Saturday, December 5, 2009

Yuletime Spins

Bob Dylan put out a Christmas CD this year.  Which leads me to a question. Why? 

Don’t get me wrong, I revere Dylan and he can evoke all kinds of emotions in me–but I doubt Yuletide sentimentality is among them.  To be fair, I haven’t heard the Dylan CD and maybe it’ll surprise me, but when it comes to the music of this season it’s hard to squeeze into the rotation in our house.


If you’re a believer, as I am, the traditional Christmas carols and church music are always going to hold a special place for the more contemplative moments, but when it comes time to trim the tree and break out the hot cocoa and eggnog, there’s only one album on our stereo.  We wore out our vinyl copy and are now on the second copy of the CD.  I don’t know how this got to be the one, but it’s been the signal for the festivities to begin for more twenty years now at our house. Peter Paul & Mary’s Holiday Celebration, backed up by the swelling  sounds of the New York Choral Society. It’s an unusual collection, but we all have our favorites cuts and we all know it by heart.


PP&M are the centerpiece, but there’s lots more to work in.  Our daughter-in-law brought her affection for Charlie Brown’s Christmas with her into the family and we’ve all embraced it.


My son usually makes a mix of more contemporarary bands to expose us to something new.  And now, of course, with the Uke craze at our house, there’ll always be a Uke cover to listen to:


Hubby likes baroque Christmas music on one end of the scale and the most kitschy ditties on the other end.  We have a whole collection of hardware-store issue records and CDs that he’s felt compelled to collect over the years while I’d been stockpiling Christmas offerings by James Brown, the Roches, The Tractors, Aaron Neville, James Taylor and Elvis, among others.


Some of my collection I listen to because I love the music, some strictly for the memories.  I like a little country now and then and like Alabama’s Christmas album, since that’s my home state.  My daughter used to love to sing along enthusiastically to a song called “Thistlehair the Christmas Bear,” this when the Rs did not come trippingly off her four or five year old tongue.  Too cute.


I’ve got an old Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney album I like to listen to because my parents’ liked it.  Good memories of LONG ago Christmases.


What about you, what’s your Christmas-Tree-Trimming Favorite?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Calling Collect

I’m not a serious vinyl collector.  I’m more of a vinyl accumulator.  I don’t pour over the Goldmine price guides or spend years searching for that elusive first pressing of  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, or the original VeeJay issue of Introducing the Beatles.  If I ever found them I’d be reluctant to put them on the turntable and risk diminishing their value.  I still like to handle and listen to my records and I’m mostly in it for the music. 


But I find the hobby of vinyl collecting fascinating and I like to read about people and their collections.  There are all kinds out there.  Genre collectors, label collectors, artists’ completists, and some that make absolutely no sense except to the person who owns the collection.  Some listen to the music, while others never let the albums leave their protective sleeves and are content just to own the records.  Someone should really do a sociological study.


If you would like to know more about vinyl collecting, Robert Benson’s blog has lots of valuable info and insight into the world of collecting.  He also offers an excellent free e-book on why people collect, how to organize a collection, how to care for albums, the grading system and lots more.  You can find it here:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Eye of the Beholder

One of the things I love about vinyl LPs is the relatively expansive canvas the foot square jacket provides to make a real statement.  Here–sometimes–cover art earns the appellation.

There are, of course, artists who are famous for their work on rock albums, posters and other rock memorabilia.  Alton Kelly, Stanley Mouse, R. Crumb and Roger Dean come instantly to mind.  Visual artists from other disciplines have sometimes roamed into the cover art world as well.

Then there are recording artists who do their own cover art. Some of these are marvelous; while with others I get the idea it’s a case of yet another indulgence granted a coddled rock star. But more on all these in later posts.

The cover I want to celebrate today falls into none of the above categories. Poco’s Legend  was designed by Phil Hartman.  Yes, the Phil Hartman who went on to Saturday Night Live fame–and who did the best Bill Clinton impression ever–and who later moved on to movie, television, voice and pitchman work.

Before he became a performer the Ontario native was a graphic designer whose work included record covers for Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steely Dan, America, Poco and others.   He was known as Philip Hartmann back then.  Tragically, lamentably, Hartman died in 1998, the victim of gunshot wounds inflicted by his troubled wife, who later committed suicide. 

The drawing of the horse on the jacket of  Legend  absolutely fascinates me.  How amazing that a few quick indicative lines on a snow white cover can so totally evoke the horse “known as only Thunder Road” in the song “Legend.”   “Icy fingers hold the reins, while hoofs come poundin’ so insanely on and on…”  Yes, I see it all in those scant few lines.

 As for the rest of the album?  Well, there’s a new poignancy, post-Katrina, to the first song on the album. “Heart of the Night” is a love song to New Orleans.  Then there’s the other hit, the sadly neurotic “Crazy Love,” the upbeat melody making it seem as if the singer is enjoying his misery maybe a little too much.

Poco was nearing the end of its band-life at the time this album was made and I’ll probably never listen to the rest of it again.  But, I can’t let it go.  I love that stallion and his “eyes that dance like burnin’ embers” too much.

What are some of your favorite “original artwork” album covers? 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Still Rollin'

“I’d rather be dead than singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m forty-five.” Mick Jagger

 “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” “Beautiful Boy” John Lennon

 “It’s good to be anywhere."Keith Richards

 I’m glad Mick changed his mind.  Otherwise we’d have missed the 2006 Superbowl halftime show.

Mick, by my calculations into his early 60s, was a ROCK STAR that night.  He strutted, swiveled, pouted, shouted and exhorted the crowd.   It was miracle enough that he COULD still do it at his age, but that he seemed to be having grand doing it was an awesome thing to behold! All the Stones seemed to be having a good time--even nine-lives Keith.  And why not, they’ve got nothing left to prove.

They were the bad boys of rock, on stage in t-shirts and tight leather pants while the mop-top Beatles were still appearing in their matching uniforms.  And they played the role well for many long years before they mellowed into sardonic icons of debauchery, jet-set anarchists and too-big-to fail grand tourers.  

 The band formed in 1962, and through all its permutations, upheaveals, triumphs, slumps and personal peccadillos they’re still rockin’ closing in on half a century later!  

 Yeah, it’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll, but a lot of people have loved it for a lot of years.

 I’ll never forget the scene in the 1986 movie Jumpin’ Jack Flash where Whoopie Goldberg is dancing around in her animal slippers trying to decipher Mick’s mumbled lyrics to save a spy running from the KGB. It’s silly, but wicked funny!

 What’s your favorite Stones’ album or song? Have you seen them live? 



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Road Trip!

There’s no telling how many miles my BFF Vicky and I logged during our high school years—late 60s, but who’s counting--just driving around aimlessly, the windows down, singing along to the radio.

 For you GenXers perhaps I should emphasize the word RADIO. Back then radios were often an accessory option in a new car for which you forked over a nice chunk of change. But if you were lucky and lived a righteous life you had a radio in your car AND you travelled within the reception range of a good Top 40 radio station. 

Later would come after-market 8-Tracker players that were bolted onto the floorboard, leaving scant room for the front seat passenger’s feet.  Then cassette player boxes, or if you were really swank a custom installed radio/cassette player.  That medium held sway for a long time then came CD players, even changers in the trunk that held 200 or more CDs.  Talk about overkill, how far would you have to drive? And–trust me on this–someday you’ll be waxing nostalgic to your own children about the charmingly low-tech Ipod that played MP3s–because we all know there’s somebody out there right now dreaming up the next format.

            But I digress. 

            Perhaps Vicky and I were guilty of wasting a lot of fossil fuel, and maybe we could have been a little more productive with our time, but I have no regrets.  That’s as close to capital-F freedom as I’ll ever get. And to this day if I want to feel a little of it again all I’ve got to do is put on Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” for a jolt.

            From that point onward cars and certain music became inextricably linked for me.  After I was married my hubby and I frequently made long car trips to visit family and friends and being poor as church mice we always tried to drive it through to avoid hotel expenses.  I never left home without the mix tape I’d need to stay awake and alert when he turned the wheel over to me—usually in the wee hours of the morning.  The one that stands out strongest from this period is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have you Ever Seen the Rain?”

            Then came kids and a small hiatus from rockin’ road trip music as we were usually involved in high-level negotiations for listening privileges.  “Okay, we’ll trade you one whole side of Raffi’s Baby Beluga for an hour of All Things Considered.  Deal?”

            By the time the kids were pre-teens they’d picked up instruments themselves and discovered classic rock. It was quaintly retro to them, but whatever the frame of reference I was in heaven.  They made their own mix tapes of Led Zepplin, The Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, The Band, Hendrix, Dylan and lots more of my own favs.  So some of my oldies got new fond memories layered on.

            When the kids hit their teens it was their turn to introduce me to new listening experiences.  Lots of fun road trips from that period had soundtracks supplied by Bare Naked Ladies, Better Than Ezra, Smoking Popes, Cake, Fountains of Wayne and lots of other artists I probably woudn’t have discovered on my own. Then we all got portable CD players and the communal listening experience all but disappeared except for the times when someone found something they really wanted to share.  It was convenient, and ended the arguments over car stereo time, but it was a little sad.

            Listening to music in the car is a different experience.  You’re literally trapped in a perfect listening position–and there’s movement and visual stimuli outside the windshield.  It helps to engrave both the song and the memories in your mind.  And if you need a break from the daily grind later on…put on your favorite road trip song and close your eyes–all the good memories, none of the disgusting gas-station bathrooms!

Here are some of my favorite road trip songs from the past–it’s always subject to change for the next trip!  I’m the first to admit it’s a weird assortment, but life takes you where it takes you.

  • Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”
  • Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia”
  • The Beatles “Drive My Car”
  • Bare Naked Ladies’ “One Week”
  • Cake’s “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”
  • Melissa Etheridge “Baby, You Can Sleep While I Drive” (my favorite is her duet with KD Lang)
  • Neil Young “Ohio”
  • Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio”
  • U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
  • Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”

 I’d love to hear about your favorite road trip songs and how they got to be your favs.  What do you think are the attributes that make up a good road trip song. Please share!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bread on the Pyre

Sometimes you have to sacrifice for a friend.  Back one summer, now almost lost in the mists of time, I loaned my favorite Bread album to a friend.  She took it and wore a visible trench in the vinyl by playing one song over and over for days on end.  It’s what she needed to save herself from despair.

        For both the sake of her dignity and the survival of our forty-year friendship, we’ll leave real names out of this–let’s call her Sue.

       Sue had been dumped.  There’s no kinder way to say it.  She’d been unceremoniously, unfeelingly, inexplicably dumped. And it didn’t matter one iota that everyone except her could clearly see the guy was all wrong for her.  She was bereft and the only thing that brought her solace was listening to “Baby, I’m a Want You” nonstop–every... waking... hour.

       I’m not embarrassed to say I was rather fond of that album.  I’m a kind of big-tenter when it comes to rock, I like a little bit of everything, and people who set themselves up as arbiters of what’s cool and what’s lame get on my last nerve. So yeah, I admit it, I listened to Bread and I liked them.

Gates had the kind of voice I’m drawn to, slightly vulnerable, a little nasal. He didn’t try too hard and he had the courtesy to look slightly chagrined when he sang the lyrics–”Baby, I’m-a want you?  Baby I’m-a need you?”  Seriously?  But they made it work somehow. Bread turned out some infinitely listenable soft rock and I appreciated them for their contribution. Course, by the time Sue had been at it for the first full day I thought I’d go mad from hearing that song.

 I can never hear it again or hold the album in my hand without remembering Sue’s heartbreak. Much as I love my records, I didn’t mind offering up that album on the pyre of her pain if it helped at all.  And I think it did.

Sue?  She got over it eventually and went on to a wonderful life with an amazing guy. But Bread will always be part of the soundtrack of her life–and mine.

 How about you?  Do you have a heartbreak song?  Did one of your friends have an experience like this?  Is there a song you find heartbreakingly sad?


For the Love of Vinyl

I love vinyl records.  I love the way they look, the glistening spiral groove winding around the ebony disk. I love the way they smell, crayons for the ear.  I love that the artwork has room to explode across the foot square jacket and that inside you frequently find surprises–cool lyric sheets, liner notes, maybe a mini-poster.

 It’s still pure magic to me that music can be held captive in those tiny grooves just waiting for a needle to liberate it. It’s a ritual to take the record out of the sleeve and set it on the turntable.  You have to pay attention and because of that you end up paying more careful attention to the music as well.  At least that’s my theory.

I’m not a collector; I’m more like an accumulator.  Once a record comes into my life and memories attach, it’s hard to let it go. So I have a hodge-podge collection with no sense of order or purpose to anyone but me.  Taken as a whole it’s of little financial value, though there are a few rare gems.  Still, I love simply having the records.  They trigger the same nostalgia as looking through a yellowing photo album or reminicing with an old friend.

And I love the sound. I’m certainly no audiophile.  I’m sure I lost a good chunk of my hearing range standing too close to the amps at concerts back in the day, but the experience of listening with hisses and pops included somehow makes the memory more complete, more authentic. That’s how it was back then, unpredictable, a different listening experience each time.

  Records were simply the artifacts of daily life for me through some wonderful youthful years.  So, in celebration of vinyl--and of classic Rock 'n'  Roll—I’d love to hear about records you’ve loved and music that’s made up the soundtrack of your life.