Tag Archives: my vinyl solution

My Vinyl Solution #0005: Atlanta Rhythm Section – Champagne Jam

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Atlanta Rhythm Section - Champagne Jam
Atlanta Rhythm Section, Champagne Jam

How do you go from playing a gig for the President of the United States on the South Lawn of the White House to nothing in three years? Because if I’m reading the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s bio correctly, these hillbillies from Georgia were an even bigger bust than Jimmy Carter, managing to squander a top ten album that went platinum in just six months in 1978 to have all but disappeared by the time Ronald Reagan took over in Washington.

Champagne Jam is worthy of every bit of its sales success, as it’s perhaps the smoothest blend of southern rock and pop ever recorded. That ARS began careening into obscurity immediately after releasing it only makes sense in the way that a redneck lottery winner can find himself broke after just a few years of living the good life – and have nothing to show for it but a monster truck and a Jet Ski.

Putting this one on my turntable, the first thing I notice is that the sound is fantastic. Champagne Jam was recorded at what was perhaps the pinnacle of analog recording technique and you can certainly hear it. Whatever you do, avoid firing up Spotify to listen to this, because it will not sound good. I wouldn’t even dream of owning this album in a format other than vinyl, not any more than I would consider drinking beer out of a plastic bottle.

The sound here is so live and real that it’s hard not to want to listen to Champagne Jam just to admire the precision of the recording. It’s no wonder, as this is a band that had made its living as session players, and they were bona fide studio pros. The guitar and bass tones are out of this world, fat and punchy. The vocals have that high-in-the-mix quality that I associate with 80’s Top 40 music, like Madonna and Wham. And the drums! On this album they sound rounded and full, like you can actually hear the air moving.

While not every cut on the record is worthy of as much praise as its overall sonic qualities, there are plenty of standouts. “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” may not be a lyrical masterpiece, but anyone who can’t get behind the notion that the solution to all our problems is to get out and have a good time should probably be listening to a different band. The title track is as catchy as a bass fishing tournament, with some nice little drum, bass, guitar and keyboard solos that really show off the tightness of the group. A shame that we have to wait until the end of side one to hear it.

Side two is even stronger, opening with “Imaginary Lover,” the group’s big hit, which charted as high as seven. It’s a medium-tempo track that’s so perfectly calibrated to the Lite Beer From Miller era that it sounds like any number of pop crooners could have paid to dub in their vocals. “The Ballad of Lois Malone” borrows that same great blues riff that powers ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and AC/DC’s “Ride On.” The final two tracks, “The Great Escape” and “Evileen” provide some measure of understanding for why Pandora will inevitably spit out Steely Dan within the first few songs of a newly created ARS station.

But please, don’t go that route. Yeah, I know, finding some modern way to listen to ARS might be more convenient or even put a few pennies in the pockets of these guys, but no matter how bad I feel about their blowing it 30 years ago, that’s no reason to compromise the joy of dropping your stylus on this album.

Runout Groove: A record as records were meant to be. The medium is the message.

Atlanta Rhythm Section - Champagne Jam
Polydor PD-1-6134, 1978

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEmULpVgH5I&w=560&h=373]

Atlanta Rhythm Section: allmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

My Vinyl Solution #0004: Cannonball Adderley Sextet – Planet Earth

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Cannonball Adderley Sextet - Planet Earth
Cannonball Adderley Sextet, Planet Earth

So after fighting through not one, but two Asia albums in a row and peeking ahead at the next slab of vinyl on the shelf and realizing it’s a record that actually belongs to my wife, I have decided to throw the first curveball and grab an “A” record out of the jazz bin.

I have far fewer jazz albums than rock by a factor of maybe 10. But I grew up listening to jazz, because my dad is a huge jazz expert and has an amazing collection. So I know enough to be dangerous and I certainly have my favorites, which tend more towards the great albums from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, especially the stuff from the ’60s and, in the case of Miles, the ’70s.

I bought Planet Earth in college for not much money, during a confusing time where I was trying to listen to jazz on my own and not really liking it much because I hadn’t yet figured out the whole chronology and evolution of jazz, and couldn’t understand why when I liked, say, John Coltrane on A Love Supreme, I would get bored with some of his earlier, more traditional work. I think what attracted me to this record was as much the hippy dippy cover art as anything, other than a vague notion that “Cannonball” Adderley’s unique name resonated with me as “one of those guys my dad likes, so he has to be good.”

As I found out after bringing it home, as much as Planet Earth is a Cannonball Adderley Sextet album, four of the cuts are Yusef Lateef songs. (The other was written by Joe Zawinul, Adderley’s longtime piano player, and is literally tacked on to the end.) I immediately developed a liking for Lateef, one of those tenor saxophone players that I believe deserves far more respect than he gets outside of hardcore jazz circles, given how much of an influence he was on Coltrane’s later free jazz period. Lateef’s playing here sounds free enough to inspire, but without all the noise that can make listening to later, more atonal free jazz so difficult. He does play oboe on two tracks on Planet Earth, “Brother John,” a wild tribute to Coltrane (who was still very much alive when it was recorded), and “Syn-anthesia.” They are my two favorites on the album, because, well, how often do you hear anyone playing an oboe, let alone wailing on one?

Jazz is about improvisation, and live jazz is really where it’s at when it comes to developing an appreciation for the art form. It’s taken me years to grasp even the most basic ideas behind jazz, but this is one that even rock fans should be able to appreciate: “Live music is better bumper stickers should be issued!” These cuts are all live (save for the Zawinul song at the end) and full of energy and thus contribute to this being an outstanding collection.

Planet Earth is, like so many vintage jazz albums, a reissue of stuff designed to put cash in the record company’s pocket. Released on the “Riverside” label in 1969, roughly six years after the real Riverside Records went under, the album was actually a product of ABC Records, the music division of the TV network. The back cover liner notes, although interesting and written by Down Beat Editor Dan Morgenstern, conveniently don’t mention where any of these tracks appeared earlier. While my personal Cannonball discography is bereft of any other titles, likely sources include live albums released from the Sextet’s 1963 Japanese tour and a live album recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City a year earlier. While I tend to eschew these sorts of compilations when it comes to rock music, the jazz world is so seedy that they’re unavoidable. And I’m just not that much of a purist when it comes to my jazz collection anyway.

Runout Groove: It may be a dodgy reissue, and I may have paid just 50 cents for it, but a compilation of this quality that’s never been released on CD is the best kind of keeper.

Cannonball Adderley Sextet - Planet Earth
Riverside RS-3401, 1969


Cannonball Adderley: allmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Yusef Lateef: official websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

My Vinyl Solution #0003: Asia – Alpha

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Asia - Alpha

When we last left off, I was saying that the Asia album you want is the one with “Heat of the Moment” on it. Well, this is not that album. But from about the first 15 seconds of Alpha, I’m thinking this one might just be a keeper.

The opening track is a fast-tempo, synth-driven rocker, “Don’t Cry,” that sounds so familiar I must have heard it a million times on the radio when I was a kid. Or maybe it just sounds enough like REO Speedwagon that I think I’ve heard it. John Wetton could win a Kevin Cronin sound-alike contest in a heartbeat, I think. This is not a good song, really, but it hints at being something I might want to listen to again.

The next track, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” opens with a synth piano riff that’s similarly cut from the Top 40-friendly, REO ballad playbook. This is not good music in any way, shape or form, and it’s so thin and weak sounding from a production standpoint that I wonder what the hell the guys recording this album were thinking. There’s just no depth to the sound and very little bass.

Thankfully, this album seems to move pretty quickly. Indeed, for a group of guys hailing from prog rock bands, it’s pretty amazing that six of the 10 cuts on this lp clock in under the magic four-minute mark. Clearly they were trying to make pop music here.

The third track on the “alpha” side of Alpha, “Never In A Million Years” at least has some nice guitar playing on it, and it’s this – Steve Howe’s contribution – that makes me like this record better than Astra.

The next track still hasn’t solved my problems with the production any, but “My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want)” does have a nice chorus and for some reason, it’s getting me to thinking about the similarities between Asia and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Both were “supergroups” composed of guys who were really successful in other bands. Neither ever lived up to their promise. But the big difference between CSN and Asia is that by the time Asia showed up on the scene, the whole supergroup thing had already been played out. CSN had lost their way and other assemblages of star power had fizzled, like Blind Faith and Bad Company. I don’t know much about the history of Asia, nor do I really care, because it just seems like this was a bad idea from the start. I suppose as far as bad ideas of the early 1980’s go, there were far worse ones, like Reaganomics and the Cadillac Cimarron, but I digress.

“The Heat Goes On” is the rocking-est song on the first side of the album, and again, it’s Steve Howe who really shines amidst this lot of really mediocre songs. But I can’t really tell if it’s the songs or the recording, because I can’t really hear anything other than a blast of synthesized noise, even while I sit and intently listen. Picking out the instruments is damn near impossible, and there’s absolutely no sound stage to this record. I may as well be listening to it on a clock radio, rather than my stereo.

The “Beta” side opens with “Eye to Eye,” which is probably the best track on the album. It’s a legitimate hard rock song, and Wetton actually sounds kind of angry here. There’s a proggy sort of keyboard part with a change in tempo that’s backed up against a cheesy Beach Boys-style chorus, but it all kind of works. I really like this song, and it’s the first track that I’m really wishing was actually recorded well.

But that’s the thing, all of this album just sounds like crap. Checking out the liner notes while listening to the slow ballad, “The Last to Know,” I see that the album was recorded at Le Studio in Quebec, on two 24-track tape machines (Two? Really? Who in the hell needs 48 tracks?), and then mixed digitally. The result is like trying to stuff 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. And a really bad bag, at that.

Digital gets a bad rap among audiophile types (yes, I’m sort of one), but the more I delve into this subject, I realize that it’s not digital itself that sucks but how digital recording and playback are poorly used and implemented that’s the problem. Clearly this is an example of an album that, because of being digitally mixed, sounds bad, even on an analog playback system. I’m not listening to a CD, which would probably just compound the problems with the compressed and brittle sound, but a good old-fashioned record. And it still sucks.

“The Last to Know,” turns out to be a great epic track, which grows into something that I wish I would have slow danced to in middle school. The next song, “True Colors,” however, just tries too hard and winds up sounding like a bad soundtrack cut from movie about an amateur sports team. “Midnight Sun” might as well be album filler, a slowish song about who the hell knows what, but at least Howe gets a solo on it.

I’m really tired of listening by the time the album closes with “Open Your Eyes,” the only truly long song on the album, at 6:26. But it’s not the big delicious prog rock mess it should be. It’s just a bad pop song with an electric piano and guitar “interlude” that doesn’t belong – but does waste a good minute of your life.

Runout Groove: There’s a pair of 24-track master tapes out there begging to be remixed in analog with more Steve Howe. I’ll keep this around for comparison, just in case that ever happens.

Geffen GHS 4008, 1983

Asia: official reunion websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

My Vinyl Solution #0002: Asia – Astra

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Asia - Astra
Asia, Astra

So the first thing you may notice if you read my last column post, is that regardless of what kind of writer I am, I clearly don’t have a grasp of the alphabet. Or more to the point, I’ve done a really crappy job of organizing my records. Now I could waste a bunch of time going through and making sure that my records are indeed, alphabetized. Or I could spend the time actually listening. Clearly there is only one choice here, and that’s to forge ahead and pull the lp’s off the shelf in whatever order they are in and call it good.

Thinking about the last time I did go through the arduous task of alphabetizing all these records, I seem to recall at least getting them close enough such that all the A’s are together, all the B’s follow, and so on and so forth. That will just have to suffice here. But it also brings up another point, which is that all my jazz albums (and I think blues, as well) are separated out from the rest. Which means this is going to be a very rock-centered endeavor, unless, of course, I mix the jazz in as I go along, which I think I should do.

In fact, since I’ve established that things are only going to progress along in a poor facsimile of order, I’m going to give myself free reign to toss in whatever albums I feel like to mix things up. Besides the jazz and blues, I also have a substantial stack of records that are unfiled simply because I lack the shelf space. Hopefully as I free some up by discovering crap that I have no reason to keep and then getting rid of it, I can integrate these many records that are still living in milk crates.

And that brings us to Asia’s Astra, fittingly enough. Side one kicks off with “Go,” which has an interesting chorus. Yeah right. “Get up and go” is, however, an ominous beginning, because despite my love of arena rock, it’s exactly what I want to do. This album really sounds terrible from the first note.

“Voice of America” may be a tribute to the military radio station, it may not. I really don’t care, because despite liking the chorus quite a bit, this song sounds like it’s about twice as long as it needs to be.

“Hard On Me” is, indeed, hard on me. The synths are just embarrassing. I mean, I could listen to something like Yes’ Big Generator all day long and not get tired of it, and Tony Kaye is using gear from the same era, recording in the same sorts of studios, and the sound is somewhat similar. Except that it doesn’t suck.

Which brings up the big question I am asking myself as I try and ignore this mid-tempo ballad, “Wishing,” while resisting the temptation to write another bad pun based on the name of the song. Who the hell are these guys in Asia? Now I’ve never listened to this record before, but I’ve kept it around for a few years since acquiring it, thinking that Asia was one of those bands that I’d be instantly familiar with from years of listening to classic rock radio.

But as this first side ends with the insipid “Rock and Roll Dream” (which rhymes “reality” with “never see”), I’m realizing I’ve never heard any of these awful songs before. And thank goodness.

Despite not wanting to flip the album and debating just cutting it short, side two starts with a song called “Countdown to Zero,” which is actually kind of good. It begins with something that sounds almost exactly like the THX “Deep Note,” and for the first time I am motivated to actually pull out the sleeve and look at the liner notes, which are as uninteresting as most of the music. “Zero” at least turns into a perfect ’80s Cold War paranoia song, worthy of being included on a mix tape right next to Sting’s “Russians.

It’s here though that I’ve had it. Clearly this record is going to Encore in the hopes of generating some trade credit. The remaining songs, “Love Now Till Eternity,” “Too Late,” “Suspicion,” and “After The War” aren’t as bad as the truly atrocious first side, or maybe I’m just growing comfortably numb. At least this album was not released during the CD era in the ’90s, as then I could have had an extra 25 minutes to slog through.

Runout Groove: This is not the Asia record with “Heat of the Moment” on it. That’s the one you want.

Asia - Astra
Geffen GHS 24072, 1985

Asia: official reunion websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

My Vinyl Solution #0001: Average White Band

Launching a new column is somewhat daunting, as there’s usually a lot to explain. But an editor of mine once told me to just dispense with the disclaimers and jump right in. The readers will figure it out, he felt. And besides, plotting out all the thinking that went into the thing is somewhat presumptuous isn’t it? After all, you haven’t written shit yet, so laying out a bunch of crap that may or may not come to fruition is like showing people the boxes of parts you’ve ordered for the rusting hulk in the garage. Just shut up and work on the car and call me when it can run 12s already!

So here is the barest explanation of what you are about to read: I’m listening to my records. I have an embarrassment of riches in that I have come to absorb several substantial caches of vinyl from friends in the last five years. But as great as that is, it’s also left me with no idea of what I even own. So here goes, in alphabetical order.

Average White Band - Average White Band
Average White Band, (Eponymous)

If there was any justice in this world, the first platter I spin would be something from AC/DC. But alas, sometimes coming at the beginning of the alphabet is not a good thing, as my AC/DC records were damaged due to some bad choices in storage. The incident actually served as motivation for this project.

So instead, we start with Average White Band.

Wow, this has a real Yacht Rock sound, more so than I remember. I’m not so sure which of the vocalists, Alan Gorrie or Hamish Stuart is a better Michael McDonald, but together they do an entirely credible job of laying down smooth music. The first track, “You Got It” is absolutely a party, awesome white funk. Indeed, there’s good reason why I have this on my shelves, as I listened to this album many, many times in college, usually while drinking and doing bong hits, getting ready to take the bus to the Nectarine Ballroom for ’70s night.

“Got the Love” is a solid second track, but the real hit on the album is “Pick Up The Pieces,” the instrumental jam that comes next. I think I’ve probably heard this song enough times in my life, but maybe the fact that I’m typing on a laptop right now instead of slamming a 40 has more to do with my lack of enthusiasm. But thinking back, “Person to Person” always struck me as a far more interesting song, with what are unquestionably the most interesting lyrics on the album. “Work to Do,” which closes the first side, is another good one, and I’ve got to say, the first half of this album has me wondering why it hasn’t been on my turntable in years.

Side two starts with some nice guitar playing that leads into a slow jam, “Nothing You Can Do,” which is the first song on the album to sound dated in a bad way. I don’t know, I’m just making this up, but I imagine this song being a staple on AM radio. The next track, “Just Wanna Love You Tonight” is about as clichéd as anything on contemporary radio, and it’s causing me wonder if I’ve even listened to this second side of the album. Probably not, as the pre-partying would rarely allow for more than one side of any slab of vinyl before we’d move on to something else.

I’ll keep my thoughts on “Keepin’ It to Myself” to myself. And although at this point I’m certainly not as enthused about this album as I was after the first side, at least side two still has “I Just Can’t Give You Up” on it, which is well worth suffering through the rest. Stuart lays down a pretty wicked guitar solo on this up-tempo track and his vocals are outstanding as well. “There’s Always Someone Waiting” closes the album with a bluesy number that seems to channel ZZ Top, and it’s not so bad, though it’s a bit overdone.

Runout Groove: Average White Band is certainly worth owning, though I don’t think I’m going to be playing it straight – or straight through – very often.

Average White Band - Average White Band
Atlantic SD 7308, 1974

Average White Band: official websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini