Thursday, October 25, 2012

George Harrison/Ringo Starr discographies, ugh, heard.

Don't you love how those old Rolling Stone Record Guides just had to award a five-star rating to at least one album by each solo Beatle? The perfect scores are a perfect snapshot of early 1970s delusion when fans tried to convince themselves that the dream wasn't quite over yet. In this climate, it'd be difficult to resist George Harrison's de facto debut All Gas Must Pass, three discs of outpourings from the repressed Beatle. Why bearded types still adore the thing today remains a mystery, especially since they tend to ignore the third disc "Apple Jam." Even more baffling are the hosannas showered on Ringo Starr's de facto debut, Ringo. Certainly more fun than All Things Must Pass but can those who deem it a masterpiece really hum "Sunshine Life for Me (Sail Away Raymond)" and most of side two on command? (Really?) And those are the five-star albums. (And those are the five-star albums?!?) Hmmm...

So whose discography is worse? It depends. Which route causes you the most pain - a musician following his spiritual muses in order to express himself artistically (George) or one adhering to standardized pop music forms because he really has no other choice (Ringo)? Me, I'll always opt for standardization where at least there's something to grasp - a pleasure in formula, say. When I reach for George's music, I get mashed potatoes smushing through my fingers - shapeless, inefficient for the long haul, requiring some sort of condiment to help it go down, etc. Add vocals worse than Bowie at his most theatrical and oh boy where are those Tums?

That's why I dug Wonderwall Music, Harrison's soundtrack to the 1968 British film Wonderwall - he doesn't sing on it. And if you need some ersatz 1960s party music, voila. Certainly more useful than much of what was to come. Sadly, lack of vocals does nothing for Electronic Sound (1969), 43:50 of George futzing around with his Moog.

As for the man's 1970s, some will insist that there's a gem buried on side two of x. Do not believe these people. There isn't even enough material for a full-length best of and Dark Horse (1974) and Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975) are two of the very worst albums of all time worth hating.

Somewhere in England (1981) and Gone Troppo (1982) bear the same relation to his discography that Back to the Egg (1979) and McCartney II (1980) do to Macca's  - quirky, new wavey attempts to keep up with the times and as such, his most attractive albums up to that point. In the first instance, Harrison's zeitgeistification was forced on him by Warner Bros., poor guy. Thank gawd, sez I. They allowed the dreadful George Harrison (1979) to happen so I cannot imagine what they vetoed (I know the orphans are out there - please don't tell me where kthxbye). Gone Troppo is pretty awful but hilariously so - from its opening "Gloria" (Laura Brannigan's) synths, it's bound to embarrass Beatlemaniacs, an undeniable pleasure as always.

Cloud Nine (1987) and Brainwashed (2002) are his best albums. For once, Harrison was wrestling with standardized pop music forms but like most of McCartney's 1980s output, Cloud Nine comes off a bit too, well, pro forma. Brainwashed is Cloud Nine knockin' on heaven's door. Recorded as he was deteriorating from cancer and released posthumously, it makes you wonder why he needed death to create something that finally connects so well. Maybe most of us do.

Ringo gets the edge over George because he's funnier. Or at least his albums are, inadvertently so at times. Sentimental Journey (1970) is a laff riot and a hell of a karaoke album. Gimme Ringo desecrating The Great American Songbook with his not-all-that-much-better voice over George's philosophizing any day. Just give it to me two, three times tops. I respond to it much more viscerally than Beacoups of Blues (1970) in which Starr tackles country non-standards. Not that an album of Jimmie Rodgers and George Jones covers would've been classic. But at least I'd recall it more quickly.

Ringo (1973) and Goodnight Vienna (1974) are as classic as this era gets and even there it's strictly stick-to-the singles. And then après ça, le poo poo. From Ringo's Rotogravure (1976) to the Canadian-import-only Old Wave (1983), he's on autopilot. You almost long for some self-expression here. Almost. If you're going to dip into one album from this low point in his career, I'd try Stop and Smell the Roses (1981) which features a decent ska-lite single, "Wrack My Brain," and "You Can't Fight Lightning," a CD bonus track of swampy self-indulgence with guest stars Paul and Linda (and wife Barbara Bach too!).

Did you know that he outpaced George in the 1990s (well, so did Sinatra) and has managed five releases over the past decade including 2012's very own Ringo 2012? No? And really, why would you? Whatever their quality, they are of as much consequence as the next Molly Hatchet stop at your state fair. If listen you must, go for Ringo Rama (2003) which is his best album ever. It crunches hard like he just heard of Nirvana and showcases his droll humor in anti-monarchy and pro-Barbara songs.

For the comp below, I reduced their discographies by simply alternating George with Ringo based on the theory that their voices sound better one song at a time. It works...sort of. (See if you can guess who sings what just by the titles.)

Starrison: And I'm Being Generous Here... (Bozelkablog, 2012)

1. Ski-ing    
2. My Sweet Lord      
3. It Don't Come Easy  
4. What Is Life  
5. Early 1970 
6. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace) 
7. Back Off Boogaloo 
8. Don't Let Me Wait Too Long 
9. I'm The Greatest   
10. This Song   
11. Photograph   
12. Crackerbox Palace  
13. You're Sixteen  
14. Love Comes To Everyone    
15. Goodnight Vienna   
16. All Those Years Ago   
17. No No Song  
18. Wake Up My Love     
19. Come on Christmas, Christmas Come On   
20. Got My Mind Set On You   
21. Eye To Eye   
22. Free Drinks    
23. Marwa Blues      

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Petition for Mark Rappaport

Sign the petition to help Mark Rappaport get his films back from Ray Carney.

The petition is here:

For background on the story, see:

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Paul McCartney's discography, heard!

It’s ever so mildly disturbing when it happens but most sane people eventually realize that some Beatles songs flat-out suck. Or, okay, they find it difficult to access the magic heard upon first learning the canon. My epiphany occurred in the midst of the 2009 reissue frenzy. Forget mono vs. stereo – the lads were losing the distinction between serious and complacent at least as early as Rubber Soul. Where once I heard their increasing song lengths as a sign of maturity, now I could feel “You Won’t See Me,” their longest to date, slooooow down to a crawl during the final verse. The only euphoria I experienced chewing on such Revolver bon bons as "Here, There and Everywhere," "Good Day Sunshine," and "Got to Get You into My Life" again came courtesy of nitrous oxide at the dentist two weeks later. The whole of The White Album does indeed exceed the sum of its parts but for once, that’s no compliment; I no longer wanted to hear the parts. "Blackbird," "Rocky Raccoon," and "Mother Nature's Son" suffer folkie fools gladly while "Honey Pie" found its proper home crashed on the shores of Sextette (1978), Mae West’s swan song catasterpiece, in a rendition by Dom Deluise. As for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” thank gawd there’s no mono version to compare. If there’s a worse Beatles song, please keep it on your bootlegs.    

All of which amounted to a long overdue hint to be done with Paul McCartney, a project I’ve avoided until now. The prospect of traipsing through his discography filled me with dread given how I couldn’t stand what little I knew of it. Even something like “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which Macca maniacs judge his first post-Beatles masterpiece, epitomized the man’s lazy fecundity. Maybe you’re amazed, dude? Maybe? Who wants a lover that can’t quite make up his mind, especially one that strains his voice when non-committing?

But therein lies his charm, such as it is. Lazy but productive. Forced but non-committal. Such paradoxes fuel McCartney’s oeuvre, a bank of songs that frustrates more than it amazes. As Taylor Parkes so beautifully puts it:

“They just seem to ignore most of pop's basic obligations. Few of these songs mean anything at all; they're rarely exciting in a purely visceral sense; they never tell a story, or attempt to blow your mind; they're seldom uplifting, or plaintive, or gross. They are utterly useless objects, which seem content simply to exist. This is their (very) peculiar charm.”

Before reading Parkes’ defense, that's precisely how I would've described some of the most shameless pop music from ABBA to diva house. But those artists are out to connect. McCartney's arrows seek no targets. That they sometimes strike a popular nerve is of no consequence because this is the music of a billionaire who need not worry if anyone ever hears his chaos and creation. And however much the facts of his life contradict such a conclusion, that’s how his songs come across. McCartney's influence is thus felt less on pure popsters Alphabeat or even putative Beatles Xeroxes Oasis than on indie anti-socialites like Guided By Voices, Low, Palace, My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, etc.

Nevertheless, a rich and uncaring discography has plenty of perverse pleasures to offer. Precious few in the beginning, though, and since I was tackling each album chronologically, this did not bode well for the dozen-plus I had left. Ram works as an album but much to my surprise and the rage of McCartney fanatics, I couldn’t salvage a single song/fragment from McCartney. And the first two Wings joints, Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, were as hideous as I’d read. The former gets the nod for general weirdness but the only hope I received from Red Rose Speedway was that Mavis Staples covers “My Love.”

For the rest of the 1970s, I’d say that McCartney’s albums would’ve been better remembered were they EPs. With some minor shuffling, Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound, Back to the Egg could have done without their side twos (leaving London Town a soft rock question mark). Proof that I was listening hard anyway lies in my enthusiasm for Speed’s “The Note You Never Wrote,” inadvertently moving in the manner of a godforsaken DJ Shadow thrift store find which, as a McCartney composition sung by Wings co-founder Denny Laine, it kind of is.

In retrospect, it’s fairly remarkable that Back to the Egg and McCartney II received such bad reviews at the time. Clearly, critics were just fed up with him by 1980, especially with punk and disco to distract them. But I dug Macca’s attempts to wrestle with The Damned (or is that ZZ Top?) (“Spin It On”), Squeeze (“Again And Again And Again”), and Steely Dan c. Aja (“Arrow Through Me”) on Egg. McCartney II is, of course, the album you play for people who hate Paul McCartney because it sounds like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno. Perhaps in an attempt to one up Bowie, The Talking Heads, and Devo, Macca even handled the Enoisms all by his lonesome. The result is far more tuneless than its ever-expanding list of supporters would admit. But it remains captivating throughout. You can almost grasp the adorable image of a 1960s survivor nervously shuffling his feet outside punk-disco clubs in the hopes that “Coming Up” or “Temporary Secretary” will take.   

Instead of keeping up with Kid Creole and the Coconuts or Sonic Youth, however, McCartney’s subsequent 1980s output caters a bit too much to the recently christened Adult Contemporary charts. Tug of War, Pipes of Peace, and Flowers in the Dirt trade quirk for classiness. For once, there’s nary an infuriating moment to be found on any of them. Alas, there’s not much excitement either.

But then there’s Press to Play. Much like Bob Dylan’s chronically fascinating 1980s albums, this one is frequently disparaged for tacky production better suited for the end credits to a teen sex comedy. No doubt that’s part of the perverse pleasure I derive from it; never underestimate the power of watching Beatles fans squirm. But it just so happens to include the man’s greatest post-Beatles song.

“Press” is no less disconnected than any other of McCartney composition. He starts by complaining to Linda about “all these people listening in.” Um, hello, Paul, you’re the most successful musician on our planet (no clue as to how popular you are on your own). Of course, we’re listening in! So he takes this as an opportunity to invent a new word for fucking: “When you want me to love you just tell me to press/Right there! That’s it! Yes!” Letting us in on his most private conversation, it’s the most generous song of his career with all the tumult and clutter of Hugh Padgham’s production perfectly evoking Paul’s giddy love for Linda. We even get to hear their orgasm. “Oklahoma was never like this,” gushes Paul in one of pop music’s classic money shots. And here I thought I had the 1980s down. Wonder if there’s something this masterful hiding on a Steve Winwood album.

After the 1980s, a severe downturn. The streamlining that began with Tug of War became more severe with Off the Ground, Flaming Pie, Driving Rain, and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard such that the only song I can recall amongst them is “Driving Rain.” And even there, I’ll take the speedier live version from the otherwise embarrassing Back in the U.S.

That leaves Run Devil Run and Memory Almost Full. It certainly wasn’t preordained that Run Devil Run, an album consisting mostly of covers, would prove his best album, especially given the dreary oldies recastings on Снова в СССР (and his 2012 Great American Songbook bonanza, Kisses on the Bottom, exists mainly to scare Rod Stewart). But he never rocked fiercer nor sang better. "No Other Baby” and “Lonesome Town” were gut-wrenching goodbyes to Linda. And Memory Almost Full registers an uptick in care probably because he wanted to make sure we still loved him when he’s 65.

Normally at this point, I’d sum everything up with a one-disc distillation. But annoyingly, most of the tracks I considered essential turned out to be the singles anyway. And a two-disc started to look arbitrary. So instead, I decided to honor McCartney’s loopiness and damn history in the process with an alternative Macca timeline/discography. Enjoy!

1970 – Paul McCartney’s first solo album, Ram, is released!  
1. "Too Many People"
2. "Ram On"
3. "Dear Boy"
4. "Smile Away"
5. "Monkberry Moon Delight"
6. "Eat at Home"
7. "The Back Seat of My Car"
8. “Another Day”
9. “Oh Woman, Oh Why”

1971 – Wings debuts with bizarre, lopsided 12” single
A: “Mumbo” 22:50 version with members of Can at their funkiest
B: “Dear Friend” (special 3:00 version)

1972 – Again, only one single is released. McCartney chalks up inactivity to having to take out the trash on his farm on the Mull of Kintyre.
A: “My Love” (special guest vocalist Mavis Staples)
B: “C Moon”

1973 -   
Band on the Run 
1. "Band on the Run"           
2. "Jet"           
3. "Bluebird"           
4. "Mrs Vandebilt"           
5. "Let Me Roll It"  
6. "Helen Wheels"
7: "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five"

A: “Live and Let Die”
B: “Hi, Hi, Hi”

1975 –  
Venus and Mars EP
1. "Venus and Mars"                      
2. "Rock Show"                      
3. "Love in Song"                      
4. "Magneto and Titanium Man"
5. "Letting Go"                   
6. "Spirits of Ancient Egypt"                            
7. "Listen to What the Man Said"                   
8. “My Carnival”            

1976 –  
Wings at the Speed of Sound 
1. "Let 'Em In"           
2. "The Note You Never Wrote"
3. "She's My Baby"           
4. "Beware My Love"           
5. "Wino Junko"        
6. "Silly Love Songs"           
7. "Sally G"

McCartney performs on one-off Denny Laine single
A: “Get Off Your Ass and Let ‘em In Your Damn Self!”
B: “Six Day War” (Colonel Bagshot cover)

1978 –  
London Town EP
1. “London Town”
2. “Cafe On The Left Bank”
3. “I’m Carrying”
4. “Backwards Traveller”
5. “With A Little Luck”
6. “Famous Groupies”
7. “Deliver Your Children”
8. “Morse Moose And The Grey Goose”

1979 –  
Back to the Egg EP
1. "Reception"           
2. "Getting Closer"           
3. "We're Open Tonight"           
4. "Spin It On"           
5. "Again and Again and Again"  
6. "Old Siam, Sir"           
7. "Arrow Through Me"           
8. "To You"
9. "Daytime Nighttime Suffering"
10. "Wonderful Christmastime"

1980 –  
McCartney II EP
1. "Coming Up"           
2. "Temporary Secretary"           
3. "Waterfalls"           
4. "Summer's Day Song"          
5. "Darkroom"           
6. "Secret Friend"
7. "Goodnight Tonight"

1982 –  
Tug of War (specially priced EP)
1. “Take It Away”
2. “Ballroom Dancing”
3. “Wanderlust”
4. “Dress Me Up as a Robber”
5. Ebony and Ivory”

1983 –
A: “Say Say Say”
B: “The Man”

1984 –
A: “No More Lonely Nights” (extended version)
B: “No More Lonely Nights” (special dance mix)

1986 –  
Press to Play EP
1. “Stranglehold”
2. “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun”
3. “Talk More Talk”
4. “Press”
5. “Pretty Little Head”

1989 –  
Flowers in the Dirt EP
1. "My Brave Face"
2. "You Want Her Too"
3. “We Got Married”
4. “This One”
5. “Ou Est Le Soleil”

1989 – 1999 – McCartney becomes mayor of The Mull of Kintyre

1999 – Run Devil Run!

2001 –
Special one-sided single
A: “Driving Rain (live)”
B: silence

2007 – Memory Almost Full EP
1. "Dance Tonight"
2. "Ever Present Past"
3. "See Your Sunshine"
4. "Gratitude"
5. "The End of the End"
6. "Nod Your Head"

Happy birthday, John.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Jandek is on Facebook!

Well, really Jandek on Corwood is but check it: "Jandek only shares some information publicly. If you know Jandek, send him a friend request or message him."