Guest Pup: Bidu. The Kinks, Low Budget

Haven’t done a Guest Pup in a while — I lamely lost of bunch of submissions when I got a new computer and they dried up after that. So, let’s get this started again!

This sweet dog is Bidu and he is forlornly sitting with a copy of Low Budget, which, amazingly, was the second biggest selling proper studio album for The Kinks over all and their biggest seller in America. The 1979 set kicked off the band’s biggest period of success in the States, which lasted from 1979 – 1984. That is kind of insane for a 1960s British Invasion band. Its like The Kinks commercial glory years were the same as those of The Clash or The Jam.

Bidu’s owner, Alex, who left the Land of the Samba to toil in the world of commercial cinema, submitted the photo for Low Budget and then changed his mind and sent out a live album The Kinks put out just the next year. Since The Kinks are on the shortlist of my favorite bands of all time, up there with The Beatles, The VU, and Roxy Music I will write both up.

Want to be part of the world famous Guest Pup series? Just snap a photo of your favorite canine (or other animal) with a cherished record and send it in to nicksvinylpicks@gmail.com.  I will publish your photo and review the album. Everybody wins! Find out more here. 

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Record Pile: Scott Walker

Julian Cope described 1960s solo Scott Walker as psychedelic music for housewives, adding that they needed to have their minds blown much more than hippies did.

When Scott left the Walker Brothers he was at the height of his popularity in the UK and his first three (brilliant) solo albums went to No. 3, No. 1, and No. 3 in the charts, respectively. But there was already career trouble brewing as Scott 3 (which I’d rank as his all-time best) didn’t have the chart staying power of his first two.

I guess you could ask how many orchestral, exquisitely sung, eccentrically written un-ez listening songs brimming over with dashed dreams, societal unease, surreal malaise, and existential angst borrowed from European art movies people really wanted in their lives.

Walker actually got a mainstream variety TV series on the BBC and his soundtrack LP to it also went into the Top 10. The venal idiots over at the Beeb once took pride in erasing pretty much every TV show they made that wasn’t sold overseas (as Dr. Who was) so this well regarded series disappeared from view the moment after each episode was aired.

Here is a tune from Walker’s TV series LP that ranks with the work of the great American singers of standards (Nancy Wilson does a fantastic run through of this tune as well):

Walker is a very good MOR singer but his Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and film theme covers are generally not of equal lasting value as his original compositions. I’d highly recommend physical copies of Scott 1 – 4 and the really underrated ‘Til The Band Comes In. The last two albums in that series left no record company itching to let him record his own work and the fight seems to have left him for a big part of the 1970s.

Then, when Walker came back to creative music in the late 1970s, inspired by the art rock movement, he took the template from Bowie’s Berlin albums and the emerging synth-pop sounds, and stripped the pop and jittery new wave fun out of them in ways that appealed to even less people than before. But, artists were listening and the very people who influenced Scott Walker were in turn once again influenced by his new material.

These synth Scott records, The Walker Brothers in Hell magnum opus Nite Flights and Climate of Hunter, unlike his initial solo records, didn’t even get released in the States. This makes sense since even his solo records that were hits in the UK made the Velvet Underground’s American sales figures look robust in comparison. That said, I heard both acts repeatedly mentioned as influences by artists I liked throughout the early 1980s but I couldn’t find any records by either of them at the time.

No wonder Scott Walker slipped away again.

Returning for good in the 1990s, Scott Walker threw off any pretense of pop and now created music that was basically avant-garde Classical in nature and even more deeply unnerving then his synth albums. Judging by the fact that I was literally the only person at the SF movie theater to see the fine feature length documentary on him I am guessing that even cult stardom eluded him in the States.

In the previous Record Pile on The Walker Brothers, I mentioned how much Scott not only influenced David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, in sound and artistic aspiration, but also the British Post-Punk/Neo-Psych scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Here is an early Scott solo cut that really illustrates that influence well — even in the bass guitar being so out front. As part of the Scott Walker backlash in the UK, this song was repeatedly, inaccurately, described in the press as being pro Stalinist when its obviously a negative comment on the Soviets rolling into Czechoslovakia.

Funny how music works. This song didn’t sound like 1969 in 1969 and then was considered old fashioned in the early 1970s; then was considered cutting edge at the end of the decade.

Today, Scott Walker sounds very 2022.

Record Pile: The Walker Brothers

When every post Beatles 1960s British band was making a bee-line for the States, The Walker Brothers went against the tide and became the rare American band to become huge in the U.K. They had two early Top 20 singles in the Stats but enjoyed ten in the U.K., with two going all the way to #1.

They started off with pre Beatles American pop in the Phil Spector mode but lead singer Scott Walker could also handle standards and started to go in an artier direction that he would pursue in his solo career. I don’t have any of their official albums on vinyl, including any of their reunion records culminating in 1979’s brilliant Nite Flights (Bowie/Eno submerged in Euro art cinema despair). But, I do have five fine comps, highlighted by The Fabulous Walker Brothers.

Here is a nice halfway point from The Walker Brothers to solo Scott with “After The Lights Go Out” which sure sounds like a major influence on The Teardrop Explodes and Julian Cope to me. Cope would introduced Scott Walker to the post-punk generation with a retrospective comp that he put out in the early 1980s when his music had gone out of print and was considered a relic of the 1960s.

While David Bowie and Bryan Ferry have never been shy about the influence Scott Walker had on them (and that influence was flipped on his post 1979 work), I think its pretty easy to hear what initial post-punk figures as Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch took from Scott, even from his tenure with The Walker Brothers.

The other thing about The Walker Brothers period is that it is where solo Scott Walker really started in earnest, with a number of his finest self-penned songs. Scott Walker moved around a lot growing up so he knew first hand the difference between living in a gray NYC high rise versus an expansive, Los Angeles suburban home. Then, when the tall, sun-tanned So Cal. Walker Brothers moved to London and he once again found himself in monochromatic urban life, this time in a pre-EU market London that was still rebuilding, and feeling deprivations from the war.

It is insane how many of Scott Walker songs, from covers to originals, have to do with living in a cramped spaces.

Here is Scott covering one of Randy Newman’s best tunes:

Here is Scott going solo on a Walker Brothers EP where they all took turns. My all-time favorite from the group:

I will do a Scott Walker solo LP Record Pile next.

Paul Desmond, Desmond Blue

PaulDesmondBlueBowie

It is springtime in San Francisco, with blue skies and sunshine followed by flashes of surprise rain followed by a heatwave that turns into artic winds whipping out of nowhere.

With just a little bit of light in the sky, I reach for Desmond Blue, an orchestral jazz set featuring the bittersweet, lyrical saxophone of Paul Desmond. Its a timeless release but it reminds me that the early 1960s were still part of the 1950s.

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Put This On Vinyl, Dexter Gordon, Ballads

Dexter Gordon was one of the tenor sax titans, and a key jazz figure in a line that goes Gordon-Rollins-Coltrane. I love the music of all three of those great men but if we are just talking about the way they laid out on ballads my pick would be the series of ballads on Blue Note that Dexter Gordon cut in the early 1960s. Blue Note usually looked for new talent to develop so it was a very nice surprise that Dexter Gordon ended up recording for them. Serious jail time for drugs in the 1950s had hurt his career trajectory.

The thing is, Dexter Gordon never cut a ballad set for that storied label. Gordon would fly into NYC from his homes in Los Angeles, and then Paris, and record a mess of material that the label would turn into albums, putting one or two of Dex’s ballads on each set. Towards the end of his label contract, Blue Note let the single coolest human ever stay in Paris and cut his records there (its a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it).

Jazz reissues really turned into an art during the CD Era and the reconstituted Blue Note put out this compilation of Gordon’s ocean-deep ballad readings in 1991. It became one of my most listened to late night album during the 1990s — a time when I actually spent my life listening to jazz late into the night. Ah, sweet bird of youth.

The photo of Dex used for the cover of Ballads is by Herman Leonard and since it resurfaced in the 1980s gets my vote for the single most iconic image in jazz. You can find out more about Leonard, and see some more of his definitive jazz photos, here on a write-up of a jazz vocal album I covered.

On another Dexter Gordon post I used a Blue Note reading of a song Sinatra made famous. Here, Dexter Gordon does the single greatest instrumental reading of a tune Sinatra actually wrote, the tortured and autobiographical “I’m A Fool To Want You.”

Pure painful bliss.

Rock Star Dogs: Marianne Faithful

Marrianne Faithful With Dog

Marianne Faithfull looks unbelievable young with the sweet pup here, decades away from the train-wreck of a life she’d be living in a few short years. Faithful’s 1960s pop/folk recordings are fantastic and then she fell down the bottom of a well in terms of music, and everything else, from roughly 1970 until 1974.

She made a triumphant comeback as an art rock croaker with 1979’s Broken English, her light and airy vocals transformed into a lacerating growl. While her 1960s work was unfairly looked down upon as lightweight she was suddenly found herself in the rarified, accepted-by-both-sides of the rock/punk divide as Bowie, Roxy, Peter Gabriel, and Kevin Ayers.

But, lets stick with 1960s Marianne Faithfull for this one.

For a lesson in the art of cinematography check out the color film version of Marianne Faithful  singing Serge Gainsbourg’s “Hier ou Demain” and the starker, high contrast B&W TV recording. Both look great but our Marianne looks stunning, taller, and more feminine, and idolized in the film version and tougher, more solid, and realistic in the TV scene. There used to be special cameramen who specialized in making actresses look their best in movies.

You can rightly call out, “Sexism!” to this but this was during a time when an equal amount of hundreds of movies each year were made with, and about, female leads. In our more enlightened times that makes movies, almost exclusively, for overseas male youths, the number of movies for big central parts for women is very small indeed.

Now, back to music — great tune, Marianne Faithfull sings French in a much more natural way than other British vocalists of the era, and certainly in a less stilted manner than how Françoise Hardy concurrently sang in English (where she could sound more like a depressed Berlin dominatrix than a melancholy and melodic Parisienne).

Paul McCartney + Wings, Wild Life

When I started this blog I was only going to write up perfect albums, ones that are 100% worth owning physical vinyl copies of. After all, there is only so much physical space in people’s lives. But, I veered off this course pretty quickly, mainly because I often want to take deep dives into certain works that are not perfect but are all the more interesting for it.

That brings us to the beguiling case of Paul McCartney.

Macca is an artist who, after The Beatles folded, has survived many self-destructive impulses and instincts across the decades and interspersed that with take-charge career resuscitations and truly inspired music. If you want examples of his every contradictory impulse listen to Wild Life. This is Paul’s third solo album overall, released at the dog end of 1971, just six short months after his second LP (Ram, a fantastic LP that is regarded more highly today than it was upon first release). Wild Life is also his first set with his band Wings.

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Record Pile: Great Jazz Artists Play Compositions Of…

There were a lot of ways to get people to buy jazz records.

Blue Note famously took stark black & white photos of their musicians sweating in the studio and had Reid Miles place them into beautifully designed color covers. But, even Blue Note wasn’t above using a pretty lady on the cover to sell jazz.

Here is a prime example of this in what may be the total apex of the cheesecake design esthetic. I found these three Riverside Broadway Composers compilations at different times and it wasn’t until I pulled them out together that I noticed that they formed one long cheesecake image of a reclining beauty. What a neat concept!

Riverside is up there with Blue Note as having one of the all-time greatest jazz rosters. Their three greatest artists were Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Sonny Rollins. Rollins was a Saxophone Collossus at Riverside but neither Monk or Evans were big sellers for the label when they were actively recording for producer Orrin Keepnews. It took Columbia to cross Monk over the line while Verve put their (indie jazz) weight behind Evans. You can read about Monk on Riverside here and Bill Evans on Riverside here and here. I also wrote up a Bobby Timmons Riverside classic here.

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The Riverside roster also included Wes Montgomery (who also became a bestseller when he moved up to Verve), Benny Golsen, Cannonball & Nat Adderley, Milt Jackson, Chet Baker, Charlie Byrd, Abbey Lincoln, and so many others, including John Lee Hooker. If you see a Riverside record and it costs less than a steak dinner, just do your self a favor and pick it up.

If I had my way, I’d add a fourth songbook album here for George Gershwin. That would make the four greatest songwriting titans of pre WW2 American songwriting. It turns out that Riverside had enough success with the first Great Composers series that they did a second set of three LPs, that led off with Gershwin.

Jazz artists liked recording tunes by the likes of Cole Porter, Gershwin, and Irving Berlin because the melodies were strong and memorable and the harmonic structures were interesting and offered many directions for the music to go in. These composers all had idiosyncratic touches — Jerome Kern wrote songs in the style of classical music while Porter spent time in the French Foreign Legion and added arabic touches to his music. Harold Arlen is often considered the bluesiest of the great American composers.

Here is Sonny Rollins, in his quartet with Jim Hall, laying out on “If Ever I Would Leave You.” This Lerner & Lowe ballad from Camelot is transformed into an upbeat bossa nova by Rollins and Co. The elasticity of standards is the hands of jazz musicians is one of the joys of a classically written Great Song.

Sonny has lived such a long and fruitful life that he has had to give up performing recently because he doesn’t want to play at a diminished capacity (at this writing he is 91). I saw Rollins once in Humboldt and once in San Francisco. The first time I saw him he mostly played Island tunes in the styles of “St. Thomas,” his most famous number. The second time I saw him he dug into standards. I later discovered that when Rollins didn’t trust an audience he’d play upbeat Caribbean style numbers to entertain and when he thought they could handle it he went deep into standards to express his real emotions.

There is real emotion behind these Riverside cheesecake comps.

Canine Covers: Yukihiro Takahashi, Tomorrow’s Just Another Day

I am a massive fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto but he isn’t the YMO member who released the best art (synth)pop albums during the 1980s. That honor would fall on the equally sophisticated Yukihiro Takahashi. I have a couple of his (very fine) 1980s solo LPs but I hadn’t ever seen Tomorrow’s Just Another Day before, yet alone heard it, before it was finally remastered and re-released lately. It’s truly wonderful. Anyone who wants to marry YMO with more of a British Roxy/Bowie sense of lyrical melancholy should love it:

Takahashi even covers Bryan Ferry’s brilliant, tragically-unheralded, 1970s birth of New Wave tune “This Island Earth” on 1983’s Tomorrow’s Just Another Day. Two years previous, he had worked with Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay on Neuromantic, one of his LPs I do own and an essential part of any 1980s heavy LP collection. I should do a deep dive into Neuromantic in the future and need to pick up Tomorrow’s Just Another Day, and at least a couple other Yukihiro Takahashi solo platters, including What, Me Worry?

Here is Takahashi’s very 1980s video for “Drip Dry Eyes,” one of the loveliest songs on Neuromantic:

Put This On Vinyl: Departure Lounge, Too Late To Die Young

Departure Lounge was signed by The Cocteau Twins’ Robin Gutherie to his Bella Union label. Their third album, Too Late to Die Young, was released to universally strong reviews in 2002 (my own among them) and was produced by a still trending Kid Loco. They got a North American release on Nettwerk, a label with such a golden touch during this era that they had managed to shift 100,000 units in the USA for the French language neo post-punk band Autour De Lucie with absolutely zero radio play.

Alt rock royalty Robyn Hitchcock and REM’s Peter Buck were Departure Lounge fans, as were indie pop contenders Lambchop and Josh Rouse, both of whom participated in an extended bi-weekly club residency the English band had during a Nashville sojourn. Similar bands such as The Thrills, The Magic Numbers, a mellowing Supergrass, Super Furry Animals, and Mercury Rev all experienced different level of career traction during this time.

But, nothing moved the needle for Departure Lounge.

One of their songs has kept popping into my head over the decades and I decided to give Too Late to Die Young another listen after all of these years. You know what? It has held up very nicely. Maybe it was too spacey and gentle or pleasantly English to every really take off but the songs, and sonic variety, on it hold up very well.

Here is there song that keeps popping into my head, at odd times, over two decades now:

OK, the biggest number of streams a song on this album has on Spotify is just over 16,000 and we are looking at YT video streams… in the hundreds. So, I am not absolutely sure there is a massive demand here but I would still love a vinyl copy of Too Late to Die Young even if its the only copy of the record that exists.

Someone, be a patron saint of lost causes put this album out on vinyl!!!