If anything establishes television’s derisive status as “the boob tube,” its this 1974 commercial for a Lou Reed album. RCA’s investment in the advertising campaign must have paid off because Sally Can’t Dance became Reed’s first record to reach the top ten. The label’s overall investment in his solo career, however, was probably less appealing to investors after Reed delivered Metal Machine Music the following year, which RCA was contractually obligated to release.
A couple years ago a friend from Numero Records came into the shop and told us about a new project they were researching. We’d worked with them in the past when Dave wrote a story about the reissue label’s release of the first reissue of the Lewis Connection LP, which is a true Minneapolis treasure. This time around they were collecting songs for their “Wayfaring Strangers” series, which is the label’s lesser-known collection of rare, privately-pressed country and folk records. The set in the works, which was released last year, was to feature Gram Parsons-inspired “cosmic American music.”
Of course, the whole idea is complicated in the Parsons legacy, which gets muddier the more you know about him. He came from loathsome plantation wealth and by nearly every account he was pretty much a prick (we wouldn’t recommend reading any of the several biographies of Parsons to a fan). But his country-rock records with the Byrds, the International Submarine Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers were hugely influential in the United States, even if he later dismissed them as “a plastic dry fuck.” The enormous success of the Eagles or Poco is hard to imagine without those records to have shown the way.
Numero released their collection, Cosmic American Music, last year to positive reviews all around. Rather than focus on artists who followed the country-rock tradition, the set includes reproduces tracks from nineteen rare records which owe more to the last two Parsons’ releases, GP and Grievous Angel. This Mistress Mary album, for instance, could easily set a collector back $300.
Reviews of the compilation point out that, as the first of its kind, it could turn out to be something like the original Nuggets LPs, which inspired new interest in discovering vast amounts of largely-unheard 60s garage rock. We hope so and we would love to see additional collections (the good news is that Numero did tag Cosmic American Music as “Volume I.” Another volume will certainly be more interesting to us than another Eagles reissue.
Anyway, the Minnesota artists we recommended didn’t end up on the finished compilation. There are certainly songs from here in the North Star State which we prefer to some selections on Cosmic American Music, but we understand the collection is intended to paint a picture of the subgenre and can’t collect all its best in only two LPs. Besides, a lot of our favorite Minnesota country albums are a little more country and a little less cosmic, we suppose.
One of the albums we recommended was the second record by Podipto, which we have only posted here on the Hymies blog once, and then only featuring some of the cover art. It is a really gorgeous looking record, but we were really remiss to not share at least one song as well.
Their second album was self-released because the Canadian label which put out the first had folded and that’s how it earned its title Homemade. You can learn a little more about them on their website here, which we should mention describes them as a rock and roll band and not a country or country rock group. Also through their site, you can purchase their two albums on CDs which also include demos and live cuts, and which we enthusiastically recommend.
Its always really heartbreaking to see a box of good albums which has been in a flooded basement or garage. Sometimes they’re worth saving, in case a clean jacket can be found. Others are just a lost cause, like the BB King album in this picture. In addition to water damage, it looks like a dog chewed on it!
Yesterday’s post featured Prince’s “Batdance,” which is probably not considered by most fans to be one of his best singles. Also in the unlikely favorite category is our favorite of his (depending on how you count them) forty plus albums.
It started as a li’l crush but its become full-on love. Art Official Age is our favorite Prince album. Art Official Age was Prince’s last album to be released on record, but it was also his last substantive work. The two part Hit n Run series has its moments — and its general ‘return to form’ was welcomed by longtime fans — but neither feels like an album to take seriously in the same sense as those from Prince’s most celebrated career arc running from Controversy to The Gold Experience.
As much as Prince’s work often embraced the Wagnerian concept of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk‘ (or a complete and total work of art to encompass many disciplines), Art Official Age is the only true ‘concept album’ in his catalog. Like the great concept albums of the past, its story is convoluted, confusing and ultimately kind of dumb. But it provides a setting for some really remarkable songs. The plot of Art Official Age makes no more sense than the plot of Tommy, but its futuristic setting clearly inspired some of Prince’s most remarkable late-period performing and production.
It’s remarkable that for an artist whose music is so often morbid, the future Prince imagines after 40 years in suspended animation in Art Official Age is not ominously dystopian. In fact, the often-sunny Honeydogs provided a more bleak future in their (also Minnesota-bred) concept album 10,000 Years. One of the standout moments in Art Official Age is also the tune which is most distinctively in Prince’s classic style — In “This Could Be Us” he doesn’t lament any unimagined future but rather the past and present.
We’re likely to hear unfinished Prince projects in the future — It’s a certainty, given the contentious nature of his estate, that the inevitable cash-cow of unreleased tracks will be taken to market. We are still hearing new recordings by John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, but whether we’re really gaining anything from the experience stands to be established. For instance, last year’s release of the complete recordings from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme include recordings which he himself decided did not achieve the goal of expressing what he wanted to say. If the artist decided it wasn’t worthy of release, shouldn’t we respect that choice? Or do we live in a world of such all-encompassing transparency that even what one throws away is open game?
Prince,ironically approached the subject of ownership in Art Official Age, but it seems unlikely that in the dialogue from the album’s last track (which, also ironically, uses the title “Affirmation”) he was speaking of creative control. How an artist could keep such tight control over his work in life and yet have no plans for its future is beyond us — truly one of the many mysteries Prince left for the ages.
Here at Hymie’s we’ve always loved the idea of the lesser-known dance craze, and we’re surprised this next dance tune isn’t one you hear on the radio very often anymore. Actually, not so surprised.
Prince’s untimely passing coincided with a program by Warner Brothers to reissue his albums under their license, and as they work their way through his catalog chronologically they’ve hit a stumbling block with Batman, which is not exactly his most popular album anymore. Nevermind that the record was a colossal success when it was released in 1989 — it remains the most un-loved of several orphans in the Prince discography.
How does one do the “Batdance”? We’re not certain, and Prince’s music video for the song really only further confuses the matter. We do know for sure it is not the same as the legendary Batusi, as performed by Adam West.
“Batdance” is one of the most unusual Prince songs to become a hit. The track uses dialogue from the movie and seems entirely spliced together in the style of musique concrète. The album is probably the first (to that point) in Prince’s catalog to age poorly — Batman still feels like a record from 1989 where everything leading up to it has a magical, timeless quality. The record also marks the end of Prince’s paisley, psychedelic era and the dawning of a newer and darker image.
We’re not movie critics (hell, we’re hardly music critics) but the Batman film to which Prince contributed music feels like the only screen adaptation of the dark knight’s story which captures the comic book’s continuing creepiness. Prince, so recently on the national radar for his suggestive lyrics, really captured the weirdness of Tim Burton’s reimagination of the Bruce Wayne story.
So we love Batman because the album makes us feel like kids again. You know, unsure of the future and a little terrified but also curious.
Okay friends, you’re likely growing weary of our posts about the Blind Shake, whose various solo projects we featured (here and here), but we’ve got more news from the Twin Cities most awesome and prolific trio.
They recorded two songs at the famous Third Man Records last year, and those songs are now available on a 7″ single. The folks at Third Man were gracious enough to ask which record store should debut the single, and here we are.
Our only complaint is that two songs doesn’t really capture the band. They’re so much bigger than a 7″ single. But we’re honored for the opportunity to debut this little slice of rock and roll magic.
You can see Jim and the French Vanilla — a Blind Shake side project — every Saturday in March at Grumpys Bar here in Minneapolis.