Monthly Archives: January 2017

Frank Zappa • Joe’s Garage (Acts 1, 2 & 3) [3LP set] – Part I

As this was originally released in 1979 in two parts, I will be reviewing the late 2016 vinyl reissue in a similar fashion…

zappa_joesgarage1_400pxJoe’s Garage, Act I
First of all, let’s just say that if you’re one of those who “don’t know where to start” when trying to “get into” FRANK ZAPPA, then Joe’s Garage is a great place to start – if you’re not easily offended by puerile, pimply-faced humor. If, on the other hand, even the mention of things such as “ninnies,” “wet t-shirt nights” or (especially) “cock” have you immediately in the car headed for church, then steer clear of this one. In fact, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by staying away from Frank Zappa entirely. That’s not to say that everything he does mentions naughty bits or contains vulgar language, but it’s easier for me to issue a blanket danger! then to try and detail what’s safe for you and what’s not. Now then…

Joe’s Garage, Act I was released in September 1979. I was 16 and had recently moved to Seattle with my sister and parents from Southern California and was entering 11th grade. I had a general idea who Zappa was but didn’t know any of his music and knew no one who had any to check out. (This was waaaaaayyy pre-internet, kids.) All I knew is he was a great guitarist and he once had a band called The Mothers. (Back then, for you youngsters who don’t know, mother was short for the slang term motherfucker.) Well, I met a guy at my new high school who was really into Frank so we were both excited to plunk down the bucks for Joe’s Garage and plop that baby onto the record player. We had no idea what we were in for! We were just kids, fer cryin’ out loud!

This record is a true concept album, detailing the story of a young American male succumbing to the horrors and overall nastiness of a career in music. Joe, our hero, forms a band, gets signed to a record deal, meets groupies, contacts venereal disease (look it up, kids), and eventually – as detailed in the then forthcoming but not-yet-announced second volume – finds himself being “reprogrammed” by some crazed religious zealots (think Scientology). Musically, Joe’s Garage is a great intro to Zappa and his world because it contains everything that made up the man’s musical DNA: great guitar playing, humor, a love for doo wop, and an intricate yet (often) approachable sense to what makes good music. The band on this record was well-suited to the material, including Ike Willis on vocals (now, that mother could sing!), Warren Cuccurullo ozappa_bob_400pxn guitar, Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars on keys, and various others on the rest. Zappa himself plays guitar, does some of the singing, and plays the role of narrator in the character of The Central Scrutinizer. It’s a role uniquely suited to FZ, as he later became the rock world’s mouthpiece and champion of free speech in the ’80s. (You may remember he testified in front of Congress during the days of Tipper Gore’s PMRC and their modern day witch hunt to persecute and prosecute musicians whose art used “bad language” that was surely going to mess up the minds of our impressionable youths.) Somehow ol’ Frank knew where America was headed and tried to head us off at the pass with his tale of how IT’S NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S BUSINESS TO DECIDE WHAT IT THINKS IS “BAD” FOR ITS CONSTITUENTS.

Errr, uhhh…… anyway, well, one of Frank’s greatest strengths was his ability to delegate. If he felt someone was better suited to sing a particular song, for instance, he’d have that someone sing it. Ike Willis is a monster on this record, singing a majority of the leads with soulful, expressive tone that really comes to the fore on “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up,” a slow R&B-slash-reggae groove that closes out Act I. He also grabs you by the nuts on “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”, a painful look at what VD can do to a fella. Yikes! I don’t EVER want my balls to feel like a pair of maracas!

Ummm, where was I? Oh yeah. The Zappa Records reissue on vinyl is well worth the money, putting all three records together in one deluxe, double-gatefold package that includes a booklet libretto. The records were remastered from the original analog master tape safety copy by mastering great Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Pallas in Germany. Though I don’t have the original vinyl or first CD pressing anymore, I can tell you with confidence that this vinyl reissue is miles better than those and even better than the very good sounding 2012 CD reissue. I’ll wrap up the story of Joe in Part II.

4.5/5 (Zappa Records ZR3861-1, 2016)

Tagged

The Turtles • All the Singles [2CD]

If you know THE TURTLES only by the sublime “Happy Together” you’re missing out on a lot of late ’60s rock ’n’ roll fun. All the Singles is a 2CD compilation of the group’s original White Whale 45s and it’s a wide ranging collection of sounds ’n’ styles these guys, known for their killer harmonies, put out during their original half decade of success.

turtles_allthesingles_400pxThis compilation, released on the band’s own FloEdCo imprint (via Manifesto), is a mainly mono affair, in keeping with the “singles” vibe the title conjures. What comes through loud and clear — besides the pristine melodies and harmonies singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie) vocalized – is the driving, sometimes envelope pushing arrangements courtesy of their own rhythm section (bassist Jim Pons and drummer John Barbata, mainly) and the host of different producers they used. Starting with June 1965’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and encompassing “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “Elenore,” “You Showed Me” and more, the 48 songs here go a long way to demonstrating that these L.A. teenagers (who started out as a surf group called The Crossfires) were more than the sum of their surf ’n’ folk roots. In fact, soon after their first single the guys were determined to move on from folk to something more poppy, hence their latter, aforementioned A-sides. Their B-sides were frequently penned by the band themselves and some of them were quite good – though some were inevitably forgettable. I cite “Buzz Saw,” “Come Over” and “Surfer Dan” among the memorable ones.

Another thing they did was an ingenious exercise called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, an album in which they took on various then-current pop genres as if they were actually different groups. They went so far as to name the bands for each track (though it was always The Turtles); on this comp you get Nature’s Children (“You Showed Me”), Howie, Mark, Johnie, Jim & Al (“Elenore”), The Fabulous Dawgs and The Cross Fires, but the concept begs further investigation for sure. Later on (early 1970) The Turtles put out a single under the name The Dedications, and both the doo woppy A-side “Teardrops” and the garage/Jan & Deanie flipside “Gas Money” are here.

As for production, the singles herturtles_band_350pxe were helmed by a host of producers including the legendary Bones Howe, Joe Wissert, Chip Douglas and even The Kinks’ Ray Davies (yeah, kool!), who oversaw 1969’s Turtle Soup and its attendant singles “House on the Hill,” “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain,” and the poignant, cheeky “Bachelor Mother.” Different producers didn’t really change the group’s sound much, though the Davies-produced cuts do have a slightly Kinky feel to them.

Have I mentioned “Can’t You Hear the Cows”? It’s a B-side (to the Nilsson-written “The Story of Rock and Roll”) and has my name written all over it. According to the copious liner notes it “might have had a deeper significance that is now lost to time.” Ahem: “Each and every day / Eatin’ all that hay / Moo baby, moo baby.” The Beach Boys never sounded this swell!

All the Singles represents yet another case – like me discovering The Blues Magoos – of me thinking, how the hell did I let The Turtles escape my complete immersion all of these years?! Sure, I knew the obvious singles. I knew that Flo & Eddie were later members of Frank Zappa’s amazing Mothers and sang on Fillmore East – June 1971 (“Mud sh-sh-shark!”) and even T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” yet somehow all I had until now was a 14-track cheapie CD comp. Good God, Gooch! What took you so damned long?!

5/5 (FloEdCo/Manifesto)

Tagged

The Flaming Lips • “Space Oddity” [7″]

flaminglips-spaceoddity_350pxThis is Ground Control to major David Bowie fans everywhere: THE FLAMING LIPS have a new 7″ out, their cover of “Space Oddity,” one of our hero’s best known songs. Coming out a year after Bowie’s death, it’s a fairly faithful yet interesting take, very similar to the version they did on Stephen Colbert’s TV show last April. The fact that it comes out at the same time as the Lips’ new album is also of interest: is this a sideways promotional tie-in to Oczy Mlody or a heartfelt tribute? Here in the year 2017 I’d have to say it’s both. There’s no way to hear about one record and not the other since the advent of the internet, keyword searches, SEO and the rest. And my job is to let you know about things I like, find interesting, moderating or even disgusting, so I naturally inform you.

flaminglips-oddity-vinyl_350pxWayne Coyne and his bros do a nice version of Bowie’s breakout song, keeping to the recipe for the most part, adding a dash of Lips spice here and there but not so much that you taste only the pizzazz and none of the actual showcase dish. It’s got a nice picture sleeve, is pressed on red vinyl, and has a big hole in the middle so us Americans can have our 45 served the way we like it. “Jest (There Is…)” on the flipside is pretty standard Lips fare but important to Flaming collectors because it’s not on the new album either. If you want ’em both LP + 7″ you can order them as a bundle from the band’s web site and save some money.

Anyway, “Space Oddity” is a nice DB cover, a worthwhile addition to the Lips discography and the video’s pretty cool, too.

3/5 (Warner Bros.)

Tagged ,

Sun Ra & His Arkestra • “Rocket Number Nine” [10″]

sunra_rocketnumbernine_front_300pxThere’s a lot of activity right now in the universe of SUN RA. Just who or what is he/it? Short answer: He was a jazz pianist and composer who created some of the craziest music ever committed to vinyl. The guy who was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914 was definitely a cosmic cat, and in the last year (over twenty since he passed into the great beyond) there has been some notable additions to his discography, including a double album of singles and a recent Record Store Day live release.

This 10″ record, put out by Sundazed’s new Modern Harmonic label, is but a trio of slices of his multi-flavored pie. “Rocket Number Nine” originally came to my knowledge via a cover version by rock ’n’ roll’s Sun Ra equivalent, NRBQ. It’s a bit kooky, and not surprisingly, the ’Q’s version ain’t that far off from this. Recorded in 1960, this version is “one of the earliest renditions” of the song so apparently he recorded it more than once. It starts off with an uptempo groove and a small chorus singing “Rocket number nine take off for sunra_greenduo_300pxthe planet Venus, Venus!,” then comes a quiet section with a moody and slightly off-kilter cello (part of the rocket trip to Venus?), followed by a short piano bit (presumably by Sun himself), and the “second stop is Jupiter” finale. It’s a fun piece to hear and I’m curious to know what other renditions are like. The other two cuts, “Ankhnation” and “Project Black Mass,” are previously unissued cuts and are a bit more normal – whatever that is in early ’60s, semi-bebop jazz. The latter is basically solo piano with someone banging a solo hubcap for rhythm. (Interesting but a little on the annoying side.)

One of the things that really makes this record cool, to me, is the artwork. The cover illustration is by Ian Schoenherr and it, along with the typography, make this record a real nice addition to your library. The fact that it is a ten-inch on clear green vinyl just adds to the fun. Modern Harmonic has a number of Sun Ra records out, all licensed from the man’s estate, and I plan to collect ’em all, along with  the aforementioned singles 2LP set.

3.5/5 (Modern Harmonic/Sundazed)

Tagged

The Doors • The Doors [mono LP]

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Doors’ debut LP – released this day in 1967 – I am re-running this review I wrote for my original blog, Skratchdisc, in November 2010.

doors_thedoors-mono_350pxAnother Record Store Day Exclusive (for Black Friday, that is), The Doors’ first LP, The Doors, has been re-released in a limited edition mono pressing. Previously only available in a vinyl box set from a few years ago (and its initial ’67 release, of course), it’s another great example of how songs can benefit from being mixed in mono.

The 180 gram audiophile pressing (made by the renowned RTI outfit) has the original Elektra catalog number and label, and is a godsend for those who’ve been trying to find a clean original pressing, let alone those who can’t brave the typical $200 price tag you’d find on Ebay. I really like “Break on Through,” which sounds like a different vocal take to me (though my hardcore Doors phase was over about twenty years ago so I could be high), “Alabama Song” sounds even more psychedelic since the carnival organ is equally in both speakers rather than primarily in one, and “The End” sounds easily as chilling in mono as it does in stereo. The drums in “Light My Fire” feel like they’re being pounded a lot harder, too.

Maybe all this mono hype will convince Elektra or Sundazed or someone to release the first three Love albums in monaural…

4/5 (Elektra/Rhino)

Today (1/4/2017), Rhino announced a 50th anniversary box set of The Doors, coming on March 31, that will feature three CDs (the original stereo mix, this mono mix [first time on CD], and a disc of live tracks recorded in San Francisco in April 1967) and the mono mix on vinyl. Whether it’ll be worth the cost probably depends on how many versions of this album you already have…
Tagged