October 13, 2013

145 Turn! Turn! Motherfucker, Turn!

  1. "Black Mud" The Black Keys
  2. "The Cutter" Echo & The Bunnymen; from a Rhino CD box set I picked up at a friend's yard sale Left Of The Dial: Dispatches From The '80s Underground
  3. "Why I Am" Dave Matthews Band; a powerful track from Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King
  4. "Bad Motor Scooter" Montrose (aka Sammy Hagar's old band); from the other CD box set I bought that day The Heavy Metal Box Set
  5. "Time Flies" from the Weezer album Hurley; co-written with legendary songwriter Mac Davis.  
  6. "Mystery Achievement" Pretenders
  7. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" The Smiths
  8. "Amanda" from Boston's underwhelming and much belated Third Stage
  9. "I'd Have You Anytime" George Harrison
  10. "I Will Run To You" Stevie Nicks w/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; I think we all assume that Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty had a love affair back in the day (ditto for Don Henley). I can imagine Stevie and Don doing it, but Tom Petty seems too skinny and bony to have sex with. What does this have to do with the music? I forget.
  11. "Not The Only One" Bonnie Raitt
  12. "Border Song" Elton John; this is one of those songs I never knew the title of. Why not always name a song after the words in the chorus you sing over and over? ANSWER ME!
  13. "This Tornado Loves You" Neko Case; hey Elton! Neko named this song after the chorus, she sings it, like, a hundred times! Get with the program!
  14. "Ballad Of A Thin Man" Bob Dylan; Someday I will create a playlist of songs where the title is not a lyric in the song. Clearly "Border Song" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" will make the list.
  15. "She Bangs The Drums" The Stone Roses
  16. "O Valencia!" The Decemberists
  17. "Cruel To Be Kind" Letters To Cleo has also very successfully covered the Cars song "Dangerous Type". This Nick Lowe cover is on the soundtrack to Ten Things I Hate About You.
  18. "The Violet Hour" The Civil Wars

October 9, 2013

Twelve Inch Single Jackets: 1979-1989

Fifteenth birthday: Boombox, turntable, and
the Peter Gabriel "So" LP.

My Intro To Vinyl, 1987

When I was a teenager I became a music fanatic. I got my first "Boombox" (a Sears model) for Christmas 1985, featuring AM/FM radio, single cassette deck, five-band graphic equalizer and detachable speakers! I dived into the Record and Tape Club, but soon cassettes weren't enough for me. Thirteen months later I asked for another boom box -- this time with a dual-cassette deck -- and a record turntable for my birthday. My dad bought a Radio Shack pre-amplifier so I could plug the turntable (which was "phono level") into the boombox at line level.
After I plugged in that turntable in 1987, I became a collector of 12-inch remix singles. Why? I never played music for dancing at parties; I can't really explain it other than I loved music, and I was fascinated with alternate versions, extended versions, and remixes of my favorite songs. The same way I am always interested in career-spanning box sets that include outtakes and remakes, I liked hearing my favorite music in a different way.
"Self Control", Laura Branigan; bought at the Flea @ MIT in 2013.
Post-Warhol collage Pop art was very big in the 1980s.

Industry History and Context

When a single was remixed and extended for playing in a disco, it was released on a 12-inch record. A twelve inch platter is a better thickness of vinyl, allows for more room for the grooves, longer songs will fit, and better sound mastering, especially thumping bass lines to dance to.
Many 12 inch singles simply reuse the five inch 45 rpm single sleeve art "blown up" for the 12 inch single, but if the record label did not want to pay to manufacture jackets for the 12 inch single, the disc was released in a plain black or white jacket (with a hole cut for the label to show through), or, the record label had a generic jacket design for any and all 12 inch singles. This gallery features nine examples of label-generic jackets from my vinyl collection. Most of these I bought when the record was new; the Seventies "Disco" singles I found here in the 21st century at tag sales and used record shops. Click on any photo to view a higher-resolution gallery.

A one-hit Canadian wonder;
a teenage pop singer named "Bryan Adams"
Saved from a curbside crate, Inman Square, circa 2011.
This A&M Disco jacket's charcoal-on-black design is SO Seventies!

Vinyl Was On Its Way Out

My hunger for music in every format came at a great moment in industry, or terrible, depending on how you look at it. Vinyl was on its way out in 1987. Within a few years Compact Discs would not only outsell vinyl, but CDs made vinyl look obsolete and worse, uncool. The industry positioned CDs as the awesome wave of the future, and hardly anyone noticed or cared that they weren't perfect. We all noticed that CDs were super-expensive, but we nearly had no choice but to upgrade or get left behind. Even into the early Nineties, I specifically remember the adult album alternative station WBOS offering a "upgrade" promotion, where lucky callers would win a CD upgrade: "Congratulations! we're going to replace your dusty copy of Sweet Baby James with a brand new Compact Disc!" Now we all agree that a early Nineties CD is not a huge upgrade in audio quality over a 1970s vinyl record.
A disco cover of the "CHiPs" theme song;
I bought it mostly for the jacket, although
It's a pretty bitchin' theme song

Culture Shock

When CDs first came around, it was completely novel to listen to your favorite album without a side flip in the middle. It seemed unnatural to have a band's music presented from beginning to end without an intermission. The new packaging included track numbers next to the song names for the first time. You could skip from song to song with a press of a button! The mid-80s CD players were dreadfully slow to skip from track to track, but we didn't know how much faster the hardware would get. The CD tray open-close mechanism was so slow, it was like the giant stone slab closing in on Indiana Jones and Marion getting shut into the Well of Souls...

"Sussudio", Phil Collins [1985]; although this jacket always reminds me of
a 12-inch Nu Shooz "I Can't Wait" single I used to own that went...missing?
Simply spectacular Eighties pop art jacket. Day-Glo stripes
criss-crossing in random directions were very big.
Thanks Warner Brothers!
Bought at the Mt Vernon VFD Auction, 2013,
This 1979 "disco" remix of the Grammy-winning
"What A Fool Believes" is deadly boring.
"Big Love" Fleetwood Mac;
Sometime between 1979 (Doobies) and 1987 (Fleetwood Mac)
Warner Bros stopped calling them "Disco" singles
and renamed them "Maxi Singles"... and redesigned
the jacket with this bizarre cuneiform clay design
"What You Need" INXS [1985]; An alternate Atlantic Records jacket.
Saxophones were big in the 1980s, especially for INXS.
"Obsession", Animotion [1984].
Am I the only one who loved "Something About You" by Level 42 [1985]?
Note the custom-cut non-round hole for the record label to show through.
Apparently Animotion (Mercury) and Level 42 (Polydor)
are both in the same conglomerate. Exciting!
On several of these singles you can see I wrote the RPM (33⅓, 45) and the song duration in Sharpie on the label. When you're a DJ, you have to be able to put the record down and cue it up quickly, and not always in the best lighting conditions. I wrote the RPM down because it's sometimes hard to spot whether a disc is 33⅓ RPM or 45 RPM, and it's pretty embarrassing to play it the wrong speed. I wrote the duration of the track nice and big because I didn't always know the remix well enough to be certain when it was going to end, and because it's hard to read the fine print on a disc when it's spinning! Back in the day there was a big LED timer that counted up from zero every time you clicked a Start button on the console- so if the timer read 5:30 and the remix of "Point of No Return" is marked "5:50" I know I have 20 seconds remaining.
"Point of No Return", Nu Shooz [1986];
Alternate Atlantic jacket, very Fifties retro!
XTC "King For A Day" [1989]



October 4, 2013

Gravity


An outstanding cinematic achievement and a gripping thriller, and a powerful feminist hero to boot! There have been movies with stranded astronauts, the perils of weightlessness, and the vacuum of space (2001 and Apollo 13 spring to mind) but none have dared, or attempted, to address the certain death of NASA astronauts and catastrophic disaster in orbit for a premise. One critic compared it to a Jack London story, and I agree- Alfonso CuarĂ³n could have directed an adaptation of To Build A Fire with the same emotional whallop, but he chose to also rewrite the moviemaking playbook while Sandra Bullock's rookie astronaut faces near-certain death.  I strongly recommend Gravity in the theater. 3D is not necessary, but I felt it worked well. My Grade: A (A-plus movies have less cliche'd dialog.) This movie is gonna win Best Picture and/or Best Director; Bullock will be nominated and could easily win; Gravity will win all the technical awards, and they should invent some new awards to give them too.

Theater Notes

Is this a plush modern hotel, or a movie theater? There used to be a movie theater at Chestnut Hill; I hadn't been there in 25 years when my wife took me on a date night to the new Showcase SuperLux. We sat in cushy leather seats with (basically) unlimited legroom while a waitress brought us drinks and popcorn. In the back of the theater the high-rollers sit in recliners. The sound and picture were excellent. The lights were left on very dimly; Emily complained that they interfered with the 3-D experience for her (I was wearing my Sox cap, so I was shielded from the overheads. PS: The Sox finished off Game 1 of the ALDS over the Rays 12-2 while we enjoyed our movie) The audience was mostly very quiet, the food noises were minimal, and the waitstaff barely blocked my view.