Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Case of the Soundgarden Vinyl

Some wisdom from a newbie---
Written by Jeremy R. NYC 2012

Four albums and seven songs ago, the Vinyl Vagabonds schooled me in the joys of spinning the black circle.
Listening to their vinyl records, I heard beats, rhythms, and melodies I never knew existed in my favorite songs.  Songs I thought I knew so well!
I became a changed man that weekend. CDs were dead to me. The era of Vinyl had begun.

I bought a turntable, two speakers, a receiver, and some plugs.
Now all I coveted were some of my favorite albums on wax.
After an internet search of record stores in the area, I found a half dozen were a subway ride away.
I got my wallet and my want list, and set out the front door.

After searching a few stores I discovered most of the LPs I craved were either out-of-print or hardly pressed at all.  Lame-o.
I couldn't find anything from my list. I searched high. I searched low.
My hopes dashed, I prepared to shuffle home empty handed when...
I found the mighty Soundgarden's studio album Badmotorfinger still in the plastic!
Wow, one of my favorite records from 1991. Too good to be true!
Without a moments hesitation I plunked down my cash for the LP and eagerly headed to home base.
The good stuff

I returned back to my place still excited by my find, when something caught my eye...
The album jacket appeared new; right out of the printing plant. It didn't look over 20 years old.  Not only that but the art seemed a hair fuzzy, not 100% clear to the naked eye.
There was a sticker on the cover that said "Made In Holland".
Something was definitely fishy....
Then it struck me-
Was I possibly holding a bootleg, an unofficial pressing of the record?  I'd had some experience with bootlegs in the past, many of which were from Italy.  Those boots were entirely concerts and unreleased material that the record labels were sitting on.  This was one of my favorite albums, available in any record shop!  Why would it be bootlegged?

I removed the plastic, and pulled it out of its paper sleeve so I could further inspect my purchase.
The album felt heavy (a good sign because I heard that the cheap stuff is usually pressed on thin vinyl).
I checked out the center label stickers.
It had the "A & M Records" logo, printing information, and the sticker looked sharp and official.
Was I just being a doubter? I began to change my mind; this could be the real deal after all! 
One way to know for sure; lay down that crooked arm, and drop a needle on it...
I'm happy to say the vinyl sounded AMAZING!  Every Cornell yelp, Thayil crunch, Shepherd baseline, and Cameron crash right where it should be.  Soundgarden-ing richer than ever!
Why the fuzzy art?  My guess is, the album jacket looks unclear because it was tough for the manufacturing plant to get the original artwork.  They just computer scanned an old jacket, and reprinted it.  It's not perfect, but it's a minor gripe.  The vinyl itself is likely a master tapes pressing, recently done in Europe.  A legal reissue with pristine sound.

As far as I'm concerned, it's the real deal.  Case closed.

This Blows

As the Vinyl Vagabonds most written about tune-smith, hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow holds a special place in our record loving hearts.  One thing we have repeatedly mentioned in past write-ups is his lame B-side shenanigans.  They are so off-putting and shockingly bad as to rapidly ruin the groovy vibe that Mr. Blow leads off with.  The frequency of this has led to a near universal fear of all his B-sides.  What follows here is a list of KB's absolute worst tracks, in chronological order.  Other than number eleven, do not let this list deter you from purchasing his albums.  I have no regrets for owning and enjoying them.  Even some of the B-side stuff!  It's just nice to know when to pick up the needle.  

Let the song names speak for themselves and judge away. Should you feel so masochistic that you want to intentionally listen to these tracks you might consider using one as a form of punishment for your housemate who may have her hands full at the time and cannot run to shut off the tune.  It is a highly effective form of torture. HAAHHAHAHHAHHAHA (cackle cackle cackle)!!!  Think of this as a PSA. I've taken the risks here so you don't have to.

Kurtis Blow (self titled)
1. All I Want in this World (is to find that girl) - This song is wrong in every single conceivable way.  Made more disturbing by the fact that the rest of this prescient record is just about perfect. On this particular cluster KB croons in a cheesed out falsetto that all he wants to do is "find that girl".  He then goes on to describe said girl.  A rich one, a poor one, a sly one, etc.  That girl?  Which girl?  He's just named completely opposite traits and oh my god it hurts!  It is mind blowing that somebody didn't grab the man during recording and slap him hard.  Nothing can prepare you for this. 
As a first taste of how bad KB can be it is the most shockingly painful thing ever to hear.

2. Takin' Care of Business - This tune (not in tune actually) is the exception to the last sentence I wrote.  While not quite as painful as the previous track (a fact; nothing is more punishing), it is indeed challenging to get through without going into seizures.  KB seems intent on doing a rock n' roll thing, and approaches it with brio.  Unfortunately he just botches it completely due to his utter lack of strong musical accompaniment, singing voice, and judgment.  I'll say that at least it's an interesting premonition to what Run DMC was able to accomplish with Aerosmith on Walk This Way.  Interesting and awful.

3. Starlife - This one just seems lazy.  It's weak and boring.  Campy and limp.  Disco without the fun and rap swagger without any direction.  It goes nowhere.

4. Rockin' - Another case of Mr. Blow trying to rock out and not having the musical chops to pull it off.  He's amply armed with the charisma and I'll give it to him that he seems determined to make it work.  Sonically it's his least offensive mishap, but that's being nice.  

5. Daydreaming - The VVers were "lucky" enough to get a copy of this one with both sides labeled side B.  F*@#!%*#!  Even if you want to dodge the B-side, you may get it anyways.  "Getting close to you, you're such a sweet sensation...Daydreamin' takes me where I want to be, Daydreamin' lets me have you here with me".  Ok, so he's going there with the balladry and it is what it is.  If you can get with that then it is kind of tolerable at first, with a solid bass beat and drumline.  The instrumentation is Xanadu synths and shimmering crap.  He manages to keep his voice from going sour for most of the way.  It's when he goes for the jugular in his finale of "Day day day day day skidela de da day, oh why why why oh why oooh why why..." scatting with reckless abandon.  It go on like this fer a while I tink, but it hard say 'cause my brian jus been purm damage by listen 2 dis track 'gain. Guh. Me am purty.

6. Baby, You've Got to Go - Another rocker; probably his best.  That isn't saying much.  It's actually more of a blues track and he's managed to get some competent musicianship with him on it.  I would imagine with the aid of a lot of booze or maybe after being hit over the head with something heavy this track might be a great finish to an album.  KB's the problem here.  He just sings like a goofball.  It's a good laugh; he just cannot pull it off as a real song.

Ego Trip
KB looks so happy Falling Back in Love Again.
7. Basketball - It's catchy for sure with a compulsively listenable chorus sung by lady backups.  Unfortunately the main lyrics are about as pedestrian as possible.  Let's try to remember for a second that this is from the guy who wrote The Breaks; arguably the best mainstream early hip-hop hit with serious lyrics.  "Basketball is my favorite sport, I like the way they dribble up and down the court, Just like I'm the King on the microphone, so is Dr. J and Moses Malone, I like slam dunks, take me to the hoop, My favorite play is the alley oop, I like the pick-and-roll, I like the give-and-go, Cause it's Basketball, uh, Mister Kurtis Blow".  Case closed.

8. Falling Back in Love Again - Like being stabbed in the eye with something pointy for three days straight.  Oh yeah, and it hurts your ears and soul also.  You will go sterile if you listen to this.  The track that convinced me that KB had been experimenting with some very bad drugs.  Avoid at all costs!

Back side of the sleeve - a good indicator of a what's to
hear on the B-side.
9. Super Sperm/Hello Baby/AJ Meets Davy DMX/Summertime Groove - These mostly instrumental tracks on America are just KB and his DJs goofing off.  The tracks aren't necessarily "bad", but they certainly do not warrant anything other than cutting room experiment status.  Semi-interesting sounds/lyrics with nothing to say in particular.  Gratuitous and pointless; they take up half the album. It's just filler.

10. Don't Cha Feel Like Making Love - The track hasn't even started playing yet and I'm already nervous.  There is no way this is gonna not hurt.  I imagine worst case scenarios and try to remember if I've written my last will and testament yet.  How many people are going to actually read this anyways?  Why am I taking these risks!?!  I have so much to live for!  Ok... calm down; it might not be as bad as I remember.  Hey, it just started... not bad!  Wow!  Total retraction.  Mr. Blow, I am sorry.  This one is awesome!  My bad.  Oh no.  Wait, he's starting to talk sexy and cooing and stuff.  I think I even heard some moaning.  Oh it's a train wreck and I'm right in the middle of the fade out, HELP!!!

Kingdom Blow
Something is not right here.
11. The entirety of the album Kingdom Blow with the exception of I'm Chillin' and the title track (both are pretty dumb, but generally fun enough).  This is where KB pretty much went off the rails.  Strange as it seems, this record features the most guest star heavy hitters, Bob Dylan and George Clinton.  Well it's basically a shit sandwich anyways and we wrote a review of the record because we were so deeply disappointed.  Why Kurtis?  Or to quote him better, "oh why why why oh why oooh why why...?" 

Back By Popular Demand

12. OK, so the VVers never actually listened to anything off of Back By Popular Demand.  We looked at it at a record store recently with the thought to complete our collection.  I personally am so scarred from Kingdom Blow that I immediately refused.  We may never know.  This could be his greatest blow yet.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Enter Our Hero:
One of the VVers comes home saying "Guess what?!" and then brings in a box full of records when there are already piles of unlistened to records from a recent record fair stacking up.  The other VVer just sits there in disbelief.  The other VVer, being slightly upset that there are MORE records in the house, assumes that the hero has gone dumpster diving.  Sadly these records were ignored until the true vagabond VVer that scored them starts pulling out some of what's in the crammed box.  First out, some Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here, Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life . . . then some George Clinton, Chuck Brown, Kurtis Blow single AJ Scratch/8 Million Stories!  DING DING DING!!!  This is some serious box.  Not just s scrappy junk pile!  Someone went through and discarded all their old, dusty albums.  Emphasis on ALL.  Digging deeper, we find lots of reggae, funk, and a bunch of international artists that we have never heard of before.  Other than a few tattered sleeves and a healthy portion of dust, we find the vinyl all in impeccable shape.  The former owner definitely took very good care of this collection and probably did not own a cat.  You can tell that these albums were well listened to and carefully selected to remain in said collection.  Why the big dump off then?  Well it's apparent that many vinyl folks of yesteryear have either buried their record players or been buried themselves. 

The Flashback:
The pile in question was sitting all on its lonesome on a mid-afternoon weekend.  While driving I saw a bunch of signs for estate sales in the area, but had to pass them up to go to work (boo-hoo).  By sheer luck I was driving a work van down a side street transporting some folks home at the end of our activity.  I spied a box of vinyl out of the corner of my eye and wrenched the steering wheel to the curb.  I shouted out "It'll just be a second, this is important!"  I started flipping through the stack and found each title seeming more interesting than the last.  When I hit upon Magical Mystery Tour I stopped.  This is a record that I already owned but my copy is in lousy shape.  I had to grab it.  The rest came along just in case.

Happy Endings:
Thank goodness for just in case!  We have since made our way through this box of records with most remaining in our collection.  There might need to be a new "International" section cornered out from our usual alphabetical categorization.  A contestant for our newly established International genre is Cuban congo drummer Mongo Santamaria's Afro Roots.  Probably will be writing about that one someday.

The major stand out from the vagabond take is a record by Sir Shina Adewale and the Super Stars International, titled Verse 7.  Circa 1979, this record hails from Nigeria.  Not a whole lot of information out on the web about this; virtually nothing in fact.  World music is not a subject I am very familiar with other than some Paul Simon and bits of David Byrne.  The genre in question here is dubbed "Juju," not the witchcraft type, but in fact, a strain of drum based music focused around the Iya Ilu or "talking drum."  According to my brief wiki search "Sir Shina" is actually afro-juju's most popular artist, Shina Peters.  So popular in fact, that when this strain of music was in its heyday it was dubbed "Shinamania."  That said, the tunes are easy to get into and the musicians are top notch.  There are plenty of drum break downs and quirky metallic percussion elements.  Moments are extremely calypso and others strike more towards Hawaiian.  Up pitched, guitar picking helps with the rhythms and lays a nice ground for the vocals.  The singers are often grouping and layering back and forth over each other.  It's extremely pleasing to the ears and highly danceable.  The VVers broke into spontaneous dancing the first two times this one spun.  No doubt, a keeper.