Venturing Into The Valley Of Vinyl

June 30, 2008

So, as the only turntable to which I had access belonged to my parents, the chosen format for me as I discovered a love of music was the cassette. A couple of friends, with older siblings, understood the fidelity of vinyl, but I wasn’t that committed. I quickly moved to compact disc as soon as they became readily available.

There were a few albums that I acquired, simply because of their unavailability on disc, but it was no more than a handful.

Now, it’s almost exclusively mp3 files – much to the great consternation of Paloma, who grew up on vinyl. Compact discs, at least, gave her something tangible, but this new virtual world doesn’t sit well with her where music is concerned.

Out of the blue, we decided to begin acquiring vinyl. The idea was proffered over coffee and, within six hours, we had dropped a couple hundred dollars on LPs. That was the first day.

A second day rifling through record store bins nearly doubled our investment. We’ve now added to our crowded quarters one hundred and eight vinyl records in various states of wear and tear.

Paloma opted for works of classic acts – from Carpenters to The Stones and Lennon to Steely Dan – but she did go off the board a couple times, too – Peter Nero’s Pure Gold (The Great Songs Of Burt Bacharach And Hal David) anyone?

I seemed to be shopping for bargains using some kind of method that I kept a secret from myself which yielded the double-album soundtrack to FM and a copy of Christopher Cross’ debut for a quarter each. I also went heavy on early ‘80s stuff like Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, Men At Work’s Cargo, and The Police’s Synchronicity.

So, we stand poised to enter a new era and, personally, I’m curious to hear for myself if vinyl lives up to the hype. And to see if I can hear the “warmth” of the format, it’s appropriate that amongst our haul is a copy of Listen To The Warm by Rod McKuen.

Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
The only thing I knew from this duo was this song, their only hit. Nice Girls was all over the radio in the summer of ’82, so I was surprised to find that it only got to #37 on Billboard’s charts. There are a slew of name players on it – Jim Keltner, Abraham Laboriel, and Jeff Porcaro – and it’s produced by Gary Katz, who did a lot of Steely Dan’s stuff. Nice sophisticated pop.

Marshall Crenshaw – Someday, Someway
It pains me to admit it, but I’ve never heard Crenshaw’s debut in its entirety. When he arrived on the music scene, I was impervious to the considerable charm of Someday, Someway. The classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Stevie Nicks – If Anyone Falls
I won’t be a party to any debate regarding the merits of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie within the confines of Fleetwood Mac – they were both integral. As for Stevie, even though Bella Donna was her bigger album, I was far more partial to The Wild Heart and this song in particular. I seem to recall reading that Prince actually played on some of her demo versions of it.

Men At Work – Overkill
Why don’t these Aussies receive more respect? Quirky and engaging, Men At Work was inescapable as soon as Who Can It Be Now? hit radio in late summer of 1982. I still remember hearing it for the first time and being instantly charmed. Business As Usual is a far deeper album than simply Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under (yes, Be Good Johnny lost its appeal after the first couple listens, but I loved People Just Love To Play With Words and Paloma always requests Down By The Sea).

Anyhow, ‘83’s Cargo, like many a blockbuster follow-up, wasn’t quite as good, but it did contain their finest moment – Overkill. Quirky and engaging, it also was so wistful. For me, it always sounds like wet, empty streets , nothing but streetlights in the early morning when almost everyone is asleep. It always seemed to play on the radio that spring, as my friends and I – having gotten our driver’s licenses – would be out late, killing time.

Supertramp And Pop Tarts

June 26, 2008

Recently, JB over at The Hits Just Keep Comin’ gave a nod to the band Supertramp and their classic album Breakfast In America. I’ve been hoping for a Supertramp revival since the use of Goodbye Stranger in the movie Magnolia.

Oh, my devotion to them isn’t slavish. In truth, it’s rather limited. Their more progressive stuff doesn’t move me and it’s not simply because it’s progressive. I fully admit to having dabbled in progressive rock, but that flirtation was mostly limited to Marillion in the early ’80s. In fact, I’ve had the chance to drink with their former lead singer Fish on a handful of occasions and, I assure you, to walk into a pub in Edinburgh with the man is akin to walking into Cheers with Norm.

I digress. My meager devotion to Supertramp is to about a dozen songs and the Breakfast In America album. When that band worked, they were capable of producing a nearly perfect pop song and almost every track on Breakfast In America works (I seem to recall Oh Darling being the only song which I ever skipped).

Not only is the music worth the price of admission, Breakfast In America has an album cover that always makes me smile – a jovial waitress, menu in hand and orange juice at the ready (her name has to be Bev). God I love a well-thrown breakfast.

Now, here is where the Pop Tart connection comes in (with no help from Kevin Bacon so far as I know). Bev simply looks like someone that would deliver a well-balanced breakfast. Remember the commercials during Saturday morning cartoons in the ’70s for cereals when they would conclude with a shot of the “balanced breakfast” consisting of said cereal, juice, milk, bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, waffles, fruit, and an entire pot roast? Did that ever strike anyone else as a lot of food?

Pop Tarts, in their commercials, were touted as something to accompany a “balanced breakfast.”

Personally, I have long been a fan of Pop Tarts. They’re magically delicious and their simplicity is a stroke of genius. When traveling abroad or even ‘cross town, I always keep Pop Tarts in my backpack for those unexpected twists in the road. Once in Kuala Lumpur, I traded one to a buddy for an aqua Walkman when there was no Burger King or Pizza Hut to be found.

I also admire the way that Kellogg’s has steadfastly unveiled new flavors to a salivating public. Remember the early days of Pop Tarts when they only came with fruit fillings? You could kind of pretend that they were healthy. Well, somewhere along the line they just said to hell with that.

Hot Fudge Sundae Pop Tarts? Yeah, who doesn’t love sundaes?

Fudge chocolate, chocolate-filled, chocolate chip Pop Tarts? Why not?

Frosted Cookies And Creme With Bacon Bits Pop Tarts? We’ve almost reached a pre-fabricated food moment of such goodness as I know that there is now Cake Batter Pop Tarts.

Sometimes I get concerned that I don’t take things seriously enough. You know, stuff like God, evolution, evil neo-cons, evil liberals, paper or plastic, and such. Then I realized that Pop Tarts are something that I truly feel passionate about.

And sometimes Supertramp.

Supertramp – Give A Little Bit
Not even incessant commercials for The Gap (wasn’t it The Gap?), could make me sick of Give A Little Bit. Like so many of their songs, it sounds like a nursery rhyme and it does have a lovely sentiment. Of course, my fairly staunch anti-human stance keeps me from getting carried away by the lovely sentiment and, then, I simply space out and bob my head to the pretty melody and music.

Supertramp – The Logical Song
Effortlessly, Supertramp manages to sound positively giddy (I suppose it is a giddy tinged with melancholy) as they sing of conscription into a lifetime of conformity where banality can be a ticket to success. The song is as delightfully singsong as – and I could be encouraging howls of protest here – anything ABBA ever did (and I say this with great admiration for those songsmithing Swedes). You could couple this song with Marianne Faithfull’s take on John Lennon’s Working Class Hero and give yourself a case of manic depression.

Supertramp – Take The Long Way Home
Sadly, after singing its praises, I realize that I no longer have a copy of Breakfast In America (and I’m jonesing to hear Gone Hollywood (good call JB), Lord Is It Mine and Child Of Vision). And, unfortunately, the only version of Take The Long Way Home I own is the single version with the edited intro.

Supertramp – Breakfast In America
Oh man. I have no idea what this song is about, but it is jaunty little number. Would this be considered a shanty? (did I just type the word shanty?) Apparently, Roger Hodgson feels his girlfriend has less than fulfilled her girlfriend potential, but God help you if he catches you checking her out. However, he seems to be quite fond of kippers (add kippers to the well-balanced breakfast, Bev), so the mind boggles at what hell might rain down on the scoundrel who takes his kippers.

Supertramp – Cannonball
I had to include a fifth song today (Paloma encouraged me – “It’s Supertramp”). And that fifth song had to be Cannonball. It’s a snappy tune with quite a bit of pep, but it also earns my appreciation for…you really need to see it (I assure you that unless you are feeding starving children, negotiating piece in the Middle East, or napping, you will not use 4:51 more constructively today)…

Supertramp – Cannonball

Cannonball is simply the greatest caveman music video I have ever seen.
I find his determination as he runs down the interstate inspiring. Truly. But what the hell am I meant to take from this video? I think it’s that our ancient ancestors gave us art, fire, an inborn protectiveness toward crockery rivaled only by the protectiveness Roger Hodgson has toward his kippers, and a primordial affection for Supertramp that lives on in our DNA.

If so, there might be hope for the humans, yet.

All The Gold In California (Wasn’t Enough To Keep Larry Gatlin From Flying Southwest)

June 18, 2008

Paloma nudged me as we were checking our bags. “Hey, isn’t that Larry…ummm…Hagman?”

I was puzzled and, in a role reversal, I offered up her standard reply. “Isn’t he dead?”

I’m not sure if Larry Hagman is still among the living or not, but I did finally recognize the gentlemen waiting for the same delayed flight as us. It was country singer Larry Gatlin.

Now, the only song I know by the man is All The Gold In California because it played constantly on the country station to which my parents had tuned the kitchen radio. As for actually being able to visually ID the man, you can chalk that up to years working in record stores and, in fits of boredom, perusing every single album in those stores.

As we munched down some food near our flight’s gate, Larry assumed a position against a post, leaning in posed casualness like some hooker on a street corner.

“Think he wants to be noticed?” Paloma asked.

He got his wish soon enough as another passenger latched onto him like a dog to a soup bone. As Larry had a travel buddy, Paloma and I settled into our seats, ignored the safety lecture, and observed the other famous folks aboard our flight.

Paloma spotted the portly fellow who played Craig on Malcolm In The Middle. Then, she nudged me as a forty-five-going-on-twenty-five year old, bottled blonde took a position across the aisle.

“It’s Betsey Johnson,” Paloma whispered.

“The woman who invented the American flag?” I asked. “Can’t be. She has to be dead.” (OK, I know that was Betsy Ross, but I had no idea who Betsey Johnson was and had to think fast.)

Our flight was turning into an episode of The Love Boat; our cast completed by some busty brunette that Paloma insisted was a porn star. She turned out to be some flight attendant sans official attire (either that or, in an effort to cut costs, Southwest is employing porn stars as part-time help).

In truth, none of these people were any of the people we suspected/accused them of being except for Larry Gatlin. This fact was confirmed as we exited and passed his seatmate who was chattering like a monkey on crack into his cell phone – “I just spent the past two hours with Larry Gatlin…”

Hole – Gold Dust Woman
Personally, I thought the final Hole album, Celebrity Skin, was nearly flawless and I actually prefer their version of this Fleetwood Mac classic to the original (I think it appeared on the sequel to The Crow soundtrack).

Aztec Camera – Working In A Goldmine
I first learned of Roddy Frame when I heard the effervescent Oblivious on 97X out of Oxford, Ohio in high school. I think that I heard Working In A Goldmine on the syndicated show Rock Over London and immediately was smitten with the dreamy song – “glitter, glitter everywere.”

Neil Young – Heart Of Gold
I’m a much bigger fan of Neil’s more grungy material, especially with Crazy Horse and, if I had to choose one album by him I’d likely opt for Freedom, Sleeps With Angels, or Weld, but what’s not to love about Heart Of Gold?

Dire Straits – Love Over Gold
In college, I used to mess around with one of my roommate’s guitar and became so infatuated with the playing of Mark Knopfler, I spent a good six months listening to nothing but Dire Straits. It didn’t make me a guitarist, but I did know every note of their catalog, particularly their finest three albums: Making Movies, Love Over Gold, and Alchemy.