Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jam of the day, vinyl you just have to buy, music inspired by history and literature, and a silly quote: The Byrds / "I Come And Stand At Every Door"

Artist: The Byrds
Album: Fifth Dimension
Song: "I Come And Stand At Every Door"
Released: July 18, 1966
Label: Columbia

I was really happy to score a near mint copy of this album at Jerry's Records this morning. The Byrds are one of my all-time favorite bands—if not the favorite—and this is one of their albums that I've never spotted at a store on vinyl. Sure, I could find a reissue online or whatever, but there's a certain thrill in having a few albums in the back of your mind all the time and knowing that you will, with absolute certainty, buy one whenever you see a copy for sale. Check this one off my list. I have a few others on mind. What albums are on YOUR list?

I also stopped in to Galaxie Electronics, which on the same floor as Jerry's on the right when you walk in, to buy a new belt for my turntable. I've had it about four years now and this is the first time I've had to fix anything, so I'm grateful for that. I've been putting that off for a couple of weeks, out of laziness and business, and between random shopping and Record Store Day last weekend, I've built up quite the backlog of albums I've been meaning to listen to. But screw all that, I had to but Fifth Dimension on as soon as I got home. I was planning on writing something about "Eight Miles High" (one of the most famous Byrds tunes and their first exploration into jazzy psych rock) or maybe the title track or maybe the silly little ditty "Mr. Spaceman", but then … I heard "I Come And Stand At Every Door".

I almost forgot this song was on this album. I almost forgot it even existed. It's kind of a throwaway, not really standing out as a stellar single or anything and, with its somber guitar line and rhythm and the deliberate vocal cadence, it's very much the least poppy track on an otherwise very upbeat and exciting record. Its the lyrical content, though, that really delivers the message. The words are an English translation of a poem by Turkish poet Nâzim Haket about the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings of WWII. It's written from the perspective of a seven year-old child (the poem says "girl" but the song's lyrics are slightly different and don't mention gender) who died in the bombings, and describes the child's death and how his/her spirit remains in this world and asks for nothing but peace. It's rather touching when you listen carefully and/or read along. Apparently Pete Seeger recorded a version of the poem in song form originally, in 1962, and The Byrds 1966 version added some somber electric guitars to the tune and really did it justice.

"I come and stand at every door
But no one hears my silent prayer
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead"

Anyway, this song also got me thinking about other songs and albums that have been inspired (or are direct references to/usages of) historical events and/or literary pieces. We all know that Jeff Mangum says a fair amount of the content of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was inspired by his recent reading of The Diary of Anne Frank. The only other really interesting example I can think of off the top of my head is If… which was apparently inspired by the Italo Calvino novel If on a winter's night a traveler. I haven't listened to that album, but I remember loving that novel when I read it in college. I still have a copy laying around here; I should pick it up again… Can you think of any other examples like this? I'll keep racking my brain and scouring the web. I'm sure there are some interesting ones!

One last thing: the remastered CD reissue of this album that came out on the album's 30th anniversary had a few bonus tracks: an alternate version of "Eight Miles High", two version of that single's B-side called "Why", a great David Crosby-penned tune called "Psychodrama City", and some others. The second version of "Why" is 17 minutes long, though, because after the tune ends and a radio promo interview with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby starts playing. It's kinda funny because you can only hear what those guys say, not the radio interviewer and not the songs they apparently play during the interview. But they say some pretty funny stuff as they talk about the album and the songs. It's worth tracking down and listening to if you're a big fan like me. I remember laughing so hard when they got to talking about the album name and the title track. Roger McGuinn says something silly like, "Well, the fifth dimension is a very philosophical place." Well said, dude.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jam of the day, psychedelia compilations, and vinyl conventions: D.R. Hooker / "Forge Your Own Chains"

Artist: D.R. Hooker
Album: The Truth
Song: "Forge Your Own Chains"
Released: 1972
Label: On Records [original] / Subliminal Sounds [reissue]

A friend of mine had a vinyl copy of Forge Your Own Chains: Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges 1968-1974 and played it on at least one occasion while we were hanging out at his place and in the right frame of mind for this album. Oh man, is it heavenly. A double LP compilation, with songs from Korean psychedelic guitarist Shin Joong Hyun, Nigerian rock band Ofege, a Temptations cover by a group of American soldiers who won a "Battle of the Bands" contest while stationed in Germany, and this here tune and namesake for the album by an underground Connecticut folk-rocker named D.R. Hooker. I've since gone on and bought a vinyl copy myself and highly recommend you do the same.

D.R. Hooker has a solid J.C. look about him, as you can see on the cover art for The Truth, his 1972 debut LP. He released another LP 7 years later, and another one in the late 1980s, but I've yet to track those down. I stumbled upon a reissue of this album on vinyl (via the Subliminal Sounds label) at the 7th (semi-)annual Pittsburgh Record Fest at Belvedere's a month ago. The event was pretty big, filling the huge back room of Belvedere's with tables and sellers and people milling about. I got there with some friends on the later end of the evening, and probably missed out on some great scores because of that, but it felt like I didn't see a whole lot of stuff that "grabbed" me. This record was the only one I picked up that made me say, "I have to have this." I made some other finds, but this was my favorite by far.

Here's the jam that got this whole story started. It's a catchy little ditty in the middle of the LP, piecing together a tambourine beat and stuttery drums with D.R. Hooker's smooth voice and a cool bass line, plus some awesome jazzy punches of brass. It's really, really … cool. Suave.

D.R. Hooker / "Forge Your Own Chains"

"One more cigarette to clear your head
Today you're living, tomorrow you're dead"

Some other links about D.R. Hooker I found: Buried Treasure / 99 Krap Rec / The Truth

I'm always on the lookout for other sweet compilation albums, after experiencing the greatness of this one. This also led me to buy an album of Shin Joon Hyung tunes called Beautiful Rivers & Mountains and it is similarly outstanding and highly recommended. Do you know of any other compilations like this that you'd recommend? LET ME KNOW!

Shin Jung Hyun (ft. Jang Hyun) / "Twilight"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jams of the day, band name stories, and the many projects of J Mascis: Heavy Blanket / "Dr Marten's Blues" & Electronic Anthology Project / "Tarpit"

I've heard about two musical projects in the last couple of months and just about the only thing they have in common is one man: J Mascis. This guitar wizard has played in so many great bands and released so much awesome music into the world, and there's clearly no end in sight. Dinosaur Jr. is amazing, of course, and I was really wowed by last year's solo LP, Several Shades of Why. Great songwriting, and that growly voice of his still holds up in an acoustic setting like that.

I saw on Pitchfork last week that J and some pals will release an LP of instrumental psychedelic rock tunes in May. They've shared one track, "Dr Marten's Blues", and it is an absolute scorcher. Well, it's actually just a catchy bass rumble and a pounding beat that almost serves as an excuse for J to shread a massive guitar solo over the whole thing for four minutes. Yeah. I mean, it's an awesome solo. I literally can't stop listening to it. I'm pretty sure the whole LP will be like this, which … actually intrigues me.

Another part of this story, besides the surprising and weird nature of it all, is that the band apparently has a crazy, wild, pretty much unbelievable story. I'm sure it's rooted in some truth, but … it's hard to say. You can read the whole thing on their record label's website and see for yourself, but here's a choice selection:
He remembered a couple kids from his early high school days – stoner kids he’d always admired for their “who gives a shit” attitude. Those kids, Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar, had been kicked out of marching band for smoking weed out of a tuba. Way better musicians than the marching band deserved, they’d formed a duo that was all rhythm section – no vocals, no guitar, a sick, punchy brew of Band of Gypsies and Japanese hard psych (Johnny’s uncle was a US Marine stationed on Okinawa in 1973. From his frequent visits to Tokyo, he brought home a killer psych record collection. And a mean dose of the clap). These were the guys he needed. He rounded them up and it soon became obvious that the heavy rhythms they created were the perfect backdrop to young Mascis’ insane, fluid ability on the guitar. The trio came up with six blistering tracks, named themselves Heavy Blanket, and set a date to record.

I imagine that the Heavy Blanket moniker has something to do with the thick, sumptuous slab of sound these guys produce, or something about what this type of music does to your brain … you get the idea. But it makes me think about how bands get together, decide on a name, name some tracks and an album. There's a lot of naming. My favorite band name story is far-and-away Yo La Tengo, though; here's a great video of Ira Kaplan (and special guest!) describing the story.

The other musical venture I heard about recently is one by Built To Spill's bassist, Brett Nelson. His Electronic Anthology Project … er, project … covers entire albums of rock music in a more electronic/synthified way. His description sums it up nicely:
I truly love bands like Talk Talk, Men Without Hats, and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, but I also love bands like Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements, and The Pixies. So what if I merged my two loves together?
An upcoming LP—set for release on Record Store Day—will have nine Dinosar Jr. tracks, with J Mascis singing on each one. (He might have re-recorded these vocals for this release? Not totally sure.) Have a listen to the old and the new versions here and see what you think. I'm intrigued but probably not enough to actually buy anything …