1:41 p.m. - December 11, 2005
(I know this is my railroad and I should run it the way I want to, but I really care about you, the reader, at least a skosh.)
And thanks to the magic of, well, technology, and in deference to the wacky schedule that I had Saturday and will have today, I’m writing this ahead of time, but I want to be on-the-edge current, so I’ll just say, “Hey, did you see that game Saturday? Wow! How about that news report, huh? Incredible, I just can’t believe it.”
Well, here we go:
Operators Manual - The Buzzcocks
Summary: A great compilation of tracks from one of the UK’s finest punk rock bands, but instead of politics, they turned their attention to matters of the heart and trying to write the perfect pop song. They were masters of wit and energy, and their sharp songs last to this day.
Positives: From the opening kick of “Orgasm Addict” to the end of “I Believe”, these songs give the listener a great rush.
Drawbacks: There are 25 tracks here, so listening to it in one sitting may be a bit much, but all of the songs are fab.
Verdict: I know Singles Going Steady is supposed to be the definitive collection, but I have this one instead and it has more tracks than that one. So I say buy this, or that, but buy one of them.
Random Trivia: “What Do I Get” was used in a Toyota commercial.
Dry - PJ Harvey
Summary: The debut album from one of the strongest women in rock-and-roll. Harvey’s first record uses spartan instrumentation that allows the songs to breathe and stand for themselves. It’s powerful, enlightening, and at times fragile portrait of a woman and a songwriter.
Positives: The power and the fury of songs like “Victory”, “Hair”, “Sheela-Na-Gig”, and “O My Lover” melt your ears and your heart.
Drawbacks: It leaves you wanting more at the end.
Verdict: Harvey has made a lot of fine albums, but when I want a dose of PJ Harvey I inevitably turn to this record.
Random Trivia: If you want to be technical about it, PJ Harvey was actually the name of the band when they recorded this album (much like Sade was actually the name of the band).
Back In The USA - The MC5
Summary: Kick Out the Jams got the press, but this album has the goods. It’s a Ramones style punk rock record, with 11 songs firing by in less than a half hour.
Positives: If classics such as “High School”, “Teenage Lust”, “The American Ruse” and “Shakin’ Street” aren’t enough, there’s “The Human Being Lawnmower” with its harsh political statements and tight playing.
Drawbacks: It’s a rather short album for the money, but sometimes brevity is good.
Verdict: The three proper MC5 albums do not resemble each other at all. This is my favorite, but the other two are worthy as well. Buy them for a slice of musical history.
Random Trivia: The MC5’s manager was infamous White Panther party leader John Sinclair, which got them written up in many FBI files, in ink, no doubt.
Too Tough To Die - The Ramones
Summary: It only seems like the Ramones made 419 albums, but frankly, after their first four the albums got less and less essential, except for this one. This was their last gasp of greatness, a rough and tumble album for the times.
Positives: The Ramones do add some modern elements into their sound (courtesy Dave Stewart) but the basic elements are there, guitar, bass, drum, Joey, and 1-2-3-4.
Drawbacks: Dee Dee sings on “Endless Vacation” and “Wart Hog”, if you call THAT singing. He sounds like a goat with emphysema.
Verdict: Their last gasp as an album band, as Animal Boy was merely good and the rest were mediocre. It looked like the Ramones could be vital throughout the 80’s when this was released, but unfortunately they weren’t.
Random Trivia: “Durango 95” was the only instrumental the band ever released. It sounds like you would expect a Ramones instrumental to sound: simple changes, memorable riff, no guitar solo.
Smile - Brian Wilson
Summary: Finally, after all of these years, it emerges! Well, it’s not the Beach Boys version, with a different running order than what was allegedly settled on in 1967, but doggone it, it’s good enough for me!
Positives: Just hearing this album “completed” is well worth the wait. The Wondermints, the band Brian uses to supplement and complement him, do the songs justice.
Drawbacks: Sometimes Brian can’t hit all the notes, and a little part of me is sad for him.
Verdict: I do think (after hearing bootlegs of the original Beach Boys sessions) that if completed and released, Smile would have lived up to the hype. We’ll never know for certain, but certainly this release will give more credence to that idea.
Random Trivia: Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson updated many of these songs, and finally finished lyrics for some of them in 2004.
Summary: In the 70’s a lot of rock and roll was ‘serious’ music. Well, this was serious too. Serious FUN!
Positives: The first side, with “Planet Claire”, “52 Girls”, “Dance This Mess Around”, and “Rock Lobster” is THE party side from 1979.
Drawbacks: Side two loses some steam in the middle, and that trend would continue over most of the rest of their albums.
Verdict: Campy and kitschy and fun, all rolled into one. It’s an irresistible record.
Random Trivia: I’m going to tell you a secret: I can really do an almost perfect Fred Schneider impersonation (well, I used to be able to).
Summary: This was the final album from that great neo-ska band. It’s miles away from their original sound but it fits just the same. This record is sophisiticated and fun all at once.
Positives: Almost every song is cast in a different light, from lush production numbers (“I Confess”) to memorable pop (“Save It For Later”) to wry witticisms (“Jeanette”).
Drawbacks: Maybe two toasting songs (“Spar Wid Me” and “Pato and Roger A Go Talk”) were one too many. Maybe. Your mileage may vary.
Verdict: They only released three albums, one is good, and the other two are great. This is one of the great ones.
Random Trivia: You probably would recognize the instrumental portion of “Rotating Head” from its use in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.
Machine Head - Deep Purple
Summary: A touchstone album for the heavy metal unit, Machine Head is the pinnacle of Deep Purple’s career. One can only imagine how metal would or would not have developed without songs like “Space Truckin’”, “Highway Star” or “Smoke On the Water”.
Positives: Many of these songs smoke, and while there is plenty of room for Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord to solo, they don’t go into overdrive and keep the show-off wankery to a minimum.
Drawbacks: Side one is blah, relatively speaking, but it’s hard to follow “Highway Star” without sounding blah.
Verdict: Come on! Let’s go Space Truckin’!
Random Trivia: “Smoke On the Water” was written during these recording sessions in Montreux, and they were going to record the album in the Casino, but that burned down the day they arrived during a Frank Zappa show, so they had to find another place to record (with the Rolling Stones mobile studio, as it says in the song.)
Fly Like an Eagle , Book of Dreams - The Steve Miller Band
Summary: I know these are two separate albums, but they always seem like one to me. Well, that’s because both of them are really products of the same recording sessions. Miller uses synthesizers to augment his normal blues-based rock and it works well.
Positives: Well, let’s see, “Jet Airliner”, “Take the Money and Run”, “Jungle Love”, “Swingtown”, “Fly Like an Eagle”, “Winter Time”, “My Own Space”, “Serenade”, “Mercury Blues”, “Rock ‘n Me”. Need I say more.
Drawbacks: A few cuts on each album drag, (like “Sweet Maree”) but there are enough gems to last a lifetime.
Verdict: Don’t buy the greatest hits albums, buy both of these. You get the full length versions with the space-intros and the proper segues between songs.
Random Trivia: Ok, go find Miller’s 1969 classic “My Dark Hour”, and play it back to back with “Fly Like an Eagle”. Can you plagiarize your own riff?
Summary: The Heads expand their music palette thanks to producer Brian Eno, and move from rather light hearted into darker, more introspective songs.
Positives: The first half of the record is probably the finest stretch of Talking Heads songs ever recorded, from “I Zimbra”, “Paper”, “Mind”, “Cities”, “Life During Wartime” and “Memories Cant’ Wait”. “Heaven” is also a magnificent song.
Drawbacks: I think the album peters out near the end, after “Heaven”.
Verdict: It’s my favorite T-Heads album.
Random Trivia: “I Zimbra”’s lyrics were taken from noted Dadaist Hugo Ball.