Sunday, December 26, 2021

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Joe Jackson's 'Body and Soul'

Joe Jackson started his career as a high-quality Elvis Costello clone, and like his fellow punk-adjacent, angry somewhat-young man, Jackson seemed to tire of rock and roll quickly to suffer a bit of an identity crisis. But while Costello was dithering with flaccid country covers that didn't suit his fiery style and ill-conceived gestures toward mainstream contemporary pop (complete with guest appearances by contemporary pop-superstar Darryl Hall), Jackson went in a much more interesting direction, rejecting any semblance of relevance to set off on the path that classical pop and jazz composers laid down fifty years earlier. Costello did experiment with this style a bit with compositions such as "Almost Blue" and "Shipbuilding", but he didn't commit to it the way Jackson did on his smash 1982 album, Night and Day, which yielded two elegant, adult pop hits: "Steppin' Out" (which went top-five in the U.S.) and "Breaking Us in Two".

Monday, December 20, 2021

Ten Vinyl Releases Psychobabble Would Like to See in 2022

 It’s official: the Vinyl Revolution has been fought and won. 2021 was the first year since 1987 that the vinyl LP outsold the CD. Vinyl pressing plants can’t keep up with demand for new product. Consequently, 2022 should be another boon year for grooved plastic, but there are several platters I’d particularly like to see and hear in the coming year. Here are ten (actually, more than ten) of them: 

1. The Beatles’ Anthologies-Expanded


Despite a bit of a COVID-related hiccup in 2020, a big, beautiful box of Beatles has become a new annual tradition. This year saw the release of an anniversary set devoted to Let It Be, and the vinyl edition is the first of these to completely mimic the CD one, right down to the inclusion of a hardcover book. What will come next is a bit of a floating question mark. Logic dictates that now that Sgt. Pepper’s through Let It Be have received their obligatory deluxe boxes, series-mastermind Giles Martin will next skip back to the beginning and start remixing the early Beatles records. However, Martin has said that the fact that the early Beatles albums were recorded on two-track machines limits the options for remixing them (never mind that he has already remixed a bunch of pre-Pepper’s tracks for projects such as the remixed edition of Beatles 1 and the Yellow Submarine Songtrack). 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review: 'George Harrison On George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters'

It's very tempting to begin a review of a 550-page book of George Harrison interviews with mocking cliches about how he was "The Quiet Beatle," yet that tired old label is actually somewhat relevant to what may be the main lesson of George Harrison On George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters. Perhaps it was George's refusal to play the game on his interviewers' terms that got him slapped with that label. Averse to cliches himself, Harrison had little patience for questions about how long The Beatles would last, why they were so great, his feelings about occasional antagonist Paul McCartney, and other well-worn inquiries. He'd answer those questions but not without making his exasperation with them clear. So, for journalists, "quiet" may be a coded synonym for "difficult."

However, when it came to topics he was genuinely invested in, Harrison was anything but quiet. A good deal of these 550 pages, and all of the ones set during the last four years of The Beatles' career, are devoted to Harrison's devotion to Hinduism. This can be wearying to any reader who isn't specifically interested in this topic, but it is key to conveying editor Ashley Kahn's main goal in assembling the interviews and speeches he selects: getting to know the least-knowable member of the best-known band that ever was. I have zero interest in religion, but learning how deeply into spirituality Harrison was, and how informed he was about his chosen one's history and practices, is interesting. It is also interesting to read about how cool he was with his wife getting together with his best friend, his disdain for the music business and stardom, his ventures in movies with his production company HandMade Films, how much he liked to get silly and quote The Rutleshow unfiltered he was when discussing his conflicts with everyone from Paul to Sean Penn and Madonna, how much love he had for Paul even when the media was reporting otherwise, and how much contempt he had for the media in general. Perhaps George would be better labeled as "The Most No-Bullshit Beatle."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Farewell, Mike Nesmith

Where to begin with an artist who spearheaded a genuine revolution in the most corporate sector of the music industry, who helped pioneer jangly country-psychedelic-rock (in conjunction with The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield), who produced such oddball movies as Repo Man and Tapeheads, who wrote one of the few rock autobiographies worth reading, and for all intents and purposes, invented MTV? 

No Monkee defied that group's wholly erroneous reputation for bubblegum weightlessness more than Mike Nesmith. Underneath that green wool hat was a brain that never stopped inventing. From the very beginning of The Monkees' career, he was writing and producing some of the most inventive and exhilarating tracks on their records. He was the dry wit and leader of the group's fictionalized incarnation, but he also led bandmates Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz (as well as a reluctant Davy Jones) in a swift revolution that saw this made-for-TV band wrestle control from old-school music supervisor Don Kirshner to take full control of their own music. It was Mike who hired former-Turtle Chip Douglas to produce The Monkees' new-phase records--and taught Douglas how to produce records!--which resulted in the best albums the group ever made. He sneaked such genuinely weird articles as the Cajun-flavored "Sweet Young Thing", the nightmarish psych-prog "Writing Wrongs", the eerie and poetic ode to the Sunset-Strip riots "Daily Nightly", the lysergic country idle "Auntie's Municipal Court" (co-written with the recently departed Keith Allison), and the 1920s pastiche "Magnolia Simms" (complete with built-in record skips!) onto so-called "bubblegum" albums. His fusion of country-rock and psychedelic-era production techniques and surreal lyricism made his post-Monkees albums with The First National Band truly revolutionary.

Mike was my personal favorite Monkee because of his truly unique music and voice and a demeanor so cool he made wearing a green wool hat not embarrassing (and yet totally, wonderfully dorky). At age twelve, I started combing my hair in a dip in mimicry of his iconic do. I still do. And he was the voice of my favorite Monkees song. Sadly, he died today of natural causes, according to his family. 

Update: Nesmith apparently died of heart failure (he'd had quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2018), and according to Micky Dolenz, he'd entered hospice a few days before his death.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Review: 'The Masters of the Universe Book'

In the early eighties, Kenner's line of Star Wars
¾-inch figures dominated toy store shelves, leaving its competitor Mattel lagging behind and scheming to catch up. The only way to compete with George Lucas's weird wookiees, jawas, and yodas was to get weirder, bigger, and all-around zanier. The braniacs at Mattel inflated their figures to a whopping 5½ inches, pumped their plastic muscles to asinine proportions, oversaturated them with candy colors, and gave them daffy names like Stinkor, Clamp Champ, Buzz-Off, Two Bad, Webstor (not to be confused with the character Emmanuel Lewis originated), and, for the leader of the gang, He-Man. 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Review: 'Stompbox: 100 Pedals of the World's Greatest Guitarists'

Rock and roll wouldn't be half as vibrant and varied if not for those little boxes that litter the floors before guitarists' Keds. Keith Richards forced his guitar to match the angst of Jagger's lyrics when he stomped his Maestro Fuzz-Tone on "Satisfaction". Hendrix reflected the acid-drenched lyrics of his "Purple Haze" when he filtered his guitar through an Arbiter Fuzz Face. And where would The Edge be without his Korg SDD-3000 digital delay unit? Probably waiting tables in Dublin.

Guitar pedals--or "Stompboxes," as they are affectionately known--aren't just interesting-sounding additions to the musical palette, they are also nifty-looking little gadgets, which photographer Eilon Paz recognized when he put together Stompbox: 100 Pedals of the World's Greatest Guitarists. His luxurious hardcover spotlights the personal doodads of such greats as Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Alex Lifeson, Mary Timony, Graham Coxon, Vernon Reid, Joey Santiago, Thurston Moore, Robby Krieger, and Sarah Lipstate. The artists themselves (or in the cases of departed legends like Hendrix and Bolan, those who knew them) tell the tales of finding that perfect, unique sound and putting it to use. Some of these devices are well worn and well loved, encrusted with rust or little bits of tapes indicating the musician's preferred setting. Some, such as Jack White's Third Man Bumble Buzz and Buzz Osborne's Melvins Pessimiser, are custom made and emblazoned with super-cool custom designs. Editors Dan Epstein and James Rotondi contribute enlightening essays and round up and interview the musicians who use these pedals and the tech geeks who design them for what is not just a definitive history and overview of the guitar pedal, but also damn good looking coffee table book.

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