Category Archives: Sounds

It was anything but nirvana

Seen today on Twitter.

After “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the radio in the fall of 1991, I vividly remember the first time I heard it.

It came on the radio while I was sitting in the car, parked outside Osco Drug and the old Port Plaza Mall in downtown Green Bay.

My immediate reaction, for better or worse: “What the f*ck is this?”

It was the first time that I felt disconnected from what was on the radio. I was no kid anymore, but I wasn’t middle-aged, either. I was 34, just 10 years old than Kurt Cobain.

It was a time during which everything I loved about music seemed to be unraveling.

The radio, my close friend for more than 20 years, no longer spoke to me.

MTV, a joy to watch just 10 years earlier, was evolving into just another conventionally programmed TV channel.

Vinyl records were going away, replaced by CDs. I was going along with it, buying CDs.

This epic disruption in the force is evident by the massive gap in my record collection.

The last vinyl record I — or perhaps we — bought before The Great Disconnection was the Smithereens’ “11,” which came out in October 1989. I didn’t buy another new vinyl record for 18 years, until I picked up Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ “100 Days, 100 Nights,” which came out in October 2007. We’d seen her earlier that year while visiting New York.

I think back to the time of The Great Disconnection, probably sometime in the early ’00s. I remember the sparks from the flint, trying to rekindle a once-roaring fire.

One day, I walked through Amazing Records, a used record store here in Green Bay. How much fun all this once was, I thought. It doesn’t seem that it will ever be that great again, I thought. I didn’t buy anything.

One day, I went to a record show in a college gym. I looked at a lot of records, but felt much the same emptiness. At the end of the day, I bought a record to replace one of the records that went out in The Great Vinyl Purge of 1989. CDs were the future in 1989, so I got rid of dozens of records at a friend’s garage sale. “Hey, there are a lot of good records in here,” one garage sale shopper said. Yes, there were.

But that day at the college gym was a new day. I bought a replacement copy of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Great White North.”

In 2006, I discovered music blogs, as did the mainstream media. A story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tipped me to the first few “audioblogs” I followed. Record diggers ran some of those blogs.

A year later, in 2007, I followed their lead. I started this blog and I started record digging. It’s been great to have it all back.

It’s nice to be past The Great Disconnection ushered in by “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That time was indeed a …

“Blue Period,” the Smithereens, from “11,” 1989. The last new vinyl record I — or perhaps we — bought for 18 years.

 

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Filed under September 2019, Sounds

The black-and-white snapshot

My "Boston" record from 1976.

As noted yesterday on Facebook …

Boston’s debut album was released on yesterday’s date in 1976 — Aug. 25, 1976. I bought my copy at Inner Sleeve Records in Wausau not long after yesterday’s date in 1976.

Other records I bought in 1976:

  • The Alan Parsons Project’s “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”
  • The Eagles’ “Hotel California”
  • “The Best of George Harrison”
  • The J. Geils Band’s “Live/Blow Your Face Out”
  • Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”
  • KISS’ “Destroyer”
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “One More From The Road”
  • Poco’s “Rose of Cimarron”
  • Stanley Clarke’s “School Days”
  • Synergy’s “Sequencer”
  • “Wings Over America”

I also bought records by Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas, Ted Nugent, Rainbow and ZZ Top in 1976, but I no longer have them.

Now, though, I look at those records and it’s a bit unsettling. Save for Stanley Clarke, where are the artists of color?

It is a snapshot of my life in 1976. Most of what I bought is what was on the radio in 1976, broadcast to a predominately white audience in central Wisconsin. Sure, there were songs by artists of color on the radio and played in the clubs, and I dug a fair number of them, but I don’t recall a lot of demand for soul, R&B and disco records. I clearly wasn’t demanding them.

I was 18, then 19, in 1976. I knew exactly one black person, a guy named Clarence Jenkins, a friend of a friend. He lived in an apartment above one of the downtown movie theaters. We went to the same two-year University of Wisconsin campus in Wausau. I didn’t know Clarence well at all.

I’d always liked soul and R&B music. I was introduced to it by WLS radio out of Chicago and WOKY out of Milwaukee before I was in my teens. But my knowledge of soul and R&B music was shallow, rarely going beyond the Top 40.

Fast forward to today. Much of my record digging over the last 15 or so years has been for ’60s and ’70s soul and R&B music that I either heard but overlooked back then or had never heard. These are some records from 1976 that I’ve since acquired. Most fall into the Heard But Overlooked Back Then category.

  • Eddie Kendricks’ “Goin Up In Smoke”
  • Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “All Their Greatest Hits”
  • MFSB’s “Summertime”
  • Rhythm Heritage’s self-titled debut LP
  • Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” soundtrack
  • The Salsoul Orchestra’s “Nice ‘N’ Naasty”
  • The Spinners’ “Happiness Is Being With The Spinners” and “It’s A Shame”
  • Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key Of Life”
  • Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn The Beat Around” 12-inch single
  • War’s “Greatest Hits”
  • “Phillybusters, Vol. IV,” a compilation of Philadelphia International singles

And, no, these records aren’t all that adventurous even now. But it is progress, and a work in progress.

Eddie Kendricks Goin' Up In Smoke LP

“Goin’ Up In Smoke,” Eddie Kendricks, from “Goin’ Up In Smoke,” 1976.

Phillybusters, Vol. IV

“No Tell Motel,” Don Covay, from “Phillybusters, Vol. IV,” 1976.

Although this song isn’t from 1976 — it’s from a year earlier — it’s also on that “Phillybusters” comp from 1976. It’s a perfect mashup, a perfect illustration of what I’d heard on the radio and what I had not.

“I’m Not In Love,” Dee Dee Sharp, covering 10cc.

 

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Filed under August 2019, Sounds

By the time we got to Woodstock

So many great adventures begin with someone asking, “Hey, want to come along?”

That’s how my friend Tony Baldwin found himself at Woodstock 50 years ago tonight, on Friday, Aug. 15, 1969.

Woodstock soundtrack LP

Tony was 17 at the time, living in Indianapolis and just about to begin his senior year of high school.

“If you’re not doing anything, you can come with us,” said Tony’s sister Jean, who was 21 or 22 at the time. So Tony piled into a VW bus with his sister, her husband Mike and another guy, a friend of theirs. They headed east.

“Thursday, we drove straight through. We stopped in New York City to see somebody there, but we weren’t there long. When we got to the site (in Bethel, N.Y.), it was Friday, early afternoon. It was of course people everywhere. We didn’t have a tent, but we parked the bus. It was total chaos, pretty much. We found a spot. It had already started,” Tony told me last night, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.

“We had no idea what this thing was,” he said of Woodstock.

“We didn’t know where it was. We just followed everybody. We walked and walked. It took forever to get there,” Tony said.

“By the time we got there, it was late afternoon. There was no fence. It was already down. We didn’t have any tickets. We just walked over the fence, a chain link fence.”

Sounds great, right?

“If you see the movie, we are at the top of the hill. There was a hill, then a gully, then the stage. We couldn’t get any closer. There was music, but we didn’t know who it was. They had a poor PA system,” Tony said.

As 9:30 p.m. approached, the kids from Indy finally heard something clear enough to make some sense of it.

After a bunch of announcements from the stage — among them a marriage proposal, someone needing insulin, someone having lost a duffel bag with all their possessions — there was this:

“Let’s welcome Mr. Tim Hardin.”

“We heard Tim Hardin being introduced, then heard a little bit of him,” Tony said.

“That was it. We stayed at the site for no more than an hour. Can’t hear, can’t see, can’t get any closer.

“Then we left the top of the hill. It was after dark. We went to try to find our campsite. We made it back to our parking spot. By that time, it probably had started to rain. It was very hot and humid.”

The next morning …

“Saturday morning, the people I came with, they decided this is ridiculous. We’re gonna leave. We saw zero acts, we saw zero people. It’s miserable. It’s rainy. It’s not fun. We’re leaving,” Tony recalled.

“We left late Saturday morning, probably. We piled in the bus and we drove very slowly. It was just mud, ruts from the cars, and we followed the ruts out. We had the side of the bus open. I was in the back. The friend also was in the back. There were clothes, beer, in the back. We’re driving like 2 mph. It was like rush hour traffic.”

On the way out …

“A guy wants a ride. We said sure. He gets in, and the guy grabs Jean’s purse and takes off. The friend took off after the guy. Probably 10 minutes later, he comes back with the purse,” Tony said.

“We got to the highway, probably drove straight through back to home. We probably got home late Sunday.”

Some lingering memories …

— “I wish I did see all of it, but I didn’t have any say in it,” Tony said.

— “They were totally unprepared (for the crowd, which was estimated at 400,000).”

— “There was a guy being carried away. I don’t know what was wrong. They might have been carrying him to the first aid tent or to their campground.”

I was wondering …

How does someone from Indianapolis find out about a music festival in New York state? Maybe a magazine ad. I’ve seen those for Woodstock. Maybe a radio ad? If so, I haven’t found any. Tony doesn’t know how his sister might have learned about it.

“I don’t think they planned it too far ahead of time,” Tony said of his sister’s journey to Woodstock.

All these years later …

“We have the movie but not the record. We went to see the movie when it came out (in 1970). We didn’t see anything that was in the movie,” Tony said.

Tony didn’t see or hear much of Tim Hardin on that Friday night at Woodstock. He didn’t see any of him in the documentary film, either. Nor did he hear him on the original soundtrack. Hardin’s set didn’t make the cut for the film or the record.

So here’s some of what you couldn’t see or hear, my friend.

Though this is billed as “complete 1969 Woodstock recording of Tim Hardin,” it’s not. Here are the first, third, ninth and 10th songs from Hardin’s 10-song Woodstock set — “How Can We Hang On to a Dream,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Simple Song of Freedom” and “Misty Roses.”

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Filed under August 2019, Sounds

The most amazing Rhythm Ace

Russell Smith, first-rate singer, first-rate songwriter, died last week. He was 70.

The Amazing Rhythm Aces got lumped in with the country crowd in the latter half of the ’70s, but their sound — shaped largely by Smith — was a savory Memphis BBQ rub spiced with country, soul, R&B, swing, blues, calypso and rock.

When you dropped one of their records onto the turntable, it was time to kick back, put your feet up and pop open a cold beverage. You couldn’t help but smile at some of their songs and nod knowingly at the rest.

I could go on, but Russell Smith’s warm, laid-back voice and charming songs say so much more. A most pleasant listen, then and now. Enjoy.

The cover of "Stacked Deck," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1975.

Let’s start with “Stacked Deck,” 1975. That was the Aces’ debut, recorded at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis. If all you heard was “Third Rate Romance,” you had no sense of their versatility.

“Third Rate Romance.” The song that started it all. Still a damn fine song.

“The Ella B.” Swamp rock, choogling between Tony Joe White and John Fogerty.

“Who Will The Next Fool Be?” In which the Aces cover Charlie Rich.

“Emma-Jean.” Unrequited love for one of the “lovely lesbian ladies slow-dancing on the parquet floor” next door. Ah, life in the tropics.

“Why Can’t I Be Satisfied.” A bit like Fleetwood Mac at a jazz club, showcasing Barry “Byrd” Burton on guitar and some combination of James Hooker and Billy Earheart on piano and organ.

The cover of "The Amazing Rhythm Aces," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1979.

“The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979, is another of my favorites. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound with the Muscle Shoals Horns.

“Love and Happiness.” Russell Smith’s distinctive voice infuses this Al Green cover. A couple of Memphis guys.

“Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette).” This was my introduction to the Allen Toussaint song first done by Benny Spellman.

“Say You Lied.” She left. Fine harmonies and fine picking by Duncan Cameron.

The cover of "Chock Full of Country Goodness," released by the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1994.

The Aces broke up in 1981, then got back together in 1994, releasing their own material. “Chock Full of Country Goodness” came out in 1998.

“The Rock.” He’s leaving. This one is co-written by Smith and Jim Varsos.

Technical note: I suppose the cool kids would just create a Spotify playlist, but I’m not on that, sorry.

 

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

National anthem performances, ranked

On this Independence Day, a ranking of the top national anthem performances of all time. This is a highly subjective list. Yours likely will be different. That’s what makes America great.

1. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. The national anthem as searing social commentary. A month later, he talked about it with Dick Cavett.

2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.

3. Jose Feliciano at the World Series, 1968. Controversial at the time, it paved the way for Hendrix and everyone else who dared do the anthem a different way. Feliciano’s version came “before the nation was ready for it.” NPR wrote. It “infuriated America,” Deadspin wrote. Ever since, it has “given voice to immigrant pride,” Smithsonian magazine wrote.

4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.

5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991. An epic performance at a time when America desperately wanted to wrap itself in the flag, ESPN wrote. Truth be told, this isn’t one of my favorites because it came at this time and in these circumstances, but it belongs in the top five.

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

Take me to the water

Yesterday was one of those beautiful days on which good memories wash over you.

Good memories of our Aunt Carol, whose life we celebrated. She was 89 when she died a week ago. She was the last of my six aunts.

The good memories come from times spent at family gatherings with our cousins, her four kids. Of all the cousins on Mom’s side of the family, we were closest to them. We all were roughly the same age and they lived closest to us.

Fun fact: Though I always knew Aunt Carol came from a family of skiers, it was fun to see old pictures of her at the local ski hill as part of a women’s ski team and as a ski model, both from the late ’40s or maybe the earliest ’50s.

Yesterday also was one of those gorgeous blue-sky summer days on which seemingly everyone in Wisconsin makes a beeline to the water.

Good memories of that, too, as I drove along the Wisconsin River from Stevens Point north to Wausau, my aunt’s hometown and more or less my hometown. There were tons of people at the taverns along the river, where you can park in the parking lot or at the dock. There were big floats on Lake DuBay, dozens of pontoons and smaller boats tied together for sun-splashed parties.

That took me right back to the mid-’70s, any summer from 1972 to 1977.

On summer days like this, we’d walk out the door and think “OK, where are we going to get into the water today?”

We could go to Yellow Banks, an old swimming hole on a small, lazy river. When it became a park, they gave it some gentrified name that escapes me, but everyone still called it Yellow Banks. Eventually, the powers that be conceded the point, and the park became Yellow Banks Park.

We could go to the Kennedy Park pool or the Rothschild pool. Once in a long while, we’d drive across town to Manmade, which was a small lake that was exactly as advertised.

If our friend Herb had his dad’s car and boat, we’d put in at Bluegill Bay and go water skiing on Lake Wausau. Which was fine until Herb cracked the whip and you wiped out while slaloming, losing your ski and somersaulting on top of the water and coming to rest on top of a boulder that’s just below the surface of the water.

But of all the places we could go, The Dells was the biggest adventure. We’d hop on our bikes and ride 19 miles from my friend’s house to The Dells, some of it on fairly busy back roads. Once there, you’d sit atop the rocks that formed The Dells of the Eau Claire River and watch the daredevils jump into the pool at the base of the rocks.

Here, look. The experience hasn’t changed much since the mid-’70s, although the daredevils back then were pretty much straight-up cannonballers.

Nope, I never did that. Drank a few beers on top of the rocks, but never did that.

It was ..

“Hot Fun,” Stanley Clarke, from “School Days,” 1976.

My friend Emery reminded me of this when he shared it yesterday. I’ve had that record since it came out back then.

Daredevils aside, and truth be told, the vibe of those long-ago summers seemed more like this …

“Summer,” War, from “War’s Greatest Hits,” 1976.

Fun fact: The single was released on my birthday, the day I turned 19 in June 1976.

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Filed under June 2019, Sounds

Coming full circle

We had long ago committed to seeing Cher at the new basketball arena in Milwaukee. But then I saw Joe Jackson also was coming to town. Oooh, we really needed to see that one, too, even if the shows were six days apart, stretching both our concert and travel budgets.

The second show Janet and I ever saw together was Joe Jackson. We were both 22 and sooooo sophisticated then, traveling to Minneapolis to see him at the Guthrie Theater on the last Sunday night of October 1979. That ticket cost $7.50, or about $25.50 in today’s dollars.

We looked forward to our 40-year reunion with Joe Jackson at the always wonderful Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. It was everything we’d hoped for.

It took only three songs for the not-quite-sold-out crowd to get into the spirit of the evening — “Look over there! WHERE?” — the call and response in “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” That was one of the songs we heard 40 years ago.

It was a charming evening, with Joe Jackson enjoying the proceedings despite a bit of a head cold. “Time is a relentless, vicious bastard,” he said good-naturedly to all the old hipsters and cool chicks before tearing into another song.

Fun to see Graham Maby, the bass player then and now. Jackson’s drummer Doug Yowell was a revelation, pounding away like Buddy Rich. Equal parts thunderous and tremendous.

We were delighted that “Look Sharp!” his debut album from 1979, was one of five albums from which Joe Jackson is drawing songs for his Four Decades Tour. So we also got to hear “One More Time” one more time, along with “Sunday Papers” and “Got The Time.”

“Look Sharp!” is one of our favorite records. Janet and I had it in our individual collections long before we ever merged them. Our copies of “Look Sharp!” are among the early pressings — a package that consisted of two 10-inch EPs with a small “Look Sharp!” pin. Mine still has the pin. Janet’s pin is gone, and the picture of Joe Jackson on the flip side of her album has light blue crop marks from where she once used it to illustrate a newspaper review of the album.

Joe Jackson set list, Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, on May 6, 2019

“Alchemy,” “One More Time,” “Is She Really Going Out With Him” “Another World,” “Fabulously Absolute,” “Strange Land,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Real Men,” “Rain,” “Invisible Man,” “It’s Different For Girls,” “Fool,” “Sunday Papers,” “King Of The World,” “You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Til You Know What You Want),” “Ode To Joy,” “I’m The Man.” Encore numbers: “Steppin’ Out,” “Got The Time,” “Alchemy (reprise).”

As for Cher, also an evening well spent.

It started with a scorching 45-minute set by Nile Rodgers and Chic despite being squeezed onto that tiny strip of stage in front of the Cher curtain. Some of their songs: “Le Freak,” “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah),” “Good Times,” “Let’s Dance,” “We Are Family” and “Get Lucky.” You get the idea.

I’ve never been to Vegas, but I imagine Cher’s show is what a Vegas show is like. Dancers! Lights! Stage sets! A loopy, rambling but endearing monologue! Nine costumes over the course of 16 songs!

Coolest part — for me — was “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe” done on a ’60s vintage go-go club set. On the latter, Cher sang to video and audio of Sonny. I’ve seen that work for Queen and the Monkees, and it worked nicely here, too. Also got a flashback from the video boards. I glanced over to see Cher and her dancers framed just as they were on her old TV variety shows.

But I also must report that Cher does not do encores. As “Believe” winds down, she walks to each corner of the stage and waves, and then to center stage and waves. Then she walks off and the lights come up.

Cher set list, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, on May 12, 2019

“Woman’s World,” “Strong Enough,” “Gayatri Mantra,” “All Or Nothing,” “The Beat Goes On,” “I Got You Babe,” “Welcome To Burlesque,” “Waterloo,” “SOS,” “Fernando,” “After All,” “Walking In Memphis,” “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss),” “I Found Someone,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe.”

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Filed under May 2019, Sounds