Tag Archives: Lost Classics

Lost Classic: Roxy Music – Viva! Roxy Music

Roxy MusicViva! Roxy Music (Virgin)

During my first year of high school, I befriended an upperclassman who shared my obsession with rock and roll music. The two of us were also similar in trying to expand our collective musical knowledge by exploiting every opportunity that presented itself to us so that we could explore uncharted music together.

For my friend, an opportunity presented itself at his job. He “babysat” the automated music playlist at the local FM radio EZ listening station on weekends during the overnight hours.

It drove my friend crazy. After only a few weeks of it, he began to think that the small wage that he was earning was enough to endure the 6 hours of Ferrante & Tiecher format that pumped through the studio monitors. Never mind the fact that he barely uttered a word during his shift as the only time you would even hear him over the air was reading the weather forecast twice an hour, and even that was committed to tape.

The inactivity gave him a lot of free time. He began to snoop around the facilities and noticed that the Program Director for the station occasionally left the door to his office unlocked. During one clandestine operation, he discovered that the shelves of his boss’ office contained a huge array of promotional records, some of which the PD brought from other radio stations.

Instinctively, he began to stuff his book bag with some of the titles, not with the intent of stealing them, but instead to borrow them until the next airshift so that he could dub them off on to cassette.

He began inviting me over to his listening sessions, and I would dutifully wait my turn to fill up a few blank Maxells. The records were mostly A.O.R. titles that graced the cutout bins while providing a glut of promotional albums that would find their ways into the personal collections of radio programmers across the country.

I listened to a lot of new music thanks to my friend’s system, everything from Graham Parker to a live Ramones record (It’s Alive). Every week was a new adventure. On occasion, you’d get a real dud–The Boomtown Rats Tonic For The Troops immediately comes to mind–but the beauty of magnetic tape was how its contents were just a red button away from extinction.

Conversely, there were those records that proved to be so good that I would punch out the safety tabs on the cassette, a feature that prevented someone from accidentally erasing over a particular selection.

Such was the case with Roxy Music, whose live document Viva! made its way to my friend’s turntable and onto a waiting cassette that stayed with me for many years.

I loved the record’s aggressiveness. In fact, it may be the only document of the group that suits the sonic vision that their own name coolly suggests. I fell into it with such great force that I ordered their newest title from Columbia House, Avalon, and became immediately disappointed that they had turned into a bunch of pussies with that record.

Time, repeated listens, and that silly notion of how Avalon is required coitus music, have changed my perspective of that record, but Viva! has always remained my first love, and the first reason why I began exploring the group’s catalog.

Viva! is not found on the recent The Complete Studio Recordings (for obvious reasons) and it’s a record that is curiously overlooked by many Roxy fans. The chief complaint that I hear from them is actually one of the reasons why I love with the record: its brevity.

Clocking in to just barely fit on to one side of a C-90 tape and providing only eight songs to promote a very worthy catalog, Viva! Roxy Music demonstrates a very progressive rock band, one that sounded heavier than their studio versions and one that possessed some very real rock and roll chops.

Beginning with “Out Of The Blue,” the opening track finds drummer Paul Thompson trying to knock the “art rock” label right off the gallery walls. Guitarist Phil Manzanera weaves a very hypnotic guitar phrase while Andy Mackay’s lays down a haunting oboe…that’s right, oboe…making this version a very good candidate for actually being better than the studio version found on Country Life.

This high-energy mix is apparent on nearly all of the tracks on Viva! suggesting that Roxy Music was a band of very capable and exciting performers, ones that contradict the button-down persona of their image. The record clearly proclaims the musicians to be worthy enough to energize even the most pretentious of fans who may view Roxy Music as somehow beneath such primal urges.

Now that we’re all giddy from the nostalgia that The Complete Studio Records brings, and now that the box set correctly bestowed Roxy Music as one of the genre’s most creative forces, it’s time to consider Viva! into the tapestry. It’s a unique document of the band, rolling up their sleeves and slugging out an honest day’s work on stage and on fire.

Lost Classic: The Lovin’ Spoonful – Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful

The Lovin’ SpoonfulHums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful Kama Sutra)

The Lovin’ Spoonful’s third record was one of those albums that suddenly found its way into my childhood collection, presumably a hand-me-down offering from my father when he figured out that the more time I spent dwelling in front of a record player was less time spent bugging him.

It’s true: at a very young age, I was enraptured by the hypnotizing 33 1/3 revolutions per minutes and would absorb every detail of each platter that mattered in my donated collection.

Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful was one of those records that mattered, only to be neglected and forgotten for many years afterwards, in many ways, the same way that public perception of the Spoonful themselves has followed.

Because, unless you’re the 13th Floor Elevators and have a bullshit patent on an “electric jug,” there’s not a lot of creative empathy if you call yourselves a jug band and play something referred to as “good time music.”

Hums is the record that actually attempts to demonstrate a wide diversity of styles, and most of the time it finds the band doing exactly that. From traditional folk, straight up rock, and even a legitimate attempt at country music, the Lovin’ Spoonful cram it all into this record, the last offering from the original line-up and their most compelling.

Spoonful vocalist John Sebastian pens all of the material, but the unsung hero is guitarist Zal Yanovsky who bounces between styles and genres so effortlessly that you’ll understand why R.E.M.’s Peter Buck is such an outspoken fan.

“Summer In The City” is the big hit that everyone’s familiar with, but Hums provided a pair of additional Top 10 hits with the gentle “Rain On The Roof” and that aforementioned attempt at country, “Nashville Cats,”  pre-dating The Byrds own foray into country music by a year or two.

“Nashville Cats” is such a convincing workout that even Flatt & Scruggs borrowed it for their own while Johnny Cash took a swipe at Hums’ “Darlin’ Companion” for his At San Quentin release.

With tack pianos, slide whistles, and a Jews harp in the mix, Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful is indeed good time music, but in the most inspirational way. It’s the sound of young men fully realizing the plethora of great music available to them, while trying to replicate the same sounds with respect and maturity.

The fact that their youth is reflected in their execution--the band is clearly having fun here--should not be a deterrent in discovering this forgotten gem. Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful plays like the unintentional classic record that it is, a collection of empathetic renditions of the music that inspired the band members, while inspiring a young boy in front of a record player who’s discovering music for the first time himself.

Video: The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Nashville Cats”

The Lovin' Spoonful - Nashville Cats

Video: The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Rain On The Roof”

Lost Classic: The Nils – The Nils

The Nils - The NilsThe NilsThe Nils (Rock Hotel/Profile)

Life ain’t fair, but the thorns of injustice hit Montreal’s The Nils particularly hard. Blessed with an impeccable sense of melody and bursting at the seams with post-punk energy, The Nils left behind a small catalog of evidence and an endless amount of unrealized potential.

The Nils’ debut full-length was released in 1987. Part of the funding the band received leading up to their debut came from the guy from Men Without Hats. Even people back then thought it was an odd pairing.

It’s because The Nils sound nothing like Men Without Hats, but they do sound a lot like The Replacements. In some weird moment of synchronicity, a pair of brothers from Canada created noise out of boredom. After a few days of tinkering with a new guitar, Carlos Soria noticed that his brother Alex was getting good with his instrument.

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Lost Classic: Alice Cooper – Love It To Death

Alice Cooper - Love It To DeathAlice CooperLove It To Death (Warner Bros.)

Thanks to his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I pulled out my old vinyl copy of Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death and confirmed: It’s about fucking time.

I’m one of those “Alice Cooper is a band” supporters, the kind of fan who understands that theatrics are only half of the equation. The other half is a raw outfit of musicians who made those theatrics frightening.

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Lost Classic: Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band – Lick My Decals Off, Baby

Captain Beefheart  and The Magic Band - Lick My Decals Off, BabyCaptain Beefheart & The Magic BandLick My Decals Off, Baby (Straight)

There’s no middle ground with Captain Beefheart, so this review is for those who have already taken the big leap into the man’s polarizing body of work and are looking for the next step.

The assumption here is that you started with Trout Mask Replica, the massive document captured by Frank Zappa that’s perceived to be Beefheart’s crowning achievement. That perception is debatable, but I won’t argue its brilliance and I won’t fault anyone who chooses it as their first ride on Beefheart’s off-the-map journey. It’s the first Beefheart album to capture his off-center compositions, a train ride that’s piloted by an engineer under the influence of tainted moonshine and too many Howlin’ Wolf and Ornette Coleman records.

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Lost Classic: The The – Mind Bomb

The the - Mind BombThe theMind Bomb (Epic)

My introduction to The the was when Jake and I drove across Michigan—from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to Detroit—to see them. I went simply because Johnny Marr was in the band. I was heavy into all things Marr then and since he was in the band for The the Vs. The World Tour 1990 then I was willing to do it despite never having heard a word or note of the music. That’s what young musical obsessions are all about.

Memories of the show still stir my soul. When the whale songs that made for warm-up music faded out (yes, whale songs) the Royal Oak Theater began to shake as Matt Johnson called out from off stage, “This is a dance band!” As a dedicated fan of The Smiths I have to admit I was a bit horrified by that declaration. But his meaning soon became clear: you will NOT be seated for this show.

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Lost Classic: Squeeze – Argy Bargy

Squeeze - Argy BargySqueezeArgy Bargy (A&M)

In high school, I worked as a lifeguard for the municipal pool during the summer months. The managers were usually a few years older than the guard staff, so every year they would come back from college during summer break and tell us how awesome university was while tempting us with their driver’s licenses and breaking out some bullshit pool hierarchy whenever we underage drinkers asked for a hand in buying some booze.

One of the things that they did share with us was the occasional mix tape featuring “college music” and other tracks from what students supposedly listened to while they were away from home, their cabinets filled with plastic Chinet plates, Graffix bongs, and copious amounts of Everclear grain alcohol.

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Lost Classic: The Guess Who – Live At The Paramount

The Guess Who - Live At The ParamountThe Guess WhoLive At The Paramount (RCA)

This is a true story, and anyone who’s ever read Lester BangsPsychotic Reaction And Carburetor Dung and actually followed through with it can confirm its accuracy.

By “followed through,” I mean reading Bangs’ assessment of the Guess Who‘s Live At The Paramount record and gone out and bought it shortly afterwards.

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Lost Classic: Dream Syndicate – Medicine Show

Dream Syndicate - Medicine ShowDream SyndicateMedicine Show (A&M)

When Medicine Show was released in 1984, the Dream Syndicate turned from affectionate adulation to despised sell-outs for many of their fans. It was a noticeable departure from the Velvet worship of their debut Days Of Wine And Roses and Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn seemed to be trading his Lou Reed affection for Neil Young. In fact, the closest Wynn gets to Uncle Lou is with a sarcastic “You know I couldn’t hit it sideways, baby!” during “Armed With An Empty Gun.”

There’s a lot of references to guns, death, and character flaws types throughout Medicine Show; it’s almost like Wynn is contemplating killing the career of his band with what was their first major label offering. To me, Wynn finally takes notice of his Southwest U.S. surroundings and decides to kill off the N.Y.C. distractions instead.

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Lost Classic: Nico – Desertshore

Nico - DesertshoreNicoDesertshore (Reprise)

You’ll all be grateful that Nico‘s third and most ambitious album, Desertshore, clocks in at a mere twenty-nine minutes…but maybe for different reasons. For some, the lack of variety within its grooves and the fact that Nico’s voice is a challenging instrument mean those twenty-nine minutes cannot come soon enough. For others, the material is hauntingly dark and the short running time is all that a sane person can probably take. In fact, if it were any darker, the record would need to be shipped with a suicide-prevention number. Just in case.

Nico pairs up with Velvet Underground alum John Cale once again on what may be the most challenging post-Velvet offering ever made by a former member. You’d have to remove Metal Machine Music on sheer principle to get that distinction, but Cale does a stand-up job by removing everything out of the mix, save for his occasional piano jabs outlining the drone of Nico’s harmonium and her Germanic monotone.

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