and white movie about Lenny Bruce isn’t a classic (hell, I don’t think Cabaret is either), but Dustin Hoffman’s performance is pretty remarkable. On record he really channels Bruce’s act. So the Lenny soundtrack is a synthesis of some of Bruce’s best bits (no “Djini in the Candy Store” though) – it’s the “Greatest Hits” album that couldn’t be made for contractural reasons.
I’ve always kept the Lenny soundtrack on my shelf of “weird” records but it doesn’t really fit there. It shouldn’t be filed with the frumpy musical directed by Tom O’Horgan that Blue Thumb released around the same time. It’s a healthy synthesis of comedy and jazz, especially in the track that blends Bruce’s bit about “King of Kings” and all with Miles Davis’ second recording of “It Never Entered my Mind”.
After an exhausting three year search, I believe I’ve finally found the worst record in the entire store. It is, in fact, the worst record I have ever myself played. It’s an affront to the dignity of your record player, an insult to your ears. It’s a disaster at 45 RPM.
(The worst record in the entire store, in case you’d like to hear it again or just hold it in your hands, is a 1989 parody of John Denver’s “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” by Pinkard and Bowden. It’s in the difficult listening section by the door – we put this stuff right by the door because we’re hoping someone will steal it.)
When I was 12 or 13 I thought John Lennon hung the moon. It’s a predictable sort of phase – I was inspired by his short pseudo-militant activist phase in the early 70s, and too young to see it’s tragic irony. I still love “Power to the People” and “Instant Karma!” but I they’ve lost a lot of their weight over the years.
I’m sure I pushed a lot of boundaries around this time, and I’m pretty certain I quoted the chorus of Billy Joel’s “My Life” to one parent or another. They both gave me a hard time for my impassioned enthusiasm for John Lennon’s short-lived activism, which I now understand. There’s a rich man naïvity to the early 70s John Lennon records that makes even his most sincere sentiments – “Give Peace a Chance” etc. – seem disingenuous.
What I’ve never forgotten is that my mother told me she wished I would like Paul’s records more. I don’t think she ever said, “He was a nice boy,” but that would really be perfect, wouldn’t it?
My mother thought Paul McCartney would be a better role model, in spite of the time he got caught with a giant sack of weed in Japan (seriously, who travels with nearly a pound of dope?). Paul’s image – the “quiet Beatle” – remained intact, even as his third solo project, McCartney II, was the dopiest stoner album ever recorded.
Unless you’ve been living on the moon the last twenty years you’re already familiar with the most famous post-Wings McCartney record, “Wonderful Christmastime”. If you’re a Hymie’s Records blog reader you also know how much we hate that song.
That song wasn’t on McCartney II, but a bunch of goofy songs were. It even came with a one-sided 7″ single that had a super-awesome live version of “Coming Up”. It’s the stoner album of your stone-y dreams.
And the best part is that the single had a B-side that was even goofier.
This was the B-side to “Waterfalls” – McCartney samples the Loonie Tunes and sings “check my machine” at least a hundred times over a goofy vamp. The funniest thing about this song, if you ask me, is that there’s an extended version on a CD reissue of McCartney II. Somebody out there, somewhere in this world, thought “Check my Machine” should be longer!
Irene would like us to include her favorite Beach Boys track, the end of Pet Sounds. The album’s title is a reference to Brian Wilson and the fantastic arrangements he created on the record, largely working with session musicians without the other Beach Boys. Still, it ends with some actual pets:
Another LP ending of special interest to dogs is heard on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album widely known to have been influenced by Pet Sounds. Here the album concludes with a lock groove (sometimes called a loop groove), meaning that the needle will track through the same two seconds over and over. This obnoxious feature is only found on the original UK Parlaphone pressings of the album, but the two seconds of sound and voice can be heard on the US compilation Rarities.
What many people don’t know is that the loop is preceded by a 15-kilohertz tone that will get your dog’s attention. I keep a pretty worn copy of the original Sgt. Peppers with this loop in our office so I have something to play whenever somebody comes into the shop and tells me I am too young to understand the music of their generation.
I have encountered a number of acetates of radio station spots and themes with lock grooves at the end of each track so I assume the technique was originally developed by record cutters to help prevent disc jockey errors. Basically the grooves do not allow the needle to continue forward either to the label as at the end of a record or to the next track if somewhere in the middles of the side’s program.
Sgt. Peppers may be the most famous record with a lock groove but it was not the first one I encountered. When I was a kid I did not understand the technology but I loved the fact that Fozzie the Bear is left forever calling for help at the end of the Muppet Show 2:
Arista Records, the label which released the Muppet Show 2 is also the label which released Monty Python’s vexing three-sided album (Matching Tie and Hankerchief) which features parallel grooves, meaning that two entirely separate programs could be heard on one side depending where the listener dropped the needle. We’ll visit that anomalous record sometime in the future. (future link)
I believe the earliest use of a lock groove in music was a flexi disc that came with issue #3 of the short-lived multimedia magazine Aspen in 1966. The track was produced by John Cale of the Velvet Underground and was titled “Loop”. On the disc it said, “final groove purposely left open” (Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music also ends with a lock groove, but I think it’s possible that nobody has ever noticed because nobody has yet made it to the end of side 4).
Other lock grooves of interest appear on Sonic Youth’s Evol album (where the track’s time is listed with the symbol for infinity) and on Moby Grape’s album Wow.
Wow is already an interesting album in that it was packaged along with a second separate record (Grape Jam) but the end of its first side makes it one of the most uniquely mastered albums in rock and roll. After “Can’t It Be So” Skip Spense reminds listeners to change the record to 78 rpm for the next song. There is then a lock groove preventing the needle from moving forward. After the listener has changed the speed to 78 rpm and nudged the needle forward he or she would hear this track (I’ve left in Skip Spense’s introduction, too):
That’s Arthur Godfrey introducing the number and playing ukulele (oh, for the days when a Arthur Godfrey was a kick ass guest artist). The song by Spense is called “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot”. Surface noise has been added to increase the old time feeling of the track. It was likely this was not an enormous inconvenience to listeners in 1969 but when I was fifteen and discovered this interesting record I could not play the song at 78 rpm on my Technics SLBD series turntable. Three-speed turntables were fashion and it was not until I acquired a working BSR stacker that I could appreciate this track.
Not all of my favorite weird endings are as interesting to dogs as the first two and not all involve elaborate mastering. One of my favorite fade out features is in REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. Listen carefully and you’ll hear a woman’s voice just before the one minute mark:
In addition to exploring lock grooves with Sgt. Peppers the Beatles also introduced the hidden track to pop music with “Her Majesty”, an uncredited coda on original copies of Abbey Road. The twenty-second track was originally to follow “Polythene Pam” (and retains its final fade) but was cut from the album. The track was left at the end of a reel by engineer John Kurlander, who had wisely been told to throw away nothing. Paul McCartney liked the surprise ending they had stumbled upon and so it remained, following a fourteen-second silence after “The End”.
“Her Majesty” is a great little song, memorable in spite of it’s short length, but by no means the best hidden track in all of rock and roll. I would give that distinction to the Clash, who never intended to hide “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)” at the end of London Calling. It was just that the sleeves had already begun being printed when they made the decision to add the track. In fact, “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)” was originally recorded for NME, the English music magazine, to be given away as a flexi disc, but their agreement with the magazine didn’t pan out. Regardless of it’s unintended anonymity, the track remains one of the group’s finest pop songs.
Eventually, the hidden track (or “secret track” as British people call it) evolved into a cliche. Bands would sheepishly hide lousy covers at the end, as American Music Club did with their lousy rendition of “California Dreamin” on San Francisco.
All the while there have been artists who may have been well advised to hide the final tracks on their albums. One is John Hartford, who seems to always have planned something goofy for the end of the record. Here is the last track (certainly not hidden) from Earthwords and Music. It’s called “Baking Soda”:
Some records are just awesome to the end, with a track that finishes a great album just… so… so… so right. For instance, after an hour of unprecedented beats and rhymes and samples (the awesome likes of which have yet to be surpassed), the Beastie Boys end Ill Communication with the mellow jam “Transitions”. This track is so good I find myself dropping side A down at the end and starting all over again with “Sure Shot”.
And Thick As A Brick, the single-track 1972 concept album by Jethro Tull winds through as many tempo and time signature changes as an eighteenth century symphony, using more instruments than I could fit in my living room, only to conclude right back where it started:
For the record (ha), I love Thick As A Brick. I’m told that in a recent interview Ian Anderson suggested the album was intended to lampoon concept works by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes much as the movie Airplane! had Airport.
(Airplane!, incidentally, was not a straight spoof of Airport. It borrowed so much dialogue verbatim from the 1957 film Zero Hour! that the writers had to purchase it. I should be ashamed to admit this but Airplane! is one of the best movies I can think of. When Laura and I first met years ago she asked me to rent a romantic movie and this was what I came home with.)
I think the argument that Thick As A Brick is a work of satire is crippled by Jethro Tull’s next record, A Passion Play, a work so pompous and arty that Rick Wakeman got bored before the end of the first side. Still, Thick As A Brick is a lot of fun. So is the newspaper in which it’s packaged. It even contains a review of the album itself. If you connect the dots on the family fun page it’s totally a topless chick in panties and a garter. In fact, this has already been done in about ¾ of the copies that pass through the record shop.
And in the end…
I spent a couple evenings pondering my favorite final tracks and narrowed it down to two favorites. I’m sure in a week I’ll have a few more, but for the time being my picks for personal favorite final tracks are:
So the thing about “Swing Set”, which ends the Jurassic 5 album Quality Control is that it’s so gooooood! The whole album is good, but the samples on “Swing Set” are a five-minute rebuttal to everyone who ever said sample-based tracks aren’t real music.
And “Bold As Love”, which is of course the last track on Axis: Bold as Love, is a track so good I never understood why it is never featured on the various “best of” collections that have been making millions for the Hendrix estate for decades. I never understood why you don’t hear this song on the radio. To me, this is the Jimi Hendrix Experience at their most anthematic.
You wonder how I will end this post about endings Why, with the end of the soundtrack album to one of my favorite movies, Airplane!