Put This On Vinyl: Sondre Lerche, Dan In Real Life OST

When Nordic countries started dominating the Happiness Index a rash of articles and books appeared telling Americans to do things the Nordic way (eat more chocolate! take a walk! drink grog!) and get happier. Interviews with actual Nordic people find them puzzled about being referred to as happy. It turns out the Happiness Index is really about political stability and having a high standard of living across the entire society (Sorry, fellow Americans – we are doomed!). Nordic people aren’t happy — they just aren’t stressed about healthcare, retirement, paying for education, or the future of their democratic system.

Instead of outright joy many Nordic people have a more (grimly sardonic??) realistic view of life and smaller expectations that don’t involve some life-transforming BIG WIN that always hangs over the horizon, just out of reach, somewhere in the future. Norway’s Sondre Lerche sums this up in his Dan In Real Life movie theme, “To Be Surprised” — I’m not gonna lie/Saying everyone will be all right/And fine until we die/What else can you do but hope and pray/And say that we’ll get by/Better be prepared to be surprised.

While the sweet Dan In Real Life family rom-com initially did anemic business at the box office it became a sleeper hit on DVD and cable. Surprisingly, it was the Sondre Lerche soundtrack album that over-performed in the States as it went all the way up into the Billboard Top 10, ultimately reaching No. 6 and staying on the American album charts for 16 weeks.

It would be great to have this one released on vinyl with the god-awful pancake-face movie art changed out to something better.

Harpers Bizarre 4

When I was a kid watching The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, and other re-runs on TV the Sunshine pop and bubblegum songs featured on certain episodes were already gone from the hit parade as soft rock, disco, and, finally, new wave and power pop sounds filtered into the 1970s.

Back in the actual 1960s I don’t think Sunshine Pop had a name yet but whatever it was called the cool kids definitely didn’t like it.

But, one generation’s definition of uncool becomes future generations version of cool. So, the sweet, vocal harmony rich sounds of Sunshine pop had a revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s as never-big bands like Free Design got discovered for the very first time and old, previously ignored records such as Harpers Bizarre 4 got picked up and placed onto turntables just as digital music was taking off (coincidence? Probably not).

One track on Harpers Bizarre 4 has been a personal favorite for the past 25 years or so while the entire album has sounded particularly sweet during what may come be known as the Home Quarantine Era, or more succinctly when you add in other events, End Times.

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Rock Star Dogs: Robin Gibb

Animal people are often odd ducks and Robin Gibb definitely seemed to be an animal person. He could seem awkward and withdrawn towards other humans but its hard not to find a photo of him, looking happy for once, with his arm around a dog. The recent Bee Gees documentary is very good though they do tread lightly over the darker periods the brothers had — or skip over them altogether. Robin is summed up at the beginning with Barry wondering how such a friendly, funny kid became so internal and remote as he grew up. Later, a musician in the Bee Gees says that Maurice and Barry immediately became two of his best friends when he joined the band but can’t say he ever got to know or even understand Robin.

I will save one of the hundreds of photos available of Robin with his arms around a canine pal for another day. I am not sure why I like this 1969 snap of Robin proudly showing off his basset hound, Hedgehog, but it makes me smile. Robin definitely didn’t hide his eccentric side in his songs for the Bee Gees — So I am picking his almost (I did write “almost”) ludicrously emotive power ballad “Lion In Winter. This completely bonkers wonder goes from medieval chant to soulful rant to splenetic shouting.

Quincy Jones, Walking In Space

What defines pop music now is stylistically a pretty narrow band of music but the term once described a blessedly broad selections of genres and sounds. The Billboard singles charts on January 6, 1970 still hold up. The Jackson 5 were at #4 with “I Want You Back,” Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” claimed #5, and topping the list was “Raindrops Are Fallin’ On My Head,” Burt Bacharach’s melancholy, country-tinged theme from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.

Over on the album charts, mixed in with pop releases by The Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Isaac Hayes, are such fine jazz albums as the freaky Bitches Brew, the testifying jazz-funk of Swiss Movement, and Walking in Space, a fusion big band set from the great Quincy Jones, which stayed on the main Billboard Album charts for 27 weeks.

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Canine Covers: Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Neil Young has won just about every Canadian honor there is but he deserves a special award from the Great White North for naming the dog that appears on the above album cover Winnipeg.

I was just a baby when this 1969 LP came out and I didn’t hear it, beyond the songs that got played on FM radio, until the mid 1980s. So it didn’t come in a condensed Neil Young timeline for me back then but the raw, ragged Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere came out only four months (!!!) after Young’s polished solo debut. A couple months after that he was cutting “Helpless”with CSN&Y before going back to his solo career to record After The Gold Rush. Touring relentlessly with everybody happened between creating all of that music.

Neil Young has done everything, not always to his benefit, from bar band blues to synth-pop, but at heart his strengths run towards the twin poles of pained ballads and ragged rockers. What is amazing is that within those potentially shallow pools resides an entire world of music. People are contradictions and Neil Young is a singularly blessed singer-songwriter, a lurching, elemental garage rocker with a sophisticated knowledge of pop history, and a team player who knows how to make everyone else look good before stepping up to the mic and completely seizing center stage.

Here is Young playing EKTIN’s lead off track, and one-time Classic Rock radio perennial, “Cinnamon Girl,” in a beautiful acoustic version. Interesting how his more complex acoustic guitar part led to the stripped-down birth-of-power-chord riffage on the band version with Crazy Horse.

Gang Of Four, Is It Love (12′ Mix)

In my last post I wrote about a bop-fusion transitional album by Donald Byrd as a way to take a deep dive into the trumpeter’s career. Byrd’s 1970s crossover jazz-funk work was castigated at the time but is now celebrated by new generations raised on hip-hop and chill out music. Ironically, it is Byrd’s 1960s acoustic jazz recordings, once well-respected, that are now unfairly overlooked. To paraphrase Brian De Palma — you are criticized against the fashion of the day and fashions change.

The same thing has not happened with Gang Of Four’s later recordings. There doesn’t seem to be any critical contingent out there reevaluating the work Gang Of Four put out after their initial two albums. Even the band members themselves are helping to further the narrative that what happened after their second LP is some heretical action in line with Sting’s post Police work or Jim Jones murdering his followers (and if you read music critics its Sting who committed the more serious crimes against humanity).

Instead, people who weren’t even born when Gang Of Four coined an entire swath of Post-Punk with their 1979 debut seem to get angry that the band didn’t stylistically freeze in 1979. Don’t worry — if the band did stay the same the very same people would castigate them for being one-trick ponies.

1983’s Hard was Gang Of Four’s initial swansong. It’s not a great album by any stretch but its not bad and it even has a few solid tracks on it. The first single from it, “Is It Love,” is a flat-out masterpiece, a classic that merges the sonic and thematic Gang Of Four esthetic with Chic for a sophisticated bedroom disco sound that achieves something worthy of late period Roxy Music. While most 1980s extended singles are wastes of time a number stand very tall. The extended 12′ mix of the Is It Love single still belongs in elite company.

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Put This On Vinyl: Harold Budd, Avalon Sutra

Harold Budd was one of many musicians who were killed by Covid in 2020. I was a little surprised by the lack of attention Budd’s passing got in the media since he helped define what became known as ambient music. Perhaps this is because much of his recorded work, languorous improvised piano over slowly shifting electronic backings, has been much copied and emulated by others.

If I had to recommend one representative Harold Budd LP for everyone to get I would not be alone in selecting The Pearl, his 1983 collaboration with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. It is a sumptuous album, one that marries beauty with more than a touch of shimmering melancholy. The Pearl is one of the touchstone albums that offers an alternative view of the 1980s and yet it has not aged a day. But, I have that record and Budd has so many albums that are not on vinyl yet. Of these, my favorite is Avalon Sutra.

Avalon Sutra was released in 2005 on the samadhisound label when Harold Budd was having trouble getting a record label interested in putting it out. Samadhisound is run by Budd’s friend, and sometimes collaborator, David Sylvian. I believe it may be Harold Budd’s last recorded, non film score work. It is such a beautiful work.

Harold Budd was a classical composer who discovered he enjoyed improvising pieces of sparse piano music. While this style is lovely you may not need every single one of Budd’s ambient electro-acoustic albums in your life. One of the joys of Avalon Sutra, besides its shear beauty, is that it brings back in elements of Harold Budd’s impressionistic classical foundation without causing any tension with the electronic touches. Everything fits together seamlessly.

Budd does not develop the pieces on Avalon Sutra over an extended stretch the way a classical composer normally would. Instead, he wrote and recorded this as his final musical statement and the short, elegant pieces of music come off as quiet, though sometimes intensely emotional, scenes from a contemplative life well spent.

To me, the music on Avalon Sutra is about living in the moment even as you are connecting with memories as images, like a film projecting on the back of your brain. You may be looking at a bee landing on a flower and that brings up images of a loved one walking on a path, just ahead of you. The album sums up the slow, sensual joys of a life that will disappear in an instant. Rush out and do something very slow before its all over — bask in the sun like a seal out on a rock.

Listen to Avalon Sutra and see what memories, emotions, or images are brought up for you.

Samadhisound put this out on vinyl!!!

Rock Star Dogs: Peggy Lee

RockStarDogs.PeggyLee

When I was a kid I knew Peggy Lee as a weird old lady who would show up on TV or in the paper in a wig and giant sunglasses. Of course, she was once a young mother balancing raising a family (including this sunny collie), going on tour, appearing on radio shows, and knocking out hit records.

In the 1940s, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole helped establish Capitol Records, an artist run West Coast indie that would solidify into a major when they took a chance on a nosediving Frank Sinatra right before his career took off again. Nat, Peg, and Frank pretty much defined the classic Capitol sound. Peg’s music during the Eisenhower Era is great too but there is just something so hopeful and upbeat about her ’40s recordings. Maybe Peggy Lee actually was hopeful and upbeat during this period when she enjoyed a series of Top 10 hits on Capitol, including the unstoppable “It’s A Good Day.”

The fab guitar player in this clip is Peg’s husband, Dave Barbour, who played with everybody from Billie Holiday and Lester Young to Benny Goodman and Andre Previn. Barbour had a serious drinking problem and it ended up destroying his marriage to Ms. Lee and largely contributed to an early death. Peggy Lee had her own problems and after a breakdown she came back bigger than ever in the 1950s with a different persona. The new Peg was less the sunny girl next door and more of a cool, distant, finger-snapping minimalist that you can still hear in “Fever,” “Black Coffee” and so many other classics.

Forget all of that and go back to a time when America just won a world war and even jazz musicians were settling down, starting families, and swimming in the exact kind of work they were made to do — making music.

Donald Byrd, Kofi

Blue Note put out such a consistent slate of very-tasty-to-beyond-great albums that they often forgot about — or just decided it was not worth putting out — a surprising number of sessions they had in the can. These albums often were mixed, and had cover art, and liner notes all set to go — but they just stayed in the vaults. For a couple of years, starting in 1979 the label released a bunch of them as budget-priced LPs, tossing aside the planned 1960s covers for a boring, utterly generic, look that (maybe) was trying to ape what CTI and ECM were doing with their often wonderful LP sleeves:

Forget what anybody, especially jazz collectors, says about only being into music and not image. The music on all of these LPs is FANTASTIC, as good or sometimes even better than the official 1960s releases, and yet you can still pick them all up today for only a couple of bucks where even normal 1979 Blue Note reissues with the original artwork cost around $20 a piece, or more. Blue Note has since corrected their marketing error and has reissued many of these in their originally designed Blue Note sleeves.

With Donald Byrd‘s Kofi it looks like Blue Note put the album together later with tracks the trumpeter recorded over a year apart in the Decembers of 1969 and 1970. These sessions finally came out in 1995.

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Canine Covers: Talking Heads, Selections From Once In A Lifetime

Love this painting — the alternative dog painting by the same artist is way more violent and completely insane. I gotta put that up at some point.

Of any band out there the Talking Heads is the one I wish the most that I had seen live — their 1980 tour seems particularity amazing. “Born Under Punches” is one of my favorite songs — like “Houses In Motion” it was brought to further life in concert.