Saturday, February 24, 2018

Magnetic Fields 1998 US tour postcard from Merge Records

Digging through my records today, I found this 1998 Magnetic Fields tour postcard from Merge Records. I looked online and couldn't find any images or mentions of it, so I'm putting it here for anyone who's interested.

I had seen the Magnetic Fields perform in 1997 at Sudsy Malone's Rock 'n' Roll Laundry & Bar—literally a laundromat/concert venue in Cincinnati, Ohio—as part of a triple bill with Yo La Tengo and the Ass Ponys. Yo La Tengo headlined and Magnetic Fields played in the middle. At the time I was a big Ass Ponys and Magnetic Fields fan but kind of lukewarm on Yo La Tengo, a band that I nevertheless managed to see live three or four times.

I don't have that PO box anymore, so don't try to write to me there.

Magnetic Fields weren't touring to support a new album in 1998. Their last album at that time, Get Lost, had come out in 1995, and their next album, 69 Love Songs, wouldn't be released until 1999. 

They had released a new single on Merge in 1998, though: "I Don't Believe You." It was a song that they would later re-record and include on the 2004 album i. The B-side was "When I'm Not Looking, You're Not There." Both can be heard below. So, I guess this postcard is from the "I Don't Believe You" tour?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Music Weird's Best Albums of 2017

I'm late to the game with my best-of-2017 list. They say "better late than never," but this might have been a "better never than late" situation, considering how inactive this blog has become.

The way that I find new music—by constantly but almost randomly perusing new releases without relying on curated lists, podcasts, radio stations, music magazines and websites, music forums, the algorithms of streaming services and retail sites, etc.—means that my list doesn't have much in common with any other lists out there.

In fact, even though I listen to new music constantly, I was surprised at how little I'd heard of the music on other people's best-of-2017 lists. 

Compiling these videos was surprising too, because I was constantly astonished at how many or how few views each one had.

The big trends in music for me in 2017 were electronic music and female-fronted bands. I read an article somewhere that said 2017 was the Year of the Woman in rock, which sounds plausible, but most of the artists it mentioned weren't ones that I was listening to. Nevertheless, women seemed to be racking up major achievement points in music last year.

Enough preamble. Here are my favorites of the music I stumbled across in my energetic stumblings of 2017.

1. Echo Delta – Within (Cold Tear)

Without question, the album I listened to the most in 2017 was this third album by Lithuania's Echo Delta. The entire album is simultaneously chill and engrossing enough to reward active or passive listening. 

2. Way Yes – Tuna Hair (Gold Robot/SlyVinyl)

Way Yes's Tuna Hair wins my Most Anticipated Album of 2017 award. Like many of their earlier efforts, it's percussive, hypnotic, and death obsessed, but the latter characteristic is ratcheted up several notches this time around. Their album release show at the Spacebar in Columbus, Ohio, was awesome.

3. Major Leagues – Good Love (Popfrenzy)

Alvvays received a lot of deserved acclaim in 2017, but I liked this album by Brisbane, Australia's Major Leagues even more.

4. Hazel English – Just Give In/Never Going Home (Polyvinyl)

There's not a bad track on this double-EP release by Hazel English. I like the drum machine sound and the way that the lovely melodies and thoughtful lyrics contrast with the almost bloodlessly precise instrumental tracks.

5. Marsh – Life on the Shore (Silk Music)

I listen to a lot of electronic music, and it's hard for me to pinpoint sometimes exactly what it is that elevates one track or artist above the rest. It's more of a feeling, and as soon as I heard this album by Marsh, I felt it.

6. Tycho – Epoch (Ghostly International)

Epoch is all good, even if it doesn't have a track quite as amazing as the title track of the 2014 album Awake. When I saw them play in Nashville, Tennessee, last year, the drummer stole the show.

7. Alvvays – Antisocialites (Polyvinyl)

This is on a lot of year-end lists and with good reason. I didn't understand all the hype about their first album but decided to give Antisocialites a try, and I'm glad I did. "Dreams Tonite" should have registered in the Billboard Hot 100.

8. Hater – You Tried (PNKSLM)

Hater the Swedish band, not the Soundgarden spinoff. Hater released both an album (You Tried) and an EP (Red Blinders) in 2017, and both are toppen!

9. Shout Out Louds – Ease My Mind (Merge)

The best Shout Out Louds album since 2007's Our Ill Wills

10. Louise Burns – Young Mopes (Light Organ)

The first side of this album sounds like what would have happened if Stevie Nicks had cut an album for Captured Tracks in 2011 or with Clan of Xymox in the 1980s. In the official video of the song "Moonlight Shadow," a freaky worm, like something from Deadly Spawn, appears at the 1:30 mark. 

11. Petite League – Rips One into the Night (Native Sound)

Petite League's previous two albums, Slugger and No Hitter, were among my favorites of 2015 and 2016. How do they get that great guitar sound?

12. Burning Hearts – Battlefields (Solina)

I still listen to Burning Hearts' debut, Aboa Sleeping (2009), periodically. Five years after their last album (2012's Extinctions), this new one appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

13. Summer Heart – 101 (no label)

A new Summer Heart record is always a good thing. 101 changes things up a bit; it still has that hazy chillwave vibe but with more electronica. 

14. Emancipator – Baralku (Loci) 

Emancipator has been around for a while but is new to me after a fellow Tycho fan recommended them. I can see why a Tycho fan would be interested—Emancipator makes electronic/organic instrumental music too, albeit with more of a World Music and New Age orientation. Having now caught up with the entire Emancipator back catalog, I believe that the title track of the new album is as good as anything they've done.

15. Petit Biscuit – Presence (Petit Biscuit Music)

I don't know anything about Petit Biscuit except that it's a French act, which I just learned while searching for the Soundcloud link above. Some of their YouTube videos have millions of views, though, so I'm clearly lagging behind the rest of humanity. This album, Presence, is filled with earworm electronica that incorporates cut-up Chipmunk voices. It also has some violin like Emancipator.

16. Soccer Mommy – Collection (Fat Possum)

Soccer Mommy seems poised for a commercial breakthrough with her new album, Clean. 2017's Collection has more of a lo-fi bedroom pop quality than what I've heard of her new one. 

17. Teen Daze – Themes for Dying Earth (Flora)

Teen Daze is usually categorized as electronic/ambient, but this track is like New Age music with a steel guitar. You could slip this into a mix with songs from I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America and no one would notice. I've listened to Teen Daze on and off over the years, but this new album made me think that I should go back and listen to everything I missed.

18. Bicep – Bicep (Ninja Tune)

Bicep is yet another example of the context-free environment in which I listen to new music. I know nothing about them except that they're Irish, which is probably why I listened to the album in the first place. The acoustic sound of the drums on this track isn't typical of the rest of the album.

19. Surf Rock Is Dead – We Have No Friends? (Native Sound)

I'm a sucker for that Captured Tracks sound that Captured Tracks no longer has. Surf Rock Is Dead continues to fly the banner.

20. Various Artists – Anjunadeep 09 (Anjunadeep)

I got this for the new Croquet Club track ("Night Lights") and really liked almost everything on the compilation. Here's Xinobi's "Far Away Place (Jody Wisternoff & James Grant Remix)":


SALES new song for 2017, "Talk a Lot," is a winner. If I had heard their debut album in 2016, it definitely would have been one of the top picks on my 2016 year-end list.

I've followed Rebecca Black's career with some interest ever since "Friday" became a fluke hit several years ago, and her 2017 single, "Foolish," is her best yet. The video has a Daft Punk-looking dude playing guitar, and a better ending for the video would have been for him to take off his helmet and reveal that it's Rebecca underneath.

Little My put out a new album toward the end of 2016 that I didn't hear or even know about until it appeared on YouTube in its entirety in March 2017. One of the last purveyors of that classic twee sound, they deserve more recognition.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Joe Dowell 1970s radio jingles

Joe Dowell ("Wooden Heart," "Bridge of Love," "Little Red Rented Rowboat") recorded radio jingles and PSAs in the 1970s. Here are some of them:

Jim Mittan the Carpet Man/The Carpet Line

Three Perpetual Building Association jingles (1973)

"Spirit of '76 Camporee" for Boy Scouts of America

"Patapan" for Ann Arbor Federal Savings

"Christmas in Ann Arbor" for Ann Arbor Federal Savings

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette

Some good Samaritan uploaded this whole cassette to

A bunch of these Passed Normal compilations came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with Normal referring to Normal, Illinois. But it has a double meaning, because the compilations are way past normality too.

Back in the early '90s, a friend of mine found a copy of Way Passed Normal: The "Other" Cassette in a 25-cent bin at Reckless Records in Chicago during one of our record-buying expeditions, and thereafter it became part of the "soundtrack of our lives," as they say. If you ever travel back in time to Muncie, Indiana, in the 1990s so you can work at a shitty full-time retail job while also going to school full time, then you'll want to have this music on hand.

The first song is also the best: Scott Lucas' "Butt-Plug." Its inspired ugliness is mesmerizing, with its fuzz bass, metronomic drum loop, bleating harmonica, and disgusting lyrics. Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens, in his liner notes to the Apartments' first album, talks about the importance of the "beauty and impact of first lines" in songs, and "Butt-Plug" has a great first line: "I used to be a Christian man / but now I'm just a slug."

As the first line of the first song on the compilation, these words portend the degeneration and decay to come. The whole compilation is a delirious mess, but I have my favorites.

The Meek Band's "Black Dog" is just a cassette recording of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" that stops and starts every two bars, more or less, punctuated with atonal bass noodling and arhythmic drumming. It's a live recording bookended with inspired heckling (some hick in the audience shouting "I heard that!" and "Fuckin' boo!"), and proves that sampling other songs is not only artistically viable but also sometimes results in works that surpass the originals. 

The Amazing Ron & Renee's version of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" is simply the best version of that oft-recorded song. Their out-of-tune, out-of-sync warbling expresses the main idea of the song better than Paul McCartney did, because he sang it so sweetly and sentimentally that it's possible for the listener to focus solely on the beautiful past and ignore the miserable present. The Amazing Ron & Renee, on the other hand, recognize and amplify the song's gist: We are broken and futureless, living in the dust of the "good old days" like lobotomized meatbags. As with the Meek Band's "Black Dog," the Amazing Ron & Renee's "Yesterday" takes something familiar and makes it simultaneously unfamiliar and somehow more relatable than the original.

The other songs are okay. Most of the artists, with the exception of That Hope, apparently didn't do much (or anything) apart from contributing a track or three to these Passed Normal compilations. The Sediments' trebly, rocked-up version of KISS's "Beth" sounds kind of like a prototype of D.L.I.M.C., but their version of the Beatles' "Rain" doesn't. Edwin Pierce's "Can't Make No Conditions" is a fairly normal guitar instrumental, and the rest are mostly cacophonous instrumentals.

Side A

  1. Scott Lucas – "Butt-Plug"
  2. Sediments – "Beth"
  3. Pink Bob – "Thinking Big"
  4. That Hope – "Lost"
  5. Pink Bob – "Chopsticks"
  6. Shmaz – "Mess #3"
  7. Meek Band – "Black Dog"

Side B

  1. Shmaz – "12-Bar Browns"
  2. The Amazing Ron & Renee – "Yesterday"
  3. Onk! – "I Know You're in There"
  4. Edwin Pierce – "Can't Make No Conditions"
  5. Sediments – "Rain"

Monday, August 28, 2017

The 1980s format war: Vinyl, CD, cassette, MiniDisc... videocassette?

A DIY record label called Four-Headed Records started up recently to release albums on VHS tapes. "It will be the only VHS Tape Label in existence and will be the first of its kind," the label's announcement says. "It hasn't been done before."

I applaud their spirit but hate to break it to them that, like so many alleged firsts, it has been done before. Over thirty years ago, in fact. 

In the early 1980s, the audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab offered a handful of classic albums on digital-audio VHS and Betamax videocassettes.

Why? Because the then-new PCM (pulse-code modulation) adaptors could convert "any VCR (Beta or VHS) into a digital audio tape recorder capable of the same quality as the best Compact Discs," as explained in a 1985 article in the Chicago Tribune, "Ultimate Tape Recorder, at One-Tenth the Cost."

MFSL's digital-audio Betamax cassette release of
Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
The introduction of the digital audio tape (DAT) in 1987 rendered digital-audio VHS/Beta tapes obsolete, but for a time, digital-audio videocassettes were a cool innovation not only for their sound quality but also for the amount of music that could be crammed onto them. 

Mobile Fidelity's 1983 catalog listed the following catalog numbers and titles. (The catalog entry is pictured at the top of this post.)

VHS/BETA-005 – Supertramp – Crime of the Century
VHS/BETA-017 – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
VHS/BETA-025 – Earl Klugh – Finger Paintings
VHS/BETA-510 – Solti/London Philharmonic – Holst: The Planets
VHS/BETA-084 – The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot
VHS/BETA-507 – Maazel/Cleveland Orchestra – Feste Romane
VHS/BETA-120 – Donald Fagen – The Nightfly

Monday, March 6, 2017

Country music's "We Are the World"

They could have called it "Lemon Aid," because it turned out to be a real lemon. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

I'm talking about Heart of Nashville's "One Big Family," the country music world's attempt at a "We Are the World"-type famine-relief record.

It happened in 1985. After the all-star charity group USA for Africa scored a worldwide #1 hit with "We Are the World," country star Ronnie McDowell decided to organize a similar project in Nashville for country artists. Charity concerts and supergroups were everywhere—this was also the year of Live Aid and Farm Aid. Even heavy metal artists, under the name Hear ‘n Aid, organized a famine-relief record.

 charity craze started the previous year with British and Irish supergroup Band Aid, which Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats organized with Midge Ure to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. 

Band Aid's song "Do They Know It's Christmas" was a big success—it topped the UK chart in 1984 and then reached the UK Top 3 again in 1985. Geldof and Ure helped to organize Live Aid in 1985, and at Live Aid, Bob Dylan made a comment about American farmers that led to Farm Aid later that same year.

Heart of Nashville
In the midst of all this charity, country star Ronnie McDowell got the idea for his charity supergroup. The goal was to raise money for worldwide hunger relief, and McDowell managed to sign up some of country music's biggest stars.

The record was to be released under the name Heart of Country by Nashville's Compleat Records. Unlike earlier fundraisers for Ethiopian famine relief, Heart of Country would "benefit the hungry in both America and the world," as stated on the single's picture sleeve. McDowell co-wrote the song that the group would record, "One Big Family," which echoed the theme of global togetherness heard on "We Are the World."

Unfortunately for McDowell, the Heart of Country would not be met with peace and harmony. Less than 24 hours before the vocal recording session, McDowell found out that RCA Records forbade its artists from taking part in the project, which eliminated Alabama, the Judds, Louise Mandrell, and Ronnie Milsap, all of whom had agreed to participate.

Likewise, none of the expected artists from MCA Records appeared, including Lee Greenwood and the Oak Ridge Boys. Only one artist from Columbia Records—George Jones—showed up.

Apart from the Kendalls, who recorded for Polygram, most of the approximately 40 acts who actually participated were either unsigned or independent artists. The label that was going to release the Heart of Country single, Compleat Records, was itself an independent label, so it certainly seemed as if the major labels were conspiring to kill the project. 

MCA wouldn't comment on why it prohibited its artists from participating, but other labels' representatives didn't hesitate to hold forth. Joe Galante from RCA told Spin, "Yes, I told our artists not to participate. I felt that instead of being a major event, as was the 'USA for Africa' single, [Heart of Country] would be one of many trying to duplicate it."

And Dale Cornelius of the Nashville Music Association claimed to be thinking about organizing a separate fundraiser. "We're exploring it further," he said, "but don't want to jump on any bandwagon." How he intended to organize a big charity supergroup that didn't involve some bandwagon jumping is unclear.

The 45's picture sleeve
The Heart of Nashville record came to pass anyway and featured a lot of stars, many of whom were old-timers: Roy Acuff, Rex Allen Jr., Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare, Lane Brody, T. Graham Brown, Little Jimmy Dickens, Karen Taylor-Good, Dobie Gray, Sonny James, George Jones, The Kendalls, Dave Kirby, Neal Matthews, Kathy Mattea, O.B. McClinton, Ronnie McDowell, Lorrie Morgan, Colleen Peterson, Webb Pierce, Boots Randolph, Jerry Reed, Jeannie C. Riley, Ronny Robbins, Ray Sawyer, Troy Seals, Jeannie Seely, Rick Schulman, Gordon Stoker, Tanya Tucker, Mack Vickery, Porter Wagoner, Duane West, Bergen White, Leona Williams, and Faron Young. 

An official music video was produced. It alternated between shots of Africans and shots of the supergroup in the studio. George Jones and Tanya Tucker were the most prominently featured solo vocalists. Some of the others, such as Lynn Anderson and Faron Young, sang a single line in the song and really poured their hearts into it. Still others, such as Little Jimmy Dickens and Webb Pierce (the latter of whom wasn't listed on the single's sleeve but appears in the video), sang only with the group on the choruses and can't really be heard.

A promotional single was pressed on red vinyl. The music video was promoted by Aristo Music Associates, the first video-promotion service in Nashville. When the record was released, it spent nine weeks on the Billboard country chart, but—despite the promotional efforts and all-star cast—climbed no higher than #61. 

Nashville's major labels succeeded in nearly spoiling the project by withholding then-current stars who could have raised the record's profile substantially. And, not surprisingly, the majors never got around to creating a charity group of their own.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chicago country singer Gerrie Lynn, 1964-1967

For reasons unknown, Columbia/Legacy reissued Gerrie Lynn's sole album—an obscure country LP originally released in 1966—as a digital download in September 2016. 

Lynn never had a national hit and didn't have a very long recording career, which makes the reissue all the more baffling. As of this writing (February 2017), the album has had zero sales on, and I was the first to view some of the tracks on YouTube, so the reissue doesn't appear to have been due to popular demand.

Lynn was a country singer from Chicago who first recorded for Nashville Records, an imprint of Starday Records, where she cut two singles in 1964-65. 

The first single was "Every Time I Do Right" and "Lonely," the latter of which featured Pete Drake and his talking steel guitar. Tommy Hill produced, and Lynn wrote one song by herself and co-wrote the other with Nashville Records label-mate Billy Hill. 

The second single, "I Love You More and More Every Day," became a Top 10 hit at WJEF in nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1965. Lynn also enjoyed some airplay on Chicago's WJJD, which changed formats in 1965 from Top 40 pop to country. 

Billboard, Mar. 12, 1966
Encouraged by this success, Lynn sent a demo to producer/A&R chief Don Law at Columbia Records, and he signed her. 

Lynn's Columbia debut was "My Lips Will Never Tell (What My Eyes May Show)" b/w "Forget Me (The Next Time Around)" in March 1966. Law never called upon her songwriting abilities—everything she recorded at Columbia was composed by professional songwriters.   

Lynn's sole album, Presenting Gerrie Lynn, followed later that year. It's a typical mid-'60s Don Law and Frank Jones co-production, with the kind of precise and uncluttered arrangements that I associate with Law's other Columbia productions around that time for artists such as Jimmy Dean and Carl Smith, although Presenting Gerrie Lynn is more pop oriented than Law's productions for Smith. 

The album contains no originals—it's a routine assortment of popular country songs with few surprises. Lynn sings Patsy Cline ("Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces"), Connie Smith ("Ain't Had No Lovin'," "Once a Day"), Jody Miller ("Queen of the House"), and Jeannie Seely ("Don't Touch Me") as well as recent hits by Jack Greene, Ray Price, and Sonny James. The only non-hit song is "Stranger," a tune that Lefty Frizzell recorded (and Law and Jones produced) for Columbia in 1962. 

The best cut, in my opinion, is "Unloved, Unwanted," a Kitty Wells song from 1962. Lynn's rendition has a wordless soprano vocal part on the chorus that sounds like a musical saw. The only other really notable arrangement is "Ain't Had No Lovin'," which features the distorted guitar sound introduced on Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry" (another Law production) in 1961.   

Billboard, Dec. 3, 1966
Billboard listed the album as a "special merit pick" in its Dec. 3, 1966 issue, but HiFi/Stereo Review gave the album an unfavorable review: 
Gerrie Lynn is the latest blossom to emerge from the hillbilly orchard. She sounds like a matronly Molly Bee, and on most of the bands on this debut disc, she seems curiously out of place in the idiom. She is really more of a pop stylist, and her slow, bluesy, almost lethargic approach to reading lyrics makes her a very boring interpreter....

Billboard had a higher opinion of Lynn, and in its April 29, 1967 issue predicted that "I'll Pick Up the Pieces" (an answer to Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces") would reach the Hot Country Singles Chart. The song didn't chart nationally but might be Lynn's best-known song. It nearly reached the Top 40 on WYDE in Birmingham, Alabama, and was included on the 2007 Bear Family Records anthology ...And the Answer Is: Great Country Answer Discs from the '50s and Their Original Versions.

Curiously, the flip side, "Down Home Country Girl," reached the Top 5 on WMAS in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

The liner notes from the back of the original Presenting Gerrie Lynn album tell her story:
Spell it out—S-U-C-C-E-S-S! For that's what Gerrie Lynn's warmly appealing voice most definitely spells, and that's what this new Columbia album, PRESENTING GERRIE LYNN, most assuredly is!
Although Chicago-born Gerrie is a brand-new addition to Nashville's roster of recording stars, she's by no means new to Country music. This young lady has been a successful performer in the field ever since.... But let Gerrie tell you the story herself. 
"One evening not long ago, my husband Bill and I went to a little club in Chicago that features live Country entertainment. Bill, who's always loved Country music, is a big fan of Grand Ole Opry's weekly broadcasts, as I am now, too. I enjoyed what I heard at the club so much, we found ourselves going back often. 
"One night, without my knowing it, he and the bandleader decided to call me up to the stage to sing! Bill knew that as a youngster I'd sung in my church choir and that I liked singing around the house some of the songs I'd heard on our evenings out. Not only was I a big success with the customers, but I was hired as a regular performer at that club and others like it. These appearances led to my being featured at an auditorium show in Hammond, Indiana, in a program starring Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb, Jim Reeves, Sonny James and many more big names. 
"This was an important turning point for me, for now I realized that I really loved performing Country music and wanted to be a part of it. I made a demonstration record and submitted it to WJJD, a Chicago all-Country music station. They aired it, and before long it rated high on their popularity charts and, of course, made my name known to a great many people. This really gave me confidence, so I sent a copy of the 'demo' to Don Law, Columbia's great Country and Western producer. He must have been mighty pleased, because he asked me to come to Nashville to make the album."
You'll be mighty pleased, too, when you hear Gerrie interpret great Country hits like Ain't Had No Lovin', I Fall to Pieces, Queen of the House, Unloved, Unwanted, and Don't Touch Me
And now, ladies and gentlemen . . . PRESENTING GERRIE LYNN! 

 Gerrie Lynn discography

1964 – Nashville 5184 – Every Time I Do Right / Lonely 

1965 – Nashville 5213 – Heed My Warning / I Love You More and More Every Day

1966 – Columbia 43574 – My Lips Will Never Tell (What My Eyes May Show) / Forget Me (The Next Time Around)

1966 – Columbia CL 2585 – Presenting Gerrie Lynn (mono)

1966 – Columbia CS 9385 – Presenting Gerrie Lynn (stereo)

1967 – Columbia 44099 – I'll Pick Up the Pieces / Down Home Country Girl