Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fuck That Other Shit-The White Albums

The covers of the 100 White Albums used to make Rutherford Chang's composite 100 White Albums record
The Beatles' White Album is one those special records that creates an entire world of its own, an alternate reality that you can enter anytime you place the needle in the album's grooves, its interiors are vast, varied, and durable and its a stellar example of a group working (together and apart) at the height of their powers, it seems to change and develop new meanings every time you visit its myriad landscapes. I hear new things every time I visit, it's a mind blowingly eclectic collection of songs that are creatively sequenced so that the album hangs together as a whole in way that never ceases to fascinate and move me. Like some kinds of love, the possibilities are endless! I have a similar experience with Blonde on Blonde and Sandinista, a double and triple album respectively which also create unique worlds that the listener can enter, wander around and even get lost in. I've spent months inside of Blonde on Blonde, but that's a story for another day, another post.

So though I'm not much of a fan of conceptual art (not against it, it just doesn't usually ring my bells) I really dig Rutherford Chang's We Buy White Albums project. Earlier this year Rutherford had a storefront exhibit in Soho's Recess Gallery that only stocked original pressings of the Beatle's White Album.  He doesn't sell copies of the White Album he buys them (and files them by their numbered covers, he's got over 800 at this point) the more damaged and worn the condition the better. All of the original pressings of the White Album (over 3 million) were numbered on the front cover so each album was already a unique though mass produced artifact but Chang is more interested in the way the album's stark white cover and the vinyl inside has aged and been shaped through its interaction with its owner over time. And boy he's got some real doozies, I own five or six copies of this record (two of which are original numbered copies) but they are all pristine compared to the numerous weathered, torn, beat up and drawn on copies that Rutherford has acquired. I'm actually surprised now having seen his collection at how rarely I've come across copies in a similarly disheveled condition.

A humorous touch to the exhibit was how the White Albums Rutherford listened to in the store went up on the wall as staff picks! He listens to a copy of the album every day as well as documenting the unique condition of each cover and record as he acquires it. You can find an amusing interview with Chang about his project at this site along with fascinating pictures of some of his collection.

Even more interesting is the composite version of the White Album Chang has created and pressed on vinyl by layering recordings of a 100 different unique copies of the album on top of one another. Things start out roughly in synch for the first song "Back In the USSR" but due to the damage and weathering of the 100 copies used (warps, pops, skips, etc.) the music gradually slips out of synch creating an effect that though chaotic is surprisingly listenable, and at times downright mind altering.

The fact that he's using a record that is among my all time favorites as raw material is certainly part of the reason why I love this project, but it's also worth noting that in doing so Chang has playful re-imagined an immensely popular iconic culture artifact in a manner that would have made both John and Yoko pleased and proud. And with the 100 white albums composite he has created an alternate listening experience for this record that is hauntingly psychedelic, groundbreaking and fresh- and so true to the pioneering and experimental spirit of the original album. You can listen to the first side of the 100 white album composite below and you can see the 100 album composite covers and labels he had printed for the vinyl record by clicking here. I hope to have a copy of this version of the record in my hands before the end of the year.

The composite front cover for Chang's 100 White Albums record
Reading about Chang's project reminded me of Danger Mouse's Grey Album from 2004 which as you probably already know set the acapella raps of Jay Z's Black Album to music that Danger Mouse created using samples from the Beatles' White Album.  If you haven't heard it or don't have a copy I've uploaded it here. I'm not much of a Jay-Z fan, he's alright, but the tracks Danger Mouse created solely with samples from the White Album make for quite a listening experience and is another compelling re-envisioning of the monolithic White Album.
On another tangent the title of this post is inspired by the beginning of "Memory Lane" a track from one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time Nas's Illmatic. Favorite line "I dropped out of Cooley High gassed up by a coke head cutie pie". Cooley High is a must see classic film on yet another tangent. Better quit before we get lost.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Seasons In The Sun-1970's AM Radio

That's me as an adorable toddler circa 1972, my oldest sister is holding me, with my cousin smiling sweetly in the middle and her somewhat sullen friend on the end. What a great collection of striped shirts and pants between the three of them! This picture captures the AM transistor radio innocent good times of those golden sunlit magical late afternoons spent outdoors in corduroys. Whew, I'm starting to sound like Allen Ginsberg.


1. I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing- The New Seekers
2. In the Summertime-Mungo Jerry
3. Saturday In The Park- Chicago
4. Summer Breeze- Seals & Crofts
5. Brand New Key- Melanie
6. Love Grows- Edison Lighthouse
7. Spiders and Snakes- Jim Stafford
8. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown- Jim Croce
9. Jackie Blue- The Ozark Mountain Daredevils
10. Cover of the Rolling Stone- Dr. Hook
11. Knock Three Times- Tony Orlando and Dawn
12. My Maria- B.W. Stevenson
13. Afternoon Delight- Starland Vocal Band
14. Mr. Big Stuff- Jean Knight
15. Give Me Just A Little More Time- Chairmen of the Board
16. Brother Louie- Stories
17. Lady Marmalade- Labelle
18. Brandy- Looking Glass
19. It Never Rains In Southern California- Albert Hammond
20. Sunshine (Go Away Today)- Jonathan Edwards
21. Rose Garden- Lynn Anderson
22. Alone Again (Naturally)- Gilbert O'Sullivan
23. O-O-H Child- The Five Stairsteps
24. Seasons in the Sun- Terry Jacks
25. Welcome Back- John Sebastian

AM radio in the 1970's was chock full of goodness, sadly it's all right wing talk radio and Tejano music nowadays. I'm a dyed in the wool sucker for a good pop hook and the AM airwaves were laden with killer hooks back then, especially in the early 70's, which is the time period this mix trades in for the most part (though I couldn't resist slipping in 1976's "Afternoon Delight" and "Welcome Back" beg pardon). As you can see in the pictures I was just a little guy but I remember many of these songs either because they continued to be played as the decade wore on or because my freshly minted mind was picking up more of what what was being put down by my older siblings than expected. 

Rather than do an annotated track listing I think I will just share some scatter shot memories of this time period. Now the late 1970's for me was all about Star Wars, comic books, Shogun Warriors, birthday parties at James Coney Island and sleep overs arranged around network weekend reruns of the Planet of the Apes movies. I remember staying up to what seemed like an incredibly late hour in order to see KISS on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. I remember a commercial that ran I think with a blank screen and the audio of the JFK's assassination asking the viewer to identify the number of gunshots, this must have been during the Congressional hearings that reopened the Warren Commission's investigation and eventually ruled the assassination a conspiracy. 

Since I was so young at the time my memories of the early 70's are even more vague and impressionistic, almost dreamlike-avocado green appliances, earth tones, The Brady Bunch, EZ Bake ovens, play-doh (the smell of play-doh was such a great thing, damn I want some now), station wagons, corduroys, Handy Andy supermarket, the smell of chlorine, bubblegum baseball and football cards and Slurpies (the neighborhood 7-11 was right next to the neighborhood swimming pool) and my grandmother's white Volkswagen bug (only AM radio and no air conditioning) in which I rode shotgun around town. One distinct early memory that survives is of my siblings and I watching a TV screening of Yellow Submarine during the Thanksgiving holidays. 

I recall my older brother's upstairs room as dimly lit and cavernous- strewn with 45's, LP's, junk food, dirty clothes and dirty magazines. I remember my sisters' having sleep overs, inchoate crushes on some of their friends in tight jeans or nighties, and scads of Chicago albums, all dully numbered rather than given actual titles. The family that lived across the street from us used to make tie-dyes together- the 1970's is when the counter culture of the 1960's finally filtered down into mainstream culture and the suburbs. I remember my best friend's family's excitement at purchasing their first color TV set. 

Of all the songs in this mix "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" is the one that I remember the best as I inherited a 45 single of this song which I used to play over and over fascinated by the rhythmic play of the words. What a great set of lyrics, my favorite line is "He's got a custom Continental, he's got an Eldorado too, he's got a 32 gun in his pocket full of fun, he's got a razor in his shoe". The weird bubblegum morbidness of Terry Jack's "Seasons in the Sun"captures the melancholy nostalgia for these times nicely, hence the title of this post. I hear a lot of sadness in these songs, (good Lord check out Gilbert O' Sullivan's "Alone Again" or the story behind "Brandy")  but it's often a melancholy mixed with a warming joy, it's there in that little instrumental hook in "Summer Breeze" for instance. Maybe it's just hindsight or nostalgia, or maybe there was some subconscious realization of the intertwining of joy and sadness that was channeled into these songs. Things certainly didn't "get easier" as the Five Stairsteps promised or maybe just hoped. Sebastian sang that your dreams were supposed to be your ticket out, but if you're already in the suburbs, out to where!? You never had it so good or so it seems. Then, as if to knock us down reality comes around and cuts us into little pieces. 

Christmas probably 1973, a rare snow in Houston, my brother and sister look on unimpressed by me and my ability to channel that Gerber baby look at will, they're perhaps pondering darker things. I love those large sized Christmas lights you can see on our house, the neighborhood delinquents liked to unscrew them and smash them, they made a great popping noise.

Monday, November 11, 2013

That Girl Belongs To Yesterday

Get Smart was one of many shows from the 1960's that was still in syndication in my childhood and adolescence in the 1970's and 80's. Barbara Feldon, who portrayed Agent 99, was one of my first crushes, before I had any idea what the word or, for that matter, the feelings meant. Barbara had a delicate beauty, a lot of style, cute hair, and a unique and sexy voice. The character she played was a smart, competent, single working female, which at that time was rare for television. Below you'll find a clip of the single she recorded about her character agent 99 and the commercial that first brought her to the public's attention, followed by a short documentary and a clip from Get Smart of her singing "La Vie En Rose" in a blonde wig. I still love to have 1966 TV marathons which always include my favorites from that year; Get Smart, Batman, That Girl, The Monkees and Star Trek.