In the groove with vinyl…

f0ea4a04f9ca2a1c03de2604e599706e--city-sunset-vinesI follow several record collecting groups and pages on Facebook, and one topic that comes up occasionally is: do we think that vinyl is ever going to “come back” at the level it did in the pre-digital days?

My answer is always the same.

No.

As I posted in reply to the latest iteration of this yesterday…

Most pop music consumers are wed to digital, and a true “comeback” of any physical format would require them to not only change their listening habits but to invest financially in all sorts of technology that simply isn’t compatible with their lifestyle-current tech.

Translated: in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, most kids (or at least most homes) had a home stereo with a turntable-CD player-tape deck. Those physical devices were not only wed to the “music as object,” but they required a physical place to use them. Portability (car stereo, walkman, boombox, etc) was always a goal but took a long time to integrate into the “music as physical object” system. 

Today, most kids either download music (by purchase or fileshare) or skip the acquisition and stream music without buying it. And they can take that music anywhere without adding in a tape deck or CD burner or whatever. So the problem of portability has been solved.

We should just be happy that 45s and albums have not been deepsixed altogether. They’re a boutique item now, and that’s OK.

A little bit further down the thread, someone commented that “I would like to thank RSD (Record Store Day) for ruining the 7″ single, just because of the ridiculous prices. What seemed like a good idea when they started. Ended up in a giant cash grab.”

I’m not sure how Record Store Day “ruined” the 7 inch single. As I replied to this person, Record Store Day hasn’t ruined anything for me. I still go to the same places I always went to find records: flea markets, yard sales, thrift shops, library book sales. Usually, I find stuff I didn’t even know I wanted for less than I would have paid if I’d proactively sought it. And when I proactively seek something, the internet gives me far more options than I had even 20 years ago. I’ve never participated in RSD, although –tying into what I typed above– I’ve found several great RSD releases marked down after the dust cleared.

“So,” I concluded, “I guess I’m happy with the way things are.”

Here’s a further case in point:

DSCN8505Recently, on one of the jazz stations I listen to online, they played “Misty” by Richard Groove Holmes.

Thirty years ago, my only option would have been to go to a record store and either pay full price for a new LP or cassette, or go to Goldmine (a record collector’s magazine which in its heyday was the best place to find used records) or some other source (flea market, used record store) hoping to score a used copy (at who knows what price?).

However, NOW I had these options:

* Download album or individual track from Amazon or iTunes (30 years ago, I would have had to buy the whole album)

* Stream the album or track online

* Order a new or used CD online

* Order a new or used LP online

* Download illegally via a fileshare site.

If I’d wanted, I could have gotten an MP3 of the whole album immediately … free, if my conscience permitted. For slightly more, I could have scored a physical disc (and not expensive, either: a mono original press in VG condition was listed on eBay for $3.99 plus shipping). If I didn’t want to buy, I could stream it free on multiple sites (which I did via YouTube).

And now, here’s the kicker:

After all that, I DISCOVERED THAT I ALREADY HAD THE ALBUM IN MY MEDIA LIBRARY!!!!

Groove screenshotWhen I was a DJ a couple years back, I downloaded via fileshare a TON of classic jazz for airplay, including a zip file of a dozen Richard Groove Holmes albums in 320 kbps MP3 format!!! I own so much music that I lost track of it.

I’m eventually going to buy a used vinyl of it on eBay, but my point is… why do we pretend that the current system and the options it affords us isn’t better than anything we could have designed deliberately?

So really, the question is not “will vinyl ever ‘come back'”?

The question is “Why would we WANT it to?”

Not all the way there…

Brian Wilson solo album montageQuestion for discussion:

How important musically has Brian Wilson’s solo career been?

I made a BEST OF BRIAN WILSON SOLO playlist on my itunes, and it’s full of great music and songs, beautifully arranged and produced. But I’ve always detected a feeling of (for lack of a better term) non-presence in Brian’s solo work, like he wasn’t quite all the way there. It lends a sadness to some of his more poignant solo work. His solo SMILE, I think, is propelled by this feeling, as is THAT LUCKY OLD SUN, which, to me, is his best solo effort that, uhhh, isn’t SMILE.

Yeah… SMILE was originally supposed to be a Beach Boys record; yeah, the songs were almost 40 years old when he finally finished it as a solo artist. But the point was, SMILE was never a complete, unified piece of music before Brian and company put it together and performed it as such, then released it. And no matter how proponents of the original session tapes argue for the 1966-67 recordings, no matter how beautiful the Beach Boys’ voices were on those tracks, those tracks (a) weren’t a finished album, and (b) Brian’s age and experience in 2002 lent a melancholy and wistfulness to the music that simply could not have been present if he’d finished the album in 1967.

I’ve said it before: Brian had to live those intervening four decades in order to give SMILE the punch that it has. The Beach Boys’ sessions from 66-67 = beautiful and important in so many ways. But Brian’s solo SMILE = the definitive completed version of the work.

Brian seems to connect best as a solo artist with sadness; the hollowness and non-presence seems to come through most on uptempo tracks.

It’s hard to say that anything that Brian has done as a solo artist is as “important” as what he did with the Beach Boys, but then, that stuff was so groundbreaking, it’s almost not fair to make the comparison, so I won’t.

But I think it’s telling that the two best things Brian has done in the last 20 years are (a) the fulfillment and completion of SMILE (an unfinished Beach Boys record) and (b) THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO, a Beach Boys reunion album. Something about his songs and their voices is a perfect combination. Their voices are missed on his solo records.

What I loved about THAT LUCKY OLD SUN was that it seemed to reflect where Brian’s head was really at NOW. “Midnight’s Another Day” might be the best song ever written about depression.

And that’s what I like about Brian’s solo career. Jeez, you know… the guy doesn’t NEED to keep cranking out new music, but he is. The extent to which that new music reflects his current state of mind and spirit is the extent to which I like it. So songs like “Midnight’s Another Day” and “Lay Down Burden” and “Southern California” and “Summer’s Gone” get to me at my core, at age almost-50, the same way that songs like “In My Room” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” did at age 15.

And for that reason, I think Brian’s solo work is VERY important.

So, again: thanks, Brian.

Rock and roll’s greatest pure ARTIST?

1012600_526957500766187_5340897511297623034_nFrom a 2014 Facebook post:

I really think that Neil Young might be the greatest ARTIST that rock and roll has yet produced. Not that he’s always done great MUSIC or written great songs; he hasn’t. If any musician has been inconsistent, it’s been Neil.

But what makes Neil a great artist– the thing that I love about him– is that he’s always exploring and moving his work forward through the work itself.

So he explores these side roads through these album-length projects— “hey, wouldn’t rockabilly be cool? Why not go country? Wouldn’t an album about cars be cool? Wouldn’t it be cool to do an electronica album? How about an album-length novel? How about recording an album entirely on acetate discs?”

And so he does these things, and when you hear them, you think “Jesus…he’s lost his way… he’s lost his mind… he’s obsessed, what’s he thinking? How does the record company put up with him?” Etc etc. But through this work, he’s just doing what artists do: exploring, experimenting, except that instead of confining this exploration and experimentation to a notebook (IF the guy keeps a notebook, it’s gotta be the most interesting and fascinating thing ever. I mean, given what the guy releases , what does he think about and REJECT??) he releases it, puts it out there.

And the result, at least, as I’ve always said to people, is “Neil may not always be GREAT. But he’s always interesting.”

And the best part is that, every few years, he’ll come out with this grand STATEMENT of an album (FREEDOM, HARVEST MOON, RAGGED GLORY) where all of these insanely disparate pieces come together with other pieces you didn’t even know about, and you think “Damn, this guy’s brilliant. How did he THINK of this? He’s just as brilliant as ever.”

And people who weren’t paying attention wonder where it all came from, when, actually, if they’d been listening, he’d been moving ahead of them the whole time.

Amazing. I feel lucky to have been able to watch his career unfold.

Loving LOVE YOU… or… A fortieth birthday card to THE BEACH BOYS LOVE YOU

17862002_10155202088387241_9131997440647892768_nToday, April 12, 2017, is the fortieth anniversary of the release of one of my favorite albums of all time, The Beach Boys Love You.

The Beach Boys Love You might be the strangest album in the Beach Boys’ catalog: a synth-based collection of fifteen Brian Wilson originals, dominated by hoarse vocals and oddball songs about astronomy and Johnny Carson and a guy who has a crush on a girl but treats her like a baby and the first time I heard it I thought WHAT IS THIS SHIT???

And yet now it’s one of my favorite albums of theirs. I consider it not only their last great album, but one of their five best albums of all time, right up there with fan favorites like Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) and Pet Sounds and Sunflower. (Either Friends or Today round out my top five, depending on what mood I’m in or which one I’ve heard most recently.)

So how did an album that started out as a record I quite frankly HATED become one of my all-time favorite records, not just by the Beach Boys, but by ANYBODY?

I posted this today on my Facebook page…

oaaa_beachboysThis album taught me so much.

At the time, the Beach Boys were vying with the Beatles for title of “My Favorite Band,” and so I was really looking forward to this album… and shortly after it was released, I bought a copy, took it home, opened it up, played it through, and… I hated it. Hated almost every track. The vocals sounded harsh and coarse; the arrangements were sparse and odd. The songs seemed, on their surface, to be trite. I think I liked ONE track out of the fourteen: “Good Time.” The rest, I really just HATED…

…but…

…something told me to play it again, stick with it, give it another listen… and another…

…and slowly, track by track, everything I disliked about this album at first grew on me. Subtly complicated melodies unencumbered by “meaningful” lyrics… rough hewn vocals that fit the feel of the songs… guitars and synthesizers and percussion instruments being used in ways I’d never heard before.

What I learned was: when a favorite artist of yours takes his music in a new direction, TRUST HIM.

Thanks again, Brian!

It’s still one of my top five Beach Boys albums, and certainly, along with That’s Why God Made The Radio (their 2012 reunion album), the BEST new album that they’ve released in my years as a fan (1976-today).

That starts to explain it, but still…

A few years back, I frequented a Capitol Records-sponsored Beach Boys chat board, on which another member posted the following:

20100111153520-Untitled-6 copy 2100111Now most of you guys know that I have had very little good to say about The Beach Boys Love You album in the past. A couple days ago I put the CD in my boombox while preparing dinner, and something incredible and unexpected happened: I loved every minute of it. I was jumping around the kitchen singing along with the likes of “Roller Skating Child” and “Ding Dang” and “Solar System” and “Love is a Woman” like it was the Beatles or something. All of a sudden, all of the great things the Love You aficionados have been saying all along made sense. I was in a euphoric state of shock when it was all over. I need some help to determine exactly what happened to me.

I posted the following response:

I’ve said a few times on other threads: when it came out in spring 1977, I absolutely HATED Love You But I gave it a chance and kept listening, and now it’s one of my five favorite BB albums.

I’d say the question shouldn’t be “why do you now like it” but rather, “why DIDN’T you like it before?”

For me, it was a combination of the following:

* On its surface, it sounded like nothing the group had done before. It was certainly a radical departure from the commercial, accessible Fifteen Big Ones (1976).
* The group’s hoarse vocals and the somewhat thin (in spots) background vocals were jarring to someone who was concurrently discovering the group’s “classic” records, which, vocally, were ANYTHING but “thin” or “weak” or “hoarse.”
* Some of the lyrics made me cringe.
* Like the vocal sound, the synth-based instrumental settings were jarring.

That was what I DIDN’T like about Love You when I first heard it. But I think it’s an amazing record. It takes risks, for one thing (like I said, no BB album before or since was such a radical departure from what came before in so many ways).

the_beach_boys_record_japan_charity_single
Musically, I think the arrangements are stunning: the voicings and the way the different instrumental voices play off of and almost “talk to” each other (best example: “I’ll Bet He’s Nice”); the drum parts (one of the best examples ever of how Brian couldn’t be satisfied with a drummer who pounded away on two and four, but who played patterns that, again, played off and “talked to” the other percussion and instrumental voices). The use of the group’s individual lead voices (again, exemplified on “I’ll Bet He’s Nice,” where Brian has his brothers trading off the lead vocal part almost line by line). The BACKGROUND vocals, which, am I the only person who has noticed this, was the last time that the group had a new album dominated by their classic background vocal blend of Mike on bass, Carl, Al and Denny in the middle, and Brian high and sweet on top…and speaking of “Brian high and sweet on top,” SCREW that awful, awful, hideous AWFUL TRACK “She’s Got Rhythm” on
M.I.U. Album that everyone oohed and ahhhed over (“Brian’s singing high again!” Yeah, but THE SONG SUCKS!!!)…Brian’s falsetto lead passages on “Airplane” are not only among the prettiest singing he ever did; they’re also pretty much the last time that he sang like “the old Brian.”

The sweet dumbness of the lyrics, which, the more I listened, fit the melodies and the tone of the songs and sounded just fine to me if I didn’t THINK about them too much.

And the cover. I liked the cover.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the title. In angry “rock vs. Disco” 1977, when the last best hope for rock and roll seemed to be angry new wave or angrier punk, the title The Beach Boys Love You was a breath of fresh air.


The Beach Boys love ME? Why, thank you! 😛

It’s just a sweet, complex, weird, quirky, beautiful album that works on so many different levels that it’s easy to dismiss it…believe me, because when it came out, I dismissed it. But to me, Love You stands right there with Pet Sounds in terms of multi-leveled sophistication, which is why the more you listen, the better it sounds… there’s a lot there to hear, and the more you listen, the more you notice.

That’s my take, anyway.

Roy Wood said of his album Boulders (another quirky fave of mine) upon its reissue on CD that “It’s old, but still weird enough to be different.”

That’s a good way to describe The Beach Boys Love You. I recommend BOTH albums.

I said it about Pet Sounds and I’ll say it again about Love You: Thank you, Brian.

And happy birthday. May we all age as well as The Beach Boys Love You!

Read a few more reviews of the album here.

Teenaged albums

The musical challenge currently circulating on Facebook is…

Copy this post as a status update. List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist. Don’t take too long and don’t think too long.

Like most “list challenges” on Facebook, I resisted doing this at first, but then got into a discussion about a friend’s list on HIS page, and even as I typed that “I never do these things,” I was already filling out the list in my head.

As I told him, MY problem in making a list of ten ALBUMS that influenced me as a teenager is that, as a teen, I mainly bought 45s, not albums. I was definitely more of a singles buyer. 45s were 99 cents (or $1.29 for an oldie), and albums were $5.99, $6.99 or more. So I seldom bought NEW albums… although I’d see what I could score used at flea markets/yard sales/etc. This is one reason I always was listening to music that was ten or more years old… those were the albums (and singles) I found in flea markets.

Used and old and inexpensive = yes. New and full-priced = seldom.

heartSo…

…while “Heart” by Rockpile was one of my favorite SINGLES as a teen, I never bought the  album (SECONDS OF PLEASURE) till I was in college. Same with the Bee Gees, Springsteen, Dylan, and so many others: I loved all those SINGLES of theirs, but didn’t buy the albums till much later.

The other problem I had was one that I suspected was reflected in the lists of friends whose high school tastes were, shall we say, amazingly precocious and eclectic for 15-16-17 year olds. A lot of the lists looked backloaded, which is to say, constructed through the lens of adulthood, in particular an adulthood that wants to remember listening to really great music, but NOT listening to sucky top 40 or pop stuff. As this same friend says, I’m not seeing much Kansas, Styx, or Journey on these lists.

The fact is, when I try to think of music I liked back then, my current tastes can’t help but rewrite the narrative in some ways, so that albums I owned in high school but didn’t really play that much have grown in importance to me, while others I played but have grown tired of since, I’ve pushed to the back of my mind.

So I tried hard to think of the albums that I played a lot back then, whether I’d still listen to them today or not.

So… having given those caveats, here’s the list I came up with. Ten albums by nine artists (I didn’t know about the “one album per artist” stipulation when I made my list… sorry!) and then a bonus artist, who, if I was honest, would probably knock every other album out of my top ten.

But what fun would THAT be?

My list, in no particular order:

181997123899Pet Sounds / The Beach Boys (Yes, I really did buy, play, listen, and become obsessed with Pet Sounds as a teen. I think I was lucky in that I discovered Pet Sounds as an adolescent. No album meant more to me as a teen musically, emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually. And I am certain that people who don’t connect with it met it too late in life to really appreciate it.)

love-youThe Beach Boys Love You (This 1977 album taught me one of the biggest musical lessons that I could ever learn: when someone you love does music you don’t get on first listen, STICK WITH IT. I HATED this album at first listen, but little by little it grew on me, and it remains one of my five favorites by ANYONE to this date.)

matching-tieMonty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief (I always loved the Pythons, and this album wildly creative in so many ways. Not just the content; not just the packaging; but the physical album itself was a gag: one side of the album was cut with parallel lathes. What’s that mean? It means that there were not one, but TWO grooves with different content running parallel on the album side. So if you dropped the needle, you didn’t know WHICH program you’d get. Further, they labeled both sides “side two,” so… I had to put an X on the “twin groove” side. One of the best musical and recording practical jokes EVER.)

strange-daysStrange Days / The Doors (one of those “don’t play it anymore” albums, but for the year I was in my perfunctory adolescent Doors phase– age 14– this was my favorite of theirs. Probably because I stumbled on a used copy for 50 cents at Renninger’s Flea Market. I haven’t listened to it in years. Classic rock radio has almost killed the Doors for me, with the exception of L.A. Woman, which I also don’t listen to.)

jan-dean-anthologyJan and Dean Anthology Album (I had a lot of Jan and Dean albums, but this one was the one I played most. I loved every song on the record, and a nice bonus was the booklet, with a history of the duo and a detailed discography chart that showed not only recording dates and chart positions of their hits, but the cars they each were driving and the girls they each were dating when the records came out. Talk about essential teenaged information!)

816cyninkil-_sl1425_Rust Never Sleeps / Neil Young (The first Neil Young album I ever bought, and still my favorite in so many ways. I can’t remember what impelled me to buy it; maybe that a couple friends I knew already loved Neil. But I bought it full price, and I never regretted it.)

blastBlast From Your Past / Ringo Starr (I got this for Christmas 1975, and I still think this is the best solo Beatles compilation album ever, and, if you want to count compilations as actual albums, maybe Ringo’s best solo album period.)

 


byrds-notori_03The Notorious Byrd Brothers / The Byrds
(Side one is still one of my favorite album sides by anyone.)


107571090Split Ends / The Move
(I loved Electric Light Orchestra, and listening to ELO led me back to the Move and this album, which I probably played more than any ELO record as a teen, save maybe Out Of The Blue United Artists took the Move’s final album, Message From The Country, and cut a couple songs, replacing them with five of the best single sides ever made in succession by any band whose name didn’t begin with BEA: “Do Ya,” “California Man,” “Chinatown,” “Down On The Bay,” and “Tonight.”)

elvis-presley-self-titled-vinyl-lp-record-lsp-1254-1956_20985911Elvis Presley (his first album) (I had The Sun Sessions and I loved that, too, but somehow I’ve always preferred Elvis’ first album with “Blue Suede Shoes” and “One Sided Love Affair” and a handful of Sun outtakes (“Trying To Get To You,” “Just Because”). I loved this album so much that I even tolerated it in RCA’s abominable “Electronically Reprocessed” fake stereo. (I learned, by the way, how to “correct” that and un-process the album so that it was in relatively echo-free mono.)

Finally, as my “bonus that probably trumps everything else on the list”…

i53oibx4u2697_p662141_500x500Name Your Beatles album  I mean, really. Any one you’d pick, even YELLOW SUBMARINE. I first heard them all– in the US versions– as a teen, and each one of them was the most important and influential thing I’d ever heard at the time I heard it.

 

Brian’s songs

Sitting at the piano this afternoon, working out the chord changes of a bunch of Brian Wilson songs: “Honkin’ Down The Highway” and “Good Time” and “That’s Why God Made The Radio” and “Solar System.”

recluses-brian-wilson-sizedBrian Wilson may be my FAVORITE songwriter as composer, above even Lennon-McCartney (because Brian did it on his own) or Billy Strayhorn (because, again, it’s hard to tell at times where Strayhorn ends and Duke begins). All of his songs have UNUSUAL structure, chord changes and modulations. Those elements always take me off in musically unexpected directions, but they feel totally natural, unforced, and easy.

As Marian McPartland said about Strayhorn, “there’s always a train wreck chord in these songs,” a chord that seems to come out of nowhere that just can stop a player dead in his tracks. Brian Wilson’s songs have those “train wreck chords,” but somehow, they never feel out of place, and they always lead you right back to the mainstream of the song.

Plus, it’s almost always rock and roll. Not “pop.” Rock and roll.  Brian takes these highfalutin’ musical ideas and applies them to rock and roll songs, and, in doing so, expands the scope and possibilities of the music. 

I, for one, am grateful that I live in an age where he’s actively performing and creating new music.