Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Killer Joe's International Discotheque

1965 was a great year for corny but capable dance albums.  The proof?  Welcome to the world of "Killer Joe" who manages to just mildly slay you with his virtuoso musical abilities.  Recorded gently and without a hint of malice by the "Killer Joe Orchestra."  A little research and the VVers discover that the entirety of the music was in fact done by Atlantic Records' serious session men and even more serious record execs of the day.  See, the "King of the Discotheque" isn't a musician at all, but instead a superstar for his skills with the boogie.  At least so says the back cover description.  His job?  Pick the tunes, order of songs, and set the tempo to elicit maximum dance.  Hang with Joe as he manages to not bore you through: the watusi, the monkey, the swim, the "cheek to cheek," the bossa nova, the merengue, the jerk, the cha cha watusi, the hully gully, the mlle (pronounced "millie"), the frug, the shake, the frug (twice with the frug!), and lastly, la bostella.  Yes, "all the new dances to be seen at the chic discotheques in New York, Paris, Washington, or London, where the smart people have fun" are featured here in one handy dandy collection.  Is that Ray Charles?  No, it's not.  It is however a handily done version of "What'd I Say" from the session crew.  Not too shabby, cats!  Pop this platter on and you'll be fruggin' in no time!  As well, "C'mon and Swim" is a tidy little cut for you to swim to - aka - aquatically shake a little of this and that.  You can tell these session pros are having a blast with this Sly Stone penned ditty.  Also, Mr. Joe loves to rock the third-person insertion into the lyrics "look at Killer Joe look at him go," "Killer Joe is one fancy pants, mojo whoa oh," "Go Joe, go and kill it, Joe, you are killin' it," and "she wants to dance with Killer Joe, Millie, she's silly, from Philly." Good luck trying to figure out which of those lyrics are real.

Killer Joe, also known as Frank Piro, winner of the national jitterbug competition of 1942, does it all!  He's got the right moves for every occasion.  However, those who should make the mistake of looking at pictures of Mr. Joe on this record will likely recoil in horror/amusement at his over the rainbow expressions and herky-jerkiness.  "The Jerk" indeed!  One look at this cornball and you will never want to look away.  You are now under his power!!!  Perhaps, at the discotheque, with the lights turned down a bit, it's not as blinding.

Mr. Joe apparently was doing a very important and respectable job of teaching people of a certain means the hip dances of the day as well as generally being a regular on the big-time club scene.  No harm, no foul.  These pics just have not aged well.

P.S. Also, what the hell does this high fidelity thing mean?  The VVers refuse to look this up.  The VVers refuse to learn fancy terminology for turntables.

P.P.S. The Cha Cha Watusi:
"My Girl Sloopy" really just sounds like "I want schmoopy" and in particular, Spanish ham soup, "I want schmoopy, schmoopy jamon."  Singing the wrong lyrics is so impossibly catchy to VVer #2 that there's no way this record is dancing its way out of the house anytime soon.  That is what VVer #1 gets for digging around thrift shops and picking up random, horribly covered albums as a joke.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Close But ... Not Even Close

Trying to complete a run of albums by a particular artist is a truly daunting endeavor.  You have to ask yourself a few questions before embarking on such a hazardous quest.  Is the artist still active?  Were albums ever released during a time when vinyl was scarce (early 90s to mid 2000s)?  Did the artist ever "jump the shark" and make music that stank mightily?  Some items to ponder while hunting for those final vinyl vagabonds.

Consider also that completing a collection by an artist can very easily dilute your listening experience.  Every artist has laid at least one egg in their career.  Remember that one?  You know the one.  Why add that mediocre fare to your collection?  As well, storage is most certainly an issue.  How important is it for you to make room for that last LP that you'll never listen to?  Be honest with yourself.

In favor of being a completest?  The concept of listening to an artist's entire catalog has its merits.  Experienced end-to-end it can be quite compelling; even listened to out of order you will gain amazing perspective on their career.  Unless they sober up.  Those albums are usually pretty bad.  Sorry, but it's true.  As well, artists can also get a little off-the-rails with the non-sobriety.  Watch out for those also.  Regardless of the reasons, you are bound to find peaks and valleys in even the most heralded musician's discography.

Where did they record the album?  Was it done on the cheap?  Who produced it and how quickly?  Was there a major label bigwig pressuring the them to do something novel or something they didn't want to do?  How about the final product?  Did the studio chiefs chop it to bits and shoehorn it into a pop-tacular package?  That final product might be arriving at your inner ear after a long, strange trip.  Don't worry, the Vinyl Vagabonds are here to help.

Several examples:

Faith No More - Completing the run of albums by FNM is an interesting idea, but actually getting most of the LPs will make a considerable dent in your wallet.  Each could easily set you back $30 and good luck finding an original pressing!  Why do it?  A back-to-back album listening session lets you hear how the band changed so dramatically along their career--mind blowing!  Totally different lead singer?  Yes.  Totally different sounding same singer?  Yes.  Complete change of guitar sound?  Yes.  Complete change of guitarists?  Yes.  The very first album, We Care A Lot from 1985, sounds as if it was recorded in the Stone Age compared to records from the 90s onward.  That's not a gripe, as the album is crushingly great, warts and all.  The very definition of completion is that if you love a band then the back catalog is must-listen material, no matter who plays on the album.

Kurtis Blow - For the VVers to finally complete this run was painfully difficult because Mr. Blow seriously ran out of creative juice along the way.  The purchase of his last album was something they put off for several years.  One VVer would see it in a store and tap the other on the shoulder, "Are we getting it?"  "I'm scared..."  "Me too."  Why they finally broke down is anybody's guess.  Still, it was an accomplishment and the VVers are willing to own being KB's #1 fans (even though they never listen to Back by Popular Demand--there was no popular demand Mr. Blow, none).

Peter Tosh - All studio albums plus one live album live on the VVer's shelf, spanning 1976's Legalize It to 1987's No Nuclear War.  Of course not all of these are created equal (Equal Rights being the superior, Wanted Dread and Alive, consider the title and draw your own conclusions), but there hasn't been a huge rush to break up the collection.  Still, the VVers should have probably quit while they were ahead.

DEVO - Haha, there are two later records that seem... not interesting.  Why hold off when those are fairly inexpensive and not too hard to come by?  The completest would buy them, but a crappy album can, and should, be avoided.  The VVers are trusting their instincts here.

Talking Heads - The VVers keep avoiding "Ape Face" album, also known as Naked.  All seven other records are accounted for, but not this one.  It could very well be the greatest LP of all, but something about that cover is just creepy.

The Clash - Although only six studio albums, the complete Clash discography will actually set you back some shelf space, Sandinista! is a triple and London Calling (both of which took some seeking-out and wallet-opening) is a double.  By some strange turn of events, the VVers already had the Clash's least exciting albums, Give 'Em Enough Rope and the horrifyingly dull Cut the Crap in their collection for quite some time.  Those should probably be jettisoned, especially the latter which apparently was made by the producer almost entirely without the actual band.  While the VVers were recently house cleaning and working on this here write-up, they decided to drop the needle on Cut the Crap since it has literally been years since it had seen any action.  The substantial layer of dust that needed to be cleaned off of the record proved that!  After a half-spin, the VVers decided the dust should remain so that this record doesn't get played again.  This blog is helping the VVers cut the crap, out of their collection.

Queen - Do not become a Queen completest.  Most of Queen's albums past the mid 70s are just too full of stadium/radio pop, goofy experiments, and over the top ballads.  Those albums just have way to many gaps.  The exception being the Flash Gordon Soundtrack which is mostly instrumental, just sayin'.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Five out of seven, and only the good ones.  Missing the last two, does it matter?  No.  Done.  This just wrote itself.  Actually, it does matter.  Recently the VVers, against their better judgment, got carried away and picked up Mardi Gras at a local shop, CDepot in College Park.  At the time, it was thought that this was the last album to finish the CCR run.  For a measly $3.99, why not give it a spin?  The VVers will tell you why not: they cringed through about three tracks and decided it was way too country and way not-Fogerty-vocals enough to keep it.  The sly VVers slipped it into Vagabond Apprentice's record bag as he was packing up to head back to New York.  Goodbye bad record!  Banished to another state, hopefully never to be spoke of again.  Not only was it a disappointment that the album was lametastic, but they also discovered there is still one more album to check out, Pendulum.  Pheh, no thanks.

Neil Young - The idea of getting every album by Mr. Young will kill you.  He's recorded around thirty-eight studio LPs to date.  That is not a typo.  That's more shelf space than the entire VVers jazz section.  Don't even think about including his live albums, soundtracks, compilations, or band albums--Buffalo Springfield, CSNY--impossible.  Avoiding being a completest with Neil is actually not that hard.  Some of his LPs just do not appeal.  For example, he's done several straight country albums which are never going to enter the VVers inner sanctum (living room).  He's also been on a recent tear, putting out six albums since 2000.  The modern records (post 1990s) are in no way affordable.  No way!  Now the nice part about trying to track down records from Mr. Young has been seeking out the weirdo ones from the 80s that nobody seems to love.  Many of these albums came out at a time of vinyl abundance.  Therefore, these fun finds, Landing on Water being a strange standout, are very affordable.

Completalest in Summararium (that's Latin you know)

Molto Bene (that's actually Italian):
  • Get a full picture of the artist.
  • Bragging rights of owning every release (this actually might not be a good thing).
  • Satisfying your inner-completest-ness (curiosity).
Molto Male:
  • Find yourself buying records that are not good, diminishing love for that artist (can also be funny).
  • Take up precious real estate on the shelf.
  • No money left for snacks.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Lo-Fi DJ

The Vinyl Vagabonds wound up with some side projects this summer: Artist Nights and DJing.  When the two coincide, VVer #1 puts on his art pants (pantalones de arte) and VVer #2 puts on her DJ hat (sombrero de la musica) and comienza la fiesta de los vagabundos!  Here's the thing, the VVers don't have traditional DJ gear (yet), mainly because they have done DJ sets at an awesome coffee shop that has a permanent set-up (thanks Bump N' Grind!) and DJ gear takes up a lot of space (the VVers live small).  However, what our heroes do have are two, old, sweet, lo-fi, portable record players that perfectly fit the bill.  Player one is an early 70's Rheem Califone suitcase player that has decent sound thanks to a tune-up and recent needle upgrade.  Player two, also picked up at an estate sale, is a plastic "toy."  This Realistic brand plastic player doesn't have much for sound, but given the circumstances, it would work.  The first Artist Night, a gathering of locals sketching and working on their current projects, was hosted by VVer #1, aka DC Creeper, at the cozy back-bar of Olive Lounge in Takoma Park.  The small room is just right for the warm vinyl sound of a portable player.

Since it was an arty event hosted by VVer #1, he pitched in some ideas for the tunes of the night, one which stuck with Madam DJ Hat: play full sides of records as opposed to singles.  This would be more relaxing and help the creative juices flow.  A strategy was formed that sides of albums would be played in full on the larger player since it had better sound.  These would be buffered with 45s from the toy player.  Which records would and wouldn't sound good on these particular mini-players was an added restriction in choosing music for the night.  Records were picked and tested for optimal audio quality.  An example, the toy player couldn't handle vocals very well, the tinny sound distortion was just too much.  Another example, the larger player had a history of being too weak to turn those modern heavy records--the turntable was built pre-180-gram vinyl and those don't really play at speed--it's like the motor just poops out.  It's the saddest thing you will ever hear.  Little did VVer #2 know that the Califone also didn't like the thin, lightweight sounds of Dynaflex (cheap, floppy records that RCA was producing in the late 60s).  For the first album of the night she popped on Benny Goodman B.G., The Small Groups, for which the vinyl felt pretty flimsy (great, right?! total opposite of 180-gram).  Au contraire, after about three minutes playing VVer #2 was dragged down by the drunken slur of the sound.  Was the turntable dying before it could even get going for the night?  This left Madam DJ Hat mighty nervous.  She didn't want to just rely on the tinny toy player and the digital iPod set-up that she brought as plan-C.  Fortunately, a switch to a standard weight LP and everything was back to normal.

Tunes were flowing, the event got crowded, noise levels were on the rise, and volumes of the little players struggled to compete.  WARNING: Turning a lo-fi player up to its max just doesn't cut it and should only be done in emergency circumstances.  Total tin-iness.  Unless the visiting artists were super aware of the music or were sitting adjacent to the turntable, it could barely be heard.  Not that it mattered, those artists were having a great old time socializing, as was our heroic DJ.  By the close of the night (this was a Sunday, mind you), only a few friends and some stragglers were left so Madam DJ Hat played whatever the hell she wanted.  On went the full side of Isaac Hayes "Do Your Thing" from Shaft followed by the bluesy side-B of Judas Priest's debut album Rocka Rolla.  With the thinned out crowd, the suitcase player perfectly resonated through the confines of the small space.  In the immortal howling of our closing musician, Rob Halford, the lo-fi art event was fully satissssfiiiiieeeed!