“Peter Cottontail” by Gene Autry
If you waited, say, ten or twenty years to start peeling (it reads peel slowly and see, after all), the banana wouldn’t come off without a fight, as on this copy in the shop right now.
The residue outline of the peeled banana is still there. They were, presumably, easy to peel when new. Most copies look more like ours at home (below), just pink fruit and hardly a memory of a peel. We bet they were fun to peel, just as we remember how much fun it was to light on fire the paper panties inside Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, which went up in wild flash! And don’t even ask about the “Bite Me” iron on inside our copy of Nilsson’s Son of Dracula. Who thought people would want to collect this kind of stuff.
There are other variations to the jacket of The Velvet Underground & Nico, because an image projected upside down on the band in the concert photo on the back contained an actor who threatened a lawsuit against Verve Records for unauthorized use of his likeness. Thanks to Eric Emerson, these so-called “torso” jackets are the rarest copies because the label was forced to recall them and reproduce new jackets with his big dumb, upside down body airbrushed out. Probably didn’t help original sales of the LP, either. Other copies have a sticker covering the picture, which people invariably tried to peel.
The thing about The Velvet Underground & Nico is that original copies are all noisy, resulting from poor pressing. If you want clean sound your probably better off with a European press like the reissues on Polydor. We’ve never been audiophiles around here, but our experience is that they sound much better. If you’re as big a fan of the Velvet Underground as we are, you probably also have the five-disc Peel Slowly and See set which was produced in the mid-90s. The sound on those CDs is better than any Velvet Underground records we’ve heard, and the collection includes interesting out-takes and alternate mixes any fan would enjoy. Sadly, somebody borrowed the book from our copy back in the mid-90s and never returned it. Maybe we should have written our name on it, like somebody did with both these copies of the original LP.
We’ve always appreciated the fact that “MC” sold his collection to Root Cellar Records all those years ago, because we were lucky enough to find one of our all time favorite albums. The copy in the shop belonged to “TS” in case you’re wondering.
“All Tomorrow’s Parties”
SHE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN
Billy Joel wrote “She’s Always A Woman” for his first wife Elizabeth Weber, who was also his business manager. The song contrasts her tenacious exterior with the way he knew her as a lover and wife. In the context of their divorce five years later lines like “she can wound with her eyes” and “steal like a thief” take on weighty new substance.
Rolling Stone called the song “misleadingly tender,” but everything about The Stranger struck a chord in 1977. Another single from the album, “Just the Way You Are,” took a similar (if less snarky) stance, and both were hits. That second tune was an artistic coup de grace for Joel, whose jazz leanings on his early Columbia albums were dismissed by critics, because the legendary Phil Woods played the solo.
Joel wrote “Just the Way You Are” as a birthday gift for Weber. According to the authorized biography by Fred Schruers for which Joel granted hours of interviews, Weber’s response when he played the song for her was calculating: “Do I get the publishing rights, too?”
The success of The Stranger started Joel on a streak which outlasted his first two marriages, but he rarely performed either love song after his divorce from Weber. Joel was generous in the separation until he was laid up in the hospital after a motorcycle accident in which he had badly injured both hands. In the biography he tells Schruers that Weber arrived at the hospital with contacts, asking him to sign over even more to her. Several years later he was forced to sue her brother for siphoning tens of millions out of his earnings.
A muzak version of “She’s Always a Woman” was playing in the plaza between the two towers of the World Trade Center moments before the South Tower collapsed.
John Denver wrote “Annie’s Song” for his wife in 1974, and it was included on his hit album, Back Home Again. That’s Annie Martell next to him on the cover.
Initially,” she explained, “it was a love song and it was given to me through him, and yet for him it became a bit like a prayer.” The song is unique in Denver’s catalog as his only hit in the United Kingdom, although cover versions of other songs he wrote have been successful there. It was so popular there that an utterly dreadful version by flautist James Galway was also a hit.
Readers of Denver’s 1994 autobiography Take Me Home learned that then, and throughout their marriage, he was unfaithful to Annie, and although it was his drug use and infidelity which led to their divorce he flew into a rage over how the couple’s assets were being divided. He describes in detail cutting their bed in half with a chainsaw and choking Annie. “Before I knew it I had her on the kitchen counter and my hands were around her throat. And I stopped. I had almost lost control but didn’t.”
Mixed into a musty box of the usual suspects (Ken Griffin, Frankie Carle, etc) this week were a few Argentine 78s on Odeon. We don’t sell many 78s these days, and find even fewer this fun. We refer collections of them to our old friends at Vintage Music Company, who specialize in 78s, cylinder recordings, and vintage machines. Their motto — Explore the past and preserve it for the future — says it all. Any collector of vintage recordings will have a wonderful time visiting their shop.
Our small selection of 78s include mostly swing and pop records which have been mixed into collections of LPs. Sadly, for most post-war 78s, the supply out there seems to far exceed the demand. Every box is still fun to flip through, and we often enjoy playing those dime-a-dozen pop records — these songs were such a delight we thought we’d share them.
“Pajaro Ciego” by Rodolpho A. Biagi
There’s an enchanting magic to the music of pianist Rodolpho Biago — no surprise fans called him Manos Brujas (“Spellbinding hands”). His late 30s tenure with Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra contribute to the band’s enormous influence on tango, which shifted from slower, more romantic pieces to the dynamic style more familiar to listeners beyond Argentina. Biagi began his career in his early teens, accompanying silent films in theaters.
His sense of rhythm could be deceptively simple, almost monotonous, yet entirely enchanting. D’Arienzo’s first hit with Biagi at the keyboard, “La Puñalada” (“The Stab”), was a national sensation and also a revival of the early century 2/4 tango. Biagi left the D’Arienzo to form his own orchestra in 1938, which toured Latin America extensively for decades, popularizing the pianist’s unique rhythmic take on tango and later milonga. Biagi’s orchestra was the first to appear on Argentine television.
“Brasil Moreno – 1st Parte”
“Brasil Moreno – 2nd Parte”
Baritone Candido Botelho is known as one of finest contemporary interpreters of the songs of composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. He was also very successful as a singer of romantic pop songs — his most famous hit was a 1941 recording of Ary Barroso’s “Canta Maria.” The lively song on the 78 we found is from the soundtrack of Joujoux et Balangandans (“Knick Knacks and Trinkets”), and Betelho’s arrangement sounds almost as suited for Felix the Cat or Bugs Bunny as for a dance band.
It’s not yet April and already 2015 has been a banner year for power pop trios here in Minneapolis. One of the first local releases we reviewed here was New Noir by Mystery Date, which hasn’t been far from our turntable since. No less an authority than Maximumrockandroll picked it as“record of the week” recently, describing it as “strangely catchy and poppy, while also a little bit eerie and dark.” And if you finally unsnagged yourself from all the hooks on Rank Strangers‘ new album Lady President, you’ll find yourself caught up in them all over again: the band plans to release two more LPs before the end of the year.
And then there’s this disc which — to borrow a phrase from that Maximumrockandroll review — blew our socks off. What Tyrants’ debut, No Luck, is an addictive album at the nexus between garage rock, power pop and the down-on-my-luck, unemployed and unrequited-love tunes of Mike Ness. Brothers Sean and Kyle Schultz play their respective parts on guitar and drums with the sort of intuition we suppose you’re supposed to expect from brothers — and bassist Garrison Grouse walks through the trios tight arrangements with class and charm not at all removed from John Entwistle’s role on Live at Leeds. Absolutely everything about this disc succeeds in reminding us why we love rock and roll in all its glorious forms.
What Tyrants’ first release was a single featuring an earlier version of this album’s catchy opener, “Far Out.” It fell flat on our ears last summer for its lo-fi production. There’s nothing wrong with sounding good, even in garage rock: its why, for instance, we love a good 45 of the Standell’s “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” played loud, and its why we love No Luck so much. Killer tunes “Lean on the World” have a fantastic drive, given the same healthy li’l nudge by their clean drum sound. Recording engineer Ali Jaafar knows how to hit that garage-y sweet spot, even though his Ecstattic Studio is actually in an attic (and incidentally, give a listen to this recent compilation of other surprisingly diverse Ecstattic recordings). The record has the right rough edges, especially in its reverb-tastic vocals and crisp lead riffs, and you’re going to find it best played loud.
And you should, because it touches on all the things that makes one want to play a record loud. The trio approaches classic arena rock in the magnificent “Feeling Alright (I’m Okay)” — a song which we think oughta join Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” in the great canon of rock songs about, you know, feelin’ alright — with the same stunning success as their take on the whole garage rock thing. Shades of rockabilly make “4s and 5s” a fun song, just before good old fashioned punk rock steals the scene moments later in “Scuzz,” where Grouse and Kyle Schultz jumps into an unexpected psych rock breakdown just before the end of its minute and forty second mania. You can, by the way, hear and download the whole album here.
“Feeling Alright (I’m Okay)”
There’s even a few little hints of the rhythm & blues vis-à-vis new wave Sean Schultz and Grouse have been performing together with ol’ Hymie’s favorites Black Diet, as in the Television/Blondie-ish rocksteady beat of “Blue in the Face.” What Tryrants put the whole mix together with originality and striking sincerity — its like they raided our record collection and found new ways to make our favorites work together. And it all works so well: If we may borrow again from that Maximumrockandroll review of the Mystery Date album, “these guys clearly believe in what they’re doing.” This is one of our very favorite local releases yet out this year. You’ll be hearing it a lot around here.
What Tyrants have an album release show for No Luck this Friday, April 3rd, at the Triple Rock Social Club. Also playing are Fury Things, Some Pulp and Ripper. Details through Facebook can be found here, as well as on the Triple Rock calendar.
The 1950 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ story “Gerald McBoing-Boing” has been entered into the National Film Registry and preserved by the Library of Congress. Animators regard it with reverence as it is one of the first short films to successfully experiment with limited animation, which at the time was more of an aesthetic decision than one driven by financial considerations. Limited animation, which uses as few in-betweens or transitional cells as possible. This became the basis of inexpensively-produced “Saturday morning cartoons” like the ones these record shop owners grew up with (Fat Albert, The Smurfs, etc). Limited animation does not necessarily preclude quality, however, as Gerald McBoing-Boing demonstrated in 1950. At the time this short film was a distinct break from the realism of the Walt Disney features.
Having enjoyed this fun short film, you’re surely wondering why we posted it — it’s because the cartoon was inspired by a record!
Gerald McLoy (ie Gerald McBoing-Boing) first appeared not in one of the good doctor’s forty-six delightful books, but on a record produced the year before by Capitol. Radio personality Harold Peary, known then to listeners as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve from Fibber McGee and Molly, narrated the story.
The remarkably versatile bandleader Billy May provided the music (his humorous collaborations and swinging arrangements know no bounds: we have previously posted music he produced for comic Stan Freberg, here and here, and singer Peggy Lee, here).
The story was adapted for film by P.D. Eastman (author of Are You My Mother? and the epic Go, Dog, Go! among many other essential reads) and Bill Scott (who we know best as Bullwinkle J. Moose). This little 78rpm record is at the nexus of so much talent!
In yesterday’s post about the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s groundbreaking digital recording of Appalachian Spring we mentioned that Aaron Copland himself had earlier conducted a recording of the original 13-piece arrangement of the ballet. We never loved that recording as much as the SPCO’s, but both are records we’d recommend in a heartbeat.
We also wrote disparagingly about the “Copland Conducts Copland” series but it really has less to do with the quality of the recordings than with what the period of time in his career represented. His transition traveling guest conductor was the result of his diminished inspiration as a composer. He is quoted, heartbreakingly, in Howard Pollack’s biography Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, as saying “it was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet.”
We find it sad to imagine an artist bound to his earliest works because of its enduring popularity, having never understood how for instance Bruce Springsteen can still drag “Born to Run” onto stage with any passion. Copland, in his later years, was often invited to conduct Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid. For good measure also The Red Pony and Fanfare for the Common Man at times, all fine works and famous for a reason.
His late-period twelve tone compositions like the Piano Fantasy are rarely performed in the country which declares him a favorite son, just as (let’s be honest here) nobody really wants to hear songs from the last decade’s worth of Bruce Springsteen albums. This isn’t a fate which befalls all composers or all rock stars. Richard Strauss, for instance, had something of a renaissance of creativity in his seventies and eighties, composing his Four Last Songs almost in anticipation of his own passing. And until this Frank Sinatra bullshit it seemed like Bob Dylan was as creative as ever (maybe that’s the idea — you never know with Dylan).
Anyways, every record collector in the world loves any kind of album insert, especially a bonus disc. And any music lover would enjoy hearing a favorite composer rehearse one of their most famous pieces. Columbia’s Masterworks division experimented with 7-inch inserts for a while, offering insights into the album by Leonard Bernstein or Bruno Walter, or in this case recordings of the rehearsals.
The little bonus record provides an interesting and enjoyable portrait of Copland, both as a composer and a conductor, as well as an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to revisit one’s own work decades later.