Sorry, Not Sorry

For the uninitiated, Music from “The Elder” was KISS’s greatest misstep in a long career with more than a few. After 1980’s Unmasked bombed (they didn’t even tour behind it!), the band decided it was time to get back to basics, working again with the producer who had given them their most successful album, Destroyer. Instead, Bob Ezrin’s cocaine habit talked Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley into a concept album to rival Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

This is hilarious for many reasons, but especially funny when you consider that 99.998% of previous KISS songs were about partying and getting laid. Even Ace Frehley, the crazy, off-the-rails alcoholic in the band, knew this was a terrible idea. It was conceived as a soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist! Here’s the story, courtesy of Wikipedia

The basic plot of “The Elder” involves the recruitment and training of a young hero (The Boy) by the Council of Elders who belong to the Order of the Rose, a mysterious group dedicated to combating evil. The Boy is guided by an elderly caretaker named Morpheus. The album’s lyrics describe the boy’s feelings during his journey and training, as he overcomes his early doubts to become confident and self-assured. The only spoken dialogue is at the end of the last track, “I”. During the passage, Morpheus proclaims to the Elders that The Boy is ready to undertake his odyssey.

How could this be anything but a cocaine album?

Sandinista Turns 40

Self-indulgent mess?  Misunderstood masterpiece?  I usually have an opinion on matters musical, but it’s now been forty years and I’m still not sure what to make of this album.  Which may be the point.  Or not.

I Respect His Fandom

Confession: I never had a Van Halen phase.

This is weird, because it seemed like every guy around me in middle school and junior high was a fan.
I definitely had a run where I thought KISS was the best thing ever, but am kind of drawing a blank from the late 70’s until I heard Murmur.
I probably listened to lots of Top 40, with a touch of Devo.
Anyway, Mr. Nicolai is one of Austin’s finest. Rock on, EVH.

Sorry.

Beneath the mayhem and incompetence, this is a good song with a great hook in the chorus.  And the lyrics are as true as any.  According to Wikipedia, Terry Adams of NRBQ likened their melodies to Ornette Coleman.  I hear what he’s getting at.  The long melodic lines appear to meander, but then they resolve into a nutty coherence.  But I dunno that they remind me that much of Ornette Coleman.  Since none of you can throw a beer at me for being a pretentious ass (today, at least), I’ll go ahead and submit that their melodic lines remind me of Hector Berlioz.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the Shaggs are a genuine enigma, and those are always interesting.

If you happen to run across an original pressing (you won’t), snap it up.  They’e very rare and worth thousands.

And Now For Something Completely Obscure

Electronic pop duo Silver Apples released their first album in ’68.  I believe that makes them the first ever electronic pop band, predating Can, Kraftwerk, et al.  If any of you bastards know of someone prior to these guys, please clue me in.  They sold very few albums, but one somehow ended up in my house in the mid 70’s.  Ignorant that they predated Kraftwerk, I pretty much dismissed them because I didn’t like the songs very much.  They typically set up good initial ideas but, in my opnion, are let down by the singing and trippy lyrics, which creep me out for some reason.   But the electronic sounds are innovative and excellent.  Those sounds come from “The Simeon,” a primitive, homemade synth built by singer Simeon Coxe, an Alabaman.  He was just stringing together old WWII oscillators and claims that at the time  he’d never heard of Moogs or other synthesizers in develpoment.

Silver Apples’ legacy is hard to pin down.  Some 90’s experimental bands have cited them as an influence, but what about the electronic innovators of the 70’s?  You never heard a word about these guys back then, so did they influence Krautrock, Eno, Devo, prog rockers, or just work in a vacuum?  Who knows, but I can’t help but love their oddball creativity.  Very much in the tradition of American cranks innovating alone in the basement or garage.  But overall they show that first usually isn’t best.

Here is their full story, which is very interesting.  If you want to hear more, below is the entire first album and one song, “You and I”, from their second and final album, which was withdrawn soon after release.  The opening of “You and I” is suspiciously like “Station To Station,” but  I have no idea if Bowie was familiar with it.  The whole second album, which I haven’t heard,  is also on YouTube.

Todd Rundgren: “A Wizard, A True Star”

Love it or hate it, every serious music nerd should hear this strange album once.  A Wizard, A True Star was released in ’73 when I was 15,  and I soon became addicted (which might explain some things), although some of it annoyed me and still does.  This mash-up of prog, pop, and blue-eyed soul might be the densest, most overly over-dubbed album in history.  There is literally zero space unfilled.  Because of that, there is almost always something interesting going on, even if the song itself isn’t good.  Side one is a medley of song fragments, sort of like side two of Abbey Road produced by a crazier Brian Wilson with access to synthesisers (unfortunately, there’s not a gapless version on YouTube).  The medley sometimes gets cartoonish.  A portion of side two is a medley of Motown covers, which has always seemed a bit random to me. That said, there are plenty of addictive hooks throughout.  Highlights for me are “International Feel” (and its recapitulation, “Le Feel Internacionale,” which ended side 1), “When the Shit Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard,”  “Sometimes I don’t Know What to Feel,” and “Just One Victory.”  The anthemic quality of “Just One Victory” can get annoying, and it’s too long, but it has some great melodic and harmonic twists and turns.

I think Todd was trying to blow up his status as an AM radio pop artist.  The previous year he’d had a commercially successful album, Something/Anything?,  which was mostly straight-ahead pop ballads and rockers: it contained “Slut,” often covered by Big Star, as well as the power-pop classic, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.”  Something/Anything also yielded a couple of big AM hits, the piano-driven “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me,” that made some people see him as kind of a male Carole King.  I’m guessing that didn’t sit well with him, so he went all-out weird for A Wizard, A True Star.  I’m sure there were hallucinogens involved as well.  It didn’t sell nearly as well as its predecessor.  Fun fact: the month after this album came out, he produced the New York Dolls’ first album.

So what to make of TR?  He was a highly talented multi-intrumentalist and producer, a true master of the studio, and a pioneer of power-pop and prog.  When everything clicked, he could be a very good songwriter.  But he lacked self-censorship.  Something/Anything? is a double ablum with way too much filler.  It could have been a much better single album.  As for A Wizard, A True Star, he really needed to rein in some of the self-indulgent goofiness.  He produced all his own albums, even playing all instruments on many tracks.  He just occasionally needed someone to say “no.”  In that regard, he was like an American version of The Move’s Roy Wood, who had the same issues.  That may not have been a coincidence.  The Move regularly covered “Open My Eyes,” originally by TR’s 60’s band, The Nazz.  And the first time I ever heard The Move’s “Do Ya” was TR covering it live.