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The Sound and the Fury

January 15, 2021

More Than A Baker’s Dozen!

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A roundup of 2020 releases you may have missed during quarantine

By Gillian G. Gaar

Finally, thankfully, 2020 has to end. And aren’t we all glad about that! The year nonetheless saw some stellar releases, indeed, so many that there wasn’t room to cover them all. So now’s the time I go back through the pile and serve up an overview of goodies that helped make this year a little bit better.

How do I love Peter Guralnick’s writing? Let me count the ways. His masterful writing takes you inside the subject, makes you feel like you’re right there in the studio with Elvis Presley or Sam Cooke, or watching Ray Charles or Johnny Cash on stage, breathing the same air, exalting in the same experience. His latest book, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing (Little, Brown), is something of a career retrospective, a series of portraits of artists and showmen he’s written about over the years, giving further insight into the creative genius of artists like Skip James, songwriters Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Chuck Berry, and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. Highly recommended, obviously.

Those who are up on their Brit rock history will recall that the Beatles were turned down by Decca in 1962 in favor of Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. By 1966, the now Poole-less group became simply the Tremeloes, and they’d moved on to a new label, as seen in the title of Grapefruit Records’ box The Complete CBS Recordings 1966-72. The six CD set is stuffed with goodies: mono and “faux-stereo” versions of the early albums, the Live In Cabaret album, all of the tracks recorded for the May Morning soundtrack, non-album tracks, and foreign language songs. If you’re a Trems fan, snap it up!

And speaking of the UK ‘60s rock scene, Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here by Andy Neill (BMG Books) is an absolutely fabulous book about the legendary UK 1960s pop program. It’s the first in-depth look at the program from beginning and end, an oral history with key figures and guests, an episode guide, and a great design and layout that’s as exciting as the program itself (the reproductions of contemporaneous ads and articles are especially fun to see). At 12.5 x 12.5 inches and 268 pages, it’s a hefty tome that will provide you with hours of entertainment. Listen to some vintage ‘60s Brit pop while you’re reading to enhance the experience.

The feel good release of the year has to be Scott the Hoople’s Rock & Roll Party 66. That would be Scott McCaughey, whom you may know from the Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5, Filthy Friends, and scores of others. He conceived it as “A break from heavier subject matter,” the kind of thing you’d play at a party with your friends. Given the current state of things, he suggests “Maybe YOU can party with your own bad self, and have several beverages of your choosing.” Sample song titles: “If I Die Tomorrow (I’ve Lived tonight),” “Nobody Really Cares If you Don’t Go to the Party,” and “Happy Fucking Birthday (To Me).” You’ll find this digital only release on bandcamp.

Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics (Faber & Faber), by Dylan Jones, is one heck of a lot of fun. This oral history covers the years 1975 to 1985, from the Romantics’ roots in punk, to the decadence of London’s Blitz club, to the rise of MTV, “like punk never happened.” Brian Ferry, Boy George, and Marc Almond are few of the many folks you’ll hear from. The pithy reviews in the discography are also entertaining, as in this summation of Japan’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids: “Of course they do.”

And while you’re reading, you might find the 3 CD set Musik Music Musique: 1980 The Dawn of Synth Pop (Cherry Red Records) provides the perfect audio accompaniment, synths playing a rather prominent role in music of the New Romantic era. Once synthesizers slimmed down in both price and size, they led to an explosion in creativity among musicians eager to leap into the future. There’s plenty of familiar names in the tracklisting (the Human League, Ultravox, Kim Wilde) but it’s more fun to discover the lesser-known acts (Gina X Performance’s “Vendor’s Box,” the Goo-Q’s “I’m a Computer,” Henriette Coulouvrat’s “Can’t You Take a Joke? Ha Ha Hi Hi!”).

You can’t go wrong with a box set from Carla Thomas, especially when it’s entitled Let Me Be Good to You: The Atlantic and Stax Recordings 1960-1968 (SoulMusic Records). Four CDs packed with goodness, from her classic period. You start with her very first single, “‘Cause I Love You”/“Deep Down Inside,” which she sang with her father, the equally legendary Rufus Thomas. Then it’s on to her first hit, the soulful “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes),” other chart successes like “”I’ll Bring It Home to You,” “Stop! Look What You’re Doing,” and “B-A-B-Y,” her match-up with Otis Redding, King & Queen, her solo albums, and non-album tracks. Whew! Dig it!

Omnivore Recordings put out a bunch of doo-wop collections this year, spotlighting artists on the Coed Records label: The Rivieras (8he Coed Singles), The Duprees (The Coed Singles and The Coed Albums), Adam Wade (The Coed Albums), and The Best of The Crests Featuring Johnny Mastro. The Rivieras album has all the group’s recordings, mostly standards like “Moonlight Serenade.” The Duprees were known for their hit versions of “You Belong to Me” and “My Own True Love” (based on the theme from Gone With the Wind). Adam Wade had a beautiful voice that’s well worth (re)discovering. And the Crests? Two words: “16 Candles.” There’s much to delve into here beyond the well-known numbers of course. Perfect listening after a long, hard day; the dreaminess of doo-wop soothes the soul.

When people think of Pacific Northwest rock bands, the usual suspects come to mind: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains — some old timers might even add Heart. But what about Shadow? Extreme Hate? Wild Dogs? Bitter End? Mudd Bucket? White Lightning? Those are just some of names you’ll encounter in Rusted Metal: A Guide to Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Music in the Pacific Northwest (1970-1995) (NW Metalworx Books). Authors James R. Beach, Brian L. Naron, James D. Sutton, and James Tolin have done a herculean job in assembling this history that runs to a mighty 902 pages. It’s an A-to-Z encyclopedia, with sidebars featuring interviews, and sections on venues, local magazines, gig listings, and more. Simply stuffed with information! Order from: nwmetalworxmusic.com.

Jayne County started life in Dallas, Georgia, as Wayne Rogers, then departed for New York City and became Wayne County, finally emerging as Jayne County in 1979. The Safari Years (Captain Oi!) compiles Jayne/Wayne’s output from 1977-1979, a bumper crop of albums, singles, compilation tracks, and radio appearances, including such signature songs as “Fuck Off” and “Man Enough to Be a Woman,” along with a riotous New Year’s Eve show from 1979. Raw, unvarnished rock ‘n’ roll — old-school style.

I missed Nick Mason the last time he came to town, and I’ve regretted it ever since; friends who attended said it was a pretty good show. But now I (and you) can experience what it was like to be there via Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets: Live at the Roundhouse (Legacy), drawn from shows recorded at the legendary London venue on May 3 and 4, 2019. You get complete audio and video of the show, which generally sticks to early Pink Floyd, especially the Syd Barrett era: “Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play,” “Astronomy Domine.” Lead vocals are shared by Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet) and Guy Pratt (a touring member with the post-Roger Waters version of Pink Floyd). You might not be able to get out to a concert at the moment, but you can bring the concert to you. 






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