Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Zines!

Vinyl Vagabonds #7 is now for sale!
Plush with a tactile, hand-printed cover, original artwork, and of course the music musings you would expect from the VVers.  Thirty-six pages of vinyl goodness can now be yours for a mere $7.00.  Email the VVers for it to be shipped to you or find it at these fine independent shops:

Smash! Records
2314 18th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009

Atomic Books
3620 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD 21211

1854 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60622

Floating World Comics
400 NW Couch St., Portland, OR 97209

Flyer by VVer #1, so you know it's good
Wait, there's more!  The 6th annual DC Zinefest is happening July 23rd at St. Stephen's Church between Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights from 11am to 5pm.  It's a totally rad fest.  Swing on by and pick up some Vinyl Vagabonds from the VVers themselves!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Godzilla v. Mothra

The VVers have been very modest on this here blog about their love/obsession with Godzilla and his cohort monsters from Toho Studios.  Just take their word for it and spare the details.  What prompted VVer #2 to order a Godzilla record from Discogs last year?  A good guess would be for DJing a Halloween party where monster soundtracks were needed, oh, and her costume for the night: Mothra.  Regardless of the reasons (the VVers do not need to justify their record purchases!), a plush-packaged, 1978 Toho Godzilla Original Soundtrack arrived.  Behold, the iconic Godzilla-eating-a-train scene gracing the cover sleeve, foldout Godzilla poster, info sheet (all in Japanese), and record with an adorable illustrated Godzilla gracing the label, and all in pristine condition!  Holy monster party!  Pop it on the turntable and hear classic sounds from a smattering of Godzilla movies' scores (not soundtracks): Gojira, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla.  Most tracks on this collection are from monster entrance scenes or battle sequences which heavily feature monster sound effects (which are in fact AMAZING).  Only problem is that the VVers do not read Japanese (yet) and have no idea what they are listening to (again, the ENTIRE track listing is in Japanese).  Some tracks are recognizable, like the original 1954 Gojira theme and "RRRRAAAAARR" noises, but most leave you wondering what movie they are from.  Never has there been a more perfect time to try out the Google Translate app that VVer #2 never uses!  Just choose Japanese, snap a picture, and let the app do its thing.  While the translation is less than perfect, the VVers (using their extensive and in-no-way-useless knowledge of Godzilla movies) were able to get the gist of the track info.  The liner notes are plush with battle scene pictures, a nice touch, but the true kicker is the included poster... which is totally ridiculous.  For one, it is huge (actual poster size).  Upon closer examination, the VVers notice that Godzilla is holding a lady-person a la King Kong.  What is this horse shit?!  That didn't happen in the movies!  Everyone wants to know who is responsible for such a historically inaccurate depiction of Godzilla on this poster!  Regardless, the whole package is a fine purchase to ogle at and to use for backing music to a Mothra Halloween costume (and just general listing, because, you know, GODZILLA).

Who cares about the score anyways?  Well, you should, especially that of the original Gojira.  The emotionally charged score is beautifully laden with string and horn instrumentation making it dramatic and spare in all of the right ways.  Akira Ifukube pretty much created Godzilla via the original entrance and theme music, which continued to be used throughout much of the Toho Godzilla franchise.  In addition, he went on to create original scores for many other regarded films (including the Japanese Godzilla movies made through the 1990s).  However, his most indelible contribution may be the idea to use musical instruments (not recorded animal noises) to create that iconic Godzilla "RRRRAAAAARR."  Kaiju fans everywhere are forever indebted to Ikukube's monster sounds.

In the months since Halloween, the VVers finally watched the original 1961 Mothra movie (SPOILER ALERT: Godzilla doesn't show up in this one folks -- and in no way is that a problem).  Besides the namesake giant moth monster, two of the main stars of the film are tiny, magical twins who provide much of the music for this soundtrack.  The actresses are actually twin sisters, Emi and Yumi Ito, a musical duo that performed under the name The Peanuts.  Their melodic and hypnotizing voices make for some pretty catchy tunes in Mothra that the VVers had stuck in their heads for days.

A month or two passes again, and the VVers find themselves in the tiny, yet wonderful, Musique Plastique in Portland, OR.  Near closing time, VVer #1 is poking around the store and pulls out a record.  Handing it over to VVer #2, "Interested?"  Gracing the cover is Godzilla (in color) on a Deluxe Edition Godzilla record.  VVer #2 thinks to herself, "Meh, I just got a Godzilla record, how many do I need?"  The inner sleeve this time is only 98% in Japanese, save a handful of track names, so she opens it to see what is written on the vinyl.  "RRRRAAAAARRR!"  The vinyl A side is a picture disc with the B side as a painted Godzilla/King Ghidorah/Rodan scene.  Pretty sweet (is the understatement of the year).  At what is now an 85% certain purchase, a study of the tracks looks promising.  There is at least one track, "Infantians" which VVer #2 is certain comes from the original Mothra movie (Mothra lives on Infant Island and there were more than a few song/dance scenes summoning Mothra).  Well, looks like Mothra has sealed the deal and this deluxe 1985 Godzilla record made the journey home with the VVers.

The music on this one is far more "musical" than the other Godzilla record.  Side A includes quite a few "overture" type songs from the film series as well as the mecha-goofy "whhaaaa whaaa whaaa" clown music entrance to Godzilla.  This stupid trombone entrance theme was featured in later movies when the King of the Monsters transitioned from foe into friend of humankind.  Thankfully, this is followed by a surfer-esque track which temporarily erases the memory of that.  Side B features a few songs by The Peanuts from the Mothra movie.  One is the magical "Mothra" song the twins sing which starts off acoustic and is later accompanied by some taiko drums, harp, and percussion.  The somber "Infantians," as sung by The Peanuts in the movie is about the natives from Infant Island and their idol Mothra.  "Native Son" is from the elusive King Kong v. Godzilla movie which similarly to Mothra, includes natives from the island of King Kong's home chanting/praying to their monster. The last song "GODZILLA" is pretty horrendous and sounds like it is entering the 1980's musically.  There are synths, bad female vocals, and bad lyrics.  At one point you realize the lyrics are in English and then hear "Godzilla is our friend" or something to that effect. 

Godzilla, he spans many a generation and many a genre.  Combined, the two records cover over thirty years of Godzilla films and there isn't overlap between the two.  "RRRRAAAAARR!"

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Johnny B. Goode

You know "Johnny B. Goode": ripping guitars, punchy pianos, and that rags-to-riches story of the original guitar hero.  There's well over a hundred cover versions and tributes.  The VVers realized that they have lots of variations on the same song from various decades of vinyl.  Here is the round-up:

Chuck Berry - The original, written and performed by Berry in 1958, is perfect.  Quite stellar.  It was even selected to be a Voyager Golden Record, sent to space on the Voyager I launch in 1977 as a  representation of culture on planet Earth.  No more need be said.

DEVO - Q; Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO - 1978
"Come Back Jonee" is a tribute, not a cover, marrying DEVO's new-wave punk vibe to Berry's core song.  This one has impressive, whistling synths, rapid fire drumming, and galloping guitars to pay homage to the original.  Differing from the original tune, the lyrics speak of a guitar guy who breaks his lady's heart and then runs off to be famous, but instead drives his Datsun into an oncoming truck.  Bravo.

The Nighthawks - Jacks and Kings Full House - 1979
Local Silver Spring-area band, the Nighthawks, provide a very respectable cover called "Little Queenie" to start off this LP.  They credit Mr. Berry in the appropriately title-switched track.  It starts with original lyrics as if singing to an onlooking female listener/dancer to basically the same tune of "Johnny," then awkwardly switches back to the Berry lyrics two-thirds through the song.  Good piano scales and horns to accompany the scintillating guitar lead make this a rockin' blues track.

Men at Work - Business as Usual -1981
"Be Good Johnny" again, not a cover, is a reference to the original and is also super 80s and super Australian.  Lyrically, this one is about a daydreaming kid who keeps getting reminded to "be good."  The chorus is catchy, but it's not enough to save this one, nor to justify it as any kind of homage to the original.  Meh.

Peter Tosh - Mama Africa - 1983
A good way to cover a song is to take the original and adapt it to the music you know and perform best, which is what Mr. Tosh does here.  Straight covers of songs are boring.  The reggae-ized version of this features some creative touches such as a bleating horn section, the echoed "Go Johnny" in a peppy female voice, and some appropriately changed lyrics "leader of a reggae band."  Exceptional guitar work from Tosh helps this track keep true to Berry's original.

Judas Priest - Ram It Down - 1988
Dear Judas Priest, why?  It has nothing on the original, yet somehow the chugging guitar of K. K. Downing and screeching Rob Halford play nice to make a good/bad, near-straight adaptation.  It sounds like a spoof.  It also seems totally out of place on this album of halfway decent originals.

The Spiders - Big Lizard Stomp - sometime between 1966-1969
This version is extra surfy sounding and a decent straight cover.  The singing is pretty atrocious, but consider it is a live recording by a Japanese rock group and you might give them some credit for effort.  Judging by the intensity exuding from this cut, you can tell that they are having fun covering this classic song.

Other artist's versions that could be promising include: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and the Sex Pistols.  Is this a prompt to run out to get these on vinyl?  No.  It is just a total coincidence that so many versions of "Johnny B. Goode," spanning many decades and musical styles, are in the VVers collection.