Audio Lore

A Positive Music Blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Out Of The Vaults #7 - Leatherface - Minx

Each week or so I will ask my wife to dive deep into our CD cabinets (The Vaults) and pull out one of the thousands of  CDs at random. The chosen album will then be given to me and I will  reflect on the disc for awhile in this blog no matter how good, bad, or embarrassing the chosen disc is. Where did I buy it, how old was I,what was my first reaction to hearing the album, do I still listen to it today and anywhere else my stream of conscious takes me in regards to the "Out Of The Vaults" weekly pick.

Out Of The Vaults #7 - Leatherface - MINX

The first time I ever heard the band Leatherface was in 1992. WNYU had a great afternoon rock and roll radio show between the early afternoon jazz and the nightly sports recap. It was only a small window of time between two and four o'clock but I could fill pages and pages of this blog with bands I first heard on that radio show.

One of those bands was the Sunderland, UK band Leatherface. The song played was "Dead Industrial Atmosphere". The band's "Bad Religion with the Richard Butler (of the Psychedelic Furs) on vocals" sound had me in the car on the way to Tower Records before the WNYU DJ had finished telling which album the song was from. Luckily when I reached Tower someone working there found out the song was from the recently released album Mush.

Since Mush was released on the very short lived SEED Records label it was in and out of print very fast, leaving the album only available as a very expensive import. Looking back I consider myself pretty lucky to have been able to buy the record since none of the bands later albums would be released domestically until 2000 when the reunited Leatherface released Horsebox. Because of this I was not able to hear Minx, the 1992 follow up to Mush until 2001 when I accidentally ran across a copy in the cut out section of the Rockefeller Center F.Y.E.

Although Mush will always remain one of my all-time favorite albums, Minx starts off a lot smoother. The lead off track "Wallflower" takes off like an airplane. The sky is clear. Sit back and enjoy the flight.

A few tracks in we hit "Fat Earthly Flirt", with a hook right up there with "Not A Day Goes By", "I Want The Moon" and all those other great songs on Mush. There is a pause in the middle of the song. A lone bass guitar riff is the planes engine sputtering for a bit before it kicks back in and the planes dives back into it's groove.

The next track "Do The Right Thing" is my favorite Leatherface song of all-time. If they could hear the smoothness of the guitars and the incredible lyrics, even the biggest critics of lead singer Frankie Stubb's gravelly voice would be won over by this song.

When we hear the revved up engines of  the guitars on Track 6 we know we have met our destination of another classic Leatherface song. "Heaven Sent" is right up there with "Do The Right Thing" as one of the best songs in Leatherface's arsenal.

At Track 7 "Don't Work" it's time for the pilot to some fun and show off a bit. Pull off a few stunts before going into the dark storm of the two songs which follow.

"Dustbin Modo" at track 10 is a throw back to the late 80's punk rock beginnings of Leatherface's debut album Cherry Knowle. The song is a little bit of turbulence to shake things up a bit and make the flight a little interesting.

The turbulence is gone by the time we reach the final song. "Pale Moonlight" brings the album to a close and the flight to smooth landing.

In 2002 Fire Records released Minx only to have it quickly go out of print once again. Luckily it is still available on iTunes. Download it before you go on your next flight.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Chance Encounter with "The Boss"

For this post I was going to review the new Bruce Springsteen album Wrecking Ball. Then I thought about how there are probably thousands of blog reviews out there already. Why not make this post  about something a little more interesting.

In the three years I worked at the Rockefeller Center location of Brookstone I met a lot of famous people. Since all the major Television and Radio networks had studios within a few blocks they were mostly newscasters and on air personalities . Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and Conan O'Brien were all regulars in our store. One winter night someone a bit more interesting was in there browsing.

Bruce RFK Stadium 1985
It was December 22nd 2004, Only three days from Christmas. The time was nearing 9:30 and our extended Holiday closing time was approaching a little too slowly. Most the people in the store had come to Rockefeller Center to either Ice Skate or see the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree, none with any intent of purchasing anything. Tired from the rush of the Holiday Season, all the salespeople were itching to close up and get out of there. As I stood at the top of the steps to the upper level, my manager finally gave me the signal to begin  shutting down the register. 

Before I finished counting the quarters my manager appeared upstairs in front of me. “There is a guy downstairs who I think is Bruce Springsteen”, he said in a whisper. “I need you to go downstairs to confirm”. I gave my manager a “Yeah right” look and went back to counting the money.  In the past a few of the many musicians my boss had thought he saw in the store included Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. One time even Elvis. All of course turned out to not be the real deal. “No. This time I am almost positive it’s him. He is down there right now with his wife and kid”. Humoring my manager I walked down the steps and over to the left where we kept the alarm clocks.  As I approached a guy in a beat up denim jacket and even more beat up baseball hat I gave him a quick glance. It was really him! Walking around the store among about forty or so everyday people three days before Christmas was “The Boss” himself: Bruce Springsteen. Not only was Bruce there but he looked exactly the same as when I saw him with The E Street band live at RFK Stadium for my first concert in 1985. Feeling giddy and semi nervous, I turned around, gave my manager an affirmative nod and quickly returned to my post upstairs. At that moment all other customers at the store had vanished from our eyes.

I watched from the top of the steps while our Assistant Manager Derek gave Bruce a full demonstration of one of the massage chairs we sold. When the demo was finished Bruce took one of Derek’s cards and placed it in his wallet. A short while later one of our associates Chris demonstrated for Bruce the benefits of the Temp Pedic memory foam pillow and mattresses we specialized in. A few minutes before we closed, Bruce gathered up his family and exited to the street.

Totally elated, we all basked in the fact we had met such a legend. I kidded Derek about how right now Bruce Springsteen was walking around with a business card with his name on it. 

Then we heard a knock on the upstairs door leading to outside. Looking out we could see it was Bruce’s wife Patti. When my boss opened the door she said her son really wanted the Tempur Pedic pillow we had shown them and was there anyway they could still buy it. Of course we opened the door and let them in.

 Someone went downstairs with Bruce and his son to choose a pillow. When they brought it upstairs my boss says to me, "Josh why don't you ring it up". I punch the numbers into the register and told him the total. Bruce hands me his credit card. There it was written right on the card: “Bruce Springsteen”. My legs almost gave out beneath me. For some reason I didn't think the card would actually have his real name printed on it. When he signed the credit card receipt, out of force of habit I checked to see if the signature matched the one on the back of the card.  Looking for an excuse to to actually talk to him, I told him how before you first use the pillow you have to pat it and fold it  every which way to loosen it up a little. As I spoke Bruce Springsteen watched me, seriously listening to what I was saying. Them I put the pillow in a shopping bag, handed it over and wished him a “Merry Christmas”. He thanked me. Then knowing every single one of us working at the store knew who he was, were totally aware he was a living Rock and Roll legend, still did not ask for an autograph or bother him in anyway, he turned to his son and said, “You know, these are really nice people working here”. Then Bruce and his family once again exited the store.

I was going to close out this post with a video of Bruce playing one of my favorite Springsteen songs but I managed to run across this news segment about that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band show I went to at RFK Stadium when I was twelve years old. Somehow I think this may be a little more fitting.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Out Of The Vaults #6- The Ramones - All This Stuff and More Volume One

Each week or so I will ask my wife to dive deep into our CD cabinets (The Vaults) and pull out one of the thousands of  CDs at random. The chosen album will then be given to me and I will  reflect on the disc for awhile in this blog no matter how good, bad, or embarrassing the chosen disc is. Where did I buy it, how old was I,what was my first reaction to hearing the album, do I still listen to it today and anywhere else my stream of conscious takes me in regards to the "Out Of The Vaults" weekly pick.

Out Of The Vaults #6 - The Ramones - All This Stuff And More Volume One

Every year while I was growing up my family would spend a week on vacation in Ocean City, MD. When I was 15 years old it rained nonstop almost the whole time we were there. I’m not just talking about a few showers here and there either. These were torrential downpours forcing us to remain inside all day. Finally on Friday afternoon the rain let up. As I stood on the balcony of our fourth floor condo I watched as two guys emerged from their rental house across the street with a football and a boom box. Before they began tossing the ball around one of the guys pressed play on the boom box.  The first few chords of a song I would later learn was named "Blitzkrieg Bop" came blaring out of the speakers. It was the first time I was hearing the Ramones and they had me at "Hey,Ho. Let's Go". Their football game lasted only eight songs before  halfway into “Loudmouth” the sky once again opened up. The rain forced the guys to make a retreat inside taking the boom box with them. Being totally floored by what I had just heard, all I could think was I wanted more of it.

Not too long later I bought my first compact disc player and there was only one band I wanted to break it in with. At the time all the individual albums by the Ramones were not available on compact disc. What was available was the relatively new Ramones Mania album. On it were 30 tracks consisting of a few songs taken from each of their albums released up to that point. I played all 30 tracks over and over again. Sometimes I would listen to them in reverse order; sometimes I would program the tracks in chronological order. Every time with the stereo knob turned all the way up. As well as listening to the album dozens and dozens of times I would read through the discs massive booklet almost as much. In the booklet was a short history talking about each individual album. Every time I read it I wanted those albums more. These 30 songs were unbelievable but what about those many songs in between ?

Then it finally happened. Sire records was going to release the first four Ramones albums on two compact discs entitled All This Stuff And More. Volume One was set to contain the classic 1976 first album I heard on that rainy day in Ocean City as well as the second album Leave Home (1977) with Volume Two, containing Rocket To Russia (1977) and Road To Ruin (1978), being released a little while later. These were the four most crucial album in the Ramones back catalog. You can bet I picked each disc up on the day they were released.

I could go into every song on all four albums plus all the extra live songs and demos included on each disc but that could take forever. Plus this would defeat the purpose of the "Out Of The Vaults" series. The disc my wife blindly took out of our CD cabinets was The Ramones All This Stuff and More Volume One. Out of the two, this  disc is definitely the one which recieved the most play on my stereo. Although the first self-titled album is the classic and Rocket to Russia may be their  best my favorite Ramones album has always been the second album Leave Home.

The album's songs just sound a little more varied then on the previous and later albums. Starting off with the very fast "Glad To See You Go" before going into into the classic "Gimme Shock Treatment". The fact that even at this early period, the band felt secure enough to place a slower song like "I'll Remember You" way up at track three when I'm sure most fans wanted another fast one was always something I admired. Of course they could not leave those fast song loving Ramones fans hanging too long, "Oh Oh I Love Here So" quickly picks the tempo right back up.

At track six  we find my all-time favorite Ramones song. "Suzy Is A Headbanger" is a perfect sing-a-long with a great groove and revved up guitars after each chorus. The song is almost impossible to listen to without pogoing around the room. What makes the song even more special is many years later I would marry a girl of the same name who did in fact spend her teen years as a headbanger.

In the next song "Pinhead", for the first time we hear the chant originally taken from the 1932 movie Freaks (which totally freaked me out when I first saw it one afternoon when I was home from school sick), "Gabba Gabba Hey. We salute you" which would go on to open almost every Ramones concert for the next few decades.

Seven more songs, including the Dee Dee Ramone penned  "Swallow My Pride" (another one of my favorites), the old classic "California Sun" and the great album closer "You Should Never Had Opened That Door" round out the album with not one bad track in sight.

Eventually I would go on to own these first four Ramones , as well as almost every other one of their records individually. Most of them I would even own on vinyl, hanging them in chronological order across the walls of my record store. Still it feels great to be able to pull out this disc, which to be honest I did not even know I still had, and relive that first time you heard you heard these songs by what would soon become one of your lifelong favorite bands. It also makes me look forward to that same feeling when it comes again for all those bands I have not yet discovered.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Safety Dance: My "White Whale (Extended Version)"

The Satellite Radio at my work has been playing the Men Without Hats classic New Wave hit "The Safety Dance" quite a bit recently. Then one day while listening to CBS FM the same song was played three times in just a few hours. I checked and no one in the band has passed away recently. The  song doesn't seem to be featured in any movies lately. I am not sure why it is receiving so much air time as of late. Plus not only is it "The Safety Dance" but a special version of the song, a version I have not heard in quite some time.

Like many people my age, I spent much of my youth sitting by the radio with two fingers ready to press down on the “play” and “record” buttons when a certain song came over the radio. One such song I remember was “The Safety Dance” by the Canadian group Men Without Hats. In1983 the song was widely played so finding it on the radio was not too had of a task. This exact song was not the one I was after. I’m not sure if anyone else remembers but besides the basic “The Safety Dance” single which was played an awful lot on the radio, there was another version rarely heard. The extended version of “The Safety Dance”, the one which spells out “S-ss-A-aa-F-ff-E-ee-T-tt-Y-yy” and has the chorus spoken before the regular song kicks in, was very hard to catch. I think I had numerous TDK cassette tapes with the very beginning of the regular version on them before hitting "stop" when I realized it was not the version I was after. Not to mention the dozens of times I would turn on the radio only to find the tail end of the song coming over the radio.

Then one Sunday afternoon I was taking a shower while listening to Casey Kasem’s weekly "Top 20 Countdown" on my waterproof shower radio when Casey announced there was a new song cracking the countdown this week. The song was “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. After Casey gave a quick fact about how the band got its name because the members thought hats were not stylish thus did not wear them despite the harsh Canadian winters, the song came on. Thinking such a popular radio show would just play the standard version of the song I was not at the stereo with the tape ready when “S-ss-A-aa-F-ff” came over the airwaves. There was no way to get to the stereo and have the tape ready to capture a majority of the song so I just enjoyed the song and hoped it's sales were strong enough to stay in the top twenty for another week.
The next Sunday my lttle league  baseball game ran into extra innings so I would have to listen to the countdown on the way home with no way to record the song. When we climbed into the car for the ride home we turned on the radio to see if the song had remained in the top 20. Lucky enough the “Safety Dance” was not only still  in the countdown but it has climbed up the charts into the Top Ten! Since songs rarely fell too far the song would definitely be on the countdown the next week. This time I would be ready.

The next Sunday arrived and I had a brand new Maxell Metal 90 minute cassette in the tape player ready. When the Weekly Top 20 came on it turned out to be one of the rare weeks when Casey was on vacation. Filling in the host spot was radio personality Rick Dees.  When Rick announced “The Safety Dance” I sat with a smile on my face and pressed down the “play” and “record” buttons on the stereo’s cassette player. The smile quickly faded when the first few notes of the song were played. Rick was playing the regular version. I angrily stood up, cursing Rick Dees. Cursing his whole family! Casey would have not let this happen! Not only that but the song had fallen two spots, just out of the top ten at #12. Next week would have to be it.

The next week I once again waited by the stereo’s tape recorder ready for the Top 20 Countdown. I held my breath hoping for Casey's return.When Casey's voice came over the airwaves I let out a sigh of relief. As the Top 20 wore on the Men Without Hats song was nowhere to be found. Toni Basil's "Mickey" had knocked it out of the Countdown. With "The Safety Dance" falling further and further down the charts, I eventually gave up on recording the "Extended Version" off the radio and moved on to other songs and artists.

A little later while skimming through records at the local record store I was surprised to find a 12" record, which is something the store normally would not carry. It was by Men Without Hats. On the record were two different versions of the extended "The Safety Dance". When I brought the record to the counter the salesperson told me it had been a special order by another customer who had decided to return it when they realized it was not the regular radio edit. I bought the record and played both sides until over and over again. 

Now with the sudden revival of the song I again want my very own copy. This time all it will take is a simple trip over to iTunes. There will be no need to spend all that time by the radio waiting for it as well as many other song to be played so I can tape them. Just a few clicks of the mouse and it is all mine. I'm not exactly sure which one is better.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Out Of The Vaults (With A Twist): Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

In a few days next installment of "Out Of The Vaults" will be posted but until then I thought we'd try something a little different.

All the way in the far bottom right corner of the CD "Vaults" there lies a small metal container. This is where my wife keeps her CD collection. Inside the container there is a very eclectic mix of about about 70 CDs. I thought for fun I will reach in eyes closed and pull out a random one of HER discs and write about it. 

Out Of Vaults With A Twist  #1 - Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

I am actually pretty familiar with the Irish rock and roll legend Van Morrison. At around 12 years old when I began exploring my parents’ record collection, one of the first LPS I borrowed was Van Morrison’s great Moondance album. On it were some pretty fantastic songs like “And It Stoned Me”, “Crazy Love”, “Into the Mystic” and of course the great title track. Actually pretty much all ten tracks are perfect.

A few years later when I went through my “British Invasion” phase, Van’s previous band THEM was a favorite, even though they were from Ireland and technically not “British”. Their song “Gloria” still remains one of my all-time favorite songs.

Plus of course how could we forget the eternal party staple of Van’s “Brown Eyed Girl”?

For some reason though, I never really listened the post- “Brown Eye Girl” pre “Moondance” album Astral Weeks. Definitely surprising since many music fans and critics consider it Van’s best album; some even consider Astral Weeks one of the greatest albums period. Today since it was the pick out of my wife’s eclectic mix of discs, I have the opportunity to finally listen and explore the  record.

When the first song “Astral Weeks” begins, its great how all instruments come at you from all directions. The flute flies down from the upper left, the guitars down to the right and cello up behind you. At about 4 and a 1/2 minutes the song would be perfect if it came to an end right there. It even sounds like the band thought it was about to finish and were ready to put down their instruments when Van kept on going. After another two minutes it sounds like the band has had enough of Van’s stream of conscious ramblings and attempt to take matters in their own. The cello becomes louder and louder trying to drown out the still singing Van before the song ends at a whopping 7+ minutes.

On Track 2“Beside You” it sounds as if Van forgot to even teach the band the song. They attempt to play along with Van’s vocals, noodling away at their instruments but it is all in vane. The band never really catches up and the 5+ minute song just sounds plain awkward.

Track 3 “The Sweetest Thing”, the only song off the album I was already familiar with, is a very good song. It sounds like a band playing on the corner totally  in sync with each other. At 4 minutes the song is also almost the perfect length, not going on too long and wearing out its welcome like many of the songs on Astral Weeks do.

After another long drawn out song, “Cyprus Avenue” with it’s out of place sounding harpsichord, the real gem of the album comes on. “What Young Lovers Do” is an awesome bouncy song with Van in a great groove, awesome hook in the chorus and not a note of all the instruments out of place.  The perfect length song is by far my favorite song on the record.

Two more way too overlong songs follow before the laid back and quiet “Slim Slow Slider” closes out the album. 

In my opinion the album is pretty good although there are a few moments that sound very under rehearsed. The production, with a full 3D sound of vocals and instruments, is very warm. All the musicians seem at the top of their game, at least when Van has taught them the songs. My only real problem with the album is most of the songs are just too long, going on for two, three, even four minutes past what is necessary.  

After writing this post  I did remove most of the album from my ipod, leaving only "Sweetest Thing" and one of my new 40 year old favorite songs "The Way Young Lover Do". One of my goals is to always discover new (too me) music and "What Young Lovers Do" proves to be a great find.