Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this music junkie as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. Compact Discs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no files.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Monkees Greatest Hits (1976)


Lemme see if I got this straight: this 1990 CD release was originally a 1976 Arista release that has the same track list and sequence as the 1972 Bell Records release titled Re-Focus because the Bell label had since been reorganized into Arista Records in 1974. Brilliantly marketed just as the original TV series went into syndication.

Billboard, July 10, 1976, p.64

CashBox, July 10, 1976, p. 18

Groovy sixties vibes throughout and I'm immediately sent on a flashback trip. What a fantastic time capsule.

Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #58
  • Cash Box album chart: #72

Tracks:
SongYearHot 100
Introduction1967-
Last Train To Clarksville1966 1
She1966-
Daydream Believer1967 1
Listen To The Band196963
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You1967 2
I'm A Believer19661
I Wanna Be Free1967 -
Pleasant Valley Sunday19673
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone1966 20
Shades Of Gray1967-

Top 40 hits not included: The Girl I Knew Somewhere (#39, 1967), Words (#11, 1967), Valleri (#3, 1968), Tapioca Tundra (#34, 1968), D.W. Washburn (#19, 1968).

They're all enjoyable, particularly the top ten hits, and at a running time of 31 minutes, there's no reason not to listen to the whole disc.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: As a toddler, one of my earliest memories of intentionally bothering my family is running around the house singing the TV themes to both The Monkees as well as The Banana Splits (The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)). I'm sure my parents were ready to throw out TV our in the street.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Wes Montgomery - A Day In The Life (1967)


Before we get to the music, here's two quick notes about the cover photo: 1) that thing is possibly the most unattractive album cover on my shelves, and 2) somebody who knows about such things has identified the cigarette butts as "unfiltered Lucky Strike and two single Salem cigarettes" if those things are of import to you. A day in the life of a recording studio ashtray, I guess.

Composed almost entirely of pop music covers, this sort of album is typically derided by fuddy-duddy critics that don't know how to sit back and enjoy masters of their craft have their way with good music. And then jazz purists prefer Montgomery's earlier, more traditional jazz releases on the Riverside and Verve labels. Those guys can all go suck an egg. Simply put, this album is immaculately produced by Creed Taylor, beautifully engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, and performed by a fantastic quartet plus orchestra:

Montgomery - guitar
Herbie Hancock - piano
Ron Carter - bass
Grady Tate - drums
Orchestra arranged/conducted by Don Sebesky

I dig the thing (that amazing guitar tone!) and there's some good improv among the taut bossa nova and pop arrangements. My only complaint is that we don't get to hear enough of Herbie Hancock. Alongside what the legendary George Benson was doing in the '60s, this guitar-based instrumental easy listening sort of recording paved the way for later acts such as Earl Klugh and Wes Montgomery superfan Lee Ritenour so I'm grateful for that. This album was a huge seller, staying atop the Billboard jazz albums chart for 35 weeks and didn't leave said jazz chart until November, 1969 (and there were only 20 spots on the jazz album chart in those days). Likewise, over at Record World magazine, it topped their jazz chart for 33 weeks and finally dropped off the chart in November 1969 (also only 20 spots). To be sure, this album soundtracked many, many cocktail parties.

Reviews/ratings:
  • Billboard: "Montgomery sticks to his pop-oriented bag and remains a winner"
  • Record World (★★★★): "an ideal showcase for Wes"
  • CashBox: "Jazz enthusiasts should dig this one"
  • The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide (1999): ★★★
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz (1999): ★★★

Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #13
  • Billboard Jazz LPs chart: #1
  • Billboard R&B albums chart: #2
  • Record World Jazz album chart: #1


Tracks:
  1. A Day In The Life - the Beatles classic.
  2. Watch What Happens - from the 1964 French film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song, eventually losing to The Shadow Of Your Smile.
  3. When a Man Loves a Woman - this tame version, while pleasant enough, doesn't really hold a candle to the Percy Sledge release, but how could it?
  4. California Nights - originally released by Lesley Gore around the same time as this release. Gore's single peaked at #16 on Billboard's Hot 100.
  5. Angel - the only Montgomery original on the album
  6. Eleanor Rigby - the Beatles classic.
  7. Willow Weep For Me - a bluesy jazz standard written in 1932.
  8. Windy - this cover of a #1 hit for The Association became Montgomery's biggest commercial hit when it peaked at #44 on Billboard's Hot 100 and #10 on the Easy Listening chart.
  9. Trust In Me - a popular song from 1937. The "jazziest" song on the album whatever that means.
  10. The Joker - a song from the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None; I was but 15 months old when this album was released. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Something's Afoot - Original World Premier Studio Cast (2020)


EU import

Warning: extremely self-indulgent post follows.

Something's Afoot is a murder mystery comic musical spoof which had a brief run on Broadway of 61 performances back in May through July of 1976. The Showtime cable channel aired a filmed stage production in 1982 starring Jean Stapleton and Andy Gibb. The plot, liberally stolen from Agatha Christie's 1939 book And Then There Were None, is recapped on Wikipedia. The 1976 Broadway run was so brief, in fact, that a cast recording was not released. However, this studio recording was finally made in 2020 with London actors/singers and is the first professional recording of the material. The performances here are great and this CD makes for a great souvenir of the show.

Despite being a Broadway flop, the musical has had a long life in regional, community, and school theater performances. And that's where I come in.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: In the fall of 1982, I participated in our high school's production of Something's Afoot, playing the role of Nigel, described in the script as "the dissolute nephew." I can't find that our performances were ever recorded - that's probably for the best - so this 'studio cast' album was purchased in order to hear these show tunes once again. Stream-of-consciousness random thoughts about my experiences in that 1982 production follow.


I believe the illustration on the program cover was intended to be a tombstone - for a murder mystery, ya know? - but somehow (through poor communication? poor sketches?) that morphed into a sardine can? Ah, high school. The show had two performances, one on a Thursday and another the following Saturday. More than half of the cast and crew, including myself, was in the marching band and had to perform at a football playoff game on Friday. Looking back, that seems like a lot of work for only two performances.

The show's program had short blurbs about each cast member - activities, previous productions, future plans, etc. - written by another member of the cast with our input. Mine stated that I spent my time "listening to New Wave records" so they got that right. After listing the activities with which I was involved (band, choir, etc.), the blurb went on to read "Mark's plans for the future include medical school in preparation for becoming a pediatrician." Any thoughts of a career in medicine vanished when I awoke to the fact I didn't care much for my science courses and, reportedly, there's a lot of those involved in medical training.

We had a fresh-out-of-college new theatre teacher/drama coach at our high school that fall. My friends and I were very excited to meet her and start the school year with a musical production. There really weren't any stand-out actors in the senior class, so my junior class brethren and I took to the auditions like top dogs, confident we would be getting the leading roles we wanted. Plus, we had brand-spankin'-new drivers licenses and wouldn't have to rely on others to get to rehearsals. We were on top of the world! Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last long after the auditions. Not familiar with the students or the school in any way, the new director wisely made two choices: 1) her first production would be something with which she was familiar, having recently participated in a production of Something's Afoot as a college undergrad, and 2) not even a decade older than her students, she would understandably adopt a tough, no smiling, always-in-charge demeanor. Fools not suffered gladly.

As the school year began, my close friend Scott, easily the best actor on campus, had just returned from a 3 or 4 week summer drama camp at The University of Texas at Austin. Serendipitously, during the time of the drama camp, the college students at UT produced Something's Afoot, so Scott was already quite familiar with the show and knew exactly what role he wanted: Nigel, the dissolute nephew. I auditioned for the show's romantic lead role, Geoffrey. Geoffrey got the girl and enjoyed the most onstage time of all male roles, so my ego and I both figured that role would go to me since Scott didn't want it.

Needless to say, I didn't get the role I desired; I got the part Scott wanted. And since Scott talked about his recent drama camp experiences more than any of us really wanted to hear, the new director decided to knock him down a peg by giving him a smaller role. We all persevered and enjoyed the show because it was a more professional production than we had been involved in previously. We designed and built a more-than-respectable set, there was advertising and promotion, technical aspects were upgraded, and, most importantly to us cast members: the local newspaper was sending out their critic to review the show. My name or character didn't merit a mention in said review, but it was written that "there was not a bad performance in the group" so I'll count that as a win.


Above is the only picture I could find of the cast and I'm afraid it's not very good. My best guess is that we're all onstage following a performance, but I have no idea what we're all looking at or why some of us are attempting a chorus line kick. I'm the skinny kid fourth from the left in the tuxedo holding onto a drink with two hands (a little more foreshadowing there than I'm comfortable admitting right now). The girl in blue to my left was my girlfriend at the time. We would continue to see each other off and on throughout our junior and senior years, but, to be honest, since I had no idea how to properly handle a steady girlfriend, my ignorance caused things to completely deteriorate - I take full responsibility for screwing up that relationship. And, from the "small world" department: the girl second from the right is currently my dental hygienist.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three cast and crew members who are no longer with us including my dear friend Scott and the aforementioned then-"fresh-out-of-college new theatre teacher/drama coach." Admittedly, those losses put a damper on the hearing of these songs these days.

Ultimately, it turned out I liked the idea of being part of a production more than actually being part of a production, so I can count the number of my acting roles subsequent to this show on one hand. However, I enjoyed the time spent with my friends in the cast and crew (isn't there a Motörhead song about "teenage, backstage, sex, and outrage"?). My character, Nigel, sang the first solo in Act 2 (The Legal Heir, track 9 on this CD) before - spoiler alert! - getting killed off by an automated wall sconce. In spite of the fact that my character barely lasted more than one act, I think it was my best role in high school.


Saturday, January 14, 2023

Jean-Michel Jarre - Équinoxe (1978)


German import

One morning at some point during my college years (I'm going to guess around 1985 or '86), other marching band members and I were riding charter buses somewhere in northeast Texas, most likely headed for a recruiting performance of some sort. It seemed quite early in the morning, although my definition of "early" is admittedly somewhat different now than it was when I was 20 years old. Regardless, we were all tired, groggy, probably hungover, and in no mood to ride a bus into the morning light. I glanced across the aisle and asked my buddy Tom what tape he had in his Walkman. He just grinned and held up his cassette case of this album. I'll never forget the cover art by French graphic artist Michel Granger:


That cartoon guy looking at me through binoculars was freaky enough at that time of day, but then I gave the thing a listen and thought I definitely needed a cup or two of coffee before trying all these repetitive synth washes. Certainly not what you would expect a young adult to be listening to at 6 AM on a bus ride. It's hypnotic music that lies somewhere between that of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Vangelis as played by someone who grew up playing a lot of Debussy piano works. It's good for what it is and I'm sure was groundbreaking at the time, but definitely removed from the disco music and soft rock I was consuming in 1978. I now find it intriguing more than interesting, but it's still hypnotizing.

We lost Tom last spring and a few months after attending his funeral I saw this disc in a used CD bin and didn't hesitate to pick it up even though I hadn't heard any of this music since that bus ride. Tom was a great guy and this world could use more people like him. He is missed but remembered fondly. I'll think of him every time I see this CD on my shelves and that alone is easily worth the price of the disc.

Press of the time:
  • Record Mirror (★★): "As far as I was concerned the effect was one of sleep inducement"
  • Billboard: "there's plenty of compelling music here"
  • CashBox: "adventurous rock fans will find this LP fascinating"
  • Record World: "another impressive pastiche of synthesizers"
  • Stereo Review: "I found the whole recital just too twitchy to be entertaining"

 

 
Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #126
  • CashBox album chart: #89

Tracks: There's 8 tracks here - Equinoxe Part 1, Equinoxe Part 2, and so on, reportedly designed and sequenced to represent a day in the life of a person, from waking up in the morning to sleeping at night. And it does indeed play like a 39-minute 8-part suite that probably shouldn't be split or resequenced. However, parts 4 & 5 were each released as single in Europe so what do I know. 

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: See above.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

David Bowie - Reality (2003)


Bowie was 56 years old when Reality was released. As I write these words, I am 56 years old. So it's hardly surprising that I like this album better now than I did back in 2003. So when he belts out "I'm never ever gonna get old" and includes the word "OLD" crossed out on the lyric sheet, I'm right there with David as we celebrate our mutual denial.


But Mark, you always say you're not a lyrics guy - what gives? That's true - when Simon sings nonsense about the reflex being a lonely child waiting by the park, that doesn't interest me much. But when we're dealing with themes of "weary retrospection and aging regret," as Bowie does throughout these songs, I've almost got no choice but to pay heed. 


As for the music, this thing has plenty of catchy rock riffs and hooks and probably sounded fantastic live. I think many longtime fans would prefer the music to harken back to the '70s sounds more often (admittedly, I find myself wanting to hear a disjunct Robert Fripp solo in a few of these tunes) but why should it? One shouldn't expect Bowie to repeat himself, after all. That said, this album, and the two studio albums that followed over a decade later, make for a nice trilogy with similar sounds and themes. And the more I listen to them, the more I like them.

Press of the time:
  • Rolling Stone (★★★): "Reality turns out to be an intriguing place"
  • Entertainment Weekly (C+): " Ground control to Major Tom: Ditch the new reality and go back to the old school."
  • Metacritic: 74 out of 100 (critics), 8.3 out of 10 (users)

 

 
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #29
Peak on the Billboard Top Album sales chart: #29
 
Tracks: The album starts off with a powerful trio of songs, New Killer Star, Pablo Picasso (a cover of the Modern Lovers tune), and Never Get Old. Those cuts all sound fantastic pouring out of your car/truck speakers as you speed down the road with your windows down (I speak from experience). I also really like the dreamy pop of Days, the frenzied title track, and the sublime ballad that closes the album, Bring Me The Disco King. 

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
★ (2016)
The Next Day (2013)
Zeit! 77-79 (2013)
Changesbowie (1990)
Tonight (1984)
Let's Dance (1983)

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Carla Bley - Heavy Heart (1984)


German import

Man, is this album ever frustrating. Still, I can't help but like it. It's as if Bley challenged herself to write commercial (almost smooth) jazz music instead of her usual jazz-based art music. To that end, Bley invited artists such as Kenny Kirkland, Hiram Bullock, and Manolo Badrena to join her ten-piece band for this recording. So it kinda sounds like a typical Carla Bley album if there is such a thing, but kinda not and I suspect that description would bring a wry smile to the composer/arranger's face. 

Bley's unique orchestration voicings are present throughout and there's some catchy melodies over some smooth chord changes. Maybe it's just frustrating to me because it wasn't what I expected. Nevertheless, like I said, I dig 5 of the 6 tracks here. Looking back, I'm not sure how much Bley likes these tunes as she did not select any of the 6 tunes from this album for her retrospective entry in ECM's rarum series in 2004.

Reviews/ratings:
  • Billboard: "some of her most accessible music yet"
  • Tom Hull: B+
  • The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide (1999): ★★★½
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz (1999): ★★★
  • The Penguin Guide to Jazz (5th ed., 2000): ★★

debuted at #9 in the April 20, 1984 issue

 Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
  • Billboard Jazz LPs chart: #27
  • CashBox Jazz albums chart: #14
  • Radio & Records Jazz Radio National Airplay Chart: #4

Tracks: My favorite tracks are the noir-ish Talking Hearts (great solo from Bullock), the appropriately named Joyful Noise (great solo from Kirkland), and the title track featuring Steve Slagle on alto sax. Bley's sense of humor is evident by having a cut titled Ending It followed by a tune titled Starting Again, the latter being more in the style of free jazz with a fair share of dissonance and, to my ears, doesn't really fit in with the other five tracks.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: The above magazine ad from Radio & Records magazine caught my eye so I thought I'd give the thing a try even though my copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD clearly states, "This is a disappointing vintage in Bley's music."

It also occurs to me that I saw three of the musicians mentioned above around the time this album was recorded: Badrena with Spyro Gyra in 1983, Kirkland with Sting in 1985, and Bullock with David Sanborn opening for Al Jarreau, also in 1985. If I'd only seen Bley and her group back then. That might have been a better (and cheaper) music education than what I was getting in college.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Selected Recordings :rarum XV (2004)
Social Studies (1981)
Musique Mecanique (1979)

Monday, January 2, 2023

ABC - Beauty Stab (1983)


Note: this release was originally purchased as a LP, later replaced by this CD, a 1997 UK remastered import.

“We were eager to go in a totally different direction. We didn’t want to do a sequel. In retrospect, perhaps that is exactly what we should have done" - Martin Fry

To say I was disappointed in this release in 1983 would be an understatement. It was nothing like Lexicon of Love and I felt the album was sorely in need of the production skills of Trevor Horn. Maybe the the band was listening to a lot of  mid-'70s Bowie and Roxy Music? Not the best move for album sales, however, maybe a group can avoid the sophomore slump by completely changing directions. Reportedly, half the band quit because of the new direction. But was I wrong about this one? Possibly I dismissed it too quickly back in the '80s. After all, in its 2015 list of "100 Lost Albums You Need To Know," NME placed this album at #37, stating "It’s not a perfect album, but I think there’s something really interesting on there that everyone is missing out on." Well, I don't think that's quite true - there's no way there's something here for everybody - but I will admit that, even though I hadn't listened to this music during the several decades leading up to 2022, it's better than I remember.

Besides the production and arrangements shifts, most lyrics are laughable - most notably the bit about "a piece of apple crumble" - and the music simply isn't suited to Martin Fry's voice. That's a shame because occasionally there's some hooks hanging about if you listen hard enough. Bottom line: I'm glad I've given this another chance over the past year or so and have been amazed at how much of it I remembered, but I probably won't be spinning it very often.

In 2020, Martin Fry and album producer Gary Langan joined in for Tim's Twitter Listening Party for Beauty Stab. Informative in spots, but rather sparse with more lyric-quoting than there should be. Hardly required viewing.

Press of the time:
  • Robert Christgau (A-): "give this one five spins and you'll remember every track"
  • Rolling Stone (★★): "Martin Fry has only succeeded in shooting a poison arrow into his own foot"
  • Smash Hits (6 out of 10): "either a radical mixture of styles or a complete and utter mess." ed. - can't it be both?
  • Billboard: "closer in and sound and substance to Roxy Music"
  • Stereo Review: "It's like the difference between a Parisian cabaret and a Brooklyn social club. Trouble is, ABC belongs back in that cabaret."
  • CashBox: "The music is harder, rockier, and certainly, eclectically more diverse."
 


Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #69
  • Billboard Rock Albums chart: #20
  • CashBox album chart: #49
  • Rolling Stone chart: #20

Tracks: One single was released in the US, That Was Then But This Is Now (#89 pop, #35 rock), and I like it on occasion, but the top song on the album is easily track 11, S.O.S. Not coincidentally, it is also the only track that wouldn't be out of place on Lexicon Of Love. Many songs seem like combinations of song bits/ideas/fragments just haplessly thrown together, so there's good pieces to songs like If I Ever Thought You'd be Lonely (chorus), The Power Of Persuasion (opening riff), Hey Citizen (verse), but there's not enough to maintain interest for the whole tune. And then tracks like Bite The Hand are a complete mess.

This particular CD edition of the album added one bonus track: Vertigo, the b-side to That Was Then But This Is Now. Instrumental with lots of LinnDrum and screechy sax; plus it's (mercifully) not even 2 minutes in length. As we like to say around here: b-sides are usually b-sides for good reason.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I was a self-absorbed, know-it-all high school senior when this album was released and I had read some article about the album, it's title, and change of sound and prattled on about it to whoever would listen. I guess I wanted to 1) appear that I liked "cooler music than you," and/or 2) seem more knowledgeable than I was. In retrospect, I only succeeded in seeming insufferable. It's amazing I had any friends, much less dates with actual girls. My excuse? Well, I was a self-absorbed, know-it-all high school senior...

Bringing a smile to my face is the CompuServe URL of the "New ABC Website" listed on the back insert of this 1997 reissue: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Melomania  This has nothing to do with the album itself, but it brings back good memories of early online endeavors and discoveries, and URL adventures with backslashes, tildes, and the like. The logo to webcrawler just popped into my brain.

Previously revisited for the blog:
The Lexicon of Love II (2016)
Traffic (2008)
Absolutely (1990)
The Lexicon of Love (1982)