Saturday, January 25, 2014

Finding Shallow Joys in Consumerism

Last weekend had a long overdue round of record store visits. I hit Positively Records in Levittown, PA and Princeton Record Exchange.

At Positively Records picked up: used copy of "Doo Wop Box" Volume 1 - 4 CD set I doubt anyone needs me to give a history lesson on what this stuff is, it's place in the evolution of popular music internationally, etc. The things that caught my attention were -- that the Beach Boys covered a couple classic Doo Wop numbers - The Regents' "Barbara Ann" and The Students' "I'm So Young." Meanwhile, bits of The Crows' "Gee" pop up in the long versions of "Heroes and Villains." Dave Edmunds, of course, did a great, very faithful recreation of The Chantells "Maybe." Yeah, a good amount of being redone by rock and pop acts into the 1980's and being a large influence in various ways on a wide range of artists notably Lou Reed who wrote "I Found A Reason" in this style for the Velvets "Loaded" and later took The Excellents' "Coney Island Baby" for the title of one of his early solo albums. I must admit -- most of Doo Wop's impact on white rock and pop has faded since the 80's and hard to discern much in those styles nowadays.

used "Elvis Presley" $2.99 Elvis is what my older cousins listened to and ever since I've filed him in my head with other pre-Beatles pop performers like Sinatra, Perry Como, etc. I REALIZE that's wrong and periodically try to experience him as paradigm shifter that he did function as. And this -- his debut for RCA has some great rockers on it...and a buncha maudlin ballads that testify to his willingness, perhaps intent to become and be accepted as a legitimate pop singer. Yet, it's hard to deny the force and fire in "Blue Suede Shoes," "I Got A Woman" and "Tutti Frutti"...but, honestly, I think that Ray Charles and Little Richards originals totally kick ass on Presley's renditions.

Steve Wonder "Talking Book" and "Innervisions" both used for $2.99 each "Music From My Mind" and these two form a stunning trilogy of a world class artist taking control of his career, his art and exceeding the already lofty heights he'd achieved under the closer direction of the mighty Motown brain trust. There is some fluff on these but even that's charming. The high points like "I Believe" "You Are the Sunshine Of My Life," "Living For The City" -- are catchy, ambitious and sophisticated in ways that severely challenged the conventions of soul-based Black pop and contributed to an explosion of creative innovation in the field that has yet to be equalled.

Big Joe Turner "The Definitive Blues Collection" NEW $2.99 Man, the packaging and marketing of this SUCKS. Generic, misleading packaging, no detailed session notes...but man this music rocks! Turner was a powerhouse vocalist, connecting with great material, backed by inspired musicians (wish it was spelled out who that had been!) And while it IS bluesy, it's clearly Rhythm & Blues with a strong undercurrent of beat and motive force of that R&B sub-genre that'd eventually be labelled "Rock N Roll." Indeed, Turner cut the original version of "Shake Rattle & Roll" that Western Swing bandleader Bill Haley would appropriate and have one of the early national rock 'n' roll hits with.

Ruth Brown "The Definitive Soul Collection" NEW $2.99 Basically, ditto to all my comments re the Turner collection - bad packaging; a ton of smokin' early R&B.

Fergie "The Duchess" used $2.99 Haven't listened much yet. But I likes to peep current pop after the brouhaha around it has died down.

Princeton Record Exchange:

Velvet Underground "White Light/White Heat" 45th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (2 CD) version - new, full price Not too much to add to what other folks have said about this. This is music I've cherished since I picked up my first copy in 1975 in some record shop on "K" Street in DC (one of the clerks was a dude named Olsen who went on to found the Olsens' Records chain)(and my copy came with the black on black embossed artwork - good score for the $3-4 I spent on a new copy). I think I still have 3 vinyl copies, all with different artwork and one autographed by John Cale one night I and some friends opened for him. It's a total mind blow. Really took the most forward looking elements the Velvets expressed on their debut album ten steps further. Among its many achievements, demonstrating the high art that repetitive rhythm guitar could aspire to. Songs like "Heard Her Call My Name" and "Sister Ray" might initially seem like monolithic onslaughts of noise but close listening reveals intricate rhythmic motifs being laid out, one after another. Frankly, you could write a full album or two just out of the unique rhythm guitar figures on display in "Sister Ray" alone.

As per the bonus tracks on disc one -- I think this is the third time most of these have been trotted out. Perhaps mixed and mastered better, perhaps not.

Disc two - "Live At the Gymnasium" - I haven't collected the bootlegs so I'm glad to have this stuff, tho most of the repertoire that didn't make it on to their studio output...shows that there was some savvy A&R at work. I'd imagine that this is only important to fans that didn't already buy the bootlegs.

Incidentally, Kudos to UMG for releasing the live material as part of the Deluxe package rather than making it exclusive to the SUPER DELUXE package (as with the 45th Anniversary of "The Velvet Underground And Nico."

the new M.I.A. - for Amy - new, full price I mainly hear M.I.A. when Amy plays it in whilst we're driving around. Of all the current crop of dance pop performers out there she's the only one I really dig and who appears to be an artist rather than merely a performer. Cheeky, experimental AND infectious. Killah!

William Onyeabor "Who is William Onyeabor?" - new, full price I'll admit I bought this because of the fullsome media hype - NY Times, Time Magazine, etc. And I DO have a long standing penchant for non-American/Brit musical stylings (used to pick up the cheap Nonesuch Explorer titles at Sam Goody's back in the day). And this cat's good, and certainly unique, but... I'm not utterly sold. What IS cool is that Onyeabor hybridized African musical vocabulary with electro pop's. That's actually a good fit since both styles made use of lengthy repetition of simple, very beat-conscious melodic figures. What's not as cool ultimately comes off as a bit one-dimensional, kinda simplistic. The arrangements woulda benefited by a couple added layers of rhythm patterns and a whole lot more swing. Still, I do dig the audaciousness of the cross-pollination being undertaken.

Eddie Floyd "Greatest Hits" $1.99 Most of these songs written and produced by Steve Cropper and/or Booker T Jones. Nuff said. On first listen "I've Never Found A Girl" perplexed me -- the opening sounds like a lift from the Young Rascals' "Groovin'" (I'll need to study release dates and see who lifted from who), but, hey, some folks imitate, artists steal (right, Keef?); but the chorus...damn I KNOW THIS SONG! But from where? Rascals? Dells? Spinners? And finally I realize that Alex Chilton (a Memphis lad after all) did this in the set documented on the live "Electricity By Candlelight" set. Man, had excellent taste!

Bobby Womack "The Poet" used $4.99 Haven't listened yet - but this thing and "The Poet II" used to BLOW OUT THE DOOR of Melody Records on Dupont Circle in DC back in the early 80's. Now I'll find out why.

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